Left to right: Gary Klebe, John Murphy, Jeff Murphy
Three from Zion
Prologue: Listen to the Music Playing in Your Head
by Ed Turner
"Who didn't want to be in a band?" Jeff Murphy laughs, recalling the garage band fervour that gripped his hometown of Zion, IL in the mid-Ď60ís. Itís a phenomenon he maps with the Beatles' arrival on these shores in '64. Today, fifty-plus years later, he speaks for a generation that came under the spell of the British Invasion: "We defined our childhood by each new Beatles album and Top 40 radio airplay."
A member of legendary power pop band, Shoes, Murphy - record label owner, music producer and audio engineer by day - is speaking from his home in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The youngest of two, Jeff followed the arrival of his brother, John (born November, 1953) by a year and one week.
As the "tag-along kid brother," Jeff remembers, he found himself drawn to the ranks of his older sibling's circle of friends. Among that circle, as luck - or destiny - would have it, was a school friend of John's named Gary Klebe. On appearances alone, the two couldn't have seemed more different.
A naturally gifted artist, his innate talent already - strikingly - evident at an early age, John drifted through the halls of high school, a withdrawn figure. Six-foot-two Klebe, on the other hand, excelled in intramural sports (baseball, basketball, football); off the field, he cut a high-profile path for himself in the offices of Student Government.
Their paths would intersect their sophomore year when Klebe noticed John's facility for sketching caricatures - in this case, one of their teachers. At the time, Klebe was recruiting talent for an underground student newspaper he was putting together; duly impressed by his classmate's work, Klebe brought John on board as a contributing artist.
Jeff, meanwhile, being more mechanically-inclined, was busy tinkering with radio tubes, fascinated by the inner workings of transistorized radios... unsurprisingly, perhaps, given that his father worked in consumer electronics at Silvertone.
In a certain sense, the foundational pieces of the band, the musical force, these three would one day become were already falling into place. One day...
For now though, Jeff Murphy circles back to a Midwestern childhood in Zion.
By their mid-teens, the Murphy's and Klebe found themselves straining against the yoke of small-town life in Zion, IL. And not without reason, one might argue. Founded in the late 19th century, Zion was a city tethered to an antiquated moral code. The sale of alcohol was outlawed, and without alcohol, there were no bars. Without nightclubs, there was no dancing. Without either, there were no bands. And so it went.
In their puritanical zeal to establish - in Murphy's words - "a religious utopia," the founding fathers left Zion time-locked; and it would take decades for the shackles to loosen. Tobacco sales, pool halls - even picture houses - were all "fairly recent concessions to modern life" in Zion, Murphy notes. What really upped the ante though came beaming into Zion across the airwaves. By the late Ď60ís, AM radio had ceded much of its power to the emergent FM, "underground radio" and AOR. Suddenly, turning the station dial was like spinning a new combination; in this case, one that freed the locking mechanism on a long-held dream.
After all, who didn't want to be in a band?
John and Gary graduated high school in 1971. While John remained in Zion, attending a local junior college, Gary left for the University of Illinois in Urbana. Distance however did nothing to dampen their aspirations to rock stardom. In letters to each other, they began channeling their creative energies into an ongoing two-man cartoon series featuring their million-selling "supergroup," a band they called Shoes. Along the way, Jeff, who was working at a local Radio Shack, joined in, printing "faux newspaper articles proclaiming the musical upheaval that was taking place in Zion, IL because of Shoes."
Fake newspaper stories... a cartoon series about a cartoon band, syndicated in letters between two high school friends... a mock Rolling Stone magazine featuring Shoes as cover stars... As origin stories go, theirs is one of the unique entries in rock. And so the saga began.
See part 2 of our Shoes articles series
Also see our 2004 interview with Shoes
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