The Other Half

Not to be confused with Randy Holden's pre-Blue Cheer band of Mr. Pharmacist fame, Kirby Bivans' Other Half was one of the many Chicago-area garage bands that sprang to life in the mid-'60s. Though the band never recorded, they did perform regularly in Chicago, including at the famous Cellar Club in Arlington Heights, Illinois. Along with Kirby, Bob Siegel also graciously shared his recollections on the band. For more information on the Other Half, visit their website at

An Interview With Kirby Bivans and Bob Siegel (60s): How did you first get interested in music?

Kirby Bivans (KB): I was always making up little tunes and had my ear glued to the radio, but it was in '64 as a freshman at Evanston High School that I saw a four-piece rock band in homeroom. I was just blown away at how wonderful it was! - The sounds, sights and the huge vibe in the room. I quickly noted the positions of the drums, drew circles on my notepaper and started tapping with my fingers. I haven't stopped yet.

Bob Siegel (BS): The Beatles were my inspiration and encouragement from the Niles North High School "norse-capades" talent show in 1964 clinched it.

60s: Was the Other Half your first band?

BS: My first band was Pffft, but it was only together for about six months.

60s: Pffft?

BS: I think it was the 1965 school year (1964-65). We chose the name that was most difficult to pronounce and it was voiceless, so every announcer had a hard time. You know, the wackier the better (things never change, do they?)

KB: My first band had just seen the Gerry and the Pacemakers' (movie) FERRY ACROSS THE MERSEY and we decided to call ourselves Them - oblivious to Van Morrison's group. We played only once in a backyard; the concert ended with electrocution on a damp concrete terrace.

60s: Electrocution? What exactly happened?

KB: The afternoon rehearsal went well and we decided to take a big chance and actually perform on our bass player's back terrace. The bass player, Mitch Bruski, was using a Sears Silvertone 6-string guitar plugged into a 3-watt amp mounted into his guitar case and my situation was even more primitive: playing on cardboard boxes, using a metal milk bottle container as the cymbal. It seemed like a good idea, but it had stopped raining not long before and everyone except me was getting electrocuted when they went to sing on the mike or play their guitars! After too many "YEOOOWs" we decided to quit!

60s: Where was the Other Half formed, what year, and by whom?

KB: It was formed in Skokie, Illinois, north of Chicago, in '65, I believe. It was when the second band I was in, The Tiki Quintet, split into two groups. We were the "other half."

60s: What became of the rest of the Tiki Quintet? Do you recall the name of the band they became?

KB: Yep. The Freelancers.

60s: Did they stay together long?

KB: Not that I recall. They were good though and we all stayed friends.

60s: And the Other Half?

KB: We rehearsed some, but things really took direction when we had Mike Brook, Karl Meerstein, Bob Siegel, Brett Knopf and myself in the line-up; we all sang!

BS: Kirby is right on. Kirby and Karl did some recruiting, and through a mutual friend approached me to be part of The Other Half.

60s: Could you outline the line-up for us?

KB: Mike Brook, first lead guitarist, was later replaced by Van Karlson (now known as Randy Chance); Karl Meerstein, lead singer and guitar (now known as Karl Seastone); Bob Siegel, rhythm guitar, was later replaced by Tom Lavin; Brett Knopf, bass guitar (now known as Brett Todd); and Kirby Bivans, drums. It gets confusing as many of us changed our names.

60s: What was the reasoning behind the name changes?

KB: I honestly don't know, other than they all seemed to be totally personal reasons, and not due to Scientology or debt dodging.

60s: Where did the band typically practice?

KB: In basements, man, basements.

BS: Correct!

60s: Where did the band typically play?

KB: The usual teen clubs, Bar Mitzvah, Sweet 16 parties, and a Be-In or two.

60s: Did the Other Half have a manager?

KB: No. Well, we had a manager for a short time, Bob Medyl, owner of the Rolling Stone in Highwood.

60s: Was he helpful at all in supporting the band?

KB: Not much, but at least we could brag that we had a manager....

BS: I might add that he was very direct in his demands, but if I recall, also was trying to get us a demo tape made for a Mercury Records promo, which we made but don't have.

60s: A demo tape?

BS: I think it was recorded in Van Karlson's (now Randy Chance's) basement on an Aiwa reel-to-reel tape recorder that I had. We had good Shure mikes, though. I believe none of the songs were originals, except for a jam session that we recorded for fun. I think the demo had to have at least five songs to be accepted. I can't recall who took the tape with them. I can only think it was left in Randy's house for future review (that never happened). This was done just before I left the band (June 1967) so it was probably the spring (April-May 1967).

60s: What was the Chicago music scene like at this time?

KB: I was more of a suburban kid than some of the others in the band, but I remember seeing the Siegel-Schwall Blues Band at a Be-In in Chicago. The Little Boy Blues were cool, too. Old Town in Chicago was the place to hang out on Saturdays.

60s: What other local Chicago bands of the era do you recall?

KB: We adored The Flock and Saturday's Children! They were the real deal. We also worked with some other great bands like The Mauds; I loved that drummer!

BS: I can't add anything more, except that we were mellower than most other bands at the time, and seemed to stay out of any trouble.

