The Blue Things got together in 1964 as the Blue Boys in Hays, Kansas. Mike Chapman, Richard Scott and Rick "Laz" Larzalere were members of the Barons, a popular group led by Jim Fetters. The band was Chapman's idea and he came up with the name. In the early days they wore blue suits onstage. With Richard on bass, Mike on lead guitar and Laz on drums, the three Blue Boys would often open for the Barons, then join them onstage. The three decided that to complete the break from the Barons they needed a rhythm guitar player who could sing. They found more than that when they auditioned Mike Chapman's roommate Val Stecklein. Val had already recorded a demo of two original songs, "Desert Wind" and Nancy Whiskey", at Damon Studios in Kansas City with The Hi-Plains Singers and an album with a Ft. Hays State College group called The Impromptwos. .
The Blue Boys spent the summer of 1964 touring much of Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado. The band hired Jim Reardon to manage them. He took them to John Brown of Mid-Continent Entertainment. They were booked out of Reardon's home in Beloit in the summer of ’64 initially, and then out of Manhattan the following fall and winter. When Brown moved Mid-Continent to Lawrence, so he could attend the University of Kansas, Reardon and the Blue Boys followed.
Promotions began in earnest, with sweatshirts featuring the band's logo (designed by Reardon), a fan club, and daily reports on KOMA Radio in Oklahoma City. According to John Brown, the spots on KOMA weren't a product of brilliance, but of laziness. He just got tired of putting up posters and passing out flyers. Those messages on the radio made stars out of the Blue Boys.
On July 7, 1964, at Damon Studios in Kansas City, the Blue Boys recorded four songs-“Love‘s Made A Fool Of You”, “Silver and Gold”, “So You Say”, and “P’s and Q’s”. “Love’s Made A Fool Of You”, was by Buddy Holly. Holly was the single greatest influence on Val’s genesis as a musician in the early days and is reflected in the minor key moody sounding “Silver and Gold” , a Val original. “So You Say” was a soft ballad written by Richard and Val. P’s and Q’s was a rocking raver written by Val and Mike. Thirty copies of each of the test pressings were issued. In September, the band went back to Damon and recorded four more demos. “Punkin’ Doodle” another rocking rave-up in the same vein as P’s and Q’s was written by Val and appears for the first time ever b /w “Ain’t That Loving You Baby“. The other demo was a Dale Hawkins cover of “La Do Da Da” b/w a Richard and Val original “Just Two Days Ago” which would later appear on Ruff Records. Forty copies of each of these test pressings were made.
The Damon Recordings helped the Blue Boys get a deal with Ruff Records of Amarillo, Texas, in October, 1964. They went to the Sullivan Studios in Oklahoma City that December to cut their first single, "Mary Lou" b/w "Your Turn To Cry". Mike recalls that another version of “Love’s Made A Fool Of You” was also recorded. To avoid confusion with the late Jim Reeves' back-up band, who had continued recording for RCA after Reeves' death, the Blue Boys became the Blue Things. The band's name was two words on all of their records, but one word (Bluethings) on their fan club materials and in much of their advertising.
The band did one more single on Ruff Records, "Pretty Things--Oh" b/w "Just Two Days Ago". The single was released with an error in the title as “Pretty Thing-Oh”, which led the listener to think the subject matter was the singer‘s girlfriend instead of the pretty things he is buying her. An full page music industry ad was placed on May 22, 1965 that featured The Bluethings’ single on one half of the page and The Checkmates on the other half, the drawing of a Merseybeat Mod gracing both singles. It was during the spring of 1965 that The Bluethings recorded six more tracks in Sullivan Studios that were never issued until 1987 on The Bluethings Story-”Baby My Heart, So You Say, Silver and Gold, Since You Broke My Heart, Ain‘t That Lovin‘ You Baby, and Pennies
Besides the two Ruff Singles by The Bluethings, of note to collectors, is the appearance of the band backing Buddy Knox Ruff 1001 "Jo Ann" b/w "Don't Make A Ripple". Knox had his own band, but it was supplemented by Val on tambourine, Richard on bass and Mike adding guitar overdubs. The three Kansans also contributed vocal harmonies. The Bluethings backed Knox because they happened to be present in the studio at the time and Knox took a liking to their sound. Richard Scott also played bass on some singles by Ray Ruff's band The Checkmates.
