Garage Bands on the Run: The Many Iowa '60s Bands of Ron Carlson; The Gear They Employed, the Songs They Covered
Part 9 of 10: Camel
Camel began life around Spring of 1972 when Denny Allen and Dave Sternquist got together to do some song writing and general jamming. Denny lived just a block or so south of Dave in Boone so it was very convenient for this to take place. Dave was in between bands as was Denny after County Road had broken up in late 1971. He had started a record shop in Boone called Revolver Records during this period and into 1972. I had kept in contact with him fairly consistently; even to the extent of helping to advertise the store for Denny by walking the streets of Boone's business district wearing a sandwich board advert for the shop.
At the time Denny and Dave were getting together, I had taken a job in Yellowstone National Park for the summer in 1972. When I got back in late September, Denny approached me about starting a band with Dave. Bob Groves, who was about to start college, was brought in to play drums. At this point the band really had no name. Denny at this time was playing a Rickenbacker 4001 bass finished in fireglo which he later stripped to bare wood and refinished with clear Verathane. The amp he was using was an Acoustic 360 bass amp. Dave started out with a gold top Les Paul Deluxe and a silver face Fender Twin Reverb amp with the silver/blue grille cloth. He later went through a succession of amps including a Marshall and an Acoustic, amongst others. He also acquired a Firebird III with the banjo tuners on it which he used later on with the group. I still had the early 60s Gibson ES 330-T along with the Magnatone M7. I also added an old PA column from the Agency to the Magnatone.
During January of 1973, I purchased a Rickenbacker 360 12 string finished in mapleglo from Rick Jewett in Grand Junction. In the fall of 1973 I purchased a used Gibson ES 335TDW from Jeff Bollenbaugh which became my main instrument. I also went through an upgrade process with amps. The Magnatone wasn't cutting it anymore so the search was on. The first purchase was a 1956 Fender Pro which I found in a little shop in Perry for $75. Since the amp was in good condition for its age it was not used for long so it wouldn't get banged up. Through Steve Greenfield I made connections with Gilbert Wildon in Algona and purchased a black face Fender Dual Showman for $250. This was the amp I used for most of the time Camel was together.
Bob Groves, who played with the band during the fall into Winter of 1972, still had the Ludwig kit he used in County Road. When Bob left the band to concentrate on school, Brent Espe joined up. He had been found after a short search for a drummer in the area. Brent was originally from Hubbard and was working at ISU running a printing press at the time. He had a Slingerland kit consisting of kick, chrome snare, two shell mount toms and floor tom with two crash, one ride and hat for cymbals. For PA, we started out with Denny's Kustom tuck and roll white/silver sparkle system.
In mid 1973 the band bought two Altec Voice of the Theatre speakers which we drove with the Kustom head. The VOTTs were commonly used in movie theatres, hence the name. They were not much fun lugging up and down stairs since there were no handles on them.
In late 1973 the band purchased an Altec 1220 mixing board which was cutting edge technology at the time for a local band like Camel. The idea was that someone running the mixer could balance the vocals and instruments more accurately than the band could from the stage as was the custom up until this point in time. It was decided to mic all the instruments (not just the vocals) and hire a person to run sound for the group. Alan Graybill filled that position. The advent of the Altec 1220 led to trying a previous idea from County Road. Camel decided to employ acoustic guitars along with electric ones to give more variety to the band's performances. Along with the Turner and Shure mics the band was already using, Denny added some AKG D100 mics to the band's sound reinforcement compliment. The AKGs were used to mic the instruments and amps. The Turner and Shures were used for Denny, Dave, and my vocals.
Camel started out practicing in a store front in west Boone a few doors east of Thompson's Drug and just across the street from Farley's Tire store. The building had been a clothing store called The PX that catered to teens and college age folks prior to Camel using it for practice. We rented the building from a Mr. Holley for next to nothing. Since he was storing a bunch of stuff in the store, the band practiced just inside the front door, taking up about a 12' X 20' area. At first we faced the front door, but after complaints from the folks across the street, we faced the back of the building. Nightly breaks were taken down at Boyd's Dairy or Thompson's where we found we were still being heard quite well. We practiced three nights a week--usually Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday--starting around 7 p.m. and going until 10 or 10:30 p.m.
As winter encroached upon the area, it got quite cold at rehearsals as the building was not heated. We put up a large sheet and brought space heaters, but it was barely comfortable. Sometime in early 1973 we moved to the old Downtown Ballroom above what used to be Bill Ross Motors in downtown Boone. This is the second floor of what is now The Livery. It was a huge room as the whole upstairs was at our disposal. It proved ideal to get a feel for what the band sounded like in a room similar to what we would actually perform in.
Originally setting up at the south end of the room, we soon figured out that it would be a lot less distance to walk during a load out to be set up at the north end of the room which we did (and you thought musicians were smart?!). It was here that the band practiced four times a week until it's demise. Three practices were full band rehearsals with Saturday night being a vocals only practice . . . which meant Brent didn't have to show up.
