Johnny McCollum

johnny train

Johnny McCollum, a noted songwriter and musician from Iowa, recorded at Golden Voice in the late 1960s. The respected bandleader and performer has published well over 100 songs, including ones performed by many notable country artists. 

He came from a musical background, writing songs as a child. Johnny was originally signed to Sun Records in the 1950s and over the years worked with almost every major music publisher in Nashville. His first solo record, Long Lonesome Road / I Just Can’t Get You Out Of My Mind, came out in the late 1950s on the Char-Mac label.



In 1964 Johnny started working as a railroad engineer based in the northern Illinois town of Princeton. Continuing his songwriting endeavors, he cut See How A Poor Boy Has To Pay / Life Ain’t Worth A Penny Without You for Freddie Tieken’s IT Records in 1966.  His records always featured his original songwriting.


His route for the railroad regularly brought him to Golden Voice’s home of South Pekin, Illinois, so it was only natural he’d cut his next songs there. Accompanied by his son, Eddy, and supported by local session musicians, Johnny cut two songs in 1968, You Broke The Link / Cheap Wine, which were produced as a record.


His next notable solo release came under the pseudonym “Johnny Credit” in 1971 for Plantation Records. From there, Johnny would go on to major success as a songwriter. He would write songs for Farron Young, Tiny Tim, James Brown, Toby Keith, Clint Black, John Michael Montgomery and many others.  Even when he was writing songs, Johnny maintained his job as a railroad engineer.  He drew stories for songs from his job. Performing as The Singing Engineer, Johnny wrote a railroad song called “Santa Fe All The Way” in 1983. The song was a regional hit and used extensively by the Santa Fe Railroad for promotion. 


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Smokehouse demos.

Smokehouse - The Ultimate Flash c. 1975

Smokehouse – The Ultimate Flash c. 1975

Smokehouse was a mid-seventies hard rock re-incarnation of the psychedelic heavy-blues band Ilmo Smokehouse.  By 1975 this line up featured former Ilmo Smokehouse players: Craig Moore (of the mythical GONN)  on bass & vocals, Dennis Tieken on drums and newcomer Micki Free on guitar. The group was managed by rock n’ roll legend Freddie Tieken (More info on Freddie and Ilmo Smokehouse here: The group recorded a series of demos at Golden Voice.

We Just Want To Live was written by Craig Moore in 1971 while with a band called Joshua. This version of the song was recorded at Golden Voice in 1975 with Terry Jamison engineering.

According to Craig Moore:

 “This was the first real studio we had been in since doing the ILMO Smokehouse album at Dan Penn’s Beautiful Sounds Studio in Memphis in 1969. I had no idea whatsoever of the Golden Voice story or history at the time. Band manager Fred Tieken had his own studio in the 1960’s so he no doubt knew about it, which is how we ended up there.

I was playing a Gibson EB-3 through a 100 watt Marshall MK II Super Bass and it’s probably DI’d (direct) also. Micki had a 100 watt  Marshall Super Lead with Univox 4×12 cabinets. Not sure which kit Dennis had at the time but big & bad whatever it was! We played pretty much at stage volume. I think scratch vocals were then overdubbed. We did 4 songs. Basically demos, none were ever finished, produced or released.”


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Flight – Can’t You See That I Love You

Flight, recorded at Golden Voice in the late 1970’s.

According to Ralph Lawson Flight was essentially a family affair with the song Can’t You See That I Love You featuring: Ralph Lawson (vocals), Chuck Tribbett (guitar), Jack Tribbett (drums), Greg Tribbett Sr. (bass) with Barbara Lawson and Colletta Heath Tribbett on background vocals.

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Andraé Crouch, Golden Voice Legend.

Andraé Crouch (1942 – 2015), called by many “The Father of Modern Gospel”, visited Golden Voice Studio during the 1970’s.

andrae at gv

Andraé Crouch jokes around in the Golden Voice control room.

andrae jerry

Andraé Crouch and Jerry Milam outside Golden Voice.

andrae terry tom mary ann

Andraé Crouch, Mary Ann Milam, Terry Jamison & Tom Byler.


