Iowa Teen Kings of '73
The local 1973 LP by Iowa teen band SHADRACK CHAMELEON first appeared on the radar screens in the mid-1980s. At that time its melodic, melancholic 70s rock sound seemed somewhat atypical among the freaky guitar-psych LPs that were considered hot stuff, but a couple of decades later SHADRACK has surpassed many a flashier competitor in terms of both popularity and market value.
Shadrack main-man Steve Fox went AWOL back in the 1970s and his current whereabouts are unknown, but I recently connected with sometime Shadrack member Ardie Dean Strutzenberg, who also brought in guitarist Randy Berka for the Q & A below.
ARDIE: Let me start by saying "Shadrack WAS Steve Fox". He formed, wrote, sang, played, financed, produced, booked, recorded, engineered (get the picture?) that whole thing. I was Steve's close friend and drummer for the group "Lazy River". For the Shadrack LP I was a hired gun to play on a coupla tracks that Steve wrote. I've spoken very recently with John Brandsgard (guitar), Randy Berka (guitar), Jon Porter (keyboards) and Dan Dodgen (drums). Steve mysteriously dropped out of sight and no one has heard from him since.
Q: What was the music scene like locally in Iowa when Shadrack were happening?
ARDIE: We recorded the Shadrack LP in Jon Porter's fathers' Electronic store warehouse (Porter Electric). That building sat less that 100 yards from the Star Ballroom in Dakota City, Iowa. The Star Ballroom was operated by a guy named Otto Shultz. Otto had run this place since the 30s with acts like Lawrence Welk, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, etc. So he had great contacts when in the early 60's he decided to book rock acts for teens on Sunday nights. The unbelievable list of great bands that came through there was the inspiration for all of us young players to "go for it". Every week was something different, Otto brought in mostly regional acts and local acts with an occasional national act, we had it all!
Q: Any local/regional bands from back then that you remember?
ARDIE: Here's some that had a profound effect on me and the fellas:
FAY HOGAN EXPERIMENT-these guys were lightyears ahead of their time, they covered the song 75 by "Touch" (check that out!). Acid experimental rock at it's best.
ZERO TED - Out of North Dakota, tight 4 piece doin "Son's Of Champlian" type of stuff (without the horns). Drummer went on to play in Jethro Tull.
RUGBYS - Kentucky all original 4 piece, guitarist dead ringer for Alvin Lee but FASTER!
ROSE GARDEN - hit record on Atco label.
RUMBLES - The top draw cover band, did Beatles perfect.
WEST MINST'R - Local band with a great 45 "Bright Lights Windy City" later called the "Hawks" with LP's on Columbia.
THE FABULOUS FLIPPERS - 12 piece horn show band, top notch band (matching uniforms and all).
19th AMENDMENT - all girl band that kicked ass! (20 years before Bangles)
PETE KLINT QUINTET - Iowa group with extreme quality musicianship.
BABY - guitarist went on to play with Bonnie Raitt.
FATBACK - Omaha funk and R & B, singer was at least 400 pounds of black soul.
LIGHTNING - from Minneapolis the best band ever! All originals, one LP on Picwick, mezmerizing.
There were many more like HEADSTONE, ECHOS V, LIBRARY, ROSE, FRB, but lets get back to Shadrack.
Q: How long did the recording session last? Was there a lot of arrangements etc worked out as it was recorded, or did Steve have the whole thing figured out already?
ARDIE: We spent three days cutting the two tracks that I was on, I believe the whole project took Steve about a month to put it all together. Steve had the blueprint in his mind but we did experiment with his ideas before commiting it to tape.
RANDY BERKA: As I recall, Steve worked out the arrangements for most of the tunes that he wrote and sang on the LP. There were a couple of tracks ("Long Road to Ole Miss" and "Don't Let It Get You Down") that were done with the original four Shadrack members, and these were arranged with input from the whole band.
Q: Similarly, did you get the impression that the material was recently written for the LP, or were things that Steve had gathered during a longer period?
RANDY: Steve wrote most of the material specifically for the LP. As noted above, there were just a couple of tracks that were written and performed by the original Shadrack lineup, and these were not specifically written for the LP. They were actually tunes that we performed live at various venues prior to recording them for the album.
Q: Did Shadrack (in any line-up) play much live? If so, was it only locally?
RANDY: Shadrack performed rather extensively (almost every weekend) at various venues in Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska. The performances included concerts and dances at area high schools, colleges, and pubs. One of the highlights in our tenure was that we opened for Ides of March (band that recorded "Vehicle") at the Roof Garden Ballroom in Spirit Lake.
