The Weasels: Underground Success of A Kansas Rock Group
by Patrick Joseph O’Connor
Popular Music And Society (Bowling Green State University) Summer 1993
Reprinted in the book Moody's Skidrow Beanery, Kansas Underground From Beat To Hip, by
P.J. O'Connor, Rowfant Press
On a crisp fall day in the
mid-1960s, a car drove into El Dorado, Kansas (population 15,000) with
an elk tied to the hood. Kansas is not elk country. The animal had been
hunted and brought down in Colorado. The car's occupants were Doug Crispin
and his aunt and uncle. Their manner of coming was news to the citizenry.
The youngsters gathered around the thousand-pound trophy, and the Native
American boy who had shot it was thereafter called "Elkshot."
He was later to become drummer for a rock band known as the Weasels.
The Weasels came together in
1964. This study of their climb and gambit in the quest for self-sufficiency
in rock applies uses and gratification theory in an effort to establish
determining factors in their local popularity and failure at finding
a national audience. Kansas (population 2,500,000) in particular has
many such communities that encourage self-reliance. Today, as in the
'60s, there are youthful groups who find themselves caught up in the
"walled villages," trying to express themselves in the electric
"folk" music of rock and roll.
The story of the Weasels is
one of small town rockers who had a chance at national exposure, only
to have their hopes evaporate on the Trail of Tears of the music business.
Indeed, this is not an aberration, as can be assessed by talking with
any number of popular musicians.
As Jeffres points out, "Any
device that carries messages between people is a medium."1
Popular music, in the ultimate arena of national exposure, is a mass
medium. Inventiveness, verve, piquancy, and, perhaps above all, the
ability to relate the mood and mission of the listeners, are attributes
that make up successful song. Where the young are concerned, rock has
become a broad enough genre to fulfill nearly all of their musical expectations.
Johnstone posits that "Within
the social context of high school,...lining up with a particular favorite
serves to identify an individual as belonging to a particular sub-group."2
He goes on to point out that those followers of [the '50s] Elvis Presley
constituted a subculture in the youth culture, as he symbolized in general
a "non-conformist style [compared to] Pat Boone or Perry Como."3
The uses and gratifications
perspective, developed by Elihu Katz and first described in 1959, propounds
that the audience drives a bargain with the medium in terms of having
their needs met and their beliefs affirmed, thus garnering their support
of that medium. As Katz writes, "There is much, much more to mass
communication than persuasion."4 This turned media research
around by posing the question: What does the receiver do with the message
from the source?
Katz put forth uses and gratification
theory as "a bridge to the humanistic tradition of the study of
popular culture which has had a continuing interest in mass media,"
though theorists in that field view media use as one of "escape...from
political and societal reality."5
It is imperative that the medium
know and play to their audience, serving them as presumably the musical
artists serve themselves. Factors of audience response include affinity,
story-telling, musicianship, and the nearly indefinable taste. Though,
as in much social research, there is a possibility, as Dorothy Lee suggests
when talking about basic needs, of "trying to assess a totality
in terms of an aggregate,"6 still criteria can be established
that will substantiate a position of rank regarding needs met.
The following musicians were
interviewed in the fall of 1992 by the author. All were over the telephone,
except the Wichita musician (who asked that his name not be used), which
was in person. His reminisces, while not altogether about the Weasels,
help to show what life was like for a Wichitan who played with the musicians
and socialized with the young people of El Dorado in the 1960s.
"I played in a group with
Elkshot. This was in Wichita in '68, after the Weasels had broken up
the first time. Actually, I never got to hear them, but the guys I played
with said they were good. If the Weasels had their respect, they certainly
"Elkshot lived with his
aunt in El Dorado. One of our members was living in town at the time,
going to school [then Butler County Junior College] to stay out of the
draft. Wichita State had kicked him out for low grades, and in those
days you might as well pack your bags when that happened, unless you
could get into another school.
