Grand Rapids – Mike Franz (1960-65) (Keyboards), Evans DeVries (Drums) and Earl Hyde (Guitar)
By Mike Franz, with Evans DeVries and Earl Hyde
One of the earliest rock groups to form in Grand Rapids came from students at Union High School at the time of the Echelons and just after the Kingtones. In fact Mike Franz (piano) was an original Kingtone who first organized with Gil King in 1958. Franz taught Bruce Snoap some chords and music theory when Bruce was brought into the Kingtones as an Elvis vocalist.
Evans DeVries and Earl Hyde recall seeing the Kingtones appear at the Grand Rapids Museum talent show in the winter of 1959 where they met Gil King. The Kingtones took second place. They joined the group briefly, although there is no mention of them in Bruce Snoap’s recollection in his bio on the Kingtones. One of their memorable appearances with the Kingtones took place in March of 1959 where they played for DJ Bruce Grant at a sock hop dance in Grant, Michigan. Franz had just turned 16 and got his driver’s license. So he drove Bruce and Gil in his dad’s old ‘53 Ford wagon up to Grant where the band played a couple of short sets. The girls loved us so much that they wanted our autographs and danced with us. Franz recalls they smelled like lye soap as it was Saturday night in a farming community. Problems arose when four girls followed the old Ford out of town and started playing “chicken” with us on M-37. One of the girls had her dad’s ‘57 Ford that the wagon could not overtake, so we were always left out in the passing lane whenever we tried to get ahead. Franz finally used his head as he crept up on the speedy nice Ford and gave it a gentle nudge in the rear end. The driver of that car had had enough and sped off not to return. We enjoyed a safe ride home. This was not the way Gil King wanted to meet girls in a rock band!
DeVries and Hyde left the band in late summer about the time Phil Roberts was to make his appearance in the Kingtones. In the fall of 1960 Mike Franz left the Kingtones and was immediately asked to join The Knights, a group that Hyde and Devries formed to play both rock and more “respectable” dance music, that is, music for older people who paid better than rock jobs. They had a calling card and a motto that they stuck to: “The Knights: Danceable music for all occasions.” We used the standard instrumentation for dance bands of the era plus guitar. A photo of the band appears in the 1960 UHS yearbook showing Marty Chirgwin on trumpet, but he would soon leave the band to become the piano player for the Eschelons. He was replaced by Kurt Hansen, trumpet. Dick Bereza played tenor sax, Terry Malone bass, Evans DeVries drums, Earl Hyde guitar, and Mike Franz Piano. ( See pictures). Rich Mackela would later join the group on alto sax. We costumed ourselves with tuxedos including white sport coats, black pants and shoes, red Boston bow ties, red comber buns. (See photo.)
There were now three bands at Union and people generally showed their favoritism depending on which class they were in. The Knights were all seniors now with the exception of Bereza who was a junior. The Eschelons and Kingtones were pretty much a year behind us. This was the era of the Battle of the Bands but we seldom appeared on stage at the same venue. We played for a couple school dances, and did some rock show music at the Black and Silver room (by invitation of WGRD’s Tom Quain) of the Civic Auditorium alternating with other rock groups of the time, including the Kingtones and Phil Roberts‘ Rockin‘ Revels. The Knights also made one appearance at the Armory sock hops on Michigan St. hill run by Bud Lindeman. There was no piano so Franz had to pick up a guitar and pretend he could play the two chords to Tequilla, while bobbing around the stage. We added vocals on that occasion and all wore sweaters over white-collared shirts.
We spent a whole week during the summer of 1960 at Bereza’s cottage, ate pizza, fished, and arranged music for the dance band portion of our repertoire. So by the beginning of the 1960-61 school year we were ready to play parties at the local bars and Polish halls on the west side. New Years eve we played a two nighter at a club on lower Plainfield. Bereza won the limbo pole contest and the manager/owner later refused to pay us. So we joined the musicians’s union to have someone standing up for us. We also learned how to hold our beer playing at the local halls as we were underage,
Like so many bands of the era we had to split up after graduating in 1961. Kurt Hansen went off to MSU, Dick Bereza got a NROTC scholarship from the U of M. Rich Makela, who played alto sax for a time with us, went off to Purdue to study engineering. Franz, DeVries and Hyde all went to GRJC where we hoped to become jazz musicians. An accomplished alto sax man and composer Jack Fortner joined us for a brief time in our sophomore year, and we continued the Knights as a party band the next two years. Several of us joined a dance band playing at Cristal Lake resort in the summer of 1961. Franz, DeVries and Hyde learned the ropes by playing with seasoned musicians and professional manuscripts. This was a union job and pay scale was not good, but twenty-five bucks helped with our savings toward college. After GRJC, 1963, Hyde and Franz went on to WMU and kept the band together. DeVries spent a semester at the U of M and transferred to Western to rejoin the group. Only problem was, Kalamazoo was sewed up by the union and no booze was allowed accept in private clubs, which only union members worked. Even the University was union. When the Knights wanted to play as a traveling band, the local told us we had to join them even though we were members in the Grand Rapids local. After all, we picked up mail at the college, didn’t we? Well rather than pay another hundred plus bucks to join there we continued to play weekends in Grand Rapids. Our local union would not stick up for us. In 1965 we all graduated from WMU and went our separate ways. Hyde kept the Knights trademark going in Kalamazoo and became a band director in area schools. DeVries linked up with Bill Farrow’s band in GR and taught at Kentwood HS until retirement. Franz formed a party band called the Don-Michael Trio (and quartet) and became the house band at places like the Elks Club and the Boat and Canoe Club. He retired in 1983 from pop music and later from GRCC with 40 years as an English professor. Bereza went on to become an orthopedic surgeon in Grand Rapids after a tour with the Navy and still plays sax as the leader of the Docs of Dixie band made up of mostly doctors who raise money for charity. Kurt Hansen became a judge in upper Michigan and is retired. No information on Terry Malone.
Just in case you think the Knights are dead today, you would be wrong. Hyde, DeVries, Makela and Franz will play at the Union High School 50th reunion this fall, October 8, 2011. Franz and Hyde resurrected a guitar band and made some recordings of classic rock guitar songs which we hope will be up and running on this website. Our thanks to the West Michigan Hysterical Society for their faithful attempts to record the history of rock and roll in West Michigan.