Mike English and his band White Wing honored
HOT SPRINGS – Another of Hot Springs native sons was honored by the South Dakota Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this past Friday and Saturday, April 15 and 16: Mike English, as a member of the band White Wing, was inducted into the Hall of Fame on Saturday evening.
English and his wife Carolynn, who currently live in Burbank, Calif., were in Huron, visiting his 95-year-old mother-in-law in a nursing home last week, when he talked about growing up in Hot Springs, his music business experiences, the award and other things.
“I had a wonderful childhood growing up in Hot Springs,” English said. “I was born in Seven Sisters Hospital – that’s not there any more.
English graduated from Hot Springs High School in 1971 with Tim Overmiller and Bob Anderson, he said. And he played football and baseball, ran track.
His interest in music came about 6th grade, when his brother, who played bass guitar, taught him how to play the 1963 Kingsmen’s rock and pop hit “Louie, Louie,” and 1964’s “Gloria,” originally recorded by Van Morrison’s band Them (G-L-O-R-I-A).
English was also involved in a band in high school – a band he says never lost a “battle of the bands” contest. “And we beat out guys like the Eagle’s bassist.”
“Frank Crowell and I were also singing in the Methodist Church, harmony, way back, too,” English said. This was also the time he connected with Rich Schuttler and Craig Katt to form the band Shells of Time, a 2015 state Hall of Fame award recipient. All were also native sons of Hot Springs.
Shells of Time, in their “legendary” red, white and blue bus, toured from North Dakota to Kansas, from Wisconsin to Wyoming and Colorado between 1967 and 1975. They also played with The Stone Ponies, Oliver, Lemon Pipers, Max Frost, Strawberry Alarm Clock and other one-hit-wonder bands from California that flooded the Midwest touring circuit every summer during the 1960s.
After high school, English, like Kott, went to Black Hills State University. English, Kott, Crowell and others played together as “Magac” doing a Chicago- or Blood, Sweat and Tears-style music. They also opened for Styx and others and this continued through English’s sophomore year in college.
“After college, I got to where I wanted to do something else,” English said. So he traveled to Lawrence, Kan., and began playing with a band called Rising Sons. English said the Rising Sons were a show band with a horn section, costumes and they did performances that included back-flips on stage, and “all sort of Vegas-style things,” English said.
His connection with White Wing came in 1968, as the band formed, he said.
At that time, White Wing, formerly called Forbidden Children, was Mike Drew (vocals, organ), Rod Schroeder (vocals, guitars), Mike Coates (guitars), Gary Cass (bass) and Norm Curtis (drums). They were touring with national performing artists throughout North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, Nebraska, Minnesota and Canada. Their name became synonymous with great music and electric performances, according to state Rock and Roll Hall of Fame information.
In 1975, White Wing was looking for a singer.
“They needed a singer, and I had known these guys for years – we beat them in the ‘battle of the bands’ competitions in high school. But I was looking for a job and now I had one.” The original members of Coates, Curtis and Cass were still in the lineup, but Tim Renshaw joined the band on keyboards and English supplied the lead vocals.
In 1975, WhiteWing landed a record deal with a Minneapolis label A.S.I. and released their self-titled debut album. “Hansa,” a single from that album written by Mike Coates, had massive radio airplay throughout the Midwest and Canada and hit the Billboard top-singles chart. White Wing albums began selling all over the U.S., Canada, and Europe.
The band was often mislabeled during this time as a The Moody Blues-style band, but it was a much heavier band with a progressive rock foundation.
English said by 1976, “There were some ‘Spinal Tap’ moments, but that’s the business.”
In late 1976 White Wing disbanded. According to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, White Wing left a mark in state rock history with the “founding of a progressive, distinct style that is still rare and treasured by a multitude of vinyl music collectors and progressive rock aficionados.”
English was far from done with the music business, however.
Early in 1977, English and fellow White Wing band member Mike Coates, got together with other musicians – Nebraska drummer John Haynes and vocalist Larry Galbraith – and formed the band Asia, a progressive art rock band from Rapid City.
The band chose Asia, “because we all loved the mystical, exotic and expansive implications,” Coates noted.
