Ill Wind History

The Ill Wind Begins

In the 1960's, a new era of creativity began. The post WW II values of the 1940's and 50's had begun to show cracks and a new generation, dissatisfied with rigid social boundaries, the Vietnam war and what they perceived as shallow materialism, created a new counter-culture. This change was ripe with opportunities for young musicians of the time, allowing them the freedom to explore new, creative possibilities. The Ill Wind was a result of that perfect storm.

The seeds of the Ill Wind took root in 1965 at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts when Ken Frankel, a biophysics graduate student, met Carey Mann, a math graduate student, and they decided to start a rock band. Multi instrumentalist Ken, although only 23 at the time, had been playing professionally for 7 years, first in high school in L.A. as lead guitarist in a successful rock band, and then at U.C. Berkeley on banjo, mandolin, and guitar. Ken had played in bluegrass and old-time bands in the San Francisco Bay Area with people such as Jerry Garcia, Robert Hunter, Richard Greene, Sandy Rothman, and Rick Shubb, as well as lead guitar in a college rock band that played bars and fraternity parties. Carey Mann was also a young but experienced musician. In high school in Pennsylvania, Carey played piano in a Dixieland band. In college at MIT, Carey won awards as the guitarist in the school's highly respected jazz band.

About the same time Ken and Carey started playing together, Ken became the accompanist on guitar, banjo, and mandolin for Norm and Judy, a folk duo with Judy Bradbury, an award winning Boston folk singer, and Norm Gan, another ex-MIT student. A few months later, Carey also joined this group as the bass player. Shortly thereafter, Ken and Carey invited Judy to join their rock-group-in-progress. With Ken and Carey on guitars and vocals, Judy's exceptional singing voice, and a couple MIT classmates of Ken and Carey on bass and drums, they had the nucleus of their rock band.

The group began to rehearse regularly, and Ken and Carey started writing songs for the band. They auditioned at a couple local clubs, but couldn't seem to get booked for decent paying performances. In the early sixties, most music venues in New England only hired bands who played exact copies of top-40 songs and who dressed conservatively, preferably in band uniforms. Not only did their new band play original music, but Ken and Carey had full beards and long hair and both dressed somewhat unusually. Club owners didn't know what to make of them.

As the band began to evolve toward an original, creative sound, both the bass player and the drummer (who had jazz backgrounds) lost interest in the direction Ken and Carey were headed, and in late 1965, both quit within a short time of each other. Ken and Carey put adds for replacements on local bulletin boards. Richard Zvonar Griggs responded, and it was immediately obvious he fit in, as he not only liked what the band was doing, but was also a song writer and lead singer. Richard, a MIT undergraduate student, had made his stage debut in 1965 as part of his dormitory's music group. The following fall (spent working in LA), he bought his first electric guitar, formed a band called the Mersey Blues, and began to play bar gigs in Santa Monica. Because Richard was a rhythm guitarist, not a bass player, Carey (who can play anything) agreed to switch to bass guitar as well as continue singing. Ken became the lead guitarist, and gave up singing.

Dave Kinsman saw the band's ad for a drummer, and auditioned. Again, it was immediately obvious to both Dave and the band that he fit in perfectly. In his high school in Stoneham, Massachusetts, Dave played in a rock band named The Lesser Evils, which made it to the finals of the New England Battle of the Bands.

The Ill Wind Becomes Successful

They now had a full band, and a style of music that was interesting and unique, with three excellent lead singers. However, they had no jobs, and a name that didn't work, The Prophets, which they came up with because both Ken and Carey had full beards. The problem was that there were several other bands with the same name. After making a list of about 100 names, and not liking any of them, the group finally settled on naming themselves after the title of one of Ken's songs, Ill Wind. The band began rehearsing more intensely than ever, concentrating on original songs. They auditioned for jobs again, but met with great resistance. Venue bookers would ask them what hit songs they played, and the band would tell them that they play mostly their own songs. The bookers would then say that was a dumb idea, nobody wanted to hear a band play their own songs, and to call back when they had a better repertoire.

