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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Hit Records, Blane Gauss and early Illinois rock ‘n roll.

Hit Records, Blane Gauss and early Illinois rock ‘n roll circa 1958 – 1963 (or the origin of Golden Voice Studio part 2.)

Blane Gauss, a dance instructor at Arthur Murray Studios in Peoria, Illinois in the late 1950’s, was the driving force behind the HIT record label. Blane was based in Peoria but the label used a Chicago address. HIT would releases a series of singles featuring early rock ‘n roll, teen pop and R&B starting in 1958 and running through 1963.

Jerry Milam’s initial exposure to studio recording would occur during his time playing guitar with local singers Bruce Chamberlain and Dick Bush who would both release records on HIT (more on those records below). It was during the time Jerry did his first recording on a small recording set-up Gauss maintained in the attic of the Arthur Murray building where he worked in Peoria. Upon seeing Blane’s attic studio, Jerry realized that anyone could have a recording studio of their own if they learned to build it.  This was a key moment in the development of Golden Voice as it was the impetus for Jerry’s first home studio and build-it-yourself approach. Coincidentally, around this time Blane Gauss would call on Jerry’s skills as a photographer (a talent he maintains to this day) to snap the earliest promotional pictures of the future comedy legend Richard Pryor in that same attic!

As for the releases on HIT, there are at least seven confirmed releases, all chronicled here.  The first two releases were by Wild Child Gipson with Freddie Tieken and The Rockers in 1958. Uncle John, Gipson’s take on the Little Richard sound, lived up to the label’s moniker and truly was a hit (According to Tieken, charting to number #24 on the Billboard R&B chart) It was re-released at the time nationally by both the Laurie and Astra labels.

The Youtube playlist below contains most of the sides mentioned in this article.

Following the initial Wild Child Gipson releases, HIT would release the first record from aspiring Peoria based singer Bruce Chamberlain (whose wife Nancy worked with Blane Gauss at Arthur Murray) backed by a combo of Jerry Milam (guitar), Jerry McDonald (bass) and Lee Cheneler (drums) (all three from Pekin, IL). Two records were cut by this group: Bruce Chamberlain  – Geronimo (Cochise) / Broken Romance – Hit #612 and Bruce Chamberlain & the Cams – No Love Have I / Don’t Push Your Luck – Hit #668. The first record, Geronimo, was a hit, notable for its driving country tinged guitar and tight rhythm.  According to Mary Ann: “I remember it (Geronimo) quite well as we drove the DJ’s nuts asking them to play it.”  In support of the release of Geronimo, the band hit the road in Blane Gauss’ car and travelled to North Dakota where they did a pantomime version of their song at a TV station for a variety show, which was most likely arranged via Bruce Chamberlain’s cousin, according to Jerry.  On the second record Jerry, Jerry and Lee took on the name The Cams and added a vocal backing group called The Rondells.  Both records were popular and charted on local radio surveys, however, the group would not last.  

Jerry’s next musical endeavor was playing guitar in Dick Bush and the Stan Dels.  The Stan Dels were a popular local combo composed of Dick Bush (voc), Jerry (guitar), Gene Smith (drums), Bob Mitchel (Saxophone) and Jay Van Dyke (bass).   They would record one record in 1963 for HITDick Bush with Jerry Milam and the Stan Dels – Nobody But You / If I Didn’t Love You So – Hit Records # HRC 672. This time the return to the recording would ultimately leave Jerry with a desire to set up his own recording studio at home.  Jerry would quit actively playing in groups by the end of 1963 and began the transition from guitarist to self taught recordist.  

Also released on HIT in 1963 was the infectious R&B classic Three Quarter Stomp Parts 1 & 2 by Decatur, IL guitar player (and later noted sculptor) Preston Jackson and his group The Rhythm Aces with singer Joe Merryweather. That record was also a hit and would be re-released nationally via Hermitage records in Nashville.