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Asia recorded two independent release albums, “Asia” (1979) and “Armed to the Teeth” (1980), and released two singles, “The Road of Kings” and “Paladin.” Asia also backed up many major touring acts like Nazareth, Ted Nugent, Molly Hatchet, Kiss, Bachman Turner Overdrive and others.
Asia also toured extensively throughout the upper Midwest and parts of Canada until early 1982.
Meanwhile, in 1981, following the break-up of British progressive rock bands Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and King Crimson – all headliner names at that time – members of these groups came together to form their own band, also called Asia.
The British Asia was formed from: John Wetton, bassist and vocalist with King Crimson, Roxy Music and Uriah Heap; Steve Howe, Yes guitarist; Geoff Downes, Yes keyboardist; and drummer Carl Palmer, of Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
In 1982, the British Asia, desiring to trademark their name, served the South Dakota Asia a “cease and desist order” from their manager Brian Lane.
The South Dakota Asia, English said, was just really getting off the ground and had done everything right to protect their name, including filing for a trademark on it – a very slow process at the time, he said. But the big-name rockers had more money, and better lawyers – they’d hired the same law firm that the U.S. government hires to represent it – and they forced radio stations to quit playing South Dakota Asia’s music, took their records off store shelves and filed lawsuits and other legal actions to prevent South Dakota Asia from using their name.
English said the first couple lawyers Asia South Dakota hired ran with their tails between their legs when the discovered they were confronting the British Asia’s high-powered lawyers. The final lawyer they pitched their case to told them that if the band was willing to spend up to 10 years of their life in court fighting this, and spend millions of dollars on legal fees, they might keep their name, but there were no guarantees.
The band wondered about a money settlement. Lane, pitched an better deal, he said he loved the South Dakota band’s sound and was willing to promote them, if they could work out a money exchange with Asia and change their name.
“We thought this would be a real deal, with established management and we went with it,” English said. But he said Lane lied to them. He didn’t follow up in promoting them, the band received a minimal amount of money from the settlement, and a recording deal under a new name never happened, they’d been taken advantage of.
To add insult to injury, the formal papers trademarking their Asia name arrived on the same day the lawsuits were settled.
“It taught us a great deal about the music business,” English said.
The band tried to move forward under another name – Solomon Kane – but it was tough going.
Out of the music business
“It was tough getting out of the business,” English admitted, and he wanted out.
During the 1980s, everything was changing rapidly, he said. English would have take a job doing anything, he said.
“I collected garbage before, janitor, anything – but the only job I could find in the Midwest was playing for another band . I figured I stay nine months then get out, I was paid well, and I was offered jobs with Steely Dan, Deep Purple and other bands.
English went to China and Africa, then moved to California, got married and had two daughters, one of whom plays in a band of her own.
“I still play,” he said, in his own band, and the focus is on quality, not making a living at it.
When he was looking for some kind of work to do outside the music industry, wife Carolynn suggested he take a substitute teaching job. He agreed, because it would pay $5 more per hour than his music gig.
After a short time teaching, English decided he liked it enough to continue doing this – despite the fact that he’d been kicked, called vile unprintable names, spat on and endured other nasty things from his students. Carolynn laughed saying she knew he would be a great teacher because he is good with kids and has a natural knack for it. English said he told an administrator who questioned this career choice that the rock-n-roll world and the special ed are the same world.
English got his teaching credentials and has been a special ed teacher – he won special ed teacher of the year recently -- ever since.
“He still plays at night, Carolynn said. “It is his outlet.
“I needed the music,” English said. “Rock-n-roll was a great experience and the Hall of Fame has been great to me. It’s really important for your peers to give you some recognition. Last year, at the Shells of Time honor, I experienced a lot of kinship, a lot of brotherhood, people were all the time coming up and saying, ‘I love you brother.’ I like to be there to see the people. My days with the band were like a traveling party, the clubs, the bands, the music, you can’t do this anymore.”
“My parent’s generation had 1940s ballrooms to bond them,” English continued. “We had our sweet time and it created a bond for a generation. We did something special that doesn’t happen much any more. It was a sweet time. And I want to thank all of the neighbors who said they couldn’t hear the band playing; all of the parents who opened their garages for us and drove us to gigs. We were only 13 and 15 at the time, no one had a car.”