When they turned on the love light at the Hollyhock: The High Spirits story

By Tom Tourville

When I was a kid, I so enjoyed listening to those Minneapolis radio stations, WDGY & KDWB, that were programmed just for a kid like me.

I loved the music charts with many of the Minneapolis bands on their play lists with the same bands whose records we were able to buy at the local Ben Franklin store. The same bands that played our local ballrooms and we could see them in person and hang after the show with the group for a while. One such band that I could not wait to see live, as I had bought both of their ‘45s on Soma Records, that band, the High Spirits. Let us remember this talented band.

The band got its start in 1963 when drummer Doug Ahrens from Southwest High School in Minneapolis, met John “Jay” Luttio from Washburn High School, who was a very talented keyboard player. They would come together in the start of a new band.

At the same time, Owen Hunsey from St Louis Park High School was working on starting a band. He brought with him the talented singer, Cliff Siegel, also from St Louis Park High School. Also joining was guitarist Rick Levinson, from St Louis Park High School. Cliff had the idea to change his name since he was fronting a band, so he became Little Clifford Stone.

One night the new group was hanging out at Mr. Lucky’s Club. They saw bass player Rick Beresford playing with a group and asked if he was interested in joining a new band, the answer was yes! They now had the line-up they would record with and make Minnesota music fame.

Stone went shopping at Powers Department Store in downtown Minneapolis and ended up in the record department. He saw the newest LPs from England’s Rolling Stones. After hearing these records, the group was now going to cover Stones and English artists. The new song list contained material by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Animals, the Kinks and Van Morrison with Them.

It was time for a band name. They came up with the Illusions. Soon they were to change from that name to the High Spirits that was suggested to them by Rick Levinson’s mother.

A good friend of theirs, Rick London signed on as manager and booking agent. He helped the band at their beginning. In addition, they bought most of their band gear at the famed B-Sharp Music in Minneapolis. B-Sharp helped the band buy their new travel van in exchange for painting B Sharp Music all over the new band van along with the band’s name.

The big date for the new group was May 7, 1965 when they decided to go into Kay Bank Studios in Minneapolis to record their first record for the famed Soma Records label. Remembering most of their English groups were covering blues and R&B hits, so they did the same with the release of Bobby Blue Bland’s “Turn On Your Love Light” backed with Bobby Lewis’ “Tossin’ & Turnin” (Soma #1436). By the Summer of 1965 there was not a hotter record in Minnesota or for that matter, a hotter band in the Upper Midwest.

“Love Light” went to #1 in Minneapolis and got significant airplay in Kansas City, Mo., Dallas, Texas, San Jose, Calif. and Denver, Colo. While this record was great garage, it was nothing compared to their second release for Soma. In January of 1966, the band re-entered Kay Bank Studios and released the great garage two sider with Jimmy Reed’s “Bright Lights, Big City” backed by “I Believe” written by the band’s Rick Levinson. While this release did not sell as well as their first, it is a true garage classic. My favorite.

All during this time that band was booked by the highly successful Central Booking Alliance agency. The band would buy all of their stage clothes at the Arcade men’s store, where over 90% of the clothes they carried were direct from London, England.

While they played the most prestigious of Minneapolis venues, they also traveled to out state Minnesota and Midwest ballrooms. One such visit was to our Hollyhock Ballroom on September 16 of 1967, as they came to Hatfield.

Soon band members would start to leave to join the military. New talented musicians wanted to be able to join a powerhouse like, the High Spirits. Some included: Frank Prout-bass-Gregory Dee & The Avanties, Dave Rivkin-guitar-the Chancellors and Brad Berguson-drums-the Rave-Ons. The band finally called it a career in July of 1968 when they played the Tower Teen Club in Austin, Minn. as Cliff went on to military service.

Under his new name, David Z. Rivkin would go on to produce Prince. Owen Hunsey would go on to manage Prince and worked with such record labels as: Capitol, A&M and Sony Records. He was behind the music for the movies “Pretty in Pink” and “Breakfast Club” and wrote the best seller, “Famous People Who’ve Met Me.”

As you see and hear, the High Spirits played an important role in the creation of the Midwest scene and sound. Hopefully you were one of the lucky ones in September of 1967 to have helped the High Spirits turn on that love light at the Hollyhock Ballroom.

The unpublished photo that I’m using with my story is the High Spirits Live in Fairmont, Minn. from 1968 when I booked the band for a high school show.

Until Next Month
Take Care & Remember The Music

Tom Tourville has been writing about Midwest rock & roll for close to 30 years and has published over 25 books based on Midwest rock music history, including his latest releases on the Hollyhock Ballroom in Hatfield. He lives in Lake Okoboji, Iowa, and can be reached at tourvillea@aol.com.