The Six Wild Brakmen were born in July 1963 in Lowell Riethmuller’s living room. The “Five Fathers” of the group were Lowell Riethmuller on keys, Gene Starmer on bass, Bob Kellogg on guitar, Jerry Ladd on drums and Gordon Kruse on guitar. Ex-Sneaker and Ascot – Ken McMahon, also occasionally joined them on guitar and Kent Armstrong on drums.
Their first “paying gigs" were in 1964 (the DeMolay Sweetheart Dance for $25 total and The Fremont High School TWIRP Dance). They decided on The Brakmen (with a “long A”) as their band name, after a suggestion by one of their bosses at work who stated “they took long Brakes and were always Braking things). Playing their first high school gym dance, they found themselves playing right into a long line of folded bleachers, creating an echo effect that played havoc with their meter. As they remember only 2 people were left at the end of the dance – King and Queen Twirp – who HAD to stay to the end.
Shortly thereafter Gene Starmer left the band, and Dave Nelson who had just graduated from Fremont High School joined on bass (the summer of 1964). Nelson had band savvy, ingenuity and helped turn the band into a group that not only played good by also became a sight to see visually.
The Brakmen began to practice for their upcoming “Battle of the Bands” with another local and established Fremont band – the Fugitives. This would prove to be one of the first “Battle of the Bands” in Fremont and also the first band to feature a light show
. Held at the Fremont Armory (a virtual echo chamber) – Nelson suggested The Brakmen set up in the northeast corner facing their sound to the open front doors. The Fugitives set up in the middle of the dance floor. The Fugitives played first – without anything but the dim lights of the Armory ceiling. Nelson had built several crude black wooden boxes containing colored lights and on-off switches controlled by Riethmuller on keys. The Armory lights were turned off…and then …Jerry Ladd slowly drawled “you make me want to SHOUT”. Riethmuller hit the lights, the crowd went wild and at that point The Six Wild Brakmen came into permanent existence. They obviously won the Battle Dance.
The leader of KISS recently stated “people hear best with their EYES rather than their EARS”..and that was what set The Six Wild Brakmen apart from the others. They were visually WILD on all aspects of their performances, particularly visually. Very few regional bands could match the wild antics of The Brakmen on stage.
By the fall of 1964, Riethmuller had joined The 7-Legends and Nelson left for college in Minnesota. The band acquired Landy Landholm on keys and Tom Schultz from the defunct Fugitives on bass. Not only could Schultz play bass but also he had the uncanny ability to SCREAM on cue – and LOUDER than the entire band. Screaming was good in 1964 and Schultz did it well. (Schultz joined J. Harrison B. & the Bumbles briefly on tour in Colorado sometime later – and scared the entire band the first time he screamed on stage…without a microphone. Upon discovering he was all right – they smiled and continued the set).
Also in late 1964, Jim Ladd (Jerry Ladd’s older brother), joined the band as lead singer. The name officially was changed to “The Six Wild Brakmen”.
A favorite part of their stage show was when Bob and Gordon would swing their guitars over Jim’s head in synch with Jim ducking at the same time. During this action, Schultz would be screaming at the top of his lungs – creating chaos on stage at the same time.
The band won an audition to play for KOIL Disc Jockey, Sandy Jackson who was the proprietor of Omaha’s most popular Teen Club – “Sandy’s Escape” located in the Benson area of Omaha, NE.
At their first performance at this 2-level Teen Club – The Brakmen noticed the experienced “Great Imposters” watching their show. They found out later that “The Great Imposters” had no crowd and the entire club was watching The Six Wild Brakmen tear up the Teen Club. Sandy Jackson was ecstatic along with several DJ-Agents in attendance – later to become The Brakmen managers – Scott Cameron and Joe Svoboda.
Area DJ’s started calling the band “The Six Wild Screaming Brakmen" due to Schultz screaming louder than the band PA. They signed with Cameron and started to tour outside of the Fremont-Omaha area. They played for over 20,000 people at the Winterset Iowa Fairgrounds, played for a week in Estes Park, Colorado, opened for The Buckinghams, and later for Paul Revere & The Raiders in Des Moines, Iowa. The group even had their own Fremont Teen Club named after them – on West Military Avenue – called The Brak-Up Club. Appearing at The Brak-Up Club were “The T-Bones” playing their hit “No Matter What Shape”. This band eventually became Hamilton-Joe Frank & Reynolds. The club also featured a performance of “The Archies”.
During the summer Iowa tour, Schultz announced he was going to leave the band, but they fortunately found another “wild and crazy” musician – Eric Stark – who had played in a number of local Fremont bands before becoming a Brakmen.
By this time they had adopted 19th Century French Brakemen outfits, made by Stark's mother and posed in and around trains for promo pictures and posters.
It was about this time their managers suggested a recording. They recorded their first and only 45-RPM Vinyl record at A4 Studio in Council Bluffs, Iowa. “Minutes & Minutes” written by Gordon Kruse and Bob Kellogg was backed with “Movin’” penned by Jim Ladd and Kellogg.
It was released on LSK Records (2-Ladds, Stark and Shultz and Kruse-Kellogg). Jim and Jerry’s father, Jack Ladd, paid for the production, recording and pressing. He is shown as producer on the record.
Although the record reputedly sold well, the band made only $6.38 each on the record. The record today is highly collectable and is listed in several national vinyl record price guides as a “must have” for Midwest “garage” and “pre-punk” records.
Shortly after the release of the record, Landy Landholm left the band and was replaced by Bernie Fletcher on keys. About that time the band experienced “Near Stardom” when Jim Ladd was flown to Greenwich Village in New York City, New York to discuss contract negotiations with several national labels.
The band agent – Scott Cameron with CBC Enterprises in Omaha set up the interviews, including talks with Kasenetz & Katz (Buddah & White Whale Records), RCA and Roulette Records.
Kasenetz and Katz had also signed Professor Morrison’s Lollipop (The Coachmen) to White Whale Records (The Turtles). They were also involved with Buddah Records (The Smoke Ring) and had tried to sign Omaha’s Fay Hogan Experiment. Kasenetz and Katz took various bands on the road, billed at “Kazenetz & Katz Singing Orchestral Circus, including members of Tommy James & The Shondells, Ohio Express, Professor Morrison’s Lollipop, 1910 Fruitgum Company and others.
The Brakmen had been given a cute little song called “Mony Mony”. By the time Jim Ladd returned to the Fremont with the song and contract in hand, Kruse had been drafted for military service in Southeast Asia. There were also some disagreements between the band and management as to “who would tour and who would not”. Since most of the band wanted to remain in school to keep their college deferment in place, the formal signing of the contract never materialized.
Obviously “Mony Mony” was given to Tommy James, became a monster hit and a million seller a 2nd time around by Billy Idol.
Tom Rogers joined the band on guitar, taking Kruse’s place and the band continued till around 1969. Jerry Ladd got drafted, and even though the lucrative gigs continued, the group eventually drifted apart later that year. The Six Wild Brakmen were one of the most visual, exciting and memorable of Nebraska’s great 60’s rock bands. The Nebraska Music Hall of Fame is honored to induct them into The Hall of Fame in 2001.