MRRL Hall of Fame
TIM TAM AND THE TURN-ONS
- Category: Inductees
- Created: Tuesday, 04 June 2019 04:59
- Written by Gary Johnson
Tim Tam and the Turn-Ons was a six-man vocal group from Allen Park, Michigan. Blessed with the high falsettso voice of lead singer Rick Wiesend (a.k.a. Tim Tam), the group combined doo wop with the more contemporary sound of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons to record several singles on the Palmer Records. The group’s classic debut single, “Wait A Minute”, was a Top Ten hit on radio stations all across Michigan, and it reached # 76 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1966.
The group came together at Allen Park High School where they all sang in the concert and was composed of Rick Wiesend, Danny Wiesend, Don Grundman, Nick Butsicaris, John Ogen, and Earl Rennie. All were good friends and they practiced their vocals in the basement of Rick and Danny’s family home at the corner of Fox and Garfield.
Interestingly enough, they took their name from Tim Tam, an American thoroughbred racehorse that won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes in 1958. The horse was favored to win the Triple Crown, but coming down the stretch with a sizeable lead in the Belmont Stakes, Tim Tam fractured a sesamoid bone and hobbled across the finish line in second place.
The Turn-Ons name was taken from Timothy Leary counterculture catchphrase “Turn on, tune in, drop out”, used to promote his philosophy of mind expansion and personal truth through LSD. The somewhat retro sound of the group, however, was a far cry from psychedelic music their name implied.
“Wait A Minute”, the song that would make them famous, was co-written by Rick Wiesend and Tom DeAngelo. DeAngelo, also a Allen Park High grad, was better-known as DJ Johnny Williams of CKLW. The song was recorded in December of 1965 at United Sounds Systems in Detroit, and Wiesend and DeAngelo arranged and produced the session. The backing on the recording, which included the instrumental “Ophelia” as the flipside, was done by a young band from Allen Park High called The Satellites.
The Satellites were freshmen at Allen Park High when they signed with Ann Marston in October of 1965. Marston was a TV personality, former archery champion, and the 1960 Miss Michigan who had started managing bands in the 1960s after promoting live concerts with Frank Sweeney of radio station WKNR. The band members were Dave Fero on lead guitar, Frank Schiavulli on drums, Ken Sipos on rhythm guitar, Carl Sweets on bass, and Frank Vargo on lead vocals.
Now managed by DeAngelo, Tim Tam and the Turn-Ons signed a recording contract with Palmer Records. The label was owned by John Kaplan and Tom Schlesinger and located at 3401 Lyndon in Detroit. “Wait A Minute” was released in February of 1966. It’s contemporary rock meets doo wop sound resonated with record buyers resulting in an immediate hit in Michigan, reaching # 3 at WKNR in Detroit and # 3 at WPAG in Ann Arbor, and reportedly selling 30,000 copies during the first month of its release.
Despite being on the small Palmer label, “Wait A Minute” became the first, and only, single by the group to reach the Hot 100 when it peaked at # 76 in early 1966. The song also got a spin on American Bandstand, but Dick Clark mistakenly introduced “Wait A Minute” as by Tim “Tom” and the Turn-Ons. Watch the video of "Wait A Minute" on American Bandstand: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YyfUyYw1CTY
Tim Tam an the Turn-ons’ follow-up single, “Cheryl Ann”, was another danceable, radio-friendly single that proudly displayed its doo wop roots, highlighted by Rick Wiesend’s incredible falsetto vocal. The song was composed by outside writers, and produced by Wiesend and DeAngelo along with Milt Olsson. Released in May of 1966, it was nearly as good as “Wait A Minute”, but “Cheryl Ann” was a lesser hit, peaking # 11 at WKNR and # 13 at WTRX in Flint and failing to reach the Billboard Hot 100.
A month after the release of “Cheryl Ann”, The Satellites went to United Sound to record a demo of “I Believe” and “Midnight Hour” The demo was mixed by Les Cooley, who would soon engineer “Persecution Smith” by Bob Seger & The Last Heard. After releasing the demo, The Satellites won WXYZ-TV’s Talent Town competition. The top prize was a stereo console, and the band decided to keep it in Frank Vargo’s basement where they rehearsed.
The third hit single on Palmer Records by the group was “Kimberly”. Written by Milt Olsson and Rick Wiesend and produced by Olsson and Tom DeAngelo. Listed on the label as by Tim Tam and the Turn-ons with the Tim Tam Brass. Once again prominently featuring Rick Wiesend’s falsetto lead, “Kimberly” was not as catchy as the group’s two previous releases and it received less radio airplay as a result.
By 1967 the group had splintered and the final Palmer 45, “Don’t Say Hi” was released in early 1967 as just by Tim Tam. Featuring brass backing, it was nowhere as strong as any of the previous singles, and it ended up being the final Palmer release.
Rick Wiesend dropped the Tim Tam moniker after the failure of the “Don’t Say Hi” single and adopted the new stage name of Rick Reason. He released a garage-style single called “I Feel So Bad” under the moniker of Rick Reason and The Satellites in 1967 on Mar-Vel label out of Hammond, Indiana. Co-written with Tom DeAngelo, the song dispensed with Wiesend’s trademark falsetto. It proved to be his final single, although “I Feel So Bad” was re-released in the 1970s with a different B-side.
In 1968, The Satellites changed their name to the Blue Feeling.
Lead singer Rick Wiesend passed away in 2003 from cancer.
In 2009, two 12-unit apartment buildings in Allen Park that had been owned by Rick and Danny Wiesend’s father and named after Tim Tam and the Turn-Ons were deemed a neighborhood nuisance and demolished by the city at a cost of $70,000. The two buildings, one named ‘Tim Tam’ and the other ‘The Turn-Ons’ , had been boarded up recent years and were scheduled for demolition after the current owner did not make the needed repairs.
In 2019, Tim Tam and the Turn-Ons were voted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Internet Hall of Fame. "Wait A Minute" was voted a Legendary Michigan Song in 2020.
MRRL Hall of Fame: https://www.michiganrockandrolllegends.com/mrrl-hall-of-fame
Grit, Noise, And Revolution: The Birth Of Detroit Rock 'N' Roll by David A. Carson
The Satellites-Blue Feeling by Dennis Girard from the Garage Hangover site
Tim Tam and the Turn-Ons on Wikipedia
Tim Tam and the Turn-Ons postings by Ric Allen on the Michigan Music History site