Irv Espedal, unreleased 1973 recording.

Irv Espedal recorded only one song called “I’ve Learned to Survive” at Golden Voice around 1973. It was recorded with Jerry Milam engineering the session. Irv had recently taken a job in Peoria, Illinois, moving there from his native South Dakota.  Upon his arrival he met Jerry, who encouraged him to record a number of the original songs he had written. The song featured Irv on lead vocals accompanied by three studio musicians coordinated by Jerry to lay down the instrumental tracks. At the time Irv didn’t have the funds to continue his project so the music never made it to an actual vinyl record. Being from a small town in South Dakota, Irv was impressed with Golden Voice as it was the first experience he had with professional studio. He says “Jerry played the final cut over the studio speakers and the sound mixing was impeccable.” The song is also notable for the high quality playing of the regular session musicians who were around Golden Voice in it’s prime.  

Irv got his start playing in a group called Dee and the Sabers from Mt. Vernon, South Dakota. Starting out in the 1960’s the group consisted of Don “Big D” Oakley, lead guitar; Vern Descombaz, lead rhythm & vocals; Bob Kretchmer, bass guitar; Charles “Skip” Hayes, drums and Irv Espedal, rhythm guitar & vocals.

Sabers poster

According to Irv:

“The Sabers’ claim to fame was a new idea at the time: about a week prior to a performance they would roll into a sleepy South Dakota farm town. They would search out an old (or possibly vacant) venue and post their promotion flyers announcing a live music dance. Returning to play on Saturday night, the Sabers were greeted by enthusiastic crowds happy to pay the one dollar admission collected at the door. Occasionally the Sabers would book a gig at an established ballroom which may have featured the likes of Conway Twitty the previous week.  The Sabers also played high school proms.  One particular night, the band had booked a prom in Murdo, SD.  Like most bands in the area, they used a 2-wheel trailer pulled behind an automobile to carry their music equipment.  However they had just recently acquired from an estate sale an older Cadillac hearse. Intending to use it for camping, the previous owner had welded a 1955 Ford car body onto the top of the hearse which made it ideal for hauling lots of stuff.  To get to the prom gig in Murdo, the Sabers loaded the band and all their equipment into the hearse. With Irv at the wheel, they headed west on HWY 16 in the early afternoon. 

About two miles outside of Murdo, and cruising along at about 80 mph on an S curve, there was a major malfunction. No one in the band had given it any thought, but since the hearse had sat idle for a couple of years prior to the estate sale, the tires were in terrible shape. As bad luck would have it, both of the rear tires blew out and the vehicle immediately lost control, rolled three times down a steep embankment, and landed upright in a field. The Sabers were only slightly injured, but all were somewhat shaken. During the hearse’s downward descent, the doors had popped open. So as the South Dakota highway patrol investigated the crash, the band gathered up the instruments that were scattered along the embankment. A farmer driving a stock truck stopped at the scene and offered to help load everything in the back of his truck and haul it to Murdo High School. Long story short…the Sabers collected themselves, managed to put their instruments and gear into playable condition, and made it to the Murdo school prom nearly on schedule. The hearse had been towed to an auto shop, and while the band played, and even with the severely bent frame, it was made drivable with two new used tires. The band made it back to Mt. Vernon at sunrise.  A couple of the Sabers took sledge hammers to the hearse to put it out of its misery.  This ended up being the final performance of Dee and the Sabers together.

Big D is now retired after a successful engineering career and lives in Wyoming and Florida. Vern passed away in November, 2014 while residing in Battle Creek, Nebraska.  At the time he was a band member of The Broken Spoke Band out of Norfolk, which still exists. Skip resides in Hot Springs, South Dakota and plays drums occasionally with a group in Sturgis. Bob’s last known address is Lenexa, Kansas, and Irv is retired from American Airlines and resides near Madison, Wisconsin.”

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