Williston man’s old band is an Internet hit

This publicity photo for the Embermen Five shows the group as they were in the 1960s. Seated is Rob Boen. Standing from left are Larry Tanner, Herb Parker Jr., Paul Unwin and Bob Johnson. In October 2009 their song from 1966, “Fire in my Heart” hit number one on TopShelf Oldies internet radio station out of San Diego.

A group of North Dakotans who had to pass on an opportunity to give their band’s music national exposure in the 1960s recently enjoyed a second chance at having their music rise up the charts.

The Embermen Five, a 1960s rock band from Minot, reached the number one spot on the San Diego-based Internet radio program the HiFi Party on Oct. 5. The HiFi Party is a weekly Monday night program on the TopShelf Oldies internet radio station.

Herb Parker Jr., chair of the music department at Williston State College, was the drummer and lead singer of The Embermen Five.

Parker said the song that found its way back onto radio was the band’s regional number one hit song from the summer of 1966, “Fire in My Heart”.

“I didn’t know about it until the middle of November when Liz Durham, one of my students at Williston State College, told me she heard it on their broadcast,” said Parker.

Parker said after being informed about his former band’s appearance on Internet radio, he checked the broadcasts of the HiFi Party at www.kfound.us.

The station introduced the song on the program on June 29. Parker said the song began to climb the station’s charts throughout September before hitting number one on Oct. 5.

He said the song jumped on the station’s charts as part of ira Second Chance Survey, where listeners vote on a select group of lesser-known of oldies songs.

“They heard our songs on another online station. The DJ in San Diego heard it and loved it,” said Parker.

Parker missed hearing the broadcasts until after the fact, but being able to hear them online was a real thrill.

“Fortunately, all the broadcasts are still online, so it was fun listening to our record climb the charts just like in the summer of 1966,” said Parker.

The Embermen Five came together in Minot in 1963 when Parker was asked by fellow musician Ron Boen if he’d like to start a band. Boen was the keyboard player, manager and band leader.

The two of them eventually rounded out the band in late 1964 with lead guitarist Larry Tanner, rhythm guitarist Paul Unwin and bassist Bob Johnson.

In 1966, the band recorded two original songs in Minneapolis, one of which was “Fire in My Heart.”

The song became a smash hit in Minot, topping local radio for six weeks that summer. Among the Embermen Five’s biggest moments that summer was when they opened for the Beach Boys in August.

“Being teenagers, opening a show with those guys, was just amazing,” said Parker.

Parker said the band was influenced by a lot of music, including rock, rhythm and blues and Top 40. The band’s music, he said, has been described as rock, garage rock and some of their material has even been referred to as what later become known as punk.

“We liked everything that was happening at that time,” said Parker.

With a dedicated following and a number-one regional hit, The Embermen Five had an opportunity to tour nationally, but couldn’t to take the chance.

“We had an offer to give it national exposure, but we were all in school. It would have required dropping out of school and traveling all over the country promoting the record. We would have been drafted immediately, so there really was no choice,” said Parker.

Parker said looking back, they made the right choice and there are no regrets. He said they were satisfied with their regional success, adding he’s been blessed with a fulfilling career as a music teacher.

In 2002, a compilation CD and LP of The Embermen Five, “Fire in Their Hearts” was released by German label Break-A-Way Records. Parker said he let Boen take charge of organizing the re-release through them, as he was a great business manager.

Since the compilation’s release, the band has received occasional Internet radio airplay.

“Since then, we have seen two or three of our songs on several online playlists, but this is the first time we’ve heard one of our recordings on a countdown,” said Parker.

Boen still lives in Minot and also is impressed by the continued interest in the band.

“Hardly a week goes by that someone doesn’t mention the band to me and that makes me feel good. It’s so nice that after more than 40 years, there are still people around the country that enjoy The Embermen Five’s music,” said Boen.

Parker keeps in touch with Boen, but hasn’t been in touch with the rest of his former bandmates in recent years. He said Tanner now resides in Oklahoma, Johnson in Michigan and Unwin in Florida.

The Embermen Five compilation CD can be found by visiting Break-A-Way Records at www.break-a-way.de/.

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