Wilson McKinley interview with Mike Messer

July 6, 2011

Wilson McKinley interview with Mike Messer

I would like to thank you for taking your time for answering questions regarding your band. I’m really excited, because many details will be revealed thru this interview. My first question is about your childhood and teen years. Where did you grow up and what were some of the main influences you had back then?
I was born in Antigo Wisconsin and we moved to Winthrop Harbor, Illinois when I was a year old. My first memory of current rock ‘n roll music was around 1956 when Elvis Presley released “Hound Dog” and I would sing it over and over…it excited me. My parents listened to country music and I was heavily influenced by Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Brenda Lee and many others from that era. I pestered my Dad to get me a guitar from the time I was 5 years old and he finally relented when I was 9. He bought a Sears Roebuck Silvertone for $30.00 and it had thick strings a pretty high action but I didn’t care… I was so thrilled to finally get it. My dad showed me 3 chords (it was all he knew) and one of my Uncles taught me the “Boogie Woogie” and I was off and running! Lol!! I was on my own after that and relied on a Mel Bay instruction book to learn bar chords etc. We moved to Spokane Washington in 1960 when I was 10 and if I wasn’t in school I would be either bike riding or practicing. I beat that Silvertone silly and because the strings were so heavy the callouses on the ends of my fingers got so thick I had to clip them with fingernail clippers! I wanted an electric guitar so bad but my parents couldn’t afford it… so I would lay my ears on the side of that Silvertone when I played to get an “amplified” sound. By then Ricky Nelson was my favorite artist and James Burton was his lead guitarist. I had a paper route by then and I could at least buy my own records and I bought every 45 rpm that Ricky put out. I used my folk’s stereo and would slow the record down to 331/3 rpm to learn James Burton’s licks. By 1962 Mom took me to Sears and I got to pick out a “Les Paul” style Silvertone electric and a Silvertone amp. It had big flat wound strings on it but I was so used to the acoustic I didn’t know any different. In later years I read that James would use banjo strings for his higher strings so he could bend easier but I wasn’t smart enough to figure that out. I was just estatic that I finally had an electric axe. As the early 60s progressed I (like so many others) loved the Beach Boys for their awesome melodies and beautiful harmonies. I was in eighth grade and one day at school they played “She Loves You” over the intercom and I about jumped out of my skin! NEVER had I heard music so exciting and rich! The Beatles changed everything in music at that time and I was obsessed with their music. The problem for me was that they were so far over my head musically that I had the hardest time figuring out their sophisticated chord progressions. But it stretched me and that was a good thing. The Rolling Stones were a big influence also with their raw and gutsy style that appealed to the baser side of my nature. But speaking of raw and gutsy NOBODY did it like the Who and when their first album came out in 1965…I lived and breathed it! After the Stones and the Who…the Kinks shook me also and Ray Davies songwriting with his brother Dave’s blistering guitar work just sucked me in. But I loved all kinds of music…The Jefferson Airplane, Animals, Beau Brummels, Jimi Hendrix, Cream and a host of others. The 60s were the “golden age” of rock and there was so much originality that just flourished over the airwaves.
Before we start talking about Wilson McKinley I would like to ask you if you or other members were in any other bands? If so, do any releases exists?
When I was 16 I got to audition for the first band I was in called the Cavaliers which quickly got changed to The Beat Merchants and because the lead singer thought he was Mick Jagger reincarnate we became a mostly a Rolling Stones tribute band. We did have one original song based on a chord progression I had called “She’s A Teaser.” The lead singer (Dennis Miller) put lyrics to it and we went to the local recording studio and cut the song. It was the only thing we did and I have no idea where a copy would exist. After a couple years with that band I was asked to join a group called the City Council in early ’67. Fred Dennis was the lead singer and bass player…one of the most talented artists in Spokane at that time. We never wrote any original material and the band only lasted for 7 months when Fred was asked to join the Liverpool Five. Randy Wilcox was in a group called the Noblemen…VERY talented group. Their guitar player was Wayne Johnson and he went on to play with the Manhatten Transfer and is now a well known artist in his own right. If they had any recordings I never knew about it and Randy never mentioned it. Jim Bartlett was in a group called Sleepy John and I know they recorded quite a bit and I think their stuff might be available on the internet. Tom Slipp was in a band called The Electric Train and I don’t know of any recordings by them either.
