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  • Jack Bowerman

Remembering the great bands that we used to hear and see live in Lawrence and around the region in the 60's and 70's

Curt Eddy, Jerry Weakley and I are starting a series of blog articles featuring the bands that we used to see and hear live in the late 60’s.  We spent a lot of time in venues like the Red Dog Inn in Lawrence, but these bands played all over the Midwest.  The bands include: The Blue Things, The Red Dogs, Spider and the Crabs, Ann Brewer and the Flames, but we will start with:


The Fabulous Flippers



The origin of the band that came to be known as The Fabulous Flippers was with a group of high schoolers in Hays, Kansas. This band, formed in 1957, called themselves the Flippers and were named after a popular style of hubcaps. Much of what we know about this band comes from the book “The Original Flippers” which was compiled, edited, and written by Darrell S. Mudd. Included in the book are stories written by the founding members of the band.  


All the original members of this band were students at St Joseph Military Academy.  These original members were:

·      Thomas Gardner Bunker – piano, SJMA class of 1956

·      Lee Allen Leiker – lead vocalist, SJMA class of 1956

·      Terry Wierman – lead guitar, SJMA class of 1961

·      John Fross – rhythm guitar, SJMA class of 1961

·      Dennis Rohr – drums, SJMA class of 1961

·      Jim Gross – tenor saxophone, SJMA class of 1962


This band played mainly in the state of Kansas, occasionally playing gigs in Nebraska.  They were well known in this area thanks in part to the advertising they had on KOMA (now KOKC) radio in Oklahoma City beginning in 1963.  KOMA, AM 1520, had a Top 40 music format and with a 50,000-watt transmitter it was enjoyed by teens all over the western US. A typical set list for the Flippers included covers of the popular top 40 songs of the day.  For example:  


Instrumentals

  • The Venture’s “Walk Don’t Run”

  • Duane Eddy’s “Rebel Rouser”

  • Theme from Rawhide

  • The Champ’s “Tequila”

  • James Brown’s “Night Train”

  • Booker T & the MG’s “Green Onions”

  • The Surfari’s “Wipe Out”

Vocals:

  • Gene Vincent’s “Be Bop a Lula”

  • Elvis’s “Hound Dog”

  • Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally”

  • Wilbert Harrison’s “Kansas City”

  • Jerry Lee Lewis “Great Balls of Fire”

  • Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue”

  • Ray Charles’s “What’d I Say”

  • Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues”

  • Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene”

  • Chuck Willis’s “CC Rider”

  • The Isley Brothers “Twist and Shout”

  • The Dovell’s “You Can’t Sit Down”


In 1963, the Flippers signed with John Brown from Lawrence as their manager/booking agent.  Brown had teamed with another Lawrence native, Mike Murfin, to form Mid-Continent Productions which became one of the premier booking agencies in the Midwest.  Mid-Continent went on to work with bands such as the Blue Things, the Red Dogs and Spider and the Crabs. In 1965, they opened the Red Dog Inn in Lawrence (known as Liberty Hall today).  They made extensive use of ads at KOMA radio in Oklahoma City which reached three million users across the Midwest.


Like many bands their lifespan proved to be short. One by one the original members left the band due to work, marriage and military commitments:

  • Thomas Bunker left the band in 1961 with a bachelor’s degree in music from Fort Hays State and worked in various capacities in the music business throughout his career.

  • John Fross also quit the band in 1961 due to a disagreement with Terry Wierman who became the de facto leader of the group. He was a police officer with Fort Hays State.

  • Lee Allen Leiker also left the band in 1962 to get married and to work in property management.  Later he continued to play in several local bands.

  • Dennis Rohr quit in 1963 and has enjoyed a career in law enforcement.


As members left the band they were replaced by new members, but by 1964 their days as a band were numbered.  Briefly, the band was known as Terry and the Flippers and they recorded “Ready, Aim, Fire” in Hays on the RSVP label.  Finally, only Terry Wierman and Jim Gross were left from the original band, and they moved to Lawrence to work with John Brown to start a new band.



There has been some disagreement about the name of the original Flippers. Certainly, they were called the Flippers, but some sources claim that this band also performed calling themselves the Fabulous Flippers.  Other sources say that the Fabulous Flippers name belongs only to the band that reformed in 1964 with Terry Wierman and all new members. 


The beginning of the eight-piece show band that captured the attention of everyone in the mid-west, was in June 1964. Auditions were held over a four-state area to come up with the best talent possible. Seven men were selected and were told they had two days to put together a show and get on the road.  Each man that was selected had been playing in various bands for at least five years. All the boys were 19 and 20, and all attended the University of Kansas.  Terry Wierman was still the leader and, after Jim Gross was called to military service, was the only original Flipper.


