Kelly: Chevrons, their fans to find '60s groove again

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Posted: Sunday, September 29, 2013 12:00 am

Fifty years after hatching an idea to form a rock 'n' roll band when they were 13 and 14, a group of baby boomers again will take the stage — at a far different stage in life.

“It's good that we're all still here and alive, and well enough to attempt this,” said Dennis O'Malley, a founder of the Chevrons. “With the crowd that's likely to attend, we can share a time that's a throwback to when we were young.”

Omaha teenage stars in the 1960s, the Chevrons will play for charity at 7 p.m. Friday at Clancy's Pub, north of 114th Street and West Dodge Road. The reunion concert is sure to draw folks who remember the band packing them in at the popular Benson-area teen nightclub Sandy's Escape.

“Every weekend,” said friend Dale Barr, “lines of kids extended around the block.”

All of the band's founders achieved success in other fields as adults, but they say their youthful time in the Chevrons affected their lives.

“It really was a turning point in my life,” said real estate developer Phil Petersen. “It changed me from being a quiet little shy guy in the corner to having confidence and learning the work ethic we developed as a group.”

“Phil got picked on by some of the same bullies who picked on me,” said Greg Fox, who later became a counselor to runaways and then a fundraiser for nonprofit groups. “He knew I was learning to play the guitar and he asked me to show him some chords.”

“There was a great demand for live music, so we said, 'Let's put a band together,'” recalled O'Malley, a hospital consultant who retired after 34 years as president of the Craig Hospital in Denver, renowned for its work with spinal-cord and brain injuries.

Those three teamed with Mike Vogltanz, who played drums. The name Chevrons was literally picked out of a hat in a basement when the four of them couldn't decide.

The Chevrons — inducted in 1998 into the Nebraska Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — became far more than a garage band, though they surely started out in garages and basements. They learned their instruments well but especially clicked on vocal harmonies.

They were voted the No. 1 Omaha band in a 1966 poll of teenagers. Some bands, especially those whose members were a few years older, may have been more talented.

“But we had a real crowd appeal,” O'Malley said, “because we were the same age as everybody we played for.”

The Chevrons were booked on most weekend nights and traveled Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas during summers.

They eventually opened for national acts like the Dave Clark Five, the Association and the Zombies. The Chevrons cut a couple of records, but they never expected to become a big-name act.

All of them had other plans in life.

As kids attending Holy Name Elementary School, they entered an Omaha music scene that was already strong. Todd Storz of Omaha had pioneered Top 40 radio music on KOWH in the 1950s.

Rock 'n' roll had surged in the late '50s and early '60s, and the Chevrons started their band in the summer of 1963, just after graduating from eighth grade. Fox and O'Malley then attended Creighton Prep, and Petersen and Vogltanz went to Holy Name High.

Then four lads from Liverpool arrived in America in January 1964, singing harmonies like nobody else.

“The Beatles hit, and the next thing we knew, we were singing harmonies,” Fox said. “Then it was off to the races.”

KOIL had become prominent for Top 40 radio music, and Sandy Jackson became one of the station's most popular deejays. He eventually quit radio and opened Sandy's Escape at 6031 Binney St. on Dec. 31, 1964.

He booked the Chevrons and another area band, the Rumbles, for that New Year's Eve.

“Anticipation and excitement for opening night was high,” recalled fan Mike Ancona of Omaha. “Many teens had difficulty convincing their parents that a night club for teens was a legit, wholesome place to meet friends from their high school and other schools in the metro.”

Alcohol wasn't served, of course. Band members said they didn't abuse drugs, either.

But they made enough money to buy cars and clothes and save for college. Sometimes they would travel to towns with Jackson in his big Pontiac or in a van with “Chevrons” on the side. They would receive a cut of the gate.

They also played regularly north of Omaha in the Ponca Hills at a place called Tanglewood Ranch.

O'Malley dropped out of the Chevrons after graduating in 1967. He already was intent on a career in hospital management and wanted to focus on school.

He earned a master's degree and — at the surprisingly young age of 25 — became president of Denver's Craig Hospital. He retired five years ago at 59, and today serves as a consultant on the Creighton-Alegent hospital merger in Omaha.

Working with patients and their families after life-changing injuries, he said, was inspiring.

“You learn so much about the human spirit,” he said. “In a place where tragedy abounds, there were always smiles.”

In addition to their professions, the former Chevrons are active in their communities. By coincidence, O'Malley and Petersen both sit on zoo boards, in Denver and Phoenix, respectively.

All have worked for what they achieved, often with difficulties. Petersen married at 17 and soon was a father, but stayed in school and in the band for several years.

He graduated from the University of Nebraska at Omaha with a degree in political science, moved to Arizona and got into real estate and home-building.

He owns Brookfield Communities, which in its peak year employed as many as 100 and reached $135 million in sales.

He invited his band buddies to his home in Kona, Hawaii, and they got to thinking that their 50th anniversary was coming up.

In the past 15 years, they have played on occasion, always for charity. Friday's event will benefit the nonprofit Gesu Housing, Inc. Its general manager is their childhood friend Dale Barr, who used to help carry their instruments into Sandy's Escape.

In the past decade, he said, Gesu has built 22 energy-efficient homes, with six more planned. All are on former vacant lots in the Clifton Hills South neighborhood (around 43rd and Erskine Streets) just east of Holy Name Church, which the band members attended as kids.

The three-bedroom homes go to “the working poor” who have jobs and can qualify for loans. In 10 years, Barr said, no one has moved out and there have been no foreclosures. “All are hard-working people.”

Playing with the three original band members tomorrow night will be John Roode and Allan Morris, who joined the band along the way; and drummer Lloyd Brinkman. (Vogltanz, who became a graphics illustrator and lives in the Chicago area, is not planning to attend. Other former Chevrons not playing tomorrow were Bob Lipsey, Mike Nuccio and Larry Villone.)

The Chevrons, one of many Omaha bands of that era, broke up in 1971. Some of those other bands also hold reunions from time to time or still regularly play “oldies” music.

Steve Hough, the only original member of the Rumbles still playing, said his group has been busy in recent years but plans to wind down and retire a year from now. The Rumbles and the Chevrons were always friendly in their youth, he said, “and I hope to stop over and see them Friday night.”

Now becoming oldies themselves, the ol' Chevrons look forward to standing again in front of an Omaha audience, perhaps with many of the same faces they saw as teenagers.

“It's always a rush when you look out and see people enjoying themselves,” O'Malley said. “There's nothing quite like music and dancing to get people out of their skin to relax and set aside all the stress of life.”

Fox, who still plays lead guitar with the Bozak & Morrissey Band, reflected that when the Chevrons started, their ignorance was bliss.

“We were just a bunch of buddies too young and too naive to know we couldn't do this,” he said. “We just thought, 'Hey, let's start a band. Yeah, good idea.'”

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