When was Wilson McKinley born and how do you remember some of the early sessions you had? How did you guys meet and who are all of the members? How did you came up with the name Wilson McKinley?
In August of ’67 Randy and I were asked to join with two guys that were formerly known as the Panics. Dick Pratt (organ player) and Bill Suprak (drummer) had split from their lead guitarist Joe Shikany and Bass player Dave Johnstone. A few weeks before this split those guys were in a park stoned and trying to come up with a new name for their band. Dave was the one who came up with Wilson McKinley and I have no idea what inspired it but they all loved it and it stuck. I don’t even know if they did any gigs under the new name because shortly after Dick and Bill basically fired the other two and kept the name. Randy became their new bass player and I became what I called their rhythm guitarist. Dick was the the self appointed leader and saw himself as the main lead singer…even though Randy stood head and shoulders over him vocally. Dick was a huge Young Rascals and Vanilla Fudge fan and with his early 30s Hammond B3 pretty much ruled the sound of the group. Don’t get me wrong…this was a powerful version of the Wilson McKinley but it sure wasn’t my “cup of tea” musicwise. We practiced for 3 weeks and our first gig was a battle of the bands in Nelson, British Columbia. We were the only American band there and took several awards and won the the whole thing. We became very popular… very quickly and ganered a following all over the Northwest and Canada. In the summer of 1968 we decided to seek our fortunes in the Big Apple…New York City. Who came up with that hairbrained idea I can’t recall but we were going to pay our way there by doing clubs along the way. We wound up in Salt Lake City, Utah and started a stint at a club called the Crow’s Nest. After 2 nights we got busted for being underaged and subsequently got fired. Our manager was desperately trying to line up another gig and we wound up in Pocatello, Idaho playing for peanuts at a local bar. We scraped up enough money to make it to Los Angeles and plans changed since it was closer. We got there literally on our last bit of pocket change and parked in a gas station parking lot. The streets were loaded with hippies at that time and a couple of our guys met a generous young girl on Hollywood Blvd. that said we could crash at her Mom’s house. We lived there and went out on auditions for record companies hauling that blasted Hammond all over LA. I remember Apple Records was 3 fights of stairs up and we were stuck in a tiny room and played for one minute and then ushered out. We audtioned at a club called the Experience (next to the Whiskey A Go Go) to try and earn some money but didn’t get the gig. It was a tough time and we wound up going back to Spokane…Dick and Bill didn’t want to play and had wealthy parents so it wasn’t essential for them. Randy and I needed to keep things going so we took the name and put together a new version of the band. We went through several people…Steve Leinen (from the City Council I was in) drummed for a short time. A guy named Rich Hanes played rhythm briefly. We had another lead player named Jim Shack on a few gigs… Don Larson playing bass and sharing lead vocals. The other guys moved on and Don stuck but we needed a drummer and Tom Slipp was my first choice…so we called him in Tacoma WA and he agreed to drive over and join. This became the version of the band that strived for original material and with 3 of us writing all the time we soon had an abundance of new songs. We had all quit drugs and were living in an apartment in the basement of Don’s parent’s two story home. Their attic was our practice area and we rehearsed for several hours a day honing our original songs. Larry Freeman was our sound man and also had one of the first cassette tape machines that he used to record many of those sessions. I have precious few of those songs preserved on CD and Larry has them all but hasn’t responded to my request to send copies of his extensive collection. We were produced by two members of the Paul Revere And The Raiders group (Phil Volk and Drake Levin) in 1969 and released a single on our own that did ok locally but didn’t help our career much. In June of 1970 Randy went to an evangelistic meeting at Highbridge Park in Spokane and was converted dramatically to Christ. Tom and I followed suit and we gave up rock ‘n roll for good…we thought. Don wanted nothing to do with it and we disbanded. When the spiritual leader of this rag tag group of “hippies” found out we were musicians he wanted us to put a band together for more evangelistic meetings. So we agreed and that’s when we called Jim Bartlett in Lewiston Idaho…he was already a believer in a non believing band (Sleepy John) and quickly agreed to forsake all and join us.
What can you tell me about your first recordings on Alshire Records called California Poppy Pickers? How did you get in contact with them?
