American Tea Company, Marshfield, WI.

American Tea Company

American Tea Company formed in 1967 from high school friends, Marshfield, WI. At the time of their formation the members were all between seventeen and nineteen years old. Members were: Ken Rogers (guitar), Gary TeStrake (lead vocals), Jim Schuh (drums), Mark T. Nelson (keyboards), and Tim Haley (bass).    They played heavy psychedelic rock inspired by the dominant radio sound of the day (CCR, The Doors, Santana, and Steppenwolf). 

American Tea Company in 1969.

American Tea Company in 1969.

 According to drummer and band manager Jim Schuh :

 “After two years of learning over 100 pop chart and album songs, rehearsing on school nights and daily during summer vacations and playing every weekend, we were courted by a talent scout. We signed an exclusive agreement in June 1969 with Gary Van Zeeland Talent, the largest booking agency, I believe, in Wisconsin. They soon had us working a four-state area. Driving long distances in a station wagon with a trailer, we played at dance halls, bars and high school dances in Wisconsin, Illinois, Upper Michigan and Minnesota. In Eau Claire we played at the London Inn and took second place at a battle of the bands at Memorial High School. Nearby we played at the Frog Hop in Cadott, Mile-a-Way in Thorp, and a teen dance in Boyd.”  

The band recorded at Golden Voice on February 20, 1970 and cut two of their three original tunes in their session to vinyl. The record was released as American Tea Company – I Want You Now / Don’t Leave Your Love – Golden Voice.  The group had Golden Voice recommended to them by the owner or sound man of a music venue called The Barn in Sterling, IL after a show.

i want you now

American Tea Company's Golden Voice 45.

American Tea Company’s Golden Voice 45.

Jim further recalled:

“because traveling 350 miles from our hometown to South Pekin, IL took nearly six hours, we left the day prior to our recording session and spent the night in a motel. We arrived at the Golden Voice Recording Company studio Friday, February 20, 1970. The next evening we had a gig 75 miles north at the Prouty Community Building, in Princeton, IL. The $225 we were paid for playing that gig helped offset our expenses. I remember that the people at the studio were very friendly, helpful and were impressed with our vocal abilities. 

The band’s recording is notable since it was the first stereo 45 recorded at Golden Voice.  The singers double tracked their vocals at the suggestion of the session producer, who gave them lots of guidance since they had never been in a studio before.  The group’s experience in high school choral groups helped them record the vocal harmonies very close to the lead vocal and the engineer remarked about how tightly they were able to double the original tracks they put down. The session engineer noted the voice control of singer Gary TeStrake, who could sing each vocal take almost exactly the same every time.

According to Keyboard player and vocalist, Mark Nelson:

“I actually don’t have any distinct memories of the session, except for one thing. The engineer had created a reverb chamber out of an old bathroom. As I recall, there was a speaker at one end and a microphone at the other end of the room. He’d feed in some signal from the studio and bring back a little of the reverb from the bathroom reverb chamber into the mix. For our recording, I don’t remember whether we used that reverb effect or simply used a conventional spring unit.”

Ken Rogers guitarist and co-songwriter, said:

“Yes about the echo chamber. I remember it being more like two stories where he fed sound in one end and took it out the other. I believe I wrecked a take when I peaked into it as we were loading up. I recall the owner/engineer had come out of Nashville to build his own studio. And he brought along the arranger/producer for this session.

I also remember they did not like my Kustom amp and it’s “effects.”  They lent me a fuzz box for the solo at the end of I Want You Now. The producer also worked with us to start I Want You Now on the upbeat making it somewhat unique at the time. Good arranger!  I recall the arranger/producer picking out Don’t Leave Your Love as being a better song than our other one, When I was Young and Wiser.  And then we had to complete the words for the song in the break room prior to the first take.”

 900 records were pressed by RCA in Indianapolis and drop shipped to Marshfield.  Just five weeks after recording, the record hit the Top 40 charts.   Their release debuted on Marshfield’s WDLB Radio charts at number 27 on March 27, 1970.  It would stay in the radio station’s top 10 charts for six weeks.  

WDBL radio survey April 10, 1970

WDBL radio survey 1970 featuring ATC.

Jim Schuh continues:

Hearing our single, I Want You Now, on the local radio station was an absolute high for all of us. As we traveled to gigs we would stop at radio stations, drop off records and sometimes we were interviewed. I believe that both of our songs got airplay on WI and Chicago radio. Our high school friends began calling in requests and the song hit the charts. March 27th we hit #27, April 3rd we hit #2, and April 10th we were #1. Then we slipped to #2, and then #5 and then #6. Six weeks on the Top 40 helped our ability to book better gigs.”

American Tea Company's original business card. courtesy of Jim Schuh.

Original American Tea Company business card.
Courtesy of Jim Schuh.

The group’s last gig was Labor Day weekend 1970. Despite hopes of being discovered and reaching the national scene, it never happened. They disbanded just 17 weeks after hitting the Top 10, going on to attend different colleges.

 

 

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