Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Concrete Rubber Band: Believers From Kansas

When I first heard of the Concrete Rubber Band, I was intrigued. A three-piece early 1970s teenage band--two of the members siblings--from rural Kansas, proclaiming their love for Jesus with a unique mix of rock and classical music? Right up my alley. 

Named in allegiance with the acid-rock bands of the day, the CRB had songs, skills, and some fine equipment, but no outside help and little ability to effectively reproduce their sound.

The review in the wonderful Acid Archives called the band’s album, Risen Savior, the "only album of its kind in the world.” Its heartfelt songs, springing from committed young people, are haunting.

The music has grandeur and grunge, sass and peaceful acceptance, beauty and ugliness. Guitars thrash away, but don’t quite sound like guitars. Layers of analog synthesizers make holy and unholy sounds. A brother and sister harmonize, but their vocals whip in and out, sometimes sounding like frightened skylarks trying to escape a haunted house.

Like many other bands of the time, the trio decided in 1974 to have a local company press up the results of their recordings onto an LP (in a run of 500) and sell them at gigs. Most copies have long since disappeared, having been thrown out or lost. Spares are hoarded by collectors, rarely turning up for sale.

These kids were real, their music unfettered by anyone else, but also without sophisticated methods of recording their music. The album suffers sonically from this, but the limitations of the band’s technology also gives Risen Savior a sound of its own.

Day jobs and relationships meant that CRB’s time came to an end. Singer/keyboardist Jan Long went to graduate school; she currently serves as a state representative (!) in Kansas. Drummer Bobby Rhodes moved west. Duncan Long, guitarist, keyboardist, singer, and songwriter, continues to play electronic music and spent a period working for ARP Synthesizers, but is best known as a superb graphic artist.

His music—unknown at the time—could have been lost to the world it not for music freaks and record collectors. Many performers whose work had no chance to enter the commercial marketplace were truly talented, and the best examples of what is now called "private-press" music belong square inside the pantheon of popular music.

Risen Savior soon developed a reputation in the rock underground from collectors of obscure 1960s and 1970s rock, both secular and those devoted to the harder side of the era’s Christian music—which was then called “Jesus Rock.”

Here is Risen Savior's second song, “What Shall We Do?” (It's not the LP's title track, despite the labeling on the video.) it as much as any on the album, captures the group’s facets: the hard rock drive, familial harmonies, biting but hopeful lyrics, startling tempo changes, and billowing, bubbly, overpowering synthesizer fills.

Sometime in the 1990s, a fanatical record collector burned a copy of the now-sought Risen Savior, had it pressed onto CDs, and released it (without Long’s permission) on a label called Radioactive. Soon after, the small Hidden Vision Records label worked with Long on an expanded, authorized CD issue. The new product included two extra songs from the album’s original sessions and improved sound—the result of using the actual master recording tapes rather than a dub from an old album.

Hidden Vision was eventually forced to shut down because of losses incurred fighting bootleggers such as Radioactive. In 2007, Long worked on another re-release of the album, this one with the GTR label, and provided twelve previously unreleased extra songs. (GTR has an excellent catalog, re-releasing artists ranging from American pop star Gene Pitney and Canadian hard rockers It’s All Meat to experimental British saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith.)

Having heard them, I wanted to know more about the Concrete Rubber Band. What drove them? How did it feel to be in the band? How did they write and record and play? What was their contemporary reception? 

So I contacted Duncan Long, who graciously agreed to answer my questions and share his recollections. I thank him for his music and his time.

Q: What are some of your early musical memories?
My folks were both pretty good musicians. So I grew up in a house where music was performed. My mom played the piano and my dad guitar – and a little mandolin, banjo, and violin.
Q: What got you into playing music?
 I was sort of late into playing music, starting as a young child with piano lessons but dropping out. Later in junior high I wanted to play piano so my folks got me started on lessons again. But I think [that] starting at that late a date sort of left me without some of the innate skills that seem to develop with a child learns at instrument at an earlier age. In high school I took up the trombone in the school band and taught myself to play mandolin. Later in college I picked up the bass guitar and electric guitar. I guess I just was drawn to music.

Q. Did you grow up a Christian? If not, when did you begin your path?
My whole family was converted at a revival meeting when I was in seventh grade. That made quite a change for all of us and we were sort of all at the same level of Christian maturity for the coming years. A unique experience, I think.

