Gaylen Johnson, Bob Syverson and Gene Okerlund were members of the Harold Johnson Orchestra out of Sisseton, SD. Gaylen played upright string bass and tuba, Bob played guitar and Gene play trumpet. They played Old Time, Country Western and "Modern" music. But soon the three decided they wanted to play the music all the kids were talking about, Rock and Roll. With Gaylen on the Gibson Bass, Bob playing the Chet Atkins Gretch and Gene on the Wurlitzer electric piano, the Shades were formed. They were joined by Odean Anderson on rhythm guitar and Larry Wattier on drums. The year was 1959.
Initially, everyone wore sunglasses to coincide with the name but after playing in a few poorly lit clubs, that proved impractical. Sax player, Dave Johnson, was soon added to the mix about the time Wattier left the group. Anderson then switched to drums, later to be replaced by John Leppart, legendary Fargo drummer. The guys played at ballrooms, armories, high school gyms and even on flatbed trailers. Crowds were very receptive and the band started to build up a following in northeast South Dakota.
Acclaimed booking agent Jimmy Thomas, who would also book Myron Lee and the Caddies and the Trashmen, helped the group expand their coverage area to include North Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska and Iowa. Some of the memorable places they played included the Ranch in Sisseton, Johnny White's in Sioux Falls, the Dell Rapids Pavilion, Selby Opera House, Crystal Ballroom in Fargo and the Hollyhock in Hatfield.
The Shades developed a unique sound that caught the attention of Midwestern teenagers as well as older fans. They drew big crowds and became very popular. The group recorded a 45 in 1959 in Sioux Falls on Bob Helgeson's M&L label. It featured a great instrumental, "Red Devil", on one side and "Do You Remember", featuring Gene's vocals on the other side.
The group disbanded in the early 1960's although Dave Johnson continued to perform in the Fargo area and played with the Corvettes out of Minneapolis. He also worked with Howie Johnson, original drummer of The Ventures, and other national acts. Gene Okerlund went on to fame in professional wrestling as an announcer and has been involved in the food business. Bob Syverson also was involved in music in the Fargo area and played with The Corvettes. Odean Anderson died in the 1980's and Gylen Johnson's whereabouts is unknown. The Shades were not together for a long time but they provided us with some great music.