The Jets, Pekin, IL.

The Jets, Pekin, IL

The Jets live.

The Jets live.

Mike Isenberg tells the story of The Jets in his own words:

“I’d already at it for several years by the time The JETS formed in August of 1972. We were after the fun aspect of being a band in that we weren’t into going ‘heavy.’ But we did take the whole thing very seriously because we wanted to become recording artists. The original lineup was me, Gregg Clemons, Graham ‘Elvis’ Walker, Randy ‘RK’ Kohtz and Greg Wilson. Gregg had made a few early attempts at songwriting by 1972, but nothing really solid yet. I’d been writing since about 1967-8, and when The JETS formed I started writing song for the band straight away. Oddly enough, it was Gregg Clemons who knew of Golden Voice Studio in South Pekin. Up until then all of my recordings were done at home on a reel to reel recorder. I’d figured out the whole track bouncing thing ala Les Paul and Mary Ford, but that was about it for me as far as recording knowledge. The whole studio thing came about because Gregg had already dealt with Peoria Musical Enterprises, the booking agency Hank Skinner ran in Peoria. Gregg said that to get the good bookings we’d need a demo tape, and that to make that happen we’d have to get into a proper studio, and Golden Voice was it.

So the first bunch of shows The JETS did financed our first visit to Golden Voice Studio on November 22, 1972. We were all quite excited about the session – so much so that we all made trips to a local ‘headshop’ on Pekin called Petrusia’s Folk Arts Bizarre to get wild clothes to wear to the session. We knew pictures would be taken, so we all wanted to look the part for that. Jerry Milam engineered the session. He had to have been wondering what he was in for when we loaded our gear in, due to the fact that we were a bunch of kids – I was the oldest at 19. Graham was all of 16 years old. Jerry was tremendous, explaining everything to us and getting us going. We brought in four songs, four of which were mine. The other song was written by Gregg Clemons, a sort of Elvis Presley 50’s song called High School Honey. My contributions were called Shake Me Up, Feel My Heartbreak and Daisy Oh Baby.

All went well. We had everything nailed down tight before we ever went to the studio, knowing time was money in a recording studio. Jerry was quite impressed with how quick we were – the whole session including mix-downs was completed in about four hours or so. The only overdubs were us doubling vocals to fatten things up a bit. Afterwards Jerry gave us some lessons in recording that frankly have stuck with me to this day. He had a tiny car radio speaker sitting on top of the desk, and told us to listen to our songs through that for a few minutes. He said ‘If your songs get radio airplay this is what most people are going to be listening to you through,’ which made perfect sense. So things had to sound good through those tiny speakers too, not just the awesome sounding studio monitors in the booth. Then he turned the sound down on the radio speaker so that it was barely audible, and he asked us what we heard. We told him about the only thing we heard was drums and vocals. He said ‘That’s what you should be hearing if the mix is right.’ He told us to turn the car radio on when we went home so we could see if radio hits did gave the same result, and they did of course.

The second of three sessions The JETS did at Golden Voice saw a lineup change. Gregg Clemons had left the band, and Randy Kohtz, our bass player, was replaced by Graham’s cousin Tom Walker. By the time that session was booked, The JETS had become the darlings of WIRL, drawing record breaking crowds at Exposition Gardens and became the first band in the midwest to warrant a theater show at the Palace theater in Peoria. The place was packed with screaming fans, and a team of police had to block the stage from being mobbed. We were getting more and bigger press coverage than The Beatles in central Illinois – WMBD even used a concert shot of The JETS for station identification. I’m pretty sure we were the only band that ever had that honor in central Illinois. Things had changed at Golden Voice by that time, which was July of 1973. Tom Byler was the engineer for that session. We recorded five songs, three of which I wrote ( Everybody Has A Go, As The Sun Goes Down and I’m Only A Sailor ), one that I helped Graham put together ( his first songwriting attempt ) called Hold On To You, and a live version of the Chuck Berry classic Sweet Little Sixteen. The two inch multi-track master for that session somehow survived the fire that destroyed Golden Voice Studio. I have it in my possession.

The final Golden Voice session saw yet another lineup shuffle – Tom Walker was replaced by Gregg Clemons, who had decided to return to the band. We booked the studio for the purpose of recording our first 45 RPM record. We had become such a phenomenon in the midwest that WIRL offered us a shot at the charts – IF we came up with w record that met their approval. There’s a long story involved, but in short, we recorded three songs, two of which were written by Gregg Clemons ( I Play For You ).

Mike Isenberg recording at Golden Voice in 1973.

Mike Isenberg recording at Golden Voice in 1973.

I got stuck recording the very first song I ever wrote, a short little ditty called Be For Me, quite against my wishes. I wrote Be For Me back in 1968. The original home demo was the first song I ever got radio airplay from, on WSIV’s Captain Cosmos Army Surplus and Traveling Light Show program, hosted by Chris Antonio. I ended up doing most of the work on the Golden Voice version of Be For Me myself. We all went to WIRL to present the songs and wait for their response. The others in the band had their minds made up that Gregg’s I Play For You was going to be the A side of the record, but WIRL reiterated that they, and they alone would have the final say – and they chose Be For Me as the song to get radio play. Be For Me became The JETS first regional Top 20 hit, scoring #13 on WIRL’s charts.

I play for youOddly enough, those charts also featured a new song from Elton John – Bennie and The Jets, from his smash album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and Paul McCartney’s song JET, from Band On The Run. The two inch multi-track master reel from that session also survived the fire that destroyed the studio. Our first session there was never found. But that first hit ( as well as all of the hits I wrote for The JETS ) still sells to this day. It was licensed to a box set in the last year or so issued by The Numero Group out of Chicago called BUTTONS: From Champaign To Chicago. The JETS are now finally getting our due, though bit by bit. Radio programs are citing us as earliest example of what would become the Power Pop movement.

Gregg Clemons went on to score a major label deal with a Beatles affiliated label called Nemporer Records, run by Neil Aspinall. The Beatles merchandizing company was NEMS. Graham went on to form The Elvis Brothers, who scored a two record deal with Sony / Portrait. The JETS were about to sign a deal with Capitol Records in 1980 on the heels of our first regional #1 hit in Minneapolis on the then small indy label Twin Tone Records. Our two Twin Tone hits ( Lover Boy and Paper Girl ) were featured on the legendary Twin Tone double LP sampler Big Hits Of Mid America Volume III. That double album set has since been digitally remastered for CD and sells to this day as well.”

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