Tennyson originally formed in 1973: Here is one of the earliest photos from the 1976 version of Tennyson: From left, Skip Franklin, Steve Citta, Todd Hunemuller, Davie Lee and, seated, Dave Franklin and Debi Smythe.
Franklin moved away in 1977 and this original version of the band was disbanded.Article that appeared in the Waterloo Courier in 2003 describing the history of the band.. See article here.
Around 1980, Franklin was back in town and wanted to get the band back together. Not sure of the exact order of events, but Franklin and his sister had already contacted Greg Coffin to play bass and Greg Galloway to play keyboards. Both Coffin and Galloway were members of Easy Street. It was around this time that Murphy’s time with Hip Pocket had come to an end. Coffin and Galloway apparently had seen Murphy around town in Hip Pocket and persuaded Franklin to give him a call and offer him a job with the new Tennyson.
Murphy had limited knowledge of the history of Tennyson other than they were a successful band for several years and then kind of disappeared.
Why was this new version of the band exceptional?
Vision: One of the unique qualities of this band is that they had a vision. They were not going to be another cover band playing in local bars. Skip Franklin wanted to capitalize on the current Urban Cowboy theme and play cross-over country made famous from the movie. The film is said to have started the 80’s boom in country music appeal. Some film critics referred to the movie as a country music version of Saturday Night Fever. Although country cross-over was a driving force in the formation of the band, they very soon developed into a much wider range of music. In addition, Skip’s lead vocals, combined with his sister (Debi Smythe) and Greg Coffin, gave the band three tremendous lead singers that enabled them to cover many different bands and styles.
Skip Franklin: Skip was an excellent singer. Along with his ability to play solid rhythm guitar, he had an ability to emulate many different singers. He could sing Neal Diamond songs and both look the part and nail the vocals as good as any Diamond impersonator working the Vegas clubs. In addition to the lower pitched Diamond songs, he could also sing the high part of Eagles tunes. Franklin was also an organizer and a true leader. For example: He worked out a deal with a local clothing store that resulted in the band being provided with three different sets of stage clothes in return for the placement of their store logo that was displayed on stage. Since we were a “hip” country band these clothes included cowboy hats, cowboy boots and miscellaneous cowboy shirts and pants. Skip also financed the PA , the band truck and later on negotiated the band’s trips to the Nevada casinos.
Greg Galloway: The first time Murphy met Galloway at the Tennyson rehearsal (audition) Galloway was introduced as “Wiz”. Years earlier, Galloway earned that nickname because of his ability to play any kind of music and figure out the most difficult songs. He was considered a “Wizard” because of his outstanding musical and technical abilities. Although the members of Tennsyon all knew his real name, he was always referred to as “Wiz”. Wiz was a seasoned keyboard player who in musician’s language had “big ears” This means that he could hear parts of music that the other players did not notice. For example, guitarist Murphy would play his parts during rehearsal, and Wiz would mention something like, “something is not right there”. While Murphy played an A minor7th chord, Galloway would notice that an additional “9th” and a 13th needed to be added to the chord. Murphy knew enough theory to be able to play what Wiz suggested, and when he played it, it was obvious that Wiz heard it right. Wiz could also hear all the suspended and diminished chords that normal players would miss. In addition to him having a big ears, he could also play! One of his idols was organist Jimmy Webb who is regarded as one of the most influential rock organists that unfortunately only keyboard players knew about. Wiz was a supreme musician without a doubt. However, he was also an audiofile regarding PA equipment and home stereo equipment. Wiz could talk for hours about wattage, voltage, distortion, sound pressure levels, speaker impedance / placement, and all other specs that are involved in high fidelity music. Wiz put together the PA system for Tennyson that resulted in one of the sweetest sounding systems of any band playing in the area. Because of Wiz’s influence, Murphy learned and carried forth in his career how to assemble a PA system, how to run a PA system, how to research and buy home stereo equipment, how to learn songs, what good taste is in music, and much more.. In Murphy’s words, Wiz was his mentor on how to be a player, an audio technician, and an all around band guy.
