The JuJus were, in Rod Shepard’s' words, "always evolutionary in a decade of revolution." While the band might be best remembered for featuring the distinctive vocal styling of Ray Hummel III, they began as a trio with a sax, guitar and drums before Hummel had joined. After Hummel joined, they turned into "a folk, mild rock, kind of a Gerry Marsden sound with a sax." Later, they became more straight rock - and more strong guitar - and later still evolved into a progressive rock group. It is their two classic "garage band" 45s, however, that has revered the band to collectors of 1960's rock and roll music.
An Interview With Rod Shepard
60sgaragebands.com (60s): How did you first get interested in music?
Rod Shepard (RS): I’ve always had an interest in music from the time I was very small. My dad had several brothers and at family get-togethers they’d end up playing. My grandpa was a pretty good fiddle player and the boys would grab guitars, banjos, piano - whatever was available - and they’d play and sing. On my mother’s side, my grandma was a very talented piano player and wrote several songs. My primary music influence was called "hillbilly". I still remember sleeping on the floor of a '54 Nash Ambassador on our way to Higgins Lake for weekends, with Hank Williams, Hank Snow, or another one of those "Hanks" blaring on the radio. I learned the words to a lot of tunes on the floor of that ol’ Nash.
In grade school I played clarinet and piano. I changed to Baritone horn in junior high school, primarily because I liked the sound of brass. At about age 13, I began messing with an old guitar we had and for my birthday I got a Gibson Double-Cut-Away...what a guitar. I studied with several guitarists including Joe Delones. Joe was an old Chicago guitarist who’d injured his hand in a car accident. Bad hand or not...he sure could play.
60s: Were The JuJus your first band?
RS: The first band I played with was The Vibrations. It was short-lived, but a good learning experience. We practiced a lot more then we preformed; in fact, I’m not sure we ever performed. We lasted about six months and I just couldn’t see being a 1-4-5 musician. I knew I wanted to play, and it had to be "music": big bands, jazz or blues - real music.
60s: When and where were The JuJus formed?
RS: The JuJus were formed in '64 as a joke. The Beatles were making noise. Max, Gorski and I were all in the school band. The two of them were generally cut-ups and decided to do a "Beatles Spoof" for an assembly at school. They got wigs and Beatles paraphernalia and did a sad excuse for a song named Flake Out. For some unknown reason, they were invited to play at a school dance that night. With not much future for a Sax player and a would-like-to-be Ringo, they asked if I would play guitar with them. I told them that I played "music," not rock. I have to admit the two could be pretty convincing, as that night I became a 1-4-5 musician again. We almost had a piano player but his mom wouldn’t let him play at dances. So we played Flake Out and Flake Out 2 (second one pretty much the same as the first) and I think we made ten bucks between us.
60s: Who all comprised the band?
RS: Originally there was Max "Junior" Colley - sax; Bill Gorski - drums: and me on guitar. We added Ray Hummel, vocal and guitars, and I switched to bass. After Ray left we added Rick Stevens on guitar and for a short period a friend of his named Bruce on rhythm and I added organ. Max left, and for another short time we had a singer named Brett Wells. Then Gorski went to Uncle Sam and Brett went on to golf. That pretty much left Rick and me, so we added Ron Burke for vocals and guitar, and Ron Homrich on drums. Then, in '67, I went to Uncle Sam and for me all track was lost.
60s: Where did the name "JuJus" come from? Did it have anything to do with JuJu-Bee candy?
RS: Nope, the name JuJus was never anti-Semitic nor related to any candy. From the first school assembly we were The JuJus. The name was simply a little kid’s inability to say his brother’s name "Junior". We did occasionally have to do some explaining like before we could appear on television and others trying to make out things as they never were. Heck, we were just kids having fun.
60s: Where did The JuJus typically play?