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The Wombats, Metamora, IL.

The Wombats, Metamora, IL.

Wombats promo shot

In 1966, a 4-piece band called The Wombats became the first group to record at the then not quite finished Golden Voice Studio in South Pekin, Illinois.  The group would serve as the test subjects for Jerry Milam in his quest to fine tune his soon to be recording studio.

The Wombats formed while in High School in the central Illinois town of Metamora in 1964. The band consisted of cousins John Briggs (lead guitar) and Greg Volz (rhythm guitar) with bassist Tom Byler as well as Jim Winn on drums.  John and Greg had grown up playing music together and had even received some coaching early on from Greg’s older brother Ron Volz (of the legendary central Illinois rock n’ roll combo The Rockin R’s). Ron recalls “I can remember rehearsing “Wombats” in a garage in Metatmora on one occasion when I was passing thru….and farther back than that, when Greg and cousin John Briggs would sing for me in the kitchen at the old homestead in Metamora and I would add my two cents worth”.

John Briggs would sing most of the lead vocals supported by by Volz and Byler.  They played a mix of originals, penned mostly by Briggs (with Volz and Byler writing a few), as well as covers of the Byrds, Beatles and other beat groups. This early version of the group would last for about a year until John and Tom went away to different colleges in the fall of 1965. This left the band on hiatus for nine months.  However, by the next year, John and Tom had both transferred to Illinois State University and the Wombats were back in business.  This time around the group would recruit a new drummer: Doug Thompson while Jim Winn would go on to a notable career as a fine artist.


Greg, John, Doug & Tom

  By 1966 The Wombats decided it was time to go into a studio and record some of their original music.  Ron Volz suggested that they contact Jerry Milam. Ron knew Jerry from the music scene during his Rockin R’s days.  So the Wombats would connect with Jerry who was still in the process of building his state of the art studio.  The Wombats were ready to record but Golden Voice was not. Still Jerry wanted to get started in his new studio and invited The Wombats to record while construction and interior finishing was still incomplete. Walls and rooms were unfinished and there was no furniture. Even the big glass studio window had not yet been installed. (More on building Golden Voice here.) 

John Briggs recalls it was fun for all and during the sessions and Jerry remarked to the guys that they had “Harmony up the waz.” In spite of the challenges of their first studio session, The Wombats were able to utilize their vocal harmonies and take advantage of Jerry’s new multi-track console and echo chamber.  Ron mentored them at the sessions and recollects that “the recording session at Golden Voice was a lot of fun…trying to get the best out of a group of really great guys who listened to every thing you had to say”.

The Wombats become the first group to record at Golden Voice. Over the next several years the band retuned to Jerry’s studio many times to record rock songs as well as doing some vocals for commercial work. In spite of all the recording, The Wombats never released any of their music.


Forty eight years later the original tapes have been found. restored and remastered.  Here is the first song recorded at Golden Voice in 1966, You Lied by The Wombats.

–You Lied along with three other cuts  from both the 1966 and 1967 sessions are being issued on a 7″ vinyl ep by Chicago record label Alona’s Dream in conjunction with the original Golden Voice studio / label.  More info here:

The Wombats recall the summer of 1967 as their peak period. In 1967 they took first place in the Henry County, IL Fair Battle of the Bands.  As a result, they also played outdoors during the day and indoors at night at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield. Later they played at the Opera House for the Heart of Illinois Fair in Peoria.  The Wombats also played smaller jobs around Central Illinois.  A mix of teen dances and college dances including some clubs.

