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The Thunder Chicken

Grand Rapids – Alpine Ave. (AKA Top of the Rock 85-86, Alibi, Club 911, DV8)

Kimberly Alexander, Phil Elderkin’s eldest daughter, supplied the following information about the Thunderchicken, her family and her father:  Dick Bichler was the owner and Phil Elderkin was the manager of Happy Go Lucky, The Canopy and Putts Putts too.

Phil’s wife Joan worked in the office at Thunderchicken which was located in the back at Thunder Chicken, opposite end as the stage. Phil was born Oct 17, 1932 and died Jan. 9, 1994 of a heart attack. 

When Kansas played at the Thunderchicken, the Elderkin family had the band over to their home, an upstairs apartment, at National Street N.W. Kim was only 14 at that time.

Kimberly also recalls that her sisters and her used to count the money from the pool tables at Thunder Chicken and Putt Putts and we picked up the parking lots on Sunday and would find money there.

“On Sundays Thunderchicken had teen night. There were a few hours when it was opened for teens and we had a blast, the band played and we got pop and danced and danced.” 

Thunder Chicken

Thunder Chicken










Thunderchicken (aka Thunderbird Dinner Theatre) was there in 1974 and 1975, for certain, run by Dick Bichler.
Rory Gallager, Kingston Trio, Kansas, James Gang, Kiss and the production of Jesus Christ Superstar played there.
Dirk Rivers was the House Band after this in 1975 and John Rumney was the head chef there.

Alibi Disco was there in Dick Rivers was the House Band, as my website partner Kim Rush saw John Mayall there.

Top of the Rock: concerts there in 1984 Foghat and Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Where the Teen Club plays in here, I’m not sure???
It’s now Hanson Body Shop.
So it sounds like it was going for at least 10 years.

Thunder Bird Dinner Theater

Ah yes, the Thunder Chicken… (brief moment of silence in honor of all the brain cells I left dead there). I saw Bob Seger there before he got big. Others who have mentioned this venue’s later iteration as the “Top of the Rock” may be forgetting that in between it spent some time as “The Alibi” which was a tricked-out disco club in the mid 70’s.

Speaking of the scar disco has placed on our society, anyone remember the Coral Gables on 28th just west of the train overpass near Breton? I recall seeing the horn section from Earth Wind & Fire play there. As I recall, this club went through a handful of make-overs until its ultimate demise. Of course, back in those days Coral Gables was an entertainment behemoth with locations in Kalamazoo, Lansing, Saugatuck and several others including I believe Manistee. If you attended college in the 70s, you were accustomed to seeing concert posters advertising bands touring all their locations.


Thunderchicken had 3 different lives..first the Thunderchicken with concerts and nightclub entertainment, then the Alibi, which was a mixed bag. Saw John Mayall there during that stage, and then it was a teenage place, correct?

Thunder Bird Dinner Theater










Richard Bichler’s Money Problems:


Thunder Chicken Ad June 1974









Dirk Rivers – Wrangler Country Music Star Search at the Thunder Chicken 1981

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PRBnC-a387c  (11:37 Min)

Dirk Rivers – Wrangler Country Music Star Search at the Thunder Chicken 1981

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eSz0FtmsXaY&feature=relmfu  (5:46 Min)

Steve Damstra on Lead guitar, Drummer Dick Vogel on Bass and Bass player Ronn Burke on Drums (Bass & Drummer switch) from Dirk Rivers – Wrangler Country Star Search at the Thunder Chicken 1981

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7FMTbXBbqY&feature=relmfu  (3:29 Min)

Thunderchicken infamous (dinner )Theatre ....a 30 plus yr old bumper sticker! Far out!

Thunderchicken infamous (dinner )Theatre ….a 30 plus yr old bumper sticker! Far out!











Old Thunder Chicken Club – Anyone Remember It?

List of Rock Concerts & Stage Shows:

Not in any order!!!

  • KISS October 17, 1974
  • Rory Gallagher
  • Lettermen
  • James Gang
  • T Rex 1972
  • John Mayall March 1979
  • REO
  • Kingston Trio
  • New York Dolls
  • Skip Van Winkle and the Night Rockers
  • Kansas there twice in the early 70’s
  • MS Funk
  • Bob Seger (73-74 c.)
  • Chubby Checker
  • Minsky Burleques
  • Godspell
  • Pippin
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • Wrangler Star Search Contest
  • Fiddler on the Roof
  • Jesus Christ Superstar
  • Dick Rivers was the House Band
  • Foghat 1984




20 Responses to The Thunder Chicken

  1. Gretchen J. says:

    It is wonderful to find this site. I am a daughter of Dick Bichler, I was born the year after the Thund er Chicken closed. I grew up hearing stories of all the acts that performed there. It is amazing to read all these stories. I miss my daddy as he passed away in 2006, and I love that people still remember him and this place. I love all these stories. Thank you.

  2. mark weatherford says:

    I seen Rory Gallagher 2 times at the chicken in 1974 during his Irish tour I have been to a hell of alot of concerts, but Rory was the best ever twice that year, I`m still numb from those shows, so thank you for all the great times I had at the chicken, Richie Havens was brillant there too.

