The Vynes

One of the many cool garage bands to play the Chicago teen club circuit, Naperville's The Vynes recorded the classic single I Might Be Free and More Each Day. After bassist Gary Baldwin left the group, Victor Wells was recruited as lead singer. Both graciously shared their recollections on their stints in the band, thereby providing a nice overview on the history of The Vynes.

An Interview With Gary Baldwin and Victor Wells (60s): How did you first get interested in music?

Gary Baldwin (GB): My father, an airline pilot with Eastern Air Lines, would sit with me and listen to the great Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals like “South Pacific” and “The King and I”. He would also describe the action that he could see when we listened to the great “Victory at Sea” score. Later, great movie themes became an obsession, and I bought records like The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence and Sink the Bismark. When testosterone kicked in, I bought Johnny Angel by Shelley Fabares, and grooved on that very seductive vocal. I would listen over and over and imagine myself playing guitar with her band. My Uncle Don had introduced me to the guitar years before, but it took girls to get me to want to play. One Saturday afternoon I went to the Downers Grove Tivoli movie theatre to see A Hard Day’s Night after being floored by The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. That theatre was packed with pretty girls going hysterical at celluloid images of the Fab Four on the screen. I was a geek; a nerd. I wanted girls to notice me. Girls fuelled rock and roll...I went home and begged for an electric guitar. I saw my first live band at the Naperville YMCA one Friday night, and was mesmerized by the loud chunk of the guitars, the rumble of the bass and the attack of a real drum set. One of my future Vynes bandmates, John Hudson Guill IV, was in that band - a total greaser band - called The Outcasts. But how the girls did dance. I was hooked.

Victor Wells (VW): My father played trumpet, blues and jazz, and had a living room fun band when I was young. Also, my grandmother, on my mother's side, was a piano teacher and always played for us. Like many kids growing up in the '50's and '60's, I discovered AM pop radio at around the age of 10, and became obsessed with rock music forever there after.

60s: Was The Vynes your first band?

GB: My first band came in 1965, and was called The Henchmen. They were Sears & Roebuck guitars and amps, and an ancient Ludwig drum set, and four 15 year-olds that could barely sing. Our first job was at a Catholic school mixer, and we got paid. Later the band morphed into a pretty good copy band called The Chosen Few, led by a young guitar genius who taught me music on the fly, Steve Goldner. We changed the name later to The Living Ends, and kept on playing until the summer of 1966 when Steve had to move away, and The Vynes were formed.

The Vynes were formed during the summer of 1966 by combining the rest of The Living Ends, John Guill from a great band called The Disciples, and a total in-crowd pretty boy named Randy Schum, who just happened to be a great lead singer.

The Vynes were John Guill on lead Telecaster, Mark Groenke on the Rickenbacker 12-string, Gary Baldwin on the Fender bass, Dave Dieter on drums, and Randy Schum on vocals.

VW: No, The Vynes were essentially my second band. My first band went through a few changes of name and personel, but it was called The Kinda Blues when I left to join The Vynes. That band was together from early '66 to early '68 (it outlasted my membership in the band).

(The Vynes consisted of) John Guill - lead guitar, vocals, songwriter; Mark Groenke - rhythm guitar; Gary Balwin - bass guitar, vocals, songwriter; Dave Dieter - drums; Randy Schum - lead vocals. Then Randy was replaced by me (Victor Wells) on lead vocals; Gary was replaced by Chuck Bill on bass and vocals; and Steve Lawroski was added on organ.

60s: Do you recall who The Kinda Blues got to replace you after you left to join The Vynes? Were there any hard feelings towards you for leaving?VW: I can't remember the name of the guy who sang with The Kinda Blues after me. I can picture him, but no name is forthcoming. Jim Esser, the drummer, and particularly Mitch Eales on bass in that band were two of my oldest childhood friends. I'm sure they weren't too happy about it, but they also recognized it as an opportunity to play with some of the town's best musicians, and there certainly wasn't any lasting sour grapes. Mitch is still one of my best friends on planet Earth.

60s: How did you hook up with The Vynes? What did you think of the band musically before joining them?

VW: John Guill knew my old band, The Kinda Blues, and occasionally sat in at our gigs. I guess he may have been the person who suggested me as a replacement for Randy Schum on vocals. I really looked up to those guys before I joined them, and was really thrilled to be asked to join them. In particular, their huge harmony vocals were really impressive to me. Guill was quite a character, a tough mo-fo, kinda scary, and one of the real originals of our local music scene.

60s: Where did The Vynes typically play? What type of gigs did you typically land?

GB: We played for several local schools including our hometown of Naperville, ‘sock hops’, or dances in the gym after a football or basketball game, major seasonal dances like Homecoming, Christmas dances, proms, etc., and we also made the teen nightclub circuit all over the Chicago area.

VW: We played lots of school dances, youth clubs, private parties.

60s: Did you ever play the Cellar?

GB: We did not play the Cellar that I can recall, but we played The Blue Village in Westmont, The Fickle Fox in Plainfield, The Crimson Cougar in Aurora, and our home base club in Naperville, The Barn.

