|Val Stecklein||Guitar (rhythm), Vocals|
|Mike Chapman||Guitar (lead), Vocals|
|Richard Scott||Bass guitar, Vocals|
The Blue Things got together in 1964 as the Blue Boys in Hays, Kansas, where Mike Chapman, Richard Scott and Rick "Laz" Larzalere were members of the Barons, a popular group led by Jim Fetters. The band was Chapman's idea and he came up with the name. In the early days they wore blue suits onstage. Before the Barons Chapman had played with the Upbeats while attending Salina High School and Bethany College in Lindsborg. Between the Upbeats and the Barons, Mike made a short trip to California, where he played with Pat & Lolly Vegas of Redbone and the Marketts before returning to Kansas. After choosing music over school Mike's dad gave him $100 toward his trip to the coast.
Prior to the Barons, Richard Scott had played with a Manhattan jazz trio, a short-lived blues band, an earlier version of the Barons, a band called the Spinners, and he had played for three years with the Flippers (later known as the Fabulous Flippers) in Hays until his health forced him to drop out. While with the Flippers Scott made at least one trip to a recording studio, but the work didn't get beyond acetate. With Richard on bass, Mike on lead guitar and Laz on drums, the three Blue Boys would often open for the Barons, then join the others onstage. The three decided that to complete the break from the Barons they needed a rhythm guitar player who could sing. They found more than that when they auditioned Mike Chapman's roommate Val Stecklein. Mike and Val performed as a folk duo around Hays when other obligations allowed, and Stecklein had played with Scott in a rock band called the Dukes back in 1958 before turning his back on rock and roll for folk music.
Val had already recorded a demo of two original songs, "Desert Wind" and Nancy Whiskey", at Damon Studios in Kansas City with the Hi-Plains Singers and an album with a Ft. Hays State College group called the Impromptwos. The album was recorded by Lawrence's Audio House on December 8, 1963 in the Ft. Hays State Memorial Union's Black and Gold Room. The Impromptwos was a group of fourteen singers, with eight doubling as instrumentalists. Stecklein was the featured vocalist on the album, singing four songs and playing guitar. His photo appears on the back of the album's cover. While in the Impromptwos, Val wrote songs, and the group performed three of them at the "Poise 'n' Ivy" concert in February 1964. After Val had moved on to the Blue Boys, the Impromptwos released a second album, "The Impromptwos Hit The Road", in the spring of 1966.
The Blue Boys spent the summer of 1964 touring much of Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado with their folk rock/Merseybeat sound. That summer they signed up with Jim Reardon, who had been selling sweatshirts in Holly, Colorado, for management, and he took them to John Brown of Mid-Continent Entertainment. They were booked out of Reardon's home in Beloit initally, and then out of Manhattan the following fall and winter. When Brown moved Mid-Continent to Lawrence, so he could attend the University of Kansas, Reardon and the Blue Boys followed.
Promotions began in earnest, with sweatshirts featuring the band's logo (designed by Reardon), a fan club, and daily reports on KOMA Radio in Oklahoma City. In those days, most small AM radio stations and some larger ones signed off the air at sunset, and it was 50,000 watt clear-channel powerhouses like KOMA that kept teenagers on the plains entertained at night. According to John Brown, the spots on KOMA weren't a product of brilliance, but of laziness. He just got tired of putting up posters and passing out flyers. Those messages on the the radio made stars out of the Blue Boys and the other Mid-Continent acts, the Fabulous Flippers, the Red Dogs, Spider & the Crabs, the Rising Sons and the Young Raiders. Commercials for the Blue Boys appearances often featured Conway Twitty's MGM recording of "Lonely Blue Boy."
Stecklein and the others had been writing songs and decided it was time to record some of them. July 7, 1964, at Damon Studios in Kansas City, the Blue Boys recorded four songs. In September, they went back to Damon and recorded four more. Thirty copies of each of the July acetates and forty copies of each of the September acetates were made. Two more Blue Boys songs have appeared on acetate, but the recording date of "Good Times Gone Bad" and "Coney Island" remains a mystery since it does not appear in Vic Damon's studio log. A copy of this acetate was auctioned a few years ago by a Dutch record collector.