How did The Bluethings go from Ruff Records to RCA Records? John Brown knew Bob Beckham. Beckham worked for Shelby Singleton who was a music publisher and was based in Nashville. This led to a recording date at Studio B in Nashville on August of 1965. John Brown leased the studio for the recordings, in the hopes that some of the sides would be released with RCA. Seven songs were recorded in that first session and only three of them would ever be issued by RCA. “I Must Be Doing Something Wrong” and “La Do Da Da” would become the bands next single. “Look Homeward Angel” was a song that Val desired the band cover, trying for a Righteous Brothers type sound. “Pennies”, “Weep No More My Lady”, Silver and Gold and “Since You Broke My Heart” were shelved and never released.
After the recording session was over, John Brown brought the roughly mixed tapes to RCA. The RCA executives were looking for another Jefferson Airplane type band and liked what they heard on the session. The recordings were laced with folk-rock and Beatlesque harmonies. The first Blue Things single for RCA was released in October, 1965. The a-side was "I Must Be Doing Something Wrong". It was written by Val, Mike, and Richard in a hotel room in South Dakota, while eating pizza and reading the latest issue of Billboard. There was an ad in the issue for Sonny and Cher about their latest single and the slogan was “We Must Be Doing Something Right“. Mike thought of changing around the slogan to “I Must Be Doing Something Wrong” and making it the title of their song. That evening. in their car on the way from a gig in Missoula, Montana, to Nashville the song was finished. The single of “I Must Be Doing Something Wrong” was unique in that it featured an oboe and different mix than the subsequent version that would appear a year later on the band’s first album. The flipside was a cover of Dale Hawkins' "La Do Da Da” and a long time staple of the band’s live repertoire. “I Must Be Doing Something Wrong” was played at every Bluethings live show because it got heavy exposure air on KOMA and the other great AM stations of the day. The band also lip-synched the hit on two teen TV shows, one was in Kansas City and the other was a Bill Brooks show in Topeka or Wichita, Kansas. A full page music industry ad was issued on October 23, declaring The Bluethings as “A new American group with that best-selling British sound”.
A picture sleeve for “I Must Be Doing Something Wrong“ was released with the single. The picture sleeve showed a new face in the band because drummer Rick Larzalere was replaced by Bobby Day. According to manager John Brown, neither Larzalere or Day actually played on the single. "Laz" had dropped out of the band to concentrate on school, and the drummer they took with them couldn't keep a steady beat. Session drummer Jerry Carrigan played on that first RCA single. When the Blue Things returned to Kansas the first order of business was to find a permanent drummer. They went through several before Mike Chapman found Bobby Day playing at the Blue Pacific in Salina with the Impacts. Mike sent him to Lawrence to audition for Val and Richard, which he did at the legendary Red Dog Inn. Two weeks later he was with the Blue Things to stay in September , 1965. A two sided acetate was recorded at Audio House that month with Bobby. On one side was a rocking version of “Everything’s Alright” sung by Mike and Val. A fab Liverpool band, The Mojos, scored a top ten hit in the UK with the song and released it in the USA on London Records in July, 1964 where it charted regionally. The flip side of the acetate was a third recorded version of “Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby” sung by Mike.
The next Bluethings recording session was in November of 1965. “It Ain’t No Big Thing, Babe was written by Mike and Val in a barn in Nashville. “High Time” was written at Shelby Singleton’s house (a block away from Studio B-which is where The Bluethings recorded). Val and Mike were drinking Miller High Life, from whence came the title. The other songs recorded were “Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby”, “Girl Of The North Country”, “Now’s The Time” and a early version of “Doll House“. This folk-rock version of “Doll House” had Val singing with a Bob Dylan edge that differed considerably from the version that would be the band’s next single.
After the sessions in Nashville the band recorded a cache of material in Lawrence at Audio House. A Val original, “You Can’t Say We Never Tried” melded the “Pretty Things-Oh” sound with the 12 string twang of The Byrds . A rehearsal take of “You Can‘t Say We Never Tried“, shows the great folk-rock sound of Mike Chapman. “Now‘s The Time“ , “High Time”, and “ It Ain’t No Big Thing Babe” were also recorded again.
