The Chargers came from the central Washington state town of Wenatchee, like Billy and the Kids. Steve Barone was 16 years old when he played lead guitar on the Chargers single on Julian Records, “Taxi” / “I’m So Alone”, released in October 1966. Steve plays some great lead on Steve Nelsen’s original “Taxi” with its super-cool lyrics. The girl’s going to leave so he might as well just call her a taxi and get it over with. “I’m So Alone” is one of the better downer songs of the ’60s, with a neat sliding guitar riff towards the end of the break.
About a year after the single, they recorded three more songs in Spokane that have so far been unreleased. I’ve only heard short excerpts of each. “Need Your Love” sounds a lot like “Taxman” but has its own charms. “You Got a Hold” has a great distorted guitar opening. “In the News” might be my favorite, with it’s heavy tom-tom opening, fine organ playing and interesting rhythm changes. All three of these deserve getting a proper release on CD or vinyl, I hope it happens soon.
Steve Barone wrote to me in detail about the band:
I am the lead guitarist and vocalist for the Chargers. I was born in 1951, and my earliest memories are of watching my dad play with his bands, and by five years old was playing his instrument. In junior high, I had a little group called The Hustlers. One guitar, one drummer, and five singers! We had the chicks screaming when we played Beatles songs at assemblies and dances … how naive they were.
Then I met Ron Kinscherf, Curt Dorey, Tony Morgan and Steve Nelsen. They had a band The Undertakers with Larry Youngblood (passed on) singing, and they were very good; the Hustlers didn’t have a bass man. We did a “battle of the bands” … they even had a coffin to haul equipment in! I was so impressed with them, and they with me, that I quit the Hustlers.
Steve and Ron were part of the Undertakers but Tony, Larry, and Curt formed the three-piece Chargers, then I joined. Larry Roller was lead singer in the beginning but he liked ripping off stuff, like other people’s cars, so we axed him. There was also Don Sandstrom, who sang as well.
Don and Larry are both [in the talent show clipping]. That is because Don had just joined the group. He hadn’t been at the talent show but joined before the picture so there he is. Then Ron replaced Larry, then Steve Nelsen joined later on keys.
We actually let Don into the band because he was the only one with a driver’s license and would drive us all around in his mom’s Corvair … and usually with one or two of us in the trunk as that was a very small car! Especially on drive-in nights! One other friend, Phil Dorschak, had a ’58 Chevy with a tri-power 348 and a big trunk. We always gave him a few beers if he would help haul the equipment for us. I don’t know where he is and haven’t seen him since 1968.
Don quit after a couple years, leaving us a five-piece for the duration. Me on my 1963 Tiesco art-deco Japanese guitar and Silvertone twin-twelve amp, playing lead and singing, Ron on his red Lyle guitar and Paul McCartney vocal stylings, Steve Nelsen on the Farfisa keyboard, Curt Dorey on Fender Mustang bass, and Tony Morgan on drums. Toward the end of the band Tony quit, and was replaced by Jerry Riley on drums. He was the absolute best drummer ever.
We played all over, every high and junior high school dance we could handle, plus Yakima, Bridgeport, Spokane, all over except for the Seattle area. We weren’t ready for that yet.
Steve Nelsen and Ron Kinscherf lived on the East side. Me, Tony, Jerry and Curt lived on the West side. When we played at either high school, or junior high, we had fans in either case. The town didn’t matter much to us, but Billy & the Kids were all living with their folks in East Wenatchee so they had a “town loyalty”, as it were. Billy & the Kids didn’t go over that well at Wenatchee High … we ruled there, and played for nearly every dance from 1966-68. Especially after the record came out. But on the East side, Billy & the Kids had the edge. We always enjoyed the competitive nature of it, but were all brothers and respected each other a lot. I do give them credit, they took it a lot further than I ever did, and now Bill and Bob Burns have a group called “The Called”! Christian stuff of course.
The Chargers won a talent show in 1966, first prize being recording time at Julian records. We were excited, to say the least. We packed up the trailer and headed for Spokane one Friday afternoon. We went to some restaurant for dinner and cruised around town for a while, trailer proudly in tow. Nobody knew who we were then … but that was about to change. After settling in at a motel; the band in one room and the manager and his wife in another, we commenced to “hootenanny” and light farts all night long. After they shut the power off, we continued to sing and light farts in the dark!
In the morning, all fucked up from not sleeping, we headed to the other side of town, and pulled in to an unassuming, plain-looking building. Inside were many rooms and corridors, all full of amps, wires, speakers, etc. I was in heaven. We proceeded to lay down all the instruments at once, and got the songs down fast, albeit with a couple small mistakes that we left in just because. Then we went into a booth and did the vocals. All this recorded on reel-to-reel, very primitive even then.
When that hit the street, and went to #3 on the local survey the first week, we were gods. How overwhelming it is to hear your songs on the radio! We played at virtually all the big dances after the record came out.
I have one old picture of the band in our suits, in a frame. We took many poses, in the house, in a tree, on another part of the roof, and gathered around our trailer that had the logo and a crazy horse on the sides. I don’t know where these photos ended up. It must have cost a lot; it was a professional photographer, and we took a LOT of shots.
Q. I notice Ron looks to be left handed and playing with a right-handed guitar turned upside down. Is he really left handed, or was this just for the photo?
Ron was intrigued with Hendrix but only for the photo was the guitar reversed unfortunately. That would have been something though! Sorta like I painted the “Vox” logo on my Silvertone/Tiesco guitar. Nobody ever knew but the band.