When Phil Volk and Drake Levin formed their new group The Brotherhood they were on tour and came to Spokane. Somebody told them about us and they wanted to check us out. We were recording demos at a studio called Womacks and they just showed up. They listened to what we were doing and said we had to come to LA to further our career and that they would help us get connected. We were financed by a promoter in Canada and went to LA where Drake and Phil lined up an apartment and studio time at Devonshire studios. They said they had made extra money by recording versions of current hits to sell on the budget market…this is what Alshire was doing and they were ready to put out another album under the California Poppy Pickers name. There never was such a group…just a few studio musicians cranking out songs for that market. We spent two days at Devonshire and did about 15 songs with Phil and Drake producing. They submitted the songs to Alshire and if I recall they used maybe 8 songs we did and two others already in their vaults. We were paid a flat fee of $3500.00 of which we gave 10% to Drake and Phil and about $1800.00 to the studio. The rest we put towards studio time to record our single. Done deal…no relationship with Alshire whatsoever after that.
After that you released a single on Rocking Chair Records. I would like if you could tell us more about it? Do you perhaps know how many copies were made?
I really can’t recall how many were pressed but our manager Eddie Wenrick was promoting the single as best he could. It was on the radio for a time in Spokane and wound up in about every juke box in town. After awhile only the reserved FM stations were playing it. The song on the flipside “When I See Her Smile” actually did very well in British Columbia but I don’t know what kind of sales were generated as I never kept up on that end of things. “Blues Go Home” was not representative of the band and should never have been a first release. It was an album cut at best.
Around this time you also worked in a project called Bread and Butter, what can you tell us about it? Do any tapes exists?
“Bread and Butter” was something that was created at a cabin deep in the woods over a couple of days and was performed once on stage. I think Larry Freeman recorded the rehearsal of it in it’s very raw form and we never intended to release it. I think Don Larson and Larry are the only ones who have a copy of it. It got a very dramatic response when we performed it as a mini rock opera at Shadle Park auditorium. We were playing mostly weekend dances and it never became a part of our set list because there was no way anyone could dance to it. Lol!!
One of the major records offered you a deal, what happened?
We were offered a deal from A&M records but turned that down because it wasn’t a good contract…in late ’69. In early ’70 another company (can’t remember who) offered a pretty good deal but said we couldn’t sing about God…we declined that one too. Some time in June or July our former Manager or booking agents (I don’t know which) got a call from Columbia and they said they had been following our career for quite some time. They were offering $150,000 up front and $300,000 in promotion money along with flying us down to do two albums worth of songs. The kicker was at this point we were no longer a secular band and were living a spartan existence devoting our lives to singing and preaching the gospel. Randy, Tom and I didn’t find out about the offer until a month or so later…and we had no interest in being in the music business anyway. Nothing came of it and I’m sure there are a lot of people who think we were crazy!
What happened next? You released your first album called On Stage.
On Stage was done without our knowledge of it even being recorded on one of our outreach trips in Vancouver, British Columbia. We were a very loose band at this point…barely had enough songs and not very well rehearsed. We had extra guys singing and playing with us. A tall brother formerly of the Black Panthers named Lou Saint Cyr playing congas. Don Parks (brother of our leader Carl) playing steel guitar and Bruce Schlettert singing backup. After the outreach we came home and carl asked us to come to his brothers house and we sat in his livingroom as he played this tape we nothing about. We were horrified to say the least when Carl said this was going to be an album. We begged him not to put it out but he did anyway because the ministry needed to generate an income. They acquired a bunch of pie boxes and made them into album covers with a “one way” finger in the corner. Later on it was changed to an artist’s rendition of our faces that Tom Slipp did and looked a little nicer. The ministry lived off the sales of that album for the first year but boy did we ever get some complaints about the listening quality. There was genuine enthusiasm on there though…I’ll give it that.
Spirit of Elijah was your next release and it’s the most known. I have been enjoying this album for a very long time now. I would like if you could tell me what do you recall from recording and producing it?
