Rockin’ with the Rhythms
Thanks to a series of Emails from Blue Rhythm lead guitarist Marvin Ross, I am able to update the Blue Rhythms’ story.
Robbie & The Rhythm Boys/The Rockits – Iowa
Lee Chandler Pickett was born in Roanoke, Virginia and appeared on the Grand Old Opry at the young age of 17. Lee moved eventually to Denver where he would look to start-up a rock and roll band. Marvin Ross was from Maxburg, Iowa and was cited on the Band Box liner notes as “one of the nation’s finest lead guitar players”. Later, Marvin would reside in Des Moines, Iowa where he was a member of a group called Robbie & the Rockits. They released a single locally titled “Don’t Stop, Don’t Stop b/w “Frankie & Johnnie”. Marvin recalls that this was in about 1955.
“The singer on Don’t Stop was group leader Robbie Ralph Robbins. Gary Audsley was on slap bass. We often did Elvis Presley material. And before this we were actually more of a country band called “Robbie & The Rhythm Boys.” Don’t Stop was cut without a label. It was cut by a local bar tender in Des Moines who sold it directly from his club. He only had 200 copies pressed and now it is a collector’s item worth a bunch of money, and I am fortunate to have one copy. It was real rock-a-billy!”
Terry Gordon, author of the web site “RCS Rockabilly” reported to Marvin that the record would bring four figures. A copy did sell in 1997 indeed for $1,000. The Rockits would become the Blue Rhythms in Iowa, a name that Marvin would bring with him to Denver
The Blue Rhythms/Lee and the Screamers – The Group That Wasn’t
Some members of the Rockits had musical differences so Marvin decided to depart Iowa and headed for Denver to find work.
“Landing in Denver I visited a local record store and was informed that there was a group looking for a lead guitar player. I auditioned for them for about six hours. The and the leader asked me to join. The next day I was scheduled to audition with Lee who was putting a group together as well. His trio had a potential recording contract hanging in the wind so I elected to go with Lee. I was to learn later that the other group I auditioned for was Mondo & The Chili Peppers (a group who came out of Texas to Colorado).”
Marvin further related that while he was auditioning – singer Vikki Carr was in Denver and heard him and asked him to join up with her.
Now Lee and Marvin – joined by drummer Paul Jennings from Littleton, Colorado became the rock trio The Blue Rhythms. But their first brush with fame came in 1958 with the release of “Fatty Patty” on the Hollywood label Jolt. The record (which was backed with “She Left Me With The Blues”) charted on Billboard local charts and reached number 1 in Denver. The group recorded the two songs in a Denver home basement.
“We only used “Lee Pickett & The Screamers” for that one record & a few promotional bookings. Jolt Records picked the name for us, but we were the Blue Rhythms.”
The Koko Club/The Ink Spots
In the early 1960’s the band was working at Denver’s Koko Club. Sam’s Koko Club was owned by nightclub personality Sam Calvaresi who also owned the My-O-My Supper Club, The Belmont and Club 400. The Koko was located in the heart of downtown Denver at 1644 Glenarm Place. All of these Denver landmark clubs have long since disappeared.
“While performing at the Koko the owner of a club in Cheyenne, Wyoming came in and hired us for a one-time engagement, opening for the Ink Spots. When we closed the Ink Spots were ready to go on stage but not all members of their backing band had yet arrived. So they asked us to help back them up and we did! Lee later ran into one of the Ink Spots at the musician’s union out in Hollywood. Lee told me that he asked about me and how I was doing. I believe that the Wyoming appearance was around the same time that the Ink Spots were performing around Denver. What a thrill this was. I will never forget it. Only two of the original Ink Spots were still there but I couldn’t tell the difference.” (This probably explains how the group came to record one LP on Denver’s Band Box label where the Blue Rhythms would soon land.)
Of the Blue Rhythms Koko Club owner Sam Calvaresi would state (they) “are the hardest working and one of the most talented young groups I have come across in 15 years of club management!” The group became a mainstay act at the Koko.
Band Box Records/KIMN Radio & Imperial Records
The Blue Rhythms would sign on with Vicki Morrison’s Band Box Records in the early 1960’s. Together as a trio or separately they would cut seven singles and one Long Play “The Blue Rhythms at The Koko”.
“Besides recording solo for Band Box and with The Blue Rhythms, I also did some studio work for Vicky (Morosan) including playing with Band Box artists Bob & Sylvia ( A duo who would do straight pop and also risque comedy.) I even cut an instrumental (for Band Box) called “Ebony” backed with “The Roll”.
