Legendary area band first performed in 1969
Hall of Fame musician Mike Shaw, of Hutchinson, has been playing guitar since he was in grade school. For more than 50 years he’s performed with many groups including the popular Shaw Allen Shaw and Shaw Bands. Photo by Steve Palmer
For six years the boys in the Shaw Band stopped playing the music.
But the band and their songs never really left their blood.
And now the band is back together again rekindling memories for aging Baby Boomers and rock ‘n’ roll fans of other generations with a replay of good music from a period of time when the Shaw Band was one of the most popular groups in Minnesota.
The Shaw Band’s appearance at the Island Ballroom in Bird Island and Lake Henry late last year continued a nostalgic reunion road tour that has scheduled more shows for 2016.
The roots of the Shaw Band began when 4-year-old Mike Shaw moved with his family from Mankato to Litchfield in 1948. His musical talents began to surface in grade school when he learned to play the trumpet. He was inspired by his uncle, Robert Rheaume, who also played the trumpet with old time and modern bands around the New Ulm and Mankato areas.
While attending St. Phillip’s grade school Mike often would walk past a bar/restaurant on the way home. The bartender would notice him carrying his trumpet and say, “Bring that horn in here and play some songs.” Whenever Mike needed a little money, he would stop at the bar and played his horn for a half hour to earn 25 cents. He also put on little shows and parades that would feature kids from his neighborhood. Someday, he thought, he’d like to have a band.
Florian Shaw, Mike’s dad, owned a record and juke box sales route and played guitar, accordion and stand up bass. Shaw learned bass from his father and Dennis, Mike’s older brother, and took an interest in playing guitar and singing too. Dennis started a small combo group and played at local roller rinks and school dances.
The group would practice in the Shaw garage and leave the drums set up. Mike watched and thought he could also play the drums. At some of his brother’s shows, Dennis would call Mike to the stage, and they would sing an Everly Brothers song with a couple of friends or Teenager in Love by Dion and the Belmonts.
Dennis graduated from high school and joined the Marines but asked Mike to take care of his guitar. So, Mike started playing guitar.
While in high school he played drums with a couple of guys from his brother’s band but had to rent them from a friend every time he played. Soon, Mike started playing music with a couple of other guys and rented the Litchfield City Hall basement when they played.
Shaw’s father died in 1961 and left the brothers with an Electric Kay stand up bass which was a rarity in the area. Mike started playing the electric bass, loved it and spent many hours practicing. His younger brother, Terry, also showed a talent for the drums which was to shape things for the future.
Mike graduated from high school in 1962 and he joined a Willmar-based band called The Embers. The band members sprayed their hair red and wore red coats as they played all around the state before Mike left the group and moved to Minneapolis about two years later.
While attending Brown Institute to study broadcasting, he roomed with members of The Trashmen band. Shaw worked as a road manager for the group who recorded the hit single Surfin’ Bird. It wasn’t long before the band packed their instruments to follow their fame to California. But Mike stayed to become involved with music and bands in southern Minnesota including time with the Defiants.
As well as being an active musician he sold band equipment, and promoted and booked local Minnesota bands all around the state. Whenever The Trashmen returned to Minnesota the Defiants usually played the warmup act for the band.
Then in 1969, the legend of the Shaw Band was born when Mike and Jim Allen got together and formed the Shaw Allen group which changed to Shaw Allen Shaw when Terry Shaw was added to the trio. Terry had returned from serving in the Army, and Jim also was a veteran having served as a medic in Vietnam.
They began rehearsing together and playing gigs while Mike continued to work at a music store in Willmar, and Allen owned one in Litchfield. There weren’t many rock bands around at the time, and Shaw Allen Shaw rapidly filled that entertainment void by drawing big crowds. They became an overnight success and were so popular that they were playing six nights a week.
The Shaw Band performed a song during a reunion tour performance held at the Island Ballroom in Bird Island last November. Photo by Steve Palmer.
“The timing was just right as the legal drinking age had been lowered to 18 years old, and our crowds kept getting younger,” Mike recalled. “People often were lined up outside waiting to get into the ballroom for our shows.”
From 1969-1975 the band continued their dominance of the Willmar area scene and once played a grueling schedule of 28 straight days. And, they sold out the Lake Marion Ballroom near Brownton 30 times in a row.
Some of their other early bookings included regular appearances at the American Legion Club in Litchfield, the Velvet Coach in Hutchinson and Fireside Inn Lounge in Willmar. “We went into it with the idea of bringing back dancing,” Mike said. One of the hardest parts of being so popular and playing so many engagements was the travel. Sometimes they’d spend 14 hours together at a time driving an unmarked three-quarter ton van with their equipment to far off places in Iowa, Wisconsin and the Dakotas.
Mike remembers once doing a talent booking for Tommy James and the Shondells for $1,800 to do a show at Kimball. “This was 1970, and I was always looking for ballrooms to get our band into too,” he added.
He recalled a time when they were booked to play at the Terp Ballroom in Austin. “We must have put up about 2,000 advance posters in the area,” Mike said. “The night we were there to play a big fight broke out in the street outside the ballroom. The police came to break it up and then came in and shut the place down. We had to quit playing because they were sending everybody home,” Mike noted.
In 1970 Shaw Allen Shaw recorded their first album, This Side/That Side and in 1972 they recorded a second album which was called South Fork Crow River. They sold 1,500 of the first and 2,000 of the second album.
