Free and Easy
Tom Behr cracks the code for musical success (raw emotion + intelligent design) and starts up a band for all decades
September, 1968: The He-Too’s add two horn players, change band names and become Free and Easy. The lineup is: Tom Behr on guitar and vocals; Tom Mulkern on guitar and vocals; Toni Tuccitto on bass guitar and vocals; Bob Behr on drums and vocals; Dave Vigeron on trumpet and Rich Mueller on trumpet. With the recent addition of the two horn players, the band adds a number of horn songs to their set list, including covers by Blood, Sweat and Tears, Buddy Miles and Chicago. The band has a new stage look, now wearing matching Edwardian style suits. The band travels to Chicago to play two sets at The Garage in downtown Chicago and are asked to stay in Chicago and play for a week at the club.
1969: The band leaves David Anthony Productions and sign on with Ralph Ortiz at Alpha Productions. The main reason for the move to Alpha is the band is tired of all the traveling involved with playing the five state area and Alpha can book the band on a steady basis in the local clubs. Free and Easy play at the Home Bar in Minneapolis and also play numerous high school and college dances.
September, 1970: Free and Easy are recorded live at The Depot for the Alpha Productions promotional album called “Gathering at The Depot.” The band contributes two songs to the album: “It’s For You” (a Beatles song recorded by Three Dog Night) and “Wake Up Sunshine” (Chicago).
October, 1970: The band goes into the studio (Sound 80) to do vocal overdubs for the songs on the “Gathering at the Depot” album.
Late 1970: The album “Gathering at The Depot” is released at the end of the year.
Early 1971: The band decides to break up.
September, 1971: Tom Behr goes to work as a booking agent for Alpha Productions. Ralph assigns Tom the task of putting Alpha Productions bands into the Twin Cities nightclubs. The club owners didn’t want anything to do with original music or loud heavy metal music at this time period. The club owners all pointed to the XL-5 as the “perfect” club group (top 40/danceable music, well groomed and great vocals). Tom Behr goes out to see the XL-5, notebook in hand, to see why this band is so popular and takes notes. After seeing the XL-5 play live, Tom decides to “raise the bar” with Free and Easy by adding three-part vocal harmonies; adding orchestrated musical parts to songs (“solis”); and doing more complex arrangements to songs. In addition, the band puts together a number of musical medleys that feature songs from various bands. The band begins to practice three or four days a week to get their sound down tight.
October, 1971: Tom Behr decides to put a new lineup together with members that he personally hand picks. The new version of the group is: Dave Rodriguez on lead guitar and vocals; Tom Behr on guitar, keyboards, alto sax and lead vocals; Dave “Petey” Peterson on bass guitar and lead vocals; Ron Lundquist on drums; Dave Vigoren on trumpet and mellophone; and Terry Stadanski on lead trumpet.
November, 1971: The band begins to rehearse in the back room of the office of Alpha Productions located in Burnsville. The group decides to augment the standard R & B and top-40 songs to include more obscure album cuts by various groups (horn bands, R & B, funk, and rock) that were not being played on the local radio stations. Many of these songs are picked up by the group after hearing them played on records at private parties around town. Tom Behr leads the band on a mission to be “funkier, cooler and classier” than the competition.
January, 1972: The new group makes its first public debut at The C.C. Tap in Minneapolis on a Sunday Afternoon at a concert held for local club owners. The band gets a steady job playing at the C.C. Tap six nights a week, Tuesday through Sunday. Joe Arigoni, owner of the Jockey Lounge at Sibley Plaza in St. Paul, checks out the band and offers them a job for two weeks in February. The group accepts the offer. The band’s song list features songs by a diverse group of recording artists including: Blood, Sweat and Tears; Chicago; Paul Butterfield Blues Band; Edgar Winter; Grand Funk Railroad; Buddy Miles; The Fabulous Flippers; Sly and The Family Stone; Earth, Wind and Fire; Rufus; Cold Blood; The Four Seasons; The Beatles; The Beach Boys; Three Dog Night; Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose; Hamilton, Joe Frank and Reynolds; and The Rascals.
