web analytics

White Summer

Benton Harbor – formed 1973

Band Members:

  • 1973 Line-up
  • Jim Watkins (Drums and vocals)
  • Rick Lowe (Guitar and vocals)
  • David Wheeler (Bass guitar)
  • 1976 Line-up
  • Jim Watkins (Drums and vocals)
  • Jimmy Schrader (Extraordinary guitarist) (the blind man)
  • Randy Brown (Bass guitar)
  • Since 1991 Line-up
  • Jim Watkins (Drums and vocals)
  • Jimmy Schrader (Extraordinary guitarist) (the blind man)
  • Randy Brown (Bass guitar)
  • Other Members
  • Danny Misch
  • Jeff Aldrich (RIP)

The White Summer band will come together to perform a Reunion Concert at Hidden Pointe in Benton Harbor, Michigan Saturday, November 28th, 2015 at 8:00pm. White Summer has produced five albums of original material, but they are most famous for their thousands of live appearances that never fail to generate tremendous excitement and large crowds. The many hardcore fans of the band are affectionately called “Whiteheads,” and some have been known to travel 1,000 miles to see White Summer.
The story of the White Summer band begins in 1973. The group was formed as a power trio of eighteen-year-olds from Benton Harbor: Jim Watkins (drums and vocals); Rick Lowe (guitar and vocals); and David Wheeler (bass guitar). The boys had been close friends since the sixth grade, when they attended Pearl School together. Early influences included The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream, and home-state favorites Grand Funk Railroad. The name of the band comes from a Mayan Indian term, the White Summer plateau, which means the highest level of human consciousness.
The band’s first bar gig was at Babe’s Lounge. They also put on many shows at high school dances, outdoor festivals, and nightclubs. White Summer performed many times at the old Shadowland Ballroom, and were one of the last bands to play that hallowed venue.
White Summer released their first album in January, 1976—the White Album. WIRX played the record in its entirety several times. Les Paul was in the control room during one of the recording sessions at Sound Machine Studios in Kalamazoo and praised the boys’ sound.
White Summer was the last band to ever play the House of David Beer Gardens. In 1977, the band performed on that fabled stage in front of 5,000 fans as the opening act for Blood, Sweat and Tears. When the crowd began chanting “White Summer” during a long instrumental song by BS&T, singer David Clayton Thomas marched off the stage in anger. It would be twenty minutes before he could be coaxed into continuing the concert.
In the mid-1970s, there were perhaps fifty clubs that featured live rock bands in Berrien County. But the drinking age in Michigan was raised from 18 to 21, and that combined with the Disco fad killed the live music scene. In 1979, White Summer moved to Ann Arbor before relocating to Florida one year later.
White Summer went on to become one of the top rock acts in Florida. The group traveled around in its signature big white bus and by the end of the 1980s became famous for its classic rock shows, especially in Orlando, Tampa, Miami, and in the Florida Keys. By the end of that decade, White Summer featured a repertoire of 1,000 songs and was known as the “All Request Band,” meaning the audience was challenged to try to “stump the band.”
White Summer opened for many top rock acts, from the Buckinghams to Black Oak Arkansas. The band developed a reputation as a “Musician’s Band”—more musicians would come to see them perform than any other group. Eric Clapton caught a set at Sloppy Joe’s in Key West and exclaimed, “This is the best band I have ever seen in a bar!” Neil Young saw two sets in New Smyrna Beach and said, “This is the longest I ever sat and listened to a band.”
White Summer performed at Walt Disney World and played for two months at the Hard Rock Cafe in Cancun, Mexico. In 1990, White Summer won a Jammy Award as “Best Classic Rock Band,” while Jim Watkins won the award for “Best Classic Rock Vocalist.” In 1991, White Summer appeared in front of its biggest crowd ever—25,000 souls—at the Indian River Music festival with Don Henley, Michael McDonald, and Arlo Guthrie. A major music magazine called White Summer’s set “the highlight of the day.”
