Now, prior to the emergence of these homegrown groups (and their weekend teen-dances), there apparently wasn’t a whole lot for Boise’s teenagers to do at night besides cruising their hotrods through town, perhaps enjoying a cheeseburger at the Howdy Parder Drive-In, or attending the occasional touring rock ‘n’ roll show at an old big-band era dancehall known as the Miramar Ballroom.
Among the pioneering Boise-based bands, it was the Chancellors who left an audio legacy via four singles. The combo’s origins can be traced back to 1959 when two friends, Tom Lowe (bass) and Dale Rich (keyboards & sax) started jamming casually, but things really began to gel with the participation of a series of other players including: Steve Nelson (guitar), Bill Biggs or Rich McFarland (drums), and Tim Lawson (sax). By 1961 the lineup had stabilized with: Lowe, Rich, Phil Volk (rhythm guitar), Terry Call (lead guitar), Rich Crowley (vocals & sax), Ed Heuman (sax), and Russ Bice (drums).
The Chancellors scored their first paying gig at the Warm Lake Resort’s big Fourth of July bash, and then soon began a two-year series of Saturday night dances at the Fiesta Ballroom, and then the Trocadero Ballroom. At one point their manager, local radio DJ Del Chapman – possibly inspired by local appearances by Tacoma’s influential band, the Fabulous Wailers – billed them on a performance poster as the “Fabulous Chancellors” and, simple as that, they were stuck with the name.
The band had begun developing a powerfully rockin’ Northwest rock sound that was boosted by their three saxophones, a concept they patterned after Fats Domino’s sax choir – an act they’d all seen performing at the Miramar. It was in the summer of 1962 that they entered a small commercial radio jingle studio (Boise’s Music Ads Inc.) to cut a recording of their original compositions, “Blackout” and “Diamond In The Sky.” Pressed as a single on the Chandel label, they hoped that “Blackout” – a killer riff-based instrumental rocker boasting one of the grittiest low-down bari-sax lines ever committed to vinyl – would be their breakout hit. And maybe it would have, but for the unfortunate bits of “humor” grafted on. In response to one voice saying (in an exaggerated African American-type drawl), “It shore is black in heah!,” another says (in an exaggerated gay-type lisp) responds, “I can’t find the sthilly sthwitch.” But, for whatever reason(s), it would be the bland pop flipside, “Diamond In The Sky,” that local KIDO radio picked and pushed to their #1 chart slot. The result was that, in the the big-time Los Angeles-based label, Dot Records, stepped in (in the summer of '63) and licensed the record for national distribution, though they failed to ignite a larger hit.
About this point in time, personnel changes accelerated: Volk had left in the Spring of ’63 and later that Fall, Heuman left for college and was replaced by the appropriately named Monty Saxton. The Fabulous Chancellors’ then cut their second Chandel single, “My Angel” / “Pharaoh.” When Bice left town for college, he was replaced by Mike Fuehrer who soon left town for college and in early 1964 Jim “Buster” Dunn was added. Later that Fall, their third single “Gotta Leave This Town” / “Everytime” was released by Ecco Records, and soon thereafter the whole band (except Lowe) left town, relocating to the Idaho State University campus in Pocatello. The band replaced Boise State student, Lowe, with Steve Eaton and continued building a following. One career highlight was the series of area gigs in which they were hired to back the Soul stars, Dick and Deedee.
It was in early 1965 that the band’s second Ecco single, “Hey Girl” / “Raindrops” was released. The Los Angeles-based Chattahoochee record company somehow took an interest in the recording, licensed it, and hired the ace Hollywood arranger, Don “77 Sunset Strip” Ralke, to sweeten the mix by adding on some violins, trumpets and the like. All this effort did not, however, produce the hit they hoped for.
That Spring season, Call exited to go serve a mission for the LDS church, and was replaced by Dennis Swindle. Eventually the Fabulous Chancellors split into two factions with Saxton leading the Better Half and a few others forming the band Struggle. Meanwhile: Phil Volk resurfaced as “Fang” the toothy bassist with Paul Revere & the Raiders; Bice became a director with the USO show tours; Lowe worked in the country-rock realm; and Saxton was last spotted in December 1967 gigging with some unknowns billed as the “Chancellors.”
[Note: This is an edited version of an essay that originally appeared in the “Northwest Music Archives” column of Seattle’s The Rocket magazine back in July, 1984.]
Text copyright © 1984, 2014 by Peter Blecha.
Text copyright © 1984, 2014 by Peter Blecha.