The soundtrack album of the ﬁlm “American Graﬃti” was released in 1973 and the 50’s music resurgence was at its peak. These 41 songs would become the inspiration for four Mitchell High School students asked to perform at an exchange concert with Sioux City North High School. The year was 1974 and their lives would never be the same.
Steve Thomas (lead vocal), Cleve Carlson (guitar & vocals), Don Harris (bass & vocals) and Harlan Nielsen (drums) were adolescent teenagers feeding from the crowd’s energy and they realized that this might be a great opportunity to meet girls! This led to hours of basement and garage rehearsals, pouring over the “Graffitti” double albums all thankfully endured and tolerated by forgiving parents. We “mastered” 17 songs.
Close friend, Jim Paul (lighting director and roadie) was in on the discussions for a band name which was originally Faded Blue Jeans – later shortened to Faded Blue. Jim was our “roadie” as his very cool white Ford Thunderbird hauled almost all the band gear for many months. Don’s father pitched the band to Moonlight Bar owner Jerry Davis. The Moonlight was known for a totally different form of entertainment at the time, but business had dropped off and the owner was looking for new entertainment options. The band set up around the pole in the middle of the stage for our first paying gig. We became the Moonlight’s weekend house band that first formidable summer. We were all underage.
In 1975, Bob “Whitey” Walker, a tasteful, smooth lead guitar player added a new dimension, and Faded Blue’s sound began to evolve. Bob previously worked with DD Night Train & The Soul Express, an R & B band from Dakota Wesleyan University.
Faded Blue was known for strong lead vocals and smooth harmonies. Proms, homecomings, street dances, Rest Haven, Groveland Park, Milltown, USD fraternity and sorities parties, The Last Step, The Plains, The Zoo, Night City, The Flame Room, Chase on the Lake, Wagner’s Lanes, The Chalet. Even a house band at the Kongo Klub. Yes, the Kongo Klub.
Bob left Faded Blue in 1976. Cleve and Don took a break from Faded Blue and pursued other careers. In 1977, Steve and Harlan connected with John Mogen who had been working with the Up’s & Down’s and was teaching music in Lennox, SD. John added keyboards and keyboard bass, synthesizers and his high vocal range in addition to ﬂute and soprano sax.
John introduced the band to Bob Bego, a keyboard player originally from Akron, Ohio and recent graduate of Yankton College who was teaching music at Montrose. Two accomplished keyboard players were now in place. Cleve found his way back to Faded Blue and the band continued to work six nights a week. Live music was alive and well in the late ’70’s.
John left the summer of 1979 and Don rejoined as the band’s original bass player.
Between 1974 and their ﬁnal performance in 1979, Faded Blue worked hundreds of nights across South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin and too many Minnesota lake resorts to count. Camaraderie forever.
Cleve and Don later formed Flatland Express touring the Midwest and Canada. Cleve relocated to California while Steve and Harlan continued to work with bands based in Louisville and Green Bay. Bob Walker continues to play with his daughter in Layla With Twenty One 20.
All the members of Faded Blue are proud to have been a small part of South Dakota Music History and we all thank the South Dakota Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for including us in their 2022 inductees.