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The story of VALLEY MUSIC

Click here to skip down to Valley Music Sound and Light Show

Valley Music was a small music store which was located within the Valley Auto Supply building. It started off with just a rack of 8-track tapes and eventually grew into a complete stereo, TV and music store.

Valley Auto Supply, the “parent company” of Valley Music, had been started in 1958 by Art Kamhoot and Warren Becker.  The store was originally on Main Street, and had moved into larger quarters on 9th Avenue.  Harry Borer, my dad’s cousin-in-law, was working there as a parts man when Becker and Kamhoot decided to sell the business.

Dad had been working for Jim Burt at Forsyth Lumber Company, just down the street from Valley Auto.  Dad and Jim Burt co-owned Forsyth Ready-Mix, which they operated in conjunction with the lumber yard.

The lumber yard burned down in 1960, and was rebuilt over a period of four months.  After a short time Jim Burt decided to get out of the lumber business, and sold the yard to Midland, Inc., which owned a chain of yards around eastern Montana.  The Ready-Mix business was sold as well, and passed through several owners, eventually being purchased by Prince, Inc.

Dad continued to work in the lumber yard for Midland under manager Joe Killham, until 1967 when he was offered a manager position at their Harlowton yard. Unwilling to move to Harlowton, Dad looked for another job, and that’s when Harry Borer approached him about partnering up to buy Valley Auto from its founders.

A Store Within a Store

In the mid-1960s, the 8-track tape player for cars was invented by a guy named Bill Lear, who owned a company famous for making luxury private jets.  With Lear’s invention, people were no longer restricted to listening to whatever music came up on the radio; they could bring their music library into their cars with them.

In 1969, a salesman from Music Service Company of Great Falls visited Valley Auto, telling Dad and Harry that “Lear Jet Stereo 8” tape decks were poised to become the next big thing in car accessories.  Always on the hunt for exciting new merchandise to add to the store, they placed a small order with Music Service for a selection of 8-track tapes, a couple of under-dash tape decks and some speakers. For demonstration purposes, one machine was mounted on the valance behind the counter.  A small display cabinet for the tapes was also delivered. 

Sales were brisk; Lear Jet soon expanded their line of 8-track stereo systems to include home and portable units.  Tape decks also started appearing in new cars, leading to more tape sales.  The store’s tape case was replaced with a larger one.

As the ‘60s turned over into the ‘70s, the music business was well-positioned to make a big impact on the automotive market.  After all, teenagers were the most avid drivers, and rock music had quickly displaced the likes of Tony Bennett, Perry Como and Henry Mancini on the pop charts.  Thus the 8-track player had a ready and willing audience, with a constant stream of new drivers getting licenses and cars every day. And all of those drivers wanted their music.  Before long the store was stocking four or five different tape decks and had a small display to hold them.  A couple of portable and home machines also entered the mix.

Things were hopping in Forsyth then too – the building boom at Colstrip was in full swing, and since housing there was very expensive, lots of people elected to live in Forsyth and commute to work. Thus there was a big demand for car stereo, which the store capitalized on. 

There was also a boom of new houses in Forsyth, so Dad and Harry made a decision to expand their offerings with home entertainment options like record players and television sets, and to create a separate room in the store to contain the growing entertainment department and give it a little more “atmosphere” than the typical parts store had.  An 18-foot-square room was built on the north side of the store, where there was a window that had formerly been a showroom for John Deere tractors.  A dealership was set up for General Electric TVs – and the search went out for a TV repairman to add to our staff. A display counter was acquired and carpet was laid in the new room. And a name for the new little store-within-a-store was chosen – Valley Music.

Of course being a budding gadget freak I was completely enthralled by the new technology, especially the “stereo” aspect which allowed sounds to travel from one speaker to the other. 

When I was in the 8th grade (1969-1970), Dad had hired me to come into the store after school and put away freight, dust shelves, wash the windows and generally keep things picked up around the store.  One of my duties was to go through the tape case and straighten it out – since people were always putting tapes in upside down or backward after browsing through them.  So when the music department got its own room, around 1971, I was the natural choice to keep it straightened up, dusted and vacuumed – and from there it was a quick progression to selling and ordering merchandise myself.  I got involved to the point where I even drew a logo for the store which we had printed on two sizes of sacks (pictured above). We ordered 15,000 of those sacks, so we still have some left today!

