Our Kind of Town

ata recordingMeanwhile, Gail and I found ourselves renovating yet another house, with a recording studio in the basement (my third studio) and graphic design, photography and talent agency offices on the upper floors. We truly had become a one-stop shop for bands. It wasn’t unusual for me to have a meeting with a corporate design client in the first floor conference room while a reggae band was setting up downstairs for an all-night recording session. Although we lived on the edge of what some would call a bad neighborhood, we never worried about being robbed because people were coming and going at all hours of the day and night and it would have been impossible for any potential thieves to try to figure out if and when we were home.

In addition to corporate clients, I continued to do design work within the music business including album art for Ovation Records and ads and promotion for Gerim Studios. An album I designed for The Numa Band was nominated for a Grammy. Another client was the former Chess Recording Studios. That place was so full of history – the back door displayed a multitude of famous signatures including Chuck Berry and members of the Rolling Stones.

…star performer or a star manager, his story is worth telling. Tieken was legendary in downstate Illinois through the ’50s and ’60s–enough to sell thousands of records regionally–and never closed his mind to musical advances. As long as it rocked.

Today, he and Gail live on Chicago’s far North Side in a neighborhood that’s variously Jamaican, Hispanic and collegiate. Many of the city’s new wave acts–the Swingers, the Marquis, Gary Jones and Milwaukee’s Lubricants–have come away from his studio with unsubtle-sounding records. And as so many ex-rockers fade into adult-contemporary-land, and accordingly sign off at sunset, a band can’t be rockin’ enough for Freddie Tieken. His best days are yet to come.

By Cary Baker

Freddie Tieken, Fourth Generation Illinois Rocker, Excerpt from Goldmine magazine/July, 1981

Fred takes a break in the control room of his ATA recording studio, Chicago, Ill., 1981.

Note: Music journalist and publicist Cary Baker is founder of the Fiction Records label and LA’s Conqueroo, a music publicity firm.

Anarchy in the Midwest

Shortly before our move to Chicago, Gail had received a demo tape in the mail from a band in Erie, Pennsylvania called Pistol Whip. She was really excited about it and I remember her rushing into the studio to play it for me. I believe my comment after listening was “That sucks.” Gail paid little attention to my comments and proceeded to book some area dates for Pistol Whip. After I witnessed them tearing apart (yes, literally tearing it apart) a club in Peoria, Illinois at a Prairie Sun party I was won over. The group was sheer pandemonium and the energy kind of reminded me of early Rockers days. I enjoyed every minute of it. I recorded a demo tape of several of their songs in my Quincy studio just before we moved to Chicago.

Shortly after that, Pistol Whip returned to Erie and reformed without the group’s original leader, John Drum. The new group, The Swingers, moved to Chicago to work with us. This group seemed to go through drummers faster than Spinal Tap did. My brother Dennis even helped them out for a while before Steve Dubin finally became a lasting member of the band.

John Drum of Pistol Whip with Gail at the Sunrise Magazine music awards, Peoria, Ill., 1979.

From left: Brad Elvis, currently drummer with The Romantics, talent agent Bill Carlton and Donna Doss from Armageddon Talent at the Sunrise Magazine music awards.

The Swingers from left: Dennis Tieken, Rick DiBello, Willie Cotter and Jim DeMonte.

the swingersThe Swingers, comprised of Skillet Willie Cotter, vocals & rhythm guitar; Rick DiBello, lead guitar; Jim DeMonte, bass; and Steve Dubin, drums combined their clever songwriting abilities with a high energy show that quickly gained them a fan base in Chicago, Detroit, Madison, and throughout the.Midwest.

Their single “Leavin’ on a Jet Plane b/w Foundry Joe” on Rumble Records made the playlist on FM stations in Chicago and throughout the U.S. They were also included on several anthology albums and gained international attention.

Backstage at Mother’s – Bassist John Sauter, formerly of Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, Buddy Guy, Smokehouse and Ted Nugent; Willie Dale III, bass player with Smokehouse and the Finchley Boys and Mary Alice Ramel of Gabba Gabba Gazzette fame.

