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Mike Franz

 

 

The Knights, from Union High School, 1960 to present? I have a photo of the original band, in which three members were in the Kingtones before the Kingtones became the “original” Kingtones. Members of our band continue today in other local and regional bands with colorful histories as well.

Kingtones (1958 – 1960) (Piano)

Knights (1960 – 1965)

Don-Michael Trio (1967 – 1983)

Beyond Belief (1998 – present) (Keyboards)

Mike Franz Music Bio

 

            My Grandma Wallace paid for three years of piano lessons when I was nine years old and growing up on Crescent St. in Grand Rapids.  After that I did nothing musical until perhaps junior high at Oakleigh, where my father was the band and music teacher.

I had picked up the ukelele  due to a minor love affair with Arthur Godfrey growing up and  learned a few chords.  Kurt Hansen approached me for a variety show where we would sing “500 Miles,” a popular folk tune of 1958.  We were a minor success.

Gil King called me to join a band he was forming to play the new rock and roll that was all the rage.  He would play lead guitar, I would play a stand up piano with hammer hands in emulation of Jerry Lee Lewis and we would write our own song, “The Grand Rapids Rock” to become famous or at least turn the heads of a couple of girls.  His cousin Mike King would play drums and we would seek an Elvis imitator eventually settling on Bruce Snoap who had a great  “sneer”.   We voted on the name “Kingtones” partly because it included Gil’s name and partly because it was cool. None of us knew anything about music, really, but we tried to imitate the best in the business by copying their work while we searched for an original sound to make us stand out.   The same  process used by rock bands since, which has produced an endless supply of the same kinds of sounds in music. The DJ’s were not impressed but tolerated us enough to let us play a short set at their sock hops (we only had three songs in our repertoire anyway, plus we were cheap and would work for the “experience” and a little gas money.  And they did not have much choice as there were few bands locally to select from.  We appeared for one song on a Wood TV8 Saturday sock hop with Bud Lindeman and my dad said the camera kept focusing on my butt as I stood there wiggling and pounding out the chords to our only original song, the “Grand Rapids Rock”.   We met Evans De Vries and Earl Hyde at a public museum talent show and they joined the band briefly in the summer of 1959.  They knew how to play their instruments, too. But they were really interested in developing their musicianship beyond rock and eventually left to form the Knights.

In the fall of 1959 I left the Kingtones and joined the Knights (see bio) after teaching Bruce some chords and music theory that he turned into a real career with that group which still plays gigs to this day.  They were a year behind us in high school, and while we were developing a more dance band approach to the business of music and playing jobs that paid real money, they got themselves a crooner named Pete Mervinne and actually made a hit record.  Union High now had three bands, including the Echelons, that could compete in local battles of the bands affairs at places like the Black and Silver Room and the Saturday night sock hops at the old Armory on Michigan St. hill.  I actually played guitar at one of those shows as they did not have a piano.  It was easy, two chords, the rhythmic basis for the song “Tequila”.  We were a hit, at least with the girls.  On another occasion at the Black and Silver room we put on collegial sweaters and crooned away to some song in emulation of one of the male quartets off the pop charts.

The Knights utilized a standard dance band instrumentation with a guitar thrown in for diversity (see pictures at The Knights bio site), which meant we could play rock, too.  Our motto was “Danceable Music for All Occasions” and we mixed in music of the 40’s  big band era and the 50’s and 60’s.  We never bothered to vocalize our music, but at a hot West Side Polish wedding, nobody cared, as long as we kept the polkas flowing with the shots and beer.  The picture in the bio on the Knights shows me at piano, Evans De Vries at drums, Kurt Hansen , trumpet, Terry Malone, bass,  Dick Bereza, tenor sax, and Earl Hyde, guitar.  We added Rich Mackela at alto sax for a brief time to really fill out the dance band music.  There were opportunities for us to play in the stage band for the UHS Follies which was directed by Ray Gill, an unforgettable local jazz great.  We spent a week at Bereza’s cottage in the summer of 1960 arranging our dance music and rehearsing for the fall. The Knights joined another larger dance band in the summer of 1961 to hone our musicianship and played some gigs at a dance hall at a lake somewhere towards Lansing.

We had all graduated that summer and were breaking off to go our separate ways to college.  Earl Hyde and I roomed together at Western Michigan University and kept the band going by picking up people from the music fraternity on campus.  Evans joined us from the U of M in the spring and we commuted back and forth from Grand Rapids to Kalamazoo to play parties.  We even played a gig at Kurt Hansen’s fraternity at Michigan State and also Dick Bereza’s fraternity at the U of M, but after four years of college we all broke up again.  Earl stayed in Kalamazoo where he became a band director, and Evans and I returned to Grand Rapids to teach.  Earl would keep the name of the Knights going to this present time.

Back in GR, I ran into a guy named Don Boshoven who fancied himself a vibe player and drummer and wanted to form a group.  We joined with a really fine guitar/vocalist Vearl Church and became a pretty hot trio around town for the next ten years.  I had to go to the organ and eventually added the electric piano to keep up with the instrumental needs of the music of the 70’s and 80’s.  Later, the Don-Michael Quartet appeared at weddings every week and occasionally became the house band at places like the Elks Club and the Boat and Canoe Club.  Boshoven and I were inseparable in small party bands throughout this era, from 1970 to 1984.  Don picked up drums and we continued as a trio with a pickup bass or whatever. We learned to vocalize and developed some tight duos.  By this time I could play bass on the organ foot pedals or even pound it out on the keyboards, so we could add a guitar or sax or vocalist whenever we wanted and play as a quartet.  It was during these years I really developed my musicianship on the keyboards, tapping out the bass on my Farfisa organ with Leslie, laying down chords on the lower organ line, and freelancing on the top keyboard or a piano stacked on top, and all of this while crooning away.  I believed I acquired at least four hernias due to the strain of moving heavy instruments and playing with my rear suspended on a stool while my hands and feet were flying through their paces for our four hour gigs.  But the money was good, as we had to be one of the best paid party bands in Grand Rapids.

I retired from professional music in 1984 about the time my instruments needed replacement and DJ’s were taking the jobs at  less than half the price of a party band.  I couldn’t see myself working for Yamaha two nights a month to buy new stuff for the next three years.  I did sit in with a few small bands a few times at half the rate I used to make but the era I enjoyed was over.  Today I play keyboards in a contemporary Christian band called Beyond Belief.  I set a recording studio in my retirement home where I have produced 30 original songs for two albums that have yet to debut.  I am working with young musicians to get them recorded and to give them some of the joy and experience I had as a young man learning the trade.  Once a month I play sing along and music for the old folks at Spectrum Continuing Care Center on the first Tuesday if you want to join in on the fun.

The Knights played a reunion gig at the UHS class of ‘61 50th reunion.  And, you know what?  Earl Hyde, Evans De Vries and Mike Franz sounded as good as ever, maybe even better than before, since we all continued with professional musical careers from the days of the Knights.

Mike Frantz 2012 (Keyboards – Knights)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Knights at Black and Silver Room 1960

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vocalists:  Mike Franz, Butch Carey, Terry Malone, Kurt Hansen
Drums:  Evans DeVries
Tenor Sax:  Dick Bereza
Guitar:  Earl Hyde

This was a special appearance staged for the rock and roll crowd without our usual dance band personnel.

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