  3. Rick Young says:

    Saw most of the shows in 74-75 but Kansas really stands out. It seems someone crashed into a power pole on Alpine knocking out the power as we were waiting for Kansas to go on. The emergency lights came on. I always got there early and sat at the tables behind the sound board. The bartenders behind me continued to serve drinks by flashlight so I whipped up there and bought four scotch doubles,neat. They stopped serving right after that. Joints were fired up all over and we waited about an hour. Power came up and Kansas started saying they would play until they pulled the plug.And they did. I think they were doing the same things as us. Anyone else remember that show?

  4. Brian says:

    My brother, friends and I saw Bob Seeger on Thursday, July 18, 1974, @ the Thunder Chicken. At the concert, he announced the next day he would be the opening act at The Ozark Mountain Festival in Sedalia Missouri. So at about 2:00 am we went home got some supplies and headed to Missouri. We were there to see him open the festival.

  5. John Denton says:

    Loved going to Thunder Chicken. Used to go there to see The Common People when Fergie was lead singer. Was a good friend and great singer with a really good group. Also saw Kansas and Bob Seger.

  6. Minskys was Kick Ass for a 19 year old Bartender, I loved working that show, Old Man Minsky Drank Vermouth all night, Streight

  7. Chrystal Gail, and Chubby Checker were the best, Hair and JCSS, Too

  8. Bob Cox Ran The Sound- and married the prettiest girl there

  9. Sorry to say, Today Eugene Stenholm, AKA Jamie, the manager for Dick B, of the Thunder Chicken Passed Away at 8:00 am, He was my BROTHER and Friend, we worked together at the TC for what seemed like years, the best years, All the acts, all the changes, Thunder Chicken, Thunder Bird and The Alibi which is when Dick Andrasen (SP) from Big Rapids took over, I also managed Put Puts In The Day, Thanks to Gene. He also worked at Danny J’S as a bouncer, thats where I met Charley Hune, and Ted N. What a Blast, Thank you my BROTHER for that time in our lives , Pat

  10. Dennis says:

    My brother Mike was a bouncer at Thunder Chicken and the Gotto later Coral Gables on 28th St. in the early 80s Coral Gables became Electric Avenue then in the 90s Dick’s Resort. I worked at Top of the Rock in 1985-1986 when I was 18 and it was a Teen club then. They lost their liquor license in 84 but were teen night was packing in about 3000 people and the alcohol bar was basically in the parking lot! I believe around 1989 TOR got their license back and it became very popular for college night. Then in the early 90s it became club 911 and some other name in their. Their downfall was mid 90s when a young man was killed in a fight in the parking lot there.

  11. Danny Broyhill says:

    ‘Masai’ (local rock band), was playing at ‘Putt Putt’s Bar’ for nearly a year, which was owned by Dick Bichler, and he also owned the ‘Thunder Chicken’. Bichler hired our band, ‘Masai’ to play just after “Thunder Chicken’ opened. The sound system was awesome and the acoustics were fantastic. Another local rock band, ‘XEBEC’, also played there when they opened for ‘Kansas’, on their return concert to the ‘Chicken’ in 1975.

  12. John MacAulay says:

    I remember Thunder Chicken well, particularly the Rory Gallagher
    show. He had the whole place rockin’, including the members of
    Tanglewood (standing on their chairs !), who coverered a number of
    Rory’s songs in their shows at Putt-Putts, Harbor Inn in Grand Haven,
    etc. etc.
    Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush put on a great show, along with the
    first Kansas show, a band I’d never heard of before. I remember
    saying to a buddy, “For $5 these guys had better be good !” They
    The Rockets were also wonderful, covering Peter Green’s (Fleetwood
    Mac) “Oh Well” and Savoy Brown’s version of Louisiana Blues. TC also
    sponsered a bus TRIP to the Led Zeppelin concert at the Olympia in
    Detroit on Jan. 31, 1975…$30 for the whole gig, a show at The
    Chicken before the bus took off, LED ZEP and no concerns about
    driving !
    I could go on and on, but these are just a few of my memories of
    some great times at Thunder Chicken and the music scene in GR in
    the early to mid ’70s.

    John (Grand Rapids)

  13. al Wagenaar says:

    another great concert there was with Wayne Cochran & CC Riders…it was an oldies show of sort with Billy Joe Royal and a few others I do not remember, Wayne closed the show and was a wild man rocking hard and standing on tables. Anyone else remember who was on that bill?

  14. Danny Broyhill says:

    Coral Gables on 28th street was also The Grotto’ at one time in 71 or 1972, and I believe it was originally, The Kentwood Roller Rink, which moved from Divison and 52nd street area, where many big bands played in the late 60’s early 70’s… Saw Uriah Heep and Alice Cooper there.

  15. Mark says:

    I bought a ticket to the John Mayall concert there. I was going to Grand Valley State Colleges at the time and was pretty broke. So I had this ticket and just enough gas to get there. I had no idea how I was getting back but I went anyway. When I got there I was looking over the sound board and the spot light. Some guy asked me if I’d ever run a spot light before and I said yes which was true from running spots at the Dome Production concerts at GVSC. So I got to run the spot light that night and the guy gave me $10! I stopped at the first gas station I could find after the concert and stopped to have a burrito. It turned out to be an interesting and enjoyable night.
    I didn’t get to meet the band though. Shucks.

  16. Will Schader says:

    Played both the Chicken and the Manistee Coral Gables in 78 and 79. Lot of fun. Miss it sometimes.

    • Kathy says:

      Blue Motorcycles, Car Crashes, water fountains, Thur. college nites, biggest disco & light show & dance floor, 3-tiered seating, and kick-ass sound system! I would give anything to dance all night there again.

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