Preston Jackson Three-Quarter Stomp

Preston Jackson Three-Quarter Stomp

Another artist on HIT was Cash Holiday, a pseudonym for Robert Viehmeyer Jr. a.k.a. Bobby Lee, who had previously released two records nationally on Decca records in 1960 and 1961, both were minor hits. Though his Decca records were a success, he returned to his hometown of Peoria to settle down with his family, releasing one more record: Cash Holiday – Walkin Alone / Solid Twister. 

Cash Holiday promo picture

Cash Holiday promo picture


HIT Records discography:

Wild Child Gipson w/ Freddie Tieken and The Rockers – Uncle John / Sittin’ Here Cryin’

Wild Child Gipson w/ Freddie Tieken and The Rockers – Lost Control / Kool

Bruce Chamberlain – Geronimo (Cochise) / Broken Romance

Bruce Chamberlain and The Cams – No Love Have I / Don’t Push Your Luck

Cash Holiday – Walkin Alone / Solid Twister

Preston Jackson and The Rhythm Aces feat. Joe Merriweather – Three-Quarter Stomp Pt. 1 / Three-Quarter Stomp Pt. 2

Dick Bush with Jerry Milam and The Stan ‘ Dels – Nobody But You / If I Didn’t Love You So

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Mourning ‘Ours, Pekin, IL.

Mourning ‘Ours

Mourning ‘Ours was a Pekin, IL based group which released one 7” Mourning ‘Ours – Shake / Maria – Golden Voice   GV-45-513 via Golden Voice in 1968. The group played many of the hits of the day and made lots of appearances at high schools for proms and dances.

Mourning Ours Shake 45

Mourning ‘Ours Shake 45

Gary Quade starts off the story of the group: 

“It was the mid sixties in Pekin, Illinois.  Just got my first guitar as a Christmas present, a Hagstrom hollow body electric.  Learned some chords and figured out some songs  from the albums on the turntable.  James Brower, a friend from Jr. High and church, had also recently got his first guitar, a Harmony.  We got together and learned Little Bit of Soul and Gloria.  Doug Schlottman, another jr. high friend  joined us  singing  Im not Your Stepping Stone while I sang harmony.  Tim Naningay, a church buddy who was a year older,  joined us with his Fender bass and we were off and running.  Jeff Wald, who lived in South Pekin,  auditioned for us on drums and he could play Wipe Out so he was in.  Soon Gary Guenrich joined us on keyboards with his Farfisa organ.  Now we could play 96 tears, Kicks, Just Like Me and Midnight Hour.  Our equipment was shabby at best, but we faithfully practiced and learned more songs.  We liked Mitch Ryder and played Little Latin Lupe Lu and Sock It to Me Baby. We also added some Stones and Yardbirds songs.  Our first gig was in Dave Howard’s garage for $60.

We kept practicing and saved up and bought a Kustom PA system. That was a game changer and we got gigs.  We played for school dances, youth group events, dances in the neighboring towns of Manito, Tremont and Canton.  We had a following and were having a lot of fun. The local band scene in ’66 and ’67 was great and we were fortunate to get to see The Coachmen with Dan Fogelberg singing lead. We also got to watch Gary Richrath play lead guitar with Suburban 9 to 5. 

By then, we were freshman at Pekin Community High School and it was around this time Gary Guenrich quit and Rick Waldmeyer, the mayor’s son,  joined the group as our new keyboardist. That summer we won the Battle of the Bands in Lincoln, Illinois and also the Heart of Illinois Fair.  We were loving  the Cryan’ Shames from Chicago and were working on our own vocal harmonies.  We also played a lot of Doors songs too.  We also started to get gigs At Illinois State University playing for the college crowd!  

We were hanging out at Flores Music (local musician epicenter and legendary gear shop) in Pekin.  That’s where we met Harold Smith which was another big game changer.  Harold was giving drum lessons.  He was a of couple years older than us and drove a motorcycle. He was a skilled drummer and had a drum kit with double kick drums each with a union jack painted on the front! 

Soon  Flores Music (owned by Jesse Flores) sponsored us, lending us equipment and a van for transport to gigs.  Jesse as a sponsor meant we had access to a lot of neat equipment (like the recently debuted Ovation Guitar brand of amplifier).  Things changed and we went to a four piece band.  Harold was singing lead and playing drums.  Rick  was on keyboards and Tim was on bass.  I stayed on guitar and sang back up.  It was about this time we cut the 45 at Golden Voice.”

