The Darnells

The Darnells circa 1962, clockwise from top L: Tom Hahn, Mike Blattner, Bruce Wells, unknown (sax),
center: Denny King (photo courtesy Bruce Wells).

These Darnells (unrelated to the ones on Gordy) began in Milwaukee as Denny & the Darnells circa 1959, with various musicians (including future Legends drummer Jim Sessody) passing through the band. The line-up that went into the Cuca studios to record the first single consisted of lead guitarist Denny King, tenor saxophonist Tom Fabre, singer Gary Lane, Bruce Wells on piano, Norm Sherian on rhythm guitar, and Jerry Sworske on drums. The A-side is their remake of Gene Vincent’s “Little Sheila”, while the instrumental flip is a Latin standard, featuring the jazz oriented sax-man Fabre.

Mike Blattner eventually replaced Sworske on drums, and singer Kim Marie was a member when they played off-night gigs at the Spa on 5th & Wisconsin in September 1962. Our Florida band, the Nightbeats, was touring through Milwaukee’s ACA agency, and they had booked us into the Spa for two weeks. We were looking for a different guitar man and King was looking for steady work, so he joined our band, putting a temporary end to the Darnells. However, five months later King and I left the Nightbeats to reform the Darnells as a trio, with bassist Tom Hahn. Hahn had already been out to Southern California with the Bonnevilles and he wanted to make another trip in order to obtain a Mexican divorce from his estranged wife. A SoCal trip sounded great to Denny and me, so in May 1963 we headed west and landed a gig for the summer at the Firehouse, a beer bar on 17th Street in Costa Mesa.

On the referral of the Nightbeats’ bass player, we connected with the Tide label in L.A. and recorded eight sides – two instrumentals and a pair of vocals by each of us. “Spooner”, the first instrumental, is an up-tempo, surfy, 12-bar blues guitar rocker. The flip is another 12-bar blues, this time a slightly jazzy mid-tempo swing. Denny King’s “She’s My Girlfriend” is teenish, while the flip has the flavor of Troy Shondell’s “This Time”. My own release is teen pop with added strings and voices. To my knowledge, Hahn’s vocals were the only cuts not released from those sessions.

We returned to Milwaukee that fall and, in January 1964, Hahn and I left to join the Cashmeres, bringing a final end to the Darnells. The Cashmeres metamorphosized into the Mojo Men (who later evolved into the Portraits with releases on Sidewalk). Hahn left the Mojo Men and did some work in Memphis with Ace Cannon (“Tuff,” 1962) before leaving the music business and settling in Michigan. After doing some club work with country singer Johnny Carver, Denny King returned to California and teamed up with the Canadian Beadles (sic), whom we had previously met in Ishpeming, Michigan. That combination recorded one single for Tide as the Mojo Men, but they had no connection with the Milwaukee Mojo Men. (It seems that Tide Records, having had their only national chart appearance with Larry Bright’s “Mojo Workout” in 1960, tried to capitalize on the “Mojo” name in every possible way).

After his solo recording for Specialty in 1972, King moved to the Sacramento area and formed a booking agency. He later imported medical supplies from Korea and had other business involvements before he died in 2000; Mike Blattner died in 2004. Gary Lane had gone on to work with the Mad Lads and the Saints Five, and later owned a club in Milwaukee. Besides the Darnells, Jerry Sworske had drummed with several other Milwaukee bands, including the Noblemen and Junior & the Classics. He later became a police officer. Tom Fabre moved to Los Angeles and continued in music until his death in 2007. Kim Marie has organized frequent oldies shows in Milwaukee since 2000. This writer has lived in the greater L.A. area since 1965, played full-time until 1982, and part-time since then.