The summer of 1964 proved to be one summer that the people of Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, North and South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa will never forget. Radio station KOMA in Oklahoma City was used for advertising. Regular spots ran every day and people all over the central United States heard the name of the Fabulous Flippers. Posters, handbills, and newspapers were used that summer as the Flippers started their journey of becoming a legend that was to build bigger every time they played. It was not uncommon at all for the Flippers to be mobbed when they came into town. Many times, extra police officers had to be called in to hold back the excited mobs that would try to get to the band on stage. By the time the band had been on the road for five or six weeks the word began to get around about the band. Many newspapers interviewed the boys and did full page articles on the band. In almost every town pictures and articles appeared in local newspapers about the band.


The original Fabulous Flippers were:.

  • Gary Claxton - trumpet and sax

  • Doug Crotty - trumpet, sax and keyboard

  • Dennis Frederick - vocals and bass

  • Danny Hein - lead vocals, organ and guitar

  • Roger Lewis - lead trumpet

  • Dennis Loewen - lead vocalist, organ, trombone and rhythm guitar

  • Jerry Tammen - drums

  • Terry Wierman – lead guitar


Back then, the members of the band were all college students between 19 and 20 years old. All were from Kansas except Hein, who came from Oklahoma and transferred to the University of Kansas to be with other members.


Gary Ayers Claxton was born in Kansas City in 1944 to Herbert Clay Claxton and Mazel Lorrene Ayers. Herbert was a airplane maintenance instructor and foreman for TWA.  Gary attended Shawnee Mission North High School and graduated in 1962. He was active at North becoming junior class president, and members of: the school band; the debate team; the track team; the football team; the assemblies and activities committee; and the student relations committee.  At KU he joined Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and was also in the school band as well as the University symphony orchestra. 


Douglas Crotty III was born in 1944 in Russell, Kansas to Douglas Jr and Leona Kell Crotty.  Shortly after his birth, Doug’s family moved to Garden City, Kansas where his father was in the retail welding supply business.  Doug attended Garden City High School where he was in the school marching band and pep band, the Latin Club, the staff of the yearbook, the symphony orchestra, the debate team, the Key Club, the Lettermen’s Club and the golf team.  He graduated in 1962.   At KU he became a member of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity.


Dennis Frederick was born in 1944 in McPherson, Kansas to Donald and Faye Teach Frederick.  Donald was professor of choral music at McPherson College. Dennis attended McPherson High School.


Danny Hein was born in Tulsa in 1943 to Lawrence and Kathryn Daniels Hein.  Lawrence was an accountant and Kathryn was a secretary.  Danny attended the Holy Family High School and Central High School in Tulsa Oklahoma.  At Holy Family he was in the choir.  At Central he was in the A Cappella Choir and the Opera Club.  His classmates at Central included Leon Russell and David Gates of Bread.  After he joined The Fabulous Flippers, he was lured to Kansas where he attended the University of Kansas along with the other band members.


Roger Lewis was born in 1946 in Russell to Harold and Juanita Winters Lewis. Harold and Juanita operated a retail jewelry store.  Roger attended Russell High School where he was a member of the Key Club where he was secretary/treasurer, the school band, and the dance band.  At KU, he was a member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia which is a professional music fraternity and Alpha Kappa Lambda.


Dennis Loewen was born in McPherson in 1944 to Clarence and Erna Seibel Loewen. Clarence and Erna operated a Western Auto store.  Dennis attended McPherson High School where he was a member of the tennis team.


Jerry Tammen was born in Larned in 1944 to William and Virginia Smith Tammen.  Jerry attended Larned High School where he was a member of the school band, the class executive committee, the mixed chorus, the boy’s glee club.  Jerry was briefly a member of the original Flippers.


After that summer of 1964 where the band played much of the same music that the original Flippers had played, they changed their format.  The original Flippers included some rhythm and blues but mainly covers of artists that had broken through to white audiences like Chuck Berry and Little Richard.  The new Fabulous Flippers became a show band patterned after the great southern R&B reviews like “James Brown & His Famous Flames” and “The Bobby Bland Review.”  Blued-Eyed soul was introduced to white Mid-America and many of the bands in the area transformed from traditional rock groups (guitar-bass-drums) into 8–10-piece R&B show bands after witnessing a “Flipper Show”.  This meant that the audiences were exposed to songs they had not heard before like:

  • “Harlem Shuffle” – an up-tempo version of the classic Bob & Earl song

  • “I Don’ Want To Cry” – original by soul singer Chuck Jackson

  • “Tell The Truth” – made famous by Ray Charles

  • "Turn on Your Love Light" and "Yield Not to Temptation" – R&B hits for Bobby “Blue” Bland

  • “Shout” – The Isley Brothers

  • “Don’t Fight It” – Wilson Pickett

  • “Uptight” – Stevie Wonder

  • “Every Beat of My Heart” – Gladys Knight & the Pips

  • “634-5789” – Wilson Pickett

  • “I Go Crazy” – James Brown

  • “Sweet Soul Music” – Arthur Connelly

  • “Woman Ain’t No Good For Me” - an original written by Dennis Loewen and Dennis Frederick

The Fabulous Flippers also performed a medley of songs from West Side Story.


