Plato & The Philosophers
The Lance Monthly recently made contact with Ken Tebow of Plato & The Philosophers. Foregoing our standard interview, Ken was gracious enough to send The Lance Monthly his mini auto-biography. Best remembered for the classics "C.M. I Love You" and "13 O'Clock Flight To Psychedelphia," Ken's band is still performing today as Plato. For more on the band, visit their web site at http://www.mcmsys.com/~benny/plato/ - A BIG thanks to Ken for sharing his story with The Lance Monthly. In 1882 my fraternal great grandfather, Jules Bolle, brought his family to the United States from France. They entered through Ellis Island and he spent the rest of his life in New York City. He was a musician by trade (trumpet), playing in a variety of bands in a variety of saloons and other places. He spent the last twenty years of his life as a bugler at Belmont Stakes in New York.
His oldest child, Marie, was my grandmother. Her younger brother, also Jules Bolle, later played cornet in John Philip Sousa's band. All of the old family photographs show father and son holding their trumpets (cornet). When Marie (Grandma) was six years old, her mother took the two youngest girls and returned to France. Grandma remained with great grandpa, doing maid work for wealthy families until she was sixteen. She then traveled to East St Louis, Illinois, to live with an Aunt. She met Grandpa Tebow (Henry Israel) at the 1904 Worlds Fair in St. Louis.
On the maternal side of my family, my Grandfather, Louis Sutter - born in 1900 - played several instruments, but primarily the violin. In the early 1900's he played the German pubs in small towns across the Mississippi from St Louis with his two brothers. My grandmother first saw him playing in his band. Later, he encouraged all of his children to play music. My mother, Louie's oldest and born in 1922, played the piano and often accompanied her father when company would visit. During the Second World War she played in a combo in various St. Louis night spots.
I was born in East St. Louis on December 23, 1947. When I was eight years old, it was decided that I would take cornet lessons, primarily because of the Grandpa Bolle heritage. My parents had moved from Central Illinois to Moberly, Missouri in 1954. My dad managed a small department store and had been transferred there.
By the age of twelve I was bored with the cornet (and not very good at it) and began playing around with other instruments that were in the school band room. One of those instruments was a huge bass violin. I taught myself as much as I could by listening and practicing and experimenting. In the remaining six years of Jr. High and High School, I played a variety of wind instruments in the school band, but that big string bass really got me started liking pop music.
In 1961, at age thirteen, I started my first band. That first group was made up of buddies from the school band: a trumpet, sax, trombone, clarinet, etc. That didn't work at all and the group disbanded after six months. But the sax player in that group became one of the mainstays in Plato for the rest of the sixties. His name was Mike Imbler, and he became a very good guitarist later on.
I continued with the bass, switching to an electric in 1962. We found an older (two years) guitar player from a nearby town, learned several instrumental numbers like Duane Eddy classics ("Pipeline", etc.) as well as some sax numbers (like "Tequila" and songs by the Mar Keys) and played our first gig in Keytesville, Missouri at a small tavern. The older guitar player quickly dumped us, but we now had the fever. We found another guitarist, calling ourselves the Checkmates, and found jobs at teen towns, VFW's, churches, and - most often - area Jr. High and High Schools. Our parents were great to take us where ever we had to be.
My mother did not care for the music we played, and expressed that opinion often, but my dad--a non-musician--always said it kept us out of trouble, and so he encouraged the "rock'n'roll."
In 1964, at the suggestion of one of our many managers, we changed our name to Plato and the Philosophers so as to be more in tune with the times, and also because we had become aware of another band called the Checkmates in another part of the country. At this time the band consisted of Barry Orscheln on piano, Mark Valentine on drums, Mike Imbler on guitar, and me on bass. All but Mark sang. The Beatles were obviously a great influence at that time along with the rest of the British Invasion.
With drivers licenses in hand, and a nifty red truck with our name on it, we thought we were definitely on our way. In the mid-sixties we performed about fifty to sixty times a year, primarily in mid-Missouri, but also in surrounding states. We also performed as far away as Chicago, and two summers in central Florida in the late sixties. During that time we played an enormous amount of frat parties at the University of Missouri, about 30 miles to the south, as well as many appearances in the Lake of the Ozark area. The two Florida trips in 1968 and 1969 were very memorable. We played at a club in Bradenton, Florida six nights a week and five hours a night during the '69 trip.
In 1966, shortly after my high school graduation, we hired a recording studio in Quincy, Illinois to record us. IT Studios recorded us performing two songs that I had written for a fee of about $200. The songs were "C.M. I Love You" and "I Don't Mind." The price included 400 records which we quickly distributed to friends and the area radio stations. The guys at the studio loaned me a directory of record companies around the country, and I promptly mailed off about thirty copies of the record with a cover letter. I was absolutely certain that I was on the verge of stardom. Most of the recipients never responded, but a few did. I still have the reject letters from Atlantic, Decca, and a few other prominent labels of that era. At least they did respond.
1967 was a much better year. After giving up hope of any hit record, we were contacted by a small Chicago label called General American Records, or GAR. We signed with them and crossed our fingers. Monthly reports began showing minimal but growing sales, but no check. Each month showed more progress with the A side, "C.M. I Love You" becoming "Pick Hit of the Week" on several radio stations in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, and Northern Illinois, but no check. The last report from the company showed sales of a little under 11,000 records.
