The Recollections of Duncan Long


The Concrete Rubber Band was a small, Kansas-based "Jesus Band" that performed from the late 1960s to early 1970s. Of course we didn't know we were a Jesus Band back then because that term hadn't yet been coined (or, at least, we never heard it). And being out in the sticks we were really totally unaware of other groups that performed Christian music, outside of a couple of other bands that we often rubbed shoulders with when performing at coffee houses and such.


I'm not sure exactly what sparked the start of the band. My mom, Lois Long, was an accomplished piano player and taught music in public school for a time; my dad, Paul Fred Long, played guitar, banjo, violin, and mandolin, so we just grew up with the idea that folks would gather round and play instruments and sing from time to time. Perhaps it just seemed natural to us that with rock bands springing up all over the place in the 1960s, we could do likewise, finally putting our hours of piano lessons to (at least to our teenager eyes) good use.


My sister Jan ("Jan Long" then.... she's now married and is "Jan Pauls"), Bobby Rhodes (who would become our drummer), and I all attended Alden High School and went to the same church (in Alden, KS) so we all knew each other, given that the whole town of Alden had only 300 some people at that time and the high school had a total of forty-some students.


Jan and I started working toward creating the band in 1968, with some college kids and personnel changing pretty regularly at first, coming from Sterling College (which was 7 miles from Alden) supplying the musicians for the most part. Most if not all these guys and gals were talented, yet we never quite "jelled" into a band. Eventually Jan and I heard that Bobby Rhodes, a guy that had gone to our high school, was playing drums and we decided, well, why not try him.


Now Bobby was a quiet guy and it was hard to imagine that he would do well as a drummer. But the moment he hit the trap set and started cooking along, it just worked. Within just a few measures it seemed like the band came together. From then on we had a trio that stayed pretty much in place (we did have another guy sing briefly with us when I had some throat troubles, and briefly I had a girl friend who performed with us, but neither performed with us for all that long).


Over the years the band practiced in my folk's living room and you could hear us halfway across town in the summer when the windows were open (keeping in mind that the town is only 5 blocks wide - ha). Looking back at it I have to wonder how my folks kept their sanity with all the instruments piled up in the living room and all the racket we made during practice, but they never voiced any concern and in fact were always encouraging us to do the best at what we were interested in (and also financing some of the early purchases of equipment).


We have been asked a lot about the name, Concrete Rubber Band. Some people have come up with some very bizarre explanations of what the name represented, with a few even getting some deep theological meanings to it. But none of these theories are true (even though many sound impressive). It’s important to remember that this was the time where you had bands with names like "Iron Butterfly," "Jefferson Airplane" and such. The key thing was that names didn’t mean much but were weird enough that people would remember them.


So we started thinking "Rubber Band" would be memorable since that was already a household word and sort of played on the idea of the group being a band. But we also figured someone would also think of that and they might become famous at which point we’d be seen as copycats. So we decided to add another word to the mix. And after trying out a number of possibilities, "Concrete" was selected and added to the name, since that word was never normally put together with a flexible material like rubber making it unlikely another band would settle on the name.


And so the Concrete Rubber Band was born.


After Jan left for law school in 1974 Bob and I briefly tried to keep going with me working just the keyboards while he drummed, but that was not too great. A year later I left Alden to get my Master's Degree in music and the band came to an end.


Our instrumentation consisted of a variety of "stuff" at one time or another. Our keyboard collection started with a VOX organ (made in Italy) that kept chugging along without a problem. It was augmented by an RMI (Rocky Mountain Instruments) Electric Piano/Harpsichord (which I rewired so the base part could be played on the lower keys). Jan usually played the organ and electric piano (often at the same time), playing the bass so our trio sounded more like a quartet.


I would play either the electric guitar (usually a Fender Mustang, though I also had a Gibson guitar I occasionally played, and a Japanese Norma Electric bass (which I rarely played with the group but did play in pit orchestras or with small jazz and vocal groups).  I would sometimes play a keyboard instead of the guitar (usually ARP synthesizers -- I had an ARP Pro Soloist and an ARP 2600 as well as home-made synthesizer components... toward the end of our time together as a band we also had a string machine -- I can't remember who made that -- to give us a much fuller orchestral sound).