Darnells releases:

Sara 1055: Little Sheila/Besame Mucho, 11/61
Tide 1090: Spooner/Sleepy, 9/63


Tide 1091: She’s My Girlfriend/Long Lonely Night (Denny King), /63
Edit 2005: Poor Little Baby/If (You’d Only Be Mine) (Gary Myers), 11/63
Tide 2000: Surfin’ Fat Man/Paula (Mojo Men), 2/64
Tide 2001: Mojo Workout/I Got A Woman (Tommy Hahn & the Mojo Men), 5/64
Specialty 726: Bessie Mae/Go Down Moses (Denny King), /72
Specialty LP 5003: Evil Wind Is Blowing (Denny King), /72

Gary E. Myers is author of two histories of Wisconsin music of the 50’s & 60’s, “Do You Hear That Beat” and “On That Wisconsin Beat”, as well as two instructional books, “Understanding and Using Chords and Chord Progressions” and “Understanding and Using Scales and Modes”. Check Gary’s website for more information.

Darnells in Appleton: Tom Hahn, Gary Myers, Denny King

Darnells 1963: Tom Hahn, Gary Myers, Denny King

12 thoughts on “The Darnells”

  1. Gary E. Myers / MusicGem
    After posting the Darnells article, I heard from Gary Lane, who said that Mike Blattner preceded Jerry Sworske on drums, and not vice versa. Lane also does not recall Jim Sessody ever playing in the band (though that info did come from leader Denny King), but said that another early Legends member, Dennis Bertrand, was briefly in the Darnells.

    1. I was wondering if you know what happened to Dennis Bertrand, drummer for the Nomads, Tremelos, etc.? If you have any information on him, I’d be interested. I’m an old, old friend of his from the days he used to play around Milwaukee. Thanks!!

      1. Bertrand is listed in my 1st book with the Darnells & the Legends and he is mentioned in the Legends’ coverage, but I have no info on what he might have done after that.

  2. Gary E. Myers / MusicGem
    I’m truly amazed that someone has a copy of “Mojo Workout” by Tommy Hahn & the Mojo Men to post, but since it’s there, here is the session info:
    piano – Rick Allen of the Skunks
    lead gtr – Larry Lynne of the Skunks
    bass – Tom Hahn
    drums – Gary Myers
    bg voc – Doug Weiss and Duane Smith of the Mojo Men, Larry Lynne of the Skunks
    Recorded at Dave Kennedy Studio in Milwaukee, probably April 1964

  3. I’m so glad there are pepole out there how still are interested in the music of our youth.
    To have lived it has given me wonderful memories.
    Thanks to Gary and everyone who makes this possible.

    tommy Hahn

  4. Hi Gary,

    I don’t know if you remember me (Dixie)but I was married to Denny in 1965. Met him in Milwaukee in 1962 and moved out to California in 1965. I was at Monreals(not sure if spelled right) and thats were I meet Denny and you. You played at Monreal as house band. Upstairs were big name from the 50’s like Jerry Lee Lewis. My Daughter Dana has a myspace for Denny King- check it out. I gave her all the records and pictures I had during this time. (1962-1965)She has them posted on Myspace.

    It was fun to read this on all the bands from my past. Brings back alot of memories. Thanks for sharing.

    Dixie Tobiaski

  5. Gary E. Myers / MusicGem
    Hi Dixie. I do remember your name and, although I never worked with Denny after we both came out here (with different bands), we did get together several times. I think I sat in with him once at Java Lanes in Long Beach, but that may have been a few years later. I came out here with the Mojo Men, which evolved into the Portraits. Have you also seen the entry in here on the Canadian Beadles? Denny is mentioned in there, too. I last saw him when I took a drive up north in ’89. I spoke with him after that when I was researching my first Wisconsin book. Thanks very much for your note; I’ll look for that myspace page.

  6. Larry Lynne still plays occaisionally as Larry Lynne and the Bootleggers. They regularly play in Ixonia, Wisconsin once a year.

  7. Yes, I think Larry gigs quite a bit, possibly even using the Skunks name on some gigs, and I think he also works with the Doowop Daddies frequently. I occasionally get an email fwd from him, and I’ve seen him on a couple of my trips to Milwaukee in fairly recent years.
    And, speaking of gigs, I just got home from one.
    Gary E. Myers / MusicGem

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