"So we spent a lot of
time there. I remember being impressed with the quality of life in El
Dorado. I mean, it was simple, but basically it had the whole love and
peace trip. El Dorado State Lake had just been built and we cruised
the expanding shore line. A good part of the town's kids turned on [used
drugs] and it was kind of funny the way the factions sprang up.
"One story in particular
stands out. It seems there was this girl who had left her redneck boy
friend for one of the heads. The redneck took to following her around
and one day was up in a tree in the park watching her when he heard
a group of them planning to meet and smoke pot that night. He told the
police and they raided the party. I don't recall if anyone was busted
"I heard that back in
the days before pot was available, quite a few heads from El Dorado
made do with Romilar [non-prescription cough medicine]. A bottle or
two of that stuff would really put you under. I don't know if any of
the Weasels did it.
"Elkshot's Aunt Martha
had a beauty shop in her home. I don't know how she felt about all the
longhairs hanging around there. Doug's hair was shoulder-length, making
him look even more like an Indian. He was lean and tall and looked out
at the world with an accommodating face that was always ready to crack
a smile or hear a good story. One day he told me one.
"We were supposed to practice
at my place in Wichita, an apartment that was the upstairs floor of
an old house. You can imagine how the downstairs folks felt about that.
Anyway, I'd just moved into the place and had celebrated with my friends
the night before. There were beer cans all over the place. Aunt Martha
dropped him off when I wasn't there. She walked up the stairs with Elkshot
and, in country woman fashion, took a good look around. Later he told
me that she asked who lived there.
"When he told her, she
said 'Well he sure is a beer-drinkin' fool.'
"The band didn't last
very long but we played a few parties, the Blackout [tavern], and had
a regular gig at the Stagedoor Inn. We were all pretty wild and when
you play at a club, one of the things they give you, to compensate for
the ridiculous wages, is a free go at the draw beer. We all took advantage
of that, as well as grass on the breaks, so by the end of the evening,
we were testing our mettle against the mood of the audience and substances
ingested. I don't know why we felt we had to play high. I guess it was
a reward system, as well as a challenge. The music seemed to sound better
to us. You could more easily lose yourself in the process of creation.
"So on one break, we all
took off. One of the guys went behind the curtain and thought it a fitting
gesture to take a leak. What he didn't know was that there was a live
mike backstage right next to where he was having at it. You could hear
it all through the club. I think the guitarist went back and stopped
"That winter we had the
opportunity to play in the first rock concert in Wichita's new Century
II convention center. This is a round, futuristic-looking place and
is pretty far out for most of the city. Bucky Walters was the promoter
and he had the misfortune of losing money on a bubble gum act, The Ohio
"The deal was that several
local bands would open, each doing two or three tunes, for no pay naturally.
As a prelude, three or four guys in our band dropped acid. This meant
for a heady experience, on top of playing for a couple of thousand youngsters,
when you are nineteen.
"The guitarist for the
Ohio Express stopped by backstage and looked at an old acoustic I had
rigged with a Jap pick-up. He was dressed in green velvet pants and
a ruffled silk shirt, and was really flying, on amphetamines, I thought.
He started to pluck the strings, almost compulsively. He acted like
he couldn't believe anyone would play such a homemade outfit. When he
started to go through his thing with the guitar, I just looked at him
and said 'Speed kills.' He walked away.
"Later on after the show,
he came up to me and said 'You were right, man.'
"The show didn't make
any money and the headliner was kind of an insult to Wichita, but we
had our fun. One drawback happened when Elkshot and the bass player
were riding down the elevator and a great big pipe somehow slipped loose
from the floor above. When the door opened, it beaned someone from another
band as he left the elevator and knocked him out. They took him away
in an ambulance. I wasn't there but I heard all about it. Pretty gruesome
footage when you're on LSD."
Jerry Wilson was one of the
founding members of the Weasels. "I was just learning the guitar
when we got together."
From the beginning, the band
wanted to do original material, some of which was penned by Wilson.
