Big Island

Hard rockin’ band writes songs for an anti-war movie



Big Island (and The Perspectives)

1967:  The Perspectives form with the following lineup:  Gail Winkler, David Winkler, and Gary Winkler on lead vocals; Dan Maanum on guitar; Bob Christenson on keyboards; Steve Pickford on trumpet; Ed Engler on bass guitar; and Danny Wolf on drums.  The band plays Top-40 cover songs including a large number of Motown hits.  The band is managed by club owners Bobby McCay (Bobby’s) and Pat Rains (The Prison). Dick Shapiro of Central Booking Agency is the booking agent for the group.  The band members are from Minneapolis and practice at the home of Dan Maanum in St. Louis Park. The band plays at high school dances and at the teen clubs in the Twin Cities including Mr. Lucky’s, and Bimbo’s. 

Mid/Late 1969: After going through some changes in members the band now consists of: Dan Maanum on guitar and vocals; Bob Christenson on keyboards and vocals; Paul Gagner on guitar and vocals; Rob Witte on guitar and vocals; Jim Roland on trumpet, conga, percussion, and vocals; Ed Engler on bass guitar; and John Hughes on drums.  The band is now booked with Central Booking Agency and play the ballroom circuit in town and out state Minnesota.  The group plays the popular Top-40 songs of the era.   

Early, 1970: The Perspectives go through some changes in the band members and come up with a new name for the band: Big Island.  Big Island is an island (used as a park) located in Lake Minnetonka, a popular recreational lake located West of Minneapolis.  In the early part of the 1900’s Big Island was the site of an amusement park.  

Big Island becomes a six-piece band with the following lineup: Paul Gagner on guitar and vocals; Rob Witte on guitar and vocals; Ed Engler on bass guitar; Jim Roland on trumpet, conga and percussion and vocals; Jeff Kartak on saxophone and vocals; and Tom Hagstrom on drums.  With two horn players in the band the group transitions to a horn band and also add jazz – rock songs to the set.  The band plays cover songs by Chicago; Blood, Sweat and Tears; and Electric Flag… among others.  Paul and Rob start writing original songs for the band.  Jeff Kartak also writes original songs for the band.   

Big Island plays cover songs by The Allman Brothers, The Moody Blues, Blood Sweat and Tears, Buffalo Springfield, Traffic, Blind Faith, Boz Scaggs, and Sly and the Family Stone, among others.  Paul, Rob, and Jim trade off on the lead vocals.  The band plays the popular clubs in town including The Depot (downtown Minneapolis) The Prison (Burnsville) and New City Opera House (Minneapolis).   

Paul and Ed are renting a house in Excelsior.  Don Stoltz, the owner of the Old Log Theater in Excelsior, lets the band rehearse at the scene shop located on the theater property.  

Local singer, songwriter and record producer, Don Powell (now living in Los Angeles and working for Motown Records) is contacted by a Los Angeles film production company who are producing an anti-war film to be called “Waste – A1” and are looking for music for the soundtrack.  Don informs the producers he knows a band in Minneapolis who can write and record original songs for the movie, Big Island.  The “A-1” in the movie title refers to a draft status at the time and the film is an anti- war movie based on a book written by William Johnson called “The LBJ Brigade.”  The Vietnam War has caused a great deal of anti-war sentiment in the country at this time.  The recording takes place at Sound 80 in Edina with Tom Jung doing the engineering.   

The six-piece version of Big Island records ten songs for the movie: 

1. “Sky Cream”

2. “Times”

3. “Swego”

4. “Two Thoughts”

5. “Splatter”

6. “Reamed”

7. “In Honor of the Owl”

8. “Roll Along”

9. “Golden Rose”

10. “Mosquito Guts” 

The movie “Waste – A1” features actor Christopher King in the lead role (he is also one of the producers) and is filmed in the Los Angeles area.  William Johnson writes the screenplay and is also the director.  The film is completed but the production company is unable to get a distribution deal so the movie is never released.  Dom Powell brings a copy of the film to Minneapolis and rents out the Hopkins Theater for one night for a showing.  The only other showing is at the Director’s Guild in Los Angeles.  No soundtrack album from the movie is ever released.   

1972:  The band goes through some changes in members and a new five-piece version of Big Island emerges with: Paul Gagner on guitar and vocals; Rob Witte on guitar and vocals; Ronn Roberts on guitar and vocals; Fred Jack on bass guitar and vocals; and Tom Hagstrom on drums.  This version of the band records five original songs with the intention of recording enough material for an album and obtaining an album deal with a major record label.  Paul Gagner, Rob Witte and Ed Engler produce the songs. The five songs are:  

1. “Crosstown”

2. “Humble Eyes”

3. “Outlaw”

4. “Mama You Help Me”

5. “Silver Teardrop” 

1972/1973: Although Ed Engler is no longer playing in the band, he works at promoting the band.   

Late, 1973: Ed Engler travels to Los Angeles to shop the tape of the five original songs.  Columbia – Epic show some interest in the band but not enough to sign them.  ABC Dunhill and other major labels also pass on signing the band.  Ed runs into the Allman Brothers in the lobby of the Radisson South Hotel in Bloomington and gives a tape to Dicky Betts.  The band eventually gets a letter from Capricorn Records stating they have signed the Marshal Tucker Band and have passed on Big Island.   

Late 1973/Early 1974: Big Island comes to an end and some of the band members join up with members of Cisco Grove and a second version of Cisco Grove emerges with the following lineup:  Paul Gagner on guitar and vocals; Rob Witte on guitar and vocals; Ronn Roberts on guitar ands vocals; Bill Dowd on guitar and vocals; Fred Jack on bass guitar and vocals; and Tom Hagstrom on drums.  The band is booked by Bill Pluta and play in Minnesota, South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Wyoming (one job) and Winnipeg, Canada.  The band gets a steady job at the Home Bar (formerly The Gables) in Minneapolis that lasts for one year.

Summer, 1975:  Paul Gagner and Fred Jack leave Cisco Grove and join a country rock band called Wolf Creek.  Cisco Grove continues to play up to 1979.  Wolf Creek plays up to 1978. 


In October, 2013, Paul Gagner and Ed Engler recalled that Big Island opened up concerts for the following national bands:  Country Joe and the Fish; Traffic; James Gang; Sha Na Na; Joe Cocker; Edgar Winter (with Rick Derringer); Paul Butterfield Blues Band (with Mark Naftalin); and Leon Redbone.


Written by Tom Campbell

March 19, 2015

Copyright by Thomas R. Campbell 2015. 

All Rights reserved.


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