From left: Gail peeking out from behind Harvey Mandel, Rick DiBello, Jim DeMonte, John Sauter, Willie Cotter and Dennis Tieken at a Swingers Show, Mother’s, 1980.

Gail was booking a lot of new wave and punk bands such as Destroy all Monsters, the B52s and the Romantics into Chicago clubs and the scene was really taking off. Mary Alice Ramel of Gabba Gabba Gazette fame worked with Gail for a while and brought in a few groups she knew to the agency. Mary Alice was good friends with the Ramones and we had a lot of fun hanging out with them.

Gail had the bookings on Monday nights at Mother’s on Division with as many as three or four bands playing on some nights. One particular Monday, Gail had booked Fred Sonic Smith (of MC5 fame) in with The Swingers. There had been rumors circulating that Patti Smith would be coming along with Fred (this was shortly before they were married). I went down that afternoon to help The Swingers with their sound check and there was Patti fiddling around with a clarinet in the dressing room. That was the day I gave Patti Smith a clarinet lesson! I showed her some fingering techniques and she seemed to pick up on it pretty fast. It’s a good thing I caught her in the afternoon, because by that evening she and her beau were totally blasted and hiding in a dark corner of the dressing room between sets.

It didn’t matter at Mother’s on Monday night what was going on outside. The place would be packed in the middle of a major snowstorm and everyone always had a good time.

Nico Came to our House

Willie Cotter from The Swingers had an innate talent for befriending celebrities. One evening he showed up late for rehearsal at the studio. No one really thought much of it since Willie was always late for rehearsal. When he finally arrived, he had Nico (Velvet Underground) in tow. Time and abuse had not been kind to Nico. She wandered upstairs and Willie suggested to Gail that some vodka would be nice. Nico was fairly relaxed after the vodka, but Gail had to keep an eye on her because she kept wandering out the front door, something you didn’t want to do at night in our neighborhood! It was kind of sad to see this once beautiful woman so wasted.

Things like that were always happening with Willie. One night at Huey’s when the Swingers were between sets, Gail was guarding the dressing room door. That sounds funny, but with the Swingers you had to take those kind of measures. Willie was such a magnet that, left unchecked, the entire club would soon be in the dressing room. Some guy approached and opened the door and when Gail attempted to close the door, he placed his arm in the open door. Here was Gail trying to shut the door with his arm in it and explaining to this fellow that he could not come in while Willie was over in the corner stuttering “that’s, that’s.” Finally he got it out, “That’s Adrian Belew.” So Gail made an exception and let one of the world’s great guitarists in the door. How embarrassing! I still tease her about that. And she’s so thankful the arm incident didn’t interfere with his guitar playing abilities.

Steve Dubin on drums with Skillet Willie Cotter on stage at a Swingers show, Haymakers in Palatine, Ill.

Members of Ministry with friend Laurel and Wizard’s owner Ken Gaines.

The Blues Brothers Bar

Headline acts in Chicago clubs would usually go on about 2:00 am with the club staying open until 4:00 am. If you weren’t quite ready to call it a night after that, those who knew the password or the doorman could get into the Blues Brothers Bar. It was basically a small house in an alley with a bar, a living room and over in one corner a small drum kit where John Bilushi would jam with visiting musicians. Believe me, the birds were chirping when you left that place.

I remember one night we were sitting at the Blues Brothers Bar with Wizards’ owner Ken Gaines and Jim Bilushi was sitting next to us. He was talking about how tough things were and how he was having a hard time making enough money to feed his family. He was just a young comedian starting out in those days, but I don’t think he has to worry about that any more.

Around about this same time, we signed a power pop group, Kevin Lee & Heartbeat, and devoted ourselves to managing, booking, producing and recording the group. Kevin is a very strong songwriter and his material contains lots of pretty melodies with interesting hooks. We booked them mostly in the Chicago area where they quickly gained a following.

After several personnel changes early on, the final lineup included Kevin Lee on bass & vocals, Danny Shaffer on guitar and vocals and my son Steve Tieken on drums.

