My first dance band started up in my high school senior year. Sax players were Bill (“Willum”) Kapella, Marty Mlynarik, and Manny Mickel. In 1955, Charlie Russell replaced Manny who had enrolled at LSU. Trumpeters were Tommy Nelson and Bobby Jo Hill. Drummers were, first, Burt Nelson and, later, Jimmy Salbego. String bass players were Jay Mau and Wayne Barnett, and vocalist was Anna Mae Longhini.
Our rehearsal spot was the Lockport Congregational Church. As church organist I had a key to get in. We used the upstairs Sunday School space for our practices. How could it be that no one ever complained to me?
Notable gigs include the Youth Center dances, the high-school Lock Staff dances, the Lone Star Inn in Channahan, and the infamous squad car affair in Lemont.
We got our start playing in the Lions Club Minstrel shows. Our first arrangements were crafted by “Pops” Leedom, the band director at Taft School. After awhile we began buying “stock arrangements” of the current hit-parade tunes. Here are some of the songs we played in the mid fifties:
|Moonlight Serenade||Hey There||Stranger in Paradise||12th Street Rag|
|Three Coins in the Fountain||Count Your Blessings||Oh! My Papa||Iowa|
|The Happy Wanderer||South Rampart Street Parade||If You Love Me||Dream|
|The High and the Mighty||In a Little Spanish Town||Hernando's Hideaway||Lullaby of Birdland|
|My Friend||Hold My Hand||Skokiaan||If I Give My Heart to You|
|South||Tuxedo Junction||Heaven Was Never Like This||Papa Loves Mambo|
|Little Brown Jug||Wanted||Temptation||Harlem Nocturne|
|The Bunny Hop||Polka Medley||Here||Little Things Mean a Lot|
|The Little Shoemaker||At the Jazz Band Ball||Muskrat Ramble||Cara Mia|
Those Youth Center Dances in the winter of 1956 were quite the thing. Held in the old Congregational Church building at Ninth and Washington streets---then being used as a youth center---the dances were produced by the Swing Band, which took the time to decorate the room to make the events seem special.
My involvement with the Jimmy Stephenson Swing Band ended when I went off to Purdue in September, 1956. The swinging little band kept going for awhile under the leadership of Tommy Nelson.