It was the summer of 1966, and the band still hadn't had one good job. Then, just by luck, they got a couple of jobs playing for teens at dance halls. The response was enthusiastic and overwhelming. "The Sixties" had begun, and the kids knew what they wanted - original creative music, not just cover songs. They loved the Ill Wind, and within a month word of the band had spread and the Ill Wind was suddenly in great demand. The more people liked them, the more jobs they got, and the better they got. Soon they were doing complex three-part harmonies with their three lead singers, and long psychedelic jams during songs.

Because they were performing mostly original songs, and audiences were so enthusiastic, the band decided to make a demo. Terry Hanley, who had sold them their sound equipment, had just built a small recording studio and offered to record them cheaply. Just after the band recorded their first takes, vocalist Judy decided she wasn't comfortable with the intense commitment required due to the Ill Wind's sudden success. Because of this new pressure and increasing time demands, Judy left the band.

The Ill Wind's popularity was rapidly growing, performances were booked, the band's demo recording was in progress, and now they were losing their female singer. The band auditioned several replacement singers, but Conny Devanney stood out among the applicants and was immediately asked to join the Ill Wind. Conny started singing professionally in a folk group in 1960 called the Cumberland Singers, and had performed at Gertie's Folk City and the Bitter End, as well as some smaller nightclubs in New Jersey. The line-up was once again stabilised. With Conny replacing Judy on the recordings and adding some new parts, Ken playing lead guitar, Richard playing rhythm guitar and vocals, Carey on bass and vocals, and Dave on drums, they finished their demo with Terry Hanley.

With bookings pouring in, the group asked Ken's brother Tom Frankel to help manage the band and balance the sound during performances. Tom also became co-writer with Ken of most of the band's songs. This was before bands had instruments going through accessible mixing boards, so they worked out a unique system where Tom balanced the band's sound with hand signals, and the band members adjusted their volumes accordingly - the number of fingers on the left hand to indicate the band member, and the other hand motioning up or down for volume. The band also added a road manager, Richard Oullette, who became Bird because Ouellette looks and sounds like the French song Alouette about a skylark. The name evolved to become Berred (to be a little different) and to this day Berred is his first name, both professionally and socially - ah, the Sixties.

The group gigged solidly throughout the new year, at colleges and resorts from Cape Cod to Maine, and as far west as Amherst. They became a mainstay at The Boston Tea Party, the New England equivalent to San Francisco's Fillmore and Avalon. The band decided to record some professional demos, in order to capture their improving sound, and perhaps to eventually get a record deal. They hired Dick Weissman as a producer. Dick had recently left the folk-pop band The Journeymen (with John Phillips and Scott McKenzie) to be a studio musician and producer, and was a perfect choice for the Ill Wind. They recorded two songs at Capitol Records studio in New York, and were offered a tentative contract by Capitol Records, based on one of these recordings, the most "pop" song in their repertoire.

The band had been picked up by William Morris Talent Agency, and were playing major colleges throughout New England. They travelled to California to play a few gigs, including the Matrix and California Hall in San Francisco. Ironically, within a week the band was lured back to the East Coast by The Eye, a club in Long Island, New York. After scouting over 100 California bands, the Long Island club told the Ill Wind that they were the best band we found in California and the band flew back to the East coast for an extended 7-night-a-week gig (The Eye advertised the band as Ill Wind from San Francisco). This was supposed to be a several-month gig, but it was cut short when Capitol Records got in touch to say they were almost ready to finalize the band's record contract, but wanted to hear a few more demos just to make sure. The band went back to New York City to record another three songs with Dick Weissman producing. These songs were more in line with the actual band sound, having more of a psychedelic and rock flavor. After listening to the new recordings, Capitol changed its mind, as they really wanted a more "pop" band.

The Ill Wind Records an Album and Becomes Almost Famous

The band heard that Tom Wilson had just started his own production company, and was looking for bands. Tom Wilson was the producer who had added electric instruments to the folk sounds of Bob Dylan, and Simon & Garfunkel, and had also produced The Velvet Underground and The Mothers of Invention. The band arranged for Wilson to hear their demos, and Wilson immediately signed them to a recording contract with his new company. Within a short time, the Ill wind was in a new New York studio, recording an album for ABC Records, with the famous Tom Wilson producing.