February, 1972: Free and Easy play the Jockey Lounge for the first time. A fifty-foot microphone cord for the lead singer allows for plenty of crowd participation and the horn players mount tables to play from. The band goes over well and Free and Easy become the house band at the club for the next eighteen months. The band’s song list includes a number of songs that are not covered by other bands: “Down to the Bone” (Cold Blood); “Dreams” (Buddy Miles); “Keep Your Head to the Sky” and “Mom” (Earth, Wind and Fire); “I am the Slime from Your Video ” (Frank Zappa); and “White Trash” (Edgar Winter). The more obscure songs reflect the bands desire to be unique among the competition.
Fall, 1972: As Free and Easy grow in popularity, the word spreads around town and other club owners check out the band and decide they want to book the band at their clubs, including the Crytsal Mist, a new club that opens at the Maplewood Bowl. The new club wants the band to play there every other week. Tom Behr decides to put together a new band that is similar to Free and Easy as far as sound and look and >material. The new band named Gangbusters will play at The Jockey Lounge when Free and Easy are booked at the Crystal Mist and other clubs.
Spring, 1973 to January, 1974: With a renewed interest in the 1950’s era rock’n’roll, generated primarily by the national success of Sha Na Na, Free and Easy add a retro set to their show and call the band Ajax and the Bops. Local singer Pat Fitzgerald had recently won a talent show held at Pudges in the Highland Park area of St. Paul and formed a 1950’s retro style band called Teen King and The Princes. Pat and Tom decide to team up and the Teen King and the Princes/Free and Easy show is born. They play the five-state ballroom circuit (booked by Pat) as well as local clubs. The dual band act perform with 3 Dog Night at the Met Center in Bloomington with over 10,000 in attendance.
February, 1974: Free and Easy decides to leave the dual band show with Teen King and the Princes and return to playing the local clubs. There is a personnel change at this time: Chuck Draper (drums) replaces Tony Fergusen; Jim Van Buskirk (bass) replaces Petey Peterson; and Jack Carter (trumpet/trombone) replaces T. Tange. The band plays jobs (now booked by Tom Behr) at the Jockey Lounge; the Chain Link and Pudges, both in St. Paul; the Bronco Bar in Chanhassen; the Burnsville Bowl; the Yellow Submarine in Hopkins; Nicklow’s in Crystal; and Times Square and Cascade 9, both in downtown< Minneapolis.
1975: The band continues playing around town building a strong fan base.
1976: A new night club opens in the Shelard Park complex near the intersection of Highway 12 and County Road 18 in St. Louis Park, called the Hippogriff. Tom Behr stops by the new club to talk to the owner, Bert Grossman, about booking Free and Easy there. Free and Easy are booked and due to the good turnout the band begins to play the Hippogriff on a regular basis. The band adds some Monday night concerts to their calendar, sharing the bill with either The Mystics or the Daisy Dillman band. The concerts are booked at the Hippogriff, local hotel ballrooms and at Doc Holidays on Highway 13 in Shakopee. The Monday night dual band shows are the idea of Ralph Ortiz at Alpha Productions.
August, 1976: Tom Behr decides to leave the group and focus on managing and booking the band and recording a Free and Easy album. Jim Behringer takes over for Tom on lead guitar and vocals.
September, 1976: John Pinckers (keyboards) leaves the band and James Walsh joins on keyboards and vocals. The lineup is now: Dave Rodriguez on lead vocals; Jim Beringer on lead guitar and vocals; Scott Fronsoe on bass guitar; James Walsh on keyboards and vocals; Junior Trejo drums; Dick Jorgensen on lead trumpet; Deone Johnson on second trumpet and solos; and Todd Hanson on trombone. The band decides to work on writing their own songs with the idea of recording an album with originals.