Q. Who were the musicians you admired as a young man? When CRB began, what music of the time were you attempting to emulate or extend on?
J. S. Bach and Beethoven were always favorites of mine, and I suspect there’s a lot of classical music behind all our music, at least to some extent. On the pop side, the Electric Prunes, 50 Foot Hose, Jefferson Airplane, the Beatles, and Jimi Hendrix were big influences. But it’s sort of an odd thing because none of us listened to the radio much or had that many LPs. We just sort of made our own music to fill the void.

Q. Without sounding in the world did you learn about an obscure band like 50 Foot Hose while living in a small Midwestern town in the early 1970s? How did you buy/consume music in those days?
Although I didn't listen to much radio, there was a station down in Oklahoma that broadcast all sorts of weird rock music late in the night. I happened to tune in one night and heard them…and remembered the unique name. Later when shopping in a record store in Wichita (probably in 1971) I found their albums being sold at a discount (a dollar an LP, as I recall). So I bought one and fell in love with most of the songs.

I think most of our music came from large stores (Willey's was one) that had small book and record departments. Oddly enough I can't remember actually buying most of the records I owned, or where we bought them. Sort of strange how many holes there are in our memories.  I suppose had I used drugs, I might have some truly massive gaps  :o

Q. Did you find any difficulty in being a Christian and making rock music?
Making the rock music was easy. Getting anyone to listen to it was hard. We were unaware of the “Jesus Music” movement, being out in the sticks of Kansas. Churches were very conservative and not too interested in having rock music in their sanctuaries, so we were sort of the Lone Ranger of bands. Churches just weren’t into guitars and drums in church the way they are now. So we didn’t really get to perform in a lot of places other than for a few youth groups and a couple of churches wanting to have some sort of special service to reach out to their youth. There was very, very little money in it and we often played for free. It was a labor of love for the most part.

Q. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, did you listen to rock music of the day? Christian music? The classics?
By the early 1970s we were listening to a variety of music, but our style was pretty “set,” so I don’t think you could see much influence between what we listened to and what we performed.

Q. Were you or your bandmates involved in the pastimes of the day (politics, drugs, promiscuity, school protest), or did you live very much a quiet small-town life?
Our town had a population of 200-some, so long hair and loud music were already an amazingly rebellious thing in the eyes of our peers. There was a lot of alcohol abuse in our tiny burg (Alden, Kansas), but the three of us in our band were pretty straight-laced.
My sister and I went to Sterling College (Sterling, KS), which was a Presbyterian School, so it was pretty straight-laced as well, though there was some drug abuse there (the mid-1960s; many drugs were still legal at that point). But none of us ever got mixed up with the drug scene or such. I think perhaps our early conversion to Christianity spared us from a lot of the trips a lot of young folks fell into during that period.

Q. Some of the lyrics on Risen Savior seem to address the real-life concerns of teenagers. Did you feel it was important to do so?
I think it was more of a need to express our own feelings rather than make some big statement for the masses. Again, the fact that we were playing for small audiences and not that often sort of made it less about sending a message than about expressing a message.

Q. When you decided to record an album, was there any thought toward trying somehow to get it on an established label?
I’m not sure we ever even sent any demo tapes anywhere; I don’t think we did, or at least can’t remember ever doing so. I was a music major at Sterling College, and at the Music Educators convention [I] noticed that school bands were getting their own records pressed by vanity press labels for a very small investment. This of course struck me as a way to create a record without much of the expense while keeping full control over our music and our sound. So it just seemed like a “quick fix” for getting an LP of our music out there.
Sadly, we made the master tapes before we really hit our stride; had we made them a year or two later, the sound would have been much more refined and polished. I have always regretted that our best sound isn’t there for people to hear, but that’s just how it is.
I am not sure how many records were pressed, but I’m guessing maybe 500. We each put up the money and then divided the money from the records. When the band dissolved, we divided the remaining records between us. I gave most of mine away to the students in the school where I taught.

Q. With the sounds you created on Risen Savior, did you ever feel that you were really going “far out”?
Well, it was certainly perceived as far out by some listeners of the time. But basically we just made the music the way we wanted to hear it without any eye toward making it weird for weirdness’ sake.

