Category Archives: Stillwater

Keith Zeller and the Starliners

The Starliners, 1961 from left: Keith Zeller, Rick Forga (drums), Russ Wurst (on bass) and Bill Strandlof (bottom right on guitar)
The Starliners in 1962: Russ Wurst (with bass), Bobby Lee (top), Rick Forga (with drumsticks), Keith Zeller (front, seated on bass drum) and Bill Strandlof (guitar on right)

An early version of Keith Zeller & the Starliners had a successful 45 “Yellow Bird” / “Carry Mae” on Agar, a label owned by Ron Gjerde and distributed by Soma in 1961.One member of this first group was Bill Strandlof, the first lead guitarist for the Litter. Bill played on “Action Woman”, “Soul Searchin'” and “A Legal Matter” before leaving that band to be replaced by Zippy Caplan.

With a change of lineup, the Starliners recorded their 1966 LP on LeJac, Live! at Papa Joe’s Northern a Go Go, one of the rarest of all garage LPs. Their last release was a single as the Transplant in 1968.

Keith Zeller – guitar and vocals
Billy Strandlof – guitar and vocals
Russ Wurst – bass
Rick Forga – drums

1962 – 1965
add Bobby Lee – vocals

1965 – mid 70’s
Keith Zeller – guitar, piano, vocals
Jack Kollodge – bass, harmonica, vocals
John Rasnur – drums

Scott Schell, who previously wrote about the More-Tishans for this site, presents the story of Keith Zeller and the Starliners:

Keith graduated from Stillwater High in 1962. He started playing guitar in 1959 after an inspiring lesson from Sonny James of “Young Love” fame.

Keith’s dad Laurn (Bud) Zeller worked as a road manager for some of the top groups and singers in the ‘60’s. To mention a few- Bobby Vee, Gene Vincent, The Fireballs, Bill Black’s Combo, Roy Orbison, The Ventures, and many others.

Keith started the Starliners in 1961 as a four-piece band and then added vocalist Bobby Lee in about 1962. Keith played his own “after senior prom dance” in Stillwater.

The Starliners played most all of the local teen clubs in the ’62-’65 years. To name a few, Mr. Lucky’s, The Prom Ballroom, The Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake Ballroom, YES Club in White Bear Lake (a teen club) and various armories.

The Starliners were one of the first bands to play the State Fair in 1963. Keith also played that year with Johnny and the Galaxies filling in for Johnny Caola who had cut his fingers. One Thanksgiving Hop in St. Paul, they backed up Little Eva, Fabian, and Roy Druskie.

The Starliners, 1966, from left: Jack Kollodge, Keith Zeller and John Rasnur

After a few personnel changes, the Starliners became a trio in about 1965, after Keith returned from basic training from the Minnesota Air National Guard. The trio was Keith- guitar and piano, John Rasnur- drums, and Jack Kollodge on bass and harmonica. The trio recorded a live album at Papa Joe’s A-Go-Go in Minneapolis in 1966. This is a rare record as only 280 copies were made. It contains an original song by Keith called “Broken Engagement”.

The Starliners were put to rest in the mid-70’s and Keith started a band called Group Therapy and played the Twin Cities Club scene until 1978.

Keith moved to Hawaii where he had country bands and backed up country Hall of Famers Tennessee Ernie Ford and country legend Hank Thompson and many others.

Keith played in a 50’s group called Paul Flynn and Company till he moved back to Minnesota in 1991. He’s sill active and playing live music weekly- blues, jazz, country, and good old rock and roll. Music has been good to him and he has been good to the music!

Scott Schell is author of Garage Sounds: Bringing Down the House, a pictorial survey of the St. Croix Valley garage bands of the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s published by the Washington County Historical Society.

Back of the Lejac LP

A few days after posting Scott’s article I spoke with Keith Zeller about his career. I asked him about the Transplant single and for some more detail on his early days with the Starliners.Bobby Lee sang “Carry Mae”, though it was the flip “Yellow Bird” that got the airplay. Keith has an unreleased acetate with an instrumental “Joyride” on one side and Bill Strandlof singing “Ubangi Stomp” on the other. Keith didn’t like that LeJac overdubbed laughter and noise on “Joyride”, and felt it ruined the track. Bobby Lee got married and Russ Wurst graduated college about the same time Keith had to serve in the National Guard, so the quintet broke up.

New bass player Jack Kollodge had been half of the Denny & Jack duo who cut “One More For The Road” / “Love You Everyday” on LeJac in 1965.

Using his two-track and one microphone Jack recorded a week’s worth of shows and selected ten for the Live at Papa Joe’s album. The Starliners ordered 500 copies but only about half were shipped. They sold what they had to friends and didn’t bother to inquire about the other copies. On the 40th anniversary of the album Jack sent Keith a 3 CD set that included all the songs they left off the record!

The Starliners trio of Zeller, Kollodge and John Rasnur also made a 1968 single as The Transplant on LeJac, one side being a slower, rerecorded (or at least remixed) version of “Broken Engagement” and the other Jack Kollodge singing a wild take of the bizarre horror-spoof classic “With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm”, probably learned from the Kingston Trio.

In the late ’60s the group expanded to a quartet, with keyboardist John Fritz from St. Cloud joining for a couple years.

John Rasnur left the group and moved to Hawaii where he bacame a top session drummer. Jack didn’t want to work without him, so Keith formed Group Therapy. Keith mentioned jamming with Bill Doggett a couple years before he died in 1996 as being a highlight of his career.

For more info on the LeJac and Agar labels, see the discographies I’ve posted on this site.

Special thanks to JP Coumans for the transfers and scans of the Transplant 45.

The Agar label scans taken from the Rockin’ Country Style site.

More info on Bill Strandlof is available on The Litter’s website.

