The new year held promise. Winter was cold, but the No Left Turns were undergoing a small-scale climate change, growing hotter every week. We were playing for school dances all over the county, looking pretty cool in our matching Beatle boots and tan jackets that resembled salvaged burlap sacks. Our personnel had changed too. Bruce was recruited to play drums. Tony replaced Carl, playing lead guitar on a Fender Telecaster through a Twin Reverb amp. Mike was still strumming his Fender Squire and I was plucking my Kalamazoo bass, both through Sears Silvertone amps. Despite a dearth of high-end equipment, we sounded “pretty good,” as reported by the few brave kids who would approach us after a dance.
The real test was only weeks away. Around Easter break, the Beloit Jaycees were sponsoring a “Battle of the Bands” competition in the Memorial High School gym. I’m not entirely certain who among us saw the newspaper promotion first, but I’d bet my bass it was Bruce. We signed up. Bruce took care of the details.
The high school gym was arranged with platforms at either end so one band could perform while another could be setting up their gear. Eight bands competed, each granted fifteen minutes to get the teenage audience dancing while simultaneously influencing the adult judges . The No Left Turns drew a long straw so we were the last band to compete. Once we unloaded the trailer, much of our time was spent in the boys restroom, wisely constructing a set list. We even worked out a few synchronized moves, or “steps” as we referred to them. Man, we were determined to flaunt our full range of talent.
We set up our gear on the west platform as the now long forgotten penultimate band made their joyful noise at the opposite end. When it was finally our turn, I stepped to the mic and greeted the audience, “Hello. We’re the No Left Turns.” Bruce counted off, “One, two, three, four…” Guitars, bass, and drums joined in near perfect synchronicity as we hit the opening chords to Devil with a Blue Dress/Good Golly Miss Molly. Within seconds everyone was dancing! But we were just warming up. To showcase our versatility, we played Snoopy vs. the Red Baron next, hoping something cute would curry favor with the judges. Our softer side was revealed on Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying, a slow song introduced as a lady’s choice by Mike whose velvet voice made the girls swoon. That left plenty of time for our coup de gras: a high energy cover of Shout that had the audience jumping and flailing their arms in the air as intended. The set concluded and we took our bows to wild applause and cheering. This, despite having forgotten all about the “steps” we’d rehearsed previously in the restroom, damn it.
We leapt off the platform and milled around impatiently, waiting another fifteen minutes for the results to be announced while someone played records over the house speakers. Eventually, the voice of a local DJ crackled above the hubbub. He issued the first award for showmanship, bestowed upon the drummer of the Prodigal Sons from Janesville. “OK, so he’s Mr. Congeniality,” I sniped out loud, “Let’s get on with it.” Our confidence was seriously shaken when the Corporation of Sound was awarded second place. “What the hell? The Marauders were way better than those guys,” Tony blubbered. “We’re screwed,” I added. In our estimation, the Marauders had been our only real competition in this battle. Dejected, we feared the worst. But our shroud of gloom lifted and our jaws dropped when we heard the words, “First prize goes to…(long pause)… the No Left Turns!” Mike jumped into my arms and we all congratulated ourselves, smacking each other’s backs like we’d just reached number one on the Billboard chart. If we’d smoked cigars I’m certain we’d have been passing them out like proud expectant fathers.
The Beloit Daily News made no mention of our laurels. Our sole accolade appeared in the Beloit Memorial High School student newspaper, The Increscent, pictured above. Word on the street suggested the Marauders would have won, save for a mistake one of their guys made by performing in two different bands at the same competition. Apparently, that was a rule violation, or perhaps a breach of etiquette. Nonetheless, we savored our victory. Bruce even wrote a note of appreciation to the Jaycees and mailed it to the Daily News. It was printed in the “Letters to the Editor” column on March 22, 1967. I never suspected him of rubbing it in. Would you?