Dey ~ Drums
Frank Eng ~ Drums
Roger Huycke ~ Drums
Jeff Hawks ~ Vocals
Kirk Holmquist ~ Keyboards
Ron Overman ~ Bass
Craig Tarwater ~ Guitar
Ken Wilson ~ Saxophone
In the mid-60's in Walla Walla, Washington when kids wanted to hear live music there was only one place to go -- the Nat. "Nat" was short for "Natatorium," a large concert hall leased by promoter Al Lenz for musical events. When The Kingsmen, Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Wailers, Don and the Goodtimes, The Sonics, and other well-known Northwest bands of the era came to the area they played at the Nat. But the band that appeared there most often was Walla Walla's own Hawk and the Randelas.
Hawk and the Randelas
By M.D. Brownsworth
Although they had a number of original tunes,the Randelas recorded only one 45, for the Riverton label. The two songs on it were One Like Me and I Don't Wanna Know. Otherwise, they played cover tunes, but what set them apart from the legion of other bands was their choice of material: They covered the Righteous Brothers, James Brown, Junior Walker, and Major Lance -- in short, hip material for the day. By contrast, many other bands' repertoires consisted mainly of tunes with three-chord progressions, such as Louie Louie, Money, Grannie's Pad, etc. When the Randelas covered a Northwest band's tune, it was usually something ambitious, like The Wailers' version of "Ya Ya," a very difficult and syncopated song, especially the drum part.
Without question, the Randelas had the musical ability to do justice to their material. The guitarist, a redhead named Craig Tarwater, was almost a savant on his instrument. His command of the guitar was remarkable; some even described it as "frightening." When other guitarists were noticed in the crowd the Randelas would delight in calling an instrumental tune written by Tarwater named Hangnail, a blistering guitar tour de force. The other guitar players would slink away into the darkness to reexamine their choice of instruments. The drummer, Frank Eng, was also exceptionally gifted. His musical tastes encompassed R & B, soul, and jazz, and it showed in his playing. Eng's drumming was funky in the extreme, and it added a sophisticated rhythmic element to the Randelas' sound. When the band performed Ya Ya, Eng would play a rhythm that incorporated a syncopated pattern between ride cymbal and snare; he called it a "splatter." It would cause other drummers to join the frightened guitar players in the shadows. The bass player, Ron Overman, was a very good singer and excellent at fronting, but the band's main front man was vocalist Jeff Hawks. Hawks' vocal abilities were formidable, enabling him to do a credible job on You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling and other ambitious tunes. The remaining members -- Ken Wilson on saxophone, Kirk Holmquist on organ -- had superb command of their instruments. No doubt about it, the Randelas could play.
And they were entertaining to watch. The Randelas felt that presentation was as important as the music, so they put a great deal of thought and energy into their show. They hired a couple of girls, one of them Al Lenz's daughter, to go-go dance on stage. And dance they did, their energetic gyrations whipping the fringe on their short white mini-dresses. During tunes Hawks, Overman, and Wilson would often do dance steps in unison. Many other bands did "steps," as they were called, but the Randelas' choreography was on a different level, well rehearsed and sophisticated. Hawks, especially, was a talented dancer. He had an arsenal of cool solo moves -- James Brown-inspired stuff -- that always seemed to cause a stir of excitement in the crowd, particularly the female fans. Eng and Holmquist would be flailing at their respective instruments like prizefighters working out on speed bags, augmenting the visual impact of their bandmates' dancing. Regardless of the frenetic activity by the other members, Tarwater would be standing impassively, but absolutely burning on guitar. The contrast was fascinating.
The Randelas always looked like they were digging what they were doing. And they worked hard; their cool-cat tailored suits were usually drenched in sweat by show's end. No would could say that their performance wasn't well worth the dollar or so cover charge at the door, a small price to pay to be part of the scene at the Nat. And it was indeed a scene. Dancers jerked, skated, and ponied to exhaustion, because the Randelas were, first and foremost, a dance band. The people who weren't dancing would crowd in front of the stage, mesmerized, oblivious to the ear-splitting volume from the shrill Atlas horns most of the bands of the day used for P.A.speakers. Many of these onlookers were local musicians who studied every aspect of the Randelas' performance, hoping to go back to their own bands and try to emulate what they'd seen. The Randelas' gigs were always happening. There was the sense that these guys were hip, hipper than you were. And the Nat was the place to be, it was as simple as that.
But nothing lasts forever. In 1966, the Randelas disbanded and the members moved on to other pursuits. Frank Eng and Ken Wilson found jazz gigs. Ron Overman and Jeff Hawks later joined Don and the Goodtimes. Craig Tarwater taught guitar and eventually offered his own guitar method course materials. The Natatorium continued to host occasional shows by touring bands, and the kids would come to see them, because what else was there to do in Walla Walla?
But for a time, in eastern Washington in the mid-60's, Hawk and the Randelas were the hippest of the hip.
M.D. Brownsworth, March 4, 2004 (Revised March 8 & 9, 2004, 3 April 2007 & 11 December 2010)