June 16, 2024

FTV: Walrus Special Edition

     In several past From the Vaults I have talked about what a cool music town Marquette was to grow up in.  Featured prominently in those memories was the band Walrus.  I will come back to the mechanics of how guitarist Mike McKelvy and I reconnected in the next FTV.  Mike sent me an extensive version of his band history and graciously gave me permission to print it in this space.  Even if you are not familiar with the band, it is a fascinating journey from Mike’s life as a high school rock and roller.  Thank you to Mike and Randy Tessier for their recent contacts – what they told me filled in a lot of holes in what I thought I knew about their band.     

     A  HISTORY OF WALRUS   (Revised and updated edition)    By Mike McKelvy  Remember the song “Smokin’ in the Boy’s Room”?   The original version was a hit for the Brownsville Station and was later covered successfully by Motley Crue.  What is the connection to Walrus?  The song was written and performed by Mike Koda, a great musician and entertainer, who attended NMU briefly in the late 60’s and later went on to form Brownsville Station. He was really responsible for the roots of Walrus. While at Northern Koda performed with local musicians including Kim French, Les Ross, and Warren and Gordon MacDonald.   In the spring of 1968, Koda formed The Mike Koda Corp. which featured Kim French, Les Ross, and myself.  Kim and I were still in high school and Les was married with a family and had no desire to hit the road. He was soon replaced by Don Kuhli who was a freshman at NMU.  At that point Koda had assembled 3 members of the future Walrus (Kim (bass),  Don (drums),  and myself (guitar). So thanks to Mike Koda (deceased), a huge influence on me, Kim, and Don and the Marquette music scene. The band played a few local gigs including the Venice in Ishpeming, the Baraga Dance, and several appearances at NMU.

     In June of 1968, Mike Koda’s father, a really nice guy who recognized his son’s talent and supported his musical career, drove up to the U.P. from Manchester (near Ann Arbor) with a U-Haul trailer. The band moved to Manchester and lived and rehearsed in an empty office space below the Koda’s apartment. During the summer of 1968 the band played a few local gigs while trying unsuccessfully to gain recognition.  In the fall of 1968 Koda disbanded the group and a few years later formed Brownsville Station.  Kim and I remained in Ann Arbor while Don returned to NMU.  I survived by playing in “The Happiness Ticket”, a U of M fraternity band. Koda was their original guitarist and passed the gig on to me.  Thanks again Mike.  Don eventually dropped out of Northern and returned to Ann Arbor to reunite with me and Kim. We formed a trio (Triad) and played one gig, a fraternity party,  but we were lacking a strong vocalist.  

      In January 1969 Kim, Don, and I returned to Marquette and auditioned two vocalists. Randy Tessier and Bill Etten. Kim and I knew Randy from high school era musical projects and we were familiar with Bill who had been lead singer for The Henchmen. Although Kim, Don, and I liked the distinctive styles and personalities of both singers, we eventually decided on Bill.  Randy would later resurface, but when Bill joined up with Kim, Don, and I, Walrus was born.

     During the winter and spring of 1969, Walrus played quite a bit around the U.P. (Escanaba, Iron Mountain, and Manistique).   There were numerous appearances at NMU which were often accompanied by the Left Banke Light Show.  In October the band played what we thought was probably our farewell gig in the Great Lakes Rooms at NMU.  I then followed my high school sweetheart, Tret Fure, to Berkeley.  Don returned to Chicago to work at The Daily News, and Bill (now married ) and Kim remained in Marquette.

     In the spring of 1970 Don and I returned to Marquette from Chicago and Berkeley and Walrus came back to life.  Don’s job at the Daily News had enabled him to get a van for hauling gear. This was a truly exciting time for the band.  John Metz and Randy Tessier were added on guitars making the band six piece (Etten, Kuhli, French, McKelvy, Tessier, Metz).  Three guitars.  I think we wanted to be Moby Grape or Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.  We played a good set opening up for Savage Grace in the NMU Field House in May of 1970.  The six piece band was short-lived however when Kim got married and moved downstate.

