Mike Isenberg's Page
Content used with permission of Isenberg Archives
Remember the old legend about Dracula, that once you invite him in
he can come and go whenever he wants? Well, you invited me in, and I
wasn't kiddin' I got tons! I'll start with these, I can only send 5 at a
time. Hold on to your seat, this cat is an archivist!
You have the original line up of The Jets with me, Graham Walker,
Greg Clemons, Randy Kohtz and Greg Wilson Dave Chastain Jammin'
with Ready, Steady, Go! ( me, Greg Williams, Craig Moore and Matt
Warren ) The Dave Chastain Band Strawberry Fields Forever 1980
memorial concert poster The Jets in Lake Geneva at Shade Tree
Studios in the Playboy Club with Terry Luttrell.
Here's some more! Below:
Strawberry Fields Forever concert poster 1980
Front and back of Screams postcard
Screams 1979 itenerary
Second Chance concert poster
Shot of Cyndi Lauper
Carly Simon and Rob Nuehaus at the '83 Rock Awards
The Jets at the Second Chance
The Jets in 1973 ( get a load of them Rickenbackers and that
Hofner club Bass )
The Jets in Madison Wisconsin opening for the Ramones
and a new shot of me for a recent concert.
"I started playing in 1962, one of only a handful of guitar
that existed in Pekin, Illinois. By '65 I was in a couple of active groups,
most notably 'The Blues Feeling,' which was funny because we didn't do
any blues! But we did do a lot of gigs, we played a battle of the bands at
the state fair, the main prize was a record deal and a big concert
appearance at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City. We got third place, the
top honors went to this new group with a girl drummer who called
themselves The Carpenters. I think that was the summer of 1968.
There were all of these cool groups popping up, the first real live
and roll band I ever saw was Big John and The Mark 4, who years later
ripped off the Jets at a club in Galesburg in 1977. John actually pulled
a .38 on us when we demanded our pay! There was The Shags, who like
most bands modeled themselves after The Beatles ( after all, they started
the whole band boom in the first place ) and their record Did I Say That
I Love You was used in a local Bergner's department store commercial
with altered lyrics 'Come on down to Bergner's.'
The Shags lead guitarist Paul Booe had no idea that he was serving as
guitar teacher at the time, I used to hide my little student guitar in the
bushes outside up wherever they were playing and after watching him play, I'd go and get my guitar and try to figure out what he did. I told him years later in the mid '80's and he said "Wow, you thought I was a big deal and now you
have records that went all over the world! I'm a fan of yours!"
There was Suburban 9 to 5 and the Yellow Bird ( with I believe, a very
young Pork Armstrong ) and the Buster Browns with a very young Greg
Williams. This new kid came around to one of our big basement jam
sessions about '68 or so, Gary Ritchrath was his name. He was into
the same thing I was basically, we both were insanely pouring over
every note on Cream's Wheels Of Fire double album, which is where
all of those triplet guitar things came from. Gary was so funny, he'd
play with his back to us, like we were gonna steal his licks or something.
We became good friends over the years and almost started a band
together in '75 when he thought about leaving Speedwagon, due to being
chumped by Kiss. Their roadies kept jerking out Gary's speaker cables
when he would go to solo. That crap was common in those days."
Of course, that didn't happen to the Amboy Dukes who were on the
same bill. Ted Nugent got wind of what Kiss's roadies had been instructed
to do and got his brother and some other bad cats to stake out the corners
of the stage. He made an announcement " If anybody from Kiss would like
to come up and unplug My speakers when I play, come on up and try it!
See what happens to you!"
Around 68 or 69, REO was a local band and did one of their first shows
at the Memorial Arena in Pekin. A DJ from one of the local radio shows
came down to host the show, REO's big claim to fame at the time was that
they could do Sympathy For The Devil and sound just like the Stones.
They took a break and while we all stood around the stage talking, this
guy came up to the stage, he looked like he was a farmer or something,
and he asked to talk to Gary. I pointed Gary out and the guy says "
would you mind doing me a favor? I've got this old guitar here and I'm
wondering if you would tune it up and play it in your next set." When
we opened the guys guitar case we could barely contain ourselves, it was
the first Les Paul we'd ever seen. We all tried to act cool, Gary said
"Sure, I'll play it." Once Gary walked onstage with it, the guy split and
never came back. It turned out to be the Honey-burst 59 Les Paul Gary
was noted for playing during REO's big years. I wondered what the guy
meant when he said "It's all yours." Naturally, I wanted that guitar bad.
When REO played the one day festival at Detwieller park in 1971 it
began to pour down raining. Me and some other guys held up a huge
plastic tarp so the band could continue. I yelled at Gary "Give me that
guitar or I'll drop the tarp and electrocute your ass!" He just laughed."