Greg Coffin: Coffin was an outstanding bass player. But his most outstanding ability was in his singing. He had the type of voice that other singers envied. He was able to sing both high and low parts. But no matter what range he was singing in, he had a natural shimmer to his voice that made him stand above the band. Probably the best way to describe his voice is to compare him to other singers. Coffin absolutely nailed the lead vocals in songs such as “Jane” and “Find Your Way Back” from Jefferson Starship (singer Mickey Thomas), “Still the One” from Orleans, and any of the songs from Boston. Any musician who knows these songs, will have an immediate appreciation for a singer who can sing those parts. In addition to his bass playing and his lead vocal ability, he was a personality. Whenever you were with Coffin, you would have a good time. He sincerely enjoyed playing music and it showed. He was known to say that he would not quit playing in a band until it wasn’t fun anymore. It is hard to imagine Coffin not having fun in whatever he chose to do. In any social situation, Coffin was a sparkplug. He was either laughing with his friends or making them laugh.
Coffin was the social butterfly of the band. Some may think of the term “social butterfly’ as not particularly flattering, but in the case of Coffin, this meant that he liked everybody and everybody liked him. He could work the crowd from the stage and also on breaks and after the gig. He had friends wherever the band appeared. If by chance, they were not friends when he arrived, he would win them over before he left.
Kelly Murphy: Murphy’s career up to this time provided him with a versatility that made him a valuable asset to Tennyson. Even though he was 5 years younger than any member of the band, he had many years of experience playing large venue / multiple band concerts with large sound and light shows. He had played in clubs that gave him experience of playing 25 days out of the month. He also had extensive experience playing country music. This varied experience gave Murphy a more sophisticated and polished sound than the average week-end warrior guitarist. His style of playing guitar was influenced from the leads you would hear in REO Speedwagon, Journey, Allman Brothers, Frampton, Steely Dan, Kansas and Lyrnyrd Skynyrd. He was a rocker at heart, but also listened to jazz guitar players such as Larry Carlton, George Benson, and Lee Ritenour. in addition to his musical talents, Murphy also brought with him experience of managing / leading bands, creating promotional materials and having an overall professional attitude towards the business of live music.
Deb Smythe: Deb and her brother Skip had that magic of harmonizing that only comes from that family connection. She could sing the love ballads and also sing rockers from Journey. She also was featured on several songs playing her flute. One more thing, she had movie star looks.
John Rohlf was an established drummer from Waterloo who fit in perfectly with Tennyson. His steady beat and great personality added to the aura that Tennyson exhibited.
The band first started rehearsing in a vacant retail store south of the UNI dome in Cedar Falls. This large building allowed the band to practice with their full concert PA that provided them with a chance to fine-tune their sound before playing gigs. The drummer at this time was Harley Granger. Although they might have tried out a couple of different drummers before deciding on him. Unfortunately, Harley did not last long and was replaced by John Rohlf.
One of their first gigs was playing in the entrance of a men’s clothing store at the Crossroads Shopping Mall in Waterloo. This was quite an unusual gig. They were positioned about 10 feet into the store next to the store’s door to the open mall. People browsing through the mall stopped at the door and listened and customers inside the store were gathered around the band.
One of the band’s most steady and popular gigs was at Billie Jo’s in Cedar Falls. Billie Jo’s was bringing in major bands every week and was a favorite for the college students from nearby University Of Northern Iowa. This was a large club with a capacity of a couple thousand. The band would consistently fill the room with another couple hundred college students waiting outside to be let in when people left. They would play this club Tuesday-Saturday, 4 – 5 times a year. This was a bar modeled after Mickey Gilley’s in Nashville. One of the unusual features of this bar was the mechanical bull that always had a line of drunks see how long they could stay on the bull before being thrown off..
