Country Patriots

The Country Patriots, Oelwein, Iowa: 1972-74 Left to right: Kelly Murphy, Rob Tatro, Mike Vargason, not pictured John Chapman

While Kelly Murphy was still pondering his retirement from music after the demise of The Bilbo Baggins Blues Band, there was a new band starting across town. 

Rob Tatro, John Chapman and Robert Chapman were guitar players who used to get together and play music. John Chapman, who got his guitar first, was probably the most accomplished of the three.

He taught Tatro how to play Wipe Out and now Tate was on his way.

These three used to practice on John’s porch. Their big tunes at the time were Wipe Out, What I’d Say (Ray Charles), and  Snowbird (Anne Murray)

They decided they needed a bass player and Tate then switched to bass. He soon found an ad in the newspaper for a Beatles Kingston bass for $40. His parents bought it for him and he then started his career as a bass player and never looked back.

It was about this time that Mike Vargason was invited over to Chapman’s to play drums.  Vargason’s mom and dad had convinced him that playing country music would be more successful than rock and roll, so Vargason made the jump to country. Their band at this time was called Country Patriots and consisted of John Chapman, Rob Tatro and Mike Vargason. See newspaper Article about the band.With guidance from Vargason’s mom and dad on which songs to to play and from watching Hee- Haw every week, they soon developed enough tunes to start booking gigs in area bars.

They soon realized they needed to add a guitar player that could handle some of the more difficult parts and invited Murphy over to join in their jamming. They practiced in Vargason’s basement. Murphy’s first response was that country music was not cool. But he soon realized that there was potential for frequent gigs throughout northeast Iowa. Even though country was not cool, Murphy and the rest of the band learned the music business by playing nearly every weekend. In addition to standard country music, they also mixed in music from the 50’s and a couple of current rock tunes.
See newspaper article about the band.


At some point, John Chapman quit the band. But he reappeared on later Blue Horizon posters. Not sure of the history of how John quit and came back later. 

patriots8by10.jpg (204370 bytes)Country Patriots in 1973. From left to right: Rob Tatro, Kelly Murphy, Mike Vargason. Taken in Vargason’s back yard by Oelwein Daily Register Photographer, Lee Bonorden. At the time of this picture, John Chapman had already left the band.

Even though Murphy and Vargason were only 14-15 years old, they were regularly playing in bars and not able to legally have a beer or drive a car. However, there are rumors that they might have snuck a beer or two when no one was looking.

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Transportation to gigs was difficult at this time because only Tatro had a drivers license. His parents let him use the family station wagon to pull a trailer. Also, Vargason’s Mom and Dad, Connie and Henry Vargason, used to either drive them to jobs or loan them their Corvair van. The Corvair had several mechanical problems but overall it usually got them to gigs

For a while John Chapmans father, Hillman, would lend them his red van (Ol’ Shakey),. but when John left the band, they lost access to “Shakey”.

For these first couple of gigs, they would run all the instruments and vocals through one little amplifier and played country songs by Waylon Jennings, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Clark, and Mel Tillus, 

A couple of rock songs they learned at this time was  Roll Over Beethoven by Electric Light Orchestra. Also, Joy to the World by Three Dog Night.

They played at Tavern in the Town (The TIT) in Wadena and at Clyde Ohl’s in Maynard. Also played in taverns and bars in Arlington, Fairbank, and Aurora and other northeast Iowa villages and hamlets. 

See newspaper article about the band at this time.

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After a while they realized that their band name of Country Patriots, pigeon holed them into a country band. They wanted a name that would not necessarily scream out country music. After a long session sitting in Vargason’s kitchen eating hamburgers after a Saturday night gig, Mikes dad, Henry Vargason, suggested the name of Holy Smoke. The double meaning of this name did not escape these teenagers from the mid -70;s. ‘

They played a couple of nights as Holy Smoke. However, they soon had another band meeting and started talking about band names again. Interestingly enough, it was once again, Vargason’s Dad, who then suggested Blue Horizon.

See the next band of Vargason, Tatro and Murphy: BLUE HORIZON.

Murphy Band History Home Page | Individual Bands Below
Baggins Blues Band | Country Patriots | Blue Horizon | Butch Gage Band | Hip Pocket | Tennyson | Step On It | Trevor Gage Band | B.J. Baxter Band | Fatcat | Mainstreet | Sundown | Midi Murphy

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