After getting their start in a garage, the Slim Pikins band is back in the basement.
It’s been 40 years, so they were needing some practice.
A regional favorite in the 1980s, Slim Pikins moved its audiences in the Golden Belt and beyond with a wide-ranging country cover playlist from Hank Williams to up-tempo stylings of Pure Prairie League and the Charlie Daniels Band, and balladeers Willie Nelson and Jerry Jeff Walker.
There were originals, too, as well as jam sessions featuring Cajun fiddle, pedal steel and lead guitar.
They could usually be found evenings at the Hatchery in Great Bend, the Gambler in Hays or the Cotillion in Wichita; venues — with the exception of the Cotillion — that have since passed into memory.
They will be appearing at the band shell in Jack Kilby Square for the Great Bend evening portion of the 11th annual June Jaunt.
A home grown band
Like most homegrown bands, Slim Pikins was an amalgamation of area musicians from other bands that eventually found their own groove together. Original members included Bob Kisner, lead guitar and vocals; Floyd Norlin, drums and backup vocals; Terry Gregg, pedal steel and acoustic guitar; Dave Robins, five-string banjo, fiddle, mandolin, guitar and vocals; and Jesse Hall, bass and vocals.
“I was playing with some guys in Claflin about 1975 in a band called Country Highway,” Norlin said. “We went through some personnel changes and Terry jumped in after that.”
Gregg, a native of Hudson, joined the Pikins after playing with a St. John-based band called Prairie Castle. He had his first “brush with greatness” there during a practice session. “We were working on the vocals to a song and we just weren’t getting it,” he said. As they were practicing, a fellow walked in and asked if he could listen for a while. After a few more attempts, “the guy stopped us and asked if he could make a suggestion,” Gregg said. “He said we should try singing it in a different key. We did, and it worked.
“Toward the end, we thanked him and found out who he was. He was visiting his grandparents there in St. John and he said his name was Vince Gill.”
Hall left the Pikins about a year after it was formed and Colin Hammeke was added on bass in 1981.
The group found success at local venues and began taking longer road trips — into Nebraska, Colorado and Oklahoma – for which they obtained a yellow 66-passenger school bus that had been refitted to meet their needs.
“We did an extensive amount of travel,” recalled Hammeke. “It was outfitted with four bunks, a dining table and a cargo area for equipment.
“There were no cellphones, we were just guys getting on a bus and so we really weren’t trackable. We could have been anywhere.”
“We played at the Hatchery quite a bit,” Gregg said. “That and the Silver Slipper.”
Robins and Norlin also wrote original tunes. These were collected into an album called “Texas in a Tombstone,” that was released in September 1982. By that time, their music had reached the ears of KFDI Radio.
“We were driving down to the Cotillion and, lo and behold, they were playing “There’s been a Change” by the Slim Pikins band,” Gregg said. The song, written by Robins, was the Side A leadoff track to the album.
“We were beside ourselves, hearing our own music over the radio,” Gregg recalled.
The group more or less disbanded in 1983. Their last gig, according to Norlin, was in May, 1983 at the Silver Slipper north of Great Bend, which later became the Easy Street Bar and Grill. “Floyd, Colin, Bob and Dave have stayed in music through the course of years,” Gregg said. “I sold my pedal steel and hadn’t sat at a pedal steel for about 35 years.”
Several members continued to perform with other bands. “Bob and I joined a group called ‘Brent Ronan and the Always Near Band,’” Norlin said. “We had a pretty good time for a while.” Currently, Norlin performs with Kisner in the group “Blues on the Side,” which appears in the area around the Rusty Needle in Hutchinson.
Getting back together
The trio of Norlin, Gregg and Hammeke, all living in Great Bend, credits a former roadie wannabe and fan as the motivator for their planned reunion gig this summer. Richard Bealer, a psychology instructor at Barton Community College for 39 years, was often a passenger on the school bus as it motored along to gigs. Since the group also served as its own road crew, Bealer was there at set-up and pack-up.
“We can blame or thank Rick for getting this thing rolling,” Norlin said. “He was on the phone a lot.”
The bass player for Blues on the Side offered the use of his basement in Hutchinson as a neutral ground practice site as the Pikins group gathered from Great Bend, Wichita and Joplin, Mo.
Gregg noted that the Pikins have three weekend practices under their belts already, with plans for a couple more.
“There are challenges to putting this back together,” Gregg said, by way of disclaimer. “No more than we’ve been together, it’s liable to be a little rough. I say that, but we’re going to try to do well enough to have a good time and hopefully the crowd will find some enjoyment in it.”
The group plans to open with an approximately two-hour set prior to Homebrew as the main event of the evening. For Hammeke, the night will prove to be a family thing. His sons and nephew are in the Homebrew band.
“They’re pretty pumped,” Hammeke said. “I told my boys that we were planning to make them sound really good.”