Though they tried to capitalize on fact that they shared the same moniker, Danville, Illinois' Shades of Blue are not the same group that recorded the hit Oh How Happy for Impact Records. Tim Frazier's group did, however, experience much success, had two singles that topped the local charts, and won the 1966 Eastern Illinois Battle of the Bands. According to Frazier, the members of the group shared a "bond that will last forever", and they will reunite this year for a performance for several Danville high school classes.
An Interview With Tim Frazier
60sgaragebands.com (60s): How did you first get interested in music?
Tim Frazier (TF): I wasn't a good enough jock to play on the football and basketball team and get the women, so I figured I would take this route.When The Shades of Blue were popular, we would sign autographs whenever we would visit surrounding communities. It was a magical time.
60s: Was The Shades of Blue your first band?
TF: My first was The Avengers. We must have had a unique sound, because I play left-handed and tuned a right-handed guitar to an open "e" and played upside down (I still play upside down, but I play a right-handed guitar with standard tuning). I also play bass upside down. (When I play) it is easy to spot the musicians in the audience; they are the ones with the perplexed looks on their faces and that are nearly standing on their heads. I played in The Avengers at age 15, then The Coachmen for a year and - at age17 or so - The Shades of Blue.
60s: What inspired you to begin playing upside down?
TF: This is a true story: I rented a guitar and was going to learn to play left-handed, when the old fart started playing with my leg during about the third lesson. I just taught myself. It is like looking in a mirror. I've had a lot of fun with it.
60s: Where and when was The Shades of Blue formed?
TF: I believe we formed in 1966. We were all friends in Danville.
60s: Who comprised the band?
TF: Chuck Olmstead was our lead guitarist and trumpet player. Cloyd Shank was our rhythm guitarist and chick magnet. Mike Supp was our keyboardist (whenever he decided he didn't need extra money - then he would show up at the job and tell us that he had just sold the keyboards. We never knew if he was kidding or not. Normally he wasn't. We get together quite often so I can beat him at golf). I played upside down Hofner bass and Rick Miller was our drummer. This lineup stayed the same for a few years, although we added a keyboard player, Bill Cunningham, who later for many years had a successful full-time touring band called Sounder. We also added a hot-shot singer and drummer by the name of Danny Odum, who later went on to sing with Head East. Everyone sang, so that set us apart a bit from other bands in the area.
60s: What were some of the local groups in the area?
TF: The Keepers, Villagers, Regiment, REO, Guild, One-Eyed Jacks, Somebody Groovy (a great Byrds tribute band).
60s: Who named the band? When did you become aware of the Oh How Happy Shades of Blue?
TF: We knew about that band and often told club owners that that was us. I am really glad they had that hit; it helped us from time to time.
60s: Where did the band typically play?
TF: You name it. We played with a lot of bands: Cryan' Shames, Flock, Archie Bell and The Drells, Shadows of Knight, B.J. Thomas, and The One-Eyed Jacks. We played most of the teen bars. This was the same time that REO, and (Dan) Folgelberg were playing these clubs. We had a monopoly on the teen clubs, and also played clubs and parties. The money was really good - about the same as it is now when I am half a century old.
60s: How far was the band's "touring" territory?
TF: Illinois and Indiana.We were horrible drivers. We often winded up in cornfields. Once Cloyd and I were pulled out twice in one night - going to the gig and coming home.We barely missed the same telephone pole, I believe.
60s: What bands influenced you?
TF: The Byrds, Beatles, Stones, Monkees, Turtles and, later, Three Dog Night.
60s: The band was managed by Irving Azoff. How did you hook up with him?
TF: Irving was our first manager and a childhood friend. I believe he wanted to play (with us), but he couldn't sing or play, so we made him our manager. Lucky for him he couldn't play, because he managed us through high school, booked us for a few year after and, later, went on to manage Folgelberg, The Eagles, Linda Rondstadt, and became the biggest name in the music industry. If anyone is unsure whom he is, type in a google search.
60s: An article on the band that you have on your website mentions a Kenneth Leish as the group's manager.
TF: Ken managed the college edition of The Shades.We were the campus band at Illinois State University.
60s: Were Cunningham and Odum part of the "college edition" of the band?
TF: Yes. Both were in the college edition, along with Cloyd and Chuck.
60s: How popular locally did The Shades of Blue become?
TF: Within a two state area we were quite popular. Larry Lujack from WLS Radio used to come down to emcee our jobs. About three years ago, we had a Shades reunion and played a few songs. The graduates of several Danville High School classes are having a reunion this summer and the band that I am playing in now is going to play. Willard Cratchelow and The Shades of Blue will also do some songs, although I am keeping all of the money. Irv is supposed to be there, although I will believe it when I see him. He still owes us 50 bucks, so I hope he shows.