RS: We had the honor of our first "professional" job being at the Ionia State Reformatory for the Criminally Insane, least as I remember that’s what the sign said. It was a great start as we had an overly enthusiastic, captive audience. The JuJus played nearly every teen club around at least a couple times. We played the Ponytail to the north, in Saugatuck, in Grand Haven, Muskegon along the coast, and the old Hour Theater. We played several bars in Grand Rapids; the Shamrock, Elbow Room and several months at a bar in Kalamazoo. We were the "house band" at Cannonsburg Ski Lodge north of Grand Rapids, and we played lot of roller rinks, the 44th St. Armory, the Pit, The Place, Granges in Lowell, Cascade, Ada and even in Alaska. We played half-time for the Blazers football games (in the rain/snow, on an ungrounded stage...well really we provided a fair amount of ground), we played a halftime of two for the Grand Rapids semi-pro basketball teams. The JuJus basically played for anyone willing to pay or convince us we’d get "great exposure" by appearing. We operated a teen club called "The Island" in Ludington for a summer in about '67. We played nightly and brought in other bands...The Electric Prunes & The Kingsmen being a couple.
60s: How did you end up in Alaska?
RS: Got Cha! Actually we worked three or four times in Alaska...Michigan: Two buildings, a Grange Hall, and a gas station that closed before dark.
60s: How did you manage to get national acts like The Electric Prunes and The Kingsmen to perform at the Island?
RS: It's amazing what money will do. We paid...they played. We wanted The Jefferson Airplane, but $75,000 for a Tuesday night was pretty difficult to retrieve in Ludington.
60s: How far was the band's normal touring territory?
RS: We played most places between Saugatuck and Petosky - small places and large. We never played very many "parties" like a lot of bands did.
60s: Did The JuJus have a manager?
RS: The JuJus had a couple of people who claimed to "manage" us. I remember one fella named George. He was a pretty good guy, primarily was a "groupie" but did have a van which was handier than taking two cars. It worked well until he blew a transmission one night on the way home. Jim Geeting was the only "real" manager we would have claimed. Jim put a lot of effort into us. I used to think that perhaps he was trying to live things through us that he’d have like to have done himself. He was responsible for The Island. He set it up, financed it and somehow "encouraged" us (to beleive) we could do it. I don’t recall any great money being made from it, but we had a great time and learned a lot that would carry the band further. Jim always insisted that we dress as a group. He told us it was a lot easier to book a "clean band". He also was responsible for almost getting us under contract with a guy who managed The Outsiders. He wanted us to do a Hoagie Carmichael song in Chinese/Soul style. Do his song and the B-side was anything we wanted. Unfortunately I can claim a driving force in convincing Jim that we were The JuJus and we didn’t do Chinese/Soul. The fact was I couldn’t figure out what it was or how it could apply to a Hoagie Carmichael song. I did hear a recording of Hong Kong Blues several years later done in that type of format. I believe I was vindicated for the song, perhaps not for turning away the opportunity.
60s: Did The JuJus participate in any Battle of the Bands?
RS: Yup...we played at them, won a few, lost a few. Most band battles were really only a showing of who could bring a group of the loudest friends. I never thought much of them; I remember playing in and going to several where the "best band" didn’t have a hope. I remember going to one that The Soulbenders played and I believe lost. Personally they were one of the better bands around. But at any job you were on stage and that was the important part. People were hearing your music.
60s: How would you best describe the band's sound?
RS: We were influenced by the very same groups as most any band of the time. Personally, I came from a very broad exposure to music, from Hillbilly to classical. Junior, Gorski and I were all in a high school band program that was second to none. Ray came from folk. People don’t realize that The JuJus were always evolutionary in a decade of revolution. We began with a sax, guitar and drum. There was nowhere to go but a yackity-sax type rock 'n roll. We added Ray and turned into a folk, mild rock, kind of a Gerry Marsden sound with a sax. After Ray and Junior left, we had to "reinvent" again. We became more straight rock, more strong guitar. Rick was developing into a good guitarist; Ron Burke had a rougher, stronger voice, we changed as a group into a more progressive rock. I recently heard some cuts, about the last I ever did with the band, and I was amazed. They sounded pretty good even 30+ years later. They were kind of a JuJus answer to Sgt. Pepper.
60s: How popular locally did The JuJus become?
RS: There was a period during You Treated Me Bad, that (led) us to be recognized pretty much where ever we went. For the most part we enjoyed it but it had a price. While playing the Pit we were "gang" threatened because some guy’s girl decided she liked Ray instead of him. Just before, during and after we received several threats as to why we really didn’t want to play there. There was quite a hullabaloo that night, but we were taken out as soon as we finished. After an overcrowded job at East Grand Rapids School's gym, we were mobbed by a couple hundred teen-aged girls as we were attempting to leave. Security wasn’t much in those days, and we ended up with uniforms ripped up and a good reason why most of us have less hair now.
