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I was told early on, that Johnny was a hard person to work with. I knew what that meant. My dad was like that. I mean, if my dad asked for a certain tool and you brought the wrong one, he’d chew a poor kid out in front of everyone. Dad was very good with tools. He built our first “on-the-road” bandwagon in our back yard ! Once, while walking through a local retail store, he asked me to tell him the time on their huge, wall clock. I was about 8 years old and just learning about life, let alone learning how to tell time on giant analog clocks. As luck would have it, I blurted out the wrong time. Maybe a dozen or so strangers, were now thinking that I was a dummy who couldn’t tell the time of day. Or so I thought.
I’m kinda glad Johnny didn’t hire me the first time I auditioned.
My first band wasn’t of much importance to anyone but me and a three other kids, but I’ll never forget it. On our first gig, we played in a little dive bar half the night, New Years Eve, around 1960. I was 13. Those poor people had to listen to our 7 songs over and over. The bar was located in North Toledo, on the corner of Michigan and Magnolia. The owner was related to one of the band members and we made 5 bucks apiece. I think I had my first nervous attack that night.
When Johnny and the Hurricanes were making the BIG time… I was only 13 years old. I had learned all of my guitar, ” Rock-and-Roll” licks, from Dave Yorko’s guitar, on those latest Johnny and the Hurricanes hit records. Of course, being from Toledo, their records were being played a lot in Toledo and I was very impressed. I saw them on TV on the Dick Clark show and went to a concert nearby, to see them in person. Bobby Cantrall, their bass player, made me laugh. He took off his bass guitar, grabbed a huge handkerchief and rubbing his eyes, began to wail, ” Woa Woa Woa Woa Woa Woa” and the band sang, “I Need Your Lovin’- Everyday!”…
Seems funny… he never sang that song again. It was killer.
I think I was a junior in high school when I got into my first real band. Like all the wannabe musicians our band made about $2.50 each, every gig, and stayed out of trouble, ’cause you know… music was our life. As a youngster, my parents enjoyed a good country band and their great live music so they often took us boys to their favorite dance hall on weekends. I even got to set in a little. Never shying away from crowds I was ready for the pressure. It was a tumultuous day that started it all. As I remember, the circus was in town and there was a sellout at the old Toledo Sports Arena of about 3 thousand. The MC called out to the audience and begged for someone to sit on his jackass and get the beast to move.
I immediately stood up and yelled, ” I can do it ! ” … I hurried down to his donkey platform and readied myself for the ride of my life. Then, over the loud PA system he announced that I should have to face the rear of the hairy thing while sitting on its back, and “BITE” the ass’ tail. ” That’s the only way he’ll move ! ” he said with a frown. Those 3 thousand people screamed in delight as I grabbed his tail and stuck it in my mouth. I think the MC was in shock as it took him a minute to compose himself enough to coax me to let go of the damn thing. It was a trap… the beast of burden was not going anywhere ! But, I never let go of that roar of the crowd, and I never will. Yep… I went somewhere, even though it wasn’t my biggest dream….
My next band was called The Thunderbolts and we had a sax player but no bassist and just one microphone, we played mostly sock-hop clubs. I knew my own band had to be good. My fellow guitarist in The Thunderbolts made a lot of mistakes when he played and I knew I just had to get out of that band.
By June of 1962, I was sixteen and playing with The Tarragons. I used to drive the whole band around town in my 1952 Chevy.
We made about $3 each per gig and we would work around Toledo most weekends. ⇓
Every member of this band would later go on to become one of Johnny’s Hurricanes.There was Phil Crites (aka Phil January) on organ, Chuck LeVally on drums, Ken Sahadi on bass, and myself on guitar using a -1954 Fender Stratocaster- through a Fender piggyback amplifier. We played mostly instrumentals because we didn’t like the vocalists, like Pat Boone, who were popular at that time. It was around then that I first auditioned for Johnny & The Hurricanes. Bobby Cantrall walked up to me while I was on a break at the Miracle Mile Ballroom and said I was the kind of lead guitarist Johnny was looking for. I got nervous just thinking about that job. I watched Bobby drive away that night in his brand new white Chevy Impala and I had visions of sugar plums dancing in my head… Later, I got to audition but Johnny thought I wasn’t experienced enough…
Soon after that I joined Wes Charles & The Premieres and I learned a lot about music while I was with them [then I bought a Gretsch Chet Atkins Signature]. As well as playing guitar I could sing decently and also harmonize well, which was important as The Beatles were just starting to break loose. I was just getting ready for my 17th birthday when I quit the Premieres, while in Chicago…
and got another call from Bobby Cantrall – “Did I want to join The Hurricanes?”
