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Listen closely and hear those old-time tunes

I’ve done more research on today’s article and this Saturday’s church page column than ever before. Today the Bennet-Greten Dance Band and on Saturday the Pleasant Grove Church of Christ, its fire and and new church growth.

First, memories of the once very popular local road dance band the Bennett-Greten Band playing in and around Rochester by the founders Francis "Fuzz" Greten and Lloyd Bennett. According to the memories of Fuzz’s daughter Jane Clark, the band started in 1931 in the little Seville Cave on Second Street Southwest in downtown Rochester.

Later that would become the Green Parrot Cafe. Today, Eagle Drug store occupies this space. Jane told me her father worked in the post office, loved music, was a fine banjo and guitar man, and did all the arranging for the band over many years. His partner, Lloyd Bennett from Plainview, was a fine piano man. But Fuzz (no one seems to know how he got this nickname) was the front man of the band.

The three- or four-piece band played on a little balcony above and next to the kitchen, a tight spot where they could be seen and heard from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. It was the Depression, and members played for food. Jan, now 83, said that helped her and her mom with one less mouth to feed.

Before the Second World War, the Bennett-Greten Band grew and became a popular road band traveling into a tri-state area in the upper Midwest reaching into Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota and the Dakotas. I can recall seeing the Bennett-Greten Band bus around Rochester in the 1940s before Fuzz sold his share of the partnership to Frank Evangelist in 1948. You might remember Frank, a smooth sax and clarinet player during those years. It remained the Bennett-Greten Band for a number of years, as recalled by Kenny Stock, a drummer who joined the band for a time in 1948. Ken said that band could play anything, great with Dixieland, old time and dance music of that era before rock and roll.


I asked Jane Clark to describe the sounds. She told me that "it was a unique and very sweet sound resembling the Russ Morgan Orchestra 'Music in the Morgan Manner' from the mid-1940s."

Fuzz’s granddaughter, Candy Cunningham of the Zumbro Falls area, remembers how Fuzz played several instruments, loved Dixieland and added Garfield Kuhfuss to the band, which meant a good amount of "old time" music, whatever the occasion called for.

Their traveling bus was custom built and able to carry 10 to 12 musicians, and their instruments were pulled in a trailer behind. Jane said the band would leave at 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. if the dance job wasn’t too far, say 100 miles or so. But when they traveled 300 to 400 miles away, they would be gone for a longer time. She told me that one time they were away so long that she and her mom moved to a new residence while the band was gone.

Fuzz Greten’s grandson told me the band even went as far south as Texas. He is Robert Markee but is only 51 and doesn’t have any personal memories of his grandfather but had done some research on the band.

One trumpet player with the Bennett-Greten band was teenager Jim Smart, 87 today and a retired lab technician at Mayo Clinic for nearly 33 years. Jim told me he was a paper boy in southeast Rochester and dreamed of someday playing for the band as he walked by the blue and white bus bearing the band’s name. After 1948, he played three years with the band, going seven nights a week to ballrooms like the Terp in Austin, Clear Lake, Iowa, the Kato Ballroom in Mankato and dozens more. That was when Frank Evangelist became a partner with Lloyd Bennett, who was an employee of an auto dealership near the YMCA. Lloyd was the financial manager and paid the boys their $10 nightly checks. Jim said they would meet at Thurber’s Cafe downtown and that the bus would pick up the musicians there.

Jim Smart’s story is a column itself as he started his own four-piece band at Rochester High School, where he graduated in 1942. He still has his Selmer trumpet, the same model used by Harry James and Louie "Satchmo" Armstrong. He said the band also played at the Gardens Night Club on Second Street Southwest, where today is located the Tyrol Ski and Sports shop.

Fuzz Greten died of cancer at age 60 in 1966 and is buried at Calvary Cemetery.

Next week: Country Breakfast returns to a Plainview-area farm owned by Donny and Holly Thompson on June 25.

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