Uniques

The Uniques from St. Paul start out with instrumentals and gradually add more vocal songs

Contents:

 History

The Uniques

1960 – 1964

1960: Two fourteen year old friends in the Highland Park area of St. Paul start playing music together. Ron Butwin plays drums and Tom “Zippy” Caplan plays the acoustic guitar.  The two musicians learn to play songs they hear on WDGY radio and practice in the basement of the Butwin residence on Mount Curve.  Ron got his first full drum kit at age thirteen from Dahlgren’s Drum Shop in downtown Minneapolis, a Slingerland set (White Pearl) made popular by big band – jazz drummer Gene Krupa. Zippy attends a talent show at his junior high school and watches as two of his classmates (Tom Stillman and Bob Lowenstein) perform a version of “Baby Talk” a hit song by Jan and Dean.  Zippy is highly impressed by their performance and decides he wants to be in a band and perform live.   In the summer, while on a family trip to Florida with his family Ron hears a song on the car radio that catches his ear, “Walk Don’t Run” by The Ventures.  Once back home from the trip, Ron tells Zippy: “We’ve got to learn this song.”  Zippy informs Ron that he too has heard the song on the radio and he also likes it and wants to learn it.  The two pick up The Ventures first album and both become big fans of the group and learn a number of songs on the album.  The two buy records from the Musicland store in downtown St. Paul or the one in downtown Minneapolis.  

Jon Sklar, who also plays an acoustic guitar, joins up with Ron and Zippy and the three become The Uniques and start to play at high schools, churches, and synagogues.  In addition to instrumentals, the band also plays a few folk songs, movie themes, pop songs, classics, and big band songs. The band plays for the fun of it and slowly begins to attract a following of fans in the St. Paul area that enjoy the band’s music. In addition to playing guitar, John also sings on a couple of songs.  

Ron has a connection with a friend who has a recording studio in Minneapolis and the group decides to record a number of songs, all instrumentals which are recorded live and pressed up on an acetate record (test pressing).  The songs include: “Walk Don’t Run;” “Blue Moon:” “R & J Special”; and “Apache.” Eventually Zippy and John both make the switch from acoustic guitars to Fender electric guitars. 

1961: The band plays more frequently and builds up their fan base. Most of the band jobs are in the St. Paul area, however they do play a few school dances in Minneapolis. The song list at this time includes the following songs:

“Walk Don’t Run” (The Ventures)

“The McCoy” (The Ventures)

“Blue Moon” (The Ventures)

“Perfidia” (The Ventures)

“Torque” (The Fireballs)

“Blue Tango” (standard from the 1940’s)

“Torture” (The Fendermen)

“Rawhide” (Link Wray)

“Sentimental Journey” (standard from the 1940’s)

“Sleepwalk” (Santo & Johnny)

“Caravan” (Count Basie Orchestra)

“Dream” (standard from the 1940’s)

“Rumble” (Link Wray)

“The Twist” (Chubby Checker)

“I’ve Had It” (The Bellnotes)

“Night Train” (Duke Ellington Orchestra)

“He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” (Laurie London)

“Wailin’” (The Ventures)

“Mashed Potatoes” (Dee Dee Sharp)

“Honky Tonk” (Bill Doggett)

“Green Fields” (standard from the 1940’s)

“Never On a Sunday” (movie theme)

Summer, 1962: John Sklar leaves the band and a second version of the band forms with the following lineup: Zippy Caplan on lead guitar; Ken Blank on rhythm guitar and vocals; Shel Gullickson on saxophone and some vocals; Larry “Red” Cable on bass guitar; and Ron Butwin on drums. Ken and Larry are from Minneapolis and Schell is from St. Louis Park.  The second version of the band continues with a variety of music styles and adds more vocal songs to the song list.  

Ron gets in contact with a local band promoter from St. Paul, Clarence Hajney (a former actor and dancer), an early supporter of  Rock’n’Roll music who books local bands and also brings in national acts, mainly at the Prom Center in St. Paul.  Clarence stops by to check out the band at a practice session and decides to book them at a car show in St. Paul.  The Uniques join the bill with The Corvets and Keith Zeller and the Starliners at the Ralph Farack Car Show held at the St. Paul Auditorium in downtown St. Paul.  

Clarence hears the very first original song written by Zippy called “Sand Trap” and informs Zippy that he would like to record the song, however Clarence becomes involved in the career of Diane Emond who has a record out on the local Gaity label (“Potato Twist”) and she moves on to sign with a national label.  Zippy’s song is never recorded and Clarence eventually decides to phase out of the band business.  

