by Harlan Busch

Without a doubt The Shattoes/later The Chateaux, were the hottest piece of musical property from Vermillion, South Dakota during the years 1963-72. In 1965 they released one of the most revered surf instrumental 45s on the Studio City label entitled “Surf Fever.” In 1968 they followed suit with the monstrous Cream-like “Reference Man” on the Eye label. The link connecting them together was leader Bob Ellison, the only member constant in both configurations. What follows are recollections from Harlan Busch, a Vermillion resident born and raised, who became associated with Bob Ellison and company from the beginning and continued hanging with them until the band’s demise in 1972.

In 1963 I was in junior high school. One night I went into the V.F.W. in town and saw the Shattoes playing. After that first time I saw those guys with real electric guitars and pounding drums, doing Ventures’ music, I never forgot it. They were so cool. I immediately wanted to grow my hair and become a rock star and I figured the best way to do it was go hang out with the band.

For a couple of years, no matter where the Shattoes went, I was there too. Somehow I ended up getting swooped in. Bob Ellison was a good 10 years older than me, but he let me into their ‘inner crowd,’ sort of like a kid mascot. I was the kid in town that had the biggest record collection. That’s what I think gave me viability in the Ellison rock & roll crowd. My dad ran KUSD TV & Radio and also taught radio broadcasting at the University of South Dakota. Thanks to my dad’s endless music resources, I was ‘in’ on what was going on.

The first band that I recall Bob forming in the early ’60s consisted of two brothers, Howard and Willard Ernst (lead and rhythm respectively), Terry Romey (also a rhythm player), Roger Purcell (drums) and himself (bass and lead vocals). Bob was such a striking figure as the band’s leader: he was big, strong, handsome and had long swinging blond hair. He was a real hustler as a manager, booking agent, etc, which is exactly why the Shattoes became as big as they did. I bought my first guitar, a red Fender Jazzmaster, with a Twin Reverb, from Howard Ernst, as they were going into bigger equipment.

The sixth, unofficial Shattoe that was always around, but nobody really talks about, was Denny Swanson (referred to as W.D. — Weird Denny). He had the nicest car around town with a trailer. W.D. just hung in and was always there helping out the band with whatever they needed. I remember him being a big part of the Shattoes’ machinery that really kept things going.

After the two Ernst brothers graduated in late 1965, they left the band. Roger and Bob decided to keep things going. For a short time Bob experimented with a fellow from Vermillion named John Hasse on keyboards. Hasse had played the keys in a jazz band prior to joining the Shattoes.

Hasse was replaced by a 15-year old, cigar smoking kid from Sioux City, Iowa, named Tommy Bolin. As I first remember Tommy, he played a Hammond B-3 organ with a big Leslie spinning on the side. Man, he had control of those Leslie’s like you wouldn’t believe! Guitar was his second instrument at that particular point in time.

I see in Geffen Records recent box set on Bolin they missed this period in time. They jumped right from his first Sioux City group, Denny and The Triumphs, to his Colorado band, American Standard. They left out several developmental years in his career. That is when I and members of the Shattoes were witnessing Tommy's young genius in action.

I met Tommy when he joined The Chateaux (new spelling) when I was a sophomore in high school. He was a sophomore too, but had gotten booted out for growing his hair long and wearing fancy clothes — pretty much being a rock & roll-type of guy. Tommy’s parents were very liberal in their views. They weren’t rich however, rather to the contrary, they were hard working Midwest people with good family values.

Bob Picked up a very hot guitar player named Larry Halverson and an amazing drummer from Steve Ellis & the Starfires (from Pipestone, MN) named Bob Berge. Berge was one of the finest young drummers I’d ever heard. He was so down on the backbeats and had such incredible bass drum maneuverability, for a single bass drum player.

Bolin smoked on the keyboards. Halverson would occasionally walk over to the keys and Tommy would pick up the guitar. I also remember Bolin plugging guitars into Leslie’s before Eric Clapton even thought of it, I’m sure. He always seemed to be living on the edge with his experimenting.

