Tom Klugherz was sitting at the A&W drive-in on the north end of town when he first heard himself on the radio.
It was 1964. Klugherz and the rest of The Gestures were one of only a handful of bands in Mankato, and maybe the only one tinkering with the new style of British-tinged rock introduced to America by a certain moppy-haired quartet.
Awhile earlier, the band recorded a song in a garage and gave it to a DJ at KYSM. That DJ handed the recording off to a producer in Minneapolis, who decided to record “Run, Run, Run.”
The song caught on, riding increasing airplay all over America to the No. 44 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart in late 1964. The song even cracked the top 10 in several local charts across the country.
But Klugherz was at the A&W drive-in — the northern terminus of the strip that teens cruised on Friday nights — when the opening notes of “Run, Run, Run” started coming through his speakers.
That’s a moment Klugherz said he’ll never forget.
“We were just listening to the radio at the drive-in,” said the bass player and vocalist for the garage band that was inducted into the South Dakota Rock and Roll Music Hall of Fame during a ceremony on Saturday.
“It was quite a rush.”
Dale Menten, guitarist and vocalist in addition to songwriter for the band, was standing in the front yard of his North Mankato home when he first heard the song — a song he wrote before even graduating high school — playing on AM airwaves.
“So surreal,” he said. “It was a great day.”
On the road
In the years that followed, The Gestures — Klugherz, Menten, Dan Duffy (guitar/vocals), the late Gus Dewey (guitar/vocals) and the late Bruce Waterston (drums) — were signed to Soma Records, a relatively tiny label out of Minneapolis, and began playing tours across the country.
Since they were just teenagers (Waterston was only 15), some in the band couldn’t go until they had their parents’ permission. Once secured, they toured for about a year and a half. They played Montreal, Toronto and Winnipeg during a tour of Canada. They played in venues up and down the West Coast, in Oklahoma in Texas and made it as far east as Ohio.
Once, they played in Oklahoma City, striking out immediately afterward for a gig three days later in a town in Washington state. After driving “straight through,” they arrived at their destination — an armory where the concert was to be held — only to find the doors locked and the building empty. They had driven to the wrong city.
They rode in a Chevy van with no manager and no road crew — just a few teenagers playing almost nightly alongside names like Roy Orbison, The Hondells and the Everly Brothers.
“They were so good and we were so young,” Menten said. “We had to have parent permission slips and were hassled all the time by the cops. ... We were four little kids in a van going across the country. It was amazing.”
Big hit, fleeting fame
As a song, “Run, Run, Run” stands the test of time. Even today, its penetrative beat and surf-styled guitar sound remarkably relevant.
And though The Gestures are credited by sources who know as one of the first garage bands in the country to recreate the British-invasion sound, their fame was short-lived.
Distribution problems meant that even as radio stations around the country were playing the song, record stores didn’t have any in stock. Menten said angry fans would show up at their concerts demanding to know where they could buy the record.
As young kids who were naive to the financial machinations of the business, they were kept somewhat in the dark about the success of their record and ultimately cut out of some of the profits. Band members found out later that the much larger record companies RCA and Liberty both tried to buy The Gestures’ contract from Soma, but Soma wouldn’t sell.
And though band members still receive small royalty checks now and again in their mailbox, they have received nothing from the apparently bootlegged versions of the album that circulated England, Europe and Japan.
When asked if he ever allows himself to dream about what may have become of The Gestures had they jumped to a bigger label, Klugherz said only:
“Nah. It’s like Dale says: ‘What was, was. And what is, is.”
Still rings true
Richie Unterberger, a music historian and correspondent for Billboard, notes that The Gestures were one of the first bands in the country to “write and perform British Invasion-derived material.” He lamented the fact that the group released only one more record before disbanding.
“Recording for a tiny regional label, there wasn’t enough of a support network to build the Gestures into a bigger act, although some strong original songs — which employed pleasing harmonies and unusual, almost jazzy chord structures — indicated that the group had considerable potential,” wrote Unterberger on the Billboard website.
“As it was, they’re just another in a line of young groups whose prospects were short-circuited by limited opportunities, although ‘Run, Run, Run’ is now acknowledged as one of the earliest and best garage 45s.”
In 2008, The Gestures were inducted into the Mid-America Music Hall of Fame.
For Saturday’s induction ceremony, remaining band members reunited — with a few fill-ins, including City Mouse drummer Mike Pengra — for a short concert. The set list included original Gestures material as well as a few songs from Dale Menten’s new solo album, “Download Me.”
Of course, “Run, Run, Run” will be the finale.
“The song still has that drive,” said Dan Duffy, guitarist for the band. “It definitely sounds like it came from the ’60s, but it still rings true today.”