Monday, October 06, 2014

DETROIT'S OWN: Flamethrowers

by Ron Bergman
Bruce Stratton and I met while at junior high school in 1956.  Bruce had recently moved into Royal Oak from Detroit and, maybe this was fate, his new house came with an old Stella acoustic guitar. Bruce quickly learned some basic cords and riffs. I borrowed the guitar for a short time, loved playing it and decided to get my own guitar, a Fender MusicMaster.

We learned to play many of the instrumental songs of the day and initially played as a duo for friends. Then we teamed up with Fritz Lyons on drums and started playing at parties, school dances and local teen clubs.

We started writing our own songs to enhance our song list. Several of them were well received by friends, so we decided to publish and record.

The Detroit record scene was booming at that time, with Motown as the leader and about a dozen of smaller studios attempting to compete. We auditioned at Clix Records, in Troy, Michigan, and signed a record contract on August 27, 1960.

Our first record included "The Knights Caper" (the high school teams were the Kimball Knights) and "Suzette" (named after three girls named Susan who lived on the same street as Bruce) and was released on October 17, 1960.  The record sold fairly well locally, but were not distributed beyond the local area; however, Suzette and The Knights Caper received a three (out of four) star pick in Billboard magazine.

The highlight of our career was a performance at the first teen dance at Detroit’s Cobo Hall with WQTE-AM radio's Tom Clay. Also on the bill was Johnny & the Hurricanes and Jack Scott. WQTE referred to it as the battle of the bands, Detroit's Flamethrowers against Toledo's Johnny & the Hurricanes. WQTE had played "Suzette" multiple times prior to the Cobo Hall dance and WJBK featured it on their "Project X" where they introduced new music. The songs received airplay on WXYZ radio when we were appearing at free dances with DJ Don Zee (his tag line was “2 E’s if you please”). It was also played on WEXL during the "Our School Roundup" show.

Fritz was primarily a marching band drummer and did not have a full rock band drum set, so Bruce and Ron began looking for a rock band drummer. They not only located a drummer, Lowery Day, but also a bass guitar player, Paul Hinderer. These additions gave the group a fuller, more intense sound.

With this new sound, we decided to return to the recording studio. The second record featured "Intensity" and "Wippy Wow" and was recorded at Clix records on November 26, 1960. Clix records was primarily a country music label and the Flamethrowers rock and roll didn't sell well with the dealers that normally marketed Clix. As a result, Clix decided not to market the second record.

We decided to create our own label, Bel-Mar, and found a local company to press a small number of copies. The record was released on February 20, 1961 and sold only through local dealers.

The Flamethrowers disbanded when Bruce and Ron graduated from Royal Oak's Kimball High School in June 1961. 
UPDATE: Bruce's goal was to start a career in broadcasting. He completed his military service in the US Army and then went on to a very successful career in radio, including stints on Detroit Radio WEXL, WQRS, WOAK. He returned to the recording studio in 1987 and had a big hit on Sun Records with "Haunted House" and "Shake Em Up and Let Em Roll."  Bruce retired from the broadcast business and is now living in Corpus Christi, Texas.

After graduating from college, Ron had a long career as an electrical and firmware development engineer for computer peripheral equipment. Recently retired and living in Maui, Hawaii, he now has some free time to play guitar and is attempting to re-learn all the old songs. 

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