LaRue: In the 1960s, The Deacons were one hot local rock ’n’ roll band

Staff WriterApril 9, 2014 

The Deacons pose for a photo in 1965. From left are Jim Sola, John Sandvig, Michael Boyd, Dave “Duke” Luther and John Radke.

COURTESY OF THE DEACONS

When Michael Boyd and John Radke began college at Pacific Lutheran University, they were former high school classmates with the same goal: to start a rock ’n’ roll band.

Hey, it was the ’60s.

“John Radke played the saxophone and I played guitar, and we’d played together in a couple of bands in high school in Bothell,” Boyd said. “His parents sent him to PLU, and I followed him, and we found Jim Sola and John Sandvig, who were from Ballard. They had the same idea we had.”

And guitarist Dave Luther?

“I think ‘Duke’ was playing in his basement,” Boyd said.

The five got together, and when Luther joined, Boyd turned in his guitar for a bass. The group started practicing, with permission, in the PLU choir room.

It was late 1964. They called themselves The Deacons.

“We played The Red Carpet Club in Tacoma, which was a teen club that didn’t serve drinks,” Sola said. “We became pretty popular. For three or four years, we played clubs on base at Fort Lewis, did proms and high school dances.

“We were the first band to play rock music at a PLU dance in ’65.”

They played roller rinks in Puyallup and The Evergreen Ballroom in Lacey. They got radio play and a Top Ten hit, “You Can’t Get There From Here,” in Puyallup.

“We had a loyal following in Puyallup,” Radke said with a laugh. “We charted there.”

In the years they were together, The Deacons played more than 350 gigs in the Northwest, mostly in Pierce County. They were known as much for their stage act as their music.

“We had some serious steps,” Luther said of the choreography. “One song, we were all doing the Charleston. We’d go side to side like The Temptations, and always managed to be in front of the mike at the right time.

“And I had a guitar solo where I’d fall backwards, one or two of the guys would catch me and throw me back up on my feet without missing a note.”

Lead singer Sandvig laughed at that memory.

“We weren’t gifted showmen, but our hearts were in it,” Sandvig said. “We had a lot of fun together. We were like brothers.”

By 1968, they were playing 17 dates a month. Their popularity was growing.

And then it all stopped.

“What broke us up was the Vietnam War,” Radke said. “We were all getting draft notices. Luther went into the Army, two of us went into the Navy Reserve, Mike Boyd went to pre-med …”

So what ever happened to The Deacons?

 • Drummer Sola, 68, is the chief financial operator at the federal veterans hospital in Boise, Idaho. He plays in two bands now and remembers The Deacons: “Every time we were onstage, we had fun together. We’re all still in touch.”

 • Guitarist Luther, who attended the Lutheran Bible Institute of Seattle while the band was starting, worked as a horticulturist for Seattle for 37 years. Now retired, he lives in Springfield, Ore. “I wasn’t Eric Clapton, but we were a good band and good friends.”

 • Saxophonist Radke, 68, went into electronics, then software, and is now president of Bio Research in Milwaukee – and the inventor of dental software systems used worldwide. “We tailored each performance to the audience. We could do teen music, do a Detroit sound for another audience, rock ’n’ roll for another.”

 • Lead singer Sandvig, 68, got into radio and was the sales manager for Seattle’s KISW. He also ran AM and FM stations in Madison, Wis. He now lives on Camano Island. “I think all five us would admit, to that point in our lives, The Deacons was the best thing that ever happened to us. We loved what we were doing.”

 • Bassist Boyd, 67, became a family doctor and founded a clinic, Olympia Family Internal Medicine. He retired in Olympia last June, and now plays bass for Daryl and the Diptones, a rock group that has performances scheduled in Tacoma and Gig Harbor this month. “I love those guys in The Deacons. Playing rock ’n’ roll onstage was visceral — and it’s every bit as much fun now.”

This year, Sandvig found the tape from a four-song recording session the group did in 1968. He sent it to Sola, who’s having it digitized.

“It’s going to be strange, hearing us playing so long ago,” Sola said.

What will the group do with the tape?

“Share it with the five of us,” Sandvig said. “Our days in front of high school kids are over. What those years meant to us is hard to explain. We’ve performed twice at reunions, and if someone asked us to play again, it would be hard to say no.”

Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638
larry.larue@thenewstribune.com

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