Senders Named to music hall of fame
The year is 1962, and a trio of teenage siblings from Newell decided to play some rock 'n' roll. The medium is still as young as they are - it has been only a couple of years since Elvis first appeared on Ed Sullivan and Buddy Holly died in an Iowa plane crash.
The jukebox that year was ruled by "The Wanderer," Surfin' Safari," "Johnny Angel," "Return to Sender." The Twist was all the craze.
Music was exploding, and bands were creating a new sound in basements and garages everywhere, especially, it seemed in Northwest Iowa.
They were simpler times. Dick Van Dyke - in black and white - was must-see TV, and "West Side Story" was packing them into theaters. Peter, Paul and Mary were winning the Grammy. Marilyn Monroe was still alive as that summer began, and Mickey Mantle was MVP. A stamp cost four cents that year, and you could cruise on gas at around 28 cents in your groovy Corvair.
It would be two years before Americans first heard of the Beatles. Woodstock was still safely seven years away.
A fledgling group that would come to be known as The Rolling Stones was just forming up that summer.
And so were The Senders. And while almost all of the peers in the music business from that time have long since split up, retired or passed away, The Senders just keep on rocking.
"After doing this for 43 years straight, we still get a big thrill," said Don Schossow, a member of the founding family of the band. " A lot of times when we go to a gig, we end up getting on stage and starting to play before we were supposed to, because we can't wait. There's no other feeling like the energy you get from a crowd that's having fun."
This Labor Day weekend, the local band The Senders will get their due, and be inducted into the Iowa Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame.
Some may feel the honor is overdue for Iowa's longest-running band, but Schossow just shrugs.
"When we started all those years ago, we never would have imagined we would still be around doing this, or that we would be going into any kind of hall of fame, so it's a real honor," he said. "Honestly, the bands they usually induct were only around in the '60s, and I'm not sure they know quite what to do with a bunch like us that just won't quit."
Don has been playing rock 'n' roll for almost as long as rock 'n' roll existed to play. As a freshman at Newell High at the beginning of the 1960s, he put his talents on the guitar to work in a popular but short-lived band called The Twilighters. A bandmate, Rusty Davis from Newell, went on to cut records with several bands before launching a popular long-running Wayne Newton impersonator show in Vegas in recent years.
The Twilighters broke up after only a few months, but Don had taught his little brother Dave to play the bass at 12, and with sister Colleen, and friends Dave "Maynard" Wayt, Danny Peterson and Kevin Gillette, The Senders came together.
It was a time when bands tucked in their shirts and combed their hair. The Senders' upbeat sound found instant popularity, and they traveled the area to play every weekend, from teen dances in dim legion halls to the stages of the Cobblestone at Storm Lake and the original Roof Garden at Okoboji. By 1967, they were touted as the Band of the Year at the Roof Garden.
The lineup has changed somewhat through the decades. Dave, Don and Maynard are still the backbone of The Senders, along with Darwin Eaton of Pocahontas on sax, and drummer Kenny Bright from Cherokee, a 15-year veteran who took over for Bob Harrison, who had kept the beat for 18 years before that.
The music was changing too, and not always for the better.
"We came through a lot of changes, some that I liked, and some that I didn't. We became a little disillusioned when everything went to very hard rock, and then disco," Don remembers. "For a while in the 1970s we decided to switch over to play country."
The brothers Don and Dave turned their attention to their law enforcement careers, each with sheriff's departments in the area. Dave continues as a deputy in Ida County, while Don has since gone into private investigation. Sister Colleen was out of the picture, and today works with the Blockbuster company in Phoenix. Around that time, Wayt was injured in a car crash, and The Senders had hit the lowest note of their careers.
By 1978, Don was itching to return his band to its former glory, and his two original bandmates were easily convinced to hit the road on a regular basis again. The Senders decided to be true to their roots and return to the classic rock 'n roll.
"We decided that this band is going to play stuff that the people know, and we hope the people who come to our shows will sing along or dance to it," Don said. "If they can't do one of those two, we aren't going to play it."
While the band has created its own original songs, they are seldom heard by audiences, as The Senders cling to their rule of familiarity. They have mastered countless tunes from all genres and eras over the year. "Our attitude is that we'll try just about anything, and if the people don't respond, we'll throw it right out," Don said. "It seems to work. We have people who will follow us to every show all over the region."
When pressed, Don admits to only one favorite artist. "My favorite song to perform would be 'My Way'" by Elvis," he says.
The Senders' recording career has been sporadic, as they prefer live shows to the studio.
They released their first 45 rpm record from the storied Great Lakes Recording Studio in 1967, at the height of their original popularity, including their hit "She Told Me."
In 1992, after they had again become favorites across the region, they recorded their first tape. "The years were going by, and we decided we had better record something before we quit," Don said, though in retrospect, quitting is one tune this band doesn't know.
In 2002, they recorded a CD to mark their 40th year in the business. "I think we might as well do another one to have ready for our induction ceremony," Don adds.
Like other bands from their era, they will gather at the new Roof Garden to perform at the Hall of Fame Show - with 15-17 current or former Senders en route. It will not, however, be a goodbye concert. "If they were waiting for us to retire, they may be waiting quite a while," Don smiles.
The band does take a break from time to time, which helps to keep the act recharged and fresh. After all these years, The Senders still practice diligently. "That probably explains our longevity. We've never stopped working at it," Don said. "You'll still find us in basements and garages, and we've used every one of our living rooms as well as The Bright Side bar to practice."
They continue to add songs to their repertoire, borrowing from the '50s to the '90s. "Last week, we started work on a version of 'Rock This Town' from the Stray Cats," Don said.
Still, the original members are a bit nostalgic for the way things used to be.
"It was such a privilege to get to play places like The Cobblestone Ballroom and the old Roof Garden. They were wonderful places for music," Don said.
In the 1960s, we used to run into the other bands all the time. You would see The Flippers all the time, and 20 miles later, you ran into The Rumbles, The Thunderbolts, D.J. and the Runaways and a lot of other really talented people who played around this area. At that time, every Legion Hall or available building moved the chairs to the outside edge and threw teen dances.
"It's hard to find a live band these days. I'm afraid we are becoming extinct," Don said.
He is somewhat heartened to see some young bands - people no older than he was back in 1962 - picking up instruments and trying to find gigs around the Storm Lake region.
"And then, there are a few bands that are in the Iowa Hall of Fame who have gotten so excited after getting back together for their inductions that they are playing together again. I love to see those guys out there - some of them I haven't seen since the '60s."
The Cobblestone is long since boarded up, and today's gigs are more likely to be anniversary and wedding dances. "And for some reason, we get called to play fire departments. We've done a lot of fundraisers with firemen all over this area; they're a lot of fun," Don added.
The Senders have also been able to lend their sound to many good causes over the years - including fundraisers for the Make a Wish program for ill children. "We feel good about that. We were never in this for the money," Don said.
And while they may be enshrined in the Hall of Fame with all the other famous names of a more innocent time, as long as there is a crowd somewhere waiting for their faithful brand of feel-good music, the Senders will rock on.