VW: I don't recall the Cellar, but we played the Barn in Naperville quite often, and The Blue Village in Westmont as well. There were many others, but I can't remember them. In those days, pretty well every suburban town had a youth club with live music; no booze, just pop and snacks. Pity how unlikely it is that we'll ever see that again.

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

GB: All over Chicagoland.

VW: We would occasionally go a few hours away - but still in Illinois. I think we stayed pretty local most of the time.

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

GB: The Vynes were heavily influenced by The Beatles and The Byrds, primarily, but covered the hits by The Kinks, The Animals, The Hollies, The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Nashville Teens—we all pooled our resources and bought one of the only Rickenbacker Model 360-12 electric 12-string guitars in the area, and were able to cover The Beatles and Byrds thoroughly. The Rick also figured heavily in the 4-5 original songs we performed.

VW: The Beatles and The Byrds were certainly the big influences. We also loved The Who, The Hollies and The Kinks. We used a Rickenbacher 12-string, so the sound was very jangley, with lots of vocal harmony - as many parts as we could possibly stack. When I joined the band, we also began to explore the soul end of things, with Wison Pickett material and such.

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

GB: We got roped into a Battle of the Bands with a trio consisting of two very pretty girls, and their brother, The Rock A-Go-Gos. We lost - however, just before The Vynes formed, The Living Ends - and a great vocalist/keyboardist/Eric Burdon fanatic named Steve Lawroski from The Cavaliers - played in an all day battle against a dozen or so other local bands, and we won. We had loaded up and were leaving, convinced that Lisle, Illinois’ own December’s Children or this other really hip looking long-hair band had won. We were in the car when they announced us the winner... then we saw the long-hair band all take off their wigs at the same time, hanging their heads.

60s: Did The Vynes have a manager?

GB: We never had a manager. We got our bookings word-of-mouth between students organizing dances and sock hops at the individual schools.

VW: Yes we did. It was Randy Schum's older brother, whose name I can't recall. He used to drive us around in a big black '58 Pontiac hearse, which was our band vehicle. Obviously, he was a family member of one of the guys, and he took an interest in the band. He lasted longer than Randy did - until the ultimate demise of the band.

60s: How popular locally did The Vynes become?

GB: I think we did pretty well - those were some of the biggest audiences I can remember in 40 years of performing, and everybody danced every song.

VW: I think we were the top band in town, for what that's worth. And we played pretty often.

60s: What other local groups of the era do you especially recall?

GB: The Cryan’ Shames were our idols. We saw them play at our town a few times and they knocked the snot out of The Beatles, Byrds - any great hit song they played. Their Sugar and Spice album is still a masterpiece, and contains some of the greatest songs you can hear from that era. Other contemporary bands were The Outcasts, The Disciples, The Venturis, The Cavaliers, The Boys Next Door, The Lonely Souls, The Chi-Lites and December’s Children.

VW: The Apocrophals, The Flock, The Cryan Shames. These were the bands we looked up to on the local scene in those days.

60s: The Vynes released one single. Where was the 45 recorded? What do you remember about the recording session?

GB: Our two hits, I Might Be Free and More Each Day were recorded at Balkan Studios in Berwyn, Illinois. The engineer’s name was Slavko Hlad, and Balkan Studios specialized in, er…ethnic we found out too late. It was a one-track mono studio, and Slavko had no idea how to record a rock band. The drums were in a corner surrounded by cubicle slabs, and our amps were against the far wall. We played our guitars and sang at the same time, all standing around one vocal mike. It wasn’t until a few years later that we realized how bad the recording was but -at the time - it was, simply the big time! We were thrilled a few weeks later when we got the 45s.

60s: How did you wind up recording at Balkan Studios?

GB: The owner of Athon Records, a sweet little man named Conrad Haidu, booked the session. It was probably a good deal, and he was not a rich man. We were very young, and being in a professional looking studio was a great thrill. Slavko, however, did not know how to handle live drums and electric guitars. He had us so turned down, and had Dave drumming so light that you can actually feel the restraint on the record. Those were the days that no one knew that you could crank a guitar loud, turn down the gain on the mix board, and the microphone would not be ruined. Slavko was definitely worried about his mics being blown away. He never smiled, obviously chagrined that he had to stoop to record a bunch of loud kids.

60s: Did The Vynes write many original songs? Who was the group's primary songwriter?

GB: We performed about four songs of our own. John Guill wrote two and I wrote two.

VW: Yes, lots. Gary B. and John Guill were the main writers. I hadn't started writing songs yet, in those days. Guill, in particular, was very prolific.

60s: Do you recall the titles of some of the group's other originals?

GB: My second song was titled See The Girl, but I cannot remember John's song title. He worked for a while for the owner of the Blue Village in Westmont and recorded more of his own songs, and chaperoned bands like Led Zepplin around.

60s: Do any (other) '60's Vynes recordings exist? Are there any vintage live recordings, or unreleased tracks?

GB: Recording technology was primitive for private users, and very expensive when professionally done. No other tracks are out there.

VW: Not that I know about.

60s: Did the band make any local TV appearances? Does any home movie film footage exist of the band?

VW: I think they performed on local TV before I joined them.

