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07/05/2004
Myron Lee and the Caddies

We can't go back in time, of course. But certain things will certainly trigger our senses and our memories.


For many of the babyboomer generation, all that's needed is to hear a song from the early days of rock and roll, one band in particular, and you're there.


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 themselves.


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 suggested it.


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 ten months."


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 had.


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 nationally.


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 alcohol.


"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."


Myron Lee's book is available at all Lewis stores, Cover to Cover and Zanbroz..where he'll be signing copies in person July 10th.



Doug Lund
© 2004 KELOLAND TV. All Rights Reserved.


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