60s: What other local groups do you especially recall?
RS: It seemed that when we started there weren’t many. A couple, Dave & The Shadows and The Kingtones were already established but older. Perhaps when we began we just hadn’t paid any attention to any other groups. There were several very good groups to come out of the Grand Rapids area. I understand some are still around. One of the first groups that impressed me was Dave & The Shadows. Jim Wilson was the guitarist and quite talented. The Kingtones were and still are impressive and around. They learned to be a "show band".
I remember when Me & Dem Guys rolled into town and set up shop at the Elbow Room. They were thought of as a "bar band." The fact is they were good musicians, personable and entertainers, too (a show band style). I met a lot of these people working for Bill Ferrell. He ran a music store on South Division. I worked and taught there for several years. (Working at) Ferrell’s was great exposure with opportunities to talk and listen to musicians of all sorts and styles coming in. I spent hours of talking with old Harold Guidee, a use-to-be drummer in Chicago. Harold always had great stories and never learned not to drink whiskey in a paper cup. As time passed several good bands were around, but most names I’ve long forgotten and some changed personnel so often it was hard to track. I have to say that all the "good" bands at the time improved each time they changed.
60s: Did The JuJus back any national acts?
RS: We did appear with on the same bill as Chubby Checker, Al Green, The Kingsmen and even Buster Mathis (yup, the boxer) when he was trying to go from punching to crooning. I don’t recall that we ever backed anyone else. I know that in years since Max has recorded with a lot of group and single acts.
60s: What do you recall about The JuJus recording sessions?
RS: The JuJus recorded first at the Hour Theater, which in off hours was Fenton Records. You Treated Me Bad and some others were done there. We traded recording time for Showtime between films. We also recorded at Chess Records in Chicago and that was something. Many greats of different styles recorded in that run-down old place. Word had it that musicians who’d had hits recorded there wouldn’t allow it to be fixed up; they were afraid the studio would "lose its sound, man". My last studio time was at Phil Robert’s Studio. We did Rick’s songs there. Phil always had ideas flying all over; all you had to do was grab the ones you liked.
We did release two 45s, You Treated Me Bad b/w Hey Little Girl, with Ray, Max, Gorski and me. Later we released I’m Really Sorry b/w Do You Understand Me, with Rick, Ron, Ron and me. We did all the marketing, delivering, collecting and running ourselves. It was an experience as we knew nothing of what we should be doing and learned by seeing what worked. Those records sold for about ninety-eight cents of which we ended up with about a dime. We collected our dimes and then figured out how to pay for our expenses. On October 3, 1965, You Treated Me Bad hit number two in the Western Michigan area. We just couldn’t get past that other band of the time, The Beatles with Yesterday, but it makes an honorable second.
60s: Who was the band's primary songwriter?
RS: Ray Hummel wrote most of the original songs we did at first, and both tunes on our first release. Later Rick Stevens primarily wrote. Generally one of the two would develop the bases of the songs and we’d all add, subtract or make changes as the song grew. The JuJus were a "group"; we all participated in everything, but Ray and Rick certainly deserved their names on the labels.
60s: There are several unreleased JuJus songs that have survived. Do you know how many?
RS: It’s been a lot of years gone by since all this went on but -thanks to a get together with Junior and finding Bill Gorski just months ago, and along with a character I’ve talked with named Tim Warren of Crypt Records - I can say that "yes, we do have never-released material". Max, Bill, Ray and I had a national recording contract in hand when Ray left us. The contract required traveling and Ray, recently married, chose not to. The fact is that there is still enough "recorded" material available for an album (33-1/3 type). It could (portray) a near anthology of The JuJus, 1964-1967, and features the various combinations of personnel. I have learned that The JuJus songs have been available on compilation albums and CDs since the mid-Eighties. These are put out by Crypt and Bomp Records. At Dot coms, like Amazon and Wal-Mart, The JuJus can be found by simply typing the name in "search". An interview with Max and me will appear soon on GrandRapidsRocks.com. This was done in the summer of ’04.
60s: Ray Hummell released a few singles under his own name. Did any of The JuJus participate in these recordings?
