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Fenton Studio (Great Lakes) Our Theater

737 Leonard St NW Grand Rapids (Opened 1928 as a movie theater and closed in 1966)

Dave Kalmbach had a pipe organ and recording studio set up in his parent’s basement before moving to Our Theater on Leonard N.W. It is likely that at least one of the Dave and the Shadows 45’s and their “Christmas” LP was recorded there. According to the Cinema Treasures site (http://cinematreasures. org/theater/13416/), Our Theater had a seating capacity of 1122 and closed in 1966.Kalmbach operated at Our Theater on W. Leonard St. from c. 1961, then moved to Sparta Theater at 203 E. Division in the mid-sixties. Both of these theaters operated as movie houses and recording studios while Kalmbach owned them. Owners were Dave Kalmbach (Dave and the Shadows) and Bruce Smith,  with Mick Noonan (Dave and the Shadows) as a silent partner. Bryce Robertson served as an engineer in Sparta. The Sparta recording studio was closed in 1970 when Kalmbach went to Detroit to work for Artie Fields Studios with Arlen Smith, Bruce’s brother. The Sparta Theater was built in the 1930s and was renovated, including the leveling of the theater floor, into a rental hall called the “Bee Hive,” soon after Kalmbach moved to Detroit.

Our Theater on Leonard St.

Interior of Fenton Studios during a recording of "Tonto and the Renagades"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Theater newspaper ad from 1961. Dave Kalmbach would hire bands to play between the movies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fenton Records was an independent record label founded by Dave Kalmbach in the early 1960s. The label was based in Sparta, Michigan, though is often regarded as a Grand Rapids, Michigan garage rock label.

It is known for releasing albums by Michigan garage bands such as The Plagues, The Barons, The Aardvarks, The Assortment, The Ones, Tonto & The Renegades, among others.

Over a six-year span, the label would release at least 100 45rpm records and a handful of LPs.

The Record Label

The Fenton Records label was started in the village of Sparta (near Grand Rapids) in the early 1960s by Dave Kalmbach, with help from business partner Bruce Smith.

Many bands that recorded with the label were from Grand Rapids, however bands from other Michigan cities like Lansing, Cedar Springs, Bay City, and Grand Ledge would travel to Sparta to record at the studio.

The label and studio (Great Lakes Recording Studio) was operated out of a movie theater and was one of only three studios in the Grand Rapids area. The company was a “pay as you go” label, meaning the label offered bands recording, mastering services and vinyl pressing for a fee.

The vinyl was originally produced out of state, though later Fenton vinyl was pressed at American Record Pressing in Owosso, Michigan, which also made records for Motown.

Fenton subsidiaries

Fenton Records was what is known as a “vanity” label, meaning bands paid for recording time and some vinyl records. Rumor has it that if Kalmbach thought the song lacked quality, he wouldn’t release it on Fenton, instead it would be tagged with a sub-label, such as 4 Count or Buyit Records. Other times band members would be allowed to pick (or create) which label-name they wanted to be under, such as Sound of the Sceen and Vark.

Discography:

  • Dave and The Shadows Faith/Palyboy Fenton 942
  • J.D. and the Dynamics Dragonfly/Mozart Mash (D. Kalmbach) Fenton 943
  • Rhythm Rockers Three Strikes/Surf Around Fenton 944
  • Renegades IV Greensleeves/ Autumn Night Fenton 945
  • Sue and the Dynamics Go Tell It on the Mountain/Loving Eyes Fenton 948
  • Sheffields Nothing I Can Do/ My Only Wish Fenton 980
  • Renegades V Wine Wine Wine/ Love and Fury Duboney 982
  • Barons Try A Love With Me/ Don’t Come Back No More Jafes 985
  • Scavengers Oasis/Curfew Fenton 987
  • Penetrators What Went Wrong/ Cross the River of Love Fenton 992
  • Pepettes Rock/ Flashing Lights Fenton 995
  • Lloids of Lon-Den You Will Go Fenton/ Girls Can Really Dance Fenton 1000
  • Kick Litscher Passing of the Backhouse/ Hermit of the Shark Tooth Shoals Fenton 1002
  • Kick Litscher Fenton 1002
  • Ju Jus You Treat Me Bad/ Hey Little Girl Fenton 1004
  • Young-Uns Walkin’ Down the Line/ Make Me a Grave / Let’s Go a-Sailin’/ Let Me Go Fenton 2008
  • Chevrons V I Lost You Today/ Niat Pat Lavram Nook 2010
  • Ram Rods You Know I Love You/ I Remember Fenton 2014
  • Saharas I’m Free/ This Mornin’ Fenton 2016
  • The Plagues Why Can’t You Be True/ Through This World Quarantined 2020
  • Bennie Carew Kansas City/ Bye Bye Fenton 2022
  • Bobby Charles Quartet Oh! Lonesome me/ Saturday Night Fenton 2024
  • Quests Scream Loud/ Psychic Fenton 2032
  • Lyn and the Invaders Boy Is Gone/ Secretly Fenton 2040
  • Peter and the Prophets Johnny Of Dreams/ Don’t Need Your Lovin’ Fenton 2050
  • Jack Wood Born To Wander/ So Sad Lawrence 2052
  • Aardvarks I’m Higher Than I’m Down/ That’s Your Way Vark 2058
  • Don Hanke and the Echo Men Put a Tiger in My Tank/ You Are the One Fenton 2064
  • The Chancellors One In A Million/ Journey Fenton 2066
  • The Plagues I’ve Been Through It Before/ Tears From My Eyes Fenton 2070
  • The Chancellors Dear John/ 5 Minus 3 Fenton 2072
  • Fugitives I’ll Hang Around/ You Can’t Blame That On Me Fenton 2075
  • Fugitives You Can’t Blame That On Me Fenton 2075
  • Me and Dem Guys Black Cloud/ Come On Little Sweetheart Coral Gables 2082
  • Pentagons Try And Find/ Before I Go Pent 2084
  • Quests Shadows In The Night/ I’m Tempted Fenton 2086
  • Tribe Fickle Little Girl/ Try Try Try Fenton 2088
  • Aardvarks I Don’t Believe/ I Don’t Need You Fenton 2090
  • Chevrons What Everyone Wants/ Hey Little Teaser Fenton 2092
  • Pedestrians Think Twice/ Snyder’s Swamp Fenton 2102
  • Pedestrians It’s Too Late/ My Little Girl Fenton 2116
  • Sheffields Blowin’ In The Wind/ Fool Minus a Heart Fenton 2118
  • Chentelles Time/ Be My Queen Fenton 2132
  • Jades Confined Congregation/ Please Come Back Fenton 2134
  • 9th Street Market I’m A Baby/ You’re Gone Fenton 2136
  • David and the Diversified Sound Little Boy Blue/ I Dig Fenton 2142
  • Beaux Jens She Was Mine/Trouble Baby Sound of the Sceen 2162
  • Quests What Can I Do?/ Shadows in the Night Fenton 2174
  • Tonto and the Renegades Anytime You Want Some Lovin’/ The Easy Way Out Sound of the Sceen 2178
  • Ray Hummel III Fine Day/ Gentle Rain Fenton 2188
  • Ken Rank Twin City Saucer/ Ken’s Thing (By The Jades) Fenton 2194
  • Blues Company Love Machine/ B.C. Boogie Pear 2203
  • Jades Surface World Fenton 2208
  • Jades We’ve Got Something Going Fenton 2208
  • John Brown Trio Walking Through the Night Fenton 2210
  • John Brown Trio It’s Not Unusual Fenton 2210
  • Tonto and the Renegades I Knew This Thing Would Happen Sound of the Sceen 2212
  • Tonto and the Renegades Little Boy Blue Sound of the Sceen 2212
  • Mussies Louie Go Home Fenton 2216