Spirit Of Elijah was another project with no producer and was done in a hurried fashion in an all night recording session…live in a small livingroom of a very small house we used for rehearsal called the “House Of David.” Carl Parks said we needed another album and it had to be done quickly so we asked an acquaintance of ours…Terry Sheets to bring his Teac 4 track recorder over and he set up some PA mikes and we just started playing…from about 8p.m. to 4a.m. We were singing way past the point of maintaining quality vocal performance. There were no overdubs or corrections of some pretty bad mistakes (from being so tired) and it was all left in there and sent to a company to press. (Rite records) They decided that one whole side needed reverb…so it got drenched in it and the other side was left “dry.” Once again we were appalled that this was going out to the public for sale. If you knew Randy and what a perfectionist he is…let’s just say to this day he wouldn’t admit to being a part of it if he didn’t have to. Lol!! And then after all these years hearing people say what a classic it is…go figure! So…no producer or record company involved.
A year later you released another LP called Heaven’s Gonna Be A Blast!
Sometime in 1972 Carl actually said we had $500.00 for an album project. Wow! Can you imagine the pressure of using a studio for $35.00 an hour and doing a whole album? Well..we went to Sound Recording Co. run by a sweet lady named Irene that had no idea how to set up for a rock band. We were on our own setting up mikes on everything. Irene ran the tape machine while we ran through the songs and actually did some vocal doubling. But when it came time to mix it she said we were on our own. Now we all had good ears for balance and Randy especially did…so our mix was pretty good but when it got sent to Rite Records to press…it got fouled up so bad it was virtually unlistenable. We nicknamed them WRONG Records… but apparently they were the cheapest and you get what you pay for. “Heaven’s Gonna Be A Blast” had some good songs on it and it wasn’t recorded that bad but “Rite” Records ruined everything we sent them. Tim Smith at Tanignak has done a good job fixing these recordings and they are far more listenable than before. The last report I heard on sales of these albums sometime in the late 70s was 70,000 units sold.
Country in the Sky was your last release on cassette…Would you mind telling me more about this project? Same goes for Yesterday/Forever. 
Country In The Sky was recorded at the “ranch” where we had 250 acres and some original buildings on the property including a root cellar. Above that was a small structure we turned into a studio. We invested some money into a Teac 3340 S… 4 track machine. Carl Parks decided that it was time for us to break away from our rock influenced music and do something mellow and more palatable for older ears. He wanted to produce it so it would come out more to his liking. He didn’t think much of our style of music and our poorly trained voices. So…we had submitted to rigorous voice exercises and breathing techniques to make us better singers… under his direction. We started making song selections…some were previous songs that we did in a more rock ballad style like “I’m In Love With Someone” that we lowered the key on. Jimmy could sing in a very high register and that song originally sounded like Aretha Franklin singing it. It was Jimmy’s natural style but Carl wanted him to lower his voice to a ridiculous level and poor Jim was having a terrible time getting a good take. Carl wound up yelling and screaming at him until he was in tears but he finally managed to get through it. We had to slow things down to what I thought was a boring level. Again… Carl wanted something that would appeal to the older generation…but why? Our calling was to the YOUNGER generation and doing this album was like taking fish out of water. We managed to get through it and there are some pretty songs on that album but it didn’t reflect who we were. It was Carl’s idea of us needing to diversify…and it quite frankly didn’t do well and never accomplished what Carl was going after. Nice mellow album but I didn’t feel inspired doing it and I’m reasonably certain the other guys didn’t either. We wanted to keep doing what we felt God had appointed us to do…only better than the 3 previous releases. That didn’t happen as we allowed Carl to have too much control over us. Yesterday/Forever was beyond ridiculous…as if Country In The Sky wasn’t bad enough…Now Carl wanted an instrumental album of hymns. At this point we were supposed to relate to the 70 and over group. This was a joke and we all knew it but we had let Carl have his way and none of us had the guts to stand up and say…ENOUGH! Doing this album (and I use that term loosely) was like taking a hammer and beating yourself over the head…not to mention downright embarrassing. And I’m not putting down all the beautiful hymns that have been written…just us TRYING to fit into that style was wrong. After that project the tape machine just sat there and we never did another album.
Is there any unreleased material available?