Kevin Lee and Heartbeat onstage at ChicagoFest, from left: Danny Schaeffer, Fred’s son Steve Tieken and Kevin Lee.

Kevin Lee and Steve Tieken hang out with Joey Ramone on the Ramones tour bus.

Band members and cast take a break from filming the Kevin Lee and Heartbeat video, White Rolls Royce.

I recorded a Kevin Lee & Heartbeat single at my studio entitled “White Rolls Royce” and released it on my Rogers Park Records label. We followed up the single with a video of the song and showcased it at On Broadway, a large, prestigious Chicago club where groups such as the Neville Brothers and Al Jorgenson’s group, Ministry, appeared frequently.

Kevin Lee & Heartbeat won Prairie Sun Magazine’s Best Midwest Rock Band Award, I think around 1981 or so. We were able to generate a lot of press on the group, but never got much response from major record labels. I think it was due mostly to timing — no one seemed to be looking for pretty melodies at that point. I’ve always been able to appreciate just about any type of music so long as it’s good, but the industry as a whole seems to be driven by trends. Sometimes that works in your favor, sometimes not.

For a short time, I also managed a Chicago rocker/guitarist/vocalist/songwriter, Paul Suszynski. Paul is an incredible talent and I feel fortunate to have worked with him.

Singer/songwriter/guitarist Paul Suszynski, left, and backup singers at an ATA recording session.

I recorded several demo tapes with Paul in my studio that got the attention of a couple of major record labels. Unfortunately, Paul’s health problems made it impossible for him to hold things together long enough to develop his potential. Paul had been the driving force of a great Chicago rock band from the seventies, Conqueror Worm. Then one day he went to Grant Park and gave his 1957 Gold Top Les Paul to the first person who walked by. Paul was his own worst enemy and I couldn’t save him from that. In spite of all that, I don’t regret for one minute working with him.

In addition to The Swingers, Kevin Lee & Heartbeat and Paul Suszynski, I had a lot of musicians and groups come through the doors of my Chicago studio and many of them published their songs on my Rogers Park label.

A reggae band, Ketchafaya, recorded several demos with me. They would get into some terrible arguments and call each other bloodclots. I remember on one occasion the guitar player stormed out of the session and didn’t come back for his amp until one year later. Luckily I had put it away and saved it for him.

Fred reviews an arrangement at his ATA studio’s baby grand.

Fred with Reggae band Ketchafaya, all smiles before an all-night recording session.

Many of the bands that Gail booked came through the studio at one time or another, including the Lubricants who later changed their name to Modern Physics. There were also the Marquees, Johnny III and Gary Jones. Someone who ended up being a lifelong friend of ours, John Borta, brought his band The Headaches in for a session.

Inside Fred’s ATA Recording Studios, Chicago, Ill.

A former member of Freddie Tieken & the Rockers, Rod Hibbert had formed a country rock band and they came from Quincy to record with me. I also did a session with Helen Cornelius and her band. Vanessa Davis Blues Band and Fugue Systems also recorded there.

I can’t remember his name, but Phil Donahue’s son and his band came in for a session. Paul Suzynski’s father and sister who played kind of laid back jazz brought their group in to record with me.

Rock Critic Cary Baker brought in a group, Drats, he was working with to record a single for his Fiction Records label. Cary even performed back up “vocals” on one track.

Cary Baker of Fiction Records (in Fiction tee shirt) brought Drats into ATA Studios to record a single for his label.

It was funky fun when Shay from Parliament & Funkadelic and Shawn from Lovecraft came to lay down tracks at Fred’s studio.

Fred had more than one way to persuade an artist to sign. Here Gary Levine of d’Thumbs and Ruby Starr & Grey Ghost feels the pressure.

I didn’t think about it at the time, but I recorded an incredibly diverse array of music in that studio. It seems I always had sessions booked and promoted only by word of mouth. Chicago has always had such a wealth of talent and diversity. I’m glad I had the opportunity to tap into that.