  • Mussies 12 O’clock July Fenton 2216
  • Counts of Coventry Somewhere (Someone is Waiting) 4 Count 2222
  • Counts of Coventry Happy Day 4 Count 2222
  • Assortment First I Look at the Purse Sound Spot 2224
  • Assortment Bless Our Hippy Home Sound Spot 2224
  • Pedestrians You Aren’t Going to Say You Know Fenton 2226
  • Pedestrians The Unpredictable Miss Kinsey Fenton 2226
  • Cambridge I’m Coming Back Go-T 2244
  • Cambridge Lonely Lisa Go-T 2244
  • Pam Busscher Why Is There War Fenton 2502
  • Pam Busscher Why Can’t He Love Me Fenton 2502
  • Black Watch Left Behind Fenton 2508
  • Black Watch I Wish I Had The Nerve Fenton 2508
  • Legends I’m Just A Guy Fenton 2512
  • Legends I’ll Come Again Fenton 2512
  • The Ones You Haven’t Seen My Love Fenton 2514
  • The Ones Happy Day Fenton 2514
  • Country Ramblers Rambler’s Bounce Northland 2516
  • Country Ramblers A Million […?] Northland 2516
  • Headhunters Times We Share Fenton 2518
  • Headhunters Think What You’ve Done Fenton 2518
  • 4U and Him Backdoor Man Fenton 2522
  • 4U and Him Travelin’ Light Fenton 2522
  • Poor Boy’s Pride The Place Swade 2524
  • Poor Boy’s Pride Fall Of A Town Swade 2524
  • Fyrebirds Can’t Get No Ride Great Lakes 2528
  • Fyrebirds I’m Alive Great Lakes 2528
  • Soulbenders Hey Joe Phantasm 2530
  • Soulbenders I Can’t Believe In Love Phantasm 2530
  • New Era Won’t You Please Be My Friend Great Lakes 2532
  • New Era We Ain’t Got Time Great Lakes 2532
  • Blokes All American Girl Dante 2545
  • Blokes Slander’s Child Dante 2545
  • Pedestrians Think Twice Buyit 2556
  • Pedestrians It’s Too Late Buyit 2556
  • Soulbenders Petals Phantasm 2568
  • Soulbenders 7 And 7 Is Phantasm 2568
  • Bed of Roses Quiet Tea 2577
  • Bed of Roses I Gotta Fight Tea 2577
  • Blues Company Experiment In Color Great Lakes 3002
  • Blues Company She’s Gone Great Lakes 3002
  • Merrie Motor Company Walking Down This Road Scott 3050
  • Merrie Motor Company Dream of You Scott 3050
  • Poor Boy Pride But Yes Who Cares Fenton 3060
  • Poor Boy Pride I’m Here Fenton 3060
  • Dick Rabbit Love Great Lakes GL-103
  • Dick Rabbit Trip Great Lakes GL-103
  • Deborah and Lee Little Boxes Fenton GL942
  • Deborah and Lee No Place To Go Fenton GL942
  • Our Generation Baby Boy (written by Dick Wagner) Fenton GL970
  • Our Generation Chicago Blues Fenton GL970

 

Hyatt the new owners

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hyatt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Theater Vintage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One Response to Fenton Studio (Great Lakes) Our Theater

  1. Farah says:

    I was the manager for a band out of G.R.(The Ramrods)in 1967. We recorded a tune in the Sparta studio in August of that year. A-side “The Girl I Love”, B-side “Firewater”. We had to come back two more times in an attempt for the engineer to get the instruments sounding right. We took the vinyl to WLAV studios and Ray Hosier played aired it. He received several calls afterwards inquiring who the band was. None of us could afford to have thousands, or even hundreds of copies pressed, so it ended there, but Ray said in his opinion, it would make WLAV’s Favorite 40 if released in W. MI. The result of the first session was you could barely hear Al’s drums (the best in the group), or Rich’s bass. It got a little better after the second visit to the studio, but not perfect even after the third time. Mr. Hosier said he didn’t think it was recorded properly by Fenton the studio.

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