With the added space we were able to display more musical merchandise. “Console” stereos for the home were a big deal at the time, so a couple of those were brought in.  Cassette tape recorders were getting to be big news at the same time, so a few portables and the blank tapes to go in them were added. 

We greatly increased our stocks of recorded music during this time too; we followed the trends, moving from 8-track tapes to cassettes, and adding vinyl LPs and 45 RPM singles. We rapidly became the "go-to" store in Forsyth for the latest in electronic gadgets and the newest hit music.

By this time there were enough sales to justify separating the Valley Music sales from the parts sales. We opened a new checking account for Valley Music, and acquired a used cash register which was set up with $40 in change, and I was given the responsibility for balancing that till every night and making a bank deposit. 

Our TV repairman, Bill Rexford, had a brisk repair business going by this time.  Bill set up shop in the former John Deere repair area in the back of the store building, and put in a full line of TV tubes, test equipment and parts. Along with sales and my usual cleaning, dusting and so on, I became the TV delivery person too. 

All this time, we had been purchasing the Lear Jet line of car stereos from Music Service, in Great Falls.  Suddenly they stopped carrying the line, so Harry got on the phone with the Lear Jet company and set up a direct account with them.  This resulted in us having a bigger display and a much better selection of stereos.

(At right: Lear Jet's model A226, one of many Lear Jet 8-track car stereos we carried.  One of the most popular models was the A126, which was just like this one except didn't have a radio.)   

Stereo equipment had started to take huge strides in quality and popularity in the late 1960s, due to the booming of rock music (and the loud volume required to play it properly!), and improvements in speaker and amplifier technology. The cassette tape was starting to make inroads into the home music scene, with home cassette players becoming commonplace.   By the early ’70s we were stocking a small selection of cassettes along with our 8-tracks, and soon popular music on LPs had joined the mix too. 

Since so many of the new people in town due to the Colstrip boom were music fans in their 20s and 30s, it was only natural that we branch out into component stereo territory.  We already had become a dealer for Panasonic stereo equipment, and they had introduced Technics, a high-end line of equipment.  So I was given permission to order a small amount of real high-fidelity gear.  Dad and Harry were duly impressed with the sounds coming from the stereo room, although I was beset by frequent requests to “turn that down!” when it got a little noisy for the parts counter.

Sales of the hi-fi equipment were good, so it wasn’t long before we were stocking a half-dozen amplifiers, turntables and cassette decks, along with accessories. 

We had been a little worried about taking on the General Electric line of TVs because that company wasn’t exactly big in the TV business; and we got even more worried when a new guy in town, Larry Willoughby, decided to open a TV shop in a vacant building across the street.  Worse, he was carrying Zenith TVs, which was the #1 brand in the country.  As a result, our TV sales started to slip a bit.  But after a couple of years, the Zenith representative visited us and asked if we would like to take on the dealership.  We were excited to have Zenith, but never did find out what Willoughby’s did (or didn’t do) to lose it. Without a TV line, Willoughby folded up his tent soon after. 

By the early 80s our major lines were Zenith (TV and home audio), Lear Jet (car and home audio), Technics (hi-fi audio) and a lot of other lines like Voice of Music and Toshiba portable stereos, Koss headphones, and various accessories like phonograph needles, record cloths, tape head cleaners and such.  We carried blank tapes from Maxell, Memorex, Scotch, and other smaller brands.

Sometime in the ‘80s, the cassette took over the car stereo market. Since its flagship product was now outmoded, Lear Jet went out of the stereo business, and we began our long association with Pioneer car stereo.  Our most popular Pioneer item was the TSX6 speakers (pictured here), which we sold in the dozens (if not hundreds).


Eventually, Harry Borer decided (and I think Dad agreed) that the Valley Auto building could be arranged more effectively for both the parts and stereo departments.  The reasoning was that if the stereo room was moved to the front of the building, it would benefit from having increased window space for displays; and the parts counter could then be rotated to face the north wall of the building, making for a longer counter and a shorter walk to get to the more distant parts bins. An added advantage was that many of the parts store customers
already used the side door of the building anyway; this way the side door would become as another “front” door of the building.  

They had been talking about this for a couple of years but it finally became reality in the spring of 1975.  The store was in mass chaos during the transition but it worked to the advantage of both departments.   