I've worked here in Hollywood for 10 years, I go through about 3,000
artists a year, working with everybody from Karen Black to Jack Black,
MANY stories to tell there! I wish Icould be a part of the Hollywood
Forever thing! Here's some Tinsel Town for ya!
Two shots of my buddy and probably my favorite Hollywood artists,
Chuck E. Weiss Two shot of them Nelson boys ( one with my wife, who
seems a bit stoned ) a shot with wife Kim of John Hawkes ( Deadwood,
Perfect Storm, The Practice and about a zillion movies with George
Clooney and Quentin Tarantino (?) )
One of me and my wife's pals, Dawn Wells (Mary Ann, Gilligan's Island)
Check out what she wrote on the photo!
Kyle Gass of Jack Black's spoof band Tenacious D.
The infamous Buzz Clifford, who had a smash novelty hit in 1961 with
'Baby Sittin' Boogie.'
And a couple of me and brother, Sam Kinison. We did many shows
together. I had also been a comedian since the sixties; it's well
documented that the famous scream and style were originated by me,
Sam was an early fan of mine in Peoria. I was supposed to play him
in the motion picture (they haven't gotten off their ass to make it yet.)
"When I first came to Hollywood ten years ago, my friend Bill
took my wife and I down to get supper at a place called Highland
Grounds. Hardly anyone was there, literally about three people besides
us and the staff. Chuck E. Weiss was onstage, I was immediately a fan.
Later on of course, he'd make two incredible albums to critical acclaim.
He signed both of them for me, one read " I'll see you in Hell, I saved
a seat for ya." I have the only film footage of the original band, Spider
( sax ) died of an overdose, and keyboardist Jon Herron died of an
aneurysm of the brain. All great friends. Chuck hasn't played since Jon
died, Chuck E. would always say 'Nobody'll play with me no more, they
don't wanna be next." As if there were a curse on him.
John Hawkes is one of the finest, kindest, gentlemen I have ever met.
A very dear friend of my wife and I, and a big fan of my music and
comedy. The Nelsons are regular diners at Highland Grounds parent
restaurant Hugo's, and played the club several times, great guys.
Dawn Wells runs a boot camp for songwriters and performers in
Utah on a gorgeous ranch with mountain biking, camping, spas, you
name it. It's sponsored by Martin guitars and Sennhieser Microphones.
She's a lovely lady and she still looks like Mary Ann! Buzz Clifford and
I hit it off immediately, we're fans of each other. He had a huge hit in
1961 with a novelty tune called 'Baby Sittin Boogie' that's still available
today on a CD novelty collection from K-Tel called Wacky Wierdos.
He's seen it all in Hollywood over the last fifty years. A sweet cat!
Sammy Kinison was a great friend and an early fan of mine, I always
tried to throw in some comedy at live music performances, there were
no comedy clubs to play, so that was my outlet. In 1968 a guy I went
to Pekin Community High School with named Tom Kelly ahd come up
with this deafening roar to freak everyone out and generally to piss
off the teachers called the 'belly yell.' I adopted the technique and
continued on with it, using it to punctuate jokes. Sammy took it up and
made it famous. My version was slightly different from Tom Kelly's,
I gave it a more Jackie Gleason feel, he was the original screamer.
Sammy's mom loved me to death, called me son and always referred
to me as the living incarnate of Sam. It was her last wish that I play
Sam in the motion picture of his life. I was constantly being mistaken
for him, even by his own relatives. The production company, Permut
Presentations, sought me out and I'm still up for the part, though
Universal has yet to cast the film. It's currently in development hell.
Yet crap like Gigli gets funded and made. Hollywood wastes more time
and money than any corporation they ever hated. Fact."
Here are some extremely rare shots of The Blues Feeling, the black
and white photo was taken in '66 in Mackinaw, Illinois by the river,
the color shot was taken at the state fair in '68 when we were up against
The Carpenters. The band featured Rusty Vest on drums, Randy Clinebell
on rhythm guitar and vocals, Me on lead guitar and vocals, Mike 'Sully'
Sullivan on bass guitar, Ernie Emig on keyboards.
I also included the 1979 cover of the Prairie Sun with The Jets on the
cover, at that point we were three piece with Graham Walker on bass
and vocals, me once again on lead guitar and vocals and Darin Bloomfield
on drums. That was the final line up before our untimely demise in june
Plus, two of the rarest shots, a color photo of me and my Black Jack
395 Eko guitar in '66 and a '65 shot of me with my '65 Silvertone
guitar. It came with a hard case that had a 50 watt tube amp built
Plenty more to come, but in the meantime, how about this shot of
The Finchley Boys? All important Jets history coming up. Also
included, RARE Sreams pic and postcard, it might interest you to
know that Brad and Johnny split from Screams in late '79 to join
The Jets with Graham and me. Live recordings exist from that brief
period, the bulk of my archives is live recordings that date back
close to 40 years.