"Harold [Beal] does a lot of writing, too. I don't know how we
got together with Elkshot. He was a few years younger than the rest
of us. I guess we just ran into each other at his aunt's house, across
from the high school."
The name was theirs from the
band's inception, though they tried a different one after one of the
concomitant personnel changes. "We called ourselves the Missing
Linx for a while, then went back to the Weasels."
Wilson considers himself lucky
concerning run-ins with the authorities. "We were playing at the
Cage [a high school dance club in El Dorado] one time and I got a ticket
for parking too far away from the curb. I remember the police also inspected
my guitar case once."
The band found a measure of
respect in the community, despite some of the antics of at least one
member. "Elkshot was crazy. We used to go into Ball's Lunch late
at night after we were through playing. Elkshot would jump up on the
milk case and crow like a buzzard, trying to get the waitress to look
up at him. She never did."
Although they competed in battles
of the bands in Wichita, (winning the opening act position with the
Turtles in one battle), the Weasels played few jobs outside El Dorado
and surrounding towns, including Emporia and Manhattan. "We played
the [Wichita] Seneca Lounge once. We had enough gigs in town."
They left the state in 1970 to go to Houston, reported in greater detail
Resurrected in 1987 for a 20-year
high school reunion, the Weasels are playing again. "We're still
doing quite a bit of original material. My stuff is more country than
rock. And I've written a few gospel songs."
Wilson, who works a full time
job as does the rest of the group, sees some fulfillment in playing
original music for his townspeople. He has accepted the vagaries of
fortune so evident in popular music. "We were going strong there
for a while."
Harold Beal, Jr
Harold Beal, Jr., bassist for
the group, writes detective/comic fiction novels as well as songs. He
joined the band on guitar as a summer replacement in '65. "They
had another guitar player, Johnny Van Sickle, who got a job out of town
for the summer."
He has been with the Weasels
ever since. Beal has an explanation about the band's choice of epithets.
"We were playing some gigs around town and the [El Dorado] Times
wanted to do a story on us. But we didn't have a name."
One of the members would say
"taking a weasel" for the act of relieving himself. "So
we used the name."
The band had a certain standing
in the community. "I don't think that we ever had that much trouble
with police. We had a house down by the library, the Weasel house. We
set up all our stuff and practiced down there."
Instrumentation was: two guitars,
organ for a while, bass, and drums, as well as lead singer.
Beal, who considers himself
a basic rock writer, played rhythm guitar in the '60s before he switched
to bass in Houston. These days he trades off with Wilson on lead and
bass. This member of the El Dorado band was in large part responsible
for their emigration to Texas.
"My wife Dee and I subscribed
to the L. A. Free Press. I saw an invitation for bands to send
a tape to a new music company in Houston, Soundville Records. We recorded
some stuff in the new El Dorado high school auditorium."
The Weasels' tape was one of
six selected from 6000 entries. Their chance come, the band moved to
Texas. "We recorded 25 or 30 songs. They released one single. One
side was one of Jerry's songs and the other was one of mine. We came
up to Wichita to a radio station and Little John, the D J, played the
record or a tape and talked to us on the radio one night."
Things appeared to be coming
together for the El Doradans. But the music business was as full of
dips and twists as it is today.
"We never sold any records
because the record company didn't have distribution. We were too naive,
really. We thought we'd go down there, record and be big rock stars.
We heard later the Mafia bought them out."
The years of playing and recording
in Texas were not without benefit. "I've got the cassette tapes."
During the intervening years
between Texas and the high school reunion, the Weasels scattered with
the winds. "My wife and I were living up north of Topeka. We had
a used and rare book business. I came back and played for the reunion.
Then we played for Jim Lytton's [Wichita] Halloween party. We thought
maybe we could do this again. We finally made arrangements, sold our
place up there, moved back down here and started playing again. We still
do a couple of the old songs. We usually close with 'Lonesome Good-by
Linsey Cutsinger took over
drumming responsibilities when the band reformed in 1969. Elkshot, after
performing with other groups, had by then left music to pursue a rodeo
"The Weasels were going
good until Jerry got drafted." When he returned from Viet Nam,
the band put together Cutsinger, Wilson, Beal, Dave Ellis (vocalist),
and Jim Cox (bassist) to continue playing original music.
