Rock and roll will never die. That's what members of Sunstone, a band made up of Marquette natives and former Northern Michigan University students had to say when they recently reunited after 50 years to record and release their original song, “Marquette County Line.” Despite living in different parts of the United States, songwriter Barry Seymour found a way to keep the spirit alive by recording the song remotely.
“We haven't played as a band since 1975, and we had tried recording back in the 70s,” said Seymour, the lead vocalist, guitar player and producer. “It was very low-quality, low-budget, and we didn't even bother keeping the recordings. This time around we shared files. I did most of the recording. I laid down the drum track and did some programming.”
When recording each of the parts, Seymour sent audio files of him singing all the parts to trumpeter Steve Klenke, who transcribed the singing into sheet music and sent it to the other horn players. They recorded their parts and sent the audio files back. Seymour then layered the audio files into the recording to create the final version of the song.
The actual lyrics are about Sunstone traveling around the U.P. from 1972-1975, when they would perform at school dances in Marquette, Ishpeming and Negaunee. They were also able to get some gigs in Wisconsin, as well as a music festival at the Cliffs Ridge Ski Resort (now Marquette Mountain). However, Seymour still has fond memories of their first performance together as a band.
“We just rehearsed and rehearsed,” Seymour said. "We would usually rehearse in our parents' basement, but there was a time in the summer of ‘72 when we stayed at the drummer's parents' cabin in Big Bay for the weekend and we just played the whole time. Then, in August of that year, we entered a talent contest at the U.P. State Fair in Escanaba, which is what ‘Marquette County Line' is about, you know? ‘Headed down 41 Escanaba way.' We were playing down there and we had gotten into the finals, so we called home and our girlfriends all came down and we played later that night.”
They had some competition, though. Seymour recounted seeing a women's barbershop quartet, as well as a shock-rock band whose routine involved throwing bananas at the judges and singing a song called “King Kong Loves You.”
“So, they announced the winners and they brought us up there first and announced us and the crowd cheered, then they brought out the next few acts and we were like ‘oh that's nice we came in fourth,'” he said. “Then, the crowd dispersed and our girlfriends came up to us and asked us why we looked so subdued and we were like, ‘What do you mean?' and they said ‘You won!' We were like, ‘What? We won? What?'”
Thomas Berryman, an NMU alumnus who graduated in 1977 with a bachelor's in music, recalls some other stories from their travels as a band. Like the time they played at the Kincheloe Air Force Base (now known as the Chippewa County International Airport) and ran out of gas driving back to Marquette during a snowstorm. Or the time they played at the Old Menominee Hotel for three nights in a row, only for it to completely burn down the day after they left.
While he wasn't on the recording of “Marquette County Line” due to health issues, Berryman will be playing the trumpet on their upcoming song, “Irlene,” and is currently taking history and philosophy classes at NMU.
“[The times at Northern] were magical times,” said Berryman. “I had mentors and professors who were just outstanding. They were some of the most talented and caring people I've met, and they had a huge impact on me because of it. My student life for me at Northern was very busy because of the band, though. I missed out on some of the student life from playing gigs. However, playing in the marching band was always really exciting. I actually got to participate in the alumni band. I was able to see some of my marching buddies that I hadn't seen in 45 years.”
Seymour (Vocals/Guitar), Berryman (Trumpet), Steve Klenke (Trumpet), Mike Bolz (keyboard) and Jack Hill (Bass) are all former NMU students.
Remaining (and former) band members are: Greg Smith and Perry Brumm (trombone); Chip Brooks, Larry Gerndt, John Ciaravino and Tom Lyons (drums); and Jerry Laken and Tim Nichols (trumpet).
To listen to the song click here.