Practices still ran from around 7 p.m. to 10 or 10:30 p.m. They would have gone longer, but there were apartments in the building adjacent to the east. The usual schedule was to hit three or four songs we knew well to warm up and then spend the last two or three hours working on new material, devoting about an hour to each new song.
While Bob Groves was in the band, we worked up songs such as "Rocket Man" by Elton John; "I Talk to the Wind" by King Crimson; "Brighter" by Carole King; "Goin' Mobile" by The Who; "You Can Bet They Do" by Sha Na Na; "Shine On" by Humble Pie; and "You Don't Love Me," the Supersession version.
When Brent came on board we added tunes like "Almost Cut My Hair" by CSN&Y; "Out of Control" by the Eagles; "Let's Work Together" by Canned Heat; "Hey Grandma" by Moby Grape; "Mr. Spaceman" by the Byrds; "Anyway" by Manassas; "Good Lovin'" by It's A Beautiful Day; "Hoedown" by Poco; "Space Cowboy" by the Steve Miller Band; "Parole" by Todd Rundgren; "Payday" by Jesse Winchester; "2000 Light Years From Home" by the Rolling Stones; and "The Losing End" by Neil Young.
Camel made a conscious effort to do songs that were different from what we heard other bands doing. As an example: While others were doing "Honky Tonk Women," Camel chose to do "2000 Light Years From Home" by the Stones. Camel played around central Iowa the most, but did do some stuff farther away. Vermilion, South Dakota; Sioux City, and Guttenburg, Iowa were a few gigs farther away.
The weirdest job was perhaps when we were asked to play at a bar and grill in Adel, Iowa. When the band arrived we found that our equipment alone would practically take up the entire dance floor. It was like being stuck in a closet, so we refused the job since there was no contract involved. . . . The funniest job might have been playing for the Boyden-Hull prom. The "stage" was surrounded by a corral of sorts with a sign posted by the gate in front which read "Don't Feed The Camels." . . . The most unfortunate job was playing at the former Rippey's Orchard in Ames, Iowa. The new owner, James "Jolly" Clark, had decided he would not pay us the contracted amount for the two nights we played at the club. When informed of this on the last night we were there, we decided to fight for the money. After the bar closed we refused to tear down and move the gear out of the club until we were paid the promised amount. The manager called the Ames police to forcibly remove us.
After we showed up in small claims court with a lawyer of our own, the lawyer representing the bar asked for a continuance. At the next court date only we came to court; neither Mr. Clark nor his lawyer ever showed up. Camel was awarded the contracted amount. The only problem was that Mr. Clark refused to pay. After several sheriffs' visits to a bar Mr. Clark owned in Des Moines, the money was finally collected. Due to the costs involved each member ended up with $30 a piece instead of the $80 or so we would have gotten. This amount was the least we were paid while making $250 to $300 a night was the most we ever received for a gig.
Another interesting experience happened when we subbed for another band on short notice. A booking agent we were using at the time had a band cancel on him for a school dance in Gowrie, Iowa up near Fort Dodge. We got the request the day of and took it. Since the school was under the impression a band was not going to show up there were only a few kids at the gym for the start of the dance.
More kids slowly trickled in as word got out, but no one was dancing. In an effort to change this situation, when I introduced the song "Hoedown" I made mention of the fact that if any of the kids were going to be going to ISU next year they should try to get into this song as this music was real popular there. And indeed it was as a band named Rural was big at the time and they did country rock tunes. We started the tune and the once empty dance floor was now packed! Denny was laughing so hard he could hardly stand up.
Another similar situation of crowd manipulation happened in Nevada at Gates Hall. We were doing original material at the time along with cover tunes. On the introduction to one of our tunes I introduced it as being from Foghat's latest album that had just been released. At a break after that set a member from the crowd came up and gushed over the tune and said he couldn't wait to buy Foghat's new album. Always wondered how that came out.
The band ground to a halt in late Spring of 1974. Dave, by this time, was ready to call it quits due to the heavy practice schedule which kept him away from his family much more than he would have liked. Other matters came up also. A meeting was called to discuss some of the things facing us. Denny had purchased a new van which was being used to carry the band's equipment. He felt he should be paid extra for the van's upkeep and to help him make payments on the van. It was argued that no one in the band had asked for him to buy a new van. In retrospect what he was asking for was not out of line as far as upkeep goes. The other item we discussed was the issue of our stage dress. Denny felt we should get some sort of consistent outfit to wear when we played out. Dave, Brent and I thought it was unnecessary. An argument ensued with Dave stating he was quitting after the next contracted job. Then I said I was quitting, too, which ended the situation. The last job at Gilbert, Iowa was not much fun for any of the members.