60s: The Shades of Blue participated in and won the 1966 Eastern Illinois Fair Battle Of The Bands.
TF: I can't remember whom we played against, but it could have been The Stones and we still would have won.We found out later that Irving paid the judges off. The thing that I can remember is that during the middle of one song, the drums stopped and we heard a scream from behind. Rick had toppled over backwards and had fallen about thrity feet off of the drum riser.We figured he was dead, but he crawled back onstage and finished. Everyone went nuts, as they thought it was part of the act. It could have been. I think that is one reason everyone liked us; we were absolutely nuts. Half of the time we would be unable to finish a song because we would be laughing so hard. The extent of my stage personality was to pick imaginary boogers and flip them. Hell of an act. I still do it, but now it is out of necessity to clear the nasal passages just to finish a song at my age.
60s: What impact, if any, did winning the Battle have on the band's career?
TF: None whatsoever.We would have played anywhere and everywhere for free.
60s: The Shades of Blue released two singles. Where were the 45s recorded?
TF: The first was after we won the band battle. It (You Must Believe Me b/w It's Not The Way That Love Should Be) was recorded in some guy's basement on two-track. Cloyd and I wrote the song, It's Not The Way That Love Should Be, when we were going through our Zombies phase. I wrote the second (The Time of My Life b/w Turn Turn Turn) when my girlfriend (whom I married and am still in love with to this day) was about to leave and go off to airline school. I was telling her about all the fun I was having since she left, hoping to get her to come home. It worked. It was recorded at Chess Studios in Chicago. Ken fell asleep at the wheel on the way home, had a wreck and nearly killed a couple of us. Both records reached No.1 on area radio stations. I believe that Mike Supp still has some radio survey sheets where we were ahead of The Beatles.
60s: Did you write often during this period?
TF: Not really. I wrote much more during my Willard Cratchelow days.
60s: Do any (other) '60's Shades of Blue recordings exist? Are there any vintage live recordings?
TF:Actually, Bill has some live recordings of us at a post prom. These were directly onto a tape deck, an old reel-to-reel, but they weren't too bad. We played some nice Three Dog Night renditions.We always could sing well.
60s: Did the band make any local TV appearances?
TF: We did play a time or two on WCIA here in Champaign. I have often wanted to go ask someone if a copy exists in the archives.
60s: Why did the band break up?
TF: We actually didn't break up until 1972, I believe. Cloyd moved to Florida, as did Mike - although Mike is back here now.
60s: After The Shades of Blue you played with Willard Cratchelow.
TF: I played with Willard Cratchelow for a long time. This band was close to a Toto tour when it broke up the first time. Danny Odum left for Head East as well.
We fronted for a lot of bands, played colleges, etc. The latest edition was popular into the '90's.We fronted for .38 Special, and Jeff Carlise liked us so much that he came and played with us at the Brickyard 400 in Indy about six years ago. We still get together to do reunions every few years, including this year, and draw a heck of a crowd. There were some really fine players in that band. Danny with Head East, Eric Welsh, who is a Christian recording artist in California (if you check on your link page that has the recording artists from the '60's you will see a band called The Cobras.This was Danny and Eric's band when they were about 13-years old). Joe Matin was in Beatlemania and still plays in a national Beatles tribute band. Ron DeLevega stills plays bass and cello for a living for Nancy Griffith . He is the only one who made it a full-time career. He is also a Nashville studio session musician when not on tour. He and I did a duo gig for two years after Willard broke up. He then went to California, taught Eddie Van Halen how to play cello, and moved to Nashville, where he resides today.
60s: How often, and where, do you perform today?
TF: I have taught middle school reading for 30 years. I still play in a band called NoSecret twice a month. We're a three-piece band, and we use a computerized rythm section so we don't have to put up with a drummer. Interestingly enough, the guitarist, Tim Donalson, was the guitarist in the original Willard band, and the keyboardist, Dody Cosmedy, took the place of Danny as lead vocalist when he left for Head East. She was a Juliard musician who originated from New York. She sounds like "what's-her-face" from Heart. We now live about 10 minutes from each other in Champaign, so it worked out great. This band does a lot of CSN...things that have a bunch of vocal harmonies.
60s: How do you best summarize your experiences with The Shades of Blue?
TF: It was an incredible experience. It was a bond that will last forever...unless we die soon, because we sort of look like that could happen anyday now.
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