(Above: Dennis Critelli, a friend of mine, sitting behind the counter.  You can see some of the accessory merchandise we carried, including fuzzy dice. 

Below: Valley Music in its "new" location in the front of the building)

The late 1970s through the early 1980s were the “heyday” of Valley Music.  If it was related to recorded music, we sold it – along with the major stuff, we had everything from T-shirts to blank tapes to patch cords. For a brief period we sold sheet music and acoustic guitars, along with a selection of guitar strings and picks. We even sold fuzzy dice for a couple of years, which were handmade by a retired couple in Washington. 

We managed to out-last several other businesses in town that started selling music or TVs; our selection and service were better than anyone’s. We also started Valley Music Disco, a portable traveling DJ service (one of the first of its kind) and played music at dances, weddings, nightclubs and class reunions all over southeast Montana and even into Wyoming. 

Forsyth got its own radio station, KIKC, in the late 1970s, but as a rock music fan I was disappointed to learn it was to be a country music station. Still, we were regular advertisers on KIKC, sponsoring several "remote" broadcasts.  In 1985 a new rock station, KMCM ("Always 92 and sunny"), opened in Miles City. One of the DJs from KIKC, Bill Bauer, moved over to KMCM and helped us strike up a relationship with them; we sponsored our own "album of the week" radio show during which brand-new albums would be played in their entirety.

Harry Borer wound up leaving Valley Auto in the late ‘70s. He was probably the most driving force behind Valley Music’s getting off the ground in the first place, but I don’t think he ever enjoyed the high-end stereo equipment angle of the business and he certainly was no fan of the pop music we were selling.  After he left, the store-within-a-store had moved on just fine without him; but the business climate in and around Forsyth was evolving fast, and big changes were about to come. 

End of the TV era

In about 1980, our TV repairman (Bill Rexford) decided he’d had enough of working for a paycheck; he wanted to own his own repair shop. So he left us, and moved to Colorado.  He was replaced by Mike Hostman and later, Bruce Bannister, two guys who “really” weren’t TV repairmen by trade, but still managed to fix a few sets.  Eventually both wound up leaving for greener pastures.  Unable to find another repairman, we finally decided to discontinue the TV repair business. 

Also by this time, the “big box” stores in Billings were beginning to make major inroads to our sales.  Making matters worse, there was a national economic downturn in the mid to late ‘80s, made even worse locally by the wrapping up of construction on the Colstrip power plants.  The workers left town – some leaving a big pile of unpaid bills behind – and suddenly our stereo equipment sales were a fraction of what they’d been just a few years prior.  On top of all that, the Interstate highway between Forsyth and Billings was completed, reducing the two-hour-plus trip to Billings to about 80 four-lane minutes – making a Billings shopping trip easier than ever. 

Since we no longer had the repair service it became less attractive to buy a TV from us, and with sales dropping, Zenith’s distributor, Midland Implement, decided to move the Zenith dealership across the street, to Forsyth Hardware.  Within a few years, thanks to big-box retailers sucking most of the profit out of the TV business, Midland Implement stopped selling Zenith and thus Forsyth was without a Zenith dealer. Eventually Zenith was bought out by LG Electronics. The last Zenith TVs were made in the late 1990s.

In 1987 my brother-in-law Tom Clifford, who had been working at the store since 1977, got an opportunity to move to Havre and operate a golf course with two friends.  I had a meeting with Mom and Dad and we decided that since the music store was no longer making much money (and often losing money), that I would move into the parts department to take Tom’s place when he moved to Havre.

At that point, Valley Music still carried stereo equipment and (by this time) CDs. We decided to discontinue home and portable stereo equipment and focus only on car stereo, since it still fit in with the automotive theme of the store.  I was reluctantly OK with this concept, although I missed keeping up with the high-end audio market. 

By the late ‘80s it became clear that we didn’t need the separate room for the music store any longer. With the help of Dan Quenzer, an employee we had at the time, I took the small divider wall down and moved a few parts-related displays into the former music space. We moved the car stereo department to the front corner of the store. We discounted out the few remaining pieces of home audio equipment and Dad let me take our last remaining TV (a 25-inch Zenith console) home.  

In 1992, having become burned out by the long nights and heavy lifting required by our DJ service, we ended that project with a New Year’s Eve dance at the Forsyth Country Club.

