Starting with the pre-Beatles Canton, Ohio band The Silvertones, saxophonist Ken Stephens would leave the band prior to their
name change to The Angry. While The Angry moved to New York and found some success playing the local clubs, as well as with
recording some demos for Reprise Records, Stephens would begin a brief stint with The Rebels, another Ohio group, before
calling it quits in order to attend college.
An Interview With Ken Stephens
60sgaragebands.com (60s): How did you first get interested in music?
Ken Stephens (KS): My parents always listened to Country Western music when I was growing up, while my older brother listened to DooWop and early Rock-A-Billy '50's stuff. I decided in seventh grade that I wanted to take sax lessons since they were used often early rock.
60s: You were ina band before you joined The Silvertones, correct?
KS: My first band was the grade school orchestra! Then Jim Grant, the original Silvertones drummer, and I started jamming on weekends, and with Hans Stucki and Tom Potts we organized the Silvertones.
60s: Where, and what year, was this?
KS: We formed in Canton, Ohio in 1962, although Hans Stucki was from Wilmont, to the south of Canton. The original four members were Jim Grant (drums), Ken Stephen (sax), Hans Stucki (accordian, keyboard, vocals), and Tom Potts (guitar). Later replacements for Ken Stephen and Jim Grant were Gene Smithberger (guitar, vocals) and Mike O'Brien (drums, vocals).
60s: The Silvertones formed before "Beatlemania" had hit the U.S. What were the differences in being in a band pre and post "British Invasion"?
KS: Two differences that stand out to me are that: 1) pre-Beatles bands often had a singer(s) with a non-singing band behind them, and 2) purely instrumental bands like Johnny and the Hurricanes and the Ventures quickly disappeared from the 45 record charts.
60s: Did The Silvertones become any more popular after "Beatlemania" hit...or did things stay the same?
KS: When the Beatles hit the charts and TV, we, as did most other local bands I suspect, started performing more vocal songs by The Beatles, The Dave Clark Five and other similiar groups. The arrival of the Beatles also encouraged a lot of other "garage jammers" to form bands and go looking for work. Personally, I liked the Rolling Stones and Animals better than the Beatles.
60s: Where did the band typically play?
KS: We started at grade and high school dances, weddings and parties prior to going into clubs. I think most of us were only 14-years old when we were playing in clubs in Canton that we weren't legally allowed to be in! We played The VFW halls in the area, The Lite House Inn and The Riviera.
60s: How did you manage to land gigs playing in clubs while at such a young age? Did you have a manager?
KS: Management of the band was a group effort and we had no problems agreeing on band issues. Club managers at that time in this area used to check other clubs for talent and ideas. Canton in the '50's and '60's was once referred to as "Little Chicago" by either Look or Life Magazine (I forget which) because of the less than streneous enforcement of liquor and gambling laws. We were often approached by persons wanting to hire a rock band, and apparentlly no one cared how old we were. Also, often times one of our sets of parents would go to the bar/club with us and make sure all was well.
60s: How would you describe the band's sound? What band's influenced you?
KS: Prior to hearing the Beatles we were influenced by The Ventures, Johnny and the Hurricanes, Booker T and MG's, Gene Vincent - mostly '50's performers. We performed many instrumental pieces in the beginning.
60s: In 1965, The Silvertones "transformed" into The Angry. Were you ever a member of The Angry, or did you leave the band at the time of the name change?
KS: Jim Grant and I both left The Silvertones just prior to the name change.
KS: Jim had graduated from high school and decided to join the Navy rather than wait to be drafted into the Army, and I had just become tired of rehearsing and playing every weekend. I mean, all of us - except Jim Grant - were still young teenagers and we were playing at bars till 2:00 AM (look at the clock in the background in the photo on our web site where we weren't even allowed to be according to the Ohio laws). A lot of bands in the '60's and '70's, including bands with nationally charted recordings, were broken up because the draft was in full operation and many musicians were being drafted for service in Viet Nam.
60s: But after you left The Angry you joined The Rebels, correct?
KS: I didn't really "join" the band. The Rebels had three shows to play and their sax player had left them, so they called me and asked me to rehearse enough with them to play the gigs, one of them being The Miss Teenage America (regional pageant) at Chippewa Park near Cleveland. The McCoy's of Hang On Sloopy fame played there that same evening.
60s: How popular were The Rebels? It sounds as if they were "bigger" than The Angry - at least judging by their Miss Teenage America gig...