The Damon Recordings helped the Blue Boys get a deal with Ruff Records of Amarillo, Texas, in October, and they went to the Sullivan Studios in Oklahoma City that December to cut their first single, "Mary Lou" b/w "Your Turn To Cry". To avoid confusion with the late Jim Reeves' back-up band, who had continued recording for RCA after Reeves' death, the Blue Boys became the Blue Things. The band's name was two words on all of their records, but one word (Bluethings) on their fan club materials and in much of their advertising. The band did one more single on Ruff, "Pretty Thing--Oh" b/w "Just Two Days Ago". Three of the guys helped out on a Buddy Knox single (Ruff 1001 "Jo Ann" b/w "Don't Make A Ripple"). Knox had his own band, but it was supplemented by Val on tambourine, Richard on bass and Mike adding guitar overdubs. The three Kansans also contributed vocal harmonies. Richard Scott played bass on some singles by Ray Ruff's Checkmates, too. The Blue Things were signed to RCA Victor in August of 1965.
The band had attracted attention on a trip to Nashville to play behind Mid-Continent singer Jim Dale. Session musicians (including Ray Stevens, Floyd Cramer & Jerry Corrigan) ended up playing on Dale's Monument Records single "Mountain Dew", but the Blue Things were signed to RCA. The first Blue Things single for the label was "I Must Be Doing Something Wrong", an original written by Val Stecklein, Mike Chapman and Richard Scott in their car on the way from a gig in Missoula, Montana, to Nashville. The recording featured an additional voice doubling up on the chorus. Gordon Stoker, the bass singer with the Jordanaires, became the only session singer to appear on a Blue Things record. The flipside was a cover of Dale Hawkins' "La Do Da Da". The record was issued with a picture sleeve, which was uncommon for new groups back then. There was a new face in the picture, because by October Rick Larzalere had been replaced by Bobby Day.
According to manager John Brown, neither Larzalere or Day actually played on the single. "Laz" had dropped out of the band to concentrate on school, and the drummer they took with them couldn't keep a steady beat. Session drummer Jerry Carrigan played on that first RCA single, and when the Blue Things returned to Kansas the first order of business was to find a permanent drummer. They went through several before Mike Chapman found Bobby Day playing at the Blue Pacific in Salina with the Impacts. Mike sent him to Lawrence to audition for Val and Richard, which he did at the legendary Red Dog Inn. Two weeks later he was with the Blue Things to stay. Prior to the Impacts, Day had played in Salina's Measles. He'd also played behind Oklahoma rocker Wes Reynolds on a tour of Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and the Dakotas.
The second single for RCA, "Doll House" b/w "The Man On The Street" was a victim of timing according to Richard Scott. "Time" magazine had published a cover story on questionable song lyrics just before the single's release. Scott claims that disc jockeys and program directors were afraid to play "Doll House" because it was about a young girl's life as a prostitute. Ads for "Doll House" featured a drawing by Val Stecklein's roommate S. Clay Wilson, who later found fame with his work in San Francisco's "Zap Comix."
Twelve songs recorded by the Blue Things on the band's first two trips to Nashville were collected together for a self-titled album in the fall of 1966. Record collectors now pay as much a $100 for a copy of the album "The Blue Things" which listed for $2.98 in mono and $3.98 in stereo originally. Since RCA didn't make a jukebox version of the album, John Brown took his copy of the master tapes to Lawrence's Audio House and had "soft-cut" acetates made of several of the album's song for local jukebox play. The Blue Things used to record at Audio House, but none of what they did there was released for nearly a decade.
While their album was popular with Blue Things fans, by the time it came out the band had moved past the folk rock/Merseybeat sound that RCA favored. For a group that was always defining the cutting edge for bands on the plains, music didn't stand still for the Blue Things.
And life didn't stand still for the band's manager Jim Reardon. Unhappy with aspects of the deal with RCA and having lost $5000 of his own money on the deal, he left Mid-Continent and the Blue Things. Reardon moved to Hays, where in December '65 he opened his own club called the Dark Horse Inn and his own booking agency which became almost as big as Mid-Continent over the next few years. These days Reardon is a Topeka attorney and a long-time member of the Topeka city council.
The Blue Things' third Nashville session and last with Val Stecklein produced one of the finest examples of psychedelia ever--"Orange Rooftop Of Your Mind" b/w "One Hour Cleaners". Both sides were written by Val & Mike, with Richard helping write "One Hour Cleaners". Bobby Day's backward countdown on "One Hour Cleaners" is his only recorded vocal. In 1975, when Alan Betrock asked the readers of his publication "The Rock Marketplace" to name the records they most wanted to add to their collections, one of the top five mentioned was the Blue Things' "Orange Rooftop".
