Oakland City Indiana’s very own rock band, The Darndest Things, as well as most other area garage bands in the 60s, always played in the shadow of the Tri-State’s top group, the Corvettes, which were well established as an important band by the time The Darndest Things were formed. Coincidentally, The Darndest Things keyboardist Phil Williams was a distant relative of Corvettes’ keyboardist Mike Blythe. Although originally from Glezen, Indiana, Mike grew up living with his grandmother in Oakland City. Phil remembers what a superb musician he was.
I grew up one block from where he lived, and I used to ride my bike by their house in the summertime. Often Mike would be playing piano. He was a super talent. If he was playing, I would just stop and stand on the sidewalk in front of the house and listen. Nobody had A.C. back then. Screened doors and windows were always open. I could hear clearly. He inspired me very much, although I was never even a small fraction of the musician he was. I played chords on a hi-dollar organ in a rock n roll band. Mike Blythe was a super musician. He might well have become a star, a celebrity.Phil Williams
Mike was several years older than Phil and had graduated from Oakland City High School and attended Oakland City College. The Corvettes had formed in 1962, and as part of some lineup changes, Mike had joined them in 1964. The group’s first real break was in playing for Roy Orbison in the Evansville Coliseum and shortly afterwards with duo Jan and Dean. Radio station WJPS had sponsored the Corvettes in some of their appearances, and the band hired DJ Dave Woods as their manager.
In early 1966, Mike Blythe was living in rare air, playing with his band, which was about to record what would become their big regional hit, “Our Love Won’t End,” a record that would receive much playing time on local radio stations, such as Evansville’s WJPS, during the summer of 1966. This song was one of two songs written by Neil Long in 1965, the other one being “Tears Are Free.” The Corvettes had previously recorded a 45 with the songs “Janice” and “Shaften.” When they were looking for another song to record, they saw “Our Love Won’t End” as the A side and “Tears Are Free” as the B side.
The Corvettes played regularly at Lamey’s Grove, a popular dance venue between Princeton and Evansville, Indiana, on Highway 41. To show how popular they were, Mr. Lamey said that six months was usually the longest he engaged a band, but that the Corvettes had been there over three years.
Rex Walters of the Corvettes said that the group met at Lamey’s Saturday afternoons and put songs together. When they worked on “Our Love Won’t End,” Jim Russell, Neil, and Rex sat down with the guitar and worked out the chords. Mike came up with an unusual organ part, which included the sounds of a flute and calliope, that became part of the song’s unique arrangement. Happy with the result, the group set up a recording session at Hubert Wells’ Century Records in Madisonville, Kentucky.
Just as exciting for Mike Blythe was his marriage, carried out in secret on March 9, to a pretty Mt. Carmel, Illinois, girl, Brenda Small. The only fly in the ointment for the young couple was Mike’s impending notice to report to the Marine Corps in April. Still, the couple likely made the most of their time before he left.
Mike had attended Oakland City College with his friend Rex Walters, leading the Corvettes to perform several times at the school. The band was hired to play March 16, 1966, as part of an Oakland City College annual talent show production called the Omnibus Variety Show, supported and produced by the members of Alpha Psi Omega. According to Walters, this was three weeks before their scheduled recording session for “Our Love Won’t End.” The show took place in Stinson Auditorium to an overflowing crowd, with the Corvettes playing in the grand finale to incredible fanfare. One picture shows what appears to be a tired Mike Blythe playing the organ.
After the show ended, the Corvettes lingered around to talk to admiring students, then departed. Later in the night, just after two o’clock in the morning, perhaps after stealing some time alone with his new bride, Mike Blythe headed his car west, on Indiana Highway 64, to return Brenda to her home in Mt. Carmel. Three miles east of Oakland City, authorities believe that he fell asleep at the wheel and crashed the car into a bridge abutment. He and his wife, who had been asleep at the time of the accident, were both rushed to the hospital. Brenda escaped with minor injuries, but Mike had been thrown from the car. He was pronounced dead at 3:15, a twenty-one-year-old youth who might have become a well-known musician, taken from us all too soon.
When the Corvettes released “Our Love Won’t End,” which was played frequently that summer, its poignancy must have been heartrending for Mike’s family and friends, the members of the Corvettes, and especially his very young widow. Sometimes songs carry a much sadder story than most listeners realize.
Listen to “Our Love Won’t End” by the Corvettes below.
Thanks to Phil Williams for his recollections and to Patti Young Clutter for posting the link to “Our Love Won’t End” on Facebook.
- Compiled and Edited Notes from Rex Walters CD and taped recollections, January 26, 2012.
- Oakland City College Mirror, 1966.
- “Our Love Won’t End” notes, December 12, 2011. Displayed on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sz-3ZU6Z3-c
- Princeton Daily Clarion, March 17, 1966.
- The OC Collegian, March 17, 1966.
- “Tri-State Bands of the 60s,” North Knox High School. http://www.northknox70.com/class_custom5.cfm