By Tanner Kent
The Free Press
Though the well-known southern Minnesota dance band Sandra Lee & The Velvets formed by accident, its reunion is no fluke.
After a string of well-attended shows since reuniting in February for the band’s induction into the Mid-America Music Hall of Fame, the members of Sandra Lee & The Velvets have decided to ride their current wave of enthusiastic crowds and rock n’ roll nostalgia into another show on Saturday at the Kato Entertainment Center.
“It’s one of those things,” said Duane Mock, whose accidental encounter with Red and Sandy Zarn some 40 years ago provided the initial catalyst to form the band. “We never could have anticipated this after all these years.”
Back in February, the members of Sandra Lee & The Velvets reunited for what they thought would be one show. They had just been inducted into the Mid-America Music Hall of Fame and were, of course, obliged to play a few tunes during the induction ceremony.
That night, the band played to a crowd of more than 1,000. Afterward, fans with fond memories and pleas for more shows renewed a spark in the band that hadn’t played together since 1983.
A few months later, the band played another show at The Orchid Inn in Sleepy Eye, Red and Sandy’s hometown. Nearly 1,000 more fans turned out for that show. Performances at the Bavarian Blast in June and another at The Orchid Inn in September drew more large crowds.
The band boasts an extensive catalogue of 1960s and ‘70s rock and country music. And such music seems to remain in demand. Classic rock and country bands like the Whitesidewalls and Richie Lee and the Fabulous 50s continue to play around the region to strong crowds.
Even so, Sandy Zarn said it’s been a pleasant surprise that fans have been so eager to see the band back on stage.
“It’s really been fun,” she said. “We did not have any idea that this is what would turn out.”
The band formed in 1972 as an outgrowth of the Mock family band.
Having played for years with his father and brothers, Duane took a night off to have dinner and hear some music at a nightclub in St. James. Duane’s dinner friends knew he played and chided that they’d have him on stage before the night was over.
“I said, ‘No you won’t. It’s my night off.’”
But, by the end of the night, Duane recalled he was on stage playing “Country Rose” by John Denver alongside Red Zarn.
A month later, Duane received a call from Red to ask about forming a band. He and his father traveled to Sleepy Eye and listened for an hour. Only then did Sandy pick up a microphone.
“She sang ‘I Never Promised You a Rose Garden,’” Duane remembered. “And I said, ‘There it is. That’s what we want.’”
Until 1983, Sandra Lee & The Velvets held court in dance halls and ballrooms across southern Minnesota and the Midwest. The Orchid Inn in Sleepy Eye and the Kato Ballroom in Mankato, however, served as dual home venues for the band.
Larry Bowers, general manager for the Kato Entertainment Center, said he got his start in the music industry by organizing and promoting shows at The Tower in Austin.
“I remember booking them all those years ago in Austin,” Bowers said. “They haven’t lost a step. When they’re up on stage, they look like they haven’t missed a beat.”
In fact, the band has only been adding to its repertoire.
Members have been rehearsing regularly and they’ve added a piano player -- a first-time addition for the band during live performances. The new piano player, Jack Carter, also lends trumpet and extra vocals.
Band members said they’ve enjoyed playing together again and are planning to continue performing periodically.
“We’ve been working real hard,” Howard said. “We’re just appreciative, and have been overwhelmed, by the response.”
To find more information or future performances, visit www.sandraleeandthevelvets.com.