Tennyson used to play frequently at Billie Jo’s. Check out their PA and stage platforms. Tennyson was traveling with one of the largest sound and light shows in the area. To help move and run their show, they used two full time roadies.
In 1983 the band played their second annual Policeman Ball. See the newspaper article promoting the event and the poster of the event. This event attracted over 4 thousand people at the Conway Civic Center in Waterloo.
The Big Break:
It was during this time period, that Skip Franklin made contact with a old friend who had relocated to Nevada who informed him of a booking agency (Top Ten Talent) that was a major player in managing entertainment at the casinos in Reno, Lake Tahoe and Las Vegas. Skip was advised that if the band shipped them a demo tape of the band, there might be a chance of booking some gigs out there. The band got together at Randy Etscheidt’s home studio and cut a 6 song demo tape and shipped it off to Nevada.
Here are the songs we included on the tape:
- Jessie’s Girl
- Seven Bridges Road
- Take it to the Limit
- Don’t Fall in Love With a Dreamer
- Can’t Let Go
- Waylon and Willie Medley
In addition to the tape, the band sent a promo pack that included the 8X10 glossies, song list, and general biography. No much was thought of it until Skip came to practice one day and said that Tennyson had a booking in Reno, Nevada if they wanted to do it. Since the band was based out of eastern Iowa, traveling to Reno was an expensive venture. With a little more negotiation, the band was ultimately booked for two weeks in Reno and the following two weeks in Lake Tahoe. The band did not quite know the magnitude of the gigs until they arrived in Reno. Much to their surprise, they were playing in a couple of the premier casinos of the area and being managed by the TopTen Agency who represented major musical acts. See the brochure of the TopTenTalent Agency here and check out the big names..
Included below is a compilation of newspaper clippings from the local entertainment papers from the Reno/Lake Tahoe area. The promo pack pictures that they sent to the TopTen Agency included some of the band in their cowboy outfits in a effort gain work in an area that featured many country bands. As a result, all the local entertainment newspapers used the cowboy pictures of the band. Included in these clippings is a positive review of the band and a somewhat luke-warm review of the band. By the way, after reading the luke-warm review, Murphy learned from this. In all of his future bands, he always urged fellow band members that they could say anything they want between songs, but never just say the name of the song they just did or the song they were getting ready to do. Many bands realize that you have to have some in between song dialogue, but Murphy knew (especially after reading that review) that just announcing the songs is not the way to do it. See the Nevada press clippings here.
Tennyson continued these trips to the Nevada casinos for several years. According to Greg Coffin, these trips are considered to be the most memorable times of his musical career. Murphy agrees.
Included in some candid polaroid shots from the casino trips are several backstage dressing room shots, a couple shots behind the curtain minutes before the show, and a shot of two Iowa hicks enjoying June snow in the Rocky Mountains. During one of these trips, the band also go a chance to ride a hot air balloon. Shots of the customary champagne toast that followed the ride are also included. Polaroid shots of the Reno/Lake Tahoe trip.
There are many people in the Waterloo/Cedar Falls area who consider Tennyson to be a Supergroup. This is probably due to their longevity, overall popularity and success. However, their reoccurring trips to the casinos of Nevada during this era of the band probably had much to do with that Supergroup status.
A New Lineup for Tennyson:
After a while, Skip Franklin decided that it was time for him to move on. He moved to Austin, Texas. His sister Deb was raising a family and decided it was time for her to retire from the business also.
Tennyson was now in the market for some new members. Tina Windsor was a tremendous singer who had played with Coffin in a previous band. She was hired on as a singer. Randy Etscheidt was a long time friend of both Coffin and Wiz. He was brought in as both a singer and a lead guitar player. These new players allowed Tennyson to incorporate new directions in their musical selections.
To the right is a picture of the Tennyson truck. This was a customized truck that had seating for all members in the front section and room for the equipment in the back. It also served as dressing room and break room at gigs.
