The History of the World, and Jif
The Earth cooled and the Dinosaurs came! Colonel Harlan Sanders invents Kentucky Fried Chicken. Then Eliot Keller and Rob (Robbie) Norton founded the company that would put KRNA-FM on the air in Iowa City. Essentially a fraternity house with an antenna, KRNA was large and wacky.
The air staff in the late 80’s, comprised mostly of frustrated “used“ musicians, decided to start a band in the station’s (what else) garage on ACT circle. Practices were loud and alcohol fueled. This combination led the lads to thinking they were actually getting pretty good!
KRNA starts hangin’ with other “used” musicians in local heroes “Dogs on Skis”…a synergy is found...and it is determined that the band with no name will be part of the upcoming “Dogs” show in downtown Iowa City. So it was in the summer of 1988 or 89, “the band with no name” made its first public appearance with an all KRNA line up...Mark Vos, Bass, Glen Gardner, Guitar, J.J., Guitar, Bob Stewart, vocals, and Robbie Norton, Drums…but first the band needs a name.
On Monday of debut week, the "Band with No Name” was “Bag of Knives” (who knows why); that morphed into Tuesday’s name, ”Dirty Haitian Needles.” By Wednesday it was getting better with “Little Nookie and the Penetrators," and Thursday reached a personal best with “Magenta Placenta.” Friday, show sponsor the Downtown Association decided they would have none of that. So it looked like the “Band with No Name” would remain just that.
Not to be kept from their calling, the band retired to The Fieldhouse prior to the show, and after their tune up regimen of various adult concoctions, J.J.’s girl friend had the epiphany: ”What about JIF & The Choosy Mothers?” And so it was.
Jif & The Choosy Mothers took to the stage with a flurry of crap that was epic in magnificence! While the practices sounded fine with the alcohol and the loud volume in the station garage, the reality was, in public it was thin, out of key, un-rhythmic and well, just crap. Undaunted, the blame was placed on “not having the right chemical balance” to perform….but, hey….We had a good name! Funny, the crowd didn’t seem to care. No matter how bad this band played, people seemed to enjoy it. A new motto was coined: ”Don’t take the stage ‘til it’s late, and make sure the bar has a good beer special!”
The next “gig”? Of course, the Williamsburg Beach Party! But it wasn’t at night, and not late. We were sandwiched in between Johnny Rivers (a complete ass) and The Grass Roots (not asses)! Again, the poor performance was blamed on the lack of “chemical” balance both on the stage and in the crowd, but once again--suck though they may have--the crowd loved “JIF,” much to the dismay of Johnny Rivers (who was still a complete ass).
Not long after the beach party, J.J. left the band. By now a well tuned machine (NOT), we put out a call to the union and nobody responded. So we suckered our golf Pro, the well respected Tom Hein from Pleasant Valley golf course, who fortunately also played guitar, to join. After he passed the standard audition--asking him what kind of equipment he had, and if he had a mic--Tom was our boy. What sealed the deal was we found out he had a G tuned telecaster--not that we knew what that was--but that is what Keith Richards has in the ‘Stones, and as we often have said, if it’s good enough for the Stones, it’s good enough for JIF!
It was helpful that Tom had only heard of the band on the radio, and there, by the grace of God, it sounded magnificent…in all those self-indulging promos…and commercials…and DJ patter. Hell, we even got a letter from ATCO records interested in signing the band. With Tom in the line-up we excitedly thought, ”Gee we’re going to suck less!” Magically, and because of the power of promoting yourself on the area’s most popular and powerful radio station, the requests for appearances poured in: Southwest Junior High! The Blue Note!! Farley Speedway!!! The Field of Dreams Reunion!!!! A veritable cavalcade of crap moving swiftly from, but never returning to, town to town!
Then came the masterpiece, the crown jewel, The Super Bowl for our local heroes’ musical careers, the 1991 Czech Village Street Dance! One of the truly great party events of 1991. To be accurate, this was the third KRNA Czech Village Street Dance. In the previous two, JIF merely warmed up their friends, “Dogs on Skis” one year, and “The Word” the next. 1991 was to be different. Their friends “No Spokes” were to warm up for the now headlining JIF & The Choosy Mothers, which meant we had to learn more than 4 Rolling Stones songs! In adding new songs, we needed to make sure they were 3 chord wonders, and if at all possible for Glen’s sake, make sure they were all in the key of E.