Mourning Ours

Mourning Ours

Jerry Milam was the engineer on the Mourning ‘Ours recording session.  According to Harold: “Jerry used a mixer that he had designed and fabricated himself and the band recorded to tape on a Scully 4 track.” 

During their session, Harold made lots of requests to Jerry for certain sounds and later when Harold would leave the room to do his vocal, Jerry would comment to Gary Quade “Harold wants that British sound and I just can’t give it to him”.  However, the band says they felt Jerry did a great job of bringing a clear and deep sound to their recordings in retrospect.  

They were all young and inexperienced at that point in time, it was the first time any of them had been in a recording studio.  According to Harold Jerry was a very patient man and easy to work with. Harold remembers singing his heart out when he first started his vocal on Maria and by the time they did an actual take, he had almost blown his voice out.  They used Ovation amps, Harold played Slingerland drums and Rick Waldmeir used a Hammond organ.  

Jerry and Harold decided to liven up the mix to their version of the song (They Call The Wind) Maria and add wind sounds from a tape. Jerry accidentally played back the sound effects tape at a higher speed, this combined with the echo from Golden Voice’s echo chamber to create spacey psychedelic echo sounds.  They decided to keep the unusual results after playing it back, thinking the echoes would add life to the song.  Harold only sings vocals on this song, there are no drums to be heard in this version.  Not to be outdone, the A side of the record Shake has killer fuzz guitar plus a great beat courtesy of Harold. The group wanted to cut two contrasting sides to show the versatility of the band. This would be the first and only time the Mourning ‘Ours was in the studio.    

The band would continue to evolve with Oscar Meyer replacing Rick on organ.  Oscar had a Hammond B3 and 2 Leslies. He was a skilled player and could play Whiter Shade of Pale and Gimme Some Lovin’.   They continued to play locally but by Gary’s senior year in high school Tim had  graduated and then was drafted.  James Brower joined the band on bass at this point. They were playing at a college club in Peoria on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays and Gary Richrath would sit in for Gary Quade during the last two sets on their Wednesday nites shows so Gary could get home for high school the next day.  As a side note, Gary Quade ended up selling his  Gibson ES335 to Gary Richrath and he used it when REO Speedwagon played at the Kickapoo Creek Rock Festival in Heyworth, IL.

Mourning ‘Ours broke up around 1970.  Brower and Quade went to college at Illinois State University and Oscar Meyer got married. Harold kept playing and worked with Jerry Milam at Golden Voice for awhile afterwords. Harold would later recorded at Golden Voice with a band called “Remedy”. They would go on to release two songs on a single on the Tay-Tay label (produced via Golden Voice) in 1974 (more on Remedy soon). 



Dixie and The Power & Light Co.,Greenwood, IN

Dixie and The Power & Light Co., Greenwood, IN

Dixie and The Power & Light Co.

Dixie and The Power & Light Co.

Dixie and the Power & Light Co. is certainly one of the earlier examples of what would go on to become Contemporary Christian or Jesus Music.  The group was formed in the fall of 1969 by Chuck Billingsly (bass), Lee Robison (guitar), Bill Roberts (organ), Rhonda Fleming (drums) and Dixie Stuller (vocals). Chuck and Lee were seniors in high school and Bill and Rhonda were sophomores when the group came together.

Chuck, Bill and Lee came together in a high school band called The Epics. They played Cream, Hendrix, Beatles, Iron Butterfly, Steppenwolf, Three Dog Night, CCR, and more. Chuck and Lee had originally formed The Epics with bass player Paul Holeman and drummer John Lampson before Bill joined. They eventually wanted an organist and Bill could play well so they asked him to join their group. The Epics played lots of venues and won a few contests. They ended up playing at the Indiana State Fair and were in the Johnson Co. Combo Clash / Battle of the Bands. Placing first and second, respectively, each year. Unfortunately, The Epics never recorded.