A new century...and changes

Throughout the rest of the ‘90s and early 2000s, we sold a lot of Pioneer car stereo equipment and lots and lots of CDs, along with things like patch cords and blank tapes and CD-Rs. Even without much in the way of stereo equipment we were still the “go-to” place for new music, especially at Christmastime when people would bring in wish lists prepared by their kids.  

We got two major boosts in the late 1990s: Cell phones, and XM Satellite Radio.  The Carquest company decided that cell phones could be a very big deal for farmers and ranchers, so they took on a dealership and became a phone supplier.  This lasted for a couple of years, and eventually they got out of the business; but we stayed in it, becoming a direct dealer for Cellular One and selling several hundred phones over the next few years.  Cellular One had problems, though; the future big thing was handheld phones, and their towers weren’t close enough to town to make handhelds reliable in town.  Worse, a competitor (CommNet) built a tower near Forsyth and took away a lot of the business.  

What really made the phone business questionable was the pace of the industry. It proved to be too fast for the world of small town retail, plus there was the ever-present “big box” problem – people would buy phones from other places and then come and ask me how to operate them. So around 1998 we made the decision to get out of the cell phone business.  Within about five years, CommNet bought out Cellular One’s towers and became Verizon, thereby making handheld service reliable in most areas.  We probably could have done OK in the business but I still maintain it would have been really hard not to keep getting stuck with outdated phones, chargers and so on.   

In the meantime, along came XM Satellite Radio.  It was the hottest in-car electronic product for the early 2000s.  We sold hundreds of satellite radios, which were like a breath of fresh air compared to cell phones, due to the lack of “contracts” and a much simpler subscription plan. 

(At left: The Delphi "SkyFi2" XM radio, which we sold dozens of during our satellite radio years. The somewhat cheaper "Roady 2" was even more popular.)

We had a good five or six-year run on satellite radio, until it became obvious that all the new cars were coming with satellite already installed, and by then many of “the kids” were playing music through portable mp3 players, rather than needing subscription radio. So, our customer base got smaller and smaller.  The distributor where we got our XM product stopped carrying it in 2007 and we sold out what we had left, and effectively got out of that business.   

The thing that really caused the final fadeout of Valley Music was the Internet. Starting in about 2005, every Christmas saw a new bunch of kids with mp3 players; more and more people got broadband service in their homes. The notion of downloading music (usually without paying for it) became commonplace; kids couldn’t be made to understand that yes, they were really stealing when they downloaded music without paying. The idea of “CD burning” was rampant; people were illegally copying music for (and from) their friends.  I heard kids in the store saying “Don’t buy that; so-and-so downloaded it, you can copy it from him.” 

In our heyday, I usually placed a music order once a week.  During the Christmas season I would do two or three orders per week and in the crucial final week of the shopping season, I would have our merchandise "overnighted" in. People were always impressed when they would come into the store on the 23rd of December and I was still able to fulfill their kid’s musical Christmas wish in time for the big day.   

By contrast, in 2012 I think we might have sold two or three CDs in the entire Christmas season. 

Although the music (via our freebie dealership subscription to XM Radio) was still flowing out of that front corner of the store on a daily basis at the end of 2012, the Pioneer display was mostly empty, and the CD cases were gathering dust with only special orders and tourists needing road music providing occasional sales. The music department was a shadow of its former self. 

So it was that, at end of 2012, we stopped buying new merchandise for the music store. I slowly gave in to the fact that it had stopped being fun, and in fact, had become somewhat of a bother. In October of 2013, with a lump in my throat, I finally disassembled the tall Pioneer display and hauled it out of the display area.  In early 2014 we wrote off the remaining music inventory and deleted it from the computer.  In the memo field of the deletion, I typed "Goodbye Valley Music" and clicked the mouse. And with that, it was over.

We made no “going out of business” announcement; in fact we still special-order CDs, DVDs and Blu-Rays for people, but the cold fact is that Valley Music has faded out. 

I miss the fun of putting together a great stereo system, but today's electronic equipment doesn't have the fun factor of the stereo components of old.  I also miss being the “go-to” guy in town for the latest tunes. 

However, on reflection, I don’t really have any major regrets about the fadeout of Valley Music.  Could we have hung around a little longer by embracing TV again when the flat-screen became huge?  Could we have cashed in on the mp3 phenomenon, or the computer craze?  Maybe, but I’m guessing any of those could have been dangerous – the market moves so fast these days that it’s easy to get stuck with “out of date” merchandise – which is the reason we got out of cell phones when we did.  Besides, people are so concerned with getting the lowest price these days that competing with the big-box and online stores is more difficult than ever, and in many cases impossible.  