Marvin contacted Lee regarding two of the obscure Band Box singles – Band Box 298 “Bona Notte” b/w Echoes Of Your Love” and Band Box 306 “Crazy Little Mixed Up Heart” b/w “Twenty Thousand Sweethearts” both of which are listed on the Band Box recording log but copies of which have not apparently surfaced. Lee reported that he could not recall either single making it onto vinyl and more recently Lee recalls that Band Box 298 “Bona Notte” definitely was not pressed. The song was pitched to Elvis Presley at the time but he recorded “Are You Lonesome Tonight” around that same time and Lee remembers that the two songs were similar and so the Presley people passed.
The Blue Rhythms, Marvin recalls, did some of their recording for Band Box at a studio located in downtown Denver on Mariposa Street, which was owned by Tom Harvey.
“The Blue Rhythms cut “That’s The Way of Love” b/w “How Much” on Band Box 242 at the Harvey studio. I used my echo machine on “That’s The Way of Love”. Tom sold the studio to a man from Phoenix and he continued to operate the Denver studio. He used Ampex equipment. We (Lee and Marvin) did some commercials for him. I did a multi-recording there and local jockeys said it would be a hit., but it was never released. I own a copy but it is very scratchy.
“KIMN supported us so well. Through them we played sock hops with Pogo Poge. When our record “Fatty Patty” came out KIMN elevated us to the number 1 position on their charts where it remained for six weeks. Scott, the program manager at KIMN at the time had Lee, myself along with a sax player and a drummer cut an LP for Imperial Records using material his wife had written (Erma Lee Scott). Ricky Nelson also of Imperial had recorded some of her material. Recently Lee Chandler talked with the people who bought the Imperial catalog and they were still trying to find a time slot to release it to the public. Lee also told me that
The Blue Rhythms Break-Up/California Reunion
“When work was slowing down in Denver we all split. Lee worked for a while as a single artist. Paul became a sheriff and I started up my own group of Blue Rhythms. My grouped worked at Sam Calvaresi’s 400 Club and then a booking agent from Hollywood to perform in Montana. We would follow singer Wayne Newton and so we ended up performing in Las Vegas. Paul Jennings didn’t want to leave town and my new drummer wouldn’t leave his 9 to 5 job so I used fill-in artists. I had Emily Rae in my line-up of Blue Rhythms along with Paul Jennings and another bass player (shown here). Emily did great Petula Clark and Doris Day renditions. “
While in Great Falls, Montana, two of Marvin’s fill-ins bid on the job and excluded the other Blue Rhythms so Marvin decided to head for California to Join up with Lee who was now working there. It was a reunion of sorts of the Blue Rhythms but Paul wouldn’t leave Colorado so they hired female drummer/singer Sue Austin and became The Somewhere Trio.
“We worked about seven lunges in California bowling alleys at various times. From this work, Lee and I were invited to do a show at the Beverly Hills Hotel, which was a “Cameo” fund raiser. We performed for a lot of movie stars and TV personalities on at Jerry Dumpty’s Network News. Andy Williams brother Bob Williams frequented our club often.”
Paul and Marvin would also perform often as a duo as shown on this site. Former Rockit and original Blue Rhythm slap bass player Gary Audsley joined them for a time and they also had bass player Bob Cozar with them. They finally called it quits for good in 1974.
Were Are The Blue Rhythms Today?
Lee continues to live and perform in California. He resides in Canoga Park and plays with his brother Steve and a bass player in a group called “Colorado”. Lee and Marvin talk quite often. Paul Jennings moved to Grand Junction, Colorado and Marvin has not been in touch with him recently. Marvin now lives in Golden Golden Valley, Arizona which is west of Kingman, Arizona. Marvin was inducted into the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008. The induction ceremony was conducted in Clear Lake, Iowa at the scene of Buddy Holly’s plane crash. Says Marvin “I live in Arizona and I am still recording CD’s.”
The Blue Rhythms were busy about town – Notice the many Denver area venues mentioned on this Band Box promotional flyer including the “Dark Horse Ballroom”, “The Back Door”, “The Bonfire” and “The Fireside Lounge” to name a few vintage locations. The flyer announces the “next big Band Box release as “Life of the Blues” – a track which we don’t believe made the release list.
Jolt 331 – Fatty Patty b/w She Left Me With the Blues
Band Box 224 “Tree Top” b/w “Consideration
Band Box 306 (Unreleased) – “Crazy Little Mixed Up Heart” b/w “Twenty Thousand Sweethearts” (Lee Chandler solo)
(If anyone has access to additional images – please send links our way!)
Band Box (Unreleased) – “Little Heart” b/w “Bucklerock”
Band Box (Unreleased) – “Isle of Capri” (B side unknown)
Band Box 1004: “The Blue Rhythms at the Koko”