The Inspirations and the 13th Precinct

The Inpirations, from left: Mike Murphy, Keith Newell, Bruce Jensen, Kenny Newell and Dennis Milby

Updated February 2011 with info from comments below and Gary E. Myers book On That Wisconsin Beat

The original lineup of the Inspirations included Keith Newell on guitar, his identical twin Ken Newell on bass, Dennis Milby on drums and Michael Murphy on keyboards. The band was from Rock Falls and Sterling, Illinois, two hours drive west of Chicago.

Bruce Jensen joined on guitar by the time of their 45 on the Feature label. At some point the Newell brothers left the band and Don Dowd came in on bass.

Both songs on their August, 1966 single were written by Jensen and Murphy, with (I believe) Murphy singing lead vocals. “That Girl” has a brittle guitar sound and a loping bass line, with good lead and backing vocals. The organ takes a fine, trebly solo before the last chorus. “Baby Please Come Home” has a moodier sound that works well.

The Inspirations without the Newell brothers. Top left is Keith Pratt, middle may be Bruce Jensen (?), and bottom right with drum sticks is Steve King. I’m not certain of some of these attributions, so any help would be appreciated.

Feature Records was owned by Ken Adamany, a legend in the Madison area. Janesville, Wisconsin is about 25 miles southeast of Madison, just short of the Illinois border. Adamany also ran Rampro Records, then became a major promoter of bands in lower Wisconsin and owner of the Factory club in Madison, but he’s best known now as the first manager of Cheap Trick. In an interview with the band back in the 70’s, Rolling Stone described him as “the son of Lebanese immigrants …. a slight, swarthy fellow … with the cool, disinterested air of a camel trader.” Nice profiling RS!

Ken had himself played in a band callled the Nigh Tranes who had one release, “Hangover” (aka “Swamp Fever” / “Rockin’ Abe” on Cuca. That band included Boz Scaggs, Tim Davis, Ben Sidran and Steve Miller in later lineups (as the Ardells?).

The 13th Precinct from left: Mike Murphy, Bruce Jensen, Down Dowd and Tom Kurtz

Image from The Meadow site.
In 1967 the group changed it’s name to the 13th Precinct, with a lineup of Mike Murphy, Bruce Jensen, Don Dowd and Dennis Milby, and cut some demos in Chicago.

Gary Myers wrote in On That Wisconsin Beat, “These caught the ear of New York producer Paul Tannen who took them to Nashville for sessions that resulted in the TRX release [“Junk Yard” / “You Gotta Be Mine”, January, 1968]. The 13th Precinct worked often in Oshkosh and Appleton, and as the house band at The Barn outside Sterling. Drummer Dennis Milby was forced to leave with an injury shortly before the band appeared on ABC-TV’s Happening ’68 with Paul Revere & the Raiders in Los Angeles.”

Michael Bryan Murphy left the band in 1969 to join the One-Eyed Jacks in Champaign, Illinois, and then went on to sang with REO Speedwagon on their third, fourth and fifth albums.

Tom Kurtz replaced Dennis Milby on drums, and then Tim Dowd joined on guitar and vocals as the 13th Precinct continued into the 1970s.

Thank you to Kevin McLaughlin for the top photo and to Heidi Dowd for the second photo.

Sources include: Gary E. Myers book On That Wisconsin Beat, the FolkLib Index and Like a Rolling Stone: Why Madison’s Music Scene Is Slightly Discordant.

The 13th Precinct onstage

29 thoughts on “The Inspirations and the 13th Precinct”

  1. Heidi, I’m sorry to learn of your loss. I spoke with your father back in ’96, when I was in the early stages of researching my 2nd WI book. The book DOES list him as bassist (as does Mike’s comment on this site), and he is included in the photo in the book.

  2. I was doing a search on my dad and I came across your website. My dad Don Dowd was the bass player not a guitar player for both ‘The Inspirations’ and ’13th Precinct’. the 13th also included my Uncle Tim Dowd who played guitar and sang vocals. Any more info you would like to know about my Dad’s bands, just let me know. I see that you already made the correction that they were from Rock Falls, IL. I have an awesome photo of the Insperations when they were on the ABC show ‘Battle of the Bands’ in the 60s, can’t remember the exact year, but I would love to get a copy of that show. I also have a great picture of the 13th from the 70s. Of course after my sister and I were born in 75′ and 78′ he quit playing in the band. I lost my Dad to Lung Cancer on April 9th of this year. But I can tell you that he could still rock out on the bass right up until we lost him.