All of the Blue Things records for RCA were engineered by Jim Malloy and were produced by the late Felton Jarvis, who is best remembered for his long assocition with Elvis Presley. Kris Kristofferson, Nilsson and Ray Stevens played on various sessions. While the Blue Things' records are prized now, it is their live performances that fans remember most. A typical set went like this: the original "Doll House" followed by a Beatles medley of "Paperback Writer"/ "Nowhere Man'/"I Saw Her Standing There"/"Twist And Shout"/"Rain"/ "Day Tripper", then Love's "My Little Red Book", Summer In The City", "Shapes Of Things" and finally, "I'm A Man" and "My Generation".
Bobby had to cut out his drum head and use marching sticks to get the volume he wanted. Mike usually played blue guitars, everything from a '56 Stratocaster to a Danelectro guitarolin, a longhorn with a three octave scale, rigged with built-in fuzztone and special pickups. Chapman supposedly burned a guitar onstage one night at the Johnson County Rec Center (later Coya's Castle) in suburban Kansas City, a couple of years before Jimi Hendrix would do something similar. Richard Scott was ambidextrous, so he would keep his bass on a saxophone strap so he could switch from right to left handed play and back in midsong. The Blue Things drew their biggest crowds in Tulsa, Omaha and Wichita, introducing light shows and smoke machines to the Midwest.
In the spring of 1967, Val Stecklein's health forced his departure from the Blue Things, and he was replaced by Larry Burton of Topeka's Jerms. Burton not only took over on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, but he played keyboards, which added to the band's sound. Larry sang lead on the band's next single, a great version of "Twist And Shout", but the flipside "You Can Live In Our Tree" featured Val Stecklein's vocals. It had been recorded at the same time as "Orange Rooftop".
The fifth and final single for RCA was a cover of the Spencer Davis Group's "Somebody Help Me". The odd B-side sounded like a cross between the New Vaudeville Band and the Mothers of Invention. Richard Scott sang the lead vocals on "Yes My Friend" thru a megaphone to achieve the desired effect. After playing and singing with the Blue Things for a few more months and on an Audio House session, a collection of covers ("East West", "Talk Talk", "My Generation", "Hey Joe", etc.) which has survived on acetate, Larry Burton was drafted and has never been heard from again. He was replaced by Mike Kelley, who the Blue Things found playing in Hays with the Playmate Blues Band. Before long the band's music evolved again, and Kelley's friend from the Playmate Blues Band Rich Bisterfeldt was brought in as a second drummer.
Promoter John Brown has to be credited with much of the success the Blue Things enjoyed, but his dominance of the Midwest music scene made it possible for him to get 60% of the royalties from the Blue Things' album, 30% of their union wages during recording sessions and 30% of their songwriting royalties thru owning the publishing rights.
The Blue Things broke with Mid-Continent Entertainment in early 1968. Unfortunately, Mid-Continent owned the group's name. For a few months the band played the area as Cracker Barrel, but at their last appearance ever in Lawrence, at the Wesley Foundation April 18, 1968, they unveiled a new name: Fyre. Richard Scott had come up with the name to reflect a new R&B sound. The guys in Fyre, except for Bobby Day, planned a move to California. Mike Doyle of the Jerms took his place and played on the band's final recording session at Audio House, at which four songs were recorded. Two of them were Doyle originals..."I'm Gonna Leave You" and "Things That Could". Mike Chapman also wrote a song for the session, while the fourth was a group effort. Chapman went out to L.A. a couple of weeks earlier than the others to check things out and to set up some gigs.
Soon after arriving on the West Coast, Fyre was scheduled to play for Senator Robert Kennedy's post-primary election celebration. The guys were on their way to the Ambasssador Hotel, when they heard the news on their limo's radio that Kennedy had been shot! A couple of weeks later Fyre was playing at the Whiskey a Go-Go. The Blue Things' original record producer Ray Ruff signed Fyre to Dot and planned to release the four Audio House sides that have remained unissued. The band then went on tour with a Van Morrison-less version of Them, another band Ruff had produced. The last dates on the tour were at the Electric Theatre in Chicago, opening for Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. Following the tour, Fyre broke up and the memebers scattered. Some returned to California, and others went back to Kansas.
— Bill Lee, Kansas Music Hall of Fame