Dr. John Walker: A true Nebraska Folk music icon. Whether it be through his lyrics, his performances or his encouragement to other musicians, Walker brought the community together with music and impacted many people during his life. Walker’s impact continues to bring people together for local jams, music circle and advocate efforts.
Sour Mash: Bringing their hard driving brand of intricate three-part vocal harmonies, tight instrumental arrangements and commanding stage performances, the seven-piece Sour Mash Band has been delighting audiences across the mid and western United States for nearly 50 years. Songs like Chattanooga Choo Choo, Mack the Knife, country western and big band swing standards first thrilled audiences and filled dance floors in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Consistent sell-out crowds convinced the members it was time to quit their day jobs and take the show on the road. The band converted a school bus into a touring vehicle and traveled the country playing ski resorts, tourist destinations and famous clubs including the legendary Palomino club in North Hollywood. Sour Mash performed in concert with Asleep at the Wheel, Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks, The Dillards and the Flying Burrito Brothers. The band was the subject of television specials on the Nebraska ETV Network and the Illinois Public Television Network. Twice in the late 1970’s, Sour Mash was voted Top Band in Omaha World Herald polls. Sour Mash recorded two LP’s: Sour Mash Drinks and Goes Home and Sour Mash. More recently, a double CD of live performances “Y’all Jump Up and Never Come down” was released and is still available. Sour Mash was founded as a trio in 1971 by three Tekamah, Nebraska friends: Randy Barger-guitar/vocals; Jim Pipher-bass/vocals and Neal Stenberg- guitar/vocals. The band evolved to a seven piece boogie-woogie, country-swing juggernaut that included Randy Barger-guitar/vocals; Dell Darling- drums; Chuck Lettes- steel guitar/saxophone; Pam Herbert Harms Barger- vocals/keyboards; Steve Turbot – piano; Reynold Peterson- vocals, harmonica; Dick Carlson- bass; Lisa Good – sound and lighting technician, Fuzzy Blazek- steel guitar/vocals; Jim Marti- drummer; Marc Wilson – drummer; and Jim Ludwig- manager, producer Candy Apple Records.
Additional inductions include:
John “Wagonmaster” Schmitz 40 year DJ(programmer) with KZUM, Lincoln, NE.
John “Wagonmaster” Schmitz has been the source for Western Swing music for Lincoln and faithful listeners across the country and overseas on the world wide web. For 41 consecutive years on KZUM, his program The Heyride is on every Friday night at 7:30 p.m. For 14 years his beloved Jack Russell Terrier, Freddie was his cohost.
John got interested in this genre through his many musician friends who played acoustical nights at the local Zoo Bar including this year’s inductees John Walker and Steve Blazek. When gathering after the gigs, John would spin records for friends at his home. That’s when local musician and then KZUM radio programmer Dan Newton, convinced Schmitz to start his own radio program. The rest is history.
A fervent supporter of swing dancing and local bands, Schmitz honed his skills at both while amassing a large collection of Western Swing music from the 1930’s and onwards to present to his many listeners. A confessed dropout of Arthur Murray dance lessons, Schmitz says “finding the perfect dance partner is the best way to enjoy the music.” Schmitz loves the infectious and fun nature of western swing and plans to continue bringing this joy of dancing and music to others through his radio program The Heyride.
Music was a big part of the Morris household in small-town Murray Nebraska, where I grew up. My mom played organ and piano for our church, and my dad would pull out his guitar every so often to play and sing the old country tunes that he used to perform with his brother as the Morris Brothers on radio station KMA and other places in the 1930s. My siblings and I all took piano lessons throughout our school-age years, but not necessarily by our choice. Then, like many kids my age, I saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan on February 9, 1964. I wanted to make music like that! Soon, I was taking lessons on guitar too, and started a “combo” with some of my Plattsmouth High School friends, with me playing lead guitar. We played a few dances and talent shows, mostly playing the British Invasion standards of the time.