At first this seemed an amazing opportunity, but things aren't always what they seem. Just because a producer works well for one type of band, doesn't mean he works well with every band, and certainly doesn't mean he can put together a top notch production company. In many ways, the whole record situation was a disaster, which often happens when bands, their music and record companies collide.

After their wonderful experiences with Dick Weissman as a very hands-on producer, the band was shocked at Tom Wilson's unexplained lack of focus in the studio. They were inexperienced and wanted a strong producer, but Wilson spent most of the time reading the newspaper or talking on the telephone. Following the hasty atmosphere of the recording, Wilson excluded them from the mixing sessions, which were not done to the band's taste or satisfaction. The band had a wonderful cover proposal by a local artist, but ABC insisted that they needed a cover photo in one week, because they wanted to release the album right away. ABC arranged for an uninspired studio photo, and then didn't release the album for six more months. When the first series of albums was released, there was a mistake in the pressing process, and the song High Flying Bird had a skip where an ending phrase repeated three times. The photos on the back of the album were accidentally printed so dark that you couldn't tell what they were. Finally, ABC didn't print enough albums to meet the high demand, and many stores couldn't obtain them, despite putting in multiple orders.

Nonetheless, Ill Wind's album Flashes was fairly well received. It was played often on the radio, especially in New England. The band was paid well for performances, amounts that (in today's dollars) would shock contemporary musicians. Ken laughs about it now. We didn't think these fees were impressive - I guess we were pretty naive!. Ill Wind performed with many well know bands, including The Who, Fleetwood Mac, The Byrds, Moby Grape, Van Morrison, The Rascals, the Buckinghams, and Mitch Ryder. The band gigged regularly at the Boston Tea Party and started a free music in the park series in Cambridge. They became important leaders of the New England rock scene, and were recognized on the street.

The band members had lots of fun and interesting experiences. The Ill Wind played with Chuck Berry, and not only played three sets (with Chuck playing two sets in between), but also Ken, Carey and Dave were Chuck's backup band during his sets. Exhausting, but a great experience, especially for Ken who learned to play rock by listening to Chuck. Chuck Berry gave Ken a couple solos during the show (a rare occurrence for Chuck's backup band). The band's most amazing experience was at a concert in Maine, where the opening band loved the Ill Wind's album so much they had learned every song from it, note for note, and performed the entire album before the Ill Wind took the stage. (Perhaps these guys were the first "tribute" band.) It was a little weird for the Ill Wind to go on stage and play the same songs that the opening band had just played, but these were the "hit" songs from their album, so they played them anyway. An interesting sidelight is that this opening band learned the songs from a defective album that had the end phrase of High Flying Bird repeated 3 times, and so performed that song with the repeated section. They thought that was how the song went. Their female singer asked Conny how she managed to sing that difficult part three times in a row (Conny filled her in).

When Ill Wind performed with The Who, Richard remembered Entwistle and Moon kept to themselves, and it was clear that Moon was drinking heavily. He got especially carried away during their destructo-bit at the end and started throwing bits of his kit into the audience, who were busily attempting to invade the stage. Finally Keith staggered offstage, kicking Dave Kinsman's drum kit over on his way and smashing his fist through a window and cutting himself rather badly, which put a damper on our after-gig plans.

In 1968-1969, most of the band lived in a couple adjacent soon-to-be-demolished dormitories belonging to a nearby college. According to Richard, a variety of crashers would drop by, often including members of other local bands such as The Ultimate Spinach and the Chameleon Church (including Chevy Chase), though Ill Wind was never a party band.

The Ill Wind Changes, Breaks Up, Reforms, Changes, Breaks Up

In mid-1968, the band was poised to take a next step (whatever that might be), when Carey announced he was leaving the band. This was quite a blow, since Carey was one of the band's founders. The band replaced Carey with bass player/vocalist, Michael Walsh, and continued to perform through most of 1969.