Business (not) as Usual

By the early half of the 1980s, I had started devoting more time to the design side of my business and expanded my client base to include more corporate clients. The timing was right and my business really took off, so much so that I had to enlist Gail’s help in managing the business. We had both gotten a little burnt out on the music business at this point. It seemed like every time we would get a group to the point that they were starting to make a name for themselves, someone would leave the band and then we would start all over. It was getting frustrating and the relative stability of our design clients was a welcome change.

We visited Phoenix, Arizona in the early part of 1986 and fell in love with the desert. The mild weather was alluring after the brutal Chicago winters we had been experiencing and we saw Phoenix as a place of great opportunity for our young business. By July of that year, we had sold our house and moved along with our cat, Honey, to Phoenix.

Fred and Gail’s award-winning Tieken Design & Creative Services studio on Central Avenue in Phoenix, Ariz.

Fortunately, we were able to keep several of our Chicago area clients while we were building a client base in the Southwest. We developed a diverse clientele and, somewhat like the music business, there was never a dull moment. We designed our high tech offices on Central Avenue and traded 2:00 am sound checks for 2:00 am press checks.

In 2000, the Tiekens were featured in Graphic Design: USA magazine’s “Top 100 People to Watch.”

We designed and produced three newsstand publications and the Ritz Carlton worldwide magazine. Our clients included The Dial Corp, Hunter Douglas, Motorola, Subway, Arizona State University, Bank One, GES Exposition Services and many more. Our work was frequently featured in design, advertising and marketing annuals.

Fred and Gail review production schedules at the design studio.

Fred with models and production crew while art directing a photo session at the Disney Big Red Boat in Orlando, Fla.

Fred designed and art directed a series of ads for the revival of the Breck Girls campaign. The three new Breck Girls are in white, photo center. Fred is back row far left and Gail is fourth from left. Kneeling in the front row are members of the camera crew who covered the production of the campaign for the TV show Inside Edition.

Fred with son David Tieken (left) in the Tieken Design & Creative Services conference room. A few of the industry awards garnered by the Tiekens appear in the background.

A sampling of logos and identity systems designed by the Tieken firm.

Time Out for Good Behavior

We had built a very rewarding business, but it literally took all of our time and attention so in 2002 I decided I needed a break. Several large projects had taken their toll on my health, and I felt the need to slow down. We had recently purchased a Frank Lloyd Wright style contemporary home in Paradise Valley and the sale of our business gave me the time I wanted for home renovation design projects.

We converted one wing of the house into a state-of-the-art home theatre and listening room, complete with a 10′ screen and a separate control room. I finally got my theatre I dreamed about when I was a little guy! It’s really a comfortable room and, needless to say, we spend a lot of time watching movies and listening to all kinds of music. In recent years, I’ve gone back to my roots and listen to a lot of jazz – mainly older stuff from the 50s.

We travel to Manhattan once a year to hear some of the older jazz guys. Most of them don’t tour, so you have to hang out on their turf if you want to hear them. The Village Vanguard and the Blue Note are two of our favorite clubs. We also enjoy the art galleries and museums in New York. We saw the most unbelievable Basquiat exhibition several years ago at the Brooklyn Museum. Our trips to New York always leave me feeling inspired.

I stay involved in art through personal projects these days. I paint, mainly using acrylics, and do some three-dimensional projects as well. My preferences lean toward abstract contemporary but lately I’ve created some primitive art pieces. I look forward to designing our holiday cards every year and I still work as though I’m driven by a deadline, even when I’m not.

Gail and I are sports car enthusiasts and we both drive Porsches and BMWs. We recently attended the American Le Mans Sports Car Championships in Monterey. It was quite a thrill to see such great driving and to get behind the scenes looks at the cars in the paddock. I like to keep our cars detailed and most of our friends claim they would eat off our garage floor without a second thought. I also have two Vespa scooters, one new and one a vintage 1962 Grand Sport, that get a lot of my attention.

Gail and Fred at home in Paradise Valley, Ariz. with JoJo and Violet.

Fred puts the finishing touches to his mural in their home’s atrium.