    -Heidi Dowd

  3. First, thanks much to Mike for plugging both of my WI books. Secondly, Ken Adamany’s Nigh Tranes (and I believe that was the preferred spelling, although they may have varied it at times) had only one release – “Hangover” (aka “Swamp Fever”)/Rockin’ Abe on Cuca. They are covered in my 1st book. The band DID include Scaggs & Miller, but the mambership often varied, and I don’t think either of them is on that record. The band also employed Tim Davis & Ben Sidran at one time or another.

  4. I must correct my previous post. No more off the cuff posts while at work!

    Checking my own book info and Gary Myers highly recommended “On That Wisconsin Beat” book:

    The Inspirations were from Rock Falls and Sterling, IL

    Gary’s book lists the lineup as:
    Keith Newell – guitar
    Michael Murphy – keyboards (he later joined the early lineup of REO Speedwagon and is the lead vocalist on the 1st three LPs)
    Ken Newell – bass
    Dennis Milby – guitar
    later members included:
    Bruce Jensen – guitar; Donald Dowd – bass; Tom Kurtz – drums

    The Feature 45 was released in the summer of ’66

    Gary notes the Newell brothers were identical twins

    They changed their name to the 13th Precinct while recording demos in Chicago. According to Gary’s interviews with members, A NYC producer heard the demos and took the group to Nashville to record.
    They issued 45 was on TRX 5005 “You Gotta Be Mine” / “Junk Yard” released in Nov ’67

  5. I grew up near Sterling Il. and saw these guys at local dances almost every week in 65 and 66. I am fairly sure that Dennis Milby was the drummer for the Inspirations

  6. I need to say that “The Inspirations” band was a popular duo in the Dixon, Amboy, IL area and it was made up of only 2 people. The drummer was Mike Murphy from Dixon, IL and the lead guitarist and lead singer was Les Wilson Jr. from Amboy,IL. This duo was very successful for over 20 years and played throughout the IL, IA, and Wis. area. I know this is a fact because I was the lead singer and guitar player and I had a great time and will always remember those years as some of the best times of my life.
    Thank you for this post.
    Les Wilson

  7. Gary E. Myers / MusicGem
    http://home.earthlink.net/~gem777

    Les, was that duo sometime after the band as described above? I spoke with Mike Murphy in ’96 and he didn’t mention that version of the band, but then he didn’t have a lot to say about any of it, and didn’t seem to want to be interviewed.

  8. Well it’s obvious he’s referring to a different band by the same name and is just being a little reminiscent. I actually remember the inspirations and was at many a gathering where they played sometime in the mid 80’s.

  9. I’m guessing (pretty sure) that this Bruce Jensen is a relative of mine and I’m hoping you can connect me to him or someone in his family. If this is the right Bruce Jensen….his father is Albert, mother is Bernice, 2 sisters: Sarah & Virginia. Bruce is my mother’s (Alyce Ann Teach/Dyche)uncle. I am currently working on our genealogy chart and have not been able to track my grandmother’s side very well and am looking for family members to help. If you are able to connect me to someone, would greatly appreciate it. Thanks MUCH in advance for any possible help.

  10. The Inspirations members with whom I spoke in my research were Kieth or Ken Newell (I forget which, as they are twins, so same DOB), Mike Murphy, Don Dowd, & Tom Kurtz (the latter 2 were later members). That was circa ’96. I may still have valid contact info on 1 or more of them, but I don’t know that any of them had info on Jensen. You can email me at gem777@earthlink.net if you’d like.

    Gary E. Myers / MusicGem
    http://home.earthlink.net/~gem777

  11. They were from Sterling, IL. Ken Newell – bass; Keith Newell- guitar; Mike Murphy – keyboards, Bruce Jensen – guitar; Dennis Melby – drums. Mike Murphy later played with The One-Eyed Jacks and REO Speedwagon. The Newells left and the band became the 13th Precinct.

  12. The 2nd band photo from the top isn’t with the Newells. I don’t know who they are, but that’s not Ken and Keith. Maybe the Dowds and Kurtz?

  13. The band Les is talking about is not the same Mike Murphy that played with the 13th Precinct. Mike from the 13th had blazing red hair while the other Mike had a lot less of it. 13th Mike played Keyboards mostly – although he could play a lot of different instruments. The 2 man band (Inspirations) was really a good group. Very tight musically and good vocals. I enjoyed both groups a lot.

  14. In the 2nd photo, upper left is Keith Pratt and with the drumsticks, Steve King. I don’t think this is the 13th Precinct. I remember Steve King as a drummer in a band, and remember Keith Pratt as a singer, guitarist and songwriter for the band 4:15. The 13th Precinct continued in the Sterling area for a few years in the 70’s with Bruce Jensen on guitar, Don Dowd on bass, Larry (can’t remember his last name on keyboards and from Prophetstown) and John Wasson on drums. They played often at the Steak House west in Sterling. I played one evening with them on guitar and vocal.