Could we have really kicked butt when smart phones became a must-have accessory for just about everyone over 10?  I guess we’ll never know. But the fact that even some of the big chain stores are having problems staying in business these days tells me we were smart to let Valley Music fade when we did. 

I got to know many of my best friends, and even my first girlfriend, when selling them music or stereo gear at the store. I can't even count the number of great times I had there with friends after hours...making Radio Show tapes, having a horde of friends in to listen to new records, holding a party on a Friday Night to watch "The Midnight Special" on multiple TVs, making "comedy" videos, and more.  If my dad knew the half of what went on in his store while he was home sleeping, he'd have probably disowned me.

We had a run that lasted over 40 years.  Not too many businesses can say that. I’m proud that we brought the latest and greatest tunes and lots of good times to Forsyth for all those years.

The Valley Music Sound & Light Show (AKA Valley Music Disco)

In the fall of 1975 the Borer family had scheduled a reunion to honor the 50th anniversary of the family’s parents, Rudolph and Lucille (Uncle Scoop and Aunt Cille) Borer. (The Borers were my mom's aunt and uncle.) Their son Harry (co-owner of Valley Auto with my dad) thought that a dance would be fun for the evening but didn’t want to pay for a band.  He asked me if I could bring some records and stereo equipment out to the Forsyth Country Club and “play some of that noise,” as he put it, for the kids and teens in attendance. 

This of course was at the beginning of the “disco era” of music, so dance clubs with DJs instead of live bands were becoming a hot item nationwide. We hauled every big speaker we had, plus a couple of turntables and all of my records, to the country club.  After a few false starts and screw-ups, the result was fun for all concerned. 

It wasn’t long before we started thinking that this “disco” concept could be repeated for the youth of the area. I got together with a friend, George Logan, and we talked about putting on another dance at the Country Club and having this one open to the public.  We decided to ask the Young Men’s Club if they would sponsor such an event – we would provide the entertainment, they would rent the building, and they would get the gate receipts.  Since the Club’s rental fee was all of $50, and the Young Men were always eager to raise some funds, they were happy to put the event on. 

The day of the dance (May 1, 1976), George had a track meet; so another friend, Ray Deering, and I took care of setting up the equipment.  We borrowed a couple of black lights from yet another friend, Tim Critelli, to give the place a little atmosphere.

(Above: The poster I drew for our first dance)

I still remember, driving back to town to get a bite to eat, I asked Ray: "Do you get the feeling this thing could be a huge flop?" Ray looked at me and said, "Yes."

It wasn't, though. After a long “early” period of almost nobody being in the building, the kids started arriving by the carload and everyone had a great time.

Within a month, we were asked to play a similar event for the Forsyth Chamber of Commerce, a "youth dance" outside on 9th Avenue as part of the annual Appreciation Days events.  This one was even more successful.  We knew we had a potential hit on our hands, and we named the new venture "Valley Music Disco."

Pictured L-R: Myself, Ray Deering and George Logan in 1980. The black thing above my head is a rubber spider which served as our "good luck charm" for several years.

Thus began a 16-year run of the DJ service.  We knew we needed some lighting equipment in order to imitate the popular nightclubs that were springing up all over, so we spent a couple hundred dollars buying a mirrorball, strobe light and a few florescent fixtures with colored bulbs.  Ray built a table with a row of switched outlets on the bottom into which we plugged everything.  We used the store's delivery van to haul our equipment around in, and we were in business. 

At the beginning we mostly played for school dances, but it wasn't long before we were getting bookings for weddings, proms, class reunions and eventually nightclubs, always to enthusiastic crowds. Our first prom gig was for Terry High School, and our first nightclub engagement was at the Oak Room Bar, which was located on the corner of 10th and Main Street in Forsyth.  We even played quite a few monthly dinner-dances for the Forsyth Country Club.

Pictured: George Logan (above) and me (below) with our first pair of just-finished Speakerlab "7" kits.

After a year or two of using the store’s demonstration equipment to play music on, we purchased a Cerwin-Vega DM-1 “disco mixer” which was state of the art at the time. This allowed us to make seamless transitions between songs and gave us a much better presentation. During our peak years (most of the '80s), we were booked for at least one performance nearly every weekend. 