In February of 1966 The Bluethings went to Nashville to record four more songs, Honor The Hearse, The Man On The Street, I Can‘t Have Yesterday“ and a second version of “Doll House“. “The Man On The Street” was written by Wayne Carson before he had a smash hit with The Box Tops recording of “his song, The Letter”. Mike sang lead vocals on “Honor The Hearse”, written by Ronnie Self. “I Can’t Have Yesterday” was an original that Val had been working on to emulate the Phil Spector sound. The song in its early stages had a 12 string folk-rock sound. A complete session tape exists that was recorded in Lawrence at Audio House on January 6, 1966 and reflects this sound. The Nashville recording session for “I Can’t Have Yesterday” was produced with “background girl singers and added echo and percussion for a “wall of sound“ effect. This song was eventually covered by The Red Dogs and Spider and The Crabs, two other bands from Kansas that looked up to the Bluethings.
The second single for RCA, "Doll House" b/w "The Man On The Street" was released in May of 1966. It was a victim of timing according to Richard Scott. "Time" magazine had published a cover story on questionable song lyrics just before the single's release. Scott claims that disc jockeys and program directors were afraid to play "Doll House" because it was about a young girl's life as a prostitute.
Twelve songs recorded by the Blue Things on the band's three trips to Nashville were collected together for a self-titled album that was released in August of 1966. Liner Notes were by John D.Loudermilk. Since RCA didn't make a jukebox version of the album, John Brown took his copy of the master tapes to Lawrence's Audio House and had "soft-cut" acetates made of several of the album's songs for local jukebox play. While the album was popular with Bluethings fans, by the time it came out the band had moved past the folk rock/Merseybeat sound that RCA favored and were venturing into the experimental psychedelic sound. The album failed to chart and there wasn’t even an ad placed in the music trade magazines to promote it.
The Blue Things' fourth Nashville session in September of 1966 were the last with Val Stecklein. Three songs were recorded, "The Orange Rooftop Of Your Mind" “You Can Live In Our Tree” and "One Hour Cleaners". “Orange Rooftop” started out as a song by Val called “The Coney Island Of Your Mind” and was based on a poem by Laurence Ferlinghetti. The song was changed to “The Orange Rooftop Of Your Mind” after Mike and Val were sitting on stage in North Dakota thinking of a way to improve on the song’s title. The building they were in had an orange rooftop and thus was born the song title. Ray Stevens played the Mid-Eastern influenced Organ sound at the break, at the request of Val and Mike. He did it on the spur of the moment, since he was a session man at the time. Richard Scott described the song as “about a girl caught up in the rat-race of today. She is trying to be like and do like everyone else and can’t take the pressure so her mind is slowly snapping.” Scott mounted a pushbutton synthesizer to the mike stand and it made the weird noises on “Orange Rooftop”. The synthesizer was made by a band member from The Flippers. Val, Mike and Richard wrote "One Hour Cleaners". Bobby Day's backward countdown on "One Hour Cleaners" is his only recorded vocal. Richard stated “the song is about a psychiatrist whose only hold on sanity is provided by his patients. The sound of the record is “East Indian. We have a Middle Eastern organ and guitar which is tuned and played like a sitar. The sound is one step beyond The Beatles on their new album “Revolver”. Val Stecklein's roommate S. Clay Wilson, who later found fame with his work in San Francisco's "Zap Comix”, drew the psychedelic artwork to promote the single. The first drawing was with the psychedelic slogan “Let The Bluethings Blow Your Mind”, dropped later in favor of quotes from the music industry trade magazines( Record World 11/12/66-Four Star Pick Hit, Cash Box 11/12/66-Newcomer Pick Hit, Billboard 11/19/66-predicted a hot 100 chart hit). The single was released on Tuesday, November 1, 1966. In Tulsa, Oklahoma it shot to number 17 on the KELI survey within a couple weeks. It was also on the charts in St. Louis and Topeka.
