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Great Bend Summer Jam: Right place, right time
1978 concert featured top acts
new deh summer jam Friday tshirt pic
Pictured is a T-shirt featuring the bands performing at the Summer Jam in Great Bend in 1978. - photo by Tribune file photo


Head East
A band formed with musicians from Springfield, Illinois, they were a top concert attraction in the years 1975-1978. With a popular following led by their hit “Never Been Any Reason,” they were a larger draw than Van Halen. “Never Been Any Reason” has been featured in several movies, most notably, “Dazed and Confused,” and receives steady airplay on XM radio Classic Vinyl.

Wet Willie
A band whose name who could be confused with an adult entertainer – formed in Mobile Alabama, had a song hit #10 on the Billboard chart “Keep on Smiling” released in 1974.

Black Oak
A band named after its hometown, Black Oak Ark., later dropped the name “Arkansas” from the group’s name to create more mainstream appeal. Their top hit was “Jim Dandy to the Rescue.”
Rick Derringer was an accomplished lead guitarist, whose early claim to fame came as a member of the band The McCoys, who, if you wanted a one hit wonder look up who wrote “Hang on Sloopy.” – often confused with Hang on Snoopy – most decidedly not a song by anyone. Derringer then turned to guitar rock, scoring a 1974 hit with “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo” which was also revived in “Dazed and Confused.” On Led Zeppelin’s last American tour in 1977, Derringer was the opening lead.

One hit wonder with “Moving On.” With a band Missouri playing in Kansas, this was probably the set where everyone stood in line to use the port-a-potties.

This was a KC band. Not even Google’s search capability can lend much to their bio.

Climax Blues Band
Historical rock experts describe their sound as “British Blues Rock Band” and their claim to fame was the song “Couldn’t Get It Right” which reached No. 3 on the Billboard hot 100 in 1977.

Alvin Lee and Ten Years After
Alvin Lee played at Woodstock in 1969, which says a lot about where his career was heading when he found himself in Barton County nine years later. Alvin Lee recorded with Jerry Lee Lewis. Ten Years After remains a mystery now 38 years after.

Van Halen
Today the one band where anyone new to this story says “WHAT?” They launched their debut album a year earlier, and spent a year touring the world. Their self-titled album, Van Halen, went platinum five times over. It featured two breakout hits – “Running with the Devil,” and “You really got me now.” Their tour included over 150 shows in the US, Canada, and Europe.

That universal resource for all correct information, Wikipedia, tells us that UK was formed for three years and was something called a “Progressive Rock Supergroup.” No one remembers their play list and this was when everyone returned to the pee line.

If you’ve seen the movie “Almost Famous” – Cameron Crowe’s last great movie, the band in that movie is Stillwater. That band was talented and famous, which means it had no relation to the one that played in Great Bend. The real band had one top song, “Mindbender,” which will prompt a run to the Excedrin bottle with any extended listening.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of a two-part series on the Summer Jam music festival that took place in Great Bend in August 1978. 

Historians who’ve earned the privilege to study such things as rock music describe the ’70s as a time when the genre became transformed. While pop music saw seismic shifts in the ’50s with Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry, followed by the British Invasion, the fruits became apparent in the ’70s.
“In the 1970s, Rock music grew to become a mass audience, big show phenomenon” according to rock historian David Townsend. “In the ’50s and ’60s, most Rock fans were teenagers or college kids, and the music was limited to that segment of society. By the 1970s, those kids were adults, and had greater incomes and mobility, so the popular music business grew dramatically in revenue and awareness. Most live performances before had been smaller shows in clubs (with exceptions such as the Beatles at Shea Stadium and Candlestick Park), but by the early ’70s it was becoming commonplace for popular bands to play in big arenas and outdoor stadiums, to tens of thousands of fans.”
Woodstock in 1969 “was considered the largest gathering of people (400,000) anywhere in history. The popularity of these events carried over into the ’70s, with a growing trend toward big multi-act shows all over the country. Young and older fans alike would make pilgrimages to race tracks, farms, and other outdoor venues to camp out, smoke pot or take acid, and live a hedonistic, music-loving lifestyle for a weekend.”
FM radio gave bands a new avenue to gain listeners. Network television’s offering expanded as well. Along came Wolfman Jack and “The Midnight Special” in 1972 and airing immediately following Johnny Carson on Friday nights; this offered a more salty alternative to the kid-friendly American Bandstand.
And in the summer of 1978 these trends came full circle.
That was the first year of the Texas Music Festival at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. A two-day event, the band lineup included Van Halen, Eddie Money, Head East, Journey, Ted Nugent, Aerosmith, and Cheech and Chong, among others.
A month later came the Summer Jam. And so when August arrived so did these bands — a list more fitting to Dallas County than Barton County. It included 11 bands including Van Halen.
But if you were there in 1978 there was another band that made you yell “OMG.” Head East. They were the headline band and that year performed with Journey, Heart and Ted Nugent.
Their album – “Flat as a Pancake” – took off. Using imagery of pancake that was captured from a diner in southern Illinois, their song “Never Been Any Reason” peaked at 68 on the Billboard Hot 100 but today sees constant rotation on classic rock and Sirius XM.
“Save my life I’m going down for the last time.” A lyric that still seems relevant almost 40 years later.
And the story about Head East, and their intersection with Barton County, is worthy of its own article.
Head East was different. Formed out of the University of Illinois in 1972, they recorded their own song, at their cost and they never sold their publishing. They made all the right decisions when the smarter bands were making the wrong ones.
And the song that owned the airways in 1975, 1976 was the iconic song “Never Been Any Reason.” Featuring Roger Boyd on the synthesizer, using a device called a Mini Moog, the song is so emblematic of that era that it finds its way in many movies including the 1993 film “Dazed and Confused” and later in the 2005 film “Sahara.” Both, it’s worth noting, featuring Academy Award winner Matthew McConaughey.
Roger Boyd remembers Summer Jam: “Yeah. I remember it well. Central Kansas; hotter than crap. We were playing on the runway of the airport. I remember that runway was long enough to accommodate the plane that ultimately dropped the atomic bomb. We had never played with Van Halen or Alvin Lee. Even today when we play at shows, I have people come up to me quite frequently and ask me if I remember playing at the Great Bend Summer Jam.
“We shared the same booking agent with Journey,” Boyd said. “They just told us where we were playing. Summer Jam worked great, the lineup and like I said we were in Dallas, Fort Worth, Texas. That was where we had been.”
Boyd is correct. As local historians know, the Great Bend airfield was used for the first B-29s before they were deployed to the Pacific in 1944.
And the notion that Head East was a bigger name than Van Halen? “Yeah, Van Halen was – they were just catching up to us right then. They had just come out. Their first album was released just a year before. At that time we were about as big as about anyone on the show,” Boyd said.
Money was a little bit different then. “Back then, you had a one night show or one night concert, we would get a flat fee and I have no idea what that was. – Maybe five figures. Thirty years ago we did live concerts to sell records. You made your money off records. You didn’t make your money off concerts” Boyd told me. “Because most concerts were 8, 10, 12 15 bucks. That’s what it cost to go to a concert. So, the first time we sold out over 10,000 seats was in St. Louis and the ticket price was 10 or 12 dollars. $100,000 gross for the show.”
Concert tickets today bear little resemblance to that earlier time – with prices often starting at $40 and extending as much as $400 apiece.