GAR did not have the financial footings to successfully promote the records it had released and bellied up before any of their records had any major success. That, it turned out, was our fifteen minutes of fame. Later, in the summer of '67, we opened for the McCoys at the Missouri State Fair. It was a thrill to be approached by several kids from Michigan, with our record in hand, who had traveled some distance to see us.
During the year we added a bass player named Ben White so that I could move around more in front of the band. By the end of 1967, Mark Valentine had been replaced by Steve VanCleve on the drums. At the end of the year we recorded two songs, "Wishes" and "Thirteen O'Clock Flight To Psychedelphia," at Fairyland Studios in Columbia, Missouri. This studio was run by members of a Columbia band called "Goldie Locks and the Three Bears." "Wishes" was to be a Righteous Brothers kind of tune and "Thirteen O'Clock To Psychedelphia" was a play on the psychedelic sounds that we were hearing from the big studios. These recordings became the last to be turned into 45's. Throughout the rest of the sixties, we were recruited by several A & R people to record in studios in Pekin, Illinois, in Springfield, Missouri, and a couple of times in Nashville, Tennessee.
Many of those recordings, unpolished, appear on the Collectables CD #0714 issued in 1998. We had not heard most of those songs for nearly thirty years prior to their release on that CD. The only way to get a copy in the '60s was to have the studio run off a reel-to-reel tape, and very few of us had access to a reel-to-reel player.
I began my college education at Moberly Junior College in the fall of 1966 as an engineering major and transferred to Central Methodist College in early 1968 as a music major due to poor grades. Mom always said that the "band" caused my bad grades and lack of attention to school work and she was absolutely correct. I thought of college as something to do until I made it in music. As it turned out, it was the other way around. The degree took a year longer than it should have but I finally received it in 1971 (a Bachelors Degree in Music Education) and taught band for the next seven years.
Even though rock and roll was in its infancy, there were many area bands playing during the sixties. The Krazy Kats started in Moberly in 1957 and are still playing today around the Country. Of lesser fame were The Dalton Gang, Wolfgang and the Warlocks, The Morning Dew, Friar Tuck and the Merrymen, Christies Critters, and many others. We were privileged to be on stage with a few name bands, such as the McCoys, Mitch Ryder, and the Buckinghams. Bob Kuban with his hit "The Cheater" always filled the house in central Missouri. In the latter part of the sixties, several new members arrived including Ken Woolverton and Paul Vervack from St Louis on guitar and bass, Richie Vallandingham on guitar, Lyndell Durbin, and a return of Mark Valentine on the drums.
Other than our originals, I remember playing "Inna Gadda Da Vida" in it's entirety as our theme song for a couple of years. Also, a lot of Cream, Hendrix, and Beatles. By the end of the '60s, we had dropped "and the Philosophers" from our name and called ourselves Plato. [However] we retrieved the entire name when we reformed in the 80's.
For the various members of Plato and the Philosophers, particularly this one, the decade of the sixties provides many wonderful memories of teenage boys pursuing a dream of rock and roll fame and fortune while creating friendships for life, and memories of experiences that we never grow tired of telling, and hearing told.
In November of 1970, the band played what we thought would be our final gig. With two of us married and a variety of other distractions, the bond that had been so strong during the previous decade was gone. I graduated from Central Methodist College in 1971 and became a high school band director in Monroe City, Missouri. The other members moved on to various parts of the Country. There were no hit songs, only fantastic memories. The Legendary Plato would play again, but not for ten years. Plato Lives On (and on, and on, and on).
During my years as a teacher I never really lost the dream of someday being a successful song writer and/or musician. I continued to write music, but really missed the opportunity to perform. In 1979, having left the teaching field and locating back in Moberly, I bought a keyboard and started performing as a one man band in clubs and restaurants. By 1980, Barry, Steve, Richie and Mike were also back in Moberly. We were asked to get together for a United Way fund-raiser in November of that year. Once back together, Barry, Steve and I decided to keep it together for the fun of it, but the two guitarists declined. A few months later we added Bruce Renfro on guitar and the four of us have remained in tact for the past 21 years. We haven't given up our day jobs but we manage to play 25 to 30 times a year. I have a son, (Matt) and a daughter and son-in-law (Lisa and Bill Thomason) who also perform with me seven or eight times a year.
Today, Plato rarely performs the old original songs, instead relying on a repertoire of '50s, '60s, and '70s rock and roll hits. We have a strong following in the area and have had the opportunity to open for the Beach Boys, Lee Greenwood, and a few other big names in recent years. In 1993 we recorded a CD of original material for our own distribution, and in 1997 we were contacted by a producer in Tucson, Arizona, who did work for the Collectables label. He had possession of several Fairyland Studios masters from the '60s and requested any reel-to-reel copies that we still had. From this inventory he produced the "Thirteen O'Clock Flight" CD that Collectables released in 1998. A few years ago a local promoter marketed us as "The Legendary Plato and the Philosophers," partly because of our longevity, and also to get a little more attention. Either way, the moniker is now often used (just for the fun of it).
On July 15, 2000, we held a Plato reunion in Moberly with about 500 fans and friends in attendance. Five former members joined us on stage (Mike, Ben, Richie, Mark and Paul) and we had a blast. We plan to do it again in a couple of years.
At 53, I look forward to retirement from the work force someday, but never from rock and roll. While the dream of "making it" in the music business is long gone, the pure joy of doing what we do will never die. As long as someone comes to hear us, we'll keep on rockin'.
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