The KanDells

Formed by a combo of brothers and cousins, The KanDells formed in Sandstone, Minnesota. Though their classic Cry Girl was originally intended as a flip side, it so impressed the recording studio that it became the A-Side…before heading to immortality thanks to its appearance on the Root '66 LP. Here is the band's story…from three of the four original members.

An Interview With Pete VanDerSchaegen, Bob VanDerSchaegen and Jay Best

60s: How did you first get interested in music?

JB: My mom was a singer and piano player/teacher. She also was a vocal music teacher who taught English most of her life. She was always playing the piano and singing, getting ready for church, a wedding, funeral, Sweet Adelines, etc. I played trombone for eight years in school and sang in the choir one year.

PV: My brother Bob was in a band called The Turbans. Their bass player quit and they had a gig coming up in two weeks. I was 14 at the time. They looked at me and said you're going to be the bass player. So I practiced for two weeks and played. Luckily most songs only had three chords back then and most with the same two sounds. Another brother and sister played in country bands, my dad played drums in polka bands and my Mom played piano, so I guess I was destined to play.

BV: Our first rock band was The Problems - later called The Turbans.

60s: How long was The Turbans together?

PV: I don't remember how long they lasted - long enough to get me hooked on performing. About a year, I think.

60s: When, then, were The KanDells formed?

PV: It was in '63, in Sandstone. I wanted to play again and heard of Gene Best playing lead guitar. We met at a mutual friend's house and jammed a little. We thought it might work, so I told him about my brother playing rhythm and he said he had been practicing with his cousin Jay Best, a drummer. We are all from Sandstone, Minnesota.

JB: The KanDells was my first band outside the high school band. We had a Dixieland band when I was a sophomore. The director needed a drummer for it and I volunteered. I had one 30 second lesson (the only formal drum lesson in my life) and off we went. I think the band was formed in '63 sometime. Sam and I would play at school (piano and drums!) Gene, Bob and Pete were playing at the same time. We just joined forces. At least that's what I remember…I have a good memory, just real short.

60s: Who all comprised the band?

PV: Gene Best played lead; Jay Best played the drums; Bob VanDerSchaegen played rhythm; and Pete VanDerSchaegen played the bass. Sam Burch, who joined us later, played piano.

60s: Who named the band? Is it a take off on the word "candles" - or does it mean something else?

PV: You hit it on the head. It went from Candles to Kandles to KanDells. I think it was the group (as a whole) that came up with the final name.

JB: I think it just popped out at a brainstorming session. As I recall, the name was derived from the word candles.

BV: Our manager McVey said we were trying to burn the candle from both ends. It went from there.

60s: McVey?

PV: Yes. An English teacher from our school, Noble McVey, kind of looked out after us. He helped us get equipment, gigs, recording time (which I think he paid for), etc. I was young and not too concerned with the paperwork side of it. Later, after the usual falling out, my brother Kenny managed us until our demise.

JB: Mac McVey was an English teacher in Sandstone. Mac bought equipment for us, let us use his car for jobs, got us into recording, got jobs for us and many other things. Toward the end, we had Kenny VanDerSchaegen, Bob and Pete's brother.

60s: Where did the band typically practice?

PV: We always practiced at Gene's house or at the local Youth Center. Gene's family had a large family room and VERY understanding parents.

60s: Where did the band typically play - at the standard schools, parties, and teen clubs?

BV: We played Youth Centers, proms, State Fair, G.C. Murphy, teen dances, and the University of MN, St. Cloud.

JB: The band played at schools, Grindstone Lake, armories, teen clubs.

PV: All of those. Mostly at the Youth Center in Sandstone - where we all lived. We even played at the local Federal Prison. After Cry Girl and Cloudburst were released, we branched out a little to St. Cloud, St. Paul, and Wilmer. We played any place that wanted us. We also played a flood benefit at the St. Paul Armory in '65 with The Avanties and The Morticians. About 5000 kids showed up. We were from out of town so we had the honors of warmup act. It was neat when The Morticians' manager talked to our manager and told him they wished they didn't have to go on after us. The Morticians were a big city group at the time. We were really surprised. One time we played at either G.C. Murphy or J.C. Penny (I can't remember which) in the St. Paul Midway for Levi Strauss. They were trying to push a clothing line and thought if we wore the clothes the kids would buy them. I don't know if they did but we got to keep the ones we were wearing anyway. Got a big crowd, though. In '64 we played at the State Fair, representing B Sharp. That was a blast.

60s: How did you get to represent B-Sharp?

PV: McVey made a deal with Jim Lopez, I believe, to get all our equipment there and as far as I know we all just hit it off and we told everyone where we bought it. I'm sure there was more to it but that's all I know.

60s: What about the prison gig? Was McVey responsible for that, too?

PV: The prison is in Sandstone and everybody knows everybody. It's a small town, you know. Someone just decided to try it. I think Mac had something to do with it. Others from the school also performed.

60s: Were there many local Minnesota teen clubs?

PV: Not that I remember.

JB: The only teen club I remember was the Youth Center in Sandstone.

60s: How far was the band's "touring" territory?

PV: Anywhere we could make it in Minnesota. We played once in Superior, Wisconsin.

JB: We traveled as far as Willmar, St. Cloud, St. Paul, Hill City and Silver Bay.

60s: How would you describe the band's sound?

PV: We started with The Ventures-type tunes. We did mostly instrumentals until the Beatles came out. Of course, after them, everyone had to be a singing band. I also liked the Byrds, Carl Perkins, Lonnie Mack, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Ray Charles. I like to think that we sounded a little bit like all of them thrown together.

JB: I have always thought our sound was way ahead of its time. Our influences were The Ventures, The Byrds and The Beatles.