While the Blue Things' records are prized now, it is their live performances that fans remember most. A typical set went like this: the original "Doll House" followed by a Beatles medley of "Paperback Writer"/ "Nowhere Man'/"I Saw Her Standing There"/"Twist And Shout"/"Rain"/ "Day Tripper", then Love's "My Little Red Book", Summer In The City", "Shapes Of Things" and finally, "I'm A Man" and "My Generation". Bobby had to cut out his drum head and use marching sticks to get the volume he wanted. Mike usually played blue guitars, everything from a '56 Stratocaster to a Danelectro guitarolin, a longhorn with a three octave scale, rigged with built-in fuzztone and special pickups. Chapman supposedly burned a guitar onstage one night at the Johnson County Rec Center (later Coya's Castle) in suburban Kansas City, a couple of years before Jimi Hendrix would do something similar. Sometimes Mike would play the Sitar live while the band did “Sunshine Superman”. Richard Scott was ambidextrous, so he would keep his bass on a saxophone strap so he could switch from right to left handed play and back in midsong.
The Blue Things drew their biggest crowds in Tulsa, Omaha and Wichita, introducing light shows and smoke machines to the Midwest. Their influence for the light shows came from seeing “The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band” perform a great concert in Topeka. The closest artifact to a live Bluethings show is the Audio House session that occurred in 1966 when the Bluethings recorded a cache of cover songs. “Hey Joe” features a frenzied Val vocal performance . Mike sings lead on “Talk Talk”, “I’m A Man”, and “My Generation”.
In the spring of 1967, Val Stecklein's health forced his departure from the Blue Things, and he was replaced by Larry Burton of Topeka's Jerms. Burton not only took over on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, but he played keyboards, which added to the band's sound. Larry sang lead on the band's next single, a psychedelic version of "Twist And Shout". This version was exactly the way the group played it live. It was recorded on in March of 1967 along with Somebody Help Me ”(which would later become the final single for The Bluethings) and a unreleased version of Love‘s “I Can‘t Explain.” The A- side of the single was "You Can Live In Our Tree" and featured Val Stecklein's vocals. An ad was placed in the May 20, 1967 Billboard magazine featuring another great psychedelic drawing by S. Clay Wilson. The single reached the charts in the San Francisco area as well as the usual regional charts in the Mid-West.
The fifth and final single for RCA was a cover of the Spencer Davis Group's "Somebody Help Me" and featured Larry on vocals. The odd B-side “Yes My Friend” sounded like a cross between the New Vaudeville Band and The Mothers of Invention. Richard Scott sang the lead vocals on "Yes My Friend" thru a megaphone to achieve the desired effect. It was recorded in March of 1967. Two other recordings written and sung by Richard Scott were done on that day also. “Caroline” with backwards tapes was a solid attempt at psychedelic pop music. “You Took The Fight” (also known as “Alone”) had the Eastern drone sound of The Yardbirds “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago”. The Eastern Raga sound also had a place in The Bluethings oeuvre . Mike, Richard and Bobby performed the soundtrack music for a KU film project. It was taped at the Red Dog Inn in Lawrence with some local jazz musicians rounding out the sound. Mike played Sitar on the song, El Pussycat, which lasts for over ten minutes. It was a Mongo Santamaria song that is the most far-out experimental sound the band ever recorded!
Larry Burton played with The Bluethings for a year and added a soulful edge to the group. Larry was drafted and had to leave the band in 1968. He was replaced by Mike Kelley, who the Blue Things found playing in Hays with the Playmate Blues Band. Before long the band's music evolved again, and Kelley's friend from the Playmate Blues Band, Rich Bisterfeldt, was brought in as a second drummer.
The Blue Things broke with John Brown and Mid-Continent Entertainment in early 1968. John Brown retained the rights to use the name “The Bluethings” and the original Bluethings were no more, although later bands used the name but with no original members. On April 18, 1968 the band unveiled a new name,“ Fyre“ while playing their last gig in Lawrence. Richard Scott had come up with the name to reflect a new R&B sound. Four songs were recorded at Audio House. The Blue Things' original record producer Ray Ruff signed Fyre to Dot. The band then went on tour with Them. The last dates on the tour were at the Electric Theatre in Chicago, opening for Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. Following the tour, Fyre broke up and the history of The Bluethings was over.