Thundertree


Band members                             Related acts

  line up 1 (1967-68) as The Good Idea

- Bob Blank (RIP) -- lead vocals
- Rick LiaBraaten (aka Rick Leah Bright) -- drums, percussion,

   vocals

- David Linder -- guitar, vocals
- John Meisen -- keyboards, synthesizers, vocals


  line up 2 (1968-70) as Thundertree

NEW - Bill Hallquist (RIP 2015)  -- vocals, guitar (replaced 

  David Linder)
- Rick LiaBraaten (aka Rick Leah Bright) -- drums, percussion
- John Meisen -- keyboards, synthesizers
NEW - Terry Tilley -- bass
NEW - Dervin Wallin -- vocals 

 

  line up 3 (1970-70) 
- Rick LiaBraaten (aka Rick Leah Bright) -- drums, percussion

NEW - George Magee -- keyboards (replaced John Meisen

NEW - Mike Mankey -- lead guitar (replaced Bill Hallquist)
NEW - Jeff Shapiro -- vocals, guitar (replaced Dervin Wallin)
- Terry Tilley -- bass

 

 

 

Billy (aka Bill Hallquist)

- Good Idea (Bob Blank, Bobby Hallquist, Rick Labraaten and

  John Miesen) 

- The Litter (Dervin Wallin)

- Triad (Mike Mankey)

- The Whole Earth Rainbow Band (Terry Tilley)

 

 


 

Genre: psych

Rating: **** (4 stars)

Title:  Thundertree

Company: Roulette

Catalog: SR-42083

Year: 1970

Country/State: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: white label promo copy; DJ stamp on back cover

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 4963

Price: $150.00

Cost: $66.00

 

I've always been amazed at how many great (and often unknown) bands spring from Minnesota. Must have something to do with the long, cold winters that force folks into indoor activities ... That said, this is an album where the isolated reviews I'd read really didn't say much of note - the effort was described as likeable, but extremely rare. Not much to go on ...

Well I found a reasonably priced copy and here's what I think. 


In terms of biographical information I know very little about this outfit.  The late singer Bob Blank, guitarist Bob Hallquist, drummer Rick LiaBraaten and keyboardist John Meisen had been members of the St. Paul, MInnesota-based The Good Idea.  Along with guitarist Dave Linder the group started out doing popular covers before starting to record original material.  Through those original tunes they became early exponents of the Christian rock genre.  The band played local dances and clubs, surviving long enough to travel to Chicago where they recorded and released an obscure self-financed 1968 single.  Reportedly 400 copies were pressed.

 

 

 

 

 

- 'Patterns In Life' b/w 'Inside, Outside' (Good Idea catalog number 2889).  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 45's religious orientation caught some local attention, including a patron in the form of Reverend John Rigren who featured the single on his local radio program, but failed to sell.  Guitarist Linder then decided to head off to college.  Singer/guitarist Billy Hallquist was brought in as a replacement.   Bass player Terry Tilley was also added to the line- up.  The revamped band continued to play local clubs, their show including an early light show.  They also started reworking some of their Good Idea material, culminating in recording a demo of their concept piece '1225.'    A copy of the demo ended up in the hands of the New York-based Roulette Records which signing the group to a contract.  There were a couple of catches with Roulette demanding several changes.  First was a request the band shift to a secular catalog.  Second was a name change.  Goodbye to Good Idea and hello to the hipper Thundertre.  Roulette subsequently added the final "e" to the name, e.g. Thundertree


With a contract in hand and some signing cash in their pockets the band went into Minneapolis' Universal Audio Studios. With keyboardist Meisen serving as producer, 1970's "Thundertree" was inconsistent, but enjoyable.   A big part of the inconsistency stemmed from Blank's decision to quit in the middle of the recording sessions.  Ongoing tensions with band manager Jason Kennedy simply reached the breaking point.  Hallquist was asked to take over lead vocals, but pushed for the band to recruit a new singer.  Dervin Wallin was quickly hired.  The collection's inconsistency also reflected the split nature of the material.  Side one featured  new vocalist Wallin on a series of new secular numbers.  Penned by keyboardist Meisen, 'Head Embers', 'Dusty Roads' and the fuzz guitar powered 'In the Morning' offered up an attractive mix of psych and more hard-rock oriented moves. The lone Hallquist lead vocal, the bouncy pop-psych ditty 'Summertime Children' was the album's most atypical song and also the standout performance.  Admittedly these "new" numbers weren't earth shattering.  Wallin wasn't any great shakes as lead singer, though in his defense having just been hired he literally had to learn the songs while the band split their time between live dates and studio recording sessions.  Luckily his voice was powerful and the occasionally screechy vocals were well suited to the band's guitar and keyboard propelled repertoire.  The material featured on side two reflected The Good Idea.  '1225' was the song that got the band signed to Roulette.  A six piece, side long concept piece '1225'  (look at the title as a date 12/25),  the suite  featured a much more progressive, non-secular sound.  Original singer Blank handled vocals and guitarist David Linder proved a talented player.