The Epics

The Epics

Bill joining the group was a fortuitous development since Bill’s dad was also their pastor at Greenwood Christian Church in Greenwood, Indiana where Dixie worked as well.  Dixie was working to assemble a musical group with the idea that they could spread their message using contemporary rock music to connect with the youth of the day. The concept would be to appeal to kids on their own terms by including re-worked versions of pop hits like “Yesterday” by the Beatles. Dixie spoke with Bill about the concept and he went to the rest of the Epics and asked them to join. The Epics’ Paul Holeman and John Lampson were original, albeit very brief, members of the Power and Light Co. before Rhonda joined but didn’t wind up staying on as permanent members. Because of Paul and John’s departure Chuck switched from guitar to bass and Rhonda, who was playing in another teen combo at the time,  was recruited as their drummer.


Dixie and The Power & Light Co. label, side one.

Dixie and The Power & Light Co. label, side one.


The band was a success and was able to play many different venues and media outlets but ultimately would leave their most lasting impression with the two albums they recorded at Golden Voice (Dixie and The Power & Light Co. Kingdom Kraft 8512 and United We Stand – The Power and Light Co. Family Album Kingdom Kraft 8516).  Their record company was Kingdom Kraft based in DeKalb, IL (although their records were pressed for Kingdom Kraft via Golden Voice by Crusade Enterprises of Flora, IL).  Jerry always had the best gear on hand and would lend it to musicians to achieve a unique sound for the recoding. Because of this, Bill would encounter his first Leslie speaker while recording at Golden Voice which can be heard on the organ during the instrumental passage on “Help Me” and at the end of “Joshua Fit The Battle of Jericho” after the psychedelic guitar break.  Jerry would add minimal effects (some echo on the first lp and phasing on the guitars on the second) during the mixing process that made the band sound contemporary and give them a bit of a psychedelic edge.   The first album was recorded in late 1970 and the second was recorded in 1971. The albums are notable for Dixie’s strong singing and the tight musicianship of the band.  

 The original line up of Dixie and The Power & Light Co. remained intact until after the second album was recorded. Bill and Lee left the group in September of 1972 to form another group, Living Water, when they were students at Lincoln Christian College.  Living Water’s style was more acoustic and was influenced by Crosby, Stills and Nash, Sweetheart of the Rodeo era Byrds and other folk rock groups. They  did a mix of half originals and did some secular songs as well as Christian. The Power and Light Co. then replaced Bill and Lee with two other players. At that time, Chuck switched back to guitar and Scott Duvall came into the group to play bass. David Eisler, from Evansville, IN became Bill’s replacement on the organ.  The group continue on and stay together for a few more years until 1975 or 1976.

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.



The Sect, Walnut, IL.

The Sect

The Sect were a teen band from Walnut, IL.  They formed around 1964 or 1965 in the wake of the British Invasion and lasted for a few years playing shows at sock hops, 4H centers, high school gyms, teen centers, and anywhere else they could get a show.  The band recorded at Golden Voice in late 1967 but unfortunately the recordings are lost to time.  

The Sect: Ron Eckberg, Albert Hurst, Randall Johnson & Harry Heath.

The Sect: Ron Eckberg, Albert Hurst, Randall Johnson & Harry Heath.

Ron Eckberg singer / guitarist for The Sect relates the story in his own words.

“My earliest childhood dream was to become a singer. Growing up in a small, Midwestern farm town offered few opportunities to make that dream happen. Then the Beatles came along. We all bought guitars and formed bands.

My band was called The Sect, which sported a lineup of me, a local drummer and friend, Albert Hurst, his cousin, Randall Johnson, and Harry Heath from Annawan, Illinois. When we first started playing I probably knew three or four chords on the guitar. (Fortunately, you didn’t need much more than that). Albert was already competent if not accomplished on drums. Randall, however, had never played bass or guitar but we talked him in to being our bass player. He bought a bass and we taught him the basics and turned him loose. He became a very, very good bass player. Harry Heath, even though just 15 when he joined us, was already a veteran of a couple of local bands. He was an accomplished organist / keyboardist.”

