The Renegades of Grand Rapids, MI, had roots in a music scene that predates the British Invasion. As the Renegades IV and Renegades V, they released two 45s, instrumentals “Greensleeves” / “Autumn Night” on Fenton 945 and “Wine, Wine, Wine” / “Love and Fury” on Dubonay 982 (a Fenton offshoot) that are steeped in 50’s rock ‘n’ roll, as their frantic version of “Wine, Wine, Wine” attests.
Dropping the roman numerals, they cut their finest and most original record, “She’s Your Find” / “Raving Blue” in 1966 for the Cambridge label. Here the band is at their peak, playing with intense restraint behind Scott Vanderleest’s impassioned vocals on two well-crafted songs by the band.
“She’s Your Find” is a collaboration by Scott Vanderleest and guitarist Fitz Green, and features a fine guitar solo, booming and precise drum work and prominent tambourine. The other members of the band were Craig Menees on five string bass, Brian Bracken on the Conn organ (prior to the Cambridge 45, as Craig points out below), Dave Heth on organ, and Rick Idema on drums.
Fitz Green wrote the other side, the beautiful lament “Raving Blue”. My copy of the 45 is scratched as can be, but I had to include this song despite the less than perfect sound quality.
All three of their 45s charted locally on either WERX or WLAV. Unfortunately the band broke up soon after releasing “She’s Your Find”, ending their promising career.
Recently bassist Craig Menees filled out the history of the group:
The group began instrumental-only and I was not the original bass player. My predecessor was named Bruce Baldwin and when he left East High for private school I came on board which would have been Rick, Fitz and my junior year in high school – 1964. We were classmates and knew each other well. Brian was a year older and his mother sort of managed the group. East High was the connection.
We knew early on (Kingtones?) that a vocalist was important in order to appeal to a larger audience. A few groups (Dave and the Shadows) had a female singer, but traveling at our age and the parental concern nixed that idea. One guy (Dwayne King?) from up North was very talented, but wanted to play lead guitar and sing which would have diminished Fitz’ role and Fitz was much too talented to just play rhythm guitar.
Somehow I think Scott heard we were looking for someone (I’ll have to confirm this with him) and he came over to try out and we knew very quickly that he was a good choice and why not? – tall, Elvis look alike who sounded like him too. Maybe a bit more like Ral Donner out of Chicago.
Our drummer, nicknamed HI3 (Henry Idema III), was often courted to join other bands, including, if I recall, the Kingsmen when they were playing the Michigan State Fair one summer.
Like many groups eventually personality issues flared up and Brian was replaced by Dave who had attended Albion, but was living in GR and going to Calvin at the time. Dave had a younger brother, Jeff, who was a classmate of ours so we knew the family and I knew Dave through athletics. We underestimated his musical abilities until he auditioned. Once we began practicing in earnest and playing regularly things worked out very well.
The keyboardist on “Raving Blue”/”She’s Your Find” was actually Dave Heth. Dave and guitarist Fitz Green sang the harmony on “She’s Your Find” behind Scott’s great voice. The Cambridge recording, as you probably know, took place in Phil Robert’s studio. Like so many others we were big Kingtones fans, knew Phil and his brother Dave, and in some ways tried to emulate them.
Rick’s pearl gray Ludwig drums and Fitz’ white Fender Jaguar (he also had a beautiful Gibson 12 string heard on Raving Blue) came from Manny’s Music House in New York City. Scott’s sound system consisted of a Bogen amp, Shure microphone and JBL speakers with no enhancement which was a tribute to his voice. Fitz used a Fender amp with reverb and I played a rare white Fender 6 string bass through a Dynaco amp with a 15″ JBL speaker.
Our senior year in high school the band played every week including three consecutive weekends at the old Ponytail Club in Petoskey/Harbor Springs. Frank Russo, who was a close friend of Scott’s from South High, was the informal manager and we used to meet at his family’s pizzeria on S. Division and critique our performance when we returned to Grand Rapids, typically well after midnight.
Probably the best the group ever sounded was the summer of 1966 when we played two separate two week gigs at the Shamrock Lounge. Problem was we were underage except for Dave so our contemporaries could not get in to see us.
Four songs I recall would at times cause the audience to stop dancing and watch – Fitz’ playing “Misirlou” and “Johnny B. Goode”(his right hand was a blur), Rick playing “Let There Be Drums” (long, powerful solo) and Scott’s soulful rendition of “Old Man River” (not often heard in rock circles). Scott was both charismatic and humble which doesn’t always happen with a lead singer. Turns out he and I were in Vietnam within a year of each other although we didn’t know it until recently.
The band broke up primarily because of geography (Fitz – Kalamazoo; Rick Idema – Ann Arbor; Scott – GR; myself – E. Lansing) and Dave Heth’s untimely death in an automobile accident. I recently spoke with Scott and we hope to rendezvous in the near future…
Thank you to Bill Vander Ploeg for the photo of the group at top!