A Brief History Of The Jets 1972-1980
In newspaper and magazine articles about The Jets we were always
compared to The Beatles, mainly because of our musical style and the
crowd reaction we got. One thing wasn't comparable in that we were
instantly the most successful band in the midwest. We had all mused
about being in a band together, each one of us was already in a successful working band, but it seemed like each band had one really good guy and several
mediocre guys. We met at the Pekin Memorial Arena in the summer of 72,
by coincidense really, there was a 4-H Fair going on there and there
wasn't much else to do. Flores Music had a display there and I stopped
of to play some of the guitars, at first a bit of an annoyance to the
owner, but then people began to come over to his display and listen.
The others ( Graham Walker, Greg Clemons, Greg Wilson and Randy
Kohtz ) eventually happened by and we started passing the guitar
around and singing in harmony. A huge crowd gathered and went
bonkers over us, we were pretty baffled over the reaction. I got a
call later that night suggesting we might actually form a band, but I
had the idea a few years before and clemons turned it down so I held
out little hope for it becoming a reality. But the reaction we got that
day was so startling and unexplainable we couldn't deny it and decided
to give it a shot. My band was supposed to play a dance at the Pekin
Pool that week and because our drummer backed out due to girlfriend
problems we were going to cancel. I thought why not ask the new group
to play it instead, though we had only worked out six tunes. Greg Clemons suggested we play what we could band-wise and do the accoustic guitar
thing and sing along as we had at the 4-H Fair. We did, and unadvertized
in any way, within minutes the Pekin park was packed with people coming
from everywhere to see who was making this sound. There were probably
a couple of thousand people there going crazy over us, screaming and
mobbing us, getting autographs and what not. It built up from that point
on. Our gear was awful, but it didn't seem to matter, Peoria Musical
Enterprises became our agency, Hank Skinner owned it and Dave Kuchin
began trying to field endless offers for us to appear, calling three or
four times a day with more shows to do. It really hit the fan when WIRL
radio hired us to do a 'Greaser Record Hop' at Exposition Gardens in
the Youth Building. We did a couple of things that none of the other
bands at that point were doing. While everyone else was doing Led
Zeppelin and wearing the hippy style dress of the time, we went retro
and wore suits and had the band name on the bass drum head and did
pretty much vocal music and old stlye rock and roll. For some reason
WIRL, having never heard us, went all out in their on air advertizing
like we were the fucking Beatles. We were in the car together heading
for Expo Gardens and there were constant blurbs on the radio like
"The Jets are now heading for Expositions Gardens in limousines,
this is going to be a HUGE event tonight, be sure to get there early,
record breaking attendance is expected, these guys are HOT!!" We
were amazed at the hype, laughing our asses off in Clemon's dad's car,
but it worked! Their were thousands there and when we went on it was
complete pandemonium! We were WIRL's darlings after that and
nothing we wanted to do was out of the question.
What we really pride ourselves on is the fact that we were the first
band around to warrant playing in a full scale theatre, with people
buying tickets with the express purpose of sitting and watching us.
WIRL set it up for us to do a midnite show at the no longer existing
Palace Theatre in Peoria. We had to sneak in that afternoon and set
up what we could because The Posiedon Adventure was showing. We
were getting followed all over the place, girls sneaking around our
parents houses and sending us loads of fan mail. But we got really
nervous that night wondering if anyone would show up that late,
most of our fans were pretty young. The guys were actually sick
back beyond the movie screen, when the show was over we looked
out at the 2,000 seat theatre and knew that if 200 people showed
up it'd still look empty and embarrass the hell out of us in front
of WIRL. But that was our big dream, to play a theatre like The
Beatles did in A Hard Days Night. We really thought it was over,
but Clemons and I walked through the empty theatre and peered into
the lobby. They hadn't opened the doors yet and it was like a riot
outside the theatre! People going nuts everywhere! We ran back to
tell the rest of the band and they didn't believe us, in fact, Wilson
was throwing up. When the lights went down the screams were
deafening, the place was jammed. In the middle of the first song
the crowd began to stand on the chairs and rushed down the isles
going crazy. The police came in and ran down the side isles and held
everyone back from rushing the stage, it was amazing! We did more
theatres than we did clubs for quite a while. When our first 45rpm
record came out ( Be For Me b/w I Play For You on Marigold Records )
it went to number 13 on WIRL's charts ( believe it or not, the same
charts that had Elton John's Bennie and The Jets and Paul McCartney's
Jet on it ), staying on for a couple of months. Another first in quite
some time for a 'local' band.
