Players recall local musicians’ heyday
By GREG WILLIAMS
REEDSVILLE — At a time when The Beatles were international stars and had achieved unprecedented levels of critical and commercial success, young Don Kline was just trying to pay his way through college by playing bass guitar with a local band.
A music major at what was then called Mansfield State College, Kline drove home on weekends, summers and even weekdays to perform with The Dimensions and The Yellow Brick Road, playing for teen dances and later in the bar scene.
“We kicked ass back then,” laughs Don, now 73, about his former band days which spanned from 1965 to 1970. “The Beatles motivated us. It was amazing what happened. There were so many bands that came out of that era. Just in Mifflin County there were The Ivies, Joker’s Wild, The Marauders … there were so many talented bands.
“They were all playing because they enjoyed it, and also because they were making some decent money,” he adds. “It was just an amazing era where people enjoyed dancing and music.”
Don’s venture into local garage bands began in 1965 with his first band, The Dimensions. He formed the group with his cousin, Danny Kline. Don played bass, while Danny was the lead guitarist. Lead singer and organist Chet Selfridge and drummer Danny Wilson rounded out the band’s members. All four teens were from Reedsville.
A widely popular teen band, The Dimensions played at dances at Kishacoquillas High School, the cafeteria at the old Lewistown High School, Lewistown YMCA, on stage for John Miller at Kish Park and on the concert stage at the Miller Theater.
The Youth Park in Reedsville held dances at least once a week and other music competitions. “The place was packed every Tuesday night or any other time there were bands there,” Don recalls.
In 1967, The Dimensions won a battle of the bands at the Youth Park and were crowned Mifflin County Rock ‘N Roll Champions.
“That was the night I knew we had something special going on,” Don says. “There were a few other great Mifflin County bands competing that night. There was so much talent from Mifflin County on display in those years.
“We were a good band, but we may have won having the hometown advantage,” he adds. “The kids at the Youth Park that night voted us champions. It just seemed to gel after that.”
The Dimensions played mostly local venues at the time since Don was the only one in the group with a driver’s license.
Don graduated from Kish in 1967 and decided to attend Mansfield. The band didn’t miss a beat, especially Don, who would drive back and forth according to the band’s performance schedule.
Don believes the band became even better when Roger Niman joined as lead singer.
“We went onto play weekend after weekend, making good money,” Don says.
The band caught its first big break when they were discovered by Gene Kaye, a famous DJ from Philadelphia.
“He invited us to play on his huge famous Saturday Night Notre Dame Bandstand in Allentown,” Don explains. “We played on the radio live before on WMRF but never such a big powerful station like Lehigh Valley’s WODE, 99.9 FM.”
Kaye also helped Allentown band Jay and the Techniques make it big, with two hit records and an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. “We were to be his next big discovery,” Don says.
Former publisher Dave Semler followed the band around to their performances.
“I was kind of their roadie in those first years,” says Semler, a cousin of Don and a 1969 Kish grad. “The guys had first class Fender guitars and amps. Chet was a good lead singer, but when Roger Niman joined as the new lead singer the band was simply great.”
Niman was an immensely popular member of the Kish Class of 1968, while Wilson and Selfridge were 1969 grads.
“I remember the trip to Allentown,” Semler adds. “The invitation to play there occurred when Don’s mother (Aunt Florence) saw Kaye’s name on the back of the Jay and the Techniques’ album, “Keep The Ball Rollin.’” She wrote him asking how new bands can get a break.”
Kaye thought The Dimensions had potential, but he said the band needed its own music. The cover songs were great, according to Kaye, but original music was the key to them making it big.
In those days, band members either bought sheet music at Frank’s Music Shop or Kauffman’s Music and Furniture, Semler says.
More likely, they listened to 45s over and over and over to determine the lyrics and guitar chords.
“Today, lyrics and chords are free everywhere on the internet. How to play guitar licks are available on Internet instructional videos … free,” he says.
Not so back in the ’60s and ’70s.
“Although I doubt that today’s bands have any more fun than those high school kids in The Dimensions or young adults in The Yellow Brick Road,” Semler adds.
Semler recalls other milestones, including a New Year’s Eve appearance at the Green Gables.
“One of our high school teachers booked the band for that year’s Armagh-Brown Kish Alumni Association New Year’s Party. Although alcohol was served, it was essentially a private party … so the band’s appearance wasn’t a problem. It was the band’s first time playing for an adult audience as opposed to school kids. We really enjoyed watching the adults have a great time,” he says.
“Don and I made a drive through State College, Philipsburg, Punxsutawney and Altoona looking for potential bookings,” Semler adds. “That’s how the Philipsburg appearances came about. We looked high and low for potential bookings.”
However, tragedy struck when Niman was killed in a freak automobile accident on the way home from a performance at a festival held behind the Brooklyn Fire Company.
“We still played many gigs, but it was never the same without Roger,” Don recalls. “We lost a great singer and musician.”
The Dimensions broke up the next spring after Selfridge and Wilson graduated and went off to college.
Following The Yellow Brick Road
Norm Garlock and friend Jeff Maurer formed The Yellow Brick Road, and asked the Klines and drummer Doug Myers to join. The band changed members over the years. Keith Bailey, a 1969 Kish grad who played trumpet, joined. Myers was replaced by Gus Haake; and Gary Starr joined as the keyboardist after organist Brian Wagner departed.
Maurer was also drafted and had to go to Vietnam a short time later. Billy Zeigler also filled in when Danny or Don Kline could not make a gig.The Yellow Brick Road picked up where The Dimensions left off.
“I was rocking and loving it again,” Don says of the band, which drove around in a signature black hearse with its name emblazoned on the side in big yellow letters. “We made good money. One time, our band rented the Youth Park. One thousand plus kids showed up that night to dance to our music.
“I paid my way through college,” he says, reflecting on his band days. “That garage up behind our band picture was a place we practiced a lot. Kids from Lumber City and surrounding areas would come there to dance in the driveway as we practiced.”
End of The Road
The dream ended for good in 1970 when The Yellow Brick Road broke up. It proved to be a bit more involved with that. Don, who had changed his major from music to special education, graduated early and got a teaching job. He continued playing with a band in Mansfield, White Spider Blues.
The United States Army also planned to draft him, but he got a deferral which enabled him to finish out the school year. Before the Army could deliver his papers, Don enlisted in the Air Force.
Making Music After All These Years
Don, who now lives in Nippenose Valley, near Jersey Shore, still plays in a band and performs from time to time. In 1984, band members from The Dimensions and The Yellow Brick Road reunited for a reunion of sorts.
“It was a great ride with both bands,” Don recounts. “We played a lot of neat places. The Allentown show was one of the biggest gigs we ever had. We were playing in some pretty big outlets. There were a lot of nice memories.”
Don picked up a guitar for another band performance in 2016 and played some nursing homes in the Williamsport area in 2019 with a new band, Kindred Spirits.
“I had so much fun playing music again and making people happy,” Don says. “It is very enjoyable to play for the nursing home residents and bring them some joy. After playing one song, a lady sitting in a wheelchair said to me, ‘That was my husband’s and my favorite song.’ That nice lady made my day.”