When playing the guitar, I employed an assortment of stomp boxes and pedals over the years, often modified to create the sounds I wanted, and a few wired up from scratch using parts from transistor radios or the like. My mainstays were a weird, off-brand Wah-Wah pedal and a Big Muff Pi fuzz box; from time to time I used homemade preamps for added distortion and sustain. Later, I added a phaser pedal and an Echoplex. (Unfortunately about half the stomp boxes and gear I bought were not all that useful, but sometimes they would inspire some licks or music so maybe they weren't a total waste of cash.)


Bobby had a beautiful set of (I think) Slingerland drums with red sparkle finish. It was pretty much a conventional trap set: a bass, snare, several cymbals, hi-hat, two side drums and a tom-tom. We armed him with thin sticks so he didn’t out shout our amplifiers. It seemed like we were forever playing on slick floors during live performances and more than once between songs you would see him pulling all the drums together after they had traveled all over the place (I don't know how he kept playing sometimes).


We had an ever-changing array of amplifiers including an Ampeg tube amp that strangely had about the best sound of the lot. At one time that was the amplifier that we used for keyboard, guitar, and vocals -- not too great an arrangement, obviously, but it had a pretty clean tube sound that allowed us to get away with it when first starting out. Eventually we had Gibson amps, a weird battery operated Mike Matthews Freedom Amp (using 50 D cells), and assorted Fender amps along with a nice Kustom PA system with two column speakers. The AP had a lot of hiss, but this wasn’t a major concern at the time since we played pretty loud and the hiss was lost in the sound. The PA also had a spring reverb that created a thunderous explosion of noise if we happened to bounce or bump it during performance, something that was easy to do on some of the small stages we found ourselves performing on. But once we were armed with that PA, we were able to do some serious performing.


At one point Bobby had an old Volkswagen van that we sometimes used to carry our equipment. It had a bad battery (strategically located with the engine in the back of the van, right under where all the musical equipment was stored) and on at least one occasion the battery failed to start the van so we had to hop out and push that heavy vehicle down the road so whoever had the good fortune to be steering it could then pop the clutch on the manual transmission to get the engine started. We also had a bunch of different cars from time to time that became loaded to the gills with drums, amplifiers, and other stuff. Fortunately we never had any wrecks or the highway patrol would probably have been picking bits of musicians out of the amplifiers and drums for weeks to come.


We also had a "light organ" that we used sometimes. It was basically three varisters (I think this is the name for the electronic device) set to each control a bank of colored floodlights. The varisters supplied varying amounts of voltage to the lights according to the sound frequencies fed into the machine. There were filters in it for high/medium/low pitches, so one color of lights would flash with higher pitches, another with medium pitches, and the third for lows. The louder the music, the brighter the lights shined. It was crude, but in that less sophisticated time, it seemed pretty slick.


I also rigged up a speaker with a flexible rubber membrane over its front, and then glued bits of mirror to the membrane. When we played our music through the speaker and shined a spot on the mirrors, they created some amazing "dancing" patterns of light on the wall behind us, linked rhythmically to the music. We didn’t use this gimmick a lot because it was hard to set up, but on a few performances the audiences employed seeing it.


Such visual effects were laughably crude by today's standards, but in the pre-computer, pre-laser and computer-control days of lighting effects, these this all seemed like high tech and looked pretty decent for the time.


When we first started we had some home-made films and other light show slide projectors, but quickly discarded those both because they were so much work to set up and use, and also because the audience was often totally baffled as to what the light show was about -- understandably so since it wasn't really about anything but just looked (we thought) really neat. Again this was embarrassingly crude but seemed to us "oh, so cool" at the time.


