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Founding member of Head East discusses band’s new album

by Jeremy Amick | September 10, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.
Courtesy/Roger Boyd Roger Boyd became a founding member of the band Head East in 1969. In addition to the bands success, Boyd later returned to college and earned a doctorate, teaching for many years in St. Louis and at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville.

Roger Boyd was for many years a member of the faculty of St. Louis University and Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, guiding young collegiates in pursuit of their education.

Around Memorial Day each year, he would remove his mortar board and graduation gown and exchange it for his "rock and roll gear" to tour with Head East, the rock band he helped establish decades earlier.

Boyd was born in 1949 and came of age in the rural community of Carlyle, Illinois, with his three brothers and a sister. He recalls playing trumpet and piano in the fourth grade and performing in the school band, yet his interest in rock music came unexpectedly a few years later.

"Sometime around 1965, I was part of a 4-H skit, and we came out dressed like hillbillies and played some campfire-type songs for the audience," Boyd said. "I was playing guitar and had been listening to some Top 40 stuff on my transistor radio, so we broke into 'All My Loving' by the Beatles, and the girls started screaming!"

Smiling, he added, "It was so loud we could hardly hear what we were doing, and that was when I got my interest in music."

He and his brother organized a band, but it was the following year, when he met Steve Huston, that his musical aspirations began to materialize more fully, and he worked diligently to refine his skills as a keyboardist.

"Steve was from another rural school about 30 or 40 miles away, and we met at an essay contest in Washington, D.C.," Boyd said. "In 1966, while in D.C., we went to the banks of the Potomac River with a couple of girls, and he played 'Anna' by the Beatles on my guitar, and I knew we needed to form a band."

Naming their group the TimeAtions, Boyd, his brother, Larry, and Huston began playing teen centers and sock hops. Graduating from Carlyle High School in 1967, Boyd enrolled at the University of Illinois-Champaign on an engineering scholarship.

But in the summer of 1969, major changes came when he met John Schlitt, who joined their band.

"We had been trying to figure out a new name, and it was a roadie who came in one day and said something about naming the band Head East," Boyd said.

That fall, Head East exploded in Carbondale, Illinois, as a favorite of students at Southern Illinois University. Even though the band was growing in popularity, Steve Huston and John Schlitt left the band and returned to college. Boyd made the difficult decision to leave college to continue with the band and pursue his musical career.

"We had three different composites of the band during the interim, until 1973, when John and Steve returned to the band with the goal of recording an album," Boyd said.

In the summer of 1974, Boyd, Huston and Schlitt added Mike Sommerville and Dan Birney, and recorded their first album, "Flat as a Pancake," at Golden Voice Studio in Pekin, Illinois.

"We made that album ourselves, produced it and paid for it," Boyd said. "At first, we made 5,000 vinyl albums and 500 eight-tracks. Then we got a big break when KSHE (St. Louis) and KY102 (Kansas City) -- and then other markets -- started playing it and things really took off for us."

He continued, "The song 'Never Been Any Reason' was a huge hit and 'Love Me Tonight' broke into the Top 40 for us, too."

Head East soon signed with A&M Records and the album cover for "Flat as a Pancake" was redesigned. The band toured tirelessly through the next several years and recorded another six albums for A&M. That lineup played their last show together on April 20, 1980.

Throughout the next 15 years, Head East continued to tour with several different iterations of members. Those years passed by quickly and Boyd witnessed many changes in the music industry.

"Times were brutal for classic rock bands in the late '80s and early '90s, but all that started to change around the mid-90s, when '70s rock became classic," Boyd shared.

At the same time, Boyd never lost sight of one of his earliest goals -- to earn a college degree.

"Going to college had been my dream since I was 4 years old," Boyd said. "My mom had earned her master's degree in the 1930s, and we were always raised to think about college in our future."

Boyd enrolled at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, Illinois (SIUE), in 1995 and earned his bachelor's and master's degrees. He was then accepted at St. Louis University, receiving his doctorate in public policy studies in 2005. For several years, he taught at St. Louis University before becoming an associate professor in the Department of Social Work at SIUE.

He and his wife retired from SIUE in 2011 to focus on Head East, their family farm (established in 1835), and their other interests.

Boyd and Schlitt are now the sole original members of Head East since the recent death of friend and co-founding member Steve Huston. The current band has been playing with him for the last 16 years.

Members Darren Walker, Greg Manahan, Eddy Jones and Mark Murtha are reminiscent of the original lineup, Boyd said, with their trademark sound of exceptional vocals and flawless harmonies. Everyone sings, composes and contributes to the high-energy shows widely embraced by fans.

Their newest album, "Full Circle," recorded for Cleopatra Records, symbolizes the Head East journey. Some of the album is re-records of previous material with several cover songs and new material added into the exhilarating mix.

One of the feature tracks is "Treat Me Right," which was started by the original lineup of the band in 1980, yet never finished. The current members' voices and instrumental performances were added to the finished recording with a more modern feel. The song is the first release from the new album and currently available in digital format on major streaming platforms.

"Next year, 'Flat as a Pancake' turns 50 years old," Boyd said. "Recently, the song 'Never Been Any Reason' was RIAA gold certified as a single. I remain proud of all the material and work that Head East has done. The timing for this new album is right ... and that time is now."

Jeremy P. Ämick is the author of "Movin' On," the upcoming biography of the band Missouri.

Print Headline: Founding member of Head East discusses band’s new album


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