Gulliver, Peoria, IL

Gulliver, Peoria, IL

 

Gulliver was one of the earliest Progressive or Art Rock bands to come from Peoria, IL. They existed for about five years starting in 1969. Gulliver formed while they were still in high school, the members went to Peoria, Woodruff, Richwoods and Pekin high schools.  There were up to about ten different members over the course of the band.  Various members of the group over their existence were: Dan Sutton (guitar, keys), Greg Kasel (guitar), Kim Callaway (keys), Steve Potts (bass), Steve Mergen (drums – later), Bill Keister (drums), John Parkhurst (guitar – early), Bill Shields (vocals, keys), Terry Liebe (vocals) and Mike Buttke (keys).   The group came together from a few other groups: Fuzzy Dice (Sutton, Parkhurst, Potts) which morphed into (the short lived latin / jazz / Zappa inspired) Mongo and Bus Stop (Calloway, Shields, Liebe).

Gulliver

A later, short lived, six man line up of Gulliver. A few years after their Golden Voice 45 . Seated left to right: Dan Sutton, Mike Buttke, Bill Shields, Bill Keister. Standing: Steve Potts and Mike Somerville.

A number of things distinguished the various line ups of Gulliver for the other bands in central Illinois at the time.   According to Bill Keister, “Mike Buttke’s Wurlitzer piano playing and gravelly voice proved to be great on a number of cover tunes the band was playing at the time.”  Buttke also wrote a number of original songs that Gulliver preformed although none of those was ever recorded. John Parkhurst was an early guitar player for Gulliver.  His level of guitar talent allowed the band to play the harder and more technical music that was becoming increasingly more popular in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The group played songs by Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer, The Moody Blues, King Crimson and other progressive rock bands. Their claim to fame was that they were able to play songs that most other regional bands weren’t able to play at the time.  Additionally, Bill Shields was the only member of Gulliver with a good paying, full time job. He purchased the only Mellotron in central Illinois; an instrument which was never used by other local bands due to the extreme cost.

Dan Sutton recalls: “I became the keyboard player later that year when Kim left for college. Years later I told my dad about the Mellotron Shields was buying which ran about $4000, including the flight case. Dad said, ‘that’s more than I paid for my first house.’ “

In 1970 Gulliver won a recording session at Golden Voice (which came with three hundred 45’s!) in a battle of the bands in Pekin, IL, sponsored by Matthews Music. They recorded and released Gulliver – Theme From An Imaginary Western / I’ll Be The Wind – Golden Voice with Jerry Milam engineering the session.

I'll be the wind

The group brought in Jerry’s friend and future production / A & R legend David Kershenbaum to produce the session. At the time David had a studio on the upper floors of a building in downtown Peoria called Tower Studio. A few of the band members had recorded jingles for him. David was not only a producer and an engineer, he was also a writer and arranger.  According to Bill: “He presented his original tune called “I’ll Be The Wind” to us and it was decided it would be the B side of this record.” Jerry used wind sound effects and his echo chamber to sweeten the sound of the track at the suggestion of Kershenbaum; a trick which Jerry had used earlier during the recording of the song Maria by The Mourning Ours. 

The group chose the A side “Theme For An Imaginary Western” after they heard Greg Volz from Gidians Bible preform it live. It also didn’t hurt that they were big Jack Bruce fans. Dan Sutton played acoustic guitar and tambourine on the recording since the guitarist in the band at that time, Greg Kasel, wasn’t 100% into the song.  Although he wasn’t in the band, the group also brought in Mike Somerville (later of Head East – who also recorded at Golden Voice) just to do the guitar solo on “Theme For An Imaginary Western.” If you listen to the song you can hear him continue to solo throughout to the end of the song under Bill’s vocal.   

The group knew that the recoding time they had was limited and showed up at the session ready to go with both arrangements worked out by the band, which impressed both Jerry and David.  The rhythm tracks for both songs were done in no more than two takes and the vocals were added after. 

Gulliver played many times at Exposition Gardens in Peoria. They also played many local high school dances. They even played at their own graduation party at the hotel Pere Marquette. The band opened for a number of national touring acts including The Rugbys, Spirit and Bachman Turner Overdrive.  They also played at the legendary Barn shows on route 29 in rural Peoria.  

Craig Moore of Gonn / Ilmo Smokehouse fame said of Gulliver’s live show: “My band Joshua played with Guliver at the Barn circa 1971-72. The first Peoria band I recall seeing. Ilmo Smokehouse played Expo (Exposition Gardens) with BB King and One-Eyed Jacks in 1970 but the Jacks were from Champaign. Dan Sutton blew me away when Gulliver did The Nice’s “America”, throwing the organ on it’s side etc. Still burned in my memory.”

Toward the end of the band, Gulliver went through a short-lived Jesus music phase. After that the band transformed into Actual Proof which was a successful local dance band that went on for a number of years afterward. Actual Proof recorded at Golden Voice as well, although their music remains unreleased.  Additionally some core members of Gulliver / Actual Proof  (Potts and Mergen) would become regular session players in the later years of the studio.  They would play on hundreds of sessions between 1975 and 1978.   

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