How Minnesota rocked in the 60s: The story behind 'Surfin' Bird'

Everybody's heard about The Bird
Cover for "Everybody's heard about The Bird: The true story of 1960s Rock N Roll in Minnesota," by Rick Shefchik, published by the University of MInnesota Press.
University of Minnesota Press

"Surfin' Bird" was the biggest hit to come out of Minnesota in the 1960s — but The Trashmen weren't the only young rock and roll band in town.

The new book "Everbody's Heard About the Bird: The True Story of 1960s Rock N Roll in Minnesota" by veteran Minnesota journalist Rick Shefchik tells the story of The Trashmen — and the bands that came before and after.

"Surfin' Bird" was released before the assassination of John F. Kennedy, but didn't become popular until after JFK was killed.

"It was almost like the nation was looking to say, 'I don't want to be this serious any more, I'm looking for something goofy, I'm looking for something fun,'" Shefchik told MPR News' Cathy Wurzer.

The Trashmen at Kay Bank Studio
The Trashmen at Kay Bank Studio in Minneapolis circa 1963.
Courtesy of Mike Jann | Sundazed

Song parody artist Weird Al Yankovic once made the case that The Trashmen deserve a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:

"They stripped rock 'n' roll to its very core. They peeled back the layers of the onion of rock. "Surfin' Bird" was inarguably loud, dumb and pointless. It was absolutely everything that was great about rock 'n' roll, distilled into one song. Also — and this is no small feat — I think that this song finally, once and for all, conclusively proved that the bird was, in fact, the word."

WDGY disc jockey Bill Diehl
WDGY disc jockey Bill Diehl frequently gave away records at concerts that he promoted.
St. Paul Pioneer Press

Shefchik describes how the presence of the Soma Records label, the Kay Bank recording studio and two Twin Cities rock and roll stations paved the way for a thriving music scene that produced bands like The Bops, The Escapades, and Gypsy. The latter is considered perhaps the best Minnesota band of the era, but never rose out of the Twin Cities. "They never really caught the brass ring like the Trashmen did," said Shefchik.

The Underbeats changed their name to Gypsy
The Underbeats changed their name to Gypsy and moved to Los Angeles in 1968.
Courtesy Denny Johnson | Minniep

The book also portrays the influential figures behind the scenes of Minnesota rock, like Amos Heilicher, founder of Soma Records, and disc jockey Bill Diehl, the Dick Clark of the Twin Cities. "Everbody's Heard About the Bird: The True Story of 1960s Rock N Roll in Minnesota" is available now on University of Minnesota Press.

Wednesday at the Electric Fetus record store in Minneapolis, Shefchik will be joined by members of the Trashmen, the Bops, the Underbeats, the Gestures and the Castaways. Expect to hear some 60s rock, Minnesota-style.

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