The Fabulous Morticians

2002 - Band

Members: Steve Gunlock, John Hatton, Jack Cave, Fred Silvester, Ned Ashbaugh, and Larry Pollard

 

Born in the fledgling years of the rock and roll era, when the British Invasion hit, The Fabulous Morticians reflected the music trends of the times. In the first years, there was a strong British flavor to their music. Then the band moved toward “R & B”, “Blues” and “Soul.”

The band was formed in 1964 by five students at Graceland College in Lamoni, Iowa. Two of the founding members, John Hatton (bass) and Jack Cave (keyboards) were music majors. Steve Gunlock (lead guitar) was an education major, Fred Silvester (rhythm guitar and sax) was a sociology major and Ned Ashbaugh (drummer) was a liberal arts major.

When Hatton and Cave met during the first week of classes, they decided to form a band. Gunlock and Silvester were roommates and lived on the same dorm floor as Hatton. Those four heard of a good drummer on campus so they approached Ashbaugh and the band was complete.

After the group had worked up enough tunes to cover a four-hour gig, The Fabulous Morticians hit the road, playing cities and towns in southern Iowa and crossing the border into northern Missouri. They acquired a 1951 Cadillac hearse to haul themselves and their instruments from ballroom to ballroom.

The band became very popular, much to the chagrin of Graceland College, a church-sponsored institution of higher learning where dancing was not permitted on campus. However, the majority of students liked to dance and a large number of them would follow The Morts to wherever they were performing. The “funeral processions” were not looked upon kindly by the college’s administration, citing fears of students being involved in highway accidents.

The student body, as a whole, really “dug the band” but the “official student government” and administration wanted them out. One winter weekend, on the return trip from a gig in Missouri, one car filled with students missed a turn in the road and flipped over. None of the students were seriously injured. However, the Morticians were summoned into the Dean’s office the following Monday morning and given the choice to either break up the band or move on.

It was near semester break time and the band made the decision to move on. Heading south, they landed in Kansas City. Three band members transferred to Central Missouri State University, Hatton resumed his studies at the U. of Mo Conservatory of Music and a replacement was needed for the drummer, who had chosen not to move.

One day while visiting Routh Music Store in Kansas City, the band met part-time employee Larry Pollard, a drummer. The band was once again complete. They continued to play, adding horns and moving more toward “R & B” and Soul with their show.

They recorded several original songs by Hatton and Cave on the Guillotine label and also did regional radio and television shows.

The Fabulous Morticians disbanded in 1970. This band successfully used a simple symbol (the hearse), worked hard on their music, created a following and made an impact in southern Iowa during the early 1960s…in spite of some vigorous and highly visible resistance. For these efforts and accomplishments, “The Morts” are entering the Hall of Fame with the Class of 2002.

 

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