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Thundertree interview with Billy Hallquist

Gerry Magee, Jeff Shapiro, Rick LiaBraaten, Billy Hallquist, Terry Tilley
Undetermined venue (1970) "16 Tons"


There is not much known about Thundertree, so I think the best way to begin this interview is to tell us where did you grew up and what are some early influences?

I was born in Sioux Falls SD and moved to Minneapolis when I was 12.
Rick LiaBraaten is from Minneapolis. John Miessen, Dave Linder and Bob Blank all grew up in St. Paul. I'm pretty sure Dervin was from North Dakota. Terry Tilley is from Bloomington MN. Jeff Shapiro from St. Louis Park MN. Gerry Magee was from a Mpls. suburb. Mike Mackey (?).

I was 15 when I got my first guitar (from Montgomery Wards). My cousin taught me to play "Peter Gun" and "What'd I Say" by Ray Charles.
After seeing The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, I wanted to be in a band. (Like millions of other boys all over the world. I loved all of the British Invasion bands (The Beatles, Stones, Yardbirds, Hollies, Kinks, Herman's Hermits plus The Beach Boys, Elvis, Bobby Vee, Roy Orbison......) Originally, my goal was to be in an instrumental band like The Ventures.

Were you part of any bands before your solo albums? Anything released?

Four friends and I were going to start a band. But, since The Beatles were a quartet with two guitars, they thought a band couldn't have three guitars and decided not to let me in. My friend Al Sterner approached me about starting a band with him. Our mutual friend Rick LiaBraaten wanted to learn how to play drums and another friend Bob Christensen was talked into buying a bass (He played trumpet in the school band and could play piano). Since I had been playing guitar four weeks and Al two, I was lead. Al was rhythm. (This meant I strummed chords with a treble emphasis and Al with more bass emphasis. Bob picked up what he could on bass and Rick was good from day 1. We chose the name The Agressors. Somewhere along the line we became The Transgressors before our first gig.

We played school and church dances, recreation centers and a rental hall at a fire station called The Fire Barn. Our one foray into a legitimate dance hall was a disaster. The other band (It was a Battle of the Bands) had professional equipment and a p.a. Al and I shared a Silvertone amp. Bob's Fender Bassman blew a fuse and he either didn't play or he shared a channel with Al or me. Our p.a. consisted of my tiny Airline amp with a (cheap) mic in each input. To minimize feedback, we placed the amp in front of the band. We lost.

Bob showed up at rehearsal one day with a Farfisa organ and notified us he was through trying to learn to play bass. The few remaining gigs we did featured Lee Crawford or Al's brother Leon playing bass. Bob accepted an offer to play in another group, The Calvadas, and The Transgressors ceased to exist.

Lee Crawford invited Rick to join his band. Eventually, I started sitting in and was either invited to join or invited myself. The Other Guys consisted of Bruce Carlson, Ron Liljedahl, Lee Crawford and Rick. When I listened to them rehearse, I was blown away. They were doing "If I Needed Someone" with 4 part harmony. Ron played an Epiphone 12 string. Ron, Bruce and Lee took turns playing bass. All three could also play lead. When I joined, we had 5 vocalists, 4 lead guitars and 3 bass players. (They even let me play bass on "Boom Boom Boom" by The Animals.) We did Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Spencer Davis (sans organ), James Brown and a couple of Ron originals, plus typical Top 40/R&B stuff.

Bruce eventually tired of playing. We replaced him with Gary Disch on organ and added Mike Creighton as a vocalist/front man. He was every bit as enigmatic and cool as Jim Morrison would become years later. We played the
typical college fraternities, high school dances and, of course, The Fire Barn. I do not recall why The Other Guys broke up. But, it did. We had plans to go to Chicago and record Ron's songs. Never got around to it. I retired (at 17).

Tell us about the Thundertree start? How did you met? You were from Minneapolis.

Rick answered an ad and joined up with Bob Blank, John Miessen and Dave Linder in a Christian Rock band (before anyone had ever heard of Christian Rock) called Good Idea. I started hanging around as a roadie and eventually ran their light show (designed and built by John Miessen.) I became the 5th quasi member and would be introduced as "Light Man". In order to play clubs, Good Idea covered Beatles, Hollies, Left Banke, Donovan, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors ..... Bob played sax and sang (ala Gary Puckett). Dave played lead and sang, Rick was on drums/vocal. John had a Hohner piano atop a Farfisa organ and played bass notes with his feet or left hand (sometimes all at once, while singing). At some point, they made a trip to Chicago and recorded a single at Checker/Chess studio. "Inside/Outside" bw "Patterns In Logic". It was never commercially released.

John was working as a hospital orderly, going to college and playing in a band. As part of his music class and influenced by his church involvement, he wrote an extended suite (Rock Opera) based on the Christmas Story (12/25). Good Idea went into UA Studios in Minneapolis. Over a period of weeks they completed the recording. I attended the sessions but do not recall participating (except maybe on the group chorus at the end). John wrote the music, Bob provided lyrics.