Q: Any idea what "marble structure granite feast" means? Or indeed that whole song?
RANDY: No clue. You will have to ask Steve Fox about this one. I have a hunch it is an anti-war theme - many tombstones are marble and granite. But that's only my guess.
Q: Do you know anything about the pressing and distribution of the "Chameleon" LP -- how many copies, was it distributed outside your local area?
RANDY: As I recall, there were only about 500 original copies printed by the small local label (Sonic Records) in Milford, Iowa. Most were given away at performances or sold locally. The album was recorded in our old practice room in Dakota City, Iowa (one room in an electrical appliance storage area owned by the parents of our keyboard player Jon Porter - Interestingly, Jon Porter is now a US Congressman representing Nevada). It was done on an old reel-to-reel TEAC 4-track recorder, and Steve Fox took the master tapes to Sonic Records and paid himself to have it pressed.
Q: Regarding the first Shadrack 45, do you recall how long time elapsed between the 45 coming out, and you starting to work on the LP?
RANDY: I think it was about 18 months between recording the 45 and the LP. In contrast to the LP, the 45 was actually recorded in a real studio (Sonic Records in Milford, Iowa). Steve Fox did a lot of recording for the LP on his own after several band members left for college.
Q: Was the LP in planning when the 45 was made? Any reason for the 45 tracks not being included on the LP?
RANDY: We talked about doing a LP when we recorded the single, but it wasn't really planned at that time, because we all realized how much time and money would be required to record an LP, a big investment. However, Steve was a creative guy and figured out a way to use lower cost recording equipment in our practice room in Dakota City. Since several of us had left the band to pursue university studies, Steve "recruited" local musicians from other bands to help him with the LP project. Guys like John Brandsgard on guitar (now with the Nortons) and Ardie Dean Strutzenberg (current drummer with folks such as Microwave Dave, Guitar Gabriel, MusicMaker Foundation and Taj Mahal).
Q: The way I understand it, the band was originally called Shadrack, then changed the name to Shadrack Chameleon at the time of the LP. Is this correct?
RANDY: That's the way I understand it too. The original four guys (Steve Fox, Jon Porter, Dan Dodgen, and Randy Berka) were called Shadrack. However, there were a number of guest musicians that added their talents to the Shadrack LP after Berka and Porter left for the universities. I think Steve decided that this warranted the name change on the LP.
Q: There seems to be a certain Neil Young influence on the LP -- what artists and albums were you guys inspired by at the time?
RANDY: We were heavily influenced by Neil Young, Buffalo Springfield, and David Bowie. Those guys were our heroes!
Q: What happened after the LP came out? Did the band continue long afterwards?
RANDY: I think the Shadrack Chameleon LP was pretty much the "swan song" for Shadrack. Since several band members were involved with their studies at universities, I don't recall that Shadrack ever played another gig.
Q: Do you have any idea how Steve Fox and the band felt about the LP -- were they satisfied with it? Was there any response from fans that you remember?
RANDY: I don't know how Steve felt about it, but I was surprised and proud of him that he finished the project. Considering that Steve was only 17 or 18 years old at that time, it was quite an accomplishment for a young man. It provided a nice souvenir of our time together. Since I didn't stay in the area after leaving the band, I don't really know what the response was from our friends and fans. However, since only a few hundred copies were pressed, I don't think that the response was overwhelming. The response over the last 10 years has been much greater than when the records were released. I'm not sure why. Nostalgia perhaps? I get phone calls and emails from people in Europe who inquire about the band and the records. It's quite amazing to me! Gear Fab records has re-released the LP (on CD and vinyl), including both tracks from the 45 rpm single. That's something I never dreamed would happen!
Q: Did Shadrack ever appear on local TV or radio, to your knowledge? Were there any newspaper ads to promote the LP?
RANDY: Shadrack never appeared on TV, but both the single and the LP got a little bit of airplay on local radio stations, particularly in our home town (KHBT radio in Humboldt, Iowa). A few times we heard tracks from the single and the LP on a late night radio show called "Bleaker Street" on KAAY in Little Rock, Arkansas. But it was only because our friends and fans would call in to make requests. There were no newspaper ads or record signings to promote the LP. It was all pretty much by word of mouth.
Q: Anything else you recall in particular from the Shadrack days that you'd like to mention?
RANDY: Just that we were a bunch of kids, enjoying the fantasy of playing in a rock band.doing club gigs, schools, and public events. We had a great time together, and I wish it could have lasted longer.
Thanks to Ardie & Randy for their time, and to Ron Moore for providing the initial connection.
The Lama Workshop