Torkays

2018 - Band

Members: Terry Yarns, Dennis Gamble, Kenny Cunningham, Terry Wolfe, Steve Lutes, Bobo, and Vickie Lutes

 

Fifty-six years ago one of the Iowa Great Lakes Region’s original garage bands, The Torkays, was formed in Spirit Lake. Original members included Terry Yarns (founder and sax), Dennis Gamble (bass), Kenny Cunningham (drums) and Terry Wolfe (guitar). After several practices, Steve Lutes (lead guitar) and Bobo joined the group. Steve's younger sister, Vickie also appeared as a singer at special events. Unfortunately, Yarns and Cunningham are the only surviving members today of the original group.

 

This band's inaugural performance began at Spirit Lake's TAHO, a dance held at the City Hall basement after high school home events. The group played many more times at TAHO as well as events in surrounding Iowa and Minnesota schools, Legion Halls, ballrooms and special events.

 

The band became acquainted with Chuck Stevens who at that time coordinated the Little Miss Iowa Pageant. This association enabled the group to get state-wide recognition by playing at local pageant events held all over Iowa in ballrooms, city parks, grocery stores, malls, Legion halls, etc.; then culminating with the final state crowning at the Roof Garden in Arnolds Park. Vickie Lutes at age nine could belt out all the Brenda Lee hits and perform at these gigs.

 

Following the Little Miss Iowa shows, Darlowe Oleson, owner of the Roof Garden, saw and liked the group, giving it greater exposure by having the band play at a reception building up to the larger Miss Iowa contest which at that time was also held at the Roof Garden.

 

In 1964, Yarns left the band to pursue other interests, but The Torkays continued with the addition of Dean Aakhus (drums) and Jerry Upson (guitar, vocals, and songwriting). Later Denny and Steve left the group and Jim York (bass), and Mark Gentry (guitar) joined. This group went on to record a Coulee Records 45 single featuring Kenny Cunningham singing originals, "Linda I'm Worried So" and "You Don't Know About Love" both written by Jerry. This record was number one in the LaCrosse, Wisconsin market for some time.

 

The band also went to Omaha to back Vicki (Lynne) Lutes on her first 45 single on Applause Records, "Don't Break My Heart" and "Tears Are Falling" (both written by Jerry) as she was breaking out as a headliner in her own right.

The Torkays continued to play many dates at ballrooms, lounges and other venues in Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin; as a headliner or second to national headline acts, including The Dave Clark 5 and Billy Joe Royal.

 

As with most 60-70's era bands, once its members graduated from high school or the local junior college or were compromised by the Vietnam conflict they left, which was the case for Kenny and Dean. Bob and Jerry kept the group together for a while longer, and The Torkays backed up Chubby Checker on an Iowa tour including performances at the Roof Garden, Danceland and Playmor ballrooms.

 

Following Jerry and Jim's departures, the band did finally break up. Only Dean, Kenny and Mark are surviving members of the latter Torkays band. The Torkays set an early standard for local garage band achievements. Due to its success, it prompted many other Northwest Iowa rock band start-ups. Additionally, its various members or substitute players went on to play in later notable groups like the Gas Company, Daybreak, Runaways, Dark Knights, Sticks & Stones and Dentairs. Bob York toured nationally with many rock music troupes as did Dean. The Torkays band were not only a trendsetter in their own right but also set a strong base for nurturing individual talents that significantly influenced the rock 'n roll music legacy contribution of Northwest Iowa and beyond. For the significant influence The Torkays had on music in Iowa, they take their rightful place in the Iowa Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame with the class of 2018.

 

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