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Top rock and roll hits in 1966 included songs by The Association, The Righteous Brothers, The Four Tops, The Monkees and The Mamas and the Papas.
The song "Can't Tame Me" by The Benders wasn't one of them.
Rock and roll was alive and well nationwide when four young men at UW-Stout formed their own band, The Benders, and decided to try their hand at fame by recording a 45-rpm single in a little studio in central Wisconsin.
"Can't Tame Me" wasn't one of the 100 best singles of the year, but some 48 years later it has become a hit with collectors.
In fact, the then-19-year-old students, Paul Barry, Gerry Cain, Geno Jansen and Tom Noffke who formed the band, could never have imagined the value of their creation today.
The four met in college and were strongly influenced by the popular music of the day — Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, the Rolling Stones. "We developed our own hard-driving rock and roll sound" said Cain, lead guitarist.
They played the local-bar and frat-party circuit and
quickly became popular because they were the "first real rock band" at the
college, Cain said. The legal age for drinking was 18, "so there was an
abundance of what were called teen bars," he said.
The group would jam together and make up lyrics, but in 1966 they decided to cut a record with the hope of being discovered and joining the galaxy of rock and roll stars. They wrote the song "Can't Tame Me" and on a weekend drove to Duke Wright Studios in Wausau to record it on the Big Sound label. The ballad "Got Me Down" was on the B side.
"We just went in and banged it out," Barry said.
"Paul and I and Geno just threw the song together as our idea of what we thought a rock song should sound like. Just having fun jamming as young college dudes," said Cain.
That was the only song they ever recorded, and they ordered a few hundred copies to sell at local gigs and give to friends.
A hit 48 years later
After the four left UW-Stout, then known as Stout State University, they parted ways and figured that part of their lives was over.
They were wrong. Somehow collectors interested in the 1960s garage band sound got wind of the record.
One collector ranked "Can't Tame Me" at 87th on a list of the 1,000 rarest U.S. 1960s garage 45-rpm singles and guessed that perhaps only 20 copies of the record exist worldwide.
A single copy of the 45 in the original picture sleeve has sold for as much as $2,000 online.
Barry and Cain have been amused and astonished by the attention the record is receiving.
"I do have one copy left that I'll probably sell for the right price. If I knew how valuable they were going to get, I wouldn't have given so many away," Cain said.
Barry, who also has a couple of copies left, is waiting for the right time to sell. To his surprise even the paper sleeve — sans record — has become valuable.
Music remains a constant for Barry and Cain. Barry, lead vocalist and drummer for the Benders, performs regularly during the winter months. After retiring in 1998 from Cudahy High School where he taught industrial arts, he chose to move to The Villages in Florida, where live music is played nightly 365 days a year.
The residents — all over 55 — love rock and roll oldies, and Barry loves to deliver. He also has written his own material and recently recorded a solo CD.
Barry earned bachelor's and masters' degrees from UW-Stout in 1967 and 1975, respectively.
Cain, who had always been interested in music, planned to be an industrial education teacher when he attended UW-Stout. But his plans took an unexpected turn when he met the three musicians and started to play music for the college scene.
"A turning point in my life was going to UW-Stout," he said, saying that he found he was more interested in pursuing music than studying for metals class, for example.
Cain left after about 1½ years and became a full-time musician, playing with small bands and duos and teaching guitar. He lives in Menominee, Mich.
Jansen left Stout after 1½ years and transferred to UW-Eau Claire, where he graduated in 1969. He then moved to Texas, where he still lives. Upon hearing the news of the popularity of the 45, Jansen was recharged, dusted off his guitar — he played bass — and started to practice.
A Benders reunion
In the summer of 2013, after 47 years, Jansen, Barry and Cain — Noffke is deceased — reconnected for a weekend at Barry's Wisconsin home near Watertown. "We swapped old stories of our Stout days, jammed and even went into the studio to record," Barry said.
The group recorded a remake of "Can't Tame Me," plus two more songs: a new song written by Barry called "Benders Can Play" about the band and the 45, and a blues song written by Jansen called "Momma Don't Need No Downtown."
Those three songs, along with the original recordings of "Can't Tame Me" and "Got me Down," the song that was on the B side of the original 45, were put on a new CD that the group released last fall.
"We made the jacket of the CD and the CD itself look as close as possible to the original record and sleeve. So the whole package looks like a miniature 45," Barry said.
And speaking of sleeves, the three signed a copy of an original "Can't Tame Me" 45 sleeve, put it on EBay — to pay for the new CD — and sold it for $310.
The original "Can't Tame Me" recording uploaded by Barry is available here on YouTube.