By Terry Rogers
On Thursday, June 4, the Milford Senior Center slipped back in time to the era of poodle skirts, pedal pushers and the birth of rock and roll. The Honeycombs headlined the 2nd Reunion Concert, bringing back many local artists who gained popularity during the start of the rock and roll era as a benefit for the Milford Museum.
“It was a very successful event,” said Bob Voshell, who planned the event. “I heard a lot of great comments about the evening. It was as much fun for the musicians who participated as it was for the guests, getting together again and doing what they love so much.” According to Mr. Voshell, the museum raised $3,600 at the event.
The Honeycombs, led by drummer Honey Voshell, Mr. Voshell’s brother, have been a popular band in the era for many years. In addition to Honey Voshell, who has been a professional performer for decades, playing with such artists as Wanda Jackson and Patsy Cline, the band also includes Phil Staley, who plays keyboard and acted as the emcee for the evening. Jack Wright, who plays guitar, provided lead vocals as did Alan Kessel, who also plays guitar. Gary Spengler, the former music director at Wesley College, provided Latin tones on his trumpet while Dave Joiner, who shared the stage with the late great Gene Pitney, played guitar as well. Filling in for the group’s regular saxophone player, Chuck Sapp, was Jerry Thompson who led the Milford High School band for many years.
The evening had many well-known Milford musicians take the stage. Theresa and Claire Hrupsa took the stage to sing Patsy Cline and other well-known hits. Former City Councilwoman, Tommye Staley, who played in bands around Milford during the early years of rock and roll took over the drums, playing behind her husband, Phil, on such hits as Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll.”
Bill Alexander, playing keyboard, and Jack Moore, playing bass guitar, rounded out the band as they played such well-known hits as “Wake Up, Little Susie” and “The Twist.” Butch Pleasanton joined the group singing lead as well. Several drummers, including Billy Degnats and Ted Nichols, took over Mr. Voshell’s drum set to reunite with bandmates from the past. As a special treat, joining the band on the hit song “Wipeout,” was Paul Voshell, a long-time member of the rock band Love Seed Mama Jump, who stopped at the event on his way to play a show at the beach.
Charlie Loane took the stage to play a saxophone solo as did Pete Thompson who played bass guitar on a few songs. Joe Dawson took the stage to sing a few tunes as well.
Honey Voshell started out in country music, working with Wanda Jackson, who was known as the Queen of Rockabilly. He has also worked with the Glenn Miller Band and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Mr. Voshell spent almost 14 years touring before settling in Delaware and opening his music store, The Drum Pad. He also teaches music to aspiring musicians. He has worked with Roy Clark and Patsy Cline, who he calls the greatest female country singer. He said he and his wife, who is from Michigan, chose to settle in Delaware because that was where Mr. Voshell was born and raised.
The evening ended with two special singers who had travelled from California specifically for the event. Morty Marker, known as “The Guitar Man,” and Chris Unruh, who owns The Buckhorn Bar and Restaurant in Los Angeles and is a well-known nightclub singer, took the stage.
Morty Marker, Honey Voshell and Jimmy Stayton, who was unable to attend the concert, travelled extensively throughout Delaware in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1955, Mr. Stayton met Sam Short of Harrington who owned a grocery store and ran Blue Hen Records, a recording label, in part of the store.
“I don’t know all of the details, but Jimmy said we were going to record with Blue Hen Records,” Mr. Marker said. “Here we were, two young kids. Jimmy was 15 years old and I was the old man of the group, barely 19.” The group traveled to Salisbury and recorded “Hot Hot Mama” and “Why Do You Treat Me This Way,” which Mr. Short sold out of a shoebox in his grocery store. In 1958, Mr. Marker was invited to a session at Bradley Studios in Nashville where he worked as a studio musician. In 1964, Mr. Marker moved to Los Angeles where Jimmy Stayton had relocated after serving in the United States Army.
“In 1965, Al Casey and I became friends,” Mr. Marker said. “I started doing demos and then moved into real session work. My first big session was with Gary Puckett and the Union Gap. I also did some live television shows like Sonny & Cher, Hudson brothers, Smothers Brothers and a few more.” In 1968, he received a call from Al Casey to do some work on something called the Comeback Special. It turned out to be a rehearsal for Elvis Presley. Mr. Marker said it was a relaxed jam session and he was in awe that he was actually backing up one of his idols. He played another session with Elvis a few years later on a soundtrack session during which the legend came and chatted with the backup musicians for a while.
In 1990, he met Mrs. Unruh, the widow of Jesse Unruh, a powerful politician who was Speaker of the Assembly from 1961 to 1968 as well as State Treasurer from 1975 until he passed away from cancer in 1987. He had connections to the Kennedy family as well. Ten years after her husband’s death, Mrs. Unruh, as she prefers to be called both onstage and off, took a side trip with a friend to the mountains and discovered the Buckhorn Lodge, which was in disrepair. Mrs. Unruh became enchanted with the location and purchased the lodge. In the first year the lodge was open, Mrs. Unruh went through 65 bands trying to get the right sound for her show. She called Mr. Marker asking him to bring his band for her to hear. She hired them on the spot and they became the house band for the resort, The Buckhorn Boys.
Mr. Marker said that some of the songs recorded at Blue Hen Studios have been remastered and released on CD. Guests at the event in Milford were able to purchase those CDs as well as a video of the event.
“It was exciting to see so many people come out on a Thursday night to enjoy some old hits,” Mr. Voshell said. “It was a sellout crowd and we can’t wait to do this again soon.”