A few weeks later I became The Hurricanes 9th lead guitarist and during rehearsals we planned our attack as “The American Beatles”. My first gig with them was at the Embassy Ballroom in Chicago. Butch Cook was their drummer, Bobby Cantrall on bass, with Phil Crites – the organist who played with me in The Tarragons – who had joined The Hurricanes around the same time as me. Butch Cook took a shine to me and told me not to worry about being only seventeen because he could get me a fake ID card saying I was twenty-one. I was impressed. I memorized those IDs and had to use them once while I was quite inebriated… I made it…
The early bands I was in, were making the rounds at all the sock-hops in Toledo and doing pretty good. As time went on we built a small following and had our name featured in a lot of advertisements for this-and-that venue. I saved a few…
I often got to the Bamboo early and tried to talk with the musicians when they came in. They were mostly uppity and didn’t want to be bothered. I was only 16 and still looked like a young punk…
While sitting quietly at this empty bar one night, a short dark, strong-looking man walked in, approached me and
RIPPED MY DARNED SHIRT RIGHT OFF OF ME !
I started to attack him and the bartender shouted. ” Les, get the heck out of here or he’ll kill you ! ” I took heed and calmly left. Since I was 16 but a wiry toughie… that was hard to do. My aunt was part of, and warned me about, the gangs in our town…
Later that month, on another night, someone punched the window from outside and the glass went all over everybody.
I wished he was under it.
(Some of my pictures show a later date because I couldn’t afford to get them developed.)
Soon after that, a professional band contacted me and offered me a good paying gig on the road.
When I told my teacher I was quitting school she derided me and said I wouldn’t amount to much. I asked her if she was making what I’d be making and sadly, she said no. People thought musicians were bums I guess. I always made very good money …
After rehearsing with the Premieres group, we all headed out for miles and miles of travel and bars and bars of dance floors. For about 2 years we all worked very hard to keep our songs fresh and professional. It was great experience. The band leader was one of the best musicians in my town so I was very fortunate to work with him.
I went on the road with Wes Charles and the Premieres for over a year.
I got to audition for the Hurricanes again when I turned 17 and this time I got the job.
Just before we left for our first gig in Chicago, I bought a new Magnatone amplifier from Durdel’s, ” Stars of Tomorrow “. As I was paying for it, I looked up on the bulletin board… near his register, and saw this great picture of one of our local bands, the BG Ramblers with the Beatles. It was taken in Florida and both the Beatles and Florida seemed very far away, I really wasn’t impressed… until much later.
That Magnatone amp was heavy, about 50 lbs. and it had a handle on the very top.
I liked the different sounds it could make for the guitar. Dave Yorko played one after he left the Hurricanes and he was quoted as saying the same thing. It had a very fatal flaw… the weight and the handle didn’t work well together.
It was my very first gig with the Hurricanes and it did a “Fatal Flaw” !
The handle had deformed upward, because of the weight, and the two shutoff switches disconnected the power to the amp.
Lifting it and setting it down again didn’t help. It stayed OFF. Of course, I had no idea that had happened. Long story short, I had to play my guitar through the Embassy Ballroom’s stage PA system ! I was a total wreck. I was mad at Durdel’s and the Magnatone people. Our band sounded like heck and it was my first night with the Hurricanes, in front of about 600 people. Durdel’s was sympathetic but I wasn’t happy. That was my second nervous attack…
He then gave me a deal on a piggy-back Fender, Band Master, to match Bobby’s. I was OK after that. (No fuzz or Wa-Wa pedals were available then.)
First Chicago then New York !
I know Johnny was upset that the Beatles made it big. When I suggested we copy their “On Stage” antics and dress like them and sing like them, he was all in. It didn’t work though. We still could not gain that edge no matter what. John was so mad he even wrote a song about them.
Eventually, Johnny dumped his manager and decided to go it alone. His manager threatened to ruin him and he almost did. The bookings were coming few and far apart and my income was reflective.