As the band’s frontman and business manager, Mike was a skilled booking agent and promoter who knew where and how to book a band. It was intended to be part-time work at the beginning, but the trio found themselves playing so many venues that Jim Allen closed his music store in 1972. Mike left the Willmar music store shortly and moved to Hutchinson but still worked part time at Wally Pikal’s music store in Hutch. Meanwhile, Terry continued to teach art at Glencoe’s Middle School.
Every year Shaw Allen Shaw was in existence they received the Ballroom Operator’s Association Award for being one of the top bands in Minnesota. They were credited as being instrumental in bringing the rock band business back to clubs and ballrooms.
The band jumped from getting $90 for one night at a ballroom early in the first year or two to commanding a healthy percentage of the gate, after drawing a thousand or more people at their shows. “It snowballed bigger than we expected,” Mike said. “We couldn’t believe the success we were having.”
However, by 1977-78 band members began to start changing, and after Jim and Terry left the trio, the band became known as Shaw Allen for a time and then the Shaw Band when Mike began recruiting other musicians in 1980. The new nucleus of the Shaw Band now included Greg Muellerleile, Brian Jentges and Dan Wessman. Once again the chemistry was right, and they found themselves on the road to even more success. Jentges and Wessman stayed with the band for all of its 28 years while Muellerleile left for awhile to form his own band, Jack Diddley, before returning to Shaw again.
Mike continued to lead the band playing guitar and singing as the group played a variety of familiar top hits including requests for their followers. He was doing what he loved best, but to be involved with the demanding business of entertaining for a remarkable 50 plus years almost didn’t happen if not for two successful major heart surgeries.
When Mike was a 10-year-old boy in 1954 he was diagnosed as having a large hole between the two main pumping chambers in his heart, as well as a blockage that limited blood flow. At the time, no one expected him to live much beyond his 20s.
A risky open heart operation was performed by renowned University of Minnesota surgeon Dr. C. Walton Lillehei which became only the third life-saving cross circulation procedure recorded at that time.
Shaw’s defective heart had been corrected by the pioneering surgery, but his diet of poor eating while on the road with the band and smoking, coupled with a family history of heart disease, put him in a position for another setback.
Mike’s dad died of a heart attack at age 42, and his brother Terry also had to have a double-bypass operation. In 1996 Mike had triple-bypass surgery after doctors discovered his left main artery was 95 percent blocked and other arteries 80 percent and 50 percent blocked.
He spent 10 days recuperating in a hospital and was able to break his smoking habit. But after returning home he was still too sore to play guitar on a full-time basis with the band. Some nights he’d have to leave the stage after awhile because he couldn’t take the strain. It took several months before he felt back to normal.
In 2000, Mike was inducted into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame, and he has been on the board of directors for the organization the past 16 years. Then the Shaw Allen Shaw Band and the Shaw Band were both inducted into the Mid-Minnesota Rock and Country Hall of Fame in 2006.
During his music career Mike said he’s had an opportunity to meet many interesting people and performers, including Roy Orbison, Peter Yarrow, Everly Brothers and Waylon Jennings.
Some of the ballrooms where the Shaw Band once played are no longer in business, closed or torn down. One of his all-time favorites still operating is the Kato Ballroom in Mankato.
The Shaw Band continued playing until 2008. Competition for the entertainment dollar was changing, and the band found themselves getting fewer bookings. And, most of the band members had other jobs and obligations as well which made it more difficult to coordinate work schedules.
“We didn’t really want to quit because we were still on top at the time, but a decision was made to stop playing together,” Mike explained. Their longevity in the entertainment business was attributed to being consistent, reliable, adaptive to change and performing music of the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s at a high level of excellence.
“We always thought that if people are dancing to our music it meant they liked what we were doing,” Mike commented. “I always believed that whatever I did I wanted to play with top-notch guys, and Brian, Greg and Dan were among the best,” Mike stated.
But the music just wouldn’t stop for Mike. By 2010 he started the Papa Shaw Band and got Jentges to return for a few shows. Then in 2011 the original Shaw Allen Shaw band members got together for the first time in 35 years to play a reunion concert in Litchfield.
As it turned out, Mike and Brian then began talking about doing a reunion tour for the Shaw Band. “Greg and Dan decided they’d like to do it too so we started practicing to get ready, but we found the hardest thing was doing all the singing again,” Mike said.
Minnesota Music Hall of Fame Shaw Allen Shaw Band members from the group that started in 1969 include from left: Terry Shaw, Jim Allen and Mike Shaw. (Contributed photo).
The reunion tour began in December 2014 with a sold-out show at Buster’s in Mankato. That opening was followed up the next year with two appearances at Lake Henry, Henderson and the ballroom in Bird Island. They will start their 2016 schedule with a performance at the Winery near Hutchinson in March followed by other select appearances.
And if that’s not enough for Mike, he also plays in a polka band that makes appearances at various church festivals and events. He feels blessed to have a passion for music which he agrees has helped him survive and recover from his heart surgeries.
Today, Mike smiles when he thinks about all the people who told him he’d never be able to make a living playing in a rock ‘n’ roll band. But he credits the support of special people who helped him along the way. Among them are his wife Karen of 50 years, his parents, his brothers and the inspiration that came from uncle Rheaume and his trumpet.
The Shaws have four children: Mark, Jeff, Trent and Stacee. His sons are active in the entertainment business with a band called The Shaw Brothers. Stacee danced with a ballet company and taught dance with her mother.
“I think you can see the tradition of entertaining continues in our family,” Mike said.