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Mitchell band 'Faded Blue' inducted with standing ovation into South Dakota Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Rock and Roll band from the mid-70s was inducted into South Dakota’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in front of nearly 1,500 attendees on Saturday, Sept. 24.

Faded Blue 1.jpg
File photo.
Jeff Adkins / Bloomberg
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SIOUX FALLS — Faded Blue, a Rock and Roll band that originated in Mitchell in the mid-70s, was inducted into South Dakota’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Saturday, Sept. 24.

The Hall of Fame ceremony, which saw nearly 1,500 attendees, featured some of the group's biggest hits and earned them a standing ovation from audience members.

Harlan Nielsen, drummer for Faded Blue, said of the Hall of Fame induction, “It’s a really exciting thing, I think. It’s exciting for all of us.”

Teenagers turned friends

What started as a bunch of teenagers playing for a foreign exchange event in high school turned into a lifetime of musical genius and very established friendships.

The year was 1974. The popularity of '50s and '60s music was rising after the release of the soundtrack to the film “American Graffiti,” giving four teenagers just the spark of inspiration they needed to start their band.

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The four youngsters — Steve Thomas on lead vocals, Cleve Carlson on guitar and vocals, Don Harris on bass and vocals and Harlan Nielsen playing drums — decided playing as a band would get them all the ladies.

“We were all just quirky,” Nielsen said as he described how the band got together. “We were all musicians and singers.”

According to Nielsen, it was their choir director, Bob Elleson, who quickly realized the teens’ potential.

“He was the one who put us together,” Nielsen admitted. “We were the band that backed the choir.”

Known for its strong lead vocals and smooth harmonies, the band played an exchange concert with Sioux City North High School, which then quickly evolved into playing bigger venues — Faded Blue Jeans was booked for proms, homecomings, street dances and more.

At some point, Faded Blue Jeans was shortened to Faded Blue by lighting manager, roadie and close-friend, Jim Paul, who also happened to haul the bands’ gear around for many months in his white Ford Thunderbird.

Faded Blue 2.jpg
Faded Blue was founded while the teens were all still in high school. Courtesy of Steve Thomas, lead singer.

First gig

In 1974, Faded Blue booked their first gig at a strip club.

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The band landed their first gig when bassist Don Harris’ father pitched the band to Moonlight Bar owner, Jerry Davis.

“The Moonlight was known for a totally different form of entertainment at the time,” Nielsen admitted with a laugh. “And — this is so bad — we were all underage.”

The band set up around the pole in the middle of the stage for the show. They would later become Moonlight's weekend house band during the summer of ’74.

They played Rest Haven, Groveland Park, Milltown, at USD fraternity and sorority parties. Faded Blue was featured all across the Midwest, playing in bars and pubs like The Last Step, The Plains, The Zoo, Night City, The Flame Room, Chase on the Lake, Wagner’s Lanes, and The Chalet — they were even a house band at the Kongo Klub.

In 1975, Bob “Whitey” Walker, a tasteful, smooth lead guitar player added a new dimension, and Faded Blue’s sound began to evolve. Walker previously worked with DD Night Train & The Soul Express, an R & B band from Dakota Wesleyan University. He left the band the following year, around the same time Carlson and Harris took a break to pursue other careers.

In 1977, John Mogen, who played keyboard, synthesizers, soprano sax, flute, and had a high vocal range, was introduced to the band.

Shortly after, Mogen brought along Bob Bego, another keyboard player from Akron, Ohio.

Faded Blue, now with two skilled keyboard players, continued to thrive in the midwestern music industry, which would lead Cleve Carlson to eventually make his way back to the band.

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They continued to play together until 1979.

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Wrapping up and coming together

Like all good things, the band eventually came to an end.

Mogen left the band two years after he joined, leading Don Harris to rejoin. The band continued to play across the Midwest before it officially disbanded in 1979.

A few original members did come back to play again, turning Faded Blue into Good Times for a brief stint in ‘82, but most had moved on to other projects.

Carlson and Harris later formed Flatland Express touring the Midwest and Canada. Carlson relocated to California while Thomas and Nielsen continued to work with bands based in Louisville and Green Bay. Bob Walker continues to play with his daughter, Layla, with Twenty One 20.

“The Hall of Fame induction will be the first time some of us have played together in 43 years,” Nielsen said. “Most of us moved away… Steve went to Chicago and Cleve ended up in Texas. So it’s exciting to be able to see them and play with them again.”

The band, who rehearsed for only seven hours prior to the reunion, received a standing ovation at the ceremony, as well as plaques for their contribution to Rock and Roll in South Dakota.

Related Topics: SIOUX FALLSMUSICMITCHELL
Cassie Williams joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2022. To get in contact with Cassie about potential stories, feel free to email her at cwilliams@mitchellrepublic.com.
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