Photo courtesy of Steve Sanders.
It’s 1966, and the British rock ‘n roll invasion is in full swing. While Simon and Garfunkle are listening to the Sounds of Silence and the Mamas and the Papas are dreaming about California, a lot more people are listening to the likes of Englishmen Eric Clapton and John Mayall, and to British bands like Cream and, of course, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
Three Blaine middle schoolers, 13-year-olds Wynn Haws and Steve Sanders, and 12-year-old John Horgdal, go unnoticed as they get together in Horgdal’s D Street living room to see if they can’t play some of this music themselves, especially since Horgdal just got a new drum set for his birthday.
More importantly, keyboard player Haws’ father, Wynn Senior, had the equipment to get the band going on stage. A former Blaine mayor, Haws Senior sold the background music service known as Muzak as well as juke boxes and other kinds of music systems. “He had a lot of speakers and other stuff we were able to use, which helped a lot,” Sanders said.
Their music and singing worked so well that the group not only was soon playing gigs like sock hops and parties, they were asked to come back, again and again. They all wore matching paisley shirts, but had trouble deciding on a name. After trying out a few they settled on one that Horgdal’s father Harry, then a meat cutter at the old downtown Montfort and Walton Thriftway store, suggested: Crystal Tricycle. “There were three of us in the beginning, and the word ‘Crystal’ seemed to give it something,” said Sanders, now 59.
Bass player Mike Kartz soon joined the group along with sax player Len Beckett, but when Kartz moved away, Beckett “found a bass and learned to play it,” Sanders said. The group’s talent and versatility – all four members chime in on vocal numbers – had them competing in and often winning county-wide “Battle of the Bands” competitions sponsored by Bellingham radio station KPUG, and hosted by the station’s ubiquitous Dick Stark.
They traveled as far as eastern Washington and once competed at a Battle of the Bands in Seattle. “We got home just in time to see ourselves on KOMO-TV,” Sanders laughed.
They played, and still play, rock standards like the Kingsmen’s “Louie, Louie” and “Not Your Stepping Stone” by the Bremerton band Paul Revere and the Raiders. Their vocal ability also allows for more ethereal numbers like “Knights in White Satin” by the Moody Blues. They were even able to play in taverns “as long as we sat behind the bar and left the room when not playing,” Sanders said.
Their Blaine roots run deep. Sanders and his wife Julie continue to operate a border brokerage begun by his parents Scotty and Ginger, who now live in Arizona. Beckett’s father Bill drove for the Dodd’s home heating oil business, and his mother Dee worked at Art Lawrenson’s International Cafe.
Back in the day, Sanders said, they’d play for high school dances all over the county, “even in Lynden, which we thought was a little odd because as far as we knew dancing wasn’t allowed there. But there we were, in some downtown hall playing for a formal dance.” Haws and Horgdal moved away after high school, but were back in Blaine in 1989 when Sander’s brother Randy asked them to play for the 20-year reunion of the Blaine High School class of 1969.
Horgdal had sold his high-quality set of blond Ludwig drums but found another set of Ludwigs that had belonged to country singer Leni Rene’s late husband. “She lived on Harrison, and her daughter was my classmate,” Julie said. With a few breaks, the group has been stable and playing together ever since the reunion. The band has been busy playing private parties, weddings, bar mitvahs, benefits for groups such as the Blaine Food Bank, Boys and Girls Clubs in Blaine and Ferndale and for local families.
On Friday, December 30, 45 years to the day from that first rehearsal, these four members of Crystal Tricycle will host their own birthday party at the Dakota Creek Center, an evening of good old-fashioned rock and roll. The guest list is already at 130 and growing.
The party will be at the Dakota Creek Center, 8732 Blaine Road. It’s open to the public, but you must contact Sanders to buy a $10 ticket ahead of time that will put you on the guest list. No tickets will be sold at the door. It begins at 7 p.m. and is BYOB, beer and wine only, no hard liquor.
For more information, contact Sanders at 360/332-5577 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Above right: Crystal Tricycle was formed in 1969 with (above, from left) Wynn Haws, Mike Kartz, Steve Sanders, John Horgdal and Len Beckett. Today the group comprises Len Beckett, Wynn Haws, John Horgdal and Steve Sanders.