Tim Smith has a large catalog of unreleased material that will come out later if finances permit. The original masters for all three albums were in the possession of one of the original group. Greg Beumer had them stored in his basement thankfully and they were well preserved. So he sent them to Tim for re-mixing and the “cleaned’ up versions are what’s on the double CD “Now I’m A Jesus Freak.” There were also some reel to reel tapes that Mike Sheets had from recording us at the I Am Coffeehouse and Gonzaga University in Spokane. They were in good shape too and have a fairly good quality sound. A guy named Jim Zehm recorded us in 1971 at a club called “Moby” in Cour d’ Alene Idaho. He has been doing extensive work on balancing and cleaning up one of the most dynamic concerts I’ve heard of us. His dream has been to release it in it’s complete form and is very close to finishing it.
You played a lot live shows and festivals. I would like if you could tell us which ones and I would also like if you could share some interesting experiences you had from back then?
Most of what we did involved our “Highway Missionaries” going into a town and handing out flyers announcing a Wilson McKinley concert. Sometimes they would get some radio airtime to advertise and some stations actually played songs off our albums. We then either rented a grange hall or set up in a park to play and usually attracted pretty decent sized crowds that always got into what we were doing. We introduced Jesus to a lot of people that way.
We did a tour of prisons in Washington that was interesting. After setting up our gear in maximum security at Walla Walla…we played a rousing set for the prisoners. Afterwards I was sitting with one of the inmates thinking I could relate to him with the gospel somehow. I asked him what he was in for and he replied, “I killed my Mother.” I choked a little bit but tried to share the love Jesus had for him anyway.
We did a lot of high schools where by that time it was illegal to pray, preach or read a Bible in. We didn’t care and would do our Jesus rock thing and then lead kids to the Lord. Some years back I was doing some work on a friend’s house and a lady from two houses down came over and exclaimed, “Your Mike Messer aren’t you?” I said I was and she went on to tell me that 25 years earlier we had played at her high school and she met Jesus at that concert… when she was 15. She had a street ministry helping homeless people and thanked me for being at her school when we were. Heck…I thanked her for still being faithful and doing what she was doing! Just blessed the socks off of me after all those years.
Yeah…we played some festivals…one was at Stanford University with a group called Mustard Seed Faith and others I don’t recall the names of… in an open ampitheater. The most memorable thing that happened there was some girl took her top off while we were rockin’ out. We wanted our music to have an impact but not like that! Lol!! Southern California had not heard our style of Jesus Rock and we were kind of overwhelming for a lot of those types of Christian events. We played at Berkeley University with a mellow group called Noah…they played first and we followed with our loud rock songs. Afterwards they wouldn’t even talk to us…I think they thought we were sent from the devil! Lol!! There was a festival in Salem, Oregon that drew 10,000 people but I don’t have any memory of anything eventful. Jesus ’77 in the Morgantown, PA area was pretty big…over 30,000. We did 5 songs on the live PTL program with Jim and Tammi Baker…Jim preached after we played and asked people to bring all their cult books, porno magazines, pot, various drugs,cigarettes and whatever to the front of the stage to burn in a bonfire for the following night. This is a Jesus festival mind you and the next night there was a pile of books, magazines, cartons of cigarettes and what looked like lids of pot in plastic bags that was about five feet high and ten feet in circumference! It was quite the dramatic affair as they ceremoniously torched this stuff and people were going nuts in celebration.
We played a show with Andrae Crouch in Seattle in 1970 and at that time he was one of the more popular contemporary Christian artists. He just really liked our band a lot and wanted to get us signed to his label but we declined to stay with our group. Between his black gospel style and our rock style it just made for one of the most powerful gigs we ever did. Lots of kids came to Christ there.
One story I have is a festival we never made it to. We had played the I Am coffeehouse on a Saturday night and left afterwards to drive to someplace in Oregon past the Dalles. We had an old Greyhound bus and a bunch of us loaded in. A guy that was standing in front of the coffeehouse asked to hitch a ride and we said get in. About 10 miles from the Dalles our bus broke down and Carl hitched his way into town to find a mechanic…on the 4th of July! We were sitting in the bus waiting and I’m sitting next to the hitch hiker when one of the guys mentioned it was lunch time and it looked like we were going to go hungry. It wasn’t but a few minutes later that a Volkswagon mini bus pulled over behind us because the cloth awning came loose and was flapping in the wind. One of our guys (Mike Clark) jumped out to find a little old lady trying to fix it. So he helped her tie it back down and she thanked him.
He said, “Praise the Lord…your welcome!”