During my freshman year at Nebraska Wesleyan University (1968-69), I fell in with some musically inclined folks including fellow inductee Peter Blakeslee. We started up a band we called the Rutabaga Palace Electric Jug Band. One of the band members, Chuck, was a much better guitar player than I was, and he owned a bass guitar. It was suggested that I try playing the bass instead so Chuck could play guitar and the rest, as the saying goes, is history. I took to the bass, and that suggestion has provided me 50 years and counting of musical opportunities.
In the fall of 1969, philosophy professor John Walker joined the faculty at NWU. He brought his guitar and his smooth country blues. I am honored to call him my friend, and to have been involved in making music with him throughout the years that followed.
Some of the bands I have been a member of: the Rutabaga Palace, Dr. Remus and his Country Rhythm Boys, the Star Spangled Wranglers (Charlie Burton’s first band), the Bluegrass Crusade, Homecookin’, the Steve Hanson Trio, Fat City, the Loup River Nightcrawlers, the Valentine (Trio)(Quartet), Bryan Lee Blues Band, Rhythm Method, TootSweet, the Resonators, Pete Blakeslee Trio, Gentlemen of Jive, Dr. John Walker and the New Hokum Boys, The Bottle Tops, the String Demons, Swingmatism, the McGovern String Band. I have also been fortunate to play as a sub or back-up in dozens of other performances outside of my “official” bands. The Valentine Quartet (Jim Cidlik, Steve Hanson, Jon Scofield) backed up KC’s Claude “Fiddler” Williams on several gigs in the Lincoln area – usually the Zoo Bar.
I have played on many local recordings including Steve Hanson’s first solo release, Pick and Choose, Dr. John Walker’s vinyl releases in the 1970s, Sally Cowan’s Yankee Lady, Night and Dazed by the Gentlemen of Jive, Loup River Saturday Night by John Walker and the Nightcrawlers, Valparaiso by John Walker and the New Hokum Boys. I have also recorded with the Wildwoods, The Bottle Tops, Mac McCune, CA Waller, Baby Needs Shoes, and others.
David Fowler: Best known for his versatile fiddle playing, Dave Fowler has enjoyed a long musical career with other Nebraska artists. He divides his time between family, music, and mathematics. He and his wife, Carolyn Johnsen, toured Nebraska for over twenty years playing music for the Nebraska Humanities Speakers Bureau and area Arts Councils. Bands: Bluegrass Crusade, New High Flyers, String Demons, Charlie Burton, Swing 105, and Alligator String Choir.
Dave Fowler’s first violin teacher was his father, himself a violinist and orchestra conductor. Dave’s longtime love for classical music was put on hold when he encountered the Folk Scene in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which at that time was focused on Bluegrass and Blues. Later, in San Francisco, fellow ex-Nebraskans Bob Bovee and Rick Mann helped Dave and his brother Will develop some street-performing skills. At that time, their ambition was to get good enough to play in a bar.
This ambition was fulfilled when Dave moved back to Nebraska. He learned some “Orange Blossom” fiddle tricks well enough to successfully audition for a place with the Bluegrass Crusade, and since then has enjoyed playing with many fine local musicians.
Peter Blakeslee: Most popularly known for his dobro work with Dr. John Walker and the New Hoakum Boys, Pete also plays guitar, along with lap and pedal steel guitars.
Pete started playing as a kid on the ukulele, then graduated to a Stella guitar, a Yamaha, and a Martin D28. When he got to college in 1968-69, he hooked up with fellow inductee David Morris in the Rutabaga Palace Electric Jug Band, and eventually matriculated to the Good Time Boys, Blue Grass Crusade, Gentlemen of Jive (the latter two with Hall of Famers Steve Hanson, Dave Morris, and Dave Fowler), the Steve Hanson Trio, the New High Flyers, Swingmatism, and the western swing band The String Demons.
Most of those years since 1969 were spent playing back-up on dobro and guitar to my musical mentor, creative inspiration, and dear friend, Dr. John Walker.