The rock n’ roll explosion in the mid and late-1950s sent shock waves all across America. From coast to coast, teenagers tuned in to the sounds of Elvis Presley, Bill Haley, Buddy Holly and many others. The new hybrid of country music and rhythm and blues excited young people as no music had before, and Johnson County was no exception. Local bands influenced by the new wave of music formed in the area. The most popular Johnson County rock n’ roll band of the early 1960s was undoubtedly the Silver Tones, who formed after two of its members saw the movie “Rock Pretty Baby” at the Fairway Theater and noticed how the audience reacted to the music in the film.
The Silver Tones were made up of students from Shawnee Mission East High School. They became the house band for what was the epicenter of early Johnson County rock n’ roll, the Soc Hop. The Soc Hop opened in April 1960 in an old barn at 95th and Metcalf in Overland Park. Kansas Music Hall of Fame President Bill Lee said the Silver Tones “captured the imagination of the kids in Kansas City at a time when rock ‘n’ roll was exploding nationally.”
Other local bands such as Larry Emmett and the Sliders, The Bygones, and the Holidays entertained area teens at the Soc Hop’s two Johnson County locations in the early 1960s. By the mid-1960s the Soc Hop was gone, and some local youths were seeking out activities that shocked adults and cause leaders to question what direction the county’s young people were headed.
American culture changed dramatically during the 1960s. Trends and world events transpired rapidly and by 1968, the United States was a different place than it had been a few short years before. One thing did not change, however. Young Johnson Countians yearned to express themselves and to be heard.
A major element of the national counterculture in the late 1960s and early 1970s spilled over into Johnson County. Drugs such as marijuana, LSD, and speed became recreational activities for young people. The popular perception of young people, and especially young musicians, as drug addled and aimless didn’t help Johnson County youths who legitimately desired a place to congregate for positive reasons. In 1965, the Monkeymen, a band made up of Shawnee Mission East students, charged kids one dollar to get into a club at 103rd and State Line called the Purple Monk. 600 young people showed up for a good time, but the club was shut down immediately by the city welfare department because of permit problems.
Local rock bands in the late 1960s did their best to succeed, but had to overcome many obstacles along the way. Bands such as the London Wood, the Chesmann Square, and the Stone Wall proved popular among local teens, but they had a hard time finding places to play. This was nothing new in 1968. Ron Hodgden, a member of the Chesmann Square, felt that adults’ anxiety about drugs and delinquency forced all-ages clubs to close almost immediately after opening, and left Johnson County youths with no place to go and nothing to do. Hodgden said, “a minority of kids caused trouble for the other bands and for the kids who really like good music and want to dance, and have a good time.” A member of a Prairie Village band echoed Hodgden’s thoughts when he remarked, “this really burns me up. I’m not on drugs and I have never been on drugs.” Bands continued to struggle to find venues to play in Johnson County throughout the 1960s, usually because of misconceptions about young people’s association with drugs and unruliness.
– Matt Gilligan, Johnson County Museum