 

In spite of flaws, "Thundertree" is one of those records that grows on you with each spin.  

 

"Thundertree" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Head Embers  (John Meisen) - 3:20   rating: **** stars

I've always liked Bill Hallquist's raw, sounds-live performance on 'Head Embers.'  Admittedly this low-tech sound won't appeal to everyone, but it found a niche with me.  More garage than psych, the real prize here was Terry Tilley's awesome bass work.
2.) At the Top of the Stairs  (John Meisen) - 3:25  
rating: *** stars

Usually I'm not a big jazz fan, but 'At the Top of the Stairs' managed to pair a pleasant melody with some nice harmony vocals and a slightly jazzy vibe.  Again, Tilley's melodic bass was the song's secret sauce.  The song was also noteworthy for John Meisen's early use of a Moog synthesizer.  There isn't much information to go with it and the sound quality is a bit muddy, but YouTube has clip of the band performing the tune at a June 2015 performance at the Town Green Amphitheater in maple Grove, Minnesota: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NmDVYIZ1Zps 
3.) Summertime Children  (John Meisen) - 4:14  
rating: **** stars

Shifting gears, 'Summertime Children' featured Halllquist on lead vocals and sported one of the album's prettiest melodies with a goofy pop-psych vibe.  The bouncy backing vocals were a hoot.  With a slightly different arrangement it would have made a nice single.
4.) In the Morning  (John Meisen) - 2:44  
rating: **** stars

On the heels of their breeziest performance, the fuzz guitar powered 'In the Morning' trotted out a taunt slice of radio-friendly hard-rock.  Hallquist's solo was awesome.  Shame nobody was listening as this would have been an awesome 45.
5.) Dusty Road  (John Meisen) - 3:45  
rating: *** stars

The rocker 'Dusty Roads' found John Meisen's stabbing organ taking the spotlight.  The Gospel segments were a total surprise; didn't really fit in the song structure and didn't help make the song and better.

(side 2)

1.) 1225  (John Meisen - Bob Blank) - Alone I Am  (instrumental)   (John Meisen - Bob Blank) - 2:52  rating: **** stars

A Good Idea composition and performance, '1225' was the song that got the band signed to Roulette.  Penned by Blank and Meisen, the song was essentially a six part retelling of the Christmas story with a rock and roll perspective.  Powered by an awesome David Linder fuzz guitar solo, 'Alone I Am' started out like a ton of bricks before eventually settling down into an interesting concept piece with a religious theme.  (Curiously neither Blank nor Linder were credited on the album.)
     i.) Softly  (John Meisen - Bob Blank) - 3:27  
rating: *** stars

Showcased original vocalist Blank. 'Softly' was a fragile ballad 'Softly' that essentially demonstrated how  different Blank and Wallin's voices were.  
     ii.) I Travel Alone  (John Meisen - Bob Blank) - 3:21  
rating: *** stars

Linder's guitar solo provided the highlight on 'I Travel Alone.'  What started out as a rocker, morphed into an extended flute solo (not to my liking) and then a pretty ballad. At this point I'll admit that the supposed Christmas related plotline was lost to my ears.  
     iii.) Not Well Liked  (John Meisen - Bob Blank) - 1:51 
rating: *** stars

Another ballad, 'Not Well Liked' showcased Meisen's organ washes.  I've always wondered what the weird "tearing" sound was.  At least I could start to pick up the plotline on this one - Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem and looking for a place to stay.
     iv.) With a Tailored Image  (John Meisen - Bob Blank) - 1:58 
rating: **** stars

Shame it was one of the shortest songs since 'With a Tailor Image' reflected the album's "grooviest" performance.  Not only did you get to hear Blank cut lose, but drummer Rick LiaBraaten got a shot in the spotlight, as did guitarist Linder.
     v.) The Sun Is Shinin' for Me  (John Meisen - Bob Blank) - 3:10 
rating: *** stars

Hearing Blank humming 'Silent Night' brought me back to the supposed theme, but the acapella vocal arrangement quickly left me more confused than before.   And abruptly the song exploded into a weird mixture of Up-with-People praise for the Lord and Standells-styled garage rock moves.


 

Over the next year the band began recorded some  material for a planned follow-up album.  They also toured through the Midwest.  That was accompanied by a series of personnel changes.  First to go was singer Dervin who joined The Litter and was replaced by Jeff Shapiro.  Next out was keyboard player Meisen who was replaced by Gerry Magee.  Finally Hallquist was replaced by ex-Triad guitarist Mike Mankey.   In late 1970 the revised line-up recorded a live track '16 Tons' at Minneapolis' Depot Clubs for a compilation album entitled "Gathering at the Depot" (Beta catalog number  S80-47-1414S).

By the end of the year the group had called it quits.  

 

 

 

 

Prior to his death in 2015, Hallquist released a pair of obscure solo efforts:

- 1973's "Peresphone' (Orion catalog number S80-462-2823S)

- 1975's 'Travellin'" (Mill City Records catalog number MCR 7501)

 

 

There have been a series of reunions over the years.  Both Blank and Hallquist have passed on. 

 

 

 

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