This was the year we had a huge catered backstage area, complete with reps from six record companies, The KRNA bankers, important clients, oh, it was a schmooze fest! By this time JIF had everything. Roadies, Guitar techs, a drum tech, security, professional lighting director, professional staging, professional sound from Minneapolis, and a contract rider that in itself could have been an entire evening of entertainment on Saturday Night Live…anything over the top was included in this evening. The band had its usual line-up of Mark Vos, Glen Gardner, Rob Norton, Bob Stewart and Tom Hein, but was now augmented with KRNA personalities Scott McGill and Roger “The Dodger”, and Dogs on Skiis alum Rich Webster. Sitting in with the band was Gary Wisner from Epic Records, and David Pearl from A&M records. The weather was beautiful! And Sandy Riesgraff from the KGAN television news department was rumored to have just been dumped by her boyfriend, the owner of one of the Village bars; more on that later!
One of the great ideas of the evening was purchasing a thousand jars of JIF peanut butter. Jon Anne Berard the KRNA promotion director was in charge of chucking those to the crowd as JIF took to the stage. A mistake of grand proportion! It should be noted now that the police estimate of the size of the crowd in the Czech Village that night was over 20,000 people. Yes, 20,000 people drinking beer and having a good time on the streets of Cedar Rapids. (Note previous motto of “Don’t play till late, and make sure there is a beer special). In no time flat, the thousand jars of (thankfully plastic) JIF peanut butter were being hurled thru the air, a man was trying to set himself on fire as a prank, and another reveler was twirling flaming objects into the air…a zoo it was!
Enter Sandy Riesgraff. According to rumor, now folklore, she had an obvious axe to grind due to the failed relationship with the bar owner. She and her camera person caught the whole evening on video, and published a report on the next nights news of the shenanigans going on in Czech Village “which culminated in the police being called in to quell near riot conditions.” “NEAR RIOT CONDITIONS!!!” Naturally, the lads in the band were a bit miffed! We were all there, and saw no riot. The Gazette was there and saw no riot. KCRG-TV was there and saw no riot. But to Sandy, it was a riot. We complained, knowing full well publicity like this could ruin the frail permission the city gave us to do the street dance to begin with. KRNA editorialized to the contrary of the KGAN piece. Ah, the power of having your own federally licensed and powerful bully pulpit! Rich Herbst, the general manager of KGAN, who was out of town for the weekend, came in on Monday and placed an editorial on the air condemning the street dance, and backing his station’s stand regarding the “near riot conditions”. As you might have guessed, that was the last Czech Village Street Dance.
All these years later, the legend of that evening has grown to insane proportions. The crowd has now grown to 50,000! There was a goat sacrifice!! Bulicek’s was set on fire and burned to the ground (that is why it is not there now!!!). The clock tower was run over by an SUV!!!! There were 40 arrests!!!!! There was a murder!!!!!!! In retrospect did this all happen? Was Riesgraff right? Was there indeed a RIOT IN CZECH VILLAGE? Hell, yes! IT ALL HAPPENED! And that is why the next summer’s JIF t-Shirt said on the back. “I HAD A RIOT IN CZECH VILLAGE”, so there it was printed and circulated, there was indeed a RIOT in Czech Village, caused my those marauding, lawless, and Godless Huns Jif & The Choosy Mothers.
At this point, the Jif t-shirt, and Procter and Gamble should be brought into the picture. When J.J.’s girlfriend came up with the name, it never dawned on us that maybe JIF was a registered trademark. It was and is. We also never figured the owner of that trademark was Procter and Gamble, as we all know a huge worldwide soap, and a lot of other things including peanut butter company, with a division in IOWA CITY! We of course ripped off the JIF logo with aplomb! While the popularity of the band was large, the clamor over the t-shirts was astounding. Each one had some new mystical tour printed on the back. In all there were over 20 different shirts, with 20 bogus tour names on the back. The Highlights: “BLOW ME a little kiss world tour 91”, "I’ve Had your mother”, “Is your mother Choosy”, “Fat Drunk and Stupid is no way to go on Tour, Son”, “Trademark infringement Tour 89”, and “No Talent, No Problem”.
Having many friends working at P&G I was often getting the question, “does Cincinnati know about this?”. Some well placed higher ups, who of course shall remain nameless, actually did know about this, and thought it was amusing. Their only request was “can you tone down the tour names on the back?” Seems they had a tough time with the “BLOW ME” shirt. All these shirts and years later they still pop up on Ebay and fetch a good dollar. It has been said, the band was crap, but the t-shirt rocked. Well now, that might be a good name for the next Jif shirt!