The story of “I’m So Alone” is a book in itself. I met Carl Hunt in 1963, at Pioneer Junior High. My neighbor, Jerry Highfill and I played guitars together a lot, and thus entered our first talent show playing a couple Ventures songs, and a tune called “Bulldog”. We caused pandemonium; nobody suspected I could really play and was actually “cool”. I looked like Fearless Fly; skinny, horn-rimmed glasses and clothes my mom picked out. But when Jerry and I won that first show, I suddenly had a lot more friends. Carl was way cool, smoking on the corner in his leather jacket, just being next to Carl made you cool.
He had one of those Silvertone guitars with the amp in the case. I never would have dreamed it, but Carl wanted to learn how to play, and all through junior high he was my body guard more or less, in exchange for guitar lessons. I spent the weekend at Carl’s often; his mom always fed us and let us smoke in his room, and occasionally we would smuggle in a few beers too. We had a few tunes down, and were joined by a drummer, Jerry Riley, in 1964. One night at Carl’s house, he said he had a new song, kind of a ballad. Then he started playing the two opening chords to “I’m So Alone” and started the plaintive vocal. I knew he was on to something, and before too long we sounded like the Everly Brothers on the chorus. But then I got asked to join the Chargers, formerly the Undertakers, and I spent a lot less time with Carl. Jerry joined the Chargers as well.
When the Chargers decided to record our first single, we already had “Taxi” on our playlist. But we needed a “B” side. So I remembered Carl’s song. I played it, and everybody liked it right away … and we ended up recording it. I never gave Carl credit for it though, and always felt a little bad. I didn’t see him much so I never knew if he was upset about me claiming his song. I did refine the lyrics but the music is all Carl.
Around 1976 I spoke with a man who was a former detective, and he said Carl had committed suicide that summer. I had not seen him since 1968.
You can sure tell in “I’m So Alone” that there is a Farfisa screeching away (man I hated that sound). We did an outdoor gig and it got so hot it just freaked out. The notes would go up and down and it finally pooped clear out. We got it fixed and jammed on. Later with Double Image, Steve got a B-3.
Ron Kinscherf, Steve Nelsen and I were always coming up with ideas for songs. Some were ok, most sucked, a lot of them were rip-offs of the Beatles or the Wailers songs, and all were eventually forgotten but for the five recordings. I spent a lot of time at Ron’s house in those days, and we would jam for hours on end.
We released the record, and in early 1968 went back, older and wiser, doing “You Gotta Hold”, “News in General” and “I Need Your Love”. With the three tunes in the can, the band split up before it was pressed. Only the masters and copies remain. By some miracle, of course, as Ron ended up with the masters at first. His stepdad was the manager. He ended up with at least 300 copies of unsold records, and used them for skeet. The rest of us were quite pissed when we found out where all the records went, but it was too late. I do have a copy, one I gave to my mom, and she gave it back to me just before she died. So it is priceless to me now and never sees daylight.
One summer day, Ron and I went to a department store with a friend named Dale. He was, unbeknownst to us, a compulsive kleptomaniac. He would fill his trenchcoat with stuff and go unload it in the car while we were looking around the store. When we discovered how easy it was to rip stuff off, I tried to hork Jimi Hendrix’s first album and got caught by store security. After the cops came, and my folks came to get me from them, my guitar and amp were locked in a closet and I was forbidden to play music until I graduated the following year. This put an end to my membership in the band. They tried to carry on with replacements but it just didn’t work.
After I actually showed some remorse, worked hard at school and for the first time ever, made the honor roll, I got my guitar back. Then I hooked up with Dick and Jerry Riley, Bob Herron and Rick Troppman and formed “Subtle Difference”. We were cutting-edge, with a keyboard (Hammond B-3 and Leslie), two hot guitars and Jerry was one hell of a drummer. Rick was, and is, one of the best bassists I ever knew. We did Vanilla Fudge and all the hot psychedelic stuff.
Too bad it was the time of drugs, partying, Viet Nam and thoughts of marriage … all this combined to send all five of us in different directions. By 1969, the smoldering remains of the Chargers was officially put to rest.
Ron moved to Tacoma to play new wave, Tony and I joined the Army, Steve Nelsen joined “Double Image” with the Burns Brothers in Seattle, Curt Dorey went to work at Alcoa on the night shift. Jerry Riley overdosed on 96% pure heroin (from VietNam) in 1971. RIP old pal.
I moved to Tacoma in 1979, and played with Ron in “Kicker”, a three-guitar and keyboard band that specialized in AC/DC, Molly Hatchet, Led Zeppelin and Lynyrd Skynyrd. I also did time with Wakefield Manor and No Cheese Please … check them out on pnwbands.com. I left Tacoma in 1982 and never looked back.
Ron and I are the only ones still performing. I am in “Trio Deluxe + 1”, an oldies band ( the +1 is a sax player), “the Steamers” (check ’em out at lakeboys.com) and the church worship team. So I am heavily involved but in Wenatchee, also heavily poor. This town does not have a very supportive music scene, I have to spread it thin to stay working. But I will keep playin’ that rock and roll … until I die.
If there’s one thing I pray to never lose, it is my memory of those crazy times with that first “successful” band. This past October, on the occasion of Curt’s 60th birthday, we all got together, even some of our old “groupies” were there. I brought my Strat and Ron brought his bass and another guitar. We howled at the moon from 3pm until after midnight, and would not have stopped then except the neighbors complained. I still can’t believe we remembered all those old songs. But we are NOT going to get the band back together!
Steve T. Barone aka Bonehead
Thanks to Doug Shirk for his help in making this article possible.