  15. In the 2nd photo, upper left is Keith Pratt and with the drumsticks, Steve King. In the top middle is not Bruce. I don’t think this is the 13th Precinct. I remember Steve King as a drummer in a band, and remember Keith Pratt as a singer, guitarist and songwriter for the band 4:15. The 13th Precinct continued in the Sterling area for a few years in the 70’s with Bruce Jensen on guitar, Don Dowd on bass, Larry (can’t remember his last name on keyboards and from Prophetstown) and John Wasson on drums. They played often at the Steak House west in Sterling. I played one evening with them on guitar and vocal.

  16. I just remembered. The first lineup of the Inspirations were David Linton guitar, Dale Linton drums, Marvin Ayres bass and Bruce Jensen guitar. I have a photo in a box somewhere in Illinois of them playing in our basement for my brother’s 18th birthday party, December 20, 1964.

  17. You are right Lee. The original drummer for The Insperations and 13th was me (Dennis Milby). Myself and Mike are the only two original members still playing music. Bruce is retired and Don passed away.

  18. The band that played for your brother which included the Linton brothers and Bruce Jenson were called The Suspicions. The Inspirations were not formed until I had become the drummer around 1965.

  19. I’m not sure where Les got the information about Mike Murphy’s home town, but he was born and raised in Sterling, Illinois. The Inspirations house band at the “The Barn” outside Sterling, which was a popular local music venue in the 1960s. As someone who grew up in Sterling, I was familiar with the aspirations which initially included the Newell twins, Bruce Jensen, Dennis Milby and Mike Murphy. Mike was the lead singer for REO Speedwagon on their 2nd and 3rd and 4th albums replacing Kevin Cronin. Cronin came back to the band as lead singer for the 5th album on.

    Mike went on to play with other groups including Chuck E. Weiss & The Goddamn Liars, The Blue Hawaiians and others,including Billy Vera and the Beaters. With BV he was with the band practically from the beginning. You can see him featured in the video of the Beaters playing “Let You Get Away,” a song from the movie, “Blind Date” at: http://www.billyvera.com/video.html.

  20. I am Mike Murphy from Dixon who played with Les Wilson in the 80’s. We were known as The Inspirations. Les and I played for over 18 years together. We recorded “Turn around America” for Ronald Reagan’s Campaign. Played from Chicago to DeMoines. I also had a band in the 60’s called The Scorpions. We played also at the Barn in Sterling about the same time as the Playboys from Davenport and The Vantrells from Rockford. We where always checking to see who drew the biggest crowd. I think it was a tie. I knew Mike Murphy from Sterling very well as I went to school with his brother. I get people thinking I him because I work in Sterling. I also played with other bands and musicians through out my life including Kenny Knewl. Jim Seeley, Lyle Grobe. Pete Espinoza,Mike Love, Ted Sandford, Harry Hackbrath, Jim Cronwell, Doug Hoyle, Jim Ehman,to name just a few. I am retired from playing now but who knows I just may get the itch again.

  21. Sure do love this site. Its great seeing what my old musician friends are up to. Wish someone would have a website dedicated to the ol Barn in Sterling. Lots of stories there. It was a great time to be young and playing music. How innocent we were.

  22. Long live the barn did everything for a band from Morrison except play an instrument and loved that place even though I was only 14 when I started going there soul messengers speedy and the alka seltzers the sect forest city sound back street majority and all them great bands Leo brought in from blythm agency in champaign Mourning Rain was proud to be one of the very few local bands he’d have play there and there were not many Mourning Rain was Jim Rosenow on bass Gary Brandt on keyboards Fred Olson on guitar Mike Olson on drums and Don Noe on vocals Jim was replaced by Brad Thomas and Don by Pat McDivitt

  23. The name of the second band was THERESTOFUS. (The Rest Of Us)
    From left to right was:
    Keith Pratt, Bill Burall, Don Dowd, Roger George and Steve KIng

    We were all in high school and played for many “sock hops.” Those were great times!

  24. Loved hearing the memories you all have of the local bands and The Barn.
    My dad was Leo Johnson who started Mary Le lakes recreation area and that led to the Barn. We had some great groups there and many big names at nearby colleges and at the coliseum in Sterling. Dad actually accompanied the Precinct to the Dick Clark show. It meant a lot to Dad that so many kids, we were kids then, met, fell Iove there and that so many had fun and took with them good memories that apparently they look at fondly to this day. Thanks for remembering and keeping the Barn alive.

    1. All of us local musicians of the day thought your Dad and Mom were the best. Leo and Mary were the God Parents of my daughter Lynette born in 66. She even took her first steps at the house. Very good memories.

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