Twenty Years Ago …

 

In the summer of 2016 we bought a modest record collection from a very funny lady who had a lot of stories to share about St. Paul in the sixties. Her albums were mostly classic rock standards, but a copy of T.C. Atlantic’s one and only LP (Recorded Live at the Bel Rae Ballroom) set off a number of memories because she’d known the band when she was a teenager.

The garage group never had a national hit like some of their contemporaries from the Twin Cities, but their singles have since become favorites of garage and psych rock collectors. This is especially true for their last record, “Faces,” a fuzz heavy classic which was released nationally by Parrot Records.

Parrot also re-issued this single which originally appeared on the local candy floss label. One of our favorite Minnesota songs from the 60s is on the A side, and our new friend explained that it was inspired by her father. She couldn’t offer us his name, but explained that he had been a mafia hit man and the phrase “the cat had kittens” was a code for when he had completed his grim task.

“Twenty Years Ago (In Speedy’s Kitchen)” won song of the year at the short-lived Connie Awards in 1968. It was on the strength of this single that Parrot Records took on T.C. Atlantic, and the song is still a local favorite. Whether the story is true or not, we couldn’t say — but St. Paul was certainly a “gangster’s paradise” of sorts as corrupt local officials were willing to look the other way when it came to organized crime. This was most true during the prohibition era, which is ironic because it was a Minnesotan member of the House of Representatives who introduced the National Prohibition Act in 1919.

While in the 1930s St. Paul was the site of sensational crimes such as the kidnapping and ransom of William Hamm Jr. (of the brewery family) and Edward Bremmer (of the banking family), and Minnesota boasted more than 20% of the bank robberies in 1932, law and order had largely returned by the middle of the decade. The T.C. Atlantic song released in 1968 may have actually been referring to events of thirty years ago. The end of the era of organized crime in the midwest was the result of the FBI’s crackdown on high profile criminals, such as Alvin Karpis, a conspirator in both kidnappings. He was tried in St. Paul’s Federal Court Building, which is now the Landmark Center, and sentenced to life in prison. Karpis, nicknamed “Creepy” for his un-nerving smile, was the only one of the four men given the auspicious distinction of “Public Enemy #1” to be captured alive.

Karpis was released and deported in 1969 after having been imprisoned in Alcatraz longer than any other inmate. Living in Montreal he wrote his memoirs, which included an entertaining account of his brief acquaintance with an entirely different 60s recording artist, Charles Manson:

This kid approaches me to request music lessons. He wants to learn guitar and become a music star. “Little Charlie” is so lazy and shiftless, I doubt if he’ll put in the time required to learn. The youngster has been in institutions all of his life —first orphanages, then reformatories, and finally federal prison. His mother, a prostitute, was never around to look after him. I decide it’s time someone did something for him, and to my surprise, he learns quickly. He has a pleasant voice and a pleasing personality, although he’s unusually meek and mild for a convict. He never has a harsh word to say and is never involved in even an argument.

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