Once we got a little money in the bank, we were off to the races: After paying the crew, any extra cash we made went into more and more lights, speakers and amplifiers.  By the mid-‘80s, we had eight large speakers, four from Cerwin-Vega and four we built ourselves from Speakerlab kits.  We used Marantz and Crown amps, Technics turntables, and Pioneer CD players. Grandpa Blakesley built us some road cases to carry everything in, and Ray built several “control center” structures to hold the lighting controls and sound equipment.  It became a matter of creative engineering to fit everything into the van. 

Pictured above: Our setup in 1990 at Colstrip High School. Below: Our logo

We had a huge array of lighting equipment, and would spend hours setting up for each event.  Our setup would dwarf any of the mobile DJs traveling today.  Today’s DJs set up their equipment on a rack in a corner of the room or along one wall; we would put lights and speakers all around the room, even on the ceiling.  We always hung the mirrorball in the center of the dance floor area.   We used over a mile of electrical wire for each performance.

When the word "disco" began to have a negative connotation, we changed the name of our show to "Valley Music Sound and Light Show."  Our biggest claim to fame was that we didn't just play "disco" music; we played plenty of rock and roll, oldies, even country occasionally.  Thus we could play for audiences of just about all ages. 

Eventually we had helicopter lights, colored pin spots, ten 6-foot chasing striplights, four blacklights, a projector that cast moving patterns on the walls, and various others, controlled by a couple of computerized "chasers" and various other manual switch-boxes built by our resident carpenter, Ray Deering.

We used a home-made dry ice fog machine on several occasions, sometimes with disastrous results, and we also had some home-made “flash pots” which would shoot flames into the air on cue.   

We probably put more care and thought into our nightclub and prom performances than anywhere else, since we were really striving to demonstrate to all the non-believers (and there were a lot of them) that a DJ could provide entertainment just as well as a live band could. So we went to great lengths to make those setups look as great as we possibly could.  

In the case of wedding dances we would integrate our controls with the lights put up by the wedding planners, so that we could control the atmosphere and make it match up with the music.  More than one "mother of the bride" was horrified when we would go in and start un-wiring their carefully-put-up lights and moving their decorations around; but it always looked fantastic by the time we finished.

Wherever we played, we would place the speakers around the corners of the room, rather than along one wall, thus creating a sound “space” that enveloped the dancers.  We always took great care to make our setup look exceptionally neat, with no messy wires or other distractions showing.

Pictured above: Ray Deering preparing to tape down some of the wires that ran to our lights and speakers.  We would go through two or three rolls of 3M 2-inch masking tape at most performances.  Below:  A Forsyth prom in the late '80s.

Unlike other DJs, we had many set lighting routines to go with most popular songs, and we used the lights to set the mood, rather than just turning them on and letting them run at

random.  This, more than anything, was what separated us from the competitors (which began to spring up pretty rapidly in the ‘80s). 

Once the dances were underway and I was busy playing music, our crew (especially George Logan) would help get the party started by asking the girls in the crowd to dance.

Our biggest setups were at the Sanders Gym near Hysham, where Darren Dassinger risked life and limb by standing on top of a ladder on top of two stacked tables to hang some lights from the ceiling...one of many such feats of daring that he would execute while working a dance. The events at Sanders would draw kids from Forsyth, Rosebud, Hysham and Colstrip.

Forsyth’s now-defunct Kokomo Klub and Bronze Boot were the sites of our biggest nightclub setups.  The Kokomo (pictured here) was our favorite place of all to play in due to the good crowds and good relationship we had with owner Jim Kuckler.  The Kokomo building was a real dump -- falling apart on the inside -- but Kuckler kept it clean and ran a tight ship.  Since the building was old and decrepit, he didn't care if we drilled holes in the walls, hung lights from the ceiling, pounded nails where we needed them or whatever. We told him the more freedom he gave us, the better show we could put on and that was all he needed to hear.  We would usually spend three or four evenings setting up in the Kokomo.  The place was invariably packed when we performed there.

We played dances outdoors on several occasions, and on one particularly busy holiday weekend we played three dances in three different towns.   

Pictured above: Our setup as it looked during our final years of operation. Only a small portion of our lights are visible; the rest are above and behind the camera.

