Smiling Castle - Photo Courtesy of Rob Bender
Rob Bender, Steve Schurr, Ken Chikasuye, Greg Moore, Forest Brown - 1967
Photo Courtesy of Rob Bender

Smiling Castle
Montesano, Washington
1966 ~ 1968


Brad Beck ~ Guitar, Vocals
Barry Bellandi ~ Drums
Rob Bender ~ Drums, Vocals
Jeff Bernhoft ~ Bass
Forest Brown ~ Bass
Ken Chikasuye ~ Guitar, Bass
Bob Eberle ~ Drums
Toby Millican ~ Drums
Greg Moore ~ Keyboards, Trumpet, Vocals
Rich Nixon ~ Bass
Steve Schurr ~ Guitar, Vocals

In Memory of

Toby Millican

Smiling Castle also recorded one 45 rpm, "Age of Decision" written by Rob Bender and recorded by the original members (see photo) in 1967 or '68.  Apparently it was released as an unauthorized demo.

The Smiling Castle was based in Montesano and contained several people who were previously in Robbie Lee and the Confederates. The original band was made up of Rob Bender (drums), Steve Schurr (guitar) who had recently left the Beachcombers as I remember, Forest Brown (bass), Greg Moore (organ), and Ken Chikasuye (rhythm guitar). The first four were from “Monte” and Ken was Greg’s friend from UPS.

 Rob was replaced by Toby Millican from the Henchmen out of Willapa Valley and then Ken was replaced by me (Brad Beck). Then Forrest left and then began a long string of bass players until Ken rejoined us, this time on bass. Toby left somewhere in ’68 as well and was replaced by a string of different drummers.

The Smiling Castle played some fairly good gigs. The first weekend I was with them, we opened for the Sonics at the Happening. Later we opened for the Beach Boys and Buffalo Springfield at a concert at St. Martin’s College and shared the stage with Merrilee and the Turnabouts at the Evergreen Ballroom. high schools, armories, a tour of southern Oregon and northern California: the Smiling Castle’s beige and white Ford Econoline put on some miles, even after reverse gave out and you always had to park facing downhill.

We cut one single, Age of Decision, at Audio Recording (with the famous Kearney Barton at the board) that was never officially released.  Our manager took it around to radio stations and it got some serious airplay in Olympia — or so I’ve been told; I never heard it — where we practiced (at the late, lamented Tropics Ballroom, no less).  Rob Bender tells me that someone told him they heard it on the radio in California.  Rob wrote Age of Decision but he wasn’t on that recording (although he may have been on a demo).

The band broke up at the beginning of the summer of 1968. Greg got drafted, I played with the Boss Tweed at our “be-ins” at the Raymond City Park, Ken went back home to Hawaii (where he runs a recording studio on the Big Island of Hawaii), and Steve found a series of other bands to play with.

Steve has played in a number of bands (including the Jim Valley Band, during their Christian period). Steve and I played in the Show Biz Kids together, Rob and I played together in Chakra and Calisto and Laughing Hand (in Madison, WI) and some “one-offs”

Brad Beck, September 2002

You couldn't have picked a worse spot to be a musician...and in some cases a better spot.

Back in the very early '70s in Hoquiam Washington, there was this group of musicians I guess I'll call, for lack of a better term, the "Paralandra Mafia" . A bunch of broke-assed hippies as I remember.  Jeez, we were all so broke!
The Paralandra was this old community center that the musicians managed to take over. It was a place where all the musicians went to play, or in my case learn. Everybody could play and learn, create and inspire. It was an amazing place.

There were the Schurr Bros, Gary McKinney, Rick Nixon, Brucie Hughes and too many others to mention. They gave so many musicians their inspiration and start, or in the case of Steve Schurr, selling his guitars to me, so I could get started.

Steve..know what your '61 Epiphone Wilshire is worth today?  I hate to think.  I broke it years ago.  If you could hear Steve play Jeff Beck back then, you just knew you wanted to be a musician!  He'd show you everything he knew, for as long as you wanted! You always remember that first time when someone from the "good band" asks you up on stage to play with them... that was Steve.

Gary McKinney had everything it took to make that place happen.  I still dont know how he did it, but I'm glad he did.  Gary and the brothers would have these incredible jams in the front yard while traffic was passing by. I think he had great musical & organizational talent.

Rich Riipa, Rick Nixon and myself  would sit there amazed at this band, and "someday--someday" yeah! we are gonna be that good, and we'd get motivated!  Bear in mind that we couldn't be much further from the music centers of the world.

Bruce Hughes did the same thing.  He gave many people their first gig in the meanest toughest bars around. He always had your back, and always gave you the shirt off your matter what!  This was a tough existence back then, and Bruce took more crap from life than anyone I know, yet he just kept going!  He'd just get up on stage and play and sing his ass off.  I remember many times I told him I had quit his band to go with something else, but my car would never start.  Bruce would actually get up at 7:00 am, drive his clunker 10 miles to my house in the snow just to jump start my dead battery so I could drive to auditions in Seattle or something!  He did this repeatedly!   By the way, he might still have a mint '63 John Lennon Rickenbacker, and a coffee shop in McCleary, so buy a cup and listen to him.

I can think of a lot of great musicians, but I can think of very few who made it possible for everyone else like these guys did.

Maitland Ward, March 2006

I found an old vinyl recording of the Smiling Castle song that I wrote called "Age of... (Descision)" from the original ogan player, Greg Moore.  The line-up for the recording was:

Steve Schurr: lead guitar, lead vocal
Greg Moore: organ, bkgd. vocal
Forest Brown: bass, bkgd. vocal
Brad Beck: guitar, bkgd. vocal
Toby Millican: drums, bkgd. vocal

Rob Bender, March 2008

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Last Update: 28 June 2011
Credits: Brad Beck, Rob Bender, Tim Hill, Larry Townsend, Maitland Ward
Band # 554