Alpena rocked with its own teen dance club
ALPENA — It was an era of its own.
Beginning in the mid-1960s, teenagers were in the midst of finding themselves. Society was experiencing social changes that impacted the youth of the day.
Rock and roll music had a massive influence on that Baby Boomer generation, who are now your parents or grandparents.
Part of that generation’s social life was frequenting teen dance clubs, a marketing technique by disc jockeys to promote records.
According to the West Michigan Music Hysterical Society’s website, during that era, there were more than 55 teen dance clubs in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. A number of mid-Michigan teen dance clubs were founded by Peter C. Cavanaugh and Bob Dell, of Flint’s WTAC-AM radio, and Dick Fabian and Bob Dyer, of Saginaw’s WKNX-AM radio.
Within Northeast Michigan’s geographic reach were Daniel’s Den in Saginaw and Prudenville, Blue Light in Midland, Band Canyon in Bay City, the Music Box in Houghton Lake, Teen Chalet in Gaylord, and Club Ponytail in Harbor Springs.
Beginning in the mid-1960s and into the early 1970s the Alpena Armory (now known as Memorial Hall) joined that league of teen clubs.
Bill Eberline was the host DJ, playing the era’s top hits and memorable rock and roll.
Eberline began his DJ career at a Caro radio station, where he hosted “Tunes for Teens” on Saturdays.
Now residing in Tennessee, Eberline recalled his post-DJ career traveling with The Who, MC5, and other popular bands of the era. One of his more memorable accounts was hosting a teen dance in Unionville. He brought in Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band for a performance, at $35 for the night.
Another of Eberline’s memories was when he was enroute from downstate to the Alpena Armory. Just north of Oscoda, he remembered he forgot to bring his records. Upon arrival in Alpena, a local record shop replenished him with a full collection of top hits.
Eberline, who attended Alpena Community College, has a massive collection of 6,000-plus vinyl records, which he plans to utilize with an online classic rock station.
The Armory was constructed just after World War I. For the teen venue, it offered a stairway leading up to the gymnasium dance floor, surrounded by an upper balcony. Located on the floor was Eberline, with his stack of 45-rpm records, turntables, and speakers. Adjacent to him was a band stage with the lights and equipment. Admission was $2.50 at the door.
With the dance floor filled with teens, others circled the gymnasium’s outer perimeter like a flock of birds. Many with cigarettes held between their fingers.
The general attire for young women was box-pleated skirts with a color-matching sweater or a blouse with a Peter Pan collar. While young men traditionally wore white Levi’s or blue jeans with a tab or button-down collar shirt.
Young women’s hair was either very long and straight or short, puffed up with hair spray. Men’s hair styles varied from that of The Beach Boys to The Beatles. In addition, men sported long sideburns.
Glances across the gymnasium were frequent. As the night wore on, some couples slipped to the nearby parking lots to steam up the car windows or pull the tab on a beer can. One of the adjacent parking lots was located behind City Hall, where the Alpena Police Department was then located.
Many lifelong romances and relationships blossomed at Alpena’s teen dance venue.
Alpena resident Michael Spicer recalls that, when Sam the Sham and The Pharaohs arrived for an Armory performance, he and friends helped unload their equipment. In the end, they met the group and got into the show free.
Gary Johnson is founder of the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame, which, in the first quarter of 2022, plans to open an extensive exhibit at the Historical Museum of Bay County, 321 Washington Ave., Bay City. In the meantime, you can visit Johnson’s diverse and in-depth website, michiganrockandrolllegends.com.
Classic 1960s and 70s rock never goes away.
Jeffrey D. Brasie is a retired health care CEO who frequently writes historic feature stories and op-eds. He is a former Alpena resident and resides in suburban Detroit.
Performers who appeared at the Alpena Armory
Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band
Count and The Colony
Question Mark and The Mysterians
Sam the Sham and The Pharaohs
Sir Douglas Quintet
Terry Knight and The Pack (later Grand Funk)
The Frost (New Bossmen)
Source: Extensive interviews and the Alpena County HIstory Facebook site