I wrote the music for the songs we performed and my dad sometimes wrote the words. Usually I would write out the notes for the melody and the chords and the vocal parts, bass line, and instrumentation was created "on the fly" by Jan and me with Bobby setting the tempo. I guess we also did "lift" a few bits of music here and there. We have some of Bach's music at the beginning of one of the songs (I have always been a big classical music fan) and one song (unfortunately not recorded), “Santa Clause Is Dead,” started out with the "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas" carol (that song, by the way, was about how God was quite different from Santa Claus, in case anyone wonders about the title).


We didn't perform at a lot of places. A lot of our music was religious, but our sound was a bit too wild for any church group to sponsor us, and we didn't want to play at dances for various reasons, but mostly because most kids only wanted dance music that they’d heard on the radio.


So we were basically had an Acid Rock sound with religious lyrics -- and almost nowhere to play. But a few brave churches, coffee houses, and youth groups asked us to play our set of songs. Most of the playing was in Central Kansas though we occasionally ventured into Western and Northern Kansas.


The pay was often non-existent or marginal at best.


Somewhere along the line we made a short run (500, I think) of LP records of some of our better songs. We tried selling in Christian bookstores and also at concerts. These records never sold well and when the band broke up, we divided most of the records between ourselves. I ended up giving most of mine away to students when I taught school.


To record the tracks, we created what was possibly the world’s most crude studio setup for making the recordings: Our parent’s living room. I employed a stereo Akai reel-to-reel stereo tape recorder that permitted recording a new sound along with a channel from one or the other of the two stereo tracks. This allowed us to lay down a track of instrumental sounds, and then add more instrumentals or vocals over that (at the loss of most of the stereo effect, of course).


We couldn’t do a lot of this type of overdubbing or things got pretty muddy, but did some of this. Unfortunately we couldn’t use our PA system for this due to the hiss and thus employed some the Ampeg bass amp for the vocals. Of course this was far from ideal (and one reason you can hardly pick out any of the words in the vocals on the LP). I think on one or two tracks I sang with myself (thanks to this tape technique). But most of the performances on our LP were pretty much what we sounded like live -- only you probably could better understand our lyrics live since we sang through the PA.


I drew the cover artwork for the album, doing my best to mimic the pop-art lettering seen on many records of the day. We didn't have money to purchase one of the canned pictures that the vanity press record company offered, so we just cobbled together a hippie looking lettering thing with some Christian symbols -- and it all turned out surprisingly well (albeit, a bit off centered on the original album covers).


Later that same "logo" that we used on the cover was employed on cheap newsprint flyers we printed up to announce public performances. We'd hit towns where we were to play in a few days ahead of time (or mail the flyers to those hiring us to play at their church or whatever) and plaster them in stores and on telephone poles. Crowds were never large but they were generally pretty decent thanks to that sort of guerrilla advertising.


The Concrete Rubber Band was always a labor of love. I think the most we ever got when playing somewhere was fifty dollars, and often we played for free or for the collection plate that was passed around (keeping in mind that the high school students that generally comprised our audience weren't loaded with spare change).


I don’t think we ever sold more than perhaps 20 records. Considering the thousands of dollars we had invested in equipment, that would have meant that had the band stayed together for a three or four decades, we would have finally made enough to pay for the equipment. Another decade or two would have enabled us to pay off the gas burned in traveling.


This is not to say we didn’t have a great time and we did also get a chance to meet some very nice people. Too, in the 1960s, and early 1970s, making money was about the last thing on the mind of anyone playing music. We did it because it was fun to do and that was a lot of the reward -- plus we were telling others about our Christian faith which was arguably an even greatly reward.


Bobby now is married and has three children. He's living in Colorado. Unfortunately I have had little contact with him since the Concrete Rubber Band disbanded.


Jan became a successful lawyer, working in Legal Aid, as a judge, and currently as a state legislator for Kansas.


I taught school for nine years, four while in the Concrete Rubber Band and then five more after getting my Master's Degree at Kansas State University.


