Welcome Two Missouri
In September 1977 the new debut "Missouri" album is listed on "Billboard's Recommended Album" page. As the album received massive airplay on KY-102 radio in Kansas City, KSHE in St. Louis and other stations throughout the Midwest, the band "Missouri" went on the road. Chris Fritz secured the band a super booking deal with Roger Gacon of "DMA" out of Detroit, Mich., who booked national acts such as "Ted Nugent," "Golden Earring," "Scorpions," "Blackfoot," "Sammy Hagar," and "Nazareth," along with many other big-time national acts. "Missouri" was sent out to do warmup at large venue gigs, stadium shows, tours and sometimes "Missouri" headined in areas where the band was well known and had solid airplay. The number of famous groups which "Missouri" toured with and warmed up for is too long to list; "Molly Hatchet," "REO Speedwagon," "Mahogany Rush," "Blackfoot," "Nugent," "Rush," "Blue Oyster Cult," "Van Halen," "Jefferson Starship" just to name a few.
The band played Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City twice -- once at the Willie Nelson Picnic with "Willie," "The Grateful Dead" and "Waylon Jennings;" and once with "Nugent," "Heart" and "The Cars." Each show was attended by an estimate of 50 to 60 thousand people. When it was time to get on the move, the band bought a new equipment truck and an extended-window van with airline seats installed for the band members and then they were off. Although life on the road seemed great for the first year, all the touring, traveling, constantly doing shows all around the country and dealing with tight schedules, eventually it took its toll on certain group members.
The first member to leave the group was Bill Larson. He had just married and his new wife was not too crazy about him being gone for weeks at time out in the wild and unpredictable world of rock n' roll. Finally the word came down and Bill Larson had to leave the band only weeks before the start of a three week national tour with Ted Nugent and Golden Earring. Needless to say, this was a nasty setback for the band. A suitable drummer had to be found and quick. Contrary to popular opinion, great drummers are not just sitting around waiting for an opportunity to go out on the road for three months on a moments notice. Ron finally looked up an old friend from "The Chesmann" days, Jeff Litrel. Fortunately, he was available and he worked up the material quickly. Jeff Litrel was brought on board and the band took off for the tour.
Jeff Litrel played with the band for about two months until he was also summoned back home. (It seems that "Sex, Drugs, Rock n Roll and Groupies" didn't turn on the girlfriends and wives of the band members.) Fortunately, group called Alexis from Overland Park warmed up for "Missouri" in Manhattan, Kansas. Ron knew he needed a really good drummer fast. When he saw Dan Billings of Alexis knocking out a steady beat, he knew he had found his man. Also in the band that night was Webb Watermann, who would soon be playing searing hot lead guitar for "Missouri." Both of these musicians would eventually end up in the "Capricorn Macon Studio" laying down the final tracks for the later version of "Movin On." This is the actual version that has been played on the air for most of the last 23 years. The new record company, "Polygram/Polydor," had decided that the original, first album version of "Movin' On" was only a regional hit and wanted to re-record the song again in order to take the song and the band nationwide on its world-class label. The intro to "Movin' On" was deleted by the Producer for the Polydor version of the song; it was returned to the "V&R" version due to numerous complaints from radio station programmers.
The next man to leave the band was Lane Turner. Lane had grown tired of the constant travel and demands of the road and decided to find some other areas of the music business in which to work. Webb Waterman could hardly wait to jump right in where Lane left off and help make the band a further success. While touring and during breaks in the tour, Ron West was trying desperately to write new material and work it out with the group knowing that another album was needed to keep the band moving upwards. There's an old saying in the record business: "An artist has as much time as he wants to put together the songs for the first album and six months to do the second one." Unfortunately for Ron West, there was a great amount of truth in this statement.
"It was very hard to try to write really good new material while the band was traveling from town to town for weeks at a time. The only thing I had to work with was a cheap cassette recorder that had beer spilt all over it... Coors Lite."
Meanwhile back in Kansas City, Chris Fritz had been searching for a big-time national label to take "Missouri" to new heights in the music business. Eventually, his efforts brought Polydor Records into the scene. Chris Fritz and Stan Koran, then Vice President of "Panama Records," scheduled a "Missouri" show at "The Uptown Theatre" in Kansas City and invited A&R Director "Stu Fine" and Polydor Records A&R guys from New York City to Kansas City to check out the group. Although one of the crew set the flash pots off at the wrong time and singed Ron's hair that night, the A&R guys were still duely impressed with the band and signed them to a three-year contract.
Now it was time to go to the studio. This was not the Caves, but a real recording contract with a $100,000 budget. This time "Missouri" enjoyed salaries, a real producer and a stay in the Macon Hilton for a month with rental cars. And the studio was a far cry from Sound Valley Studios. Capricorn Studio in Macon, Georgia was chosen by the record company for the recording because Polydor thought the band had a sound very close to "The Allman Brothers" and many other well-known Southern Rock groups. Paul Hornsby was picked to be producer. He was actually an orginal member of the Allmans' and had produced many Gold and Platinum albums for "Charlie Daniels," "Marshall Tucker," and quite a few other famous Southern Rock bands. Macon is home to the "Allman Brothers;" and "Little Richard" grew up in Macon, washing dishes down at the bus station until becoming the Mega-Star he is today. Capricorn Studio has another fully-equipped studio in Atlanta but this small town in Georgia has a long tradition of producing some of the greatest music and greatest musicians in the area. After all, Steve Walsh of "Kansas" had just left Macon the week before after recording his first solo album at the Capricorn facility in Macon -- and that made for good company. After "Missouri" was finished a band from Georgia called "Two Guns" recorded their first album.
