Heavy 70s Teen Rockers Midnight Revisit Their Heyday & Revive Their Long-Lost Album

Their long-lost hard rock gem 'Into the Night' is back on wax.

|
Sep 6 2015, 3:04pm


Photo courtesy of Midnight and Drag City Records

Roughly 30 years before the name Midnight became synonymous with the excellent heavy metal outfit from Cleveland, a group of Chicagoland teenagers recorded a privately pressed hard rock album under the same moniker. Originally calling themselves Midnight Express, the band formed in 1974 after John Falstrom (bass), Frank Anastos (guitar/vocals), Dave Hill (keys) and Scott Marquart (drums) were introduced by their respective music teachers at the Melody Mart in Homewood, Illinois. Just freshmen in high school at the time, the foursome quickly worked up a repertoire of classic covers (Sabbath, Aerosmith, Foghat, etc.) and began writing hard n’ heavy originals in the organ-drenched Deep Purple/Uriah Heep vein. A few months after graduating in 1977, they dropped the “Express” and recorded Into The Night under the name Midnight. After pressing 500 copies in early 1978, they quickly forgot about the record and ultimately split up in 1980. By the 90s, Into the Night had become a hotly hunted collectible, fetching as much as $200 a copy. This summer, Drag City reissued this long-lost heavy 70s gem. We recently spoke with Falstrom, who—along with Anastos—teaches at Melody Mart, where the members of Midnight met 41 years ago.

NOISY: Tell us a little about Melody Mart and how you guys all met.
John Falstrom: Homewood, Illinois, is about 40 minutes due south of Soldier Field. It’s a big suburb of Chicago. We were all taking lessons at the Melody Mart, where Frank and I have been teaching for the last 30 years. Our teachers kinda hooked us all up because I think they knew we’d fit together. Three of us were going to the same high school, but we didn’t know each other. Scott, the drummer, went to high school in the next town over. So it was perfect. We all had the same interests—Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Uriah Heep. And we were all serious. We practiced three nights a week, no excuses, in my mom’s basement.

She must’ve been a very patient woman.
[Laughs] Absolutely. We were in there every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from about 7 PM to midnight. I think she figured it was better than us going out and not knowing where we were. We soundproofed the basement as best we could. The neighbors would still call the cops on us every once in a while, so we kept adding insulation.

How did you decide on the band name?
When we first started, we were going under the name Midnight Express. One of our friends found it in the newspaper—it was the name of a horse. This was way before the movie Midnight Express. This was 1974. So we went with that name for a couple of years, but our music kept getting heavier so the name didn’t match the music anymore. Then I wrote a song called “Into the Night” in about '76, and we started wearing all black. We liked that dark image. So we just cut off the “Express” part before we did the album.

You played covers at first. At what point did you transition into writing original material?
I would say we got totally serious with originals the day we graduated high school, which would’ve been June of ’77. Before that, we were playing all the dances, all the parties. We’d play to five or six hundred people at these private parties because all the high schools knew us. We loved doing that stuff—playing Foghat and Aerosmith covers and stuff—but once we graduated, we started writing more. After we recorded the album, we decided to go all-original.

Who wrote the lyrics?
We all did. Basically, one person would have the majority of the music for a song and then all four of us would put the final touches on it. Usually whoever wrote most of the music for a particular song would write the lyrics, too. I wrote three of the songs on the album—“Into the Night,” “Crazy Little Mama,” and “Future Comes Our Way.”

You recorded the album not long after you graduated.
Right. We recorded it September or October of ’77. We practiced for two weeks straight with no singing so we knew all the songs instrumentally, and then we did the whole album in two days. For the basic tracks, we did ten songs in eight hours. We started doing overdubs—vocals and solos—the same night. It was just us playing live in a circle in the studio. If we made a mistake, we’d start over again. But we were so well rehearsed, we did everything in one or two takes. We didn’t use no click track, you know? This was all live. We couldn’t even do punch-ins.

How could you afford studio time and a record pressing right out of high school?
We got the money from a backer, a fan of the band. Two days of recording and 500 copies pressed for two grand.

What did you think of the finished album at the time?
I thought there was too much reverb and echo on it. That’s one of the reasons we kinda blew it off when it originally came out. It sounded artificial, so we weren’t too proud of it. The songs were good, but if you’ve got a bad sound it destroys the excitement. But I wasn’t there for the mix, and we were all 17 or 18 years old, you know? We wouldn’t have known what to ask for anyway. Plus, we were already writing new material that we liked better. But the echo, that was one of the things I told Drag City when they contacted us—I told ’em we had to remaster it because of that echo. I had five perfect unopened copies of the album left from the original 500 that we made. So I gave them three copies and they remastered it. Drag City did a really great job. I really like it now.

