Back in the late fifties and early sixties, a lot of young guys,
including me, started rock and roll bands. We had fun but none of us
achieved the success of Myron Lee and the Caddies.
Elvis may be the king but in South Dakota, Myron Lee was the
father of rock and roll. He and his Caddies first took the upper
midwest by storm with their music. Then, with help of a savvy
promoter and manager, wound up touring the country with the biggest
rock stars of the day and coming very close to becoming big stars
For years, people have told Myron Lee he should write a book
about his 5 decades with the Caddies. But he put it off until
finally newspaper man and columnist Chuck Cecil of Brookings
Myron Lee says, " And I said absolutely. I was so fortunate, he's
such a good writer so we teamed up and worked on that for the last
Myron Wachendorf inherited the gift of music from his father, Bob
who had is own band in the 30's and 40's. But around Christmas time
1950 when Myron was 8, Bob Wachendorf died at the age of 33. Myron
had to grow up fast working odd jobs to help with money for his mom,
sister and younger brother. Although he never learned to read music,
he had his dad's knack for playing piano by ear and, although shy,
he'd play at school and attract quite an audience.
"It makes you feel kind of special when you can do something they
like to hear."
After Bill Haley and the Comets hit song Rock around the Clock
came out in 1955, Myron was hooked. He took up guitar, formed a band
and was soon earning more money at age 17 than anyone in his family
Musician and promoter, Jimmy Thomas convinced him to change his
last name from Wachendorf to Lee and he was on his way.
Lee says, "Jimmy told me one of the first things you must do is
to have everything danceable everything should be recognizable and
if you get a song request more than once make sure you learn it.
Above all, make sure you remember who you're playing for. You're not
playing to satisfy yourself, You're playing for the crowd. I never
forgot that and always tried to do that 100 percent."
Myron wrote and recorded several songs many of which became
regional hits but for a variety of reasons, none made it
Still, he and the band had become good friends with others that
had made it like Buddy Knox and Bobby Vee who hired Myron and the
Caddies to be the opening act and back-up musicians on national
tours in Canada and the United States, including the Dick Clark
Caravan of Stars.
A picture snapped on one of those tours in Canada shows just how
popular those tours were.
" There were over ten thousand people there but there were
crowds that were bigger than that. When we were with Dick Clark on
the road there were places like Ottawa and New York City where we'd
get twenty thousand people."
But all good things must end and that happened to American rock
and roll with the British invasion in the mid sixties. All the big
stars, Myron Lee and the Caddies too, were out.
"When the English music took over my wife, Carole, went out and
got a job at U.S. West. We didn't have enough money to pay our
bills." says Lee.
Myron Lee found a day job too but he never broke up the band and,
even though players came and went and they were performing for
hundreds instead of thousands, the Caddies kept going through the
seventies, eighties and up until 1992 when Myron finally packed his
guitar up for the final time. It finally got to be more work than
fun and, as he writes in his book, he was falling into the trap of
"And to be able to do a job, unfortunately, you kind of drink
yourself into the mood and as the year's passed you think about that
and I didn't like myself for having to do that."
But Myron Lee wasn't out of the music business for long. He
started his own D.J. business ten years ago playing records for
weddings and parties, applying the same stage philosophy that worked
so well with the Caddies.
Lee says, "All I ever was was a band leader but I can still go
out as D.J. and help make that thing a success by doing the right
music at the right time like I did with the band. If I leave knowing
people had a great time, that's all I ever wanted."