After 59 years of shows, the Blue Echoes, Lansing’s first rock ‘n’ roll band, was inducted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame earlier this year. Formed in 1957, the quartet released a string of now collectable 45 rpm records, including the dynamic “Debbie”/”It’s Witchcraft” single, released in 1959 on Bon Musique Records.
The online Michigan Rock and Roll Legends voting ended June 1, and the Blue Echoes finished in first place, earning the group a spot in the Hall of Fame. Second was Detroit native Cub Koda of Brownsville Station, and fellow Lansing rock legends the Woolies placed third. The Blue Echoes are now honored among 80 other Michigan bands and vocalists, including Bob Seger, Aretha Franklin and Grand Funk Railroad.
In celebration of its induction, the Blue Echoes play Sept. 15 at Reno’s North, 16460 S. US Highway 27, Lansing. Legendary WILS disc jockey Erik O. Furseth is the event’s emcee. Gary Johnson, founder of the Hall of Fame, will present the awards to past and current members of the band.
“I didn’t even realize we were on the ballot for the induction,” said Blue Echoes guitarist/vocalist Roger Benham. “Next thing you know, I get a phone call saying ‘congratulations, you are the No. 1 vote getter.’ That was pretty cool.”
In 2012, the band was inducted into the official Rockabilly Hall of Fame. Benham, along with co-founder and vocalist/ guitarist/pianist Larry Palmiter, are the two original members who continue to play in the Blue Echoes, which plays a show or two a month.
“I’m 75 years old, and so is Larry,” Benham said. “We don’t play as much as we used to. My son Craig — he’s going to be 50 — he plays drums with us. These days, we’re primarily a trio.”
After forming at Lansing’s Resurrection High School, the Blue Echoes played teen hops and high school gymnasiums and even scored air time on teen-themed television shows on WILX and WJIM. One highlight was opening for iconic rock ‘n’ roller Link Wray in 1959 at the Lansing Civic Center. During the late ‘50s, the band scored some local radio hits.
“Erik O. made ‘Debbie’ No. 1 in Lansing,” Benham said. “He pushed the living daylights out of it. It wasn’t rockabilly — it was more of a ballad. But the flipside, ‘It’s Witchcraft,’ was definitely rockabilly, and so was ‘Cool Guitar.’”
The Blue Echoes’ claim of being Lansing’s first rock ‘n’ roll band is backed up by Dick Rosemont, a Lansing music historian and former owner of East Lansing record store Flat, Black & Circular.
“The Blue Echoes are definitely the first in Lansing that I’m aware of,” Rosemont told the City Pulse in 2012. “If there is something else, it’s really obscure. You have to put yourself in that timeframe. Rock ’n’ roll in the ‘50s was still a counterculture. People thought rock ‘n’ roll was going to be temporary —thought it was going to pass by. So to have a rock ‘n’ roll band in an area like Lansing in those days is pretty impressive.”
In a 2012 interview, Palmiter recalled being the area’s sole rockers in the late ‘50s.
“I don’t think there were any other local bands,” Palmiter told City Pulse. “I remember we went to the musician’s union and they said, ‘You guys play that funny music?’ The only other kinds of bands around here were country groups. We were different. We were kind of rockabilly.”
The Blue Echoes
Michigan Rock and Roll
Legends Hall of Fame Induction Celebration 7-10 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15 FREE Reno’s North, 16460 S. US Highway 27, Lansing (517) 487-8686, facebook. com/theblueechoes