When Greg Clemons decided to leave the group, again we couldn't figure
out why, what more could anyone ask? But he and Randy Kohtz were out
and we got Graham's cousin Tom Walker in on bass guitar. The band was
about 9 months old when that happened and when we debuted that summer
at an outdoor event for the annual Marigold Festival over 10,000 people
packed downtown Pekin to see us, that time we did show up in a limo and
WIRL's personalities Toronto and The Stoned Ranger ( Ron Wood and
Chuck Diamond ) brought us on stage to another screaming mass. It kept
getting bigger, we were in the local papers more than The Beatles
themselves were! ( photos are from that night from Pekin Daily Times
staff photographer. The Times did a double page spread about the
appearance using close to 20 different shots from this bunch)
( The Jets Continued)
It was during that period that we played a huge nightclub complex
called PZAZZ in Burlington, Iowa. It was an entire city block with
13 full scale nightclubs under one roof, each with a different theme
and band, there was a jazz room, blues room, etc,. We played the
concert room, a 2,000 seater called the Pzazzitorium. We always
packed the place, but it seemed the main attraction at the time was
that you could drink there at the age of 18. I may have overindulged
ne evening and before the last show I sat at a table trying to sober
up. A guy in a suit came to my table and asked if I played with the
band and if I was the lead guitar player. I said yes and he said
" Are you the guy we heard about that can play the real solo to Rock
Around The Clock?" I said "Usually." Then this guy come out from
behind him, and he introduces us " This is Bill Haley, he's come to
see you play." I sobered up quick. There he was, the actual cat that
Alan Freed coined the term 'Rock and Roll' for. "I've never seen
anyone but my man do that solo right. Would you play my song in
your next set.?" Bill asked, how the hell could I refuse? It wasn't
the situation I would've chose, but adrenalin was my friend that
night and I nailed that sucker good. Bill and his man came up to me
after the set, grabbed my hand with a big smile on his face and said
"That was way out man! Gonesville! Thank you so much!" I could have
quit right then and been satisfied that I'd made my point. It wasn't
long after that that Bill died.
The Jets were also the only Rock band ever to play the Congressional
Ball in honor of Senator Dirksen. One old statesman complained about
the volume although we played at a whisper, but a bunch of others
turned to him and said " don't be such and old fuddy duddy, you old
coot." He shut up after that. We were also the only Rock band ever
to have our photo used as a station identification for WMBD TV.
It was a full screen live shot of us playing before the 4th of July
fireworks display at the stadium in front of 30,000 people.
Everything you've read so far happened the first year we were
together, there's a ton more to tell. You might wonder why such
an unbelievable success story isn't more widely known. After our
break up in 1980 it was almost as though we hadn't existed in the
first place. Pekin and Peoria all but ignored their incredible musical
histories and a lot of famous cats came out of both cities. Anyone
growing up there now has absolutely no idea that it ever happened.
Susan Dey from the Partridge Family was a Pekinite, Dan Fogleberg
was as well and The Jets are still the only band ever to have two
songs become hits all over the globe with NO record deal, and No
promotion. Those two songs on Minneapolis's Twin Tone label are
STILL available digitally remastered, never went out of print and
still wildly successful. In fact, I put the two songs up on a site
about a month ago and within two weeks there were 2,000 hits on
them. I'm damned proud of that. Although Twin Tone has never
payed a single cent in royalties. Over a decade ago, the Pekin
times was pressured by locals to at least recount the story of our
downtown outdoor show that drew 10,000 people, and they did in
a special newspaper section. Peoria decided to have it's own walk
of fame, with Sam Kinison as it's first inductee. City officials
fought tooth nail and claw to stop it, but could not. Richard Pryor
was to be honored, but once again city officails tried to nix the
idea asking why it should glorify a foul mouthed drug addict.
So it goes. At this point no rock and roll musician ( for that matter
any musician ) has ever been honored in any way for their
accomplishments, but in city history books you'll find plenty
about school marching bands. In Pekin's city history book we
are not mentioned at all and we were the biggest entertainment
phenomenon ever to come out of the city. What a pitiful shame.
Not to mention, how insulting. But I'll continue to tell the stories
( you've only heard a fraction so far ) as long as I still draw a
breath and as long as there's a place for them to be told. So stay
tuned for lots more, but as you do, say a prayer of thanks for Nancy,
the wonderful lady who brings you this site and keeps the once vibrant
history alive, the beyond incredible scene that everyone thought would
go on forever, until Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and Gestapo type
road blocks virtually wiped it off the face of the earth. It really
makes me feel sad for the youth of this generation, who were cheated
out of everything since those times, they really don't have a clue what
they've missed out on, because up til now, no one has let them know.
More to come from Mike Isenberg!