Our longest “run” of continuous bookings was a Thanksgiving weekend at the Kokomo, where we were booked to play Wednesday through Saturday; but during testing of the setup on Tuesday night, people began to dance, so we wound up playing for three hours that night, which led to more people coming in, giving the club an unscheduled packed house and giving the lone bartender an extra-good cash night.

Below:  Publicity shot of a bunch of our stuff

All good things must end, and such was the case with our mobile disco. After doing it for just over 16 years, I was burned out with the long hours and ultra-late nights (we would arrive home at 4:00 or 5:00 AM sometimes); plus, the music business was fragmenting and I knew it.  The days of all the teenagers liking the same songs were over; there were increasingly rap fans, country fans, metal fans, pop fans and dance music fans all clamoring for their own requests. Plus the kids wouldn’t dance to older stuff anymore. I decided I was getting too old for the business. 

Our last event was a New Year’s Eve dance in 1992 at the same place where it all began, Forsyth Country Club.  For the next two years after that, I continued to get phone calls asking if we were available to play for dances.

Pictured: One of our posters. We had two poster designs; this was the second and final one.

Looking back, I can see now that we were ahead of our time. If I was in my 20s now, I’d definitely do it all again, because things would be so much easier.  Lighting equipment is much cheaper and better quality, and isn't as heavy as it used to be. Sound systems are more compact, and of course the whole music-downloads thing has made owning a vast library of songs far less expensive than it used to be.

I regret not taking more pictures of our show, especially considering all the different sized places we shoehorned the equipment into.  Most especially, I regret not getting some shots of our setups in the Kokomo Club -- they were among the best.  However, getting good results with a camera wasn't nearly as easy in the '70s and '80s as it is now, so I guess I should be thankful for the pictures we do have.  

To this day I still miss the excitement of putting a great-looking setup together and hearing the music played at crank-em-up volume, and watching the dance floor fill up when I picked just the right tune.  And every time I see a DJ, I wish I was the one spinning the music.


Valley Music Sound & Light “stories” yet to be told

-          Van fire at the Country Club

-          The time the lights went out in the Kokomo and nobody could find the fuse box

-          The time we slid off the road near Billings while on a dry ice run

-          The time we got to a dance in Billings but had left the “new” music at home

-          Mussellshell’s “power failure”

-     Wedding dance sucess stories (and horror stories)

-          The Moose Club in Colstrip

-          The cocaine event in Colstrip

-          Mark Killham’s wrong “Happy New Year” announcement and all the other disasters at Circle’s Quick Recreation Center dance

-          Sanders Gym, hanging everything from the ceiling, and Darren’s near-death experience

-          Colstrip’s grad party dance that started without us

-          Flat tire on the way to Sanders

-          Air Force dances

-          Near-disaster with ladder on the way to Baker

-          “Our beloved founder” and “the coffin” (among other equipment nicknames)

-          Bronze Boot from “those kids just nurse one beer all night” to “these kids can sure put away the beer”

-          Short circuit kills sound at Colstrip

-          Polka time at Baker

-          Jim Kuckler at the Kokomo (and Paul’s hair)

-          Record skip disasters (New Year’s Eve, especially)

-          “How about that remix”

-          Fog machine glory and problems

-          How we got our flash pots

-          Baker's reunion dances

-          Fight at the C Club

-          Elks Club, Miles City

-          Smallest venue ever – Kurt’s wedding

-          Biggest venue ever – Miles City National Guard Armory

-          Sheridan black light disaster

Crew members:

-          Ray Deering
Ray helped me out on our first dance and our last one, and many in between; he worked on more gigs than anybody else.  We made a pretty good team and would do a little discussing beforehand of where we wanted to put everything, but then we would work on our own and really didn't talk all that much.  Ray also helped run the lights during performances and would make occasional song suggestions when I would get "stuck" for something to play. He was also our resident carpenter and built many of our "road cases" which kept our electronics safe in transport, and he also built several editions of our "board" which was the control center for everything. Nothing was impossible with Ray; if we decided the mirrorball had to hang from a 30 foot cable in the middle of a gymnasium, he would figure out a way to make it happen. Ray lives in Billings today.

-          George Logan
George (nicknamed "Gidgin" or "Skeetch" at various times) was part of the original
"VMD Crew" as we called ourselves. He went with me to the Young Men's Club meeting where we asked them to sponsor us.  He would help with setups and then during the show, he would help get things rolling by going around asking girls to dance.  Usually all it took was one or two couples out on the floor to get the rest of the crowd motivated to start moving too. The last we heard, George was living in Billings.

