Eric and the Norsemen

Bio
 
Known as the "Wildest Show in the Midwest," Eric and the Norsemen played to large and enthusiastic crowds in a nine-state area from 1965 to 1968. Although they were only together for less than four years, they have lived on in the memories of those who saw them. On March 18, 2006, they will be inducted into the Kansas Music Hall of Fame.
     
in the beginning

In the Fall of 1964, the original members of Eric and the Norsemen - Roger, Mike, Kenny and Jimmy - were students at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas. Roger and Mike were college roommates at the Lambda Chi fraternity. Roger played guitar. Mike was learning. In the spirit of the times, they decided to form a band. Another fraternity member, Ken Kramer, heard them practicing and offered to play bass guitar. Not only was he a really good bass player, but he even hand-built his custom electric bass. They decided to call the band "Eric and the Norsemen" and starting looking for a drummer. A girl that Roger knew suggested Jim Kocher, a very talented drummer who had started KU that fall. Roger and Mike talked "Jimmy" into joining the band, and the three of them would stay together for all of the Norsemen years.

Eric and the Norsemen played their first show on February 5, 1965 in Liberty, Missouri. It was the right place at the right time. Girls in the audience gave them kisses and asked for autographs. It was a great beginning. Throughout that Spring, they played on weekends in the college towns of Lawrence and Manhattan and in small towns around Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. Roger and Mike shared the vocals, MIke played lead guitar, and Roger played rythym guitar. Kenny and Jimmy supplied the bass and drums.

Although there was no "Eric" when the band started, audiences kept asking who he was. Roger assumed the role. A natural showman, he never stopped moving - singing, shouting, dancing, jumping, doing the "duckwalk," playing guitar over his head, behind his back and just about every other way imaginable. His performances of "Surfin' Bird" were legendary.

    

The early music included songs by the Kingsmen, Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones. When KU let out for the summer, the band hit the road. As the summer went on, the music got better, the crowds got bigger, and the Norsemen started the journey that would lead them, forty-one years later, to the Kansas Music Hall of Fame.

In the fall of 1965, the Norsemen returned to KU and continued to play in Lawrence or on the road every weekend. They started to build an enthusiastic following among college crowds in Lawrence and Manhattan, and played in clubs, armories, and auditoriums in several states.

 
the wildest show in the midwest

In December, 1965, Kenny left the band and was replaced by Forrest "Tree" Cloud (another Lambda Chi) on bass guitar. With the addition of Tree, the band had three strong vocalists. Although Tree did not sing lead, his backup and harmonies added a bigger and more powerful sound to the band. They added songs by groups such as Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Monkees, and British groups such as Them, the Kinks, and the Yardbirds.

    

With Tree in the line-up, the Norsemen developed the high-energy fun and excitement for which they became known. The music was loud ... and fast ... and great for dancing. The Norsemen had fun on stage, and the audiences had fun with them. The band started running radio ads on KOMA in Oklahoma City which broadcast its signal throughout the midwest and western U.S. During the summers of 1966 and 1967, kids would drive for hours to hear the Norsemen play. It was a signficant time in the lives of a lot of midwestern kids, and Eric and the Norsemen were part of it.

In 1967, Roger, Mike, Jimmy and Tree recorded and released their 45 rpm single of "Get It On" and "Scotch and Soda." "Get It On" is famous (infamous?) for it's rousing chorus of "get it on ... get it on ... get it on, get it on, get it on!" And on "Scotch and Soda," Mike's great vocal has stood the test of time and is considered by some to be the best version of the song ever recorded.

In another recording session, the band recorded a live studio album, which was never released, but which survived through the years and served as the soundtrack for the rare 2003 videotape of the band's home movies. (See the videos page.) The original masters of the live album and several original songs have only recently been rediscovered and are being compiled onto a CD which will be sold at the induction ceremony, with proceeds going to the Hall of Fame.

 
the final act

At the end of 1967, the Norsemen took a break while Roger and Jimmy left for military training. When they returned in December 1967, two new band members, Frank Berrier and Mitch Bible, joined the Norsemen, replacing Tree, who was finishing college and heading for the Navy. (Tree is certain to point out that it took two guys to replace him!)

Frank played bass and guitar, Mitch played the Hammond organ and guitar, and both Frank and Mitch were great singers. With the new line-up came new versatility and new music - songs by the Temptations, Sam and Dave, Mitch Ryder, and the Rascals - and a Norsemen version of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

The band played to great crowds in the Spring and Summer of 1968. But at the end of the summer, the members of the band decided to go in different directions as their college years came to an end. The last public performance by Eric and the Norsemen was in August 1968. After that, the band went their separate ways. Roger now lives outside Dallas, Texas, Mike in Lone Jack, Missouri (near Kansas City), Jimmy in Eugene, Oregon, Kenny in Waterloo, Iowa, Tree in Olathe, Kansas, Frank outside St. Louis, Missouri, and Mitch in Wichita, Kansas. They have remained, and will always be, friends.

    
 
the Kansas Music Hall of Fame

In December, 2005, the Kansas Music Hall of Fame announced that Eric and the Norsemen had been chosen for induction to the Hall, along with Gene Clark, Melissa Etheridge, Jerry Hahn, Kelley Hunt, The Jerms, King Midas & the Muflers, and Spider & the Crabs.

Father Time is trying his darnedest to slow Roger down, but the Norse gods be willing, Eric and the Norsemen will reunite for one more show on March 18 at Liberty Hall in Lawrence, Kansas, for the 2006 Induction Ceremony of the Kansas Music Hall of Fame. As the announcer on those old KOMA radio spots said:

"Be there when their ship hits the sand."

  
Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony

On March 18, 2006, Eric and the Norsemen were inducted into the Kansas Music Hall of Fame. Click on the photo for stories and pictures.

 
Interview with Roger "Eric" Johnson and Tree Cloud

This is a great interview in 2005 by Mike Dugo at 60sgaragebands.com.

Roger talks about the history of the Norsemen, the midwest music scene in the 60s, and the lost album and videos of the band. Tree adds a few personal comments at the end.