Q. What was the division of labor between you and your sister you in terms of playing keyboards?
Jan handled the electric piano (an RMI – Rocky Mountain Instruments harpsichord/piano) which I’d rewired so the keys on the lower end were bass-boosted. We then put the lower half of the keyboard through a bass amp so we had a bass guitar sound even though it was actually the electric piano. We also had a Vox electric organ that she played, sometimes one hand on each keyboard. I generally played electric guitar, especially when we started performing. But as we added synthesizers (an ARP 2600 and Pro Soloist) to our band, I alternated between them and the guitar.
Sometimes we put the ProSoloist atop the electric piano and my sister would play both (I think…I’m a little unsure, as we tried all sorts of combinations when we practiced and recorded, some we never used in performance). Toward the end we also had a string machine for string-like sounds but I don’t think we used it on our LP.

Q. Some songs don’t have drums. Was that a proactive decision?
I did a couple of tracks on my own on the Risen Savior LP and those would be the ones without drums. I’m not sure exactly why it was done that way, looking back. I think part of it was that as I picked up more skills on the synthesizer, I wanted to hear more of an orchestral sound to the music, and thus needed to lay down lots of instrumental tracks to do that (the synthesizer being a single-note instrument at that point).
Also, I think Jan had headed off to Law School, or at least wasn’t available to do the music at that point, but I might be wrong about that as time has made memories of “what” and “why” a little hazy.
Anyway, I had to layer all the sounds on those tracks by overdubbing, recording one track along with the next and hoping the balance wasn’t all out of whack, and it was basically a one-man job. At that point I only had a two-track Akai recorder to work with, so those multiple layers basically resulted in a mono recording with one extra track on one side for “full stereo” (ha).
Sadly, our PA had so much hiss that we had to run our microphones into an Ampeg tube amp for the vocals, which made our vocals pretty muddy by today’s standards.

Q. When you recorded the Risen Savior album, did you think that it sounded like anything else around at the time?
We were pretty much unaware of what else was going on, especially in Christian music where most of the stuff was Gospel or such. It wasn’t until years later that we even heard of the Jesus Rock movement.

Q. Were you a “gear-head”? Did you find it easy to learn how to use tape recorders, mikes, mixing boards, amps, effects, synthesizers, etc.?
Yes, I seemed to take to it like a duck to water. I was constantly tearing into stuff and rewiring it, building synthesizer modules, and such, some from scratch and others from kits. I can remember spending hours with a soldering iron and playing around with the then-new ICs (Integrated Circuits) that allowed frequency doubling, square-wave generation, and other weird things when the electrical output from a keyboard or guitar was pumped through them. Probably the neighbors were glad when I quit experimenting and went to bed   :o)
Mixing boards were a luxury we couldn’t afford, so we basically just winged it with on-the-fly adjustments and care in controlling the volume of our instruments as we performed.

Q. Was there a reason The Concrete Rubber Band “broke up”?
Mostly we just had to earn a living and each went our separate ways. There had never been even the suggestion of a dream that we could earn money with our band’s music. So after finishing college I found some music teaching jobs nearby and we continued the music in the evenings and spare time.
But when Jan headed to law school some distance away (at Kansas University in Lawrence, Kansas), things started to get less and less viable for the band. Bob Rhodes (our drummer) and I tried to perform places, with me on the keyboards sans guitar. And for a time we had other people try to play the keyboards. But it just wasn’t the same and when I got a job some distance away, that was the end of the band. The proverbial “not with a bang but a whimper” death.

Q. Do you think that the Concrete Rubber Band album has any parallels in rock music?
I’m sure it does, but not being all that aware of the musical history of the Jesus Rock bands—or even rock music in general—I really don’t feel like I’m in a position to comment on that in any meaningful way. We just sort of did our thing with little regard to what others were doing and that was basically it.
I suppose that many other groups did the same thing and, being creatures of our society and the pop music scene, likely the various “sounds” of many bands were quite similar, especially given that the electric guitar and various pedals were being fielded to a large market of players. A guy always hopes that some of what he did was unique, but sometimes that is a relative thing and best decided by unbiased reviewers and historians.
I suppose that in the end we were just another of those little garage bands that sprang up in the 60s and 70s, made some nice music, and then moved on to other things. I wish we’d had a few more breaks and could have continued creating music a little longer since we basically quit just when we were hitting our stride, but that’s sort of how things are in a society where the arts are a bit of an afterthought—especially with churches—and people need to earn their livings.
But it was a lot of fun while it lasted and I have no regrets. I do have a lot of good memories when it comes to making music in our band.

You can buy the CRB album, and learn a lot more about the group and about Duncan, here:


  1. I really liked your interview with Duncan Long. Your questions helped him paint what it was like creating the unique and little known music that he and his band members did really as a labor of love. It was fun for me to discover the music and hear the artist's words at the same time. Keep writing!