The Flippers did more than play great music. With eight guys wearing matching tailored suits, doing dance steps and choreography, featuring the hottest horn section around and doing black R&B hits that made them seem like old hands at the music. The catch was that for the most part they were kids from small Kansas towns, not seasoned R&B musicians.


Here are some testimonials from fans who heard the Flippers during their heyday:

  • “How many times can we remember tuning in to 1520 KOMA and hearing about a Flipper dance headed in our direction? When those ads came on the radio, we knew we were going to see and experience something special, and the Flippers were just that. Those ads made the Flippers seem larger than life and with that cool name, they were a home run for Mid Continent.  These radio ads, along with the group’s talent, helped Mid Continent establish the name of the Fabulous Flippers over a 10-plus state area.  Usually, wherever they played, The Flippers held attendance records up and down the highway. You usually said “wow” after seeing their custom motorcoach pull into the ballroom parking lot and the same after you saw their live show.”

  • “No band in the Central United States drew larger crowds, caused more excitement or had more influence on thousands of aspiring rock musicians than “The Flippers”. Based out of Lawrence, Kansas – The Flipperstook the Midwest by storm throughout the 60’s – drawing sold out crowds from Texas to North Dakota and from Colorado to Illinois. Advertising their shows on KOMA Radio from Oklahoma City, OK they drew teens driving hundreds of miles to a “Flipper Dance”.  Their stage show was legendary – sometimes even making the stage looking like it was moving. They were cool in their matching suits and Tammen’s drum solo’s with black-lit drumsticks tore up the crowd.”

  • “In 1970 The Fabulous Flippers broke the all-time attendance record at Darlowe Olesen’s Roof Garden Ballroom at Lake Okoboji. On July 4th of that year, they drew over 6,000 teens for a dance, beating the old record of 4,000 set in the early ’60s by The Everly Brothers. The Roof Garden itself was only meant to hold 4,000 people. Today, when you hear the name The Fabulous Flippers one thinks of a warm sound, an exciting show, great showmanship, and those eight amazing men from Lawrence – you remember what rock and roll of the ’60s were meant to be.


Throughout the Flipper’s career, they recorded eight singles, one LP, and one EP. Perhaps what they are best remembered for is their release on Philadelphia’s Cameo-Parkway Records “Harlem Shuffle/I Don’t Want to Cry. They also recorded a couple of music videos in New York. 

However, their fame was not to last.  Just as happened to the original Flippers, one by one the founding members of the Fabulous Flippers left the band due to graduation, marriage or other personal commitments and were replaced by other musicians.  Over the years, as many as 70 musicians rotated though the band.


The Fabulous Flippers have been inducted into the music halls of fame in Iowa (1998), Nebraska (1999), Kansas (2005) and South Dakota (2010). John Brown and Mike Murfin were also inducted into the Kansas Music Hall of Fame in 2005.


The original Fabulous Flippers have enjoyed successful careers after their time with the band:

  • Gary Claxton was an insurance broker in Des Moines for many years and now lives in the Kansas City area.

  • Doug Crotty has been an attorney and currently lives in in Garden City, Kansas. 

  • Dennis Frederick has been a chemist in Nashville and still lives in Tennessee.

  • Danny Hein lived in California for a while, but moved to the Bella Vista, Arkansas area where he is in the real estate business.

  • Roger Lewis was director of instrumental music at Butler County Community College among other roles as a music educator.  He currently lives in Wichita.

  • Dennis Loewen lived in California for a while, but returned to Lawrence and has been a real estate property manager. He currently lives in the Kansas City area.  

  • Jerry Tammen also lived in California for a while where he was in the real estate business, but he returned to Larned and retired.  Jerry died in 2017. Danny Hein and some of the other bandmates visited him in his ICU room, shut the door and played the James Brown hit “Please, Please, Please”.

  • Terry Wierman became a cabinet maker in Hays.  He died in 2023.


Some of the Fabulous Flippers music videos are still available on YouTube:

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