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Free Flite's roots started in 1966 by Don Paris and Roger Groethe. Together with Bill (Tex) Davis we began to play together at the age of 11. With the very humble beginnings of Roger playing on a snare drum and cymbal, Tex on an acoustic guitar and Don on Tex's guitar case... we eventually each got instruments and performed for our sixth grade class. After Tex's military family was transferred out of the state, Roger and Don asked Roger's cousin, Peter Diggins to join the band. The band was called Plastic Rat at that time and stayed mostly in the basement. After enlisting Mike Wannigman to play bass we got our first big break to play for some senior citizens at a veteran's nursing home. It wasn't a paying gig, but we could tell by the response of the audience that we were destined for greatness. (see picture)

Nursing Home

Once in while some of the people in audience clapped and one person looked like he might be interested in getting out of his wheelchair, perhaps to dance but he was strapped in.. Sometime after that big day, Mike decided he wasn't quite ready for all the fame and glory (it was getting pretty intense with all the groupies and such at the nursing home), so he quit the band. Don took over playing bass and we went back to basement to practice for several more months.

Young Freeflite

In our next big performance, a talent show sponsored by the local church, they felt sure they would win the talent show hands down...but first place was taken by a magician. They were not disheartened. One of the customers on Roger's paper route was booking agent for MRA, a regional agency! Every day Roger would talk with him and tell him of our progress as a hot new act. He suggested we find a new name and he said he would try to get a us gig. We changed our name to Free Flite and then one day it happened. He had a real paying job for us! A church needed a band for a dance and he was willing to let us take the job. Maybe it was because they were on a tight budget of $15.00 and no band in their right mind would even drag their gear out of the basement for that amount. But no matter what the reason was, we were delighted! We now were fully electric with a PA system and electric guitar and electric bass. Roger had two full sets of drums and we had enough songs to play for a couple of hours. This time we had an audience of teens and the response was even better than at the nursing home. Some people danced without covering their ears and seemed to truly enjoy themselves. Not everyone was quit so enthusiastic, but all in all we all had a real good time...

Early music of Free Flite BL (before Larry) (circa 1968)

Pressed Rat and the Warthog (Cream) and The Joke was on Me? (Beegees)

As we progressed musically, we consistently heard the same feedback...our music was sounding pretty good (for 13 and 14 year old teens), but we needed a singer. We tried out a guy named Jim that had been fired from another local band and it didn't take us too long to figure out why they fired him. He wasn't much better than any of us and besides our parents thought he was much to old to be hanging out with us (I think he was 19). We must have been 14-15 at the time. We even tried out Don's sister but she wasn't the right sound for us since we were into Cream and Black Sabbath and she had more of the Motown sound. We struggled onward hoping our voices would change with our budding puberty. To get money to buy more gear, we took on jobs in the summer. In 1971, Roger got a job at the Holiday Inn restaurant washing dishes and Don worked in the hotel running the washing machines. One day Roger came to practice and said that one of the people working with him always sang while they washed dishes together and sounded really good. He had never been in a band, but he did have the desire to sing and loved Rock music. Roger compared him to the singer in a band from Minneapolis called Crow which was very famous in Rapid City. We worked up a Crow song and invited him to try out for us. Roger introduced Larry Galbraith and we launched into Easy Street ( by Crow). Larry stepped up to the mike and as he sang we all knew our singer had been found. He was a natural and was extremely talented. As a bonus we found out he also played guitar! We immediately became a four piece band and within a couple of months word had spread that there was a new band in town.

Larry Galbraith

First recording of Freeflite with Larry Galbraith (circa 1971)

Blind Eye (Uriah Heep) and Locomotive Breath (Jethro Tull)

Our first gig was to open for a band at the city auditorium. This was the first time we were on a real stage and little did we know that we would be opening for many of the super groups in the future. Some friends of Larry's lent us some lights and there we were with hundreds of, screaming teens listening and dancing to our music. The feedback we got was very positive and we felt ready to talk with the local booking agency. When we went to meet with him, he had already heard of our success and immediately started booking us for school dances and concerts. As the summer ended and we went back to school, we met every day and practiced. We expanded our repertoire. Some weekends we would play gigs but our main focus was to develop musically. We all took the band very seriously and practiced any moment we could, either as a band or one on one with other members. By the time school was out, we were ready to hit the road. We started playing almost every weekend somewhere in town or within driving range so we didn't have to spend the night. Eventually the distances were just too far because we were often driving 3-4 hours after a gig to get home and it was getting dangerous. One night I had fallen asleep in the car on the way home and when I awoke we were parked on the side of the road. Larry had been driving and when I asked him why we stopped he said that as he was driving, the whole world went white and he couldn't see anything! He felt it was better if he stopped... I roused myself and drove the rest of the way home.

 

1972

One of our first big breaks was to open for the Guess Who and J. Giles band. It was an outdoor concert and it attracted almost 10,000 people. As we walked out on stage and heard thousands of people clapping and screaming, it came over us like a wave of energy. Never having felt this kind of energy, it was quite experience! Not having any time to think about it or worry about it, we launched into our set and played our hearts out. The crowd came for the super groups, but they were very kind to us and it seemed like everyone enjoyed our music. We were still quite young, (15-17) but we proved that we could hold a crowd and have a great time on stage together. No recordings were made so we don't really know how we sounded, but it was music to our ears.

After the Summer of 72, three of us still had to get through high school. We practiced every day after school and played out on as many weekends as we could. Sometime during the school year, we emlisted Mark Parkinson to play keyboard for us. He was new to Rock music and had studied mostly classical, but he jumped in and because of his training, soon found that Rock was his new home.

Mark Parkinson

 

Toward the end of the school year, we talked the principle of the school into letting us do a free concert in the auditorium during a normal school day. It was the first time school had been let out for Rock music! Wayne Deschamp a friend of the band had a reel to reel tape recorder and recorded the concert. Here are the links...

Live at Rapid City Central High 1973

Space Truckin (Deep Purple) / We're All Crazy Now (Slade) /

Smoke on the Water (Deep Purple) / Locomotive Breath (Jethro Tull)

Stairway to Heaven (Led Zepplin)

Rock and Roll (Led Zepplin) / Rain (Uriah Heep)

Fools (Deep Purple)

We all had a Real Good Time (Edgar Winter)

 

We all missed too much school that year, but Don and Roger graduated. Peter still had a year to go.

(more to come)....