1963: Through a connection made by Ron, the band gets booked at the Ford Union Hall in St. Paul, which had been booking polka bands.  On the bands first night they sell out the Hall and are booked back within two weeks.  Eventually, Ron starts renting the hall with his own money and booking his own band as well as others.  The Uniques add a little bit of “show biz” to their performances which go over very well with the audiences… on one song, Shel jumps up on Larry’s shoulders while he does a sax solo and on another song Zippy plays his guitar holding it behind his neck.  With Ron booking Rock’n’Roll bands at the Ford Union Hall, the crowds grow and the money comes in but the management is not happy with the financial arrangement and the jobs come to an end at that venue.  Another venue the band plays at on a frequent basis is the White Bear Armory where they play a number of Battle of the Bands concerts with numerous other local bands. 

As the band progresses the number of vocal songs increases and the number of instrumental songs decreases, until the vocal songs make up 80 percent of the play list.   The list at this time includes the following songs:

“Good Golly Miss Molly” (Little Richard)

“Lucille” (Little Richard)

“Shout” (Joey Dee and the Starliters)

“Surfin’ Bird” (The Trashmen)

“Bonie Maronie” (Larry Williams)

“Band of Gold” (Freda Payne)

“Kansas City” (Wilbur Harrison)

“Drip Drop” (Dion)

“Louie, Louie” (The Kingsmen)

“Money” (Barrett Strong)

“Church Key” (The Revels)

“Johnny B. Goode” (Chuck Beery)

“Sweet Little 16” (Chuck Berry)

“Peppermint Twist” (Joey Dee and the Starliters)

“Yellow Bird” (standard)

“Suzie Darlin’” (Robin Luke)

“Raunchy” (Eddie Freeman)

“The McCoy” (The Ventures)

“Miserlou” (Dick Dale and the Deltones)

“You Can’t Sit Down” (The Dovell’s)

“Jack the Ripper” (Link Wray)

“Road Runner” (Deablo)

“Dawn” (David Rockingham Trio)

“I Left my Heart in San Francisco” (Tony Bennett)

“Harlem Nocturne” (The Viscounts)

“I Want to Hold Your Hand” (The Beatles)

“I Saw Her Standing There” (The Beatles)

Summer, 1964:  Ron and Zippy both graduate from high school.  The other band members decide to go their own ways.  A decision is made that the band has run its course and it is time to move on.  The Beatles have arrived in the United States and have created a major shift in the national and local music scene.  Ron and Zippy will soon come up with an idea for their next band that will take full advantage of the Beatlemania and The British Invasion.  The Uniques come to an end.

 

UPDATE:

 

In May, 2014 Ron and Zippy reported that other than the acetate the band recorded in 1960 no other recordings were made by The Uniques.

 

Photos  (Click a photo to see it full-screen, then click the arrows to see the next one.)

Band PhotoRon Butwin Tom Zippy CaplanKen BlankPhoto-5 - Shell - vert Photo-6 - Larry - vert Ford Hall - 1Ford Hall - 2 Assorted PerformancesBus Card

Recordings

  Bandtree

 

The Uniques_________BAND  TREE       

 

The  Uniques

1960  to  1964

 ____________________________________________________________

Tom  “Zippy”  Caplan        Guitar        1960  to  1964

Uniques

Continentals

The  Escapades

Litter

Lightning/White Lightning

Dancer

Surf Dawgs

___________________________________________________________________

John Sklar        Guitar  /  Vocals        1960  to  1962

Uniques 

___________________________________________________________________

Ron Butwin        Drums        1960  to  1964

Uniques

Continentals

The  Escapades

 ___________________________________________________________

Ken Blank        Rhythm  Guitar  /   Vocals        1962  to  1964

Uniques

_________________________________________________________________

Shel Gullickson        Saxopohone  /  Vocals        1962  to  1964

Uniques

 ___________________________________________________________

Larry “Red” Cable        Bass Guitar        1962  to  1964

Uniques

___________________________________________________________

 

 

Where are they now?

The  Uniques        Where  Are  They  Now  ?  

 

Uniques  1960  to  1964

________________________________________________________

Tom “Zippy” Caplan        Guitar

Active  in  Music           Yes

Doing  What  ?………..  Living in Minnesota,  playing with The Surf Dawgs 

_______________________________________________________

John Sklar        Guitar  /  Vocals

Active  in  Music            Unknown

Doing  What  ?…………   Unknown

_________________________________________________________

Ron Butiwn          Drums 

Active  in  Music           Yes

Doing  What  ?………..   Living in Minnesota, Jobbing 

_________________________________________________________

Ken Blank     Rhythm  Guitar  /  Vocals

Active  in  Music            Unknown

Doing  What ?……………. Unknown

_______________________________________________________

Shel Gullickson        Saxophone  /  Vocals

Active  in  Music           Unknown

Doing  What  ?………..   Unknown

________________________________________________________

Larry “Red” Cable        Bass Guitar

Active  in  Music            Unknown

Doing  What  ?…………   Unknown

_________________________________________________________

 

 

  Interview

Interview COVER - 1
Interview Part ONE –  Time  =  20:37

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Interview COVER - 2

Interview Part TWO  –  Time  = 16:03

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