1967 The Wombats on stage at the Illinois State Fair

1967 Wombats Mobbed

1967 Wombats State Fair autographs copy


The group called it quits in 1968 and the members went their separate ways.  John would go on to pursue a solo career under the name John St Jainne (A stage name inspired by Nick St. Nicholas of Steppenwolf) self-producing a gentle psychedelic folk 45 on Golden Voice.  Greg would go on to be part of the group Gidian’s Bible, who would also go on to record at Golden Voice.  After Gidian’s Bible Greg and Tom would play in a group simply known as “E” (E band).  Subsequent to his stint in “E” Greg would then sing for the immensely successful group Petra. Tom Byler would become an intricate part of Golden Voice’s future, functioning as an house engineer on many of the more well known recordings done at the studio post 1970.

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The Guild, St. Louis, MO.

GuildThe Guild recorded at Golden Voice after forming in 1968. The songs they cut were released as a 45: The Guild – The Sun Shines For You / You’ve Got The Cutest Smile – Twinight 120 in 1969.

Based out of St. Louis, The Guild at the time of the recording were: Bill Ulkus, Tomi Milano,  Terry Duggen and Denny Henson along with founding members: Jim and Rich Lang,   They were one of the top touring bands in the mid-west during their 9 year existence. Eventually signing to Elektra and releasing a second 45 in 1973. 

In addition to Rich Lang, who would go on to have a successful career in Nashville, the Guild would go on to serve as an early home to both Michael McDonald and Tom Kelly prior to their high profile work in the music industry. 

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Carl Trantham aka Carl Trent, Golden Voice Legend.

Carl Trantham aka Carl Trent, Golden Voice Legend. 

Carl Trantham is a true musical legend.  His story predates Golden Voice and his legacy continues today amongst hard-core collectors of genuine county, bluegrass and rockabilly records.  

carl today

Carl got his start Highland, MO at the age of six playing guitar and singing with his family.  He would relocate to Peoria, IL in 1951 where he would support his musical endeavors with a job as a welder at Caterpillar Tractor Co.  By 1957 he had formed a rockabilly group which would record and release two records: Carl Trantham and The Rythm All Stars -Where There’s A Will (There’s A Way) / After I Go Away – Lincoln Records 643 (1957) and Carl Trantham With The Rhythm All Stars – Deedle Deedle Dum / Our True Love – Starday 361 (1958).    Where There’s A Will (There’s A Way) was recorded at the WMBD studios in Peoria.  It was self-produced via Starday records’ private pressing facilities.  When asked by the pressing plant for a name for his new record label, Carl chose Lincoln.


Carl’s songwriting and performing continued through the 1960’s.  Carl, along with his brother Lee, penned songs for several artists who would cut records at Golden Voice during that time. These included both sides of Eddie Green’s record on Thunder and the Country Music Group from Lake Of The Ozarks MO. Country Music Hall’s record, among others.  

Carl recorded a 45 at Golden Voice which was released on the Golden Voice label: Carl Trent – Jingle Bell Trucker / Don’t Say That You Can’t Love Me – GV 7 -08Carl Trent Jingle Bell Trucker

Carl’s biggest break would come using the name Carl Trent in 1970 with a upbeat country song cut in an eight hour session at Golden Voice: Caterpillar Man.  Carl Trent – Caterpillar Man / Seasons of Despair – Nugget 1054.

caterpillar manGuitar duties on Caterpillar Man were handled by another Golden Voice alum and musical legend Steve Gibson.  Other players on the recording are Joe Frakes on drums (Joe played on many Golden Voice sessions) and Kenny Elam on bass.

The recording was released by Fred Carter Jr’s Nugget Records and became a regional hit.  The A side was played heavily on country radio stations, especially in the Peoria area, but saw action as far away as the influential Nashville country station WENO.  The single’s success earned him a five year contract with Nugget.

His next release was another single for Nugget records: Carl Trent – Service Station Man / Woman I Need Your Love – Nugget 1059.   Around this time, he had a working band consisting of his family members called The Highlanders (named after their hometown in Missouri).  The group featured his brother Lee, nephew Ricky, brother-in-law Jim Smith and another brother-in-law Larry McIntyre.  He also made regular appearances on the Peoria NBC affiliate WEEK-TV’s Country Express show, sometimes performing alongside his wife Virginia. A true songwriter, Carl wrote has written many songs that were recorded by all kinds of musicians, sometimes receiving national attention and airplay.   He continues to perform, write and record to this day. 

