Smoke Ring

2007 - Band

Members: Jim Casey, Roger Volk, Greg Goodman, Bob Hupp, Don Petersen, Keith Goins, Jerry Benjamin, Tom Benjamin, Dave Dohren, Chuck Asmus, Gary King, Rob Hartung, Larry Marik, Jack Fischer, Doug Speidel, Mike Semrad, Joe Hupp Jr, Randee Falter, Nick Hupp, John Schrad

Hometown: Norfolk, NE

Bio: The Smoke Ring was formed in 1966 by combining two Norfolk, NE rock bands, The Strollers and Little Joe and the Ramrods.  This combination put together, for the first time, three brothers, Bob Hupp (guitar), Nick Hupp (bass) & “Little Joe” Hupp (keyboards).  Along with Jim Casey (guitar), Chuck Asmus (vocals), Dave Dohren (trumpet), John Schrad (sax) Mike Semrad (trumpet and guitar), the Benjamin brothers, Tom and Jerry, Greg Goodman (keyboards) and Roger Volk (drums) - The Smoke Ring was born.  Playing heavy Rock n Roll and Rhythm n Blues, The Smoke Ring was a huge Midwest hit, as well as a national touring band up into the early 1970’s. Playing the ballroom circuit in the Mid-1960’s, The Smoke Ring, toured & backed national touring pop acts, such as The Shangri-La’s, Rufus Thomas, The Everly Brothers, Dickey Lee and others.  They frequently played Iowa, particularly Okoboji’s Roof Garden. In 1966, Dickey Lee invited them to Memphis to record at the Sam Phillips Recording Studio. These sessions formed a bond between the band and Sun Records’ founder Sam Phillips and his family that has lasted to this day. Produced by Dickey Lee, Knox Phillips (oldest son of Sam Phillips) and Allen Reynolds(later producer of Garth Brooks) the band set out to cut a pop hit.  Stan Kesler, who produced Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, wrote Wooly Bully & played bass and wrote hit records for Elvis Presley, engineered most of those early recordings.

The band finally hit success with a major label contract on the Mala label, a subsidiary of Bell Records, the legendary R & B label.  The Smoke Ring single, “That Girl Was My Girl One Time” became a Midwest regional hit in 1966. In the meantime, The Ring was becoming a Memphis club favorite, pounding out horn driven R & B, and making a name as a great live band.  Though the Smoke Ring was making waves touring, the recording sessions had failed to yield a hit single. They then recorded a remake of an early fifties hit by The Four Lads, called “No, Not Much” updated with a funky Memphis beat. Initially released on a local Memphis label - “Gold Dust” - after selling 5,000 records a week in the Midwest, Little Joe did an amazing job of promoting the record & The Smoke Ring and “No Not Much” took off. Within weeks, seven different labels called wanting to sign the Smoke Ring.  Producers, Dickey Lee and Allen Reynolds, signed the band to Buddah Records, a New York pop label that, in addition to being the home for The 1910 Fruitgum Company, The Ohio Express & The Lovin’ Spoonful (Kama Sutra), held ten spots in the Hot-100 at the time. With Buddah in early 1969.The Smoke Ring soared to #17 on the Billboard Easy Listening charts, and hit Top-20 in Boston, Memphis, San Francisco, and on Los Angeles’ top station –Boss Radio-KHJ. According to Buddah sales records, “No Not Much” eventually sold close to 1-Million records

A follow up single, “Portrait of My Love”, also surfaced on the pop charts, though never attaining the height of No Not Much.  The band toured nationally for two years, including an appearance on “Dick Clark’s American Bandstand” in 1969. By 1970, most of the original members of the Smoke Ring had left the band, but the group continued into 1972 featuring members from Kansas bands, such as Isaac, Spyder & The Crabs, TheUpson Dawne, The Red Dogs; Nebraska rockers Colin Keefe & Keith Goins & Tommy Shaw, later of STYX & Damn Yankees. With a name change to M.S. Funk in 1972, they continued till 1976 later with vocals by Fergie Fredericksen (Toto) & former Ides of March drummer Mike Borch.

The list of Smoke Ring alumni who moved on in the music business is substantial.  Little Joe Hupp went on to become major booking agent for The Jim Halsey Agency , handling the Oak Ridge Boys, Roy Clark and David Allen Coe, among others.  Jim Casey migrated to Nashville, where he wrote chart songs for Waylon Jennings, Charlie Pride, the Oak Ridge Boys, and Ritchie Havens. Tom Benjamin wrote a number of Top40 Country hits and recorded for RCA Records.  Garth Fundis went to Nashville as a producer, cutting albums on Don Williams, Tricia Yearwood, and currently Sugarland. Engineer Knox Phillips went on to produce “The Amazing Rhythm Aces”, Dickey Lee wrote ten number one country songs, Allen Reynolds produces Garth Brooks,  Max Carl Gronenthal went from subbing on sax for the Smoke Ring to join Iowa great Tommy Bolin, to writing and singing a number one pop hit for 38 Special, “Second Chance” & is now with Grand Funk Railroad; trumpet man Steve Dahl books Toby Keith for Monterey Artists in Nashville; later member Gary King is a multiple Hall of Fame Inductee and the majority of the band has continued to play music and perform on their own and with The Smoke Ring.   

They reformed in 1994 & have been an overwhelming hit since. The Smoke Ring has recently performed shows with Grand Funk Railroad, .38- Special, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Creedence Clearwater, Steppenwolf. Dickey Lee, Max Carl, and Def Leppard.

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