"We'd play every weekend,
playing our own music for 200 to 250 people in the Gable [El Dorado
club]. That went on for a year."
Cutsinger did not recall any
problems with the police. Then, in 1970, they were in Houston in Soundville's
brand new studios.
"One of them was 24 track,
one of three in the country at that time."
After the band moved to Houston,
"We played all over Texas in '70-'71 and did a lot of session work."
When it finally came to light
that the company wasn't going to have a distribution set-up, the band
members left Texas one at a time, returning to El Dorado to play in
different bands and to pursue other careers.
Cutsinger, who has studied
music at Kansas University and is working on his M.B.A., feels that
the band is contributing to the community, in a contemporary as well
as historical context.
"We practice in our living
room. Last year the police came over and asked us to turn down. They
were a couple of young guys. They said 'We'd like for you to turn it
The Weasels now play private
parties for the majority of their performances. "We don't play
beer joints any more. Gigs are hard to schedule with everyone working."
Current lineup, besides Wilson,
Beal, and Cutsinger, is: Lefty Gonzales, bass, Dean Hopkins, saxophone,
keyboards, and guitar, and Dave Ellis, lead singer.
Of its repertory, the band
does a third to half original tunes. "Our songs are blues-hard
rock/ country/ and classical influenced. We never went over that well
in Wichita, possibly because we played our music. They wanted to hear
what they'd heard before."
Dave Ellis currently works
with another band, Phenix, as well as with the Weasels. "I started
playing in a little band in 1963, The Gentlemen Four. We bought some
gray suits that all looked the same and played sock hops. At the time
I was playing drums."
Ellis started with the Weasels
on drums. When Elkshot joined, he became lead singer. He went with the
group to Texas.
"We got a house in the
northeast part of Houston, all the band members and wives and one kid.
We bought egg cartons and nailed them to the walls to sound-proof the
garage." This enabled them to rehearse. Later the group moved to
separate quarters but several of the band members lived together in
Aside from managing their recording
work, Soundville put the band on the road. But the management fell short.
"We toured New Mexico
for ten days and came out with $1.50 apiece. Soundville didn't demand
enough pay. We had to furnish all our own equipment. We had a really
bad P.A. You were kind of just out there on your own. We did the best
we could with what we had to work with."
The band experienced some down-and-out
times, but the hope of the album release buoyed them along. "There
was a point when Sceptre Records offered to buy us but Soundville wouldn't
sell." Had the transfer happened, the Weasels would have had a
better chance at having their material released. The band also had casual
contact with some of the well-known in the rock trade.
"I met John Mayall down
in Houston. He was in the stratosphere, gone, gone, gone. Jimi Hendryx'
manager, and Johnny Winter came down to the studio to see if they wanted
to record down there. We were recording at the time and went to the
reception for John Mayall."
When it became clear that the
album was not going to go into production, the inevitable migration
back to Kansas began.
"When Linsey and I got
back, he got a job right away with the Illusions, and I came in later.
The Illusions were always a standby band you get a job with when your
band broke up. They were real commercial and money oriented. Everybody
hated to play with them. But they paid a salary, and always seemed to
These days, Ellis manages playing
in two groups with a professional's aplomb. "The Weasels don't
play that much. When something comes up like a reunion or a party, we
rehearse and go over the old tunes."
He recalls some of the rougher
aspects of life in El Dorado in the '60s. "It was like little Chicago.
There was a group in town more into getting drunk and fighting. They
didn't use LSD. There was something called [Romilar's] March Across
Jim Cox was the original Weasels'
bassist, with the group from '64 until '71. "I wasn't with them
in Houston. My wife just had a baby. That's when I put my bass guitar
in the box and never opened it until the reunion ."