As our local popularity grew we became “legends in our own minds” and dreamed of “making it big”. To do that we knew we had to record. Our booking agent at the time had heard about a studio in the Peoria area that another well-known local band had recorded at. We decided that was the next step in our band’s evolution. We booked time at Golden Voice Studio in South Pekin.

The sessions were set for the last week of December, 1967 and we were certainly pumped about the prospect of recording in a real studio. We worked on four songs I had written; “Happy”, “What Happy Can Be” (a little limited in my writing but, Hey, I was 17!), “Good Day”, and “Every Time”. 

We book hotel rooms in Pekin and set out from Walnut, Illinois to record those four songs that we were sure would make us stars.  Arriving at Golden Voice we were less than impressed with the outside of the building. It was out on the edge of South Pekin, near the airport. It was a nondescript cement block building that gave no indication of what was inside. We walked in to meet this tall, lanky guy named Jerry Milam. We were in awe of him, thought looking back over the years I now realize he was probably on 8 or 10 years older than we were. But he owned a studio and was a record producer!

The studio consisted of the control room filled with the equipment of the day. I know we had only 4 tracks to work with and very limited editing capability because we were working with tape. I believe the recorder was a Studer, but I could be mistaken. Nonetheless, we were impressed.   Just beyond the “board” a large window looked out into the recording room, a cavernous room with high ceilings, a number of movable baffles, and mics and mic stands positioned around the room.   We began work that first day on a ballad called “Every time”. Given our lack of experience and the limited editing capabilities of Golden Voice, it was an agonizing process. We had to get our instrumental take perfect from top to bottom and that was no small task. We did take upon take upon take. About halfway through Jerry suggested we change the intro which we did. We then got back to doing take upon take upon take again until we got one we liked. I did some vocal overdubs and place a recorder solo in the middle of the song.  I don’t remember too much about recording the other three songs. Sadly, I do not have any of the original recordings that we did in those days of December 1967. I certainly wish I did.

After those sessions, I would record at Golden Voice on occasion as a solo, putting together song-writing demos. Jerry always believed in my voice and worked very hard to get me connected with someone in the music industry. Even though nothing ever came of those contacts, I have always appreciated the fact that Jerry tried.”

Jerry and Mary Ann Milam origins

Jerry and Mary Ann Milam (or the origins of Golden Voice Studio part 1)

The story of Golden Voice is the story of Jerry and Mary Ann Milam.  The couple was the driving force behind the studio.  Jerry had been a newspaper photographer and a television repairman but ultimately found success playing guitar in the local rock and pop combos. According to Jim Deverman, then photo editor at the Pekin Daily Times Newspaper and Jerry’s boss in the early 1960’s, “He was just as gifted in photography as music”.  Deverman said Jerry would have likely been successful at whatever he wanted to do.  Jerry was always driven by the leading edge of technology and this interest would drive his progression from photography to audio recoding.

After making the choice to pursue music over photography, he worked to supplement his musician’s income in a music store where his natural tendencies as a tinkerer saw him taking apart electronics to find out how things worked.   This curiosity with the inner workings of electronics would serve him well later on as he developed his studio and built audio gear by hand.  It started when he would take apart stock Fender guitars that came into the shop. He then would take the guitar bodies to a friend who was a skilled auto painter in Peoria, IL.  He would take the guitars and then have them painted with multiple layers of auto paint worthy of a top of the line hotrod.  The browns, tan and white stock fender colors were replaced with exciting reds and sporty blues and the guitars would fetch a substantially higher price with their jaw dropping looks.  

Jerry Milam in the first Golden Voice control room c. 1966.

Jerry Milam in the first Golden Voice control room c. 1966.