“Your a Christain?” She asked. Mike said yes…there was a busload of us waiting for a mechanic. She asked if we were hungry and he said we were. Well..she had a bunch of food that a church gave her after their potluck that she didn’t need and Mike started hauling it all in the bus. Of course we were all just amazed at the Lord’s timing and provision to receive this kind of miracle out on a lonely stretch of highway. The last thing Mike brought in was a birthday cake. He held it up and said that it must be someone’s birthday or Jesus wouldn’t have included it.
“Who’s birthday is it?” he asked.
I could see the guy next to me squirming in his seat as he slowly raised his hand to affirm that it was HIS birthday.
Mike walked to where we were seated and handed it to him and said,
One of the coolest moments I ever witnessed. We got the bus fixed by a kind mechanic and arrived at the festival just as it was ending. Apparently the hitch hiker was more important than us playing at a festival. 🙂
You were probably one of the first Jesus Rock bands. Did you perhaps ever heard of a band called Earthen Vessel?
I certainly remember the name but I am not familiar with their music…that’s great that you found them for an interview.
What can you tell me about your songwriting…what does inspire you to write songs?
Songwriting has been something I have been trying to learn since I was 16 and I wish I could say I have it figured out. There are writers in Nashville that can crank out hits and work at it for so many hours in a day…like a job. They know the “hooks” and can formulate “ear candy” very skillfully. I’m not criticizing that because that’s what the Beatles did early on and it sells records. They were brilliant songwriters and I wish I had that ability because if I did… maybe I could support myself with it. We wrote some good songs in the band and if they had been produced properly could have done something maybe. Before we were believers…we wrote from what affected us… whether it was about love or love lost…getting burned by somebody or making a statement of some kind that affects us socially. Coming to Christ and having your life so powerfully changed spawned all kinds of songs… as all of our recordings prove. We were young children in Jesus and had all that enthusiasm…it all came out as we expressed ourselves in those tunes.
I still write all the time but now it’s tempered with the complexities of life and surviving different levels of trials. Pain is a good impetus for writing and the trick is to not make it so depressing that people won’t want to listen to it. There has to be some hope in there to resolve what it is your going through. I can’t write like I did in the band when I was young…I’ve been through too much and it wouldn’t be honest. If you read some of the Psalms in the Bible… the writers are in a place of torment just crying out to God for deliverance. There’s a reason for this being recorded because it gives us someone to relate to so we don’t feel like we’re the only ones going through the heartbreak. My songwriting sometimes reflects this and I’ve been criticized for it. Most people want to hear the pop, feel good stuff that gets them all hopped up and there’s a place for that but it’s not always honest. Let’s face it…most people are faking it with the smiley face “everything is groovy” facade. There are people out there hurting like hell and when someone writes an honest song about going through the same thing…it comforts that poor hurting soul. It’s worth it to me when I get letters and emails from afflicted people who tell me how much my songs have comforted and blessed them. I have written many “hit” songs and they have all sold UNDER a million copies! 😉
What happened next?
After the property was acquired that I referred to as “the ranch” in 1973 we spent more time developing that than we did going out to do outreaches and performances. Carl had us convinced that building the facilities we needed as a home base would be our “Noah’s Ark” in the coming time of tribulation. Everyone in volved in the ministry including those of us in the band were put to work. We built a road from one end of the property 1/2 mile up the hill to sections designated for offices, meeting hall, print shop and some cabins above those buildings. We did everything by hand with picks, shovels and wheelbarrows…collecting rocks from the hillsides for foundations and shoring up the road as it wound it’s way uphill. We set up our own sawmill and collected logs from surrounding ranchers who were clearing their land and a big sawmill that discarded shorter sections of logs. I ran our makeshift operation cutting logs into slabs and we had a table saw set up for trimming the slabs into lumber for framing the buidings.
There was a crew of guys digging 3 to 4 feet deep trenches for water pipe with picks and shovels through rocky soil and solid granite in some places. These trenches ran from the entry of the bottom land up to the top of our “mountain” to a reservoir that was cut out of solid granite with picks and chisels. The trenches then were dug down the other side to the office and other buidings. That summer of ’73 was one of the hottest on record and we were working 14 hours a day. There was no time for music or ministry for quite awhile as we labored to build our “Noah’s Ark.”