BV: I'd describe it as somewhere between West Coast surfing and British music.

60s: How popular locally did the KanDells become?

JB: I think we were very popular locally.

PV: Being about the only local band, I hope we were well liked. We had a fan club in Duluth, I remember. That was cool. Our heads got a little enlarged from that.

60s: What about other local groups? Which ones do you recall?

PV: Duluth had The Titans and Chet Orr and The Rumbles; and Minneapolis had The Morticians, The Avanties, T.C. Atlantic, Underbeats, and Accents. In '65, we played a benefit dance at the St. Paul armory with the Morticians and Gregory Dee and The Avanties.

BV: The Esoterics, Mike Waggoner and The Bops, Morticians, and Gregory Dee and the Avanties.

JB: The Titans and Chet Orr and The Rumbles, both from Duluth.

60s: Did the KanDells participate in any Battle Of The Bands?

JB: We were in one Battle of the Bands in Duluth. We finished second. The winning band was a show band that played in Duluth, I think.

PV: We played in one Battle Of The Bands in Duluth. We came in second to a professional band and lost the recording contract. I believe there were 60 to 80 bands in the event.

60s: Do you recall the name of that band that won?

PV: They were The Radiants. That was the last time I ever heard of them. They were actually from southern Minnesota. I think Oldsberg did something on them in one of his mags.

60s: Where did you record your singles?

JB: The best story about our singles was about Cry Girl, written to be a B-Side. We had a song called Cloudburst that the recording company was excited about. They told us to go home and write a B-Side song and they'd put both out on a record. When we came back and played Cry Girl for them, they said, "There's our A-Side." I didn't think it was even in our top 3/4 songs, but it got us on the radio, so what do I know? Cry Girl went on to become #10 on KDWB. WDGY wouldn't play it. That's a whole 'nother story. The songs were recorded in a studio (basement) in Golden Valley.

PV: We recorded at a small basement studio in the Minneapolis-area, owned by Ron Gjerde, called Agar Records. Cloudburst got airtime in Duluth and Cry Girl was played mostly on KDWB in the Cities. Cry Girl got up to number 10 on the charts. It's listed on the web. We made one more 45 that never got released. I believe I have the only good copy of that. We heard it even sells well overseas, but I'm not sure about that, though.

60s: Some previously unreleased KanDells' recordings from '65 were released in the late '90's. What can you tell me about these?

PV: I was contacted by an outfit in California, through Jim Oldsberg (Lost and Found 'zine), and they wanted to put out some records with our songs on them. I was just flattered after all those years that someone even remembered us. I had no problem with it and neither did the other members.

JB: Those songs were the last songs written as I recall. I really liked them.

60s: Who wrote Cry Girl? Did the KanDells write many original songs?

PV: Gene wrote Cry Girl. All together we wrote and recorded 11 songs: Bottomless Well, Cloudburst, Cry Girl, Do You Know, I Want You To Know, It Is To Laugh, I've Met Death, Lucky Day, Oh Baby, Shake It Baby and That's All I Want.

JB: I think Gene wrote Cry Girl and we all added our parts. We recorded 11 songs of which 10 were original. Summertime was the only non-original.

PV: Yes, we have Summertime also. I think it is really well done also. Sam had a great voice for it. I have all twelve songs on tape. One is partially taped over due to a screw up by me but I have the record and it's OK.

60s: Are there any vintage live recordings that survived?

PV: I have all the songs on tape from the recording studio but there are no live recordings that I know of.

JB: I'm not aware of any live recordings.

60s: Did the band make any local TV appearances?

PV: No TV.

JB: We didn't make any TV appearances.

60s: Why did the band break up in the '60's?

PV: Jay and Sam graduated in '64 and left for college, etc. I think the band stayed together for most of '66 but then life started to catch up to us and practices were hard to make and we couldn't always book dates. Of course, 'Nam was going on then. It was college or war for most people. I graduated in '65 and moved to Duluth that fall.

JB: I was going to college in Winona and Sam went into the Army. I think it was sometime in '66.

60s: Did you join or form any bands after The Kan Dells.

PV: I played with the groups 5 In The Attic, Mammon and Street Band, before hanging it up at 40.

BV: I was in Down Home, a rock band; Hathaway, a country/bluegrass band, and Thick and Thin, a country and classic rock band.

JB: I played fulltime and part-time in music from January 1976 until 1978. From 1978 to 1988 I didn't play at all. In 1991 I went back to fulltime music until 1997, playing out of Duluth. Today I play about 5 or 6 times a year, mostly in River Falls, Wisconsin with a band from 1970. I also play with a band around Moose Lake, Minnesota when they need me. Aside from that, I work with Emotional and Behavorial Disorder children in Willow River, Minnesota.

60s: What about today. Do you perform at all? If not, what keeps you busy?

PV: I became an electrician at 19 and worked at that until '99 when I had some back trouble and became disabled. I spend lots of my time on the computer now, and thinking about playing and wishing I had saved a lot more memorabilia. I still have one of the blue vests we wore. It seems to have shrunk.

BV: I have worked for Target in Minneapolis for the last 12 years. Now I play the Native American flute for my own entertainment.

60s: How do you best summarize your experiences with the KanDells?

PV: It was the best couple years of my single life (in case the wife reads this). They were Glory Days, you know. Talks of an album and a tri-state tour were in the works when things happened that ended up killing the group. I would have given my right arm to do that. At least I had the shot. Lots of people never even get that. I never got to be a great musician, but I loved the stage.

JB: I had a great time in The KanDells. I thought the music business was easy. Boy, was I wrong!

BV: They were some of the best years of my life. It created an everlasting love for music. I miss performing every day.

"Copyrighted and originally printed on by Mike Dugo".
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