We backed up Del Shannon twice. One was a a small college somewhere in Wisconsin. I really liked the guy. He was friendly and talkative. The gig went very well. When we were done and changing in to our street clothes we got a rare opportunity to sit with Del and listen to him sing and play his acoustic guitar. It was taking place in the men’s locker room and we were plopped down in the shower area. The natural reverb in the “all-tiled” room was so beautiful it was almost heavenly. We all got to hear his new release, Keep Searchin’ (We’ll Follow the Sun). One could easily understand why musicians went to extremes to get this effect. I’ve read that Elvis and others, used to go into basements and even put their speakers into metal drums to experience this effect. Recently, I read that the Beatles were enticed to play in another club owner’s bar because he had a PA system with a reverb.
Bobby Cantrall filled me in about Johnny’s feelings towards Del so I never asked to take any pictures with him. The business side of the relationship was in the way of the pleasure side. I said I thought he was a great guy… and Johnny gave me a dirty look.
Johnny thought he was being ripped off by his and Del’s managers. Micahnik and Balk had signed the group to Twirl at a 1½% royalty rate. Then they leased the records to the Warwick, Big Top and Mala labels at a royalty rate of 8%. Since they took credit for composing most of the tunes, their own Vicki Music collected publishing royalties as well. In addition, Micahnik and Balk creamed off 20% of the group’s earnings. Johnny knew that most of the money was being pumped back in to Del’s promotion. So, things were a little tense, but we all got along OK.
When I found out we were responsible for Del’s transportation back to the airport I got a little edgy sitting so close to them in the van. It was a good hour drive… on the quietus.
We were really tight and performed well in front of thousands. People loved us and we signed hundreds of autographs. My dream was to play on the stage where, as a youngster, my family and I spent many a weekend listening to our favorite country bands. The Buck Lake Ranch…
When Jerry Lee Lewis told Bobby Cantrall to ask me if I wanted to join his band. I said no…. Maybe that was a mistake… maybe not. sigh…
Phil Crites was ecstatic when he found out we were doing a show with his idols, The Beach Boys. We shared a dressing room and got to rub shoulders with all of them except Brian Wilson who was on sick leave. I got a real wake up call at that show. It was at the Cleveland Arena and was a packed house. We went on first and did our seven numbers and then The Beach Boys came out and did an hour. As soon as they finished they put down their instruments and sped back stage where two limousines were ready and waiting for them. Johnny & The Hurricanes were still standing there in awe when a horde of teenage girls came screaming past us looking for The Beach Boys.
They didn’t even know that Johnny & The Hurricanes existed.
Johnny always liked me… until…
Johnny never said it but I’m sure he wasn’t too happy when I got married in ’64. I think that’s when he started disliking me. I can’t blame him though… My wife was a real pit bull. She didn’t adore him she abhorred him. Once, while singing a Happy Birthday song to a gal in our audience, my wife threw an entire pitcher of beer at our stage ! Yeah, that went over well… Johnny barred her from the venue and I gave him my two weeks notice. That was the beginning of the end of my Hurricanes career. In this picture, my wife was very jealous and very angry to be there at his birthday party… Every one of us was happy except her. You can see it in her face. The next two years were hell… long story short… I stuck with her for 28 years. Then… I filed for divorce.
BTW, it seemed like Johnny did not like Phil and, understandably, Phil disliked Johnny. It was causing problems in the group.
” Phil, stop that smiling ! “
Our New Look is “LOOK MEAN “…
Bobby Cantrall bought a new, huge, blue “rolled and pleated” Custom Amplifier and that kind of upset me. There’s no way I could afford that on my side of the stage. Besides, our biggest asset on stage was our look-a-like amps of great Fender quality. Me, and hundreds like me, felt the same about our gear. Then, to make matters worse, Butch Cook, the drummer got mad and quit. He put a lot of pressure on me to go with him. But, at the same time I was looking for a good hometown factory job, with good pay and good health insurance. I had a kid then and felt too insecure about high hospital bills. Glad I felt that because my first son was really sickly.