A new set of promo materials for the band:
The band decided it need a completely new set of pictures and promotional materials. Murphy used the band as a project for his graphics production/marketing class at UNI. He started with the pictures below:
A selection of live shots that Murphy arranged but were never used as official promo
The band also had a live shot taken of the band. This shot was taken at Electric Park Ballroom in Waterloo.
Using this new logo and some live shots from Electric Park, the poster above was created. See additional Electric Park shots here. A full promo pack was then created that included stationary, large and small mailing envelopes, business cards, write-up of the band, color poster and color 8 X 10. See the promo pack here. This was mailed to several hundred schools, colleges and organizations throughout the midwest
Here is a collection of handwritten set lists from the 1984-1987 time. Included in here is a gig from the legendary Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake Iowa – the site of the last Buddy Holly concert before his untimely death in 1957.
Tennyson played several of the University Of Northern Iowa homecoming dances. Polaroid shots from the homecoming dance at the UNI Dome.
Tennyson appeared in concert with The Greg Kihn Band, Jerry Jeff Walker, The Charlie Daniels Band, The Ozark Mountain Daredevils, The Grass Roots, the Dan Seales Show, Steel Breeze, and Limited Warranty.
The end of the band:
Around 1987, Tennyson was facing a dilemma common among many bands. In short, some members of the band wanted to increase the amount of gigs and go full time. Other band members needed to reduce the gigs to allow more time for their family and career outside of music.
Tennyson called in quits in 1987.
Murphy decided he would either go on to play music full time with a road band or go to graduate school. Going on the road with music was a easy career choice but, he did not want to rule out the grad school option. He visited two universities that offered the degree he was interested in; Arizona State and Indiana University. After much deliberation, he decided to pursue his academic career and enroll at Indiana University for his doctoral degree. He moved to Indiana to attend grad school at Indiana University and resumed his musical career there to support himself through grad school.
Wiz decided to go full time with a road band and traveled throughout the country for several years. Interesting note: Three or four years after Tennyson broke up, Murphy lived in Bloomington, Indiana and was enrolled in graduate school at Indiana University and playing in a band in Indianapolis. One Saturday while on the way to a gig in Indianapolis, Murphy stopped by a pro-shop music store in Indy called IRC Music. After browsing through the store for a while, he proceeded to leave the store. While he opened the door to leave, he glanced up in amazement and said, ” Wiz?” Right in front of him was Greg Galloway, the keyboard player from Tennyson whom Murphy had not seen or heard from in years. Fate would have it, that the road band Wiz was touring the country with, happened to be playing at the Marriott at the Airport in Indianapolis. Murphy happened to be playing across the street at the Hilton at the Airport. With a chance being less than 1 in a million, they ran into each other at a music store in Indianapolis. They spent the next week reminiscing, checking each other’s band out, and Wiz visited Murphy’s house in Bloomington.
Pete Simonsen continued playing local music.
Tina Windsor is now working at Omaha Pubic Schools.
Greg Coffin later reappeared with fellow Tennyson band mate, Randy Etscheidt in a horn band called Brass Transit and established themselves as another local band favorite. He and Etschedit later reformed one of Coffin’s earlier bands, Easy Street, Waterloo Courier article1 . Waterloo Courier article2 Waterloo Courier article3
Around the year 2000, Skip moved back to town and formed a band called FACE. See article here:
Unfortunately, the leader and founder of Tennyson, Skip Franklin, passed away in 2005. Skip created a legacy in the Waterloo/Cedar Falls music scene that will never be matched. See article here. See official obituary in Waterloo Courier here
Wiz (Greg Galloway) passed away several years ago at the age of 50. Wiz’s talent and personality will never be forgotten by his band members, family and friends. The rumors are that a well-to-do lady fell in love with him and he joined her is Sedona, AZ., where he passed.
Here is a Facebook picture that drummer John Rohlf has on his profile.
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