The More-Tishans

The More-Tishans, from left: Chris Nelson, Roy ‘Pinky’ Herschleb, Dick Schreier and Hugh Kraemer

The More-Tishans were a major live act in eastern Minnesota. Today they’re known mainly for the only song they ever released, “Nowhere to Run” – the other side is the instrumental backing track. What a tune, though, penned by a friend of the band, Mark LeBoutillier.

The band recorded “Nowhere to Run” at Dove Studios in the Bloomington section of Minneapolis. It was produced by Timothy D. Kehr and released on Peak, a subsidiary of Minneapolis’ Metrobeat label.

This is very accomplished garage with fine harmonies. Scott Schell explained to me that after two early lead singers, Steve Peulen and Jim Bancroft left the group, the group needed to rely on their harmony singing to carry the songs. It’s hard to believe they would never cut another record. I find the instrumental worth a listen as well.

Scott Schell has been researching bands from Stillwater, Minnesota and will publish a history of these groups next year. I’ll turn the rest of this article over to him. Scott also sent in the great photos, articles and promotional materials.

The More-Tishans – a history by Scott Schell

From the beginning the More-Tishans were a unique group with almost flawless harmonies, wit, and the ability to work up a crowd. This foursome were all somewhat shy, but on stage a transformation would take place and they would become the impeccable More-Tishans.

In 1963 when the idea of starting a group came about the only one with any musical background was Roy (Pinky) Herschleb. Pinky had been playing drums in the school band for some time, but as for the other three, Hugh Kraemer, Tom Cafferty and Chris Nelson, it would be bloodied fingers, hours of practice and determination.

With the help of their parents the More-Tishans set up a four-way partnership that would include being responsible for bank transactions, deciding on payment, and of course IRS tax and writing off equipment as needed; not bad for high school kids not yet old enough to drive!

The very first job that they would play would be a turkey trot at a local church, at this point they only knew about six songs, but would indeed entertain the crowd for several hours nonetheless. One member of the group went the whole night with his amp on standby, because he wasn’t quite there yet on guitar. As time went on and after hours of grueling practice after practice things began to take shape.

As the musicianship grew so did the image as well. The More-Tishans would not only work their songs to perfection, but also the way they looked: wearing matching suits of which I think there was four or five different ones, and the posters, the pictures, the top of line equipment and last but not lest the hearses; of which over time there would be three.

Time would prove that the hearses wouldn’t be all that practical. The weight of the equipment added to the weight of the hearse itself was very hard on tires and universal joints; as a result the group would have to carry along with them a number of spare parts and two jacks. The two jacks was the only way the hearse could be lifted with all that extra weight.

The next vehicle the group would own was a brand new Ford wagon the boys would lay down cold hard cash for. In the begining these guys weren’t old enough to drive, their first manager Doc Lee would bring the group to gigs in his station wagon touting trailer behind.

Management? Back in the early sixties the venue for live music was big business with over more than likely three hundred clubs, school dances, ballrooms etc. The competition was intense and Doc Lee would prove to be a fierce competitor in the field of entertainment. The More-Tishans would soon find themselves traveling the entire state of Minnesota and all surrounding states, logging thousands of miles a year.

In the spring of 1965 the group was graduating high school. My first job was stocking shelves in a corner store and here these guys are traveling all over the place playing music and learning life lessons from the road, doing what most of the rest of the world could only dream of. Well, so the summer of 65 is upon the More-Tishans and there’s plenty of work to go around before college starts and it’s time to buckle down. As the summer comes to a close and the new school year is upon us, all four of the group have enrolled in college but the More-Tishans are now playing the college circuit. And by now their skills as musicians are honed to a tee. Over the next year it would be school work during the week and rock & roll on the weekends. A tough schedule for most, yes, but this bunch is driven, not just by rock & roll but by life and all it has to offer.

1966 would prove to be a major break through with the writing of, by high school class mate Marc LeBoutillier and recording of (I’ve got) Nowhere To Run on a local record label.

The first blow the More-Tishans would take came in 1967 when Tommy, lead guitar and vocalist, would be drafted into the military; [yet] this was nothing more than a minor setback. A group out of Marshall, Minnesota had a more than qualified lead guitarist / vocalist who would be ready to fill the shoes of Tommy. Dick Schreier came on board and the group continued playing the Midwest, and the college circuit with Dick at the helm.

In late 67 the More-Tishans would suffer yet another blow when drummer Pinky Herschleb would be stricken with a condition that would cause him so much pain in his arms he could no longer play drums for an extended period of time. Once again it seemed as though this might be the end for the More-Tishans, but a young and eager Dan Monson was ready for the chance.

Click to see full article

Now considered one of the top ten of Twin Cities bands, the More-Tishans seem to be unstoppable, yet on Aug. 23, 1968 it would end. In front of a hometown crowd at the National Guard Armory in Stillwater, Minnesota with all six present and past members of the More-Tishans in attendence the band would give their final performance.

I am sorry to say with deep regret that four of the six More-Tishans are no longer with us. Dick was first to leave us in the 90’s followed by Dan, then Tom in 2003 and then in 2004 Pinky would join them. Only two are alive: Chris Nelson and Hugh Kraemer.

As a footnote I would like to add that the success these six individuals showed in the business of a rock & roll would also come shining through in their personal lives, all achieving and excelling in the business community.

The persona of the More-Tishans paid for their college educations and paved the way for what it takes to be successful, so; what many see as youthful fling with sex, drugs, and rock & roll is on the contrary; a lesson in business savvy, learning to be responsible, making the right choices etc.

Talk to any musician in the Valley and they will agree the More-Tishans set the bar for everyone to follow. The More-Tishans gave us much more than their own unique talent and showmanship, they also forced the rest of us to go that extra mile.

Peppermint Club promo from 1964