Throughout the mid to late 70s we played only occasionally…going out on the road once or twice a year for short periods. Most of our time was spent working on the ranch until late 1979 when things fell apart and Carl lost his control over us. By that time we had no desire to keep the band going…Tom had left in 1978 and we had a new drummer (Barney Dasovich) but it was winding down and we all went our separate ways. One final concert was done before it ended and Greg Beumer had a small cassette player and caught the whole thing on tape. The music was as strong and vital as ever and the events that took place afterwards that caused the final demise of the band and that ministry is a nightmare I don’t even want to talk about. Heartbreaking to say the least.
Randy and Tom joined a bar band called Hot Spice and Jimmy toured with another band up in Canada (Don’t know the name) where he met his wife to be (Hilda) and they live in the Portland, Oregon area and work together as drywall contractors. He hasn’t done anything musically for a long time. Tom quit drumming over 25 years ago and last I knew was a weldor in the big ships built in Bremerton, Washington. Randy stayed with Hot Spice until 1985 and then got a job in a cabinet shop and later as a manager for a roofing and siding outfit. Currently works as a supervisor for an old folks facility for their maintainence department. He still plays out with his current band in small venues around Spokane. He released his solo CD called a “Closer Look” some years back and did a great job of it. I became a painting contractor and led worship music for Calvary Chapel in Spokane for awhile. In 1988 I moved my family to Lake Havasu City, Arizona and continued painting houses. Led music in church for a time and built my own studio where I write and record my own music doing all the instruments and vocals. I put out a solo CD called “Good Ol Days” in 1999 but haven’t officially released anything since. I just burn CDs off my board and send them out to people…not professional I know but I can custom make a CD for certain needs for people from the catalog of songs I have recorded and not have to order several hundred at a time. That’s the update in a nutshell.
You released new double CD…Would you like to tell us more about it?
As I said earlier…Tim Smith with Tanignak Productions worked with all the old masters of our albums and they came out great. Much easier to listen to and a lot less cringing on my part having a lot of those mistakes corrected. Hopefully listeners will get a better impression of what we tried to do with what little we had to work with. The other CD is a collection of mostly live cuts from different times and places we performed. Very raw but you get the energy of the band live and there are some good songs on there. The two studio cuts that Tim included are the Staple Singer’s “Ya Don’t Knock” and a rendition of a praise song we used to do at meetings called “Ain’t That Good News.” These were recorded at Eastern State University in 1976 I believe… at their student’s training studio for engineering. I think Greg Beumer was the one who set up the studio time and it was one of the best recording sessions we ever had. Our arrangement of “Ya Don’t Knock” just really kicks some royal booty! (In my humble opinion) 😉 Anyway…the whole thing came out nicely and Tim did a great job with it.
Can we expect vinyl reissue of your albums?
Tim Smith has talked about doing that since “Spirit Of Elijah” was bootlegged by a company out of Spain who released a vinyl copies of it. But not much has said about it lately…so we’ll see.
Thank you. Last word is yours.
What a privilege it was to forsake our goal of success in the music industry to dedicate ourselves to God’s work of spreading the good news of the saving grace of Christ. To hear of young people like yourself Klemen who have been inspired and blessed by the music God blessed us with… is all the reward I could hope to have. Fame, fortune and the idol worship of musicians is a fleeting vapor…empty and worthless in the light of our Heavenly Father’s presence. All good things come from him and the most beautiful and inspirational music is a gift from Him. Those of us in the Wilson McKinley had an incredible honor to receive and give out freely what God in His mercy freely gave us. I will never forget or regret one moment that I spent with my brothers in arms for that brief time sharing the precious love of Jesus through music. I miss them terribly and like having only one true love in your life…nothing has even come close to what we had. I was honored to serve with Randy, Jim and Tom…three of the most beautiful brothers anyone could know. Thanks Klemen for this opportunity to share and tell the story…warts and all.
* I would like to thank to Timothy Smith for providing many rare unseen photos of Wilson McKinley. He has a great website called tanignak.
I would also like to say great thanks to Mike Messer for providing so many great information about his band.
Thank you again for your contribution for making this interview happen
– Klemen Breznikar
  1. Lyndell