Dave wanted to devote full attention to college and left the band. I took his place. After a few gigs, Good Idea called it quits. There were probably some personal tensions that contributed to this.

John, Rick and I continued without Bob and commenced working on a followup to "12/25". "Summertime Children" was to be another long form, multi movement piece. John played keyboards and bass parts and sang. I played guitar and sang. Rick on drums and vocal. We were sorta like The Doors without Jim Morrison. We called ourselves "Final Assembly".

We stayed in touch with Bob. The topic of him rejoining us came up. He agreed to do so with one condition. He insisted on adding a bass player. Terry Tilley and Bob Blank joined us. We took on the name Thundertre. (1 e)

"Summertime Children" never came together. We began writing as a group and came up with "Head Embers", "At the Top of the Stairs" "Dusty Road" and "In the Morning". Bob provided melody and lyrics. Everyone else came up with their own parts. One of the movements to "Summertime Children" survived (Though I don't think we ever performed it live). I sang lead on that song. There was another song entitled "I'm a Cripple (Reverend Lane)" that I recall was a song Bob had come up with during our break.

You got signed up by Roulette Records and soon you started recording your LP. Would you like to share memories from recording it?

At some point, John made a trip to New York with the "12/25" master and landed a record deal with Morris Levy at Roulette Records. (Please read Tommy James' book "The Mob, The Music and Me. The Roulette Records story is fascinating.) Roulette wasn't sold on the Christian Rock aspect. With minor remixing, a short scripture like portion was removed and we were on our way. Roulette agreed to allow us to complete the album with 5 individual songs rather than 1 long form "Summertime Children".

Thundertree polished the remaining songs and prepared to reenter UA on a Monday morning with Bob Schultz engineering to complete the album. On the night before entering the studio, Thundertree played a local club. Our manager/agent showed up with someone from Tetragrammaton Records. We were flattered.

The following morning, while at the studio setting up, Bob called to let us know that he had gone out for coffee with the agent and his guest after the gig and he had been offered a writing/artist development deal and would not be moving forward with the album. We were blindsided but committed to delivering an album.

John had been designated as Producer. His first reaction was to declare me new lead vocalist. I suggested we look for a replacement for Bob and I would assume that role only if absolutely necessary.

On Monday, we recorded basic tracks for every song but "Cripple" which Bob wanted to take with him. That night we put out a call for vocalists. John went to work rewriting Bob's lyrics and melodies. On Tuesday, we finished basic tracks. That night, we auditioned singers. John kept rewriting. On Wednesday, I did my "Summertime Children" vocal and we overdubbed solos etc. John kept asking me to get ready. Wednesday night we auditioned Dervin Wallin and asked him to join us. Thursday, we took Dervin into the studio. Taught him the songs. John finished the lyrics and all remaining vocals were completed.

Friday morning we drove to Sioux Falls SD and opened for The Box Tops with Dervin. Saturday night, we returned home and did a 4 hour club gig without any rehearsal. As I recall, we probably never sounded better.Following that whirlwind weekend, we returned to UA and completed mixing the album.

Dervin soon left the band to join The Litter. Jeff Shapiro took his place. We replaced John with Gerry Magee but he stayed on as producer until Roulette decided not to pick up the option for a 2nd album.

I was let go and replaced by Mike Mackey.

Mike, Jeff, Gerry, Terry and Rick did our arrangement of "16 Tons" on the Gathering at The Depot album.

Was there also a single out?

I am not aware that a single was ever released. I did not learn until many years later that Roulette released Thundertree in Europe on the Vogue label.

What can you say about the cover? Do you know how many copies were made?

Thundertre Poster (Inspiration for Thundertree album cover)

We had a really neat Hippy/Psychedelic poster designed by Vernon Morris of Pepper Art. We wanted to use it as our cover. Roulette rejected it and the spelling of Thundertre. (Which was ok with us. In true Spinal Tap fashion many people thought it was pronounced ThunderTRAY not TREE). They commissioned Ely Besalel to create a cover inspired by our poster (but with two e's). I admit I was disappointed when I first saw it.

I have no idea how many albums were pressed/shipped/sold/returned. We did inquire but, to my knowledge, did not receive an answer. After reading Tommy James' book, it is no surprise.

We received an advance to pay for the original master and sessions to complete the album but, no subsequent royalties. In addition, each member received a modest amount. I bought a Vox Super Beatle top and two Sovereign
bottoms. Whether we recouped our advance or not, I have no idea. I doubt we were cheated out of royalties. If we were, I can't imagine the amount was significant. (Again, read Tommy James' book.)

Did the band play any gigs? If so where and with who?

We played a lot of local night clubs in order to pay the rent. We also played dance halls and armories throughout Minnesota, N. and S. Dakota, Wisconsin and Iowa.

The most memorable concerts I recall headlining took place in Eau Claire WI, Albert Lea MN, Duluth MN and Austin MN.