"Playing these reunions,
that's where I have the most fun. I get up on stage and say: hey, this
isn't going to last very long."
Through this chronometric envisioning,
Cox effectively brings the oldsters to their feet. "We got the
place going like the old days. The women were dancing on the tables."
The spontaneous composition
of the youthful El Doradans was a factor that inhabited the Weasels
performances. Cox viewed it as an important difference when assessing
audiences and explaining the band's lack of popularity in Wichita.
"I think the people were
more laid back in Wichita. We were used to driving the people crazy."
It seems Cox had heard of [Romilar's]
March Across Butler County. "Doug was a great story teller. You
know he was part Indian. He'd get us together around a camp fire and
tell us wonderful stories."
The March came about this way:
"It was a hot summer Sunday afternoon. The toughs of El Dorado
were an odd collection of people. Nobody had a job. They kind of hung
with the old Weasels.
"Anyway, they had a bunch
of hot beer, and about eight of them in an old pick-up were driving
around all these roads raising hell. They came to an old cable swinging
bridge that ran across part of the old El Dorado lake. They found a
guy on the bridge they didn't like too well. He was fishing. They jumped
on it and started it swinging, terrorizing him and anybody else who
was on it. His fishing rod and tackle box fell into the lake."
They got back in the pick-up
and resumed their journey.
"One of them took off
all his clothes and was hanging on the side of the truck when a carload
of Mennonite women drove by.
"Then they headed toward
Cassody when they saw one guy in a filling station. They stopped and
three or four went inside. They kept the guy busy watching them while
[Romilar] filled up the tank. The guy couldn't see how much gas they
bought. They paid for two dollars worth and left.
"Five or six miles from
Rosalia, they saw a rat run across the road and go into an old barn."
Taking this as a sign, the
toughs stopped the truck and followed the rodent. "They couldn't
find anything so they set the barn on fire. They drove along and then
got out to take a leak and looked back to see a black plume of smoke.
They were getting really hungry by then so they broke into a farmer's
barn and got some implements--hammers, rakes, and stuff. Then they drove
on into the Flint hills and figured they would wrangle a steer."
The toughs located a herd.
"They drove into a field and picked out a steer. [Romilar] ran
into it and knocked it down. They all jumped on the cow and managed
to kill it. It was much too heavy to put into the truck, so they put
a chain around its head and tied it to the rear bumper."
They continued their march,
dragging the steer. "They were going forty or fifty miles an hour
across the field. One of them decided he wanted to ride it. They found
a paved road and he road it.
"Toward the evening they
started to realize what they'd done: terrorized people, robbed a filling
station, broke into sheds, burned a barn, and killed a steer. They figured
they'd better ditch the steer and get back to town. The carcass was
in bad shape. They unchained it and then went into town by the back
roads. They came over to Elkshot's aunt's house on Central and waited
on the porch. Nothing ever happened."
Group communication is more
likely in small venue rock performances. Feedback to the source is readily
evident in such things as audience members dancing and requests for
specific tunes. Hence the performances of the Weasels in their primary
location of El Dorado led to a building of competence in musicianship
and confidence in song-writing abilities.
One of the functions of the
medium of rock is cultural transmission. Goodall writes of rock and
roll as an "expression of important cultural values."7
In the case of the Weasels, this would have been subcultural, for they
were the disinherited (by choice) young, who had turned their backs
on the mainstream goals of respectability, wealth and position, instead
choosing the mercurial milieu of underground rock.
George H. Lewis has aptly explained
the needs and applications of taste cultures, sets within the general
population who champion a particular artist or art.
"Taste cultures consist
of values and choices of cultural content [and] function both to entertain,
inform and beautify life and to express values and standards of tastes
In line with this, while it
is generally accepted that mass media cannot substantially change peoples'
minds on the issues of the day, it can give them an indication if their
view (or in this case, taste in rock music) is of the majority or minority.
