Rockford’s first Rock ’n’ Roll Band

The year was 1960. Rockford teens stormed Jordan Smith’s “Record Mart” at Mulberry & Main and Comay’s Jewelers at State & Wyman to buy the disc “Maj” by The Rhythm Kings—Rockford’s own. Other

stores also carried the record and in short order, “Maj” eventually reached #14 in total Rockford record sales on September 14, 1960.

Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” was #1. The national industry standard, Billboard magazine, even reviewed the record: ‘“Maj”—A blues instrumental with guitar sax combination with a piano also pounding in the background. Good dance wax. “El Disco”—An instrumental with a Latin rhythm, has a sultry quality. Also danceable.”

Soon after The Rhythm King’s first record “slipped from the charts”, the group recorded their second record, “Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff”. Like the first one, “Sweat” became a huge local hit, and the title actually become an extremely popular catch phrase with local teens.With the success of the two local records, the boys felt they were “ready for prime time.”

They sent a demo tape, recorded at WRRR Radio, of some of their original material to Sam Phillips, president of Sun Records in Memphis, the home of early Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins hits. The demo led to an invitation to visit Memphis for a more “professional” recording.

The recording session at Sun Records never did result in a national recording contract the boys hoped for, but the experience of recording in the same studio as Elvis, Jerry Lee and the other early greats of Rock ’n’ Roll was one of the highlights for the group, and they returned to Rockford to a hero’s welcome, nonetheless.

In addition to their own gigs, the band played with national recording artists Frankie Ford (“Sea Cruise”) and Brenda Lee.

The band played on for another year as “The Kings” of Rockford rock ’n’ roll while upstart bands Tony Mannone & The White Nights and then The Grim Reapers (now Cheap Trick) began to make their mark. Finally, there was some competition. The White Knights were primarily considered a West Side band back then, while The Rhythm Kings were considered an East Side band, which elevated the level of competition even further. Eventually, the “rock war” exploded into a “Battle Of The Bands” at Sherwood Lodge, Friday January 27, 1961. The posters that plastered Rockford prior to the event noted: “No Standing Room … Jumping Only!”

A winner was never declared that evening. But, as with all things, time was running out on The Kings. Graduations would mean the end of the band that began it all in Rockford. Officially, The Rhythm Kings’ reign ended on June 6, 1961. Music, however, continued to play a huge part in all members’ lives for many years to come.

Band leader and drummer, Steve Mutimer, joined the navy and eventually returned to Rockford and formed The Daze & Knights with ex-King keyboardist, Maj Hamberlin, and new band mates Eddie Myers on guitar and Jimmy Russell on sax.

That band played around Rockford for nearly three years and toured for the William Morris Agency out of Chicago, backing up such hit makers of the time as The Four Tops, The Chiffons, The Crystals, Jimmy Clanton, Len Barry, Bobby Goldsborough, Dee Dee Sharp, Dick & Dee Dee, Bryan Highland and more.

Steve finished his band career with The Exceptions at Frank & Mike’s in South Beloit, where he played for two years until finally hanging up the sticks in 1978. In advertising for 33 years, today Steve owns Insight Advertising of San Diego and Tucson, Ariz. where he still produces jingles for agency clients. He now resides in Tucson.

Guitarist, Don Johnson continued playing for Sax man, Bill Burton, left for the West Coast after high school and toured with various bands in California, playing with such celebrities as Sonny & Cher and Ike & Tina Turner. Bill returned to Rockford and worked as a sales executive for Rockford Standard Furniture for 30 years until his retirement.

Sax man, Bud DiPuma, went to college after graduating from East, where he played with The Valients and The Peppermints. He joined the navy after college where he taught music at the Navy School of Music and then played with the Navy Band while stationed in Italy.

Returning to Rockford in 1969, Bud played locally with Tony Mannone until retiring from music in 1970. Today, Bud is co-owner of Rock River Fastener Corporation.

Bassist Dale Knodle has played longer than all the band mates mentioned, finally coiling up his bass strings only four years ago. Over the years, Dale played with many local groups, including long stints with The Redwoods, Bill Piskie & The Encores at Casa Mia in Belvidere, and Linda Phillips & Company at Jardines, also in Belvidere. In addition to his music, Dale has owned, and continues to operate, Dale Knodle’s Man’s World Hairstyling in Belvidere for 40 years.

Pianist Mike Pizzutto has been one of Rockford’s most famous and exquisite lifelong musicians known for his diverse talents in jazz, classical and pop music. Mike still makes his living from his music, which he now performs in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Keyboardist, Henry “Major” Hamberlin, also has made his living from his music for more than 40 years now. Leading several local bands in Rockford over the years including The Clicks and The Lieutenants, Maj moved to Milwaukee a few years ago, where he continues to delight music lovers along Lake Michigan.

Most of the former Rhythm Kings, Rockford’s first rock ’n’ roll band, recently gathered for a reunion at Lino’s Restaurant. Some hadn’t seen each other for more than 40 years!

At Lino’s that Sunday night, Steve, Don, Bud, Bill and Dale toasted their time together and reminisced with hours of stories and fond remembrances of a time when Rockford was smaller, innocent, and rock ’n’ roll was young. It was another time and another era. It was Rockford history, and it was the time of The Rhythm Kings.

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