We opened for Johnny (and Edgar) Winter at The Labor Temple (Mpls' version of The Fillmore), Ted Nugent (and The Amboy Dukes) at the Duluth MN Armory,
Rotary Connection (w Minnie Riperton) at The Depot in Mpls (now First Avenue, where Purple Rain was filmed) and The Clique at New City Opera House in Mpls. (the night following Santana's debut there). And of course, The Box Tops gig I mentioned previously.

You also released an LP in 1972 as solo artist. What was the story and a concept about it?

After being let go from Thundertree, I entered an acoustic/folk period and began concentrating on writing. My first serious experience with writing was creating songs for the Thundertree album. Subsequently, I contributed to the creation of "Pepper Palace" and another song that I don't recall the title. These were intended for Thundertree 2. I also contributed heavily to the arrangement of "16 Tons" that became our signature.

Immediately after Thundertree, I teamed with Dervin to record "16 Tons" and "Pepper Palace"and followed in John Miessen's footsteps shopping my masters in NYC. I was not successful. Roulette wouldn't even see me. Stan Greenberg of Scepter records turned me down but encouraged me to keep send him demos. Not knowing he was an icon in "the business". I didn't follow through. When he died years later and all of the business legends mourned his passing, I realized I had squandered an opportunity few kids in my position ever get.

Eventually, I completed and self released Persephone on Orion. The album cover is just as/maybe more responsible for it's success as the music. The song "Persephone" is about ghosts, demons and devils in a nightmare. I commissioned William Stille to do an ink drawing based on the song lyrics. I also instructed him NOT to include the album title on the front cover. He also did the back cover calligraphy. He omitted the word 'by' in the title. It was supposed to be Persephone by Billy. (I purposely did not use Hallquist. That may/may not have been a smart move too). So, in many areas I am known as Persephone Billy. (Now you know why I loved Spinal Tap.)

How many pressings did Orion released and what can you say about the cover artwork?

Persephone sold just shy of 3,000 units. I see it on collector sites for $200. I still have a few vinyls left. RiverMan/Bella Terra licensed it for reissue last year. It can be found all over.

Back Album Jacket "Gathering at The Depot"

There was also another LP made called Travelin'?

While promoting Persephone, I met Al Heigl of Mill City Records. He signed me to his label and produced my followup "Travelin'. Travelin' is scheduled for reissue on RiverMan/Bella Terra as soon as Al completes whatever tweaking he deems necessary.

Travelin' started as a joint project with fellow Mill City artist Kevin Odegard (The Hallquist/Odegard Band). It got sidetracked when Kevin was given the opportunity to play along with other local musicians (Chris Weber, Greg Inhofer, Peter Ostroushko, Billy Peterson and Bill Barber) on Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks" sessions at Sound 80 where I recorded Persephone and mixed Travelin'. Kevin parleyed his notoriety into an album deal at a larger label. I included one of his songs on Travelin' and contributed some session work to his album too.

What happened after that and what occupies your life these days?

Following our individual album releases, we joined forces in The K.O. Band to promote them. 

KO Band '76
Billy Hallquist, Jeff Dayton, Kevin Odegard, Gary Lopac, Bobby Rivkin(Bobby Z of The Revolution) (1976) Photo by Nancy Bundt

Jeff Dayton, Gary Lopac, Billy Hallquist, Bobby Z, Kevin Odegard
K.O. Band Reunion (2000)

Other K.O. Band members include Jeff Dayton who went on to play with Glenn Campbell for many years and Bobby Rivkin, who is better known as Bobby Z of Prince and The Revolution.

Poster from this years's shows

Billy Hallquist, Gary Lopac, Kevin Odegard
"3 Amigos" performing at Blood on the Tracks Live event (2010)

Finale to this year's Blood on the Tracks Live event (7/25)

Kevin and I, plus fellow K.O. Band mate, Gary Lopac have continued to collaborate over the years, most recently as core members of Blood on the Tracks Live a Dylan tribute band. We just completed our 4th annual event and drew in excess of 5,000 people to two shows. Kevin has since retired. I will continue these events as Salute to the Music of Bob Dylan.

Billy Hallquist Blood on the Tracks Live event (2011)
Photo Credit: Doug Webb/Connect Artists

The Transgressors - 1965-1966
The Other Guys - 1966-1967
Good Idea - 1968-1969
Thundertree - 1969-1971(2?)
Billy Solo 1971-2012
Persephone - released 1972
Travelin' - released 1976
K.O. Band - 1976-1977,2001,2009,2012
Blood on the Tracks Live - 2000-2012 (I've only been directly involved since 2009)
Salute to the Music of Bob Dylan - 2012-

Other Bands I've played with but not mentioned in interview
Macavity - 1975-1976
Cimmarron - 1977-1978
The Taste Buds - 1987-1991
Perfectly Loud - 1996-2002
Three Amigos - 2010
Los Angeles Rod and Reel Club - 2011

There's a write up and audio interview on me solo and Thundertree at this link.

Interview made by Klemen Breznikar / 2012
© Copyright 2012

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