2010 - Band
In 1961 five West Union, Iowa boys got together and started playing music. They called themselves the Knob Prairie Boys (after West Union ’s original town name, Knob Prairie.) Larry Crandall, Don Eberhart and brothers Tom, Rodney and Doug Stahr practiced and performed at a local roller rink that Crandall managed. Their brand of music was mostly old country tunes with maybe one or two Buddy Holly tunes interspersed.
Personnel came and went as the boys were called to serve their country during those turbulent years. Finally in early 1966, the core lineup began to crystallize with the addition of 15-year-old keyboardist Doug Koempel and 13-year-old Mark Stahr on drums. Dave Lantz and Don Eberhart each alternated on bass while the other served his stint in the service. Eberhart eventually became a permanent member in late 1966.
By late 1966 the lineup finally consisted of: Larry Crandall, vocals; Tom Stahr, lead guitar; Mark Stahr, drums; Don Eberhart, bass and Doug Koempel, keyboards. By this time the boys had drifted away from their country roots and gravitate more towards rock ‘n roll. A name change was in order – something to capture the essence of this young band: The Runaways.
And indeed it was the Runaways who captured Leonard Matter’s attention one hot summer night at a popular dance hall called the Heidelberg Gardens in Luana IA. There was something about this young band – full of potential – that Matter knew would draw the younger generation to his ballroom.
Matter’s Ballroom in Decorah was a big place; and for decades the two-level ballroom had regularly featured old-time music on the upper level. But now Matter was targeting a younger clientele by offering the energetic rock ‘n roll of the Runaways on the lower level. Soon patrons of all ages were circulating from upstairs to downstairs and back again – the “oompa-pa” of the Swiss Girls and Leo Greco morphed into the “boom thumpa-boom” of rock ‘n roll as dancers descended the steps into the crowded, steamy lower-level - appropriately named: “Someplace Else.” The boys suddenly went from playing for 40-50 dancers a night at the Heidelberg to crowds in excess of 1,000 every Friday and Saturday night from 1966-1970.
In 1968 Matter arranged a recording session for the band at Coulee Recording Studio near La Crosse WI. That session resulted in the release of their only 45 record; “Five Foot Two” b/w “My Baby Left Me.” And it was at that time that the band decided to change their name to “The Rubber Band” so as to not be confused with another Iowa-based group called “D.J. and the Runaways.”
The b-side of that 45 record, “My Baby Left Me,” resurfaced 40 years later in 2008 - included on a national release by Gear Fab Records entitled: “Psychedelic States: Wisconsin in the ‘60s.” The band splintered in 1970 with Koempel and Crandall leaving to form the Memory Brothers. And the remaining three Rubber Band members continued playing music in various groups throughout the ‘70s.
In 1977 Crandall left touring with the Memory Brothers in order to spend more time with his young family. Then in 1980 Crandall reunited with Tom Stahr to start up the Rubber Band once again. Various sidemen came and went from the band until eventually original members, Mark Stahr and Dave Lantz rejoined. The band continued performing for 16 years. In 1996 Koempel rejoined them for a farewell concert to a sell-out crowd at Matters Ballroom after which the group disbanded.
In 1996 they recorded their only album “Retrospect,” a collection of ‘50s-‘60s cover tunes. On Tuesday, October 20, 2009 they again reunited for a one-night performance which set an attendance record at Nob Hill Ballroom in Decorah.
The Rubber Band played for many, many years and entertained thousands of music fans. Their talent and massive depth of work earned them a spot in the IRRMA Hall of Fame Class of 2010.