By Tina Snell, Staff Writer
One night a week, five men get together in a garage. Some are sporting guitars, one gets behind a keyboard and another sits at a set of drums. During that evening, the garage is swelling with the sounds of rock and roll.
They call themselves the “Hula Badgers.”
Created in January, the Hula Badgers play classic rock and roll and some blues. The members have been involved in one type of music or another most of their lives.
Each of the band members comes from a totally different background from the others, yet they have come together with a common love. It is truly a match made in rock and roll heaven.
Why the ‘Hula Badgers?’
“We didn’t have a name and were tossing a few examples around during practice,” said Byron Nelson of Little Falls. “We were inspired by the honey badger, sort of like a spoofy mascot for deployed troops, being tough, resilient and persistent. We all thought, ‘Hey, we were just like that.’”
“Besides, we needed a name for the next day, so Hula Badgers stuck,” said Randall resident and guitar player Phil Solen.
Sometimes, the group brings hula hoops to their performances.
“But, none of us can manipulate one,” said Nelson.
The five, all born between 1950 and 1957, have played with other bands in the past.
Bill Bramscher, now retired and living in Randall, plays the keyboards. “I used to play country music, but it almost killed me. Too much heartache,” he said.
In the 1960s, Bramscher played most notably with “The Trolls” in the Twin Cities. A job with the railroad which required travel and a family was too much to play in a band, too, so he subsequently quit playing for about 12 years.
“In the 1980s, I lived in Morrison County and worked in the Cities,” he said. “I had a family and it was too much to do all that and play in a band, too.”
From 2007-2012, Bram-scher was with the local band, Social Security Express, which played mostly vintage country western.
“I started playing with Byron in August 2012, and have been playing Hammond organ with him ever since,” he said.
Mike Kingkade, who lives in Little Falls and works in the construction business, plays the drums.
“I wanted to play the saxophone when young, but I had the wrong teeth for the instrument. So I took up the drums,” he said.
At age 14, he played with three of his music teachers in Brooklyn Park. One, Don Molde, now lives in the Cushing area.
“We played old time music,” he said. “I think I was asked because they needed a drummer.”
“When we played ‘Wipe-Out,’ snowmobilers passed the hat. I was just 14 years old and was getting paid to play.”
Kingkade cut his first record with the band, “Sunrise,” a folk group from the Twin Cities.
“Sunrise toured in five states and we wore white tuxedos every night,” he said.
Rock and roll was next for Kingkade when he was with “Snaps” and still on the road.
When he met his wife in 1978, living and working on the road was less appealing. He stopped his touring and moved to Little Falls.
Kingkade and Phil Solen of Randall hooked up and played with the local band, “Work Release.”
Solen is a painter, lives in Randall and plays both the bass guitar and mandolin. He learned to love music from his family.
“My grandfather played with ‘Boweries’ in Lincoln in the 1920s,” Solen said. “He lived in Cushing and would ride the freight train from there to Lincoln to play in Lincoln Hills. He would ride the train home again when the evening ended.”
Solen also remembers hootenannies at his parent’s home where Irish jigs would be played with the mandolin and the fiddle.
“I always wanted to play like my grandfather did,” he said. “Music is like a language and you can tell how a person thinks by how they play a song.”
Solen, who has played with eight or more groups over the years, said he enjoys learning other artists’ styles and their personalities.
Besides the Hula Badgers, Solen also plays at his church and with another group in Alexandria.
Roar Hartold, now a retired carpenter, was born in Norway and it was his mother’s family that was musically inclined. He was just 9 years old when he learned to play the guitar.
“I grew up with British music and that’s what I like to play,” he said.
When Hartold was 14, his brother and several friends started a band, “Michigan.” They got the name from a map of the United States. They played professionally for about three years until the drummer died in an accident.
Hartold joined the Norwegian military in 1969 for four years, and then was in the Norwegian Guard for 30 years.
“I attended the 11th Norwegian Exchange at Camp Ripley in 1984, and came to the United States in 1985, working for the Norwegian Exchange,” he said.
Hartold met his wife in 1996, when she came to Norway for the Exchange from Camp Ripley. They were married in 1998.
“I became friends with Byron, who works at Camp Ripley, and his wife Marge. We discovered that we both played the guitar and the rest is history,” he said.
Nelson plays the guitar, cowbells, tambourine and Doumbek drums from Africa.
“Music came to me from my father’s side. My grandfather was Norwegian and played the piano, accordion and harmonica. I played the trumpet in school, growing up in North Dakota,” he said. “Then I got a Harmony guitar through the Montgomery Ward’s catalogue.”
Nelson sang in the choir in both middle school and high school. He said his rock and roll influence came from his aunt, who had tons of 45 rpm records that she kept in a bread box.
“My next guitar was a 1971 Epiphone Les Paul with a Kustom amplifier,” he said. “Then in 1975, when I was in the Army stationed in Germany, I purchased a Framus Bavarian-made guitar.”
Nelson said he didn’t play any instruments during his 30-year military career.
But, in 2005, he and Hartold went to Al’s Music Store in St. Cloud and purchased two electric guitars and started practicing.
“Roar taught me how to play again,” he said.
Their first gig was at Camp Ripley with Healthy Community Collaborative’s Battle of the Bands in 2009.
“We were called ‘Free Shrimp’, then,” he said. “Our next group was called ‘Sons of Knut,’ a spoof on Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion.”
Sons of Knut played at several Healthy Community Collaborative, Legion and VFW events. Then last December there came a personnel change and the Hula Badgers was born.
“There is a nice chemistry between us,” said Nelson. “We play 1960s and 1970s music, some 1950s stuff. It’s honest, straightforward music.”
“We won’t be going national, but we are going to have a good time,” said Kingkade.
For more information, contact Nelson at (320) 632-8401.