Dave Martens doesn't remember exactly how he first found out about Montana's connection to "The Hippy Hippy Shake." He just recalls hearing that the popular 1959 tune—eventually covered by the Beatles, Davy Jones of the Monkees and the Georgia Satellites—was written by a 17-year-old Billings kid. The kid, Chan Romero, grew up in a family of migrant farm workers. Inspired by the style of Ritchie Valens, Romero wrote several songs and one of them, "The Hippy Hippy Shake," eventually made it into the hands of Valens' record label, Delphi.
"I couldn't believe it," Martens says. "But I looked it up and it was true."
Martens, a Missoula musician with The Best Westerns, and who grew up in Havre, started getting interested in Montana's rock and roll history three years ago. That was when he discovered a 45 by the 1970s Missoula band The Initial Shock in his uncle's record collection. He wondered about all the other bands that had pioneered rock and roll in the state—and then he heard about "The Hippy Hippy Shake" and his curiosity mounted. Right away, he started digging around for more remnants of early Montana bands, and in the process he turned it into a project called Lost Sounds Montana.
Martens' mission is to unearth as many band posters, records, newspaper articles and photographs that he can find of Montana bands dating back to the 1950s on up through the 1980s. His goal is to create a website that documents the history of the bands and that also gathers comments from people who might have memories to share from the way-back files. And, finally, he hopes to collect all the recordings he can find from the state's rock history and turn them into record compilations.
Technically, Lost Sounds started three years ago, but Martens, who is busy in school at the University of Montana earning a degree in speech pathology, has taken it slow. He's chipped away at the task by sending out Facebook messages to old record labels. He's gathered a small group of friends and volunteers who are helping him organize the material, seek nonprofit status for the project and keep the ball rolling. And he's gotten in touch with band members whenever possible.
That part hasn't always been easy.
One musician Martens tried to track down was Kim Sherman from Billings band The Frantics, which broke up in the late 1970s. Martens heard from several sources that Sherman, now in his mid-60s, was a bit of a hoarder and that he had possibly squirreled away an incredible collection of Montana music paraphernalia. The problem was, no one knew how to get a hold of him.
"He was in Hawaii as far as I knew," Martens says. "But his other bandmates couldn't find him."
A couple of years went by with no luck. Finally, in the course of digging around for info on other bands, Martens finally found an email for Sherman. He emailed the musician and Sherman gave him a phone number. But when Martens finally called a week later, Sherman had passed away. Martens never found out exactly what happened, but a few months later he got a phone call from Kit Sherman, Kim's brother. Kit had heard about the Lost Sounds project and, after talking with the other members of The Frantics, he'd decided to share with Martens the posters and records that Kim had collected.
"He said, 'Hey, I heard you were doing this project. I'm having Kim's stuff shipped over and you can have first pass at it,'" Martens says. "All the other band members had vouched for me. They appreciated the project. They see that I'm not out to, like, make a killing." He laughs. "There's no killing to be made!"
Martens has also been lucky enough to successfully connect with musicians from some of the bands. Members of the surf band The Vulcans sent him $400 so he could transfer their songs—early recordings from shows at The Florence Hotel—from reel-to-reel. His digging has also connected band members with each other. The Initial Shock and The Renegades have both talked lightly about doing reunion shows. Others, like George Crowe of the band Yellowstone and a roadie for The Chosen Few and The Initial Shock, have helped Martens with stories about the bands.
Relics from Crowe and Kim Sherman's collection, as well as several other found and loaned posters will be on display at the Zootown Arts Community Center starting Friday. Martens also tracked down Romero, who is now a preacher on a reservation in Palm Springs. He still records music, though he's not a rocker anymore, Marten says. He also agreed to loan out some of his music for the exhibit, including the original recording of "The Hippy Hippy Shake," which was—before it got the LA treatment—recorded in a Billings studio. The exhibit focuses specifically on Montana's 1960s psychedelic garage era and features about 20 groups with names like Burch Ray and the Walkers (Miles City), Thor and the Thundergods (Helena), The Chosen Few and The Vulcans (both Missoula). Colin Pruitt, host of the KBGA show "Ink Mathematics," will play recordings from the bands and a couple of the band members will make an appearance.
Talking with Martens you get a sense that there's an urgency to Lost Sounds. This is an exercise in searching blindly, and for trying to pin down events through memory. Some musicians have left the state for unknown destinations. Some are dead. Records have been sold off in garage sales. Reel-to-reel recordings have disappeared over time. Martens is hoping more people will step forward with leads on other musicians and their work.
If all goes well, Martens is looking to host more exhibits to cover Montana's music in the 1970s, 1980s and even the 1990s. He also wants to expand the idea and document the lost sounds of other places.
"If it's possible, we could use the same model with some of these other under-represented states like Wyoming," Martens says. "Early rock and roll had to have happened in those places, too. There were kids there, so there had to have been something."
Dave Martens and Lost Sounds present A 1960s Psychedelic Garage Rock Explosion exhibit at the Zootown Arts Community Center Fri., Aug. 9, at 5:30 PM. Best Westerns show to follow at 8:30 PM. Free.