     At this point Randy switched to bass and the band was five-piece.  That line up, (Etten, Metz, Kuhli, Tessier, McKelvy) was arguably the best version of Walrus creatively and personally.  We flourished from the summer of 1970 through the summer of 1971.  Several members of the band and friends and roadies (Nick Gualazzi, Bruce Strughold (deceased), and Nathaniel Luttenton (deceased)), along with manager Dave Perkins, lived on a farm in Sundell (about 20 miles from Marquette).  We rehearsed in the barn and developed our repertoire with a growing emphasis on original material.  In the winter we moved the gear into the house.  We played a few gigs in Wisconsin and placed second in a huge Battle of the Bands in Duluth.  Locally, we performed at NMU, the Clifton, Ishpeming Armory, Houghton, and the Marquette Armory.  That five piece version of Walrus peaked out about May of 1971 when we opened for Richie Havens in the Field House at NMU.  A packed house of enthusiastic friends and fans made the concert high energy and emotional, a sweet memory for everyone.  The band members all met Richie, a really nice guy who was seen dancing to the music of Walrus before his stage appearance.  

     In the summer of 1971 we were introduced to a wild force of nature by the name of Walter “Mac” McCracken, who I believe is now deceased.  He was a good hearted but slightly whacked (mostly drug induced) Walrus fan who became our manager.  He arranged a short downstate tour which included a Gordon’s Creek Biker Festival and several gigs in the Saginaw area.  We parted ways with Mac when he wanted to drive to New Orleans at 2:00 a.m. (high and no sleep) where he was convinced we would be able to appear the next day at The Festival of Life.

     Near the end of the summer of 1971 John Metz left the group due to musical differences. John was a good musician and a sweet guy with a great sense of humor who was well liked by all band members.  He eventually moved to Wisconsin, had a long happy marriage, and was involved in a few musical projects there.  Unfortunately, he passed away suddenly a few years ago.  He will be fondly remembered by Walrus and friends.  John was a high school buddy of mine and we were arrested in Spring of 1967 outside Lambeau Field for being runaways from home.  We spent the night in the Green Bay City jail and our fathers came to get us the next day. The reason we ran away (ages 16 and 17) was that our parents were going to break up our band because we had been caught drinking.  So we were on our way to California with about ten dollars.  Right.  A few years before he died John and I reconnected and spent a few joyful hours on the phone.  He reminded me that one night, about 1967, we were drunk after a gig in Ishpeming and we stole a car.  I guess it was just a joy ride but I had completely forgotten about it until he mentioned it.  

   Fall of 1971 finds Walrus back to a four piece line up (Etten, Tessier, McKelvy, Kuhli).  Alan Robertson was also added on guitar for a brief period.  We continued our eclectic approach to music and experimented with our jazz influences and original acoustic songwriting.  There were several successful concerts at the Church Theatre in Marquette.  We added Mark Skubick (trombone) and Al Serran (tenor sax) when we opened up for Bob Seger and Teegarden and Van Winkle in the Field House. The band survived late 1971 and spring of 1972, including a jail term for Randy on a minor drug charge.  

     In early summer of 1972, the band decided to move to Ann Arbor.  Why Ann Arbor?  Once again, Koda’s influence played a part.  While playing with Koda earlier, Kim, Don, and I fell in love with Ann Arbor and had made a few connections.  We were also recognized by people from Ann Arbor, including John Sinclair’s wife, for a solid performance at a Michigan Marijuana Initiative concert in Escanaba.  The move seemed to be a pretty good fit for us.  The four band members and Randy’s wife Marcia moved into a house with only two bedrooms.  We rehearsed in the basement (where I  also lived)) and Bill turned a dining room into a bedroom.  Walrus loved Ann Arbor and had some success for several years.  We added Jim Bowers on sax and keyboards which made us a five piece and improved our sound tremendously.  Jim was a really good musician and a beautiful person who was adored by everyone.  Another friend and multi-talented Ann Arbor musician, Les Bloom, joined us part time on alto sax, flute, and clarinet.  We played several concerts in the park for huge crowds and had steady gigs at the Odyssey, the Golden Falcon, and the Primo Show Bar.  We also played The Blind Pig and The Ark and placed first in an Ypsilanti Battle of the Bands.

     The band also recorded a 45 rpm single (Delighted / Rape and Plunder) at Morgan Sound Studios in Ann Arbor.  The session was engineered by Glenn Quackenbush, the organist for SRC, a popular Michigan band.  We followed the 45 with a full album of 15 original tunes including several written with Marquette native Russ Fure.  Les Bloom also contributed some great work on the project.  Forgotten and left on the shelf, the album is somewhat unfocused and experimental and features music in many different styles and genres.  It was recently (2019) released by Fervor Records.  It only took 45 years to get a record deal.  Individual cuts can be accessed on YouTube under Fervor Records / Walrus.  Unable to obtain the success of our Michigan contemporaries Bob Seger, MC5, Grand Funk, Iggy, Amboy Dukes, The Frost, and SRC, (along with some personal conflicts), Walrus disbanded in the summer of 1974.