    Mike is one of the most outstanding people on the planet. He lives with an incredible tenacity and has more integrity than most people have in their little finger.
    After Mike went through brain surgery and almost lost his life, everything changed: his health, his ability to work, his sleep (or lack of) and many other things most people take for granite. He lives each day looking for opportunity and still blessing people even though he himself is in personal need in almost every way.
    It is an honor to know him....thank you Mike, for giving your life to others.

  2. Lyndell

    Mike is an incredible guy...he walks with more integrity than most people have in their little toe. Even though he almost lost his life with the brain tumor, he still blesses people. He doesn't tell about it so much, or how it affected their family. It changed every aspect of his life; his health, his sleep, his endurance, his ability to make a living, and so many things we all take for granite. Life has become a struggle for them in many ways. It is a challenge everyday for him, yet he still blesses others whenever he can.
    It is a priviledge to know a man of God who really lives out his life with such commitment. I'm so glad I know him.

  3. Anonymous

    Klemen, thank you so much for giving Mike this voice again. I was at the I-AM Coffeehouse in 1971and hearing this interview brings back the genuine love and hope of the love of God, thank you Sandy in Spokane.

  4. Kevin Rippley

    mike and i have had many a conversation whether on his patio,on the phone or in his living room face to face he has the gift of conveying his feelings,and showing you the parts of his heart that mean so much to him. This translates to his God-given gift of encouraging and blessing the reader and the listener. Thanks for being my pal. Thanks for being able to experience a friendship that has been a blessing to both of us. Talk to you soon. Your brother, Kevin

  5. Islandgirl

    I was blessed to hear Wilson-McKinley in 1970 when they played with Andre Crouch...I think that it may have been at the Paramount, or maybe the Moore...It was electric!

  6. Michaeldc110

    It was so good to read a recent communication from Michael. We have lost contact over the years and I will always love him as a brother.
    I was the roadie for the W-M band from late 1970 to mid 1976 and experienced many of the things he spoke of in this interview. I was the guy that was behind the bands bus that day when it was broke down along the Columbia River and that lady gave us all that food and the birthday cake. Talk about a faith building experience!
    Island Girl, the gig with Andre Crouch was at the Moore Theater in Seattle. I was also there for that one.
    Sandy in Spokane, I helped convert that building at Main and Brown into the I Am coffee house and spent about twenty hours a week down there after that. I never missed a single W-M performance in that place that I can remember. We might have met back then. :-)
    Kevin, if you make contact with Mike again, tell him I still love him like a brother.

    Michael Clark
    Coeur d' Alene, ID

  7. Ed Wright

    Man that Brought back memories.I was in the JPA inthose early 70's day,and lived at the House of Gideon.We'd go downtown and witness on the street corners and then stop in at the "I AM" and listen to the band for awhile...guess a lotta kids went to listen,but for the band, it was all about blessing them with Jesus! God bless you guys you did and are still doin good!302

  8. mayeeden

    I remember Wilson McKinley and I went to the I AM coffee house a few times. I was into harder rock than what they played but it was just fun seeing a live band play. I later became acquainted with Mike Messer through some friends and attended a church where he helped lead worship. I also knew the original bass player Don Larsen who left the band when they went "Jesus Freak". I was just learning to play guitar so live bands were very inspirational. I went on to play in some bands later, the most notable was Mondo Bando in Seattle.
    Several years ago, I met Carl Parks daughter and we traveled up north of Spokane to the old property where the Jesus people movement began in the Spokane area. We had a personal tour of the property and went through the old house and small buildings. It is in ruins now but there are still a few landmarks left standing on the property. She told us many stories of those early Jesus People days and much about the Wilson McKinley. She was just a teenager when all of this was going on.
    During those times in the very early 1970's, there were Jesus people on every corner in downtown Spokane just waiting to approach you with bible tracts and self published newspapers called the Truth if I remember correctly.
    Just yesterday morning, I was fortunate enough to find 2 Wilson McKinley LP's at a garage sale for a dime each. They are in awesome condition and first pressings of the Live Vancouver - Jesus People Army with pie box cover and hand stamped stenciled title and Heaven's gonna be a Blast.
    I have been listening to Spirit of Elijah while writing this. YHWH Bless.

  9. Jennifer

    -I used to go to the IAM a lot. I went to some of the bible studies and spent Saturday nights listening to the Wilson McKinley. I loved the vibe and even though I no longer follow that path, my memories of the time are some of the best I have. I gave Randy, I believe, his first mountain Dulcimer. Never regretted that decision. Angel Song is still one of my favorites.

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