KS: Actually they weren't. The "Miss Teenage" gig was just a regional event held in various cities all over Ohio and other states and was not a televised or much recognized event. We were just the afternoon band and The McCoy's were the early evening band before the real festivities took place.
60s: Did The Rebels ever record?
KS: No. They also were decimated by draft notices and broke up after I met them, as I remember.
60s: After you left The Angry, they found some success - they recorded some demo tapes for Reprise, as well as moved to New York and played all the major clubs. Did you keep in touch with the band? Was there any regret on your part in leaving the group?
KS: I didn't stay in touch regularly because I had gone off to college and they were in New York City. I did miss the friendship, comraderie and sometimes the gigs and music, although I did really enjoyed the college experience and wanted to get my degree prior to any military duty.
60s: How long did The Rebels stay together?
KS: I don't remember how long they were together, and I think the military draft and members graduating from high school ended their efforts also.
60s: Did you join or form any bands after your brief stint with The Rebels?
KS: I did not play out while in college, although while attending Kent State, I did become friends with Joe Walsh of the Eagles (The Measles back then) and Mark Mothersbaugh, the founder of DEVO.
60s: Did you ever get to jam with either?
KS: No. I had two classes with Joe Walsh and found him quite a nice guy with which to talk. I remember Joe was always playing out somewhere and was devout about practicing. Mark Mothersbaugh and his brother used to hang out at the Kent State Student Center with several of us "muscians" and we all talked about the local bands in the Kent/Akron area, the current radio hits - that kind of thing. Mark was really into expanding the parameters of music and was looking at adding other "instruments" to his band's sound, even vacuum cleaners and dial tones from telephones! Even in 1970 Mark was looking for a way to work his music into a video format such as film. When videotape became available he of course made rock history. I never did jam with him or his band.
60s: What about today? Do you perform at all?
KS: I work for an Ohio newspaper, in an advertising and Internet consulting position. I seldom play sax anymore and I am self taught on drums which I do play for my own enjoyment at home. Hans Stucki still plays piano and guitar as a solo and sometimes duet performer in coffee houses in Chicago, and Gene Smithberger played out in public with several Ohio bands until the '90's. I think Tom Potts only plays for his enjoyment, too. Jim Grant quit playing and got off the road in the '80's.
60s: How do you best summarize your experiences with The Silvertones and Rebels?
KS: It was absolutely one of the best periods in my life. In the last few years most of us from the Silvertones/Angry have re-established ties and renewed friendships with each other. I think that had times been different and had there not been a war going on that required mandatory military service The Angry would have had a real opportunity to become a recording success.
Hans Stucki Recalls The Angry Demo Sessions
The studio was called (we believe) the Mills Recording Studio and was on either Shepler or Sherman Church Road in Southwest Canton. It was a new fairly low level building, but it looked like a recording Taj Mahal to us. Our manager, Larry Zagray, had hooked us up for the demo and we met there on a Thursday afternoon around 4:00 pm or 5:00 pm...we think in late May or early June. The session lasted about two-three hours. We each had our own "place" in the studio, separated by some six to eight feet and Mike and the drums were almost fully enclosed in a series of baffles to cut down the heavy drum sound. They even had Mike lay his wallet on the snare drum to suppress the sound somewhat. Mike always played the drums "enthusiastically"…using the opposite ends of the drum sticks instead of the prescribed smaller ends. We did "double track" or "wild track" the set, meaning we recorded the music first and then separately recorded the vocals the engineer played the instrumental over the speakers. This seemed to me to take the most time, since we were certainly not used to this approach and it seemed odd; it was hard to get the proper enthusiasm into the vocals. Nonetheless, it got done and I remember when we heard the whole thing played back, we were really pleased. The sound, which with todays technology can be far exceeded by a guy in the basement with the right equipment, was, we thought, very good. Apparently Reprise thought so as well, since when Larry sent them the tape, they signed us to a six record deal. The deal is what led us to relocating to New York and starting the grand adventure there. It was quite a few years later that Gene accidentally ran into one of the guys who had run the session and inquired whether the studio might still have the tape. Lo and behold, he checked and there it was…still on reel-to-reel. Hence the cassettes which we now have.
The Angry Reprise Records Demos (May or June, 1966)
1. Where Have All The Good Times Gone (Kinks)
2. Almost There (Turtles)
3. Stupid Girl (Rolling Stones)
4. A Walk In The Sun (Turtles)
For more on The Angry, check out http://theangry.home.att.net