  2. Stu, I enjoyed your story on CRB! I actually think I saw this album last record convention in Omaha! Alden would have been a mere 60 miles from Dodge City, where I grew up and got my music background DXing AM radio and by the time of CRB, FM radio too. Altho I moved from Dodge to Lincoln, Ne. before CRB recorded, I knew of the area radio and music events until I left in summer 71.
    The first FM station that I heard was KEYN-FM in Wichita and it literally blew me away. Not only because of the sound quality, but also the mix of obscure underground music and top 40 it presented its' first year in 1969. Unfortuantely, by 1974's album release, KEYN was playing more top 40 related material. Had CRB's album been released by 1971, there's a good chance KEYN would have played it some. They had cool DJ's and jingles and promoted stereo sound immensely. I'll send a bit from my tapes which also include music they played in 1970 by local Jerry hahn Brotherhood featuring local Kansas legend Mike Finnegan previously of the Serfs and featured recently on Kal David's (of the Exceptions) recent solo CD. Shows they WOULD play locals some.
    It's possible that my friend Chris Allen (Abercrombie) emceed the band in the early days of the late 60's. He was at KLSI Salina and then moved to KEYN-FM Wichita too! more....

  3. ...That said, I first heard a Christian rock show in 1970. Before I heard "Powerline" produced by the Southern Baptists and hosted by radio legend John Borders, I had no idea there was "Christian ROCK music." Sure, I knew the Jesus movemnt hits like "Superstar" and "Put Your hand" but THIS show combined Christian teaching with today's rock music, some of which had subtle Christian lyrics. The reason I heard the show in the first place is because it preceeded the then-new American Top 40 show. "Powerline" started at 8:30 AM Sunday and AT40 at 9 on KEYN-FM. Borders played songs and tried to explain them sometimes. Only time I EVER heard the groovy "Day Curly Billy Shot Down Crazy Sam mcGee" by Hollies on radio!! The show was on in Omaha when I moved to Lincoln. One morning, "Powerline" played a new Christian Rock song "Free me" by Joshua and said they would send you this 45 for FREE if you wrote to them. I liked the song, sent in and got the 45. I liked enough to push it to top 10 on my weekly personal chart!! This was spring of 74, conincidentily!

    Anyway, KEYN-FM was a groovy station and I'd guess that the group listened some to it. However, the station they claim they heard out of Oklahoma City was almost certainly 1090 KAAY's "Beaker Street" out of Little Rock. The station was as promoted "The Arkansas Giant" then. In the 60's growing up in Dodge city, they were like a local power-wise. In Lincoln, they boom in too today, even tho they have been Christian radio for 20+ years since changing from top 40. Beaker Street was a phenomenon not unlike tuning in to Wolfman Jack in Mexico on XERB. That show came on late night and featured underground music and DJs BEFORE FM was doing it!! I meet people all the time that listened to Beaker Street even if they did not remember what or where the station was! You will note that sounds in Beaker Street resemble things IN the CRB youtube song! Check out my 1974 BS promo featuring the same sounding echo effect used at end of the CRB song! Note on the attached Clyde Clifford (formerly of Denver's great KLZ-FM station in late 60's) BS youtube clip that they play "Pooneil" by JA, one of CRB's influences!
    Here's another BS clip on youtube!
    The band shopped in Wichita! I remember visiting Jensen's Music Shop as well as David's and Sgt Pepper's record shops there! There's a good chance that KFH-FM played the band's record in 74, but did not hear them long distance then. They had a great LP chart, no singles and psychedelic survey. Kansas was a happenin' place in 60's and early 70's!! Clark

  4. Hey, Stu,

    Sorry it took so long for me to mosey over here and read the whole thing. I started to a few times and never finished it.

    A fascinating story, and a really nice interview. Was this guy hard to track down? It seems like a shot in the dark to be able to contact him (even if he is now well known in another field), and that he'd be interested in talking,

    The track on youtube is interesting - the instrumental parts at the beginning and a little bit at the end are compelling, sounding sort of like Iron Butterfly with better instrumentalists and worse production. The vocal part in the middle didn't appeal to me as much, and I was also having a tough time understanding the lyrics in places, as is alluded to in the interview.

    I loved the bit about refiguring a keyboard to make it sound like a bass player, and then that keyboardist playing two different keyboards at once. That's talent!