The Thunderbirds are a standout as an Iowa “working road band” from the mid 1960’s. They later became known as one of the bands that helped to "keep the music alive" in more recent years. The band had its roots in Southern Iowa, originally formed by brothers Stan and Steve Brown of Lenox. Their cousin Roger Brown was added as a drummer in order to participate in a Bill Riley talent show in 1961, where they were announced as The Brown Brothers. They took on the name Midnight Specials after the Johnny Rivers song they performed at the show, and soon began playing at local venues. The band became the Thunderbirds when they added another Lenox local and noted guitar instructor, Dean Harper.Dean came from a long line of Iowa musicians on his mother’s side of the family. His prior band experience included work with Jack Mills and the Milltones of Creston, the Stragglers out of Corning and many other jazz, country and Rock&Roll groups dating back to the 50’s. Carl Adams out of Burlington, a college roommate of Stan’s and a veteran of several 60’s garage bands from the Burlington area was soon added, bringing the band to it’s full complement of five players. The Thunderbirds then consisted of Stan Brown, who played bass; Steve Brown, who moved between guitar, keyboard and harmonica; drummer Roger Brown; Dean Harper, who played lead guitar, and Carl Adams, who played rhythm guitar. Stan & Steve Brown grew up singing together in harmony and their harmony blend and the fact that all band members sang, contributed to the strong vocal mix that distinguished the band.In 1965, and the spring of 1966, Steve Brown composed two songs; “Hey Little Girl” and “Those Days are Gone”, based on the personal experience of lost loves while in high school. The Thunderbirds recorded the songs at the Sears Recording Studio in Omaha in December of 1966, and a 45rpm single was released on Libra Records in January of 1967. Throughout the mid-60's, booking out of Lenox, the Thunderbirds consistently played two to three nights a week at venues across Central and Southern Iowa, Eastern Kansas and Nebraska, Northern Missouri and Western Illinois. Stops consisted of skate lands, high school gyms, National Guard armories, bars, teen clubs and ballrooms throughout their circuit, as well as fraternity and sorority events at ISU in Ames. The Creston Teen Center was a regular stop. Highlights included repeat performances and a Battle of the Bands against Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs at the Val Air ballroom in West Des Moines, a Battle against Question Mark and the Mysterians, and many weekend appearances as the house band at the Club Two and ½ in Palmyra, Missouri. Along with their strong vocals, the Thunderbirds used a Farfisa keyboard and great Fender and Gibson equipment to produce a driving, danceable beat. They covered most of the popular songs of the era and performed their music in blocks of four to five songs (which the band identified as “show times”), with drum bridges between songs. The band had great stage discipline with choreography and lighting adding to their presentation. Their objective was to keep the crowds on their feet at all times. They towed their equipment and announced their presence in journeys across Iowa’s highway‘s via a self-made band trailer that sported their motto, “Danger Explosive Sounds” across the back. The band broke up in 1968 when 4 of the 5 members headed for the military. Unlike many bands of the era, over the next 38 years, they never reunited or participated in R&R revival shows, (although the Brown brothers were occasionally spotted over the years at karaoke venues in Southern Iowa). After these 38 years apart however, the band discovered in 2004 that the Thunderbirds and their 45rpm release of Steve’s song “Hey Little Girl” had an international following. The renewed popularity of 1960’s “garage band” music resurfaced the band and their record. Their 1967 record is now on play lists all over the world and has been voted by collectors as one of the best and most collectable 45’s recorded in the decade of the 1960’s. As a result, in late 2004 the Thunderbirds band reformed with three of the original (Stan, Steve and Carl) and two new members. The IRRMA 2006 Hall of Fame Induction Performance marked the official launch of the newly reconstituted Thunderbirds, and their 1st appearance as a band in almost 40 years. The new Thunderbirds began appearing at venues throughout Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Missouri.
The band played frequently over the next several years, appearing at many of the same venues in which they appeared 40 years earlier. Along the way they produced a CD - "2nd Time Around", which can be acquired by contacting them at firstname.lastname@example.org. The band has ended their 2nd time around. It seemed 60's music was going back out of style again, and like many of their fellow 60's revival bands from the old days, they closed up shop. (Also - 60's music referred to the ages of the band members as much as the music itself!)
Long live Rock&Roll!
Note: Dean Harper, founding member of The Thunderbirds, passed away March 25th, 2011. Click HERE for information.
Click Here to review the Thunderbirds CD - "2nd Time Around".