In the basement of one of the dormitories where the band was living, Ken put together a 4-track recording studio, consisting of two cheap Sony 2-track reel-to-reel recorders with heads switched around, and some $10 Radio Shack stereo mixers. The purpose was to make some affordable demos of new songs, without having to pay for studio time, and perhaps regain control of the band's destiny from ABC records and Tom Wilson. In 1968, with Michael or Carey on bass and vocals on different songs, the Ill Wind recorded 5 songs on this makeshift equipment (the Wellesley Basement Recordings).

In late 1969, when Ken (who had married Judy Bradbury, the band's original singer) moved to Marin County in Northern California (which his friend Jerry Garcia had convinced him was the place to be for musicians), the band broke up.

In 1970 the Ill Wind reformed with all original members except Ken, with Carey rejoining on lead guitar and organ in place of Ken, Conny on vocals, Richard on rhythm guitar, Dave on drums, Michael on bass, and Berred the road manager for larger venues. After a few months, Carey quit again and was replaced eventually by Walter Bjorkman. In this form, the band carried on doing mostly covers for nearly a year. In 1971 Richard left, to be replaced eventually with Bryant Thayer on piano. In this configuration, with Connie and Dave as the only remaining members from the ABC album and with Michael still on bass, the band probably played more performances than ever before, but finally dissolved for good in 1973.

Their Lives After the Ill Wind

Today the surviving members of the Ill Wind remain in touch with each other. All but Ken still live in New England.

Ken Frankel became a successful real estate entrepreneur in Northern California. He owned and ran a major music venue, the Cotati Cabaret during, in the 1980's, and formed the classical group the Electric Guitar Quartet. Ken received his Ph.D. in Psychology, and is currently doing psychology research and continuing to perform professionally as a musician in Marin County, California.

Carey Mann played in a variety of bands on the club circuit through 1975, recording an album with Dirty John's Hot Dog Stand. He had always modified his instruments (wound his own pickups and refretted his electric guitars), but is most proud of completely rebuilding his Hammond organ into a different configuration, even adding semi-synthesizer stops. After Carey quit playing music full time, he developed a very successful career in computer technology. He still lives in Massachusetts, and continues to play rock professionally.

Conny Devanney owned and ran the well known booking agency CoCo (for Conny Company) for many years. She has never stopped singing professionally, and has been the lead singer with a dixieland band and in various bands doing jazz standards, including an 18-piece big band, and her own 7-piece band with whom she still performs.

After the final version of the Ill Wind broke up, David Kinsman played with John Lincoln Wright and the Sourmash Boys in 1974, but left the music business in 1975 and moved to Maine. There he started the successful bicycle parts company Downeast Bicycle, ran it for 20 years, raised a family, sold the company and retired.

Richard (Zvonar) Griggs received his Ph.D. in composition and music technology in 1982 and worked extensively both as a musician and intermedia artist, before his death in 2005. He created this Ill Wind web site, and was the driving force behind the CD reissue of our album in 2009.

Michael Walsh continued to be involved in music for over 30 years, working mostly out of Boston, but also Nashville and California. He played with many notable performers, including Jonathan Edwards, Tom Rush, Livingston Taylor, Vassar Clements, James Montgomery, John Pousette-Dart, Andy Pratt, Robin Lane, Mark Spoelstra, and Bill Stains. He currently lives in Vermont.

Judy (Bradbury) Frankel embarked on a successful solo singing career after an amicable divorce from Ken in 1989. She was internationally known as a singer and collector of Jewish Sephardic music. Judy lived in San Francisco for 30 years prior to her death in 2008.

Berred Ouellette became a successful recording engineer. He has worked on productions in England, France, Venezuela, and 49 of the 50 United States. He has toured with and/or recorded many famous performers, including Livingston Taylor, Tony Williams, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Aerosmith, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, J. Geils Band, Jethro Tull, The Beachboys, Linda Ronstadt, America, and dozens of national jazz acts, and continues to do so. He currently lives in Massachusetts.