An interview with Steve Cassells of the Drivin’ Dynamics

Randy Meisner: A Retrospective is honored that former member of The Dynamics, Steve Cassells, has agreed to answer some of our questions. Cassells played keyboards with the band from 1964-1966. We appreciate his insight into this early part of Randy’s career.

Here’s Steve:

PLEASE TELL US ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND LEADING UP TO AND JOINING THE DYNAMICS?

Dad played trombone in a brass band while in the Navy.  In the 4th grade I also took up the trombone and played in the HS marching band (I still remember well marching down Pennsylvania Ave in the front row of the Scottsbluff HS band representing the state of Nebraska at the inauguration of JFK in Jan of ’61). My mom loved playing piano and organ and played it right up until she passed away in her 90s.  She had me taking piano lessons that began in the 2nd grade and ran through high school. My dad was very gregarious and after he retired from the Navy and we moved back to Scottsbluff in 1954, he worked in various ventures as a salesman, eventually joining a friend in what became a very successful music store they called Rentzleman and Cassells House of Music. After the Ventures became popular, we kids started to try to imitate them, and I talked my dad into getting the franchise for Fender guitars and amps (which the Ventures used). That made his store the center for rock musicians throughout western Nebraska for many years (and a seemingly unending source of equipment for me πŸ™‚). The pictures you’ve seen of the Dynamics with the bank of tan amps, as well as most of the instruments, came from my dad’s store.  

The Dynamics, with their bank of amps from Cassells’ father’s music store, at the Scottsbluff National Guard Armory, 1965. L-R: Dave Margheim, Paul Asmus, Randy Meisner, Larry Soto, Bobby Soto (on drums), Steve Cassells.

My background with stringed instruments came later – maybe 9th grade – after my dad brought a baritone ukulele home and I immediately glommed onto it. Unlike the traditional tiny uke, the baritone is larger, but more importantly, it is tuned differently – the same notes as the highest 4 strings on a guitar, so once I learned to play that, the transition to the 6 strings on a real guitar was fairly easy. I began playing the guitar incessantly until the fingers on my left hand literally bled (common story of beginner guitarists) before eventually developing calluses. My early forays into performing were in folk trios copying the Kingston Trio – high school parties and various civic meetings. We were not very good, but it was great experience. As an aside, when I was in the Nickel Matchbox in Denver in 1966 and saw two members of the Kingston Trio in our audience in the small club, the Exodus, you can imagine the thrill it was for me.   
I do feel fortunate to have had musical encouragement as a kid. There is something about musical exposure at a young age that apparently develops special brain wiring. I always struggled actually reading music while a piano student, but even now at the age of 75, can listen to about any song and immediately know the chord progressions. Good ears for music don’t happen by chance. 

My first rock band, The Continentals, did not include a bass guitar – had drums, piano and 2 guitars. We were not very good, and lacking a bass made the sound quite unbalanced. I figured out quite soon that David Margheim was 10x the player I was (he’d been taking guitar lessons for many years – I never had even one). So I talked my dad into buying me a Fender Jazz Bass (below). I got decent on bass and played that for several years in the Continentals before joining the Dynamics with David joining at the same time.

The Continentals: L-R: Grady Waugh, David Margheim, Steve Cassells, Dick Reiser.
Photo courtesy of Steve Cassells.

WHAT WERE YOUR FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF RANDY AND YOUR OTHER BANDMATES?

Randy seemed to always be smiling in school. I hadn’t known him until he came to town after Jr. High. He could be quite a character. When our principal instituted a rule requiring all guys to wear belts, Randy got caught without a belt and ordered to leave and get one. So he went out to the parking lot and took the seat belt out of his car and put it on. We all howled when we saw him return. 