White Summer never neglected its Michigan roots. The band did a two year tour of its home state in the 1980s that covered a Michigan map with pins for the cities they had played. Three times the group returned to Southwest Michigan. One of their most memorable performances came at the 1988 Venetian Festival when they played in front of 5,000 people directly on Silver Beach.
In 1984 White Summer returned to play at Chief’s Bar in Millburg. That gig started out as a joke as the drummer’s sister lived in Millburg and used to dare him to bring White Summer to Millburg. Chief’s built an addition for White Summer to accommodate its fans. The group became the house band at the Ramada Inn in Benton Harbor for six months in 1987, during which time it occupied one entire floor of the hotel—24 rooms. In 1989, White Summer lived and played at the Sweet Cherry Resort for six months.
The 1982 White Summer Red Album drew the attention of Warner Brothers. During negotiations for a record contract, one of the three band members—Danny Misch from Chesterton, Indiana—suddenly left the band for personal reasons. That was the end of that.
In 1984, White Summer recorded the Dreams Come True album in Detroit at the old Motown Studios. That record received airplay on over 100 radio stations. The band was nearly signed by United Artists, but the deal was squelched at the last minute by a top executive who didn’t like the way the band looked. He said, “If I close my eyes, White Summer sounds as good as any band in the world.” This was during the big-hair-band days. Video killed the radio star.
The last White Summer album was recorded in 1990 at the Platinum Post Studios in Orlando, in between sessions by Al Di Meola and Judas Priest. There are many videos of White Summer’s music on YouTube but one has to be careful as two other groups are on YouTube that have stolen the name. Both are young kids, one group from Canada and one from Australia. They have been asked to cease and desist using the name “White Summer” but have ignored these requests.
White Summer has featured many different lineups over the years. The constants have been drummer/singer Jim Watkins (since 1973) and virtuoso guitarist Jimmy Schrader (since 1976). One former member, Jeff Aldrich is deceased.
Jimmy Schrader was born sightless in Benton Harbor and attended the Michigan School for the Blind in Lansing. Jim Watkins needed a guitar player in 1976 and a fellow musician told him about Schrader. He said, “I know a fantastic guitar player but he is having a hard time finding a band. He was born blind, and refuses to use a cane or a guide dog. So, if you hire him, you will have to lead him around everywhere you want to go and everywhere he needs to go.” Watkins went to hear Schrader play his 1957 Fender Stratocaster by himself in his basement through a double-stacked 200 watt Marshall—turned wide open (on 10). It was as loud as a freight train. Within one minute Watkins knew that Schrader was his man.
For a long time, Jimmy Schrader was simply called “the blind man” by rock music fans, and White Summer “the band with the blind guitar player.” But by the mid-1980s, Schrader had been given a new appellation: The King—as in the king of guitar. He is truly the star of the show and a world-class guitarist.
White Summer disbanded after founder Jim Watkins retired from the music business and got a real job in 1991. Today, he writes magazine articles and recently published his first book. Jimmy Schrader never stopped playing and today is in a top-notch Florida band called Bad Mannerz. Since 1991, the White Summer band has come together every year to do a one-night-only Reunion Concert, either in Florida or in Michigan. The lineup for this show includes, as always, singing drummer Jim Watkins and the extraordinary guitarist Jimmy Schrader. Long time bass player Randy Brown will also be there. Adam Watkins—Jim’s son—usually plays a set on the drums while Jim goes out front to sing. The last such show enthralled a jam-packed house. The “Whiteheads” are getting ready for the sets that will be all classic rock—Jimi Hendrix, ZZ Top, Cream, Robin Trower, Pink Floyd, Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Grand Funk, Black Crowes, Bob Seger, Steppenwolf, Rolling Stones, Bad Company, Allman Brothers, Lynrd Skynrd, and CCR. A White Summer show is always a party. Be there!

Comments are closed.