I had a new stage mask that looked like a lion’s head and I would sneak up to Johnny’s leg and bite down on it real hard. He got mad and sometimes he would give me a good rap on the head while yelling loudly. I have to say… biting him, always felt good (except for the lump on my head) lolThen came the day that I had to leave Johnny and the Hurricanes. I had enough. Me and my dad drove to his home and actually helped him push his new Thunderbird, up his snow covered drive to his garage. John was not in a good mood. Neither was I when he said I couldn’t have my equipment… Earlier, he had gone so far as to insist that we buy new uniforms and owe him for the bills. I had to dicker and deal with him for my amplifier and microphone. He said he needed to set the his books straight for the uniforms.
Hmmm, $50 for puffy sleeves and bell-bottoms. I had to throw them out…
Johnny got back at me again 30 years later. We were going to be shutdown by him after we decided to get together for a ‘Former Johnny and the Hurricanes’ reunion. Dave Yorko and Butch Mattice were getting on in their age and it would be a shame not to see them get together again one more time. I told my friends it was cancelled at the last minute and they still didn’t believe it actually took place. Most people knew he’d have a lawsuit against us very quickly.
But, I have a whole DVD of the night.
That’s me playing lead on 1 song
Dave complimented me for doing a good job there. I switched to bass on a couple songs. Phil Crites, played keyboards. He set the whole thing up for us to appear that night. Phil Crites was the guy who tuned their grand piano there once a month and when he heard about the DooWop show he talked them into letting us play. Phil talked to Dave and Paul Tesluk often but he decided not to ask Paul to join in. I don’t know the reason for that but Paul later said he was disappointed. The video was being made by a relative of Butch Mattice and most of the shots were concentrated on Butch. We rehearsed 3 times before the show. I drove to Toledo, from Columbus, Ohio for 2 of the 3 rehearsals. The MC, Jim Brady, played drums for 1 song.
Bill Stewart, shared playing lead, also switching to bass. He was in the Hurricanes in the 70’s and I worked with Bill in the 90’s in a group called ‘OOPS’. It was my best band that I’d ever worked in. .
I wondered why Paul Tesluk was not invited to be on stage with us. I knew that he and Phil had been in touch with each other. While in the audience, Phil’s wife actually called Paul in Florida and told him we were about to play our first song. Mrs. Crites held the phone up so he could hear our number. She told my wife that Paul could not make the trip to Toledo, Ohio but wanted to hear some of the songs. I finally got to talk to Paul in 2020 and was going to ask him about that but was so excited I forgot… Paul said he would send me things he accumulated about the Hurricanes…. but, he never did. I think I made him mad, or something….. although, his daughter said they were all moving to another city in FLA. This was during the COVID-19 era so that came as no surprise.
We all got to know each other better during that affair and before too long, Johnny, Dave and Butch will have passed away.
My dad was in the audience and he said he saw Johnny sitting a few rows in front of him. Johnny threatened to sue all of us and we almost called the whole thing off but the radio station got their lawyer to talk to him and he recanted, as long as we used the phrase,
” Former Hurricanes “.
In Columbus I had been fitted up with a tuxedo, as we all were, but I had to return it at the last minute. I was angry until I got the news that we were ‘ON’ again to play.
I sat next to Martha Reeves from Martha and the Vandellas, wearing my official radio station T-shirt, through the whole show. ( now I wish I had my tux on…).
My dad and I were lucky men to be part of all that… Sometimes I think he enjoyed my stint as a rock star… even more than I did.
He has passed away too…
Some guys liked Johnny and some didn’t. There were a lot of musicians in Toledo, Ohio who turned down his offer to play with the Hurricanes. News about a band leader’s attitude travels fast in the music world. But, of course, Johnny was mad as hell from the beginning of their rise to stardom. He was let down personally and so he must have decided to get even with the whole world. There were people in Detroit and people in Toledo who would suffer.
I was seventeen and never knew very much about him. There were others after me, who thought Johnny was a good guy. His former, UK members wrote, ” I think John was softening up in his later years.”
Johnny, me, Butch Cook, Phil Crites-January- and Bobby Ignatowski-Cantrall- recorded Rene’, The Saga of the Beatles, I love You, Judy’s Moody (which I wrote), She’s Tall Blonde She’s Mine (which I wrote), Red River Rock 67, The Psychedelic Worm, Because I Love Her, Priceless Possession, Strange, Casanova Joe, Johnny and the Hurricanes® Live At The Star Club In Hamburg, Germany, Volume II, recorded in 1965 – Look for the GOLD logo, top left.