60s: What about some of the local Chicago-area hotspots to play at? Which ones did the Other Half perform at? KB: We played at The Rolling Stone in Highwood and The Cellar in Arlington Heights. The Cellar was the coolest place. We played there three times, but my favorite memory was seeing the Who there on a week night in '67; they only had one song out and the place was just half full. Townsend got his Fender guitar neck caught in the low fishnet ceiling and was angrily trying to yank it all it down while playing a solo. Meanwhile, Keith Moon was kicking and throwing the drum set and Cellar manager, Paul Sampson, was pulling out what little hair he had, because Roger Daltry was swinging his microphone wildly in ever increasing circles. Entwistle just stood there and really kept the music together. It all ended with smoke bombs choking all of us at the end of My Generation. It was the greatest rock concert I ever saw. One of the band members reminded me last summer that when the Who had finished their set amid the smoke bombs and general pandemonium, I told one of our guys, "Hey! Keith Moon just ran into me!" and the response was, "what did he say to you?" I replied, "No; he really ran into me - I almost got knocked over on his way out!"

BS: I very much remember the Evanston Student Union. I believe that there is where our first fan club officially started.

60s: How popular locally did the Other Half become?

KB: We had our fans that followed us everywhere, but we never did get that elusive recording contract that would have made us famous.

BS: We were getting to be known on the north side of Chicago and northern suburbs mostly.

60s: Did you record at all? Are there any unreleased songs in the vault?

BS: This is a sad spot for me. I know there is a reel-to-reel out there somewhere that we made as a pre-promo tape for Bob Medyl.

KB: We did some later-day recordings at the lead guitarist's basement (of course). The reel tapes Randy Chance made are apparently lost, but we were singing one of these songs at our Aug 2001 Vancouver reunion. Everybody remembered the tune except for the composer, Randy!

60s: What was the catalyst for the reunion?

KB: The Internet, man! We just started finding each other and eventually it became our collective passion to find the missing links. It was fun!

60s: Did you perform in front an audience, or did you just get together to jam?

KB: We talked about performing and recording a CD, but when that appeared too ambitious, we just did the CD. General consensus is that when we get together next, it should be for a live performance. Why Vancouver? Member Tom Lavin, who seems to have benefited the most from the music business ( and, made us an incredibly generous offer we couldn't refuse; he put many of us up at his house and recorded the CD at his Vancouver studio. Many of us are on the West Coast, anyway, and the cheap Canadian dollar was another incentive. It was all thanks to Tom that the reunion was as successful as it was. We can't thank him enough.

60s: What can you tell me about the series of great publicity photos of the Other Half in the '60s?

KB: They were taken by Scott Nolan, a friend of the rhythm guitarist. They were just used in general promotion. I love the way they look, too; they really captured the era.

60s: How would you describe the band's sound? What bands influenced you?

KB: The Byrds, Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Lovin' Spoonful (Randy played in that band years later!). We loved the Zombies, too. We had five singers, so harmonies were always our strong suit.

BS: We might add the Beau Brummels and maybe The Who as far as harmonic sound is concerned. Again, the vocal bands were our inspiration. I would put the Stones lower on our list of inspiration and sound.

60s: Did the Other Half participate in any Battle Of The Bands?

KB: In the early days, we won a Battle of the Bands at Main Street Music in Skokie. We still have the trophy! I don't remember what we played.

BS: I don't either, but surely the songs we played best such as You Really Got A Hold On Me, Bring It On Home, and some of the others that we recorded during our reunion in August 2001.

60s: How far was the band's "touring" territory?

KB: Not very large; most of us were still trying to get through high school! We played Southern Wisconsin, down only to the south side of Chicago.

60s: Why did the band call it quits?

KB: This seems to be a dark issue among some members. I don't really remember why we broke up, except that after graduating school, several of us left for the West Coast. It seems like good enough of a reason to me.

BS: I was probably the first to make the move, which was a strictly personal decision, and had nothing to do with the other band members. It was a difficult one because I knew the news would blow them away since it came without warning, just contemplating my own future. I sort of had a leadership position in the band, so the impact was even greater. I later discovered the "spiritual" (if you will) reasons for my decision. After I left the group (and went to California, as Kirby says) I was replaced by Tom Lavin, although that didn't last very long either.

60s: Did you join or form any bands after the Other Half?

KB: In Chicago, I played with Duke Tomato and the All Star Frogs; it was a really great experience! Later in Nashville, I played with several Grand Ole Opry artists as well as Vassar Clements and Nicolette Larson.

BS: After leaving for California, I traded in my Gretsch Anniversary guitar for a Martin D-18 and changed my style of music slightly. In 1970 I joined a 15-member traveling singing group called The New World Construction Company that traveled in California and Nevada. After that, I formed a 3-member "band" called Chandler, Siegel and Edwards and we cut a record (now CD) while living in Chile, South America in 1975.

60s: What about today?

KB: I've managed to make a living in music my whole life and am thankful for that! I have my own band, J. Kirby's Band, here in Switzerland. We just came out with our third CD; folks can visit my website at I also teach drums to about forty kids a week.

BS: I have made my career as an administrator for multinational firms overseas while raising a family of four children, but over the last nine years I returned to my deepest love in education. I have used my musical abilities for children and spiritual choirs, but I have NEVER lost the inner thrill of my '60's music and play it often for sing-alongs. Most importantly, though, I cherish the true friendship and sharing that I continue to receive from The Other Half members.

60s: What are your plans musically for 2002 and beyond?

KB: To get that elusive record deal! Another Other Half reunion would be great, too.

BS: The trio Chandler, Siegel & Edwards is coming out with our second CD in the spring of 2003. It is called A New State of Mind. The 15 tracks have already been laid down at a recording studio in Eugene, Oregon. Over the winter, we will be in post-production.

"Copyrighted and originally printed on by Mike Dugo".
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