So the original master tapes are gone?
The original two-inch reels were lost. My brother and I tried to track them down, but we can’t find them. That would’ve been great, obviously. We could’ve turned up the volume on certain things.

Did you sell copies in any of the local record shops back in the day?
We had a friend who was a manager at the local record chain. Hey told us to put our album in there, and he sold maybe 300 albums for us. We didn’t promote it, we didn’t sell it at gigs—it was all through him. Isn’t that ridiculous? When you’re 17, 18, you’re not thinking about stuff like that. We didn’t have a promoter or a manager or a producer. We had no business sense at all.

Did you get any bigger gigs as a result of the album?
We got to open for the Hounds at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago because someone at the Aragon heard the album. The Hounds were a Chicago band, but they were on Columbia Records. This was like six months later, so we’d almost forgotten about the record. We didn’t get much feedback about the album or if we did we didn’t listen to it. That goes back to being 18 years old. After that show, another band from Illinois—the Boys—asked us to go on tour with them, and we turned them down. Can you believe that? We turned a tour down because we were in the middle of writing new stuff. I think all these missed opportunities came from the fact that we thought we’d be together forever. If you’d told me then that we were gonna break up in 1980, I’d have said, “No way.” That was like a meteor hitting the house.

You recorded three more songs at Columbia College in 1979, right?
We actually recorded a bunch of stuff at a bunch of different studios because we had these Chicago White Sox guys who put money into the band. I don’t know what happened to most of it, but I tracked down the songs from Columbia College about five or six years ago. They actually had the master tapes. The guy burned a CD-R for me, and my brother made YouTube videos out of them. You can hear the growth in those songs, too.

How did the band end?
Scott left in August of ’80 because disco and new wave was killing everything. The whole scene changed. It was like a bomb dropped. But I didn’t care. I loved our tunes. I loved what we were doing. But Scott wanted to go new wave, and I said, “No way. We gotta stick with our roots.” Next thing I know, he came and got his drums. That was it. Then Dave, the keyboard player, left. My buddy Frank, the guitarist and singer, was the last to leave. [Laughs] And that was it. I was all by myself. It was a shock to my system because I thought this band was gonna last forever. I never quit, you know?

Before the reissue, original pressings of the album were going for big money.
Back in like ’92, this record collector from Texas wanted to buy my entire stock. I had about 30 copies left at the time, and he offered me a hundred bucks each for them. So I sold him a few copies and a few weeks later he called me back and said, “I need more. I’ll give you two hundred apiece.” He was selling them to these serious record collector guys, I guess. So I sold him a few more, maybe ten altogether. But I hung on to most of them. Thank god I didn’t sell them all like he wanted. I wouldn’t have had anything to give Drag City.

How did Drag City find you?
I wrote this bass theory book called EADG 4, and my whole website is based around this book. Gibson Guitars publish a lot of my articles. So I’m part of all these Facebook groups like “Chicago Bass Players,” “Chicago Rock Bands,” things like that, and I’ll sometimes post an article or a song to get people interested in my book and maybe sell a few copies—and I have. I found this group called “Chicago Bar Bands ’75 to ’82,” so I posted a couple of the Midnight songs that we recorded at Columbia College. A day later, I got an email from Steve Krakow, who writes for the Chicago Reader. He does these articles called “The Secret History of Chicago Music,” and he loved the album. So he did an article about us, and he knows the people at Drag City. I had no idea who Drag City was at the time, but Steven asked me if I wanted him to shop the record to them. I said, “Why not?” I went down there to meet them and they’re a really cool, artistic group of people. Next thing I know, they’re putting out our record. If someone had told me even a year ago that this would happen, I would’ve said, “Why?” [Laughs]

These days, you and Frank both give lessons at Melody Mart, where you met back in 1974.
That’s right. I’ve been here for 30 years, and Frank’s been here for 40 years. I mean, I’ve played bass all my life. That’s all I do. When the band broke up, I thought, “You know what? I’m gonna get better.” So I did. I practiced eight, nine hours a night. Between lessons and playing in house bands, I’ve been able to make a pretty good living. That dedication came from Midnight.

You and Frank still play together in a band called the Big Boppers.
Yeah. In 1989, I was in the house band at the Hyatt. It was a great gig, but I was getting bored. So I called Frank to see if he wanted to start a band. We started playing a lot of 50s and 60s stuff, so we called it the Big Boppers. It’s still going today. But that’s a whole different ballgame. Midnight was a lifestyle.

J. Bennett plays guitar in Ides Of Gemini. He has now interviewed members of both Midnights.