By Chuck Cecil, guest
Posted online: July 14, 2004
A new book has been released about South Dakota’s best known rock and roll band and its leader, who is considered the father of rock and roll music in the state.
Chuck Cecil of Brookings, a retired South Dakota newsman and former owner of Prairie Publications, has teamed with Myron Wachendorf of Sioux Falls to write Myron Lee and the Caddies: Rockin’ ‘n Rollin’ Out of the Midwest.
Wachendorf changed his name to Myron Lee while still in high school, after he formed the band in 1958 with several classmates. He picked “Lee” because he was a fan of popular singer Brenda Lee and “so people wouldn’t get us confused with a polka band,” he said.
“The Caddies for a band name sounded clean-cut,” Lee said, and was also picked because members of the band had summer jobs as caddies at Sioux Falls golf courses.
Lee’s band was the first successful rock and roll group in South Dakota after the new sound gained in popularity following release of the movie Blackboard Jungle that had a theme song by Bill Haley and the Comets called “Rock Around the Clock.”
Myron Lee and the Caddies entertained for the next 34 years in venues throughout North America and especially at dance halls across the upper Midwest.
The band got its first break in 1958 when it was hired to play at the Stardust Club in east Sioux Falls. Soon they were also playing at the Sioux Falls Cabana Club.
Wachendorf and the others had to have notes from their mothers so that they could perform in establishmentswhere liquor was sold, and to remain out after curfew.
They were soon invited to accompany a big accordion band to a dance at the Groveland Park Pavilion near Tyndall, to play when the big band members took their breaks.
The Groveland dance hall crowd was so taken by Myron Lee and the Caddies that dancers booed when the big band members returned to the stage. The dancehall manager George Beringer recognized the emerging popularity of the new sound and hired Myron Lee for a return engagement.
As the band gained notoriety, it attracted the attention of national signing stars and big names in the music business. Buddy Knox, who wrote and recorded the number one hit “Party Doll,” hired the band to accompany him on the first ever rock and roll coast-to-coast tour of Canada by American artists.
After the Canadian tour, Fargo, N. D. singing star Bobby Vee picked Myron Lee and the Caddies to be his band on tours throughout the nation. The Sioux Falls group also caught the eye and ear of Dick Clark of American Bandstand fame.
Clark hired the band to back up popular musicians on his famous Caravan of Stars that toured the nation by bus. After the initial tour in 1963, Clark hired The Caddies for a return engagement in 1965.
Myron Lee also recorded 13 records, including one he wrote called “Rona Baby,” that climbed to number 10 on the top 40 charts.
After the invasion of The Beatles music from England, the popularity of rock and roll waned, but later made a comeback and Myron Lee and the Caddies were again touring dance halls, pavilions and nightclubs throughout the upper Midwest.
In the book, Lee recalls some of the experiences at dance halls and pavilions in South Dakota and the Midwest, from the Hollyhock in Hatfield, Minn. to Ruskin Park near Forestburg, and dozens of other ballrooms that were Saturday night dancing destinations.
In the book he talks about the changing music preferences and dancing styles, and about the rise and fall of the street dance.
The book includes over 60 photographs of Myron Lee and the Caddies performing with the big stars of the day, from the Everly Brothers to the late Conway Twitty. Cecil said he was amazed at the name recognition of the band throughout South Dakota.
“Just about everyone I talked to who was over 30 years old not only knew of Myron Lee and the Caddies, but had a story to tell about attending a Myron Lee dance when they were younger.”
Cecil said that Myron Lee and the Caddies is probably the most well known South Dakota musical group ever.
What is unique, Cecil said, is that because of the band’s longevity, several generations danced to the music of Myron Lee and the Caddies.
The book is available at Lewis Drug Stores in Sioux Falls, Cover to Cover or from Enterprise Book Company, Brookings, SD.