*Note: some of the biographical facts about Carl in this article come from a 1970 article written by Jean Budd for the Peoria Journal Star.

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Timothy P. and the Rural Route 3, Gridley, IL.

Timothy P. and the Rural Route 3 originally formed in Gridley, Illinois. Timothy P Irvin, the group’s singer, had lead an early central Illinois rock ‘n roll group from 1963 to 1967 called The Shattertones. (Note: it has been determined via tax records that The Shattertones recorded at Golden Voice sometime in 1967).  Timothy joined the service in 1967 and upon his return he formed  The Mackinaw Valley Boys with Jerry “Pork” Armstrong (more on Pork Armstrong and the Mackinaw Valley Boys later). Around 1972 after the Mackinaw Valley Boys had run their course Timothy along with Bruce Horn and Bo Bobell (also original Mackinaw Valley Boys) would start a new group, Timothy P. and the Rural Route 3.   

Mackinaw Valley Boys

Mackinaw Valley Boys

 The group would then relocate to Colorado.  According to Bruce Horn: “While in Vail, Timothy was offered a regular gig that would give us half-interest in a club called The Gnu Gnu”.   The club was being set up in anticipation of coming 1976 Winter Olympics. When, in late 1972, Colorado voters refused funding for the Olympics things changed and the group decided to play a hotel called The Vail Village Inn (as mentioned on the back of their first LP) for the following winter season in 1973.  Their original guitar player wasn’t interested in the gig so Bruce Horn contacted a friend in New York: Jerry “Muttonhead” Erickson who came out, auditioned and won the job.  It was at that point that the line up was solidified with Timothy P Irvin (vocals), Bo Bobell (drums), Bruce Horn (bass) and Jerry “Muttonhead” Erickson (guitar). Their sound showed a real love of old-time country music but also an awareness of all that had happened since the Summer of Love. The band would incorporate a broad scope of everything else that influenced them from rock and pop to gospel.

The group played almost every day so by the time they headed back to central Illinois and Golden Voice to record they had become a tight unit of musicians.  Their first recordings were done in the fall of 1974.  They group laid down the tracks that would become the single Timothy P. and the Rural Route 3 – Jesus Scared The Hippy Out Of Me / Cloudy In Kansas – Golden Voice GV7 -26. 

Jesus Scared the Hippy


Timothy P.

 Returning to Golden Voice in the summer of 1975, they would record and mix their entire first album (except Jesus Scared the Hippie Out Of Me and Cloudy In Kansas). The group handled all distribution and sales of the record and it did very well in the college towns where they played throughout the Midwest.

The group would go on to become a cult country act and attain a fair level of popularity, releasing several more albums and lasting until the 1980’s.  Timothy Irvin would go on to sing for the legendary rock and roll tribute act Flash Cadillac (who also would later record at Golden Voice, although prior to Timothy’s involvement) while the core of the group continues playing occasional local shows as The New Rural Route 3.


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Steve Gibson, Golden Voice and the Peoria Music scene in the late 1960’s.

Here is Nashville legend Steve Gibson (who cut his first record at Golden Voice) talking about his past in the Peoria, Il music scene of the late 1960’s.  In this talk he did with the Country Music Hall of Fame he has some great remarks and insights regarding his first recordings at Golden Voice Recording Co.   Click here for the full video.

00:20:10 Jerry Milam
00:23:30 Peoria Factory Town
00:25:40 Steve Gibson recording
00:26:30 Caterpillar Man

Nashville Cats: Steve Gibson, click through for video.

Here is Steve’s first recorded session at Golden Voice.  An instrumental b-side, it was an unassuming beginning to a massive recording career which would see him as one of the most in-demand session players in Nashville.

Young Steve Gibson c. 1965.

Young Steve Gibson c. 1965.

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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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