Bobby Aro, 1984

August 12, 1984

Bobby Aro sings a ballad at Elde’s Supper Club, located between Duluth and Esko, on Aug. 5, 1984. (Bob King / News-Tribune & Herald)

Bobby Aro: Old-time music like they love it

By Bob Ashenmacher, News-Tribune & Herald

Old-time music has a friend in Bobby Aro.

He recorded his biggest personal hit, for instance, in his sauna. The song was “Highway No. 7.” Aro claims it has sold a million copies in the 26 years since he wrote and recorded it in the soundproof building in his backyard.

He has the last surviving polka radio program in the Twin Ports, “Bobby Aro’s Old-Time Dance Party” at 5 p.m. Saturdays on WDSM-AM 710. He also helps out host Pentti Mahonen with “The Finnish American Program” at 9:45 a.m. Sundays on WEVE-AM 1300 in Eveleth. And he’s a country music deejay on Virginia’s WHLB-AM 1400 from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturdays.

He’s probably best known as a live performer. He and his band the Ranch-Aros play regularly throughout northern Minnesota and Wisconsin. They perform Sunday nights at Elde’s Supper Club at 9949 W. Old Highway 61.

Not surprisingly, this region’s Finnish-Americans and loves of old-time dance music love him. He sprinkles Finnish in the midst of English-language songs, in a hybrid he calls “Finn-glish.”

“I play this kind of junk because I like it,” he said during a break at Elde’s last Sunday night. “I don’t get into the ‘thickness’ of it.” Meaning, the self-consciously “ethnic” aspects of it. “The lines between people, like blacks and whites, are dissolving. That’s the way I’ve always felt music should be too. Besides, we play a little of everything. Whatever gets people dancing.”

Bobby Aro performs at Elde’s Supper Club on Aug. 5, 1984. (Bob King / News-Tribune & Herald)

He’s a lively performer for his age, which he says with a sidelong glance is “50-ish.” At Elde’s, he opened with “Tiny Bubbles” and sung part of it in Hawaiian (one of six languages he uses in the act, including Slovenian, Polish, German and Finnish).

His vocal style is Dean Martin-like in the way he slurs his diction slightly and sidles up next to a note before hitting it properly. His range is surprising; he hit high notes in the vintage rocker “Chantilly Lace” easily and clearly, before swooping down in a gravelly growl for the “Oh baby that’s a-what I like!” line. People jitterbugged and twisted to that one.

The diversity of the material was surprising, even for a performer who could be called a “variety” music act. “Cheryl Moana Marie.” “Cab Driver.” “Okie From Muskogee.” “Rollin’ In My Sweet Baby’s Arms,” complete with an “ee yi ee yi yo!” call and response with the audience. “Have You Ever Been Lonely,” with the final “have you ever been blue” refrain changed to “did you vote for Ben Boo?” He cackled then, the high “Heh! Heh! Heh!” that serves as his laugh. A bit of scat singing to “Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey.” A spritely schottische here. A couple polkas there. A waltz arrangement of “Que Sera Sera.” To stop one song he shouted “Hi-yo Silver, away!”

He’s a master of the medley.

“This one’s for Patty Chmielewski,” he said, “wherever she may be.” He leaped into “I’ve Got A Polish Girlfriend.” Then: “This one’s for your governor,” and segued into “Moja Dekla.” Then: “This one’s for Rudy Miskulin, wherever he may be,” and it was into “Ya Sam Majko.”

Couples dance to the music of Bobby Aro at Elde’s Supper Club near Duluth on Aug. 5, 1984. (Bob King / News-Tribune & Herald)

The crowd at Elde’s was full of loyal “regulars” that come from as far away as Two Harbors and Nashwauk. It’s a convivial atmosphere, made even more pleasant by the free appetizers served during Aro’s break. This night, it was corn on the cob. And owners Earl and Darlene Elde make sure pots of coffee appear on tables before closing time.

“We’ve come here every night since Bobby started here,” said Helen Olsen of Barnum. “It’s the best exercise we can get.”

“If you can’t dance to Bobby’s music, you can’t dance,” said her husband Harold. “Besides, if you don’t come here you got nothing else to talk about all week.”

“There’s lots of romances that have blossomed here,” said Mary Johnson of Hibbing. “See that woman in the red blouse? She just found herself a boyfriend here two weeks ago and now they’re dancing together.”

Bobby Aro (right) gets help in broadcasting his “Old-Time Dance Party” from disc jockey Tim Michaels at radio station WDSM-AM 710 in June 1984. It was the last surviving polka radio program in the Northland at that time. (John Rott / News-Tribune & Herald)

Aro was trying a Julio Iglesias-like accent on “To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before.”

“Sure I try the new stuff.” he said later. “You have to keep current. We play dances, clubs, weddings – anybody that’s got $5 keeps you going. That, and because I don’t know nothing else.”

He was born in Leonidas, a village outside Eveleth. His earliest musical memories are of his grandfather playing violin and coronet and leading a band that a steel company had organized for its workers. The boy learned violin at an early age. Later came guitar, keyboards and drums. He left to attend radio school in Chicago and worked in Texas shortly after World War II.

“That’s where I got onto country music,” he said. “They were big on that Western Swing. I’m still a country music deejay, really. I’ve been preaching that stuff since it was called hillbilly music. You know how it changed into what it is today? Eddie Arnold and Ray Price made it palatable to everybody. Now you know what it’s come to? They’ve gone too far. People like Dolly (Parton) and Kenny Rogers – that’s not even country music. I don’t ever play that. I play the old stuff and people love it. But then, if a guy’s banging on a garbage can, I don’t knock him. Music is a tough way to make a living.”

Arvo Koponen and Elizabeth Palo of Cotton take a break from dancing to enjoy the performance of the Ranch-Aros at Elde’s Supper Club near Duluth in August 1984. (Bob King / News-Tribune & Herald)

He worked in radio, early television and nightclubs in Chicago before returning to northern Minnesota to work for the old Arrowhead Radio Network. He’s spent the last three decades at several Iron Range radio stations and makes his home in Zim. Today the Ranch-Aros are made up of his sons Casey of Zim on guitar and Mike of Eveleth on drums.

“I introduce them as my brothers because we’re all looking at the same girls,” Aro said. “Uh heh! Heh! Heh!”

His proudest professional moment came three years ago, when he did a concert in Finland. Unknown to him, he was something of a cult figure in that country because of his four “Finn-glish” albums. They love his numbers like “Kapakka in the Kaupunki,” “Suomalainen Gals” and “Donald Maki Song.” The latter is a remake of “Old MacDonald.”

“This won’t buy me a cup of coffee here, but I’ve got front pages of newspapers and magazines from over there with my name all over them. They were askin’ for songs of mine that I didn’t even remember, so I had them sing it to me. What a feeling, hey?”

Yet he doesn’t plan to return.

“I’ve got a winning streak going,” he said. “I don’t want to go back and ruin it.”

For the future, he’ll continue his radio and live performing. Maybe lead a few tour groups to Nashville, as he has in the past.

“I clipped a little thing out of the paper once,” he said. “It was in the gossip column, you know, where stars are doing this and that. Rod Steiger said, ‘The truth of success is longevity.’ I like that one. I had it in my wallet for a long time.”

