2006 INDUCTEES >> THUNDERBIRDS
Members: Stan Brown, Steve Brown, Roger Brown, Dean Harper, Carl Adams
The Thunderbirds started in Southern Iowa, originally formed by brothers Stan and Steve Brown of Lenox. Their cousin Roger Brown was added as a drummer to participate in a Bill Riley talent show in 1961, where they were announced as The Brown Brothers.
They took on the name Midnight Specials after the Johnny Rivers song they performed at the show and soon began playing at local venues. The band became the Thunderbirds when they added another Lenox local and noted guitar instructor, Dean Harper. Dean came from a long line of Iowa musicians on his mother’s side of the family. His prior band experience included work with Jack Mills and the Milltones of Creston, the stragglers out of Corning and much other jazz, country and rock ‘n roll groups dating back to the ’50s. Carl Adams out of Burlington, a college roommate of Stan’s and a veteran of several 60’s garage bands from the Burlington area, was soon added, bringing the band to its full complement of five players.
Stan and Steve Brown grew up singing together in harmony and their harmony blend in addition to the fact that all band members sang, contributed to the strong vocal mix that distinguished the band. In early 1965, and again in the spring of 1966, Steve Brown composed and wrote two songs; “Hey Little Girl” and “Those Days are Gone,” based on the personal experience of lost loves while in high school. The Thunderbirds recorded the songs at the Sears Recording Studio in Omaha in December of 1966, and a 45rpm single was released on Libra Records in January of 1967.
Booking out of Lenox, the Thunderbirds consistently played two to three nights a week at venues across Central and Southern Iowa, Eastern Kansas, Nebraska, Northern Missouri, and Western Illinois. Stops consisted of skate lands, high school gyms, National Guard armories, bars, teen clubs and ballrooms throughout their circuit, as well as fraternity and sorority events at ISU in Ames. The Creston Teen Center was a regular stop. Highlights included repeat performances and a Battle of the Bands against Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs at the Val Air Ballroom in West Des Moines, a Battle against Question Mark and the Mysterians, and many weekend appearances as the house band at the Club Two and ½ in Palmyra, Missouri.
Along with their strong vocals, the Thunderbirds used a Farfisa keyboard and great Fender and Gibson equipment to produce a driving, danceable beat. They covered most of the popular songs of the era and performed their music in blocks of four to five songs with drum bridges between songs. The band had great stage discipline with choreography and lighting adding to their presentation. Their objective was to keep the crowds on their feet at all times. They towed their equipment and announced their presence in journeys across Iowa’s highway‘s via a self-made band trailer that sported their motto, “Danger Explosive Sounds” across the back.
The band broke up in late 1967 when four of the five members headed for the military. Unlike many bands of the era, they never reunited or participated in rock ‘n roll revival shows. After 38 years apart, however, the band discovered in late 2004 that the Thunderbirds and their 45rpm release of Steve’s song “Hey Little Girl” had an international following. The renewed popularity of 1960’s “garage band” music resurfaced the band and their record. Their 1967 record is now on playlists all over the world and has recently been voted by collectors as one of the best, and most collectible 45s recorded in the decade of the 1960s. As a result, the Thunderbirds band has reformed with three of the original (Stan, Steve, and Carl) and two new members.