Tommy was so far into his music — it was the most important thing to him. But he still needed someone his own age that he could relate to. We became pretty good buddies, although he was much more grown up than I was. I was still living with my parents and they didn‘t like the idea much that I was hanging out with these rock & roll guys. As long as I got in at a reasonable time they didn’t hassle me too much though.

I remember Tommy had a Purple Cadillac, or maybe it was a Chrysler Imperial. It was a big boat and PURPLE. We’d drive around after a gig and he’d continually try to convince me to drop out of high school and just go off with him. He wanted to make the big time somehow. Tommy thought The Chateaux were alright, but they weren’t going to take him to the next level. I swear to God a couple times I almost took him up on the offer and went with him. I lacked the nerve however, so I stayed behind. We remained friends even after he left for Colorado.

After Bolin, Halverson and Berge left The Chateaux in late 1967, Bob continued driving along, converting the band to a Cream-like, power trio. He recruited guitar player extraordinaire Gary Knutson from a little local combo called the Baroques and a tough drummer named Doug Test. The trio played heavy, progressive music — they were a great band!"

In 1969 I was a senior in high school and my best friend Gary Knutson was a freshman at USD in Vermillion. He was playing with The Chateaux “Three Man Power Group.”  This was right at the time that they went to Memphis to record “Reference Man.” Gary and I had an FM radio show going called ‘Hole In The Sky.’ What a figure Gary was around the campus with his long flowing red hair. He used to wear his red, white & blue leather jacket with tassels and fringes and play a Flying V guitar.

In the summer of 1970 I passed through Boulder, Colorado to say hi to Tommy Bolin and Bobby Berge who were working on their second LP with Zephyr, Going Back To Colorado, and playing lots of gigs in Denver at Mammoth Gardens with top groups like Spirit, Hendrix and many others. I stayed with Bobby for a month in his trailer house north of Boulder and helped load and unload equipment with David Brown, the sound and tech support man for Zephyr, in exchange for getting into the gigs in Denver and hanging backstage and also for getting into gigs at Tulagi on the Hill in Boulder and elsewhere. Zephyr was renting a warehouse in Denver for practice and they were rehearsing there and working on new songs. It was a great experience for me, as I just sort of melted into the furniture and was able to see that whole process.

David Brown, a really good guy, inspired me to get interested in sound work and I went back to South Dakota and joined my buddy Gary Knutson in Zero Ted Band as an assistant manager and sound tech. An interesting note is that Mark Craney, the drummer with Tommy's last lineup, also came through Bob Ellison and The Chateaux and Zero Ted Band. I actually recruited Mark Craney and Dan Donahoe (another hot Sioux Falls guitar player) to leave The Chateaux and come over to Zero Ted Band. The Zero’s had lost their drummer and we knew Craney would not move without Donahoe and that's when ZTB had started the dual lead guitar lineup with lots of progressive stuff starting to come along. I had known Mark Craney for many years as his band “The Vandals” and Gary's band “The Baroques” (of which I was a stand in guitar player) played in Battles of the Bands back in those early years and we all knew each other from back then. Bob Ellison was pissed at me in a big way for “stealing” Craney and Donahoe from him and actually chewed me out big time at a Zero Ted gig that he came to. That was right at the end of the Shattoes/Chateaux and that incredible legacy that Bob Ellison created. The only time I talked to him since then was just after Tommy died and he was really upset and actually mad at Tommy because of the drugs. He gave me a big hug after ranting on about Tommy throwing away everything he worked so hard for, etc. etc. That's the last time I ever saw or talked to Bob Ellison. I regret that, as he was a huge influence on me as a young guy and actually acted as a big brother to me.

One of the most memorable impressions I have of the Shattoes/Chateaux now, looking back, was the amount of talented people Bob Ellison was able to pull together over the years. He somehow was on top of all the young, hot musicians before others grabbed them. It was probably through his management/booking connections. He was really the ground work, and his band the catalyst, for a generation of aspiring musicians and definitely had an impact on the music scene!

©1995 Harlan Busch

Lost and Found magazine Issue #4, December 1995 containing “Memories of The Shattoes/Chateaux By Their #1 Fan” by Harlan Busch. Lost and Found was an arts and entertainment newspaper out of Eden Prairie, MN.