Couples trot out a schottische to the music of Bobby Aro and his Ranch-Aros at Elde’s Supper Club near Duluth on Aug. 5, 1984. (Bob King / News-Tribune & Herald)


Here are a couple of YouTube videos with music by Bobby Aro:


Bobby Aro suffered a heart attack during a performance in Mountain Iron in December 1988; he underwent triple-bypass surgery and returned to the stage and radio several months later. Here are a couple photos that ran with a story in the News-Tribune in October 1989:

Bobby Aro makes a selection for his WDSM-AM radio show from a stack of records he keeps close at hand on Oct. 2, 1989. (Steve Stearns / News-Tribune)

Bobby Aro at the microphone during a break in his WDSM-AM 710 radio show in October 1989. (Steve Stearns / News-Tribune)

Bobby Aro died on Jan. 19, 1996 at age 69.

WDSE-TV, PBS Channel 8 in Duluth, created a documentary on Bobby Aro that will be airing on Sunday, June 1 at 7 p.m., and again on Thursday, June 5 at 8 p.m.

Do you remember watching or listening to Bobby Aro? Share your memories by posting a comment.

Before the music died in 1959, it lived in Duluth

A copy of the poster for the Winter Dance Party concert that was held on Jan. 31, 1959, from an ad in the Duluth News Tribune at the time. (News Tribune file image)

Before it died, the music lived in Duluth.

Fifty-five years ago today (Jan. 31), on a cold Saturday night in 1959, the Winter Dance Party tour featuring Buddy Holly, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and Ritchie Valens played the Duluth Armory.

Two nights later, they were gone, the victims of a plane crash in a snowy Iowa cornfield.

“This was the biggest teenage music show we’d ever had at the Armory. Kids were there dancing; kids were there in front of the stage just watching. And as everyone knows, we found out later Bob Dylan was there from Hibbing,” the late Lew Latto, local promoter and master of ceremonies for that show, told the News Tribune in 2009. “When I read in the newspaper … that these guys were gone in a plane crash, I was shocked like everyone else. Buddy Holly would’ve continued to be a dominant force in the music business — but just like that, he was gone.”

Waylon Jennings, Buddy Holly and Tommy Allsup perform during the Winter Dance Party concert at the Duluth Armory on Jan. 31, 1959. (Photo by Colleen Bowen)


The text above is taken from a story written by the News Tribune’s Kevin Pates for the 50th anniversary of the concert and the subsequent crash, Here’s the full story from Jan. 25, 2009:


Kevin Pates, Duluth News Tribune

The one wish Lew Latto has from that cold Saturday night in 1959 is that he’d had a camera. He took no pictures at the Duluth Armory on Jan. 31 as a troupe of rock ’n’ roll entertainers put on a Winter Dance Party show for about 2,000 fans — a performance that takes a place of honor in Duluth entertainment lore.

Latto, then a 19-year-old University of Minnesota Duluth freshman, was the local promoter and master of ceremonies. He had no way of knowing history was right around the corner.

The Day the Music Died was 48 hours away for Buddy Holly , 22, of Lubbock, Texas; J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, 28, of Beaumont, Texas; and Ritchie Valens, 17, of Pacoima, Calif.

“This was the biggest teenage music show we’d ever had at the Armory. Kids were there dancing; kids were there in front of the stage just watching. And as everyone knows, we found out later Bob Dylan was there from Hibbing,” Latto, 69, said recently from his winter home in Hallandale Beach, Fla. “I spent most of the time on the side of the stage and had the chance to talk quite a bit with Ritchie Valens.

“When I read in the newspaper three days later that these guys were gone in a plane crash, I was shocked like everyone else. Buddy Holly would’ve continued to be a dominant force in the music business — but just like that, he was gone.”

Fifty years ago, on Feb. 2, 1959, the Winter Dance Party reached the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, where 1,300 youngsters showed up. It was the 11th stop on a tour that began Jan. 23 in Milwaukee and had become a tedious, bitterly frigid bus excursion. Holly rented a plane to get to the next destination, 440 miles away for a concert the next day in Moorhead, Minn. They were to land in Fargo, N.D.

Just after midnight on Feb. 3, Holly, Richardson, Valens and pilot Roger Peterson, 21, boarded a 12-year-old single-engine, four-seat Beechcraft Bonanza at an airport in nearby Mason City, Iowa. Peterson, a rookie, wasn’t given weather advisories about a band of snow moving southeast through Minnesota and North Dakota. The plane flew two minutes before crashing into a cornfield eight miles from the Surf Ballroom. Everyone aboard was killed.

The Duluth Armory, built on London Road in 1915, decommissioned and given to the city in 1978 and now mothballed in hopes of renovation, is no longer a performance venue. But the building will be the site of a 50th anniversary Winter Dance Party gathering for about a half-hour starting at noon Saturday. Fans will be able to look into the Armory but not go inside, said Susan Phillips, president of the nonprofit Armory Arts and Music Center. The entrance is at 13th Avenue East and Jefferson Street.

Buddy Holly performing at the Duluth Armory as part of the Winter Dance Party tour, Jan. 31, 1959. (Photo courtesy of Sharon Johnson)

Holly fan

Dan Heikkinen, 40, of Cloquet is a Buddy Hollyphile. He grew up a Beatles fan and then heard that his favorite band was influenced by Holly and his group, The Crickets. The Beatles sang “Peggy Sue,” “Maybe Baby,” “Think It Over,” “That’ll Be The Day,” “It’s So Easy,” “Raining In My Heart,” “Reminiscing,” “Crying, Waiting, Hoping” and “Everyday,” and recorded “Words of Love.”

Heikkinen had a new favorite band and has since become a Holly historian. He’s helped organize re-creations of the Winter Dance Party in Duluth in the past decade, helps select a Winter Dance Party Scholarship winner for a Minnesota high school student with a musical background, and almost never misses the annual Winter Dance Party celebration at the Surf Ballroom. He’ll drive the 290 miles there this week with his brother, Scott Heikkinen, 51, of Hermantown and brother-in-law, Terry Purcell, 56, of Esko.

“I read biographies about Buddy and then went and bought some of his music at the old Carlson Books and Records [in Duluth],” said Heikkinen, store manager at Super One in Two Harbors. “I put those records on at home and thought: ‘This guy is fantastic.’ He was ahead of his time. To know that he played right here, in Duluth, well that’s a pretty big deal.

“Going to the Surf is like being in a time machine. It’s like walking back into the 1950s with people wearing poodle skirts and letter jackets. It’s an amazing place.”

That night

Latto was hired at WDSM Radio in 1958 after his senior year at Duluth Denfeld. He played the Top 40 format of the day from 4-6 p.m., labeling it the Nifty 50. As a young entrepreneur, he fronted music shows at the Armory, including acts like Gene Vincent and Brenda Lee, and a Summer Dance Party stop on July 11, 1958, when Holly first played in town and stayed overnight at the Hotel Duluth.

For the Jan. 31, 1959, show at the Armory, Latto put posters up in music stores like Mickey’s Melody Lane at Third Avenue West and First Street. Fans paid $1.25 to $2 that night and General Artists Corp., a rag-tag outfit that booked the tour, was promised $1,000 or 50 percent of the gross receipts. Because of the large crowd, Latto estimates the payout for the performers was about $2,000, while he split his half with the National Guard.