 In a story worthy of a Hollywood script, Jerry met Mary Ann while in that small music store where he was now working part time teaching guitar lessons.   Mary Ann came into the store with a portable turntable that needed to be repaired and asked if he could fix it. Jerry was blown away upon meeting her, recalling her style as a mix of Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette!  He thought to himself “It doesn’t get much better than this, how could I make an impression on her?” He told her without hesitation that he could fix the turntable although he didn’t have a clue how to go about it.   He asked her to leave it for a few days and that he would call her when it was ready. He recalls, “Some guys had trouble getting a pretty lady’s phone number and all that I needed was a broken turntable”. After some cleaning of the turntable’s idler wheels and a few other feats of magic he was able to get the turntable running in a couple of days. Upon calling Mary Ann to tell her that he had accomplished the task, she told him “I have been invited to a small social event on Friday, would you care to go with me?”  He stammered and stuttered for a minute while thinking: “Why in the world would she want to go with me?”  He summoned the courage to answer and agreed to go.   Mary Ann seemed happy to hear his response and then said, “I have something to say before you commit yourself.” He thought “Damn. I knew that there had to be more to the story”. After a long pause she stated, “I’m a widow and I have four children under the ages of six”.   Jerry paused for what seemed like an endless moment of silence. He then asked: “Are the children coming with us or are we going alone?” To his relief, her reply was that they would be going alone and she had arranged a baby sitter for the evening.   That was the beginning of a relationship that has lasted for more than 50 years.  The couple would go on to get married and Jerry adopted her children. 

They then moved into the house Mary Ann owned on Monroe Street in Pekin, IL where Jerry would set up his first studio.   Mary Ann had originally purchased the house from the Altman family of Pekin.  Notable for the fact that Scott Altman, son of the original house’s owners would go on to become an astronaut and fly the stunt scenes in the 1980’s film Top Gun.

Mary Ann would go on to be an integral part of the Golden Voice story. She was both wife and business partner encouraging Jerry in spite of his lack of higher education in the fields of music, electronics and business.  While he experimented with the idea of starting a recording studio in their basement, Mary Ann was the fabric that kept it all together. She worked as many as three part time jobs at a time while taking care of the children. According to Jerry “She was a total artist at convincing bankers that we were not crazy and that their loans to us would be secure”.  She was a savvy business person and had the courage to go where most women wouldn’t dare to tread. One notable example is her achievement of becoming a licensed pilot, even after her first husband was killed in a small airplane crash!  (Detailed in her 1991 book “Right Side Up”) Upon the meeting of Jerry and Mary Ann the seed of Golden Voice was in place and it would only be a short time before the first recordings would start to take shape.

Golden Voice Recording Company introduction.

Golden Voice studio outside wall

Golden Voice Studio wall c. 1966.

  Golden Voice Recording Co. was a South Pekin, Illinois based recording studio started as a basement endeavor in the early 1960’s. The studio grew until it was destroyed in a fire in July 1978.  At the time of the fire Golden Voice was the largest studio in Illinois outside of Chicago (Peoria Journal Star: July 1978). The studio was scratch built by Jerry and Mary Ann Milam in 1966 to capitalize on the relatively open recording market between Chicago and Nashville.

     The studio, located in an unassuming rural railroad town, would be an important resource for the then vibrant local music scene.  Recording everyone from local nobodies looking to cut their first demo to chart topping artists like: Styx and REO Speedwagon and everybody in between. Golden Voice was an incubator for many musical legends from songwriters and musicians to producers, agents and engineers.  The talents which emerged from the studio have had and continue to have a lasting impact on American music.   

     All types of music were recorded at the studio from Gospel, Pop, Rock ’n Roll and Jazz to Country music and much more, including advertising and radio work.  Golden Voice also served as a boutique record label offering musicians who recorded there an opportunity to release a vinyl version of their session. Pressing records on Golden Voice’s various house labels (Golden Voice and Thunder) allowed many artists a higher profile than the average self-produced records of the late 1960’s.

     The studio techniques and hand built gear pioneered at Golden Voice were at the leading edge of a revolution in studio electronics and acoustics which began in the mid 1960’s.  The studio’s pioneering techniques eventually led Jerry Milam to move from the recording business into high end studio gear installation via his company Milam Audio. Here he also made lasting contributions to studio technology which helped usher in the modern age of recording. His name still resonates among the upper echelons of studio and sound installation professionals.  Jerry has been called on numerous times to craft bespoke studios for some truly great names in American music like Leon Russell and Curtis Mayfield.

Although the studio is gone, this work is an attempt to tell the story of this important recording studio and the impact it had on the music world both locally and nationally during its relatively brief existence.

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