After the Riot of ’91 (remember it is official now, JIF caused a riot), the band stumbled along for several more years. We played a ZZ Top private party before their appearance at the Five SeasonS Center. There were several notable Halloween and Valentine’s day appearances at The Fieldhouse in Iowa City. Then there was the ’93 New Years Eve gig there. None of us wanted to do it, but Mark (patch) Eggleston, the bar's owner, insisted. He had never been open on New Year’s Eve, and wanted the band. An astute business man, he understood that Jif came with its own marketing system in the guise of KRNA. So we floated him a price. After his initial shock, he agreed to pay the band $10,000.00 to perform on New Year’s Eve. As far as we know, the highest price ever to be paid a local band.
There was the the KRNA 20th anniversary performance, also at the Fieldhouse. KRNA, Inc. bought KQCR, Q-103, and acquired the services of morning guru Scott Schulte, Ric Swann, and Eric Hanson. Quickly, the talented Schulte was morphed into JIF as a guitar player. Eric was the leader of K-Tel Hell, which by 1995 had become the JIF warm up band. That band also included JIF stage manager and member of the horn section, the chairman of the hat squad, the man who lived not in an apartment, but a JIF letter jacket, Ryan Nelson; and long time sound man, and KRNA production director Bill (Hot Pot) Summers. Officially, the last JIF gig was at the 1995 Bar-B-Q- Roundup in Downtown Cedar Rapids. The last “Tour” t-shirt was “No talent. No Problem”. The band lineup included: Mark Vos, Rob Norton, Bob Stewart, Scott McGill, Kurt LeClare, and John Hanson. The horn section: Ryan Nelson, Monica West. Scott Schulte was farmed out to K-Tel Hell, along with Eric Hanson, and Gayle Lewis all of Q-103.
KRNA was sold to a conglomerate in 1995. Our company still owns the old Q-103, now the highly successful Z-102.9. Which basically brings us to the summer of 2010. Glen Gardner rejoins the company as a sales consultant. Glen and I are amazed at the amount of chatter about the old KRNA and how great it was…and that band JIF & The choosy Mothers. ”They were the ultimate party band---when are you guys getting back together?” Never any use of the work “suck” in these glowing accolades….what is this nonsense? Seriously….it went on and on and on.
Glen and I deduced that a reunion might be fun. Glen was put in charge of contacting the “artists” formerly known as JIF, while I, as usual, looked into facilities and the technical side. All the JIF equipment got absorbed into Z-102.9 and was in disarray. The Yamaha mixing board was found in pristine condition in its wooden crate, complete with the tape across the channels naming the persons and instruments miked at the last JIF gig. A meeting was set up at the Cedar Rapids Country Club--which just screams "rock band"--between key members of the aging band and its fan club directors. They talked us into a reunion. Glen Gardner, Rob Norton, Bob Stewart, Scott Schulte and golf pro Tom Hein quickly jumped on board. Mark Vos was excited, but is still recovering from back surgery. Not wanting to ruin Vos' back, after a quick trip to West Music, Schulte has a new Fender Bass and amp, and will be 2nd chair for Vos; Vos, in turn being very excited to move into first chair on tambourine and kazoo. However, the Rickenbacker will be put to good use; it even has new strings! A vocal “secret weapon” has been added.
It wasn’t really a tough call to find the venue. Mark Dukes quickly availed the Upstairs ballroom at the Chrome Horse in Cedar Rapids. The date was picked: The Bye week in the Iowa Football schedule October 9th. A practice facility was set up at the the company's AM transmission facility (1600ESPN Radio) in Bertram. In August JIF and the Choosy Mothers returned to a functioning band. True to form, the band still sucks. True to form, there is a new swank JIF t-shirt. There is even a huge movie-poster sized JIF tour poster. And on October 9, 2010 somewhere after 9PM (when everyone was good and lubricated), the band that everybody thought was so great removed that memory from the minds of the fans attending the reunion at the Chrome Horse, and replaced it with the reality that…the band is still crap!
Do come to a future JIF show and expect the band to go on late…and there will be beer! (…and Johnny Rivers is still an ass).
Robert K. Norton
Sergeant at Arms