GB: Strangely enough, we actually did appear on a local Chicago TV show on Channel 11. It was The Kukla, Fran and Ollie Show, and we lip-synched live on the show. I do not recall the date. There is no film of the band.

60s: What year and why did the band break up?

GB: Randy Schum and I left for college in August of 1967, and The Vynes continued without us. Charles Homer Bill, son of the legendary Chicago radio personality, Chuck Bill, took over on bass, and singer Vic Wells of The Cavaliers joined as lead vocalist. The band ended months later when Mark Groenke moved out of town, taking the Rickenbacker with him (!), John Guill quit to attend pre-law courses, and, I believe, Chuck Jr. went off to college.

VW: 1968. Both John Guill and I were leaving town to go downstate to college.

60s: Did you join or form any bands after The Vynes?

GB: In 1968 I formed a band with the aforementioned Steve Lawroski and Drummer Mark Susmark of The Cavaliers, and guitarist Steve Mechtle. The band was called Fog. Later, bassist Mitch Eales of The Cavaliers joined Fog, I switched to guitar, Steve Mechtle left, and John Guill, Vic Wells and super talent Greg Newlon formerly of The Venturis and The Disciples also joined, and a local legend was born. Fog was the ultimate jam band, and eventually drew the likes of Jim Fairs and Jim “J.C. Hooke” Pilster of The Cryan’ Shames, and Dave Bickler, future vocalist on the monster hit by Survivor, Eye of the Tiger from the Rocky film. Fog played all sorts of gigs with all sorts of line-ups ranging from a trio to a seven-man band that included Chicago jazz master pianist, Dennis Luxion.

In 1971 Uncle John Buick, a club band, was formed with Greg Newlon, Mitch Eales, Pete Bailey, John Conlin and myself, and had a year run on the southwest side.

In 1972, I formed the band Mars with Fog bassist-turned-guitar monster Mitch Eales, “Tiger” vocalist Dave Bickler, bassist Pete Bailey and drummer John Conlin, all, again, from Naperville, Illinois. Later, the Fog-jam mentality drew in the genuius guitarist/pianist/composer Jim Fairs, and the great Jimmy Pilster from the original Cryan’ Shames. We performed many of Fairs’ beautiful compositions, along with great copy tunes by Steely Dan, The Beach Boys, The Allman Brothers and other advanced rock bands seldom heard live in the clubs around Chicago.

Mitch Eales, Vic Wells, Fog-founder Mark Susmark and myself pulled in bassist Joel Bennett to reform Fog as a touring club band. That lasted off and on until 1983, when I pulled up roots and moved to Atlanta. Fog has reunions in Illinois and Nashville every two years. The next one is this coming summer, in Illinois.

In 1974 I bolted Naperville for awhile and joined a touring show-band called Bran’ Spankin’. We toured Illinois, Florida, Indiana and South Dakota wearing tuxes and playing disco and hard rock. I quit in 1975 to get married and live a ‘normal’ life.

VW: Many of us came together to form a loose, long-lasting band collective called Fog. Gary Balwin, John Guill, me, Mitch Eales (bass and guitar), Mark Susmark (drums), Dennis Luxion (keyboards), Kim Votaw (harmonica and vocals), and Greg Newlon (guitars and vocals). That band gigged off and on for ten years (1968 to 1978), and many other players came and went. We still get together every couple of years for a jamming weekend together.

60s: What about your career today. How often, and where, do you perform?

GB: There are not as many great musicians in Georgia as there are in the Chicagoland area. That is mute testimony to the greatness of the bands that came out of Chicago and the suburbs in those halcyon days. I played in a great band with my beautiful wife Eileen (what a voice!) called The Ultimate Garage Band from 1985- ?. We actually still play a couple of times a year. Right now I am lead guitarist/vocalist for a classic rock/blues band called Funky Bluester, and play about once a month. After all, I’m 55 now, and those Fender amps have not gotten any lighter.

VW: I live in Vancouver, B.C. now, and make my primary living from music. I play in clubs, bars, festivals,and private events with a variety of acts in the area. Most weeks, I play live one to three times. I have a home recording studio, and am involved in the production of various CD projects. My focus is mostly r&b, blues, funk, and some rock and roll as well.

60s: How do you best summarize your experiences with The Vynes?

GB: That was the happiest time of life for me, as far as the music goes. It was all new, the songs were incredible, short skirts and long, gorgeous hair came into style for those all-important girls, and everyone danced and romanced. It was heady stuff for a teenager to play for those wild, gyrating crowds of 300-400+ kids. I would have those days again.

VW: It was a very big deal for me to be able to join The Vynes. At the time, it was a step up for me, since this was a chance to play with some of the musicians in town that I most admired and looked up to. We played bigger gigs, and had a record, and got a lot more attention than my previous bands. It was a good learning experience, and during that time, I really explored the showmanship aspect of being a musician. We had band choreography, and I did a lot of the "soul" schtick that was so popular at the time. Trying to do the James Brown/ Wilson Pickett thing, etc. And twirling around a tambourine, falling to my knees - lots of drama up there.

For more on Gary Baldwin, and to sample some of his current music, click here and here.

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