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Mike Naylor is shown sitting in front of a sound board at his recording studio. Patt Rall | Bemidji Pioneer

The Summer of ’67: Bemidji native makes ND hall with college band

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BEMIDJI – One can only imagine how gratifying it is to have the work you did in 1967 be recognized as great today.

Last May, Bemidji native Mike Naylor and his fellow band members were inducted into the North Dakota Rock Country Hall of Fame along with some other music notables.

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Some North Dakotans also inducted at that time were Lawrence Welk, Peggy Lee and Bobby Vee and the groups Davey Bee and The Sonics and The Pawnbrokers, a young college group of musicians and singers.

In 1967, Concordia College freshmen Mike Naylor, Kent Richey of Brainerd and Blake English of Minneapolis were putting together a rock group in a less than welcoming setting.

It was a daunting task to  find a fourth member, which they finally discovered in Steve Hanson over at what is now Minnesota State University Moorhead, and to overcome a conservative college setting. At the time, Concordia did not allow dancing on campus. Rock and roll music in general and attendance at such events was frowned upon.

The story goes that the band took its name from a controversial movie of that time, “The Pawnbroker,” with a young Rod Steiger in his breakout performance. But Naylor hinted that they got the name because they were always getting their “stuff” out of hock. And then there is the third version – there was no other group around with the name.

The group decided early on they were not just a put-together-group of amateur musicians playing at frat parties. They wanted to be a well-rehearsed professional group that kept their stage tuning to a minimum and did not kibitz with each other between songs.

“One semester, I had a late class with one of the other guys so we could not get out to a venue to set up,” said Naylor. “So two of the guys would go on ahead and set up the mics and amps, and we would arrive just in time for the show.”

These serious young musicians presented a professional show to the audience with little or no dead air on stage. They recognized that the club owners and their audiences deserved the show they paid to see.

At that time, the rockers and surf bands were going out of style and the Pawnbrokers were on the cutting edge of the next wave. In fact, they attracted the notice of DJ Ron Yantz of KQWB, who offered to be their manager and booking agent.

Bookings came from all over the Dakotas and Minnesota, but one of their favorite places to play was the White Eagle Ballroom in New Effington, S.D. The owner would have polka night on Friday, but Saturday was given over to college students from the tri-state area and locals. Located in a state allowing 19-year-olds to buy beer, the White Eagle owner gave the band a good percentage of the gate while he cleaned up on brats, dogs, burgers, chips and beer – Budweiser and Grain Belt.

The Pawnbrokers got a lot of air time on the local rock stations and their original song, “Someday,” made the top 10 on several stations. The flip side of that record was “This Fine Day,” sung by Mike Naylor with a pop-oriented and upbeat rendition.

The summer of 1967 found the group as the opening act for Bobby Vee’s Canadian summer tour. Vee was asking his rival to “Take Good Care of My Baby” and the Pawnbrokers were singing about “Someday.”

Life was good, they were busy and then Uncle Sam came knocking at the door with the now-defunct selective service draft.

Naylor enlisted in the Army Security Agency in 1968. The band filled his spot with Paul Rogne, a West Fargo native who joined the band shortly before Naylor left. The last time the original band members played together was in 1968,

With Naylor gone, the band changed over to a heavy metal/acid rock sound and Naylor started another band, Max Bugsby, while at Fort Monmouth, N.J., with fellow Minnesotan Chuck Bursch. The Max Bugsby Legacy lasted for 18 months with music for American GI’s and locals.

The group gave the locals (Ethiopians and Italians, for example) a taste of real “Americana.”

When the call came for the Pawnbrokers, including Rogne, to reassemble in 2006 for the movie premiere of “Fargo Rocks,” they found they still had it. Although the original players have pursued other careers. Richey is a corporate attorney and English is the owner of Valley Welding Supplies; Naylor still follows his avocation at his hobby recording studio where he holds jam sessions and does recordings for other artists.

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