Before my last teaching stretch I thought I had a job lined up with ARP Synthesizers in Boston. I could play both guitar and keyboards, had become very skilled with ARP synthesizers, and the company was coming out with a guitar version of its synthesizer, so after meeting with and talking to an ARP representative, it looked like I would be a virtual shoe-in for the job.


What I didn't know was that the company had apparently sunk way too much money (so I've been told) into their guitar synthesizer research and development; at the same time, sales of other ARP synthesizers were dropping. So rather than hiring new staff, ARP was busy cutting back on its work force (and would eventually go belly up).


I found that my sure-fire new job wasn’t there after all. So abruptly I was out of college and unemployed, with the school year having started making it unlikely to find a job teaching.


Fortunately I knew of one public school that was looking for a music teacher and, after a quick call to the principal, landed that job. The good part to this story is at that school I met my wife (who was teaching English), so what seemed like a disaster when I failed to get my dream job at ARP turned into a real blessing for me when I found the woman of my dreams.


A few years later, I started writing books and articles (which I often illustrated); soon I was making money at that so I left my job teaching music at the public school so I could work at home while babysitting with our new daughter. The odd twist to this is that I started my writing business to make enough money to start a small record label of my own. But I discovered I was making pretty good money writing and enjoying it to boot; I just never got around to the music side of the business.


Eventually I sold my ARP synthesizers, junked some of the keyboards and home-made synthesizer modules (yes, a mistake... I thought everything would be going digital right away and that analog, vintage synthesizers would soon be useless), and I also gave away and sold my guitars.


Today, I occasionally write and record music. It’s basically what in the 1960s and 1970s was "classical electronic" style that has slowly grown into what I feel is “my style,” perhaps (with some compositions) lacking any real category. That said, as an “old timer,” it is a bit disconcerting to see what once was called "electronic music" now completely replaced by "Electronic Music" that is more hip-hop or rock (or something -- music today is forever morphing and changing styles within each classification).


Given there are almost no monetary returns on music these days, I don’t write much. When I do, I currently compose with "virtual" synthesizers, mixers, and so forth through my Frankenstein of a PC. I have a MIDI keyboard that I sometimes use, but often I write the music directly to the score via a digital tablet and then run the parts via MIDI to virtual synthesizer or Sound Font of my choosing (or even of my own construction).


Other times, I create sonic soundscapes using AudioMulch, Audacity, and various software synthesizers including those I “build” to suit my tastes with SynthEdit. More recently I purchased an Ibanez AS93 electric guitar with a DigiTech pedal that allows “dialing up” and tailoring effects to my own needs. (I use a small Raven RG20 amp for practice and direct feed the guitar/pedal into the computer when recording.)


I have tried any number of mixer software from Acid to Reaper to N-Track Studio along with possibly hundreds of VST plugins (no, not all at once). Currently I am using Cakewalk. But it seems that none of these are as intuitive or capable of manipulating my music as easily as I would like. But perhaps this is the state of things with musicians and composers forever battling the limitations of a period’s instrumentation.


As for the Concrete Rubber Band, CD Bootleg copies have ironically robbed us of more money than we ever made. I know of at least three bootleg editions (from England, Japan, and Germany).


For a time, one legit reissue was created by  Hidden Vision Records with the CD having several “bonus songs” that we taped by when that didn’t make it onto the original vinyl recording.


Sadly the rampant piracy of various Hidden Vision Records titles eventually drove the company out of business. According to the information we received, Hidden Vision Records brought a lawsuit against one of the bootleggers in England but apparently a previous lawsuit brought against the pirates by the Jimmie Hendrix estate made recovering any money impossible.


The next time someone suggests that piracy helps artists and record companies, this might be a story to tell. Little by little, piracy is killing the golden goose of creativity.




Readers can listen to a number of Duncan’s newer musical compositions at: Duncan Long’s ambient, world, and classical electronic music site.





Soli Deo Gloria





Concrete Rubber Band, 1974. Left to right, Jan Long, Duncan Long, Bobby Rhodes. This photo was taken in the corner of the living room where the band practiced and eventually recorded their LP.

The Concrete Rubber Band


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