WOSTER: Vivian Dance Hall packed 'em inThe place packed ’em in. A lot of area musicians learned to play live music there by watching the likes of Myron Lee and the Caddies, the Trashmen or Buddy Knox and the Rhythm Orchids and then stepping onto the stage with their own bands.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
I missed the annual induction ceremony for the South Dakota Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, and that’s a shame for a couple of huge reasons.
First, the Vivian Dance Hall received the honor of being inducted in the category of dance halls and/or ballrooms. Dance halls and ballrooms were both accepted terms for the dance sites when I was a young guy in black slacks and white bucks. In those way early days of rock ’n’ roll, the old big-band ballrooms were where the guitar-strumming rockers strutted their stuff before huge audiences of kids whose parents had danced on those same polished hardwood floors to the music of the 20-piece orchestras of the 1930s and 1940s.
I wrote about the impending induction of the Vivian Dance Hall a while back. It’s worth repeating that the place was magical. A lot of area musicians learned to play live music there by watching the likes of Myron Lee and the Caddies, the Trashmen or Buddy Knox and the Rhythm Orchids and then stepping onto the stage with their own bands. The place packed ’em in. I wrote above that the Vivian Dance Hall “received” the honor. That’s not quite true. The Vivian Dance Hall earned the honor.
So that’s the first, personal reason I’d like to have attended the ceremony. The second reason is more universal, you might say. The second reason I’d have liked to have attended is the late Curtis Powell.
Some Lyman County friends, knowing that the “50s on Five” channel is one of the two or three default settings on my radio dial, sent me a program from the 2012 induction ceremonies. I was unaware that the Hall of Fame had picked Curt for a Spirit of the Music Award until I saw a picture in the program of a baby-faced kid with his arms wrapped around a hollow-bodied Gretsch guitar. In the photograph, Curt is leaning against the side of a vintage vehicle, squinting shyly toward the camera and cradling that big-bodied Gretsch, one of the most instantly recognized guitars in the whole world for guys like me who grew up listening to Chet Atkins and dreaming of dancing to Myron Lee and the Caddies.
Curtis Powell played lead guitar for Myron Lee for quite a while. If you’ve never heard of him, don’t feel bad. A lot of people never heard of him. Even so, he was about as accomplished a guitar player as you would find anywhere in the country in the 1950s and 1960s. The thing is, he didn’t look for the spotlight, and he played lead at a time when — with all due respect to the talented musicians who knocked themselves out night after night to make great music behind the star and front man in a band — the back-up players didn’t have names.
I got to know who Scotty Moore was when he played lead guitar with Elvis. I knew the names of the Crickets with Buddy Holly. Other than that, though, until the Beatles came along, not a lot of folks paid attention to the “other” people on stage with Myron Lee or Jerry Lee or Peggy Lee or Brenda Lee.
I don’t think Curt ever cared. He just played music. The first time I saw him play was on a Saturday television program — with Johnny White, I think it was. Curt had a small grin the whole time he played. He kept his chin tucked close to his chest, barely raising his eyes to look at the other players or the crowd. And he pulled incredible amounts of music from a red Gretsch guitar.
Not so many years after I saw him on television, Nancy and I were dancing to Myron Lee in Gregory. When I looked at the stage, there was the kid from TV, pulling the most incredible rock and roll music, just an avalanche of notes, from that red Gretsch as he grinned and tucked his chin.
I grew up worshipping Chet Atkins, so I don’t say this lightly. Curtis Powell could give old Chet a run for his money any time he tuned up his guitar. Spirit of the Music, indeed.