The band spent the next four exciting-filled weeks there in Macon, laying down tracks on two side-by-side Studer 24-track machines with automation, dbx on every track and all the best of the best recording gear available. Pool tables, pin ball machines, and ping pong tables were available for side entertainment while other musicians were recording their individual tracks. Other entertainment was provided by the Hilton Hotel Bar, with "Ned Beatty," the band "Chic," the FBI, Macon police and a really crazed undercover agent who looked like he was a card carrying member of the Klan. He wore strange clothes and forgot to take off the sales tags. Maybe they do that in Macon.
Macon is also the home of many great and well-known musicians such as the "Allmans." One of those groups is the Capricorn Recording group known as "Sea Level." Jimmy Nalls and Chuck Leavell stopped by the studio a few times and ended up playing on some of the "Missouri" tracks for fun and profit. Chuck Leavell's claim to fame is that he has done quite a few tours on keys and piano with "The Rolling Stones."
While staying at the Hilton, the band was in for another treat. The world-famous film director "John Huston" was in the process of making his next (and last) film in Macon called "Volcano." Besides Ron and others getting accidentally filmed in certain scenes of the movie, (scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor), they got to sit in the bar at night and smooze with the likes of "Ned Beatty," "Bruce Dern," and "John Huston" himself. Jack Nicholson was also seen stalking around the set.
There was one mishap that almost spoiled the good times the guys were having in Macon. It seems that one of the crew had someone mail "illegal substances" to the hotel which resulted in the Macon police and FBI breathing down the necks of band members for a few weeks. The "Allman Brothers" had just had a similar experince only months before and the incident split up the band for quite a while. "Missouri" was much luckier. The guilty party went to jail for a few weeks, paid the fines and got out while the recording and mixing continued. When the final mix was done, the band flew back to Kansas City to get ready to hit the road again with their new songs in tow.
Soon the band was back out the road touring with national groups. The new tour vans now received a definite workout. The next tour took the band on a nationwide swipe of the U.S. After warming up for the "The Babys" and "Triumph" in Oakland, California (and tossing a hardball through a plate glass window in the Holiday Inn), "Missouri" continued to tour with those bands up and down the West coast in June 1979. Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Salt Lake and Denver were next. July of that year was spent in the South. The band toured with "Nugent," "REO Speedwagon," "Molly Hatchet," and "Blackfoot" in North and South Carolina, Alabama, Missisippi and all over Florida. The record actually got great airplay and sold amazingly well in Hollywood, Florida. The band later did a show with "Nugent" and "Golden Earring" in Hollywood, Florida.
In August, it was time to move North to Chicago, Indianapolis, Detroit, Cleveland and Buffalo, New York with "Triumph." The band was supposed to do a few gigs in Canada but there was a hang-up on getting the equipment across the border (looking for drugs again it seems.) A really memorable night was when "Missouri" did a show with "Triumph" and the "Babys" in some small town in Michigan. It seems that the two bands had been going head- to-head all summer over who got to headline certain shows and control the P.A. The band members were tensed up and the road crews were in a frenzy. This night would be the clencher. As "The Babys" were half way into their last song of the night, the road crew for "Triumph" cut the ropes on the fire curtain in the hall. The fire curtain came crashing down onto the stage, smashing "The Baby's" equipment while the two road crews jumped into a 15-minute free-for-all, tearing up the stage and ending the show. "Missouri" had already played their set.
Another great story came from a "Bachman-Turner" show in Kearney, Neb., which got a write up in "Rolling Stone". The show took place in a big field outside of Kearney with a huge stage and sky high scaffolding. A storm had been brewing for hours. "Missouri" got up on stage and did a great set with no trouble at all. Randy Bachman complimented the band on their songs and performance and then it was time for him to play.
The storm got worse. The wind picked up across the flat prairie and kicked up an unbelievable amount of dust. Rumors were flying about a tornado but no one knew for sure. Ron was back in one of the motorhomes when someone started to yell. Everyone ran outside just in time to see the wind pick up the slanted rain tarp on the top of the scaffolding and pull the pieces of the scaffolding apart. The guys in the band were still playing but people were screaming at them to get off the stage. Just as the scaffolding came crashing down on the drum kit, the band jumped off the front of the stage. Everyone ran for cover. The story ran in "Rolling Stone" the next week.
Fun on the road continued when Chris Fritz hired a two-engine Cessna to fly the band around on this particular tour. The next day the band showed up at the airport and boarded the ten-seater to fly back to Kansas City. As the plane took off and the ground seemed to drift away, the door of the plane, which was just opposite where Fritz was sitting, flung open at 1000 feet above the ground. Chris's face turned a strange shade of pale and pinkishwhite as everyone else seemed to be enjoying the fun. The plane had to land again so that the door could closed correctly and everyone seemed generally amused by the incident, except for Chris Fritz.
The band continued to play shows and clubs up until 1984, but money was getting really scarce and a new record deal could not be found. Dan left the band to pursue a career in the recording business; Rob Brennan from Thrush took over the drums. The powers that be at Polydor were saying, "Southern Rock is out and New Wave/Punk is in" and the next option on the Polydor contract was canceled. Ron decided to close down the touring until a new recording deal could be found. The last gig "Missouri" played on their regular schedule was a small club in Clarinda, Iowa. The very next night was the first showing of the ABC feature movie, "The Day After" which depicted a nuclear war in which Kansas City would be attacked and NUKED off the map.
This coincidence prompted Ron to say, "Well guys, this is as good a time as any to to shut down the band. Kansas City will be nuked tommorow and we won't have a place to practice. We'd better go home, pack up and leave for somewhere in Mexico... Cancun? The Carribean?
Continue this story, go to Missouri 3