Fred and JoJo with some of Fred’s recent projects.

Fred enjoys keeping the family wheels clean and sparkling.

Arie Luyendyk, two-time Indy 500 winner, and Fred talk cars at the start of the Brighton Motorsports annual car rally. In the background is Fred’s 997 TT Porsche, which has taken top honors at the Porsche Club of America’s Arizona Region Concours d’Elegance two years in a row.

We live in a beautiful area – people joke about it but it’s easy to see how Paradise Valley got its name. I enjoy long walks with Gail and our Italian Greyhound Violet who’s seven years old now and full of energy. We also have an adopted stray cat JoJo to round out our “family.” I swim a lot in our lap pool and enjoy finally having the time to do these things.

Fred contemplates his next project while relaxing on the patio.

Dennis Tieken (right), visits Fred at home in Paradise Valley, Ariz. in January 2008, while Italian Greyhound Violet enjoys the winter sun.

Retirement also has given us a chance to do some traveling. We’ve recently traveled to England, France, Hong Kong, Cambodia and Thailand. While we were in Thailand, I got to see my old friend Terry Hawkins who teaches at the American University in Bangkok. Terry is a published poet and wrote the poem in the sidebar. In Cambodia we toured the amazing ruins of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. We also attended a sunrise ceremony with the Buddhist monks at a local mountaintop temple. It was very peaceful there and the Cambodian people are a great inspiration. Most of them have very little in the way of material possessions, yet they are extremely content with their lives. There’s a great lesson to be learned from that.

Fred and long-time friend Terry Hawkins at the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand, January 2006.

A Second Chance

Fred Tieken – Pass The Mayo: Acrylic & stone on illustration board w/wood frame. 32 1/2” x 40”

In the summer of 2010 my doctor told me my chronic kidney disease had progressed to the point that I needed to prepare for dialysis. I felt like he had handed me a death sentence. I came home and told Gail the news and the first words out of her mouth were “What about a transplant instead?” We made another appointment with my doctor and he said that, yes, transplant was an option but the waiting list for a deceased donor kidney was about five years and I couldn’t wait that long.

Gail then asked to be tested as a donor. The first round of tests came back as a match. After that both of us went through a two-month testing period at Mayo Clinic where they performed a more intensive round of matching tests and gave us both the best physical exams we have ever had. We passed everything with flying colors and on January 11, 2011 (1/11/11 to those of you into numerology) Gail gave me one of her kidneys.

I’ve never been a particularly spiritual person but when you think about the odds of your wife of 40 years being a perfect kidney donor match at a time when your life literally depends on it, well, it really makes you think about the amazing order of our universe.

Tieken Gallery, Paradise Valley, AZ

Fred & Gail at their Tieken Gallery opening

The kidney transplant inspired me to start painting and soon I was getting invitations to show at galleries. One thing led to another and now I’m spending most days either in the studio painting or traveling somewhere to show my work. It’s been almost six years now since I first picked up a paint brush and in that time I’ve shown my work in over 100 shows throughout the U.S.

In 2015, Gail and I built an art gallery on our property in Paradise Valley. Since then we have shown the work of many other artists as well as my own. We integrated the gallery into the landscaping so that Tieken Gallery bridges the gap between a commercial gallery and a tranquil destination. We stay really busy but we enjoy the chance to work with other artists.

Mendon, Ill., 1953. Unity High School Mustang football team Co-Captains Gene Inman (left) and Fred Tieken (right) with Homecoming Queen Marlene Henerhoff.

Anyway, it’s been quite a journey. Thanks for visiting. I hope you were entertained and maybe even inspired.

This site is dedicated to my courageous and beautiful daughter, Lemon Groves, who was attacked and murdered in her home in Nicaragua in May of 2007.

Lemon loved life and lived life more than anyone I’ve ever known.

These photos were taken in September of 2004 when Lemon came to visit us in Arizona. Just a few weeks later she moved to Central America. Of course we didn’t know then that it was the last time we would ever see her.

Lemon, we love you and we carry you with us in our hearts.