-          Darren Dassinger
Darren was a latecomer to the Disco Crew, since he was a bit younger than George, Ray and myself.  He started hanging around the DJ area when he was in high school and volunteering his assistance until he finally became a regular crew member.  Darren was fearless: If something needed doing, he would make it happen even at the risk of life and limb. How he survived to be the successful career guy he is today is beyond me. Darren lives in the Los Angeles area with his wife Julie and their two daughters. (We keep pestering him to move back to Montana.)

-          Paul Carter
Paul was another latecomer to the crew.  I don't remember exactly how he got involved but most likely, I needed help one time and was fretting about who I could get, and he volunteered.  Paul worked at the jewelry store next door to Valley Auto so I saw him on a daily basis and we had a lot of laughs. He moved to Nebraska in the late '80s and now lives in Billings.

-          Steve Roll
Steve wasn't really on the regular crew but he helped out from time to time. His sense of humor is one of a kind.  Steve has probably provided me with more laughs than any friend I ever had, which made him a blast to work with.  We've done a lot of projects together over the years, everything from setting up the ticket sales for the church dinner to making hilarious videos.  Steve divides his time between Forsyth and Helena, but still calls Forsyth home.

-          Dennis Critelli/Jimmy Critelli
Dennis was Steve Roll's best friend.  Put those two together, you might as well just get out of the way because the comedy train was in high gear. Dennis, and his younger brother Jimmy, helped us out a few times but weren't on the regular crew. I suspect they came along hoping to meet girls (and probably did meet some, I wouldn't be surprised). Dennis and Jimmy both live in Billings today.

-          Keith Raymond
Keith got onto our crew the same way Darren Dassinger did -- by just being around enough to where we finally put him to work.  Keith is another one of those "willing to try anything" people who would make things happen, and he's still that way. After a long residence in Rapid City, SD, Keith returned to Forsyth in 2014 to take the reins of the Rosebud County Disaster and Emergency Services department.

-          Doug Watson
Doug was on the crew in the later years of our show.  He did quite a few gigs with us in the late 80s.  I don't know what ever happened to him.

-          Jim Schiffer (aka "Shifferbrains")
Jim did quite a few gigs in the late '80s as well.  He currently lives in Georgia.


Stereo, TV and music distributors (and sales rep names that I remember):

·         Music Service Company (later changed to Holm-James Distributing) – Great Falls
Red Donnelly, Jim Mullin, Jim Taule – Lear Jet, Voice of Music, tapes and records

·         Billings Hardware Company – Billings
Judy Reitz – records and tapes

·         Pickwick International – Minneapolis
Bob Raaen – records and tapes
Lisa (forget her last name but we went out for drinks once)

·         Record Shack – Seattle
George – records and tapes

·         East Side Digital – Minneapolis
Import CDs - no salesperson, all orders done by fax!

·         Abbey Road Record Dist., later bought out by Alliance Entertainment, later renamed AEC Entertainment – Santa Ana, then Coral Springs FL
Chris Felton – records, CDs, tapes, accessories

·         Times Square Stage Lighting – New York City
DJ lighting equipment

·         Grandma’s Music -- Albuquerque
DJ sound equipment (speakers)

·         RTI – Omaha
Stereo equipment, blank tapes, blank CDs

·         Mountain West Distributors – Salt Lake City
Jack Weiss  – stereo equipment

·         Panasonic Inc. – Denver
Stereo equipment

·         Midland Implement – Billings
George Hovland, etc. – Zenith equipment, Uniden phones

·         Lear Jet Stereo – Phoenix
Car, portable and home 8-track stereo equipment

·         General Electric, Billings
Dan Noennig – TVs 

·         Interstate Distributing (later Mountain Distributing) -- Billings
Jim Orler, Ron Hudson – Pioneer stereo

·         Landmark Distributing – Billings, then Idaho Falls
Ron Hudson – Pioneer stereo, XM Radio

·         Cellular One, Billings
Steve Willkins and various others – Cell phones

-       Electronic Supply Co, Billings
Small TV parts and electronic items, patch cords, wire, etc.

-       Television and Electronic Supply Co., Billings
Zenith parts, other electronic parts