A bus carrying the approximately 12-person group traveled 370 miles from Fort Dodge, Iowa, after a Jan. 30 concert, arriving in Duluth just before the 9 p.m. performance. The bus left shortly after the dance ended at midnight. Also on the tour were singer Frankie Sardo and Dion and the Belmonts, and musicians including guitarists Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup.

“Compared to some acts, Holly and his group had a refined presentation. Everyone was dressed in sport jackets and acted like gentlemen,” said Latto, now an owner of radio stations in Eveleth and Grand Rapids, and still employed by WDSM as a freelance talk show host, on weekdays from 7-9 a.m.

Latto has great memories from 1959, just no memorabilia. In the past two years, a Los Angeles entrepreneur offered $20,000 for a promotional poster from the Duluth performance, but Latto says there are none as far as he knows. They were discarded after the dance.

Photos, however, have surfaced from that night — black-and-white shots taken by teenagers Sharon Johnson and Colleen Bowen, which can be viewed at

The Winter Dance Party moved to Green Bay on Feb. 1, ultimately by train after difficulty with its school bus because of wind-chill temperatures of 40 below zero. Then it was on to Clear Lake and a meeting with destiny.

— end —

J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson performing at the Duluth Armory as part of the Winter Dance Party tour, Jan. 31, 1959. (Photo courtesy of Sharon Johnson)


The News Tribune’s Kevin Pates also wrote a story about the event on Jan. 30, 1999, for the 40th anniversary:


Kevin Pates, News Tribune

Three days after leaving Duluth, Buddy Holly and three others boarded a plane after midnight in Mason City, Iowa.

Holly, 22, had chartered a flight to Fargo, N.D., for the next stop of the 1959 Winter Dance Party: Moorhead, Minn. Also on the single-engine, four-seat Beechcraft Bonanza were entertainers J.P. (the Big Bopper) Richardson, 28; Ritchie Valens, 17; and pilot Roger Peterson, 21.

Peterson wasn’t given weather advisories about a band of snow moving southeast through Minnesota and North Dakota on Feb. 3, 1959. The plane flew two minutes before crashing into a cornfield. Everyone aboard was killed.

Rock ‘n’ roll’s fatality list had its first superstar.

The news of Holly’s death was a blow to America’s teen-agers, including those in Duluth, where he had performed Jan. 31 at the National Guard Armory on London Road.

“We had a chance to see him, just as he was getting started, and then he was gone. It was like `Oh my God. He was just here.’ It was devastating,” said Yvonne Pavelich, 54, a bartender at Duluth’s Radisson Hotel. She was a 14-year-old Washington Junior High freshman when she attended the Armory dance. “The next day at school the boys wore black armbands and the girls had black ribbons in their hair.”

The Lubbock, Texas, songwriter, who played guitar, sang with a trademark hiccup-style and wore black, horn-rimmed glasses was like no one before him.

In the 40 years since the crash, Holly has become recognized as the founder of the first modern rock band. He was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. His life has been portrayed in a 1978 movie. His face is on a U.S. postage stamp.

On Sunday, the Winter Dance Party will live again, 40 years to the day after it stopped in Duluth. An anniversary tour is hitting 11 towns in 11 days. Because Duluth’s National Guard Armory is no longer a performance site, the party is at the Holiday Inn’s Great Lakes Ballroom.

Niki Sullivan, a member of Holly’s band the Crickets, and Ernie Valens, nephew of Ritchie Valens, will be among those performing here.

John Mueller will portray Holly. He’s played the rock ‘n’ roll legend for the past 4 1/2 years, first in a production called “Be-Bop-A-Lula” and more recently in the play “Buddy.”

“I hope what comes across is the pure joy I get from his very straightforward, innocent music. I try not to make it a caricature and I don’t even like the word impression. I would say my performance is 50 percent me and 50 percent Buddy Holly,” Mueller, 36, said from a tour stop in Montevideo, Minn.

Sullivan has seen many Holly impersonators, but says Mueller is unique.

“John is a clone of Buddy Holly. I’m not kidding,” said Sullivan, who was a pallbearer at Holly’s funeral. “I don’t think I’ve ever gotten over Buddy’s death, but I’m getting a chance to relive my past every time I see John perform.”

Second time in Duluth

In 1959, Lew Latto was a 19-year-old top-40 disc jockey-entrepreneur at Duluth’s WDSM. The University of Minnesota-Duluth freshman acted as booking agent and master of ceremonies for musical acts coming to Duluth.

The Crickets, with Holly, first played the Armory on July 11, 1958, as part of a Summer Dance Party. To finance the Winter Dance Party stop on Jan. 31, 1959, Latto got an advance on his WDSM paycheck.

The largest crowd for any of Latto’s events — about 2,000 — paid $1.75 to $2 that winter night. The package of entertainers, which also had singer Frankie Sardo and Dion and the Belmonts, earned about $1,000.

Teens came to Armory dances to listen to music, meet friends and dance, said Duluth News-Tribune columnist Jim Heffernan, 59, who was at the Winter Dance Party as a UMD sophomore.

“The girls were screaming over Holly and I remember thinking `What has he got? He looks geeky,’ ” said Heffernan.

Holly’s appeal was obvious to some fans, like Hibbing’s Bob Zimmerman, later known as Bob Dylan. He was a 17-year-old high school senior and budding musician when he came to the Winter Dance Party. Dylan has credited Holly with being an influence in his music.

Latto knew Holly was onto something.

“There’s no doubt that had he lived, he would’ve been one of the top rock performers of his era. I look at Holly’s effect on music like what James Dean was to movies,” said Latto, 59, who now owns radio stations in Eveleth and Grand Rapids and has a weekday talk show on WEBC.

Duluthian Darrell Paulson was a drummer in his own group, the Rock and Roll 5. The band was on the same bill with Holly in 1958 at the Armory and Paulson later worked for stars like Gene Vincent, Marty Robbins, Skeeter Davis and Brenda Lee. He met and talked with Holly again, in Canada, while with Vincent.

“I’ve worked with other big shooters, but Holly was very personable, very kind. All of his musicians carried themselves as professionals. They were very concerned about the kind of music they were making,” said Paulson, 60, who still owns two drum sets, and is now in the food sales business.

Ritchie Valens performing at the Duluth Armory as part of the Winter Dance Party tour, Jan. 31, 1959. (Photo courtesy of Sharon Johnson)

Holly’s burning star

Holly’s meteoric rise was just that — a brief three-year recording career. He had three albums and just one No. 1 hit (“That’ll Be the Day” in 1957) before his death.

The band that recorded many of the Crickets’ studio albums was Holly, drummer Jerry Allison, bass player Joe B. Mauldin and rhythm guitar player Sullivan.

Demanding travel and recording schedules, and problems with business manager-producer Norman Petty led to changes in the group.

Sullivan says he never regretted leaving the Crickets in 1957 yet enjoyed his time with the group and its leader.

“Buddy was a good, old Christian boy, who knew what he wanted and how to get it. His burning desire was to be an entertainer and he got there and became a legend,” said Sullivan, 61, who lives in Kansas City, Mo., and still receives royalty checks for his association with the Crickets.

Holly left the Crickets and Petty in 1958. He married and moved to New York to begin a solo career that October.

The final tour

Holly’s motivation was to grow as a rock innovator, producer and artist but he lacked the money. He reluctantly agreed to headline the 1959 Winter Dance Party put together by General Artists Corp.

“More than anything, Buddy went on the tour as a favor to GAC. They felt they needed a bigger attraction, so they really urged Buddy to help them out,” his widow, Maria Elena, said in the 1975 biography “Remembering Buddy.”

Holly needed a new touring band and got Carl Bunch on drums, former Cricket Tommy Allsup on guitar and Lubbock disc jockey Waylon Jennings, 21, on bass.

The GAC tour chartered a bus that proved to be a lemon on the icy, snowy roads of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. It broke down several times the first week.

The Dance Party began Jan. 23 in Milwaukee and the 11th stop was Feb. 2 in Clear Lake, where 1,300 fans showed up.

Weary from travel, Holly chartered the 12-year-old Beechcraft for a 3 1/2-hour flight to Fargo. Allsup and Jennings were to join him, yet legend has it that an ailing Big Bopper talked Jennings into trading places and Valens won a coin flip for Allsup’s seat.

When the plane didn’t arrive, a search began. When the tour bus reached Moorhead at noon, Allsup was first into the hotel and the news was on the lobby television. The desk clerk relayed the details.

High schooler Bobby Vee, 15, and his band, The Shadows, made their professional debut that night in Moorhead, filling in for Holly. The tour went on, finishing Feb. 15.

The music does matter

Paul Anka had written “It Doesn’t Matter Any More” specifically for Holly. It turned out to be Holly’s last studio track, released Jan. 5, 1959, and ultimately reached No. 13 on the Billboard charts.

Certainly, Holly and his music have mattered. While record sale totals aren’t available, an MCA Records spokesman said Holly’s albums continue to consistently sell well. His records have influenced rockers from the Beatles to Elton John to Linda Ronstadt.

It’s estimated that Holly, Valens and the Big Bopper combined to sell more than 10 million records in the 12 months leading up to the Winter Dance Party.

Dennis Farland, who works for the Maytag Co. in Newton, Iowa, took time off to put the 40th anniversary tour together.

“It’s been far beyond my expectations. It has been phenomenal,” Farland, 54, said from a tour stop in Eau Claire, Wis. “I’m pretty passionate about the music, but even so, I think this is a magical show.”

— end —

Dion and the Belmonts performing at the Duluth Armory as part of the Winter Dance Party tour, Jan. 31, 1959. (Photo courtesy of Sharon Johnson)


As noted above, one of those in attendance at the Duluth Armory show was a young Bobby Zimmerman from Hibbing – later to be known to the world as Bob Dylan. In February 1998, when he won the Grammy for Album of the Year for “Time Out of Mind,” Dylan mentioned the concert in his acceptance speech:

Were you at any of the Winter Dance Party concerts in 1959? Share your memories by posting a comment.

Happy 72nd birthday, Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan – then Bobby Zimmerman – as a sophomore in the Hibbing High School yearbook, circa 1957. (News-Tribune file photo)

Today, May 24, 2013, is the 72nd birthday of Northland native and music icon Bob Dylan, born Robert Zimmerman in Duluth in 1941 and raised on the Iron Range, in Hibbing.

Two years ago, on the occasion of Dylan’s 70th birthday, I posted a collection of text and photos of Dylan from the News Tribune files. If you have not yet seen that – or even if you have – you can find the post here.

Homegrown Music Festival photos

Duluth’s Homegrown Music Festival, which opened Sunday, celebrates its 15th anniversary this year. Here is a gallery of News Tribune photos from – or associated with – Homegrown Festivals of years past:

You may notice that the captions are pretty sparse on a few of these photos; if you can provide any names where they are missing, please post a comment.

Heartland Band and country music in the Northland, 1982

March 4, 1982

The Heartland Band, a Northland country music group, as seen in February 1982 – clockwise from lower left: Mark Russell, Steve Johnson, Al Oikari, Greg Brown, Jack Purcell and Craig Erickson. (News Tribune file photo)

Heartland Band lifts area’s country music profile

By Bob Ashenmacher, News-Tribune staff writer

Maybe it’s just that its audiences are so polite. Why else would country music’s profile be so low in this area?

After all, it may well be the most popular kind of music between Pine City and the Canadian border. Consider: It’s big news when a rock act like Loverboy sells out Duluth Arena, but routine when the Staler Brothers do it (or Kenny Rogers, although these days he’s about as genuinely country as Ralph Lauren).

Country radio stations like Hibbing’s WKKQ-AM and Duluth’s WDSM-AM have been enjoying very healthy ratings in the local market for a good while now, with no signs of slipping.

Finally, there’s the recent experience of Jim Nostrant at WKLK, Cloquet’s country radio. His station and half a dozen others around the state recently sponsored a country talent search. Each region’s winner has been chosen and the state finals will be in Cloquet’s middle school gymnasium at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

“We for sure had the most entries of any region in the state,” Nostrant said.

“Some of the other contests had like 13 entrants. We had 42, and after the cutoff time something like another 50 wanted to sign up.”

The contest had to be conducted over two Sunday afternoons, rather than the orginally planned one. Its site, the Register bar in Scanlon, was filled with upwards of 400 people each day, Nostrant said. The would-be stars wanted a shot at $50,000, a televised performance in Nashville and a recording and bookings contract. That’s the top prize in the national competition, sponsored by Wrangler Jeans.

The local entrants ranged from a 7-year-old singer to a 67-year-old former logger who played the harmonica and guitar. The winner was the Heartland Band, a sextet formed specifically for the contest.

“We’d been talking about getting together anyway,” said organizer Greg Brown of Carlton. “This seemed like the perfect opportunity. I’d worked with a lot of these guys before.”

Brown supplies vocals and plays guitar and fiddle. The rest of the lineup is Steve Johnson or Grand Marais, guitar and vocals; Al Oikari of Grand Marais, piano, guitar and vocals; Craig Erickson of Cloquet, bass and vocals; Mark Russell of Duluth, steel guitar; and Jack Purcell of Cloquet on drums.

The band’s sound is highlighted by its harmonies and instrumental variety, according to Brown. It won its chance at the state championship by doing an old Cajun tune, “Diggy Liggy Lo,” as a warmup, and Rusty Weir’s “Don’t it Make You Wanna Dance” as its to-be-judged song.

The winner of Friday night’s state finals gets $1,000, a trip to Nashville, an appearance on a televised show with Ray Price and a chance at the top prize, performing on the show and the above-mentioned 50 grand and recording and booking contracts. Tickets to the state finals will cost $6.50. “But some of the other states, I know, are charging eight bucks,” Nostrant said.

And all the talent won’t be homegrown. Nashville’s Legarde Twins will perform and emcee, and Texan swing band Texas Tradition will play backup to solo acts who want accompaniment.

— end —

Do you remember the Heartland Band? Does anyone know if they advanced to the national competition? What other long-ago local bands should we search for in the News Tribune archives? Share your memories and suggestions by posting a comment.

Velvet Sam serenades Duluth, 1980

Dec. 28, 1980

Michael Aguirre, alias Velvet Sam, performs a song-gram for Tom Pratchios (left) as Scott Campbell watches on Dec. 18, 1980. (Bob King / News-Tribune)

This music man turns songs into gifts

By Ann Glumac, News-Tribune staff

Guitar slung over his shoulder, music stand in hand, Velvet Sam heralded his arrival at Natchio’s Restaurant in Duluth by shouting for the owner: “Is there a Mr. Tom Pratchios in the house?”

Pratchios smiled as Sam — alias Michael Aguirre — set up the music stand before him. He laughed as Sam began singing the personalized song-gram chronicling — humorously — Pratchios’ life story. He was laughing, crying and kissing friends when Sam ended the song.

Pratchios’ friends ordered the “Unforgettable Gift Delivered Anywhere” from Velvet Sam’s Song-Grams, an enterprise begun a month ago by Aguirre, 27, and his wife Kitty, 22, of 17 W. Oxford St., Duluth. They have since delivered about 10 song-grams for $21.50 each, plus mileage.

Practhios’ reaction isn’t unusual, Sam said. “People just sit there in awe. It’s such a surprise. All of a sudden, their past is being revealed to all those people, but it’s a happy embarrassment.”

Song-grams can be written for any occasion — birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, thank-yous and I-love-yous, Sam said. The recipient of the song-gram receives a copy of the lyrics, also.

When a prospective sender calls, Kitty Aguirre said, they sell themselves as well as the song-grams. “We get the people into it and get information out of them,” she said. “We really dig to get neat things, but they’re all meant with love.”

The recipient’s history becomes the subject of the four- to five-verse song Sam takes about two hours to write. “The songs have a country flair because country music is fun, jumpy music,” Sam said. He forms a mental image of the person before he writes, picturing what the person looks like and even what kind of clothes the person wears.

Velvet Sam does his thing at a birthday party for Tammi Marshall at Duluth’s Town Crier Restaurant on Feb. 11, 1985. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

A song-gram delivered to a UMD medical student during a lecture detailed the student’s habit of eating in his sleep — information provided by the student’s wife. Pratchios’ message included incidents from his military career.

Many of the songs contain “connotative adult humor,” which Sam said he grew to appreciate while writing comical songs for a Los Angeles television show.

“A lot of people have been helping us,” Kitty said, including an artist friend who designed the logo for the song paper. “They wanted to make sure we weren’t just talking. They wanted to see it happen in Duluth.”

“We have so much fun with it,” Kitty said. “I like the laughing while writing the songs and the anticipation because you know it’s a good song.”

Sam likes the reactions. After several years of playing original music in nightclubs with smatterings of applause, he enjoys being the center of attention, even if it’s only for five minutes.

“This is like a five-minute concert and you get a standing ovation every time,” Sam said. “You feel like you wrote a Top 10 song in the country. You have the number one song in that room at that moment. You leave, and you can still hear the people laughing.”

Sam’s wardrobe includes a tuxedo, a messenger’s uniform, and his cowboy outfit. He’s hoping to make enough money to buy an array of costumes to fit any occasion.

The customer chooses the costume. But, Kitty said, he or she must choose some costume — “Sam won’t strip.”

Sam won’t sing a nasty song-gram, either, he said. “I wouldn’t want to insult anybody or hurt anybody’s feelings. These are all sent with love.”

He’ll travel long distances to deliver the song-grams, although the customer must pay mileage costs. Long-distance song-grams are also offered at a lower rate, with the customer paying the telephone costs.


Michael Aguirre continued to perform as Velvet Sam in Duluth through at least the mid-1980s. He’s the father of pro snowboarders Mason and Molly Aguirre. The family moved from Duluth to California in 2001.

Share your stories and memories by posting a comment.

Duluth’s Recycla-Bell club for teens, 1996

March 10, 1996

Joyce Campbell (from left), owner of the Recycla-Bell in Duluth, stands in front of the building with regular visitors Malahn Amend, 20, Genevieve Gaboriault, 16, and Leah Smith, 17, in February 1996. (Josh Meltzer / News-Tribune)



By Zita Lichtenberg, News-Tribune staff writer

Cutting lyrics and a raging electric guitar blast through giant speakers. In a room with black walls, a band is pounding out music and a group of kids are “moshing” — pushing against one another, trying to get to the center of the group.

In the other room the kids are more subdued, sitting and talking in booths that look like leftovers from a ’50s diner.

This is the Recycla-Bell in Duluth’s Endion neighborhood, and on this particular Saturday, around 200 14- to 20-year-olds have come to listen to music, talk and just hang out.

Once a Northwestern Bell telephone building at 1804 E. First St., it’s now a music venue for Northland bands and the only place in the Twin Ports these young people feel belongs to them.

A young woman in flowing clothing with glitter in her eyelashes stands next to the booths talking to Joyce Campbell, the Recycla-Bell’s owner.

She is Michelle Pesek, a 20-year-old pre-med student at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, and she is thanking Campbell for keeping the Recycla-Bell open.

“There’s a feeling of peace and camaraderie and the freedom to be ourselves here,”‘ Pesek said.

Despite minimal supervision — Joyce and her husband, Chris, are the only chaperones — the crowd at the Recycla-Bell is calm and self-controlled.

“The owners are very good-hearted and respectful, and the kids don’t feel they are being repressed,” Pesek said.

“If they are repressed, they will rage against it,” she added, “but if they are treated like thinking, respectful teen-agers, they will act like thinking, respectful teen-agers.”

Some of them have dyed their hair unnatural colors and pierced their bodies in socially incorrect places. Others look like the kid next door in flannel shirts and blue jeans.

Regardless of their fashion statements, they defy some of the negative stereotypes adults hold about today’s young people.

Recycla-Bell patrons dance to live music in the dance area in January 1996. Young people of all ages crowded the dance floor. (Josh Meltzer / News-Tribune)

Freedom through responsibility

Recycla-Bell kids cooperate with and appreciate the Recycla-Bell rules: no alcohol, no tobacco and no drugs.

“It just doesn’t fly if you break the rules,” said Joel Hardesty, 19, whose band played at the first concert at the Recycla-Bell in 1991.

There is one compelling reason: the music. It is one of the only places teens in the Twin Ports can see local bands, along with occasional groups from Canada and other parts of the United States, playing music they like — rock, alternative, punk or ska (the precursor to reggae).

The young people here know they will decide the fate of the club themselves, and nobody wants to mess things up.

As insurance, John Stone, a Recycla-Bell regular, acts as the unofficial bouncer. He has kicked out people only one or two times. Drugs, alcohol and violence are not problems, he said.

Besides making sure the moshing doesn’t get out of hand, Stone, 20, recruits bands and runs the sound system. He said it’s important that the music and the environment at the Recycla-Bell are largely controlled by people under 21.

There is no decor except for a few posters, and the music room’s black walls and empty floor provide the perfect backdrop for bands and dancers who are attempting to escape the trappings of the adult world — if only for a few hours.

Besides having the minimalist atmosphere they crave, young people say the Recycla-Bell is a place to go and feel respected and accepted.

“It’s a place where kids can be in charge while still respecting some rules,” said Joel Monsaas Kilgour, 19.

“Anyone who comes in here isn’t labeled,” said Jessie Huard, 17. “The Campbells accept any group.”

Superior High School students Adam Frink, 14 (left), and Amy Brandt, 17 talk with their friends, seated behind, at the Recycla-Bell in Duluth in February 1996. (Josh Meltzer / News-Tribune)

Owners’ attitudes key

“Young people need what we all need: love, respect, hope and to feel like we have some choices. I started with this basic premise,” Joyce Campbell said.

She and her husband bought the old Northwestern Bell Telephone building in 1991, made an apartment for themselves on the third floor, and turned it into an activist center for anti-violence and environmental causes and a music venue for young people on the weekends.

Joyce often plays the part of mother to the “Bell kids,” as she calls them. She knows many of them well, gushes with praise over their accomplishments and snaps their pictures, telling them to pick them up the next time.

The kids smile or fidget with embarrassment — many of them are not used to having an adult earnestly compliment their dyed hair and eccentric outfits.

“My opinion has always been that hair color or length and clothing styles are some of the safer choices that young people trying to figure out who they are can make … they don’t have the dangers of other choices like drugs, alcohol, sex and violence,” Campbell said.

Political activities still take place at the Recycla-Bell, but they are separate from the concerts, the Campbells said.

There are some political signs in the building promoting peace and opposing a couple of military programs, but most kids are oblivious to them and say the owners have never tried to open political conversations with them.

But Campbell does live by her principles, and tries to instill a sense of respect in the young people who go there. Besides the anti-drug, tobacco and alcohol rules, she will not tolerate ill treatment of others or discrimination.

Setting such rules and still giving kids room is a delicate balancing act. Campbell described one band she prohibited from playing because it had what she considered a sexually explicit, offensive name. But she gave in when the band changed its name, for one night, to “Appeasing Joyce.”

The kids respect her authority and her flexibility, and Campbell has had little need for discipline.

The music stops playing around 10:30 p.m. and, with few exceptions, the kids shuffle out quietly and are gone by 11 p.m. Many of them call their parents on a bright orange phone, Campbell’s private line, that sits on a piano in the main room.

Campbell has had parents call her on that same phone, asking what the Recycla-Bell was all about.

She always invites them to stop by, and many of them take her up on it.

“I’m really happy about it,” said Roxanne Stahl of Duluth, whose 14-year-old daughter frequents the Recycla-Bell.

Stahl went in to check the place out for herself and said she was glad the crowd was young, explaining that she felt uneasy when her children went to places where the patrons were older.

“If there’s a place these kids can go and hang out for a few hours, then I’m all for it.”

A surprising number of Recycla-Bell kids share Stahl’s relief that there is an “under 21” place to hang out.

Ask around, and the majority of them will tell you they are glad there is no smoke or drunken people to deal with (and most of them say they have experienced both at parties elsewhere).

Coffeehouses and cafes, the only other places in the Twin Ports where under-age people can enjoy live music, are all filled with smoke, complain many of the kids at the Recycla-Bell.

Recycla-Bell visitors move about the large gathering room on a crowded Saturday night in January 1996. (Josh Meltzer / News-Tribune)

Community rallies to protect the ‘Bell’

The hangout almost disappeared a few years ago when the city of Duluth brought charges against the Campbells of disturbing the neighborhood and of committing zoning violations for running a commercial establishment in a residential zone.

The disturbance charge was dropped quickly as people in the neighborhood, rather than complaining, rallied to support the Campbells. The Duluth police had only a couple of complaints about loud music while Campbell was able to produce letters of support from several neighbors close to the Recycla-Bell.

Supporters wrote letters to the city and Mayor Gary Doty, and young people collected more than 1,000 names on petitions supporting the Recycla-Bell.

Campbell argued that she was running a charitable operation, which is allowed in her neighborhood. She makes no profit from concerts and spends her own money to keep the place heated.

Nearly two years and seven court appearances later, the Campbells were informed in April 1995 that the city had dropped all charges “in the interest of justice.”

City Attorney John Smedberg said one of the deciding factors was the overwhelming support of the community. He said the message he heard was that, in this day of gangs and drive-by shootings, it made no sense to close down a place where kids gather peacefully.

“Yeah, you do listen to stuff like that,” Smedberg said.

The police department has not experienced any trouble with the Recycla-Bell since the lawsuit.

“As far as I’m concerned, we feel they’re trying to do a great thing there,” said John Christensen, license officer for the Duluth Police Department. ““For a group of young people, that age group, they don’t have anyplace else to go to be together, listen to music, dance and hang out.”

Mark Kuiti, bass player for the band “Lift”, plays and sings at the Recycla-Bell in Duluth in late December 1995. (Josh Meltzer / News-Tribune)

Recycla-Bell looks for real support

With the legal difficulties past, the Recycla-Bell is back to the business of being the music scene for young people.

The Campbells are there every concert night as chaperones, counselors, supporters — whatever the “Bell kids” need.

Support from the community is great, but Joyce Campbell says she wishes some tangible support would back it up.

“We are committed to keep doing what we are doing and we are going broke,” said Campbell, whose income is from two small “Ma and Pa-type” motels she and her husband own.

“The kids, who organize and plan events, usually give us a donation from money collected at the door, but this small amount doesn’t begin to touch our expenses,” Campbell said.

She strongly encourages the bands to keep admission down to $3 per person to keep the concerts open to all income levels.

Campbell said if the Recycla-Bell were run by an organization such as a church or the city, it would not be as free and open as it is. But that lack of affiliation also means lack of regular funding.

If she had one wish for the Recycla-Bell, it would be that adults in the community who support it would get involved — stop by to help chaperone and clean up. Give a few financial donations. In the past two years she has received only around $100 in private donations.

“The typical parent says, ‘I’m really happy for what you are doing for the kids,’ ” Campbell said. “My response is usually, ‘Get involved, we could use some help.’ ”

Most have yet to accept her invitation.

— end —

Joyce Campbell sits in one of the booths at the Recycla-Bell before the visitors arive on a Saturday night in March 1996. Behind her are some of the many political messages that some of the visitors have put up on the walls. (Josh Meltzer / News-Tribune)

Here’s one more article from a couple months earlier – Jan. 6, 1996:


By Zita Lichtenberg, News-Tribune staff writer

If you have nothing to prove and don’t take your fashion statement too seriously, check out the live music and atmosphere at the Recycla-Bell in Duluth.

Fluorescent dye-jobs mix easily with baseball caps and bandanas at this all-inclusive gathering place which features live bands in an environment free of tobacco, drugs and alcohol.

The rules may seem conservative, but the atmosphere and the crowd are not. The music ranges from loud rock to alternative, and the dancing ranges from too-cool-to-move to moshing and body passing.

Walk in the door and you’ll probably see a fair share of black leather and dredlocks but you also will see representatives from the sweater-and-jeans crowd and some who would be hard to put into any group.

The lack of group identity is the main pride of regulars at the Recycla-bell. They get especially annoyed if you call them “alternative.”

“Alternative is almost popular now, like preps and jocks are,” said Jessie Huard, 17, who has been coming to the Recycla-Bell for about three years. “We are very much our own selves.”

The only people who would feel out of place at Recycla-Bell, according to Malahn Ament, are those who put down a certain group or style — or those who might come in looking for drugs.

“We are not trend-setters. The only statement we try to make is that we’re not drug users,” said Ament, 19.

The Recycla-Bell building, in a quiet East End neighborhood, was owned by Northwestern Bell before Joyce and Chris Campbell bought it and transformed it into a meeting place and music venue.

Two rooms in the basement are open when bands play. One is jammed full of booths right out of a ’50s diner where people gather to talk. The other room is usually dark except for the stage lights that illuminate the bands and the giant American flag hanging over the stage. The only other noticeable decor: a few political signs promoting peace.

The bands are a mixture of local high school and college groups, and traveling bands from the Twin Cities and elsewhere.

The Recycla-bell is only open for concerts. The next is Jan. 27 and will feature several “ska” bands including Flux Capacitor and Slapstick. The music is a mixture of reggae and punk.

On Feb. 17, several alternative bands will play including Puddle Wonderful, Blind Shake, Life of Riley and Omega 2000.

Doors at Recycla-Bell, 1804 E. First St., usually open about 6:30 p.m. with music from 7 to about 10:30. Doors close at 11 p.m. Cover is usually $3 but may go up a dollar or two depending on who is playing.

— end —

Carla Garber, 15, laughs with some of her friends after returning from the dance and band area at the Recycla-Bell on a Saturday night in January 1996. (Josh Meltzer / News-Tribune)

I’ve been meaning to do an entry on the Recycla-Bell, also listed as the RecyclaBell and the Recyclabell – for some time. I was reminded by a recent Perfect Duluth Day post about a reunion concert coming up later this month.

The News Tribune does have some earlier material on the Recycla-Bell, in a folder I set aside a while back – and now can’t locate. When I do, I may post some more items.

The paper’s electronic archives don’t contain any more full articles all about the club (there’s no mention of when the Recycla-Bell closed), but they do have a number of mentions of the club in passing, noting upcoming shows. Here’s a sampling of bands and DJs who played the Recycla-Bell in the 1990s:

December 1995: Puddle Wonderful, Fromundas, Sourpuss and Omega 2000

May 1996: Flux Skapacitor

January 1997: Acidine Solution, U.S.V., the Riff Randells and the Krammies; Ferd Mert, the Rydells and Edible

February 1997: House of Large Sizes, Puddle Wonderful, Unbelievable Jolly Machine and The End; Doutang, the Swingtones and Alex Mac; O2, J. Hendrixson, MVP, Stonz’, DJ Boo and Elam

March 1997: The Dames; Area 51 (mister e and grandmaster kevin), Xaq from the Shack of Xaq, the House of Tod and Demonica Del Rio from the S & M Mausoleum; Blind Shake, Apathy, the Dames and Da Sonics

April 1997: Shapht vs. Shaft and Buggin’ Out

Spring 1997: The Sellouts

As always, share your memories by posting a comment.

Remembering KDAL overnight DJ ‘Little Joe’ Laznick

April 10, 1966

Former taxi, truck and ambulance driver turned disc jockey Joseph “Little Joe” Laznick keeps watch over his nighttime family in this photo from April 1966. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

Pre-Dawn Jockey

Little Joe Spins Night Away

By Wayne Wangstad, News-Tribune staff writer

A world of grooved plastic spins away the time for a nightworker who entertains the restless during the early hours of a new day.

Between those midnight to 6 a.m. hours, KDAL radio’s “Little Joe” plies his trade as a disc jockey, keeping watch over what he calls his nighttime “family.”

Little Joe – the moniker follows the parallel of Robin Hood’s Little John, only with reference to girth – has never used his own name, Joseph M. Laznick, on the air. He prefers to be known by the self-selected name that leaves little else to be said.

Most radio listeners tune their ear to an announcer’s voice, then come up with an image of what he looks like. A woman, for instance, may hear a deep, resounding voice and, in her mind, view the man as a handsome fugitive from Muscle Beach. Oh, the disappointment when she sees he’s a scrawny, crow-like 98-pound weakling.

An image had been formed before the interview with Little Joe. But the graying, skinny, guitar-carrying man was not to be found. Looking younger than his 32 years, the DJ was surprising only because the “Little Joe” analogy had not registered. The most important thing, that friendly, smiling voice that see other nightworkers home, was there, however.

A former taxi, truck and ambulance driver turned radio announcer, Liitle Joe concurs with other nocturnal working types. He likes night work – and has more than 10 years of it under his Jackie Gleason-like belt. “Jackie Gleason,” Little Joe jokes, “and I would have something in common except that I’m fatter and he makes a million dollars a year.”

Armed with a folksy resonant voice touched with a slight nasal twang, which sometimes sounds as though he were rhythmically rolling marbles from one side of his jowls to another, Little Joe works alone yet has the company of hundreds of other nightworkers.

“Night is a lonely time,” he said with his sincere, homespun inflection. “Any person who works nights must (he emphasized that word) be a night person himself. And he must understand the motives of this type of person,” he insisted.

Little Joe’s musical format, as he describes it, is “everything.” That means he plays everything from country western to the long-hair stuff, including listener requests.

KDAL nighttime DJ “Little Joe” Laznick in the studio on Oct. 15, 1978. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)

Explaining that his show is best described as “public service radio” – news, weather, sports and music – Little Joe says he keeps in touch with an after-sundown family composed of doctors, lawyers, steelworkers, police and firemen and insomniacs. Unable to get desired information from the morning newspaper, which has not yet arrived, or from television, then no longer on the air, they call the night disc jockey.

Two particular occasions brought a flood of phone calls, the radio announcer revealed. Steelworkers concerned over a threatened strike phoned for information, as did parents of men stationed in Alaska when an earthquake spread trembling havoc there.

The phone calls, Little Joe asserts, make up his “family.”

“Night people are a funny family,” he offered. “Women may call me up and tell me about their husband’s job promotion, or that he got fired. Or they may want advice on a job transfer.”

No all of the “family” calls are congenial, however. “Some of the family cal me up and bawl me out when I do something wrong,” he revealed.

“These people are not kooks,” Joe said as a bit of the friendly homespun air in his voice was replaced with fiery conviction. “These people are lonely. … If they have a problem of if they’re crying, I usually try to find time to talk to them and try to help them.”

A night nurse at a Duluth hospital, Little Joe explained, is typical of the callers. “She phoned and said ‘I won’t be calling the next three nights because I’m off (work)’ ” the DJ said.

Anything unusual about the night work? “The oddity of this type of work,” the announcer insisted, “is the closeness of strangers. You have a bond that’s probably best explained by a mutual dependency.

Several Twin Ports mothers, for instance, have a certain dependency on Little Joe when their children refuse to go to bed. “They’ll ask that I tell the kids to go to bed. Surprisingly, most of the mothers call back and explain that the kids have done what they were told after I’ve talked with them,” he said.

The rotund disc jockey, who races stock cars as a hobby, stands aside from most other nightworkers’ waking-sleeping hours. Off at 6 a.m., he usually goes home then has breakfast and stays up until 3 p.m., when he goes to bed. Then it’s up at 10:30 p.m. to meet his on-air deadline when the hands of the clock are straight up. Unlike most after-sundown workers on the slumber angle, he is like others in that he can participate in most social activities because of his late working hours.

What’s his retort to the sunshine workers? “At 2 p.m., when the sun is highest, you can’t go out for a ride, but I can. And when it’s midnight and you’re just going to bed, I’m just starting to have my fun,” was his prompt reply.

In radio for nearly 2 1/2 years now, about a year of it at KDAL, Little Joe fill several slots in his solo night trick. Shagging records for requests, checking sources and preparing stories for upcoming newscasts consumes a good share of his time. Occasionally, he will interview a recording artist or entertainer on his show.

The DJ’s longest stint, 7 p.m. Saturday to 3 a.m. Sunday, is followed by his only night off.

Any conclusions about working when most people are sleeping? Little Joe used that friendly, folksy voice to paraphrase something he’d mentioned earlier. “You have to be genuinely and seriously interested in – and understand – night people.” Just what he meant by that was not clear, but it was evident that he was talking about that undefinable thing which he likes so much, his radio “family.”


Joseph “Little Joe” Laznick, February 1974 (News-Tribune photo)

In February 1980, the Duluth Herald reported that Little Joe Laznick, then hosting the all-night “Vacationland Calling” show on KDAL, had “received a substantial bequest from an anonymous listener.”

Under conditions of the 71-year-old woman’s will, Laznick was not allowed to give her name or reveal the size of the bequest. But he said he was told the woman left him the money “because I comforted her by playing music on the radio and chatting with her on the phone” during his all-night broadcasts.

He continued on the all-night show until about 1984, and also played bass and sang with the local band the Du-Als. In June 1987, the News-Tribune reported that Laznick was suffering from kidney disease and needed a transplant; friends organized several benefits for him. He died on Dec. 14, 1987, at age 54.

Loverboy comes to town, 1982

February 15, 1982

A screaming contingent claiming to be half the city of Virginia joined several thousand other rock fans crammed into the entrance of the Duluth Arena on Monday, February 15, 1982, before a concert by rock groups Loverboy and Quarterflash. Tickets for the concert sold out faster than any show since Elvis Presley, and the doors opened an hour and a half early to handle the crush of the 8,000 fans. (Bob King / News-Tribune)

Quarterflash, Loverboy bring good rockin’ to Duluth Arena

By Bob Ashenmacher, News-Tribune staff writer

Quarterflash was good at the Duluth Arena on Monday night. Lead singer Rindy Ross threaded her alto sax and appealing voice through 40 minutes of material sure to make Pat Benatar more irritable than she must be already. The sellout crowd of 8,000 was swaying and yelling for more after the group’s climactic hit single, "Harden My Heart."

So return Quarterflash did, to end things with a lark. They brought out the Byrds’ "So You Wanna Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star," shining with a touch of chrome from Patti Smith’s version, and left the crowd wanting more.

Quarterflash was good, all right.

But the headline act, Loverboy, simply blew them out of the water.

Two or three songs into the Canadian quintet’s set, it was clear they were an exceptionally good live band – an hour later they’d blasted out the best night of rock at the Arena in a long, long time.

They exhibited qualities you just don’t expect to find in stadium acts. Technically, they sounded as good as their records. Lead singer Mike Reno’s voice got stronger as the night wore on. They kept the songs short and didn’t dink around between them. Best of all, they worked as hard onstage – as joyfully – as anyone I’ve seen since Springsteen.

From the first notes that jumped out of group leader Paul Dean’s guitar, the crowd was in his hands. But he and Reno never played down to their audience, or played hard to get. They just worked their butts off to wring even louder screams out of the hoarse mass that jammed the Arena floor, and the seats up to the rafters.

Much of the group’s material is standard hard rock fare. The rhythms are re-hashed, the lyrics typical, and the slower numbers, especially, sound shamefully close to Foreigner, But just when you’ve written off a plodding synthesizer waddle, keyboard maan Doug ("Doctor J") Johnson pulls out a saxophone and blows a bluesy sixteen-bar solo melody that seems to come from nowhere. He weaved a lot of delightful moments like those Monday night, using everything from electric piano to gravelly organ.

Dean, too, is intelligently flamboyant on his instrument. And Reno was so sexy I thought the girls in front would faint with ecstasy when he stuffed a bandana down his tight black Levis.

The group did 15 songs in a solid 90-minute set. The big crescendo started about 9:30 p.m., with "Turn Me Loose," and increased with "The Kid Is Hot Tonite." The place went nuts, absolutely nuts, with "Working for the Weekend." It’s a great party song, and as mentioned, Reno’s voice seemed to be getting more powerful all the time.

The kid in front of me, who looked to be about 14, could only mutter, "Excellent. Excellent." The Bic lighters flared through the gloom like the biggest planetarium you ever saw.

Right-o, kid. There was good rockin’ Monday night in Duluth.


Loverboy returned to Duluth for a concert in the summer of 1983, and again on March 30, 1986. The group played the Head of the Lakes Fair in Superior in 2002, and performed at Grand Casino Hinckley in 2004.

Here are some early-1980s publicity shots of Loverboy from the News Tribune files. The first photo is from 1980, the second from 1982:


And here are a few close-ups of that crowd photo at the start of this post:


Were you at the 1982 concert? Do you recognize anyone in the crowd? Share your memories by posting a comment.

– Andrew Krueger


Monkee memories

Micky Dolenz performs with the Monkees in Duluth on Nov. 9, 1986. Photo by Steve Stearns


Remember the Monkees, who sang their way to fame on a TV show in the 1960s? The band made it to Duluth at least twice, according to News Tribune files.
The first time was on Sept. 6, 1969. They performed twice at the Duluth Auditorium.
A story that ran the next day said, “The afternoon audience was small but enthusiastic. Attendance in the evening was better, and Arena-Auditorium officials said 3,806 youngsters in all saw the group.
“Earlier in the day, Superior police had to disperse a crowd of young girls — about 200 — who had gathered near the motel at which the group was reportedly staying. They were disappointed. The Monkees already had left for their afternoon show.”
The group returned for a performance 17 years later, on Nov. 9, 1986. Well, most of the group. Mike “Wool Hat” Nesmith wasn’t there, but the other three were: Davy Jones, Peter Tork and Mickey Dolenz.
Here’s a little bit of what staff writer Mike Hughlett had to say in his review of that concert:
“The rock ’n’ roll animal is a creature of many moods.
“It can be angry, sensual, artsy, theatrical, and sometimes even philosophical. But above all, the rock ’n’ roll animal likes to have a good time.
“The Monkees know that. Saturday night, they dished out about an hour of just plain fun to about 4,300 fans of all ages — including an especially vocal contingent of teenage girls — in the Duluth Arena.
“OK, rock ’n’ roll pseudo-highbrows, I know what you’re saying: ‘The Manufactured Monkees, the world’s pre-eminent, prefabricated rock band — a combo so musically forlorn they couldn’t even play their own instruments. And now they’re going to cash in on their ill-gained fame before their heads runneth over with gray hairs. I just can’t take them seriously.’
Well, critic, you lost. They might be cashing in, but the Monkees were never meant to be taken as artists come to deliver a speakerful of sagacity. Sure, they may have been hyped as a serious response to the Beatles. But at heart they were slapstick comedians with a paisley twist who happened to sing some fantastic songs.”

What concerts do you have fond memories of in the Duluth area?

Linda Hanson, copy editor