Golden Voice early days – Basement Studio / Milam Records

Golden Voice early days – basement studio and Milam Records (or the origin of Golden Voice studio part 3)

By the beginning of 1964, spurred on by his encounter with Blaine Gauss, Jerry Milam was starting to assemble the beginnings of his first studio. He understood some basic principles from his prior recording experiences, however, at that point in time it was impossible to obtain off the shelf studio recording equipment.  Jerry’s solution to his equipment issue was to trade some future studio time to an early prospective recording client (name lost to time) who had some background in engineering and studio electronics.  This exchange combined with basic research by Jerry allowed him to get to the point where he could build his own gear.  Jerry would then go on to spend late nights awake in his basement studio building and rebuilding his gear and perfecting his sound.  He would wire the studio’s channel strips by hand, this allowed him to get a very clean sound and set up a basic commercial studio. Through constant tinkering and trial and error he was able to obtain a pro quality of recording at home, no small feat for 1964.  After some time honing the sound of his recording studio Jerry would begin recording his first serious music.  One of his first notable clients was country music legend Cristy LaneShe would cut her first demos in Jerry’s new studio, although none of the demos she recorded there would ever be released.

Cristy Lane

Cristy Lane

 

Jerry Milam’s basement studio would record four songs which would see release.  The recordings would be released on the short-lived Milam label which Jerry put together as his own label for his own productions, following the model of Blane Gauss at HIT.   It was evident that Jerry had a knack for the studio and the two records he produced by The Kokays and Norton Wilson, were a testament to that fact.  The home recording sessions would continue  in the basement but not for long as the Pekin Police Dept began to show up.  In the true spirit of Rock ‘n Roll, the studio and it’s recording sessions were too loud for the neighbors and a new location would have to be found.

The Kokays

The Kokays - My Baby

The Kokays – My Baby

The Kokays - Talken Girl

The Kokays – Talken Girl

Don Nelson formed the Kokays with friends Jay Vandak and Gary Justice.   Don left the service in 1960 and decided he wanted to start a rock ‘n roll group.  Already a clarinet player, he went out and rented a Selmer Mark VI tenor sax, Jay and Gary would round out the line up on guitar and drums respectively. They immediately got to work and the group played their first show for a group of grade school kids at an assembly April 7, 1961. They had three songs (Wabash Blues, Moonglow and one now forgotten to time) and played each one twice to stretch out the show.  They didn’t get paid for that show.    Their first gig for money was in what was once a living room in the house of a woman named Teckla in Trivoli, IL west of Peoria.  She had convered her house into a bar and The Kokays were to be the entertainment.  According to Don Nelson the band had two requests that night: “turn it down” and “You’re too loud”. Don said they didn’t honor either request and there was no return engagement to be had.  Time passed and the players got better and the band expanded to a five piece with the addition of bass player Butch Harris and Doug Stein on rhythm guitar and vocals.  The group would play around the local music scene for the next few years, where they would make their initial contact with Jerry while he was still playing in groups.  The Kokays got good enough that they would be asked to fill in for legendary Peoria rock ‘n rollers The Warner Brothers at the Playground Club.  By that time they were playing regular gigs all over the area with appearances at The Collins Club, Al’s Twilight Club and more!   The group would play together until 1963 at which time they started going their separate ways. Don Nelson started playing with other groups, notably he was asked to sit in with a group called the US Senates.  They existed for about six months with Don as a member.   They would go on tour of the mid-west with less than productive results.  Ultimately leaving Don back in Peoria to re-form the Kokays with a slightly different line-up for 1964.  

For what would become the first 7” on Jerry’s label, The Kokays  – My Baby / Talken Girl – Milam, the group headed into a session in Jerry’s basement studio. For the recording the line up would be: Don Nelson (tenor), Doug Stein (v0cal), Keith Adkinson (guitar), Butch Harris (bass) and Ron Kelly (drums).  The single was promoted and played on local radio.  Rose to number 35 on the weekly top 40 and just as quickly faded into the oblivion of Midwestern teen rock of the early 1960’s.  Don Nelson recalls “the studio was very professional (and small) with all the best equipment. Even at this early stage Jerry had built a proper control room with a glass window overlooking the performance area and some rudimentary acoustical treatments”.  Other tracks were recorded that day but much to the dismay of the band the tapes of the other five or six songs cut at the session would wind up in the hands of a New York area promoter (via a good intentioned band member), never to be seen again.  (Anybody out there come across any of these tapes, get in touch, please.)  The band would morph into the Dion Nelson Trio in 1966 after the Kokay’s had ran their course. The band membership underwent a few changes and some players switched instruments. The band would go on to cut a 7” in 1971 at Golden Voice.  The Dion Nelson Trio – Time is Sand / Sticks & Stones – Golden Voice (no cat #)   The group would play together until 1979, at one point opening for a run of Buddy Rich shows!

 

This Youtube playlist contains three of the four Milam Records sides.

 

Norton Wilson & the Shades

Norton Wilson Promo Shot

Norton Wilson Promo Shot

Around the same time as the Kokays were cutting their record, Jerry would recruit Pine Bluff, Arkansas transplant Norton Wilson and his group The Shades to record.  Norton was playing gigs  in Creve Coeur, IL.  Jerry knew them from his time playing  the local music scene.  

The group were crack players and were considered a hot local combo as early as 1961.  When the the Bradley University chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon held a jam session to celebrate their fraternity’s birthday. They invited the entire student body to a jam session featuring Norton Wilson & The Shades at the student union.(according to the Sigma Phi Epsilon Journal (November 1, 1962)

Sigma Phi Epsilon Journal (November 1, 1962)

Sigma Phi Epsilon Journal (November 1, 1962)

  The group’s record was Norton Wilson and the Shades – Tomorrow May Come / Open Your Eyes – Milam #001.  The key song here is the killer up-tempo rocker b side, with its distorted guitar and a double time ending. Titled Open Your Eyes the song is a dose of stomping pre-British invasion rock ‘n roll.  The song’s rave ups are punctuated with heavy riffs from guitarist Wes Wilson.   The a side Tomorrow May Come is a polished romantic ballad.  This release was cut as Milam #001 although it was not the first release on the label. It was the second record produced by Jerry in the basement studio and would be the last in that location.  

The first copies of the Norton Wilson record were mis-pressed and credited “Norton Nelson and The Shades”.  Almost all of those copies were returned to the plant for destruction.  A second pressing with a correct label was done and only a few copies of the mis-labeled record are known to exist. Those mis-print copies having been saved as souvenirs by the band members and Mary Ann Milam at the time.    At some point Norton Wilson moved back to Arkansas and eventually became involved with local government. 

 By 1965, the two releases on Milam would be out and the studio they were recorded in was closed.  The new studio’s construction was well underway at that point, according to Mary Ann.  Soon the vision for a stand alone recording facility would become a reality.

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