RS: I’ve heard some tunes Ray released after leaving The JuJus. I believe Max played on some. I know I didn’t and I think Bill was still in the military at that time.
60s: What do you recall about The JuJus TV appearances?
RS: We appeared on a local show that was on channel 13 at the time. It was hosted by Dick McKay. Larry Adderly of WLAV was very supportive. He offered playtime and a lot of good advice. Jim Geeting was also instrumental in nearly getting us on CLKW-TV (I think those are the letters) - anyway they were in Detroit. It would have been a terrific break; however, just as we were about to leave (for the show), they called and cancelled us. It seemed some young girl singer’s mother had pulled some strings to get her young daughter Leslie on in our spot. I always wanted to thank Mrs. Gore in person!
60s: When and why did The JuJus break up?
RS: As I said before, The JuJus were an evolutionary band. We lost Ray just when The JuJus began "happening", then Max and then Bill. I think that was '66, maybe '67. We had to change to survive. Where the four of us could have ended up can not be known. We added Bret as lead singer, Ron Burke on guitar and Ron Homrich on drums. We had a good potential sound but Bret chose to leave. Ron Burke began singing lead, Rick began writing and developing his play so we headed in a different direction. We were putting it together again when Uncle Sam offered me a contract in '68 and I guess it changed again or dissolved. Even with the personnel changes, I don’t recall any discussions of changing the name, we’d just be The JuJus (well perhaps early on when Ray suggested we change to Raymie & The JuJus, we had a good laugh and went on). I must admit however, after Junior and Gorski left it could never be "The JuJus" again.
60s: Did you join or form any bands after The JuJus?
RS: After getting back (from the military) in 1970, I found Max had started a band called Blue Max. It was what I call a "money band": You pay, we play. It didn’t matter any what type of music was desired. We’d play four hours of polka one night and four hours of rock 'n roll the next...whatever the people wanted. The best thing about it is that Junior had gathered a guitarist and drummer who were both very talented and easy to get along with. We played most every weekend except in February. I think we practiced twice before we started booking so it was a very profitable band. In 1975, I wanted to retire from playing. That wasn’t an easy thing to do with those guys and, in fact, it was 1976 - my third try - before I made the cut. The City of Ada was trying to raise money for a new fire truck by having an auction. I took my bass and old Ampeg amp and donated it to the fire department. I haven’t played a lick since. To quit playing wasn’t easy, but I couldn’t do it half way. It’s been near 30 years since I was on any stage and, yup, I still miss it. Then, after twenty years in a cowboy town in California, we’re now in western Washington state. I guess I’ve always had a thing for good westerns and the cowboy way.
60s: Are there any plans for a CD release of the unreleased JuJus songs?
RS: I don't really know...If they were released there would have to be a market and I've been gone so long I have no idea.
60s: How do you best summarize your experiences with The JuJus?
RS: About the only thing to say about having been with The JuJus is that it was great! It'd be a terrific experience for anyone. There’s nothing quite the same as being on a stage, playing your music and you, the others in the band and the crowd, are rolling....with the band feeling as one. You give to the crowd and they give back. I was lucky enough to experience that a lot of times with The JuJus and even with Blue Max. How could anyone forget the look on our faces when Jim Geeting told us that we were wearing Hawaiian Flowery shirts to open the Island? Or the time we were going to an out-of-town job, riding down a farm road only to find a bull in the road - right in the middle. I went around him, but Ray stopped. Ray eyed the bull, the bull eyed Ray...Ray put the pedal down and went straight for the bull. The bull went "flat-foot" and Ray swung around. You could still see that bull standing flat-footed for a long way down the highway. Or the feeling you get when hearing "your music" on the radio or the feeling of having "your song" as number two.
Or how greatful you were to be a JuJu...like late one night Gorski and I were walking down Division Avenue, discussing favorite topics: Song, bands, religion, politics and girls (at least some form of that order). Along came a car full of well lubricated kids, screeching to a stop in front of us. A guy yelled "get em!" and there we were, the two of us and the five of them. The last out of the car was a girl who screamed, "It's The JuJus!!" She saved our bacon yelling that name; we all ended up talking, having a laugh and signing autographs. Now that was a good night. The fact that forty years later the music of The JuJus is still available and that there is still some interest in the band is just plain amazing. We had our shot at touring down 16th Avenue and will never regret any of it.