I can’t remember the first time I heard the Dynamics, but it had to be a school dance or something similar. I had known Paul Asmus for a long time, as he was in the school band with me playing sax and was a popular football player. Early on our two bands both performed in the area and were fairly comparable, but when the Dynamics got a real PA system for the vocals, they blew us out of the water. And Randy’s skills with the bass far exceeded mine, so the gap between our two bands kept expanding. Randy’s demeanor on stage was exceptional when compared to the rest of us. None of us were particularly aware of stage presence early on, but Randy was more active than everyone else. A lot more dancing while he sang. It made me sad years later to see Randy mostly standing during performances – apparently at the insistence of Henley. Not at all what he was like in the Dynamics.

The true leader of the Dynamics was Larry Soto, and he was very active in promoting the band.  Paul Asmus was the most serious, and more focused on the financial bottom line. No surprise he went on to work in accounting as an adult. Bobby Soto, Larry’s younger brother, was not the original drummer, and came in when John Ankeny went off to the service. Bobby was probably the most friendly – always smiling and joking. Right to the end. Great guy. So sad when he died of cancer (maybe in his 50’s). David Margheim and I really hit it off when we first met and started a band. We continue to this day as great friends. 

L-R: Paul Asmus, Dave Margheim, Bobby Soto, Larry Soto, Randy Meisner, Steve Cassells.


WHAT WAS A TYPICAL SET LIST FOR THE DYNAMICS?

I don’t ever remember seeing ANY formal set lists in those days. No one in the band had a monopoly on picking songs, but someone would call out a song and we would play it. Not very organized by today’s standards. No such things in those days of Xerox copies of an organized song list to follow on stage. Very informal.  We mostly did up tempo tunes. Larry probably did more of the vocal solos than anyone else. I only did a few – mostly Ray Charles or Lovin’ Spoonful tunes.  I can still see Randy singing “Twist and Shout” as he bounced around behind the mic. We’d throw in a slow tune occasionally. Later Larry wrote a few songs that we did, but for the most part, we did popular covers of the time. We’d take about a 20-minute break about halfway through the night. A typical dance might run from 9-12 or 9-1. 

DOES ANY PARTICULAR SHOW STAND OUT?

Calling them “shows” is probably a little misleading. They were dances with very active couples on the floor most of the time. Before I joined the Dynamics, they were a popular group at Little Moon Lake, west of the Bluffs just across the WY state line. Big quonset hut on a small lake popular with the locals for water skiing and Sat night teen dances. Bands got $25/person each for the night, except New Year’s Eve when they paid $50 each. Once the Dynamics began to get popular regionally, they made a lot more money on the road and wouldn’t play Little Moon anymore (made the owners unhappy). 

A typical gig would consist of us renting a hall (National Guard Armory, civic auditorium, etc) and split the gate with the owner (always tried for 70-30% but sometimes had to do 60-40%. Our typical territory ranged as far east as Grand Island, NE, south into Kansas at Goodland or Colby, north to Rapid City, SD, and west to Cheyenne and Laramie, WY. We did some dances beyond those margins, esp in the summers when we could be out for a week or two at a time.

While I was with the Dynamics, the most lucrative gigs were in Cheyenne and Laramie, WY. where we might draw up to 2,000 kids and make maybe $200-250 each (with the gate being $1 or $1.25 per person).Typically, we would show up several hours in advance and unload the trailer or hearse (not sure I sent you a pic of the old Caddy hearse we used at times, so a very poor image is attached). I do remember one time in Cheyenne when we set up early, ran through a few new songs, and then went out to grab supper in a local restaurant. We usually learned the good places to eat and kept returning to them – including the area truck stops for after-dance meals). Anyway, this particular night we finished our meals and headed back to the Cheyenne Frontier Days grounds. It was a shock to find ourselves stuck in an honest-to-goodness traffic jam when we were within 1/2 mile of the hall. Those sorts of things never happen in Cheyenne, even to this day (population 60,000), but carloads of kids from all around the region were pouring into the grounds in astounding numbers and the road couldn’t handle it. Great for our egos.    

The Dynamics’ Caddy hearse, Lexington, NE, 1964
On top of car L-R: A roadie, Bobby Soto (lying down), Steve Cassells (striped shirt).
Photo courtesy of Steve Cassells.


TELL US ABOUT KOMA AND ITS