     After a brief trip to California, I returned to Marquette and formed the band Punch with Bill. Don, Randy, and Jim remained in Ann Arbor and were involved in various musical projects including the jazz fusion group, Synergy, which also featured Les Bloom.  In May and June of 1976 Walrus reunited for a total of four weeks at Scarlett O’Hara’s in Marquette. Kim returned on bass and Randy moved back to guitar.  The band rehearsed in Big Bay and once again were best of friends, which showed in the music.  To me, that particular and final line up (Etten, French, Kuhli, McKelvy, Tessier), would never sound quite that good again.

     In 1977 I moved to L.A. and spent 8 years as the only white member of a 9 piece R&B/Disco show band called Love Chain. They were excellent musicians who were more advanced than me so I went to Santa Monica College for two years to study music so I could keep up with them.  I was recording, producing, songwriting, and working full time while trying to break into the music business.  In 1985, I returned to Michigan to manage Studio Eight Recording Studio in Ishpeming.  I went from R&B in South Central L.A. to the Country Tradition Band in Ishpeming, enjoying both worlds equally and happy that I was once again able to survive solely with music.

      Kuhli returned to Marquette from around 1977 until about 1983 when he moved back to Ann Arbor.  Randy remained in Ann Arbor, got married again, had a couple kids, continued his education and is currently teaching English at U of M.  He has continued to perform, record, and write music, and is a well known figure in the Ann Arbor music scene.  His band Fubar became a popular local band.  He also played bass for Michigan guitar hero George Bedard for many years and fronted a Joe Cocker Tribute band.  Kim has played music in Ann Arbor, Marquette, and Florida, where he was a member of Bounty Hunter, a popular southern rock band.  He is presently involved in several musical projects in Ann Arbor.  In 1994 Kuhli moved to San Diego where he continued his education and became a music teacher in the public school system.  Don, who is the most accomplished musician from Walrus, has been involved in symphonic work, musical theater, and big band jazz projects.  He was recently selected to be the drummer for a Louis Belson tribute concert at San Diego State.  Etten remained in Marquette where he has been involved in many musical projects including the bands ReEntry and Punch.  In the late 80’s he recorded a song at Studio Eight in Ishpeming which was released as a 45rpm record.  “We Go Green Bay” by Bill Etten and the Heritage Band became a regional hit in the U.P. and Wisconsin and can still be heard on the radio occasionally.  Bill still has a great voice and remains active in the local music scene.  He was recently inducted into the Marquette Music Scene Hall of Fame. He is also a retired State corrections officer.  I have performed with numerous groups on cruise ships and on the casino/dance hall circuit but in the last few years have developed a solo career as a keyboardist/guitarist/entertainer in Central Florida.  After more than 50 years all members of Walrus continue to be involved in various musical projects and are in touch with each other on a regular basis. Playing music with people creates a mysterious and unique bond..

      In 2000, Walrus held a reunion at The Village Pub and The Shamrock in Marquette.  2001 brought the first of 4 successful appearances at Up Front and Co. in Marquette (2001, 2005, 2006. 2007).  Ann Arbor keyboardist Andy Adamson joined the band for the 2005 gig. Marquette favorite Fast Eddie sat in with the band on harp for several of these gigs.

     In the summer of 2013 Walrus was invited to perform at HarborFest in Marquette.  This would be our farewell performance.  Once again, Fast Eddie sat in with the band and we also joined Tret Fure for a few tunes.  Good weather and a great turnout made the event a successful celebration for a group of talented Marquette-loving musicians and their loyal fans.  In true Walrus tradition the city police showed up to shut us down because of a noise curfew, but the show was already over.

     Walrus was a product of the time and I don’t believe anyone involved has any major regrets.  Like any band or family, there have been disagreements, and occasional personality clashes, but we were always united musically and the good memories far outweigh the not so good.  Walrus had their chance on the stage, and with a little more personal and musical maturity (and some luck), certainly had the potential to become a national act.  Growing older just reinforces the feeling that it was all a great experience and a really good time being young, confident, occasionally reckless, and creative, doing what we love.  Hopefully, we added some joy and a little spice to this crazy world.  Walrus sends love and thanks, to all their fans, friends, and fellow musicians, for all their support through the years.

    January 13, 2022  Our beloved brother in music Kim French passed away.  Randy posted my Thoughts, Feelings, and Reflections about Kim on the Walrus Facebook page.  Rest in peace Kim. We love you.


Top Piece Video – From the last official Walrus show at Marquette Harborfest . . .