Regrettably, the Weasels failed to have their music placed before the
public by the mass media of recordings and radio. Thus their interpretation
of punctuated balladry--which is essentially the concept of rock and
roll--failed to be tested in other than a regional setting. This is
not to detract from the worth of the music. Perhaps their local productions
were more meaningful and truer to the creative spirit when perceived
in a group communication mode.
The early Weasel audiences
in El Dorado had their needs met and were gratified by the band's performances,
fostering a Kansas quality in the musicians. This quality included such
isolated locale-induced attributes as deep commitment to friendship,
ineffable feeling for the sweep of the prairie, and altruistic impulses
of honor among their underground as well as a sustained hope that their
style of life would be accepted by American culture. Later the native
worth of their performance and originality was borne out when Soundville
Records offered them a contract from a field of 6000 applicants.
In Texas, removed from their
accustomed feedback, which was warm, lively, and supporting, and discouraged
with the failed promises of the music company, the Weasels eventually
lost the idea of creating music as the band entity. Szatmary observed
that the "psychedelic generation [to which the Weasels assuredly
belonged] persisted in a cult of tribalism."9 The fact
that the Weasels lived together in the houses in Houston serves to solidify
Distanced from one form of
receiver, the Weasels had expected their message to achieve a larger
receivership, that of a national audience through record sales, to sustain
their creativity. Rock writer Ellen Willis maintained "The hippie
rock stars were...apostles of a cultural revolution."10
This, then was very likely one of the band's unspecified goals.
Hirsch has delineated two groups
of "cultural gatekeepers," producer organizations and distributor
organizations.11 He writes: "Quite simply, the role
of producer organizations and media is to create new cultural forms,
ideas, patterns and products, whereas distributor media select from
these to present standardized and watered-down versions to the mass
One of the results of the tension
between the two organizations is rock music available to the masses.
The Weasels (production medium) and Soundville (distribution medium)
fell together through underground solicitation, the ad in the L.A.
Free Press. Perhaps the high aspirations of both should have been
enough to give the El Dorado band a national hearing. But lack of practical
grounding (in both organizations) hampered this. In effect, the incompetence
of Soundville allows only limited application of uses and gratification
There was never an opportunity
for the Weasels' message to reach a national receiver. The isolated
characteristics of Kansas small towns left the band limited recording
opportunities. When this chance for national exposure did not find fruition,
the natural forces of chaos and decay, inherent in the creative process
of rock, took their toll. In addition, the increasing pressures of family
life in at least one instance also had an influence.
The current resurrection of
the Weasels can be taken as respect for the past, adaptive reuse of
talents long since put aside in at least two individuals, and continuing
creativity in the others. The fact that the band still has an audience
(as yet primarily composed of retrospective listeners perhaps) is factor
and progeny of the combining forces of affinity and desire to communicate
through the medium of rock. New fans would serve to validate the band's
current existence in the community, beyond the call of the wild '60s.
Leo W., Mass Media Processes and Effects, (Prospect Heights,
Illinois: Waveland Press, Inc., 1986), 1.
John W. C., "Social Context And Mass Media Perception",
Studies In Public Communication
Elihu, "Mass Communication Research and the Study of Popular Culture:
An Editorial Note On a Possible Future For This Journal", Studies
In Public Communication 2: 2.
5 Katz, 3-4.
Dorothy, "Freedom and Culture." Youth and Culture.
Comp. Hazel V. Kraemer. Monterey, Cal.: Brooks/Cole, 1974. 127.
H. L. Jr. Living In The Rock And Roll Mystery, (Carbondale and
Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1991), 5.
George H., "Taste Cultures And Their Composition: Towards a New
Theoretical Perspective", Mass Media and Social Change.
Eds. Elihu Katz and Tamas Szecsko. London: SAGE Publications, 1981.
David P. Rockin' In Time, A Social History Of Rock And Roll,
(Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1987), 113.
Ellen, The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock & Roll.
Ed. Jim Miller. (New York: Random House, 1980. 275.
Paul M., "Institutional Functions Of Elite And Mass Media",
Mass Media and Social Change, 187.