Sioux Falls Rock City? Celebrating South Dakota's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
By Nick Keppler
Last Saturday, most of the original members of Chicago converged in Cleveland for the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Like many groups before them who had to prepare to accept the honors, members tried to mend fences, agree on a set list, clear schedules, and rehearse songs. As the date neared, the question loomed (as it always does about some band): Who would show up and who wouldn’t? Ultimately, former lead vocalist Peter Cetera passed, but original drummer Danny Seraphine played “Saturday in the Park” and “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” with four other founding members for the first time since 1990. They entered the Hall, alongside Cheap Trick, Steve Miller, N.W.A., and Deep Purple.
Today, Craig Katt, a 60-something president of an audio/visual technology company in Atlanta, will make similar preparations to those honorees, but his journey will be to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Katt is bringing together former members of his band, Ivory—who you may not be familiar with unless you attended rock shows in the Upper Midwest in the ’70s and ’80s—to perform at its induction into a much lesser-known institution: the South Dakota Rock and Roll Music Association Hall of Fame. Every year, the association inducts a slate of musicians, DJs, promoters, venues, and instrument stores that, at some time, played a part in the music scene of America’s 46th most populous state.
“The band is still tight and really good,” Katt, who still plays music occasionally, tells mental_floss. He says that when it formed in 1975, Ivory was “like a Crosby, Stills and Nash of the Black Hills,” with vocal harmonies and members recruited from other regionally successful bands. Though they never scored a Top 40 hit or a gold record, Ivory played more than 200 shows a year for 13 years and opened for the likes of REO Speedwagon and Mötley Crüe.
“We have two of the other original members, along with five guys who later joined the band coming in,” says Katt. The two other original members, one currently the CEO of a robotics company and the other the owner of a marketing firm, will travel to Sioux Falls to relive their rock and roll heydays—minus the long hair and tight pants.
The South Dakota Rock and Roll Music Association Hall of Fame started “eight years ago with a few people who thought it was important to preserve the area’s musical heritage,” says Mark Aspaas, chairman of the board of directors. The first class was inducted in 2009.
A person, group or institution can be nominated through the group’s website, and the 11-person board, made up of longtime state music stalwarts, votes on nominees. Performers can be from South Dakota or have toured through it frequently. The association also manages a physical hall of fame, with instruments and photos from inductees, at Washington Pavilion, a Sioux Falls performing arts venue.
While some states, like Tennessee and Michigan, have district musical flavors that have influenced the greater musical history of the U.S., the nationally obscure South Dakota honorees more reflect popular music’s mid-century evolution through the lens of an intimate music scene. The Class of 2016 includes The Postmen, a group of high school kids from the city of Tripp with early Beatles-ish marching suits and haircuts; the Handy Bros. Chessman Show, a late-’60s racially integrated soul band from Sioux Falls; WhiteWing, an ethereal progressive rock band from Rapid City; and KSQY DJ Jack Morris (on-air name: “Jack Daniels”), who helped introduce hard rock to Deadwood in the ’80s.
Many of the South Dakota acts reunite for inductions, bringing together whose dreams of making a name in music far beyond Sioux Falls or Rapid City were aborted but never forgotten.
“You pick up where you left off 40 years ago,” says Brian Wheeler, a two-time inductee for his work with The Apostles and Nickel Bag of Soul, bands that together spanned the ’60s and ’70s. “You know these guys. You traveled with them.” He tells mental_floss, “Some of them haven’t picked up an instrument in 40 years, but they do it because it’s an honor.”
While outsiders may imagine South Dakota’s musical history to be as sparse as its population, Katt assures that, back in the day, it was hopping. “There were ballrooms all over the state and if you played one, you get the whole town to come out,” he says. “It was just a huge market and you could make a lot of money.” He says, in the ’70s, unknown bands playing Boston or New York City could charge a dollar or two at the doors. For anything more, young people would scurry to another club. But in an Upper Midwest town, there was no competition. Ivory could charge $5 to $10 and earn a decent living without being nationally famous. That’s why they always had the best gear and the most elaborate stage sets—jungle- and tundra-themed backdrops they used to tote across the Midwest in diesel trucks. “We could afford things other touring bands couldn’t.” He says that when he met a young Prince at a Minneapolis gig, the music legend admired his wireless electric guitar.
It's all part of a history he wants to help preserve, so that others can appreciate this small but loud part of rock and roll's colorful past.
To learn more, visit the South Dakota Rock and Roll Music Association's website.