October, 1977: The band enters Creation Audio in Bloomington to record eleven original songs. Studio owners Steve Weiss (engineer) and Terry Grant are impressed when the band completes all the instrumental tracks in two weeks, with most songs taking one or two takes to complete. Tom Behr gives a tape of the finished recording to local record executive Ron Geslin (former band member with the Hot Half Dozen). Ron takes the tape to RCA Records and they like what they hear and negotiations begin. During the negotiations with RCA a difference of opinion develops between Tom Behr and James Walsh over the direction of the band. Tom decides to break off from the group and takes the name Free and Easy with him. The band is renamed the James Walsh Gypsy Band with Walsh now leading the new group.
1978: RCA releases the James Walsh Gypsy Band album and a song on the album written by Walsh, “Cuz It’s You Girl,” gets airplay in the Twin Cities and in various markets across the country (Top 10 in St. Louis, MO). The band goes on tour to support the album. Unknown to the band, RCA is having various business problems at this time and are unable to get the album distributed to the markets where the band is getting airplay. Discouraged by the record company problem and the long time on the road the band eventually breaks up.
1978/1979: Disco fever sweeps the country and the local clubs drop live bands in exchange for DJ’s playing disco records. Tom Behr decides to put a new version of Free and Easy together and have them learn disco songs and then convince the club owners to mix a live disco band in along with the recorded music (alternating sets so to speak). The plan works and the band cranks up the bass guitar and the bass drum to simulate the disco sound. The band’s first job is at Hot Harry’s in East St. Paul. This version of the band features: Rick Rizzo on lead guitar and lead vocals; Rich Hiebeler on bass guitar; Lauren McArthur on keyboards; Carl Bradley on keyboards; Junior Trejo on drums; Dick Jorgensen on lead trumpet; Deone Johnson on second trumpet and solos; and Todd Hanson on trombone. After playing at Hot Harry’s, other disco clubs book the band. During this time period, Tom Behr forms Allied Artists along with Ralph Ortiz (Alpha Productions) and Mark Wroe (Good Music Agency) and put together a number of new bands in the R and B/Disco style and book them.
1980: Tom Behr decides to leave Minnesota for a new job (non-music related) in Chicago and Junior Trejo takes over as leader of the band, with the band renamed as Westside.
1987: Tom Behr returns to Minnesota from Chicago and decides to reform Free and Easy. Tom pays a visit to Nicklow’s on Highway 100 in Crystal and asks club owner Tony Nicklow about booking the band in the second floor room at the club which was not being used at the time. Tony agrees and Free and Easy begin playing at Nicklow’s. The new band lineup is: Joey Juliano on lead guitar and lead vocals; Lisa Keith on lead vocals; Rich Hiebeler on bass guitar; Bruce Jackson on keyboards; Steve Wright on trumpet; and Brian Gallagher on tenor saxophone and Randy Mueller on trumpet. The job at Nicklow’s turns out to be a two year steady job.
1989: Free and Easy play their final job at Nicklow’s and the band comes to an end.
In 2008, Free and easy were inducted into the Midwest Music Hall of Fame (formerly known as Rock Country Hall) at the Medina Ballroom. In March, 2010, the band returned to playing live once again, with the following lineup: David Rodriguez on guitar and vocals; Lauren McArthur on keyboards, saxophone and vocals; Rich Hiebler on bass guitar; Dick Jorgensen on lead trumpet; Deone Johnson on keyboards, trumpet and trombone; Aaron Moe on reeds; Bobby Hirte on trumpet, trombone and congas; and Jimmy Rodriguez on drums and lead vocals. The band carries on with their R & B/Funk sound, playing three to four nights a month at various venues including: Minnesota Music Cafe (St. Paul); Famous Dave’s (Minneapolis); P.D. Pappy’s (Stillwater); the Dugout (White Bear Lake); The Shorewood (Fridley); Santorini’s (Eden Prairie); Berrarro’s (Navarre); the Minnesota State Fair; and the Xcel Energy Center (when the Minnesota Wild play home games). The band also plays at corporate and private parties. The band is booked and managed by Tom Behr.
It’s For You – Wake Up Sunshine – Time = 2:12
(to be posted)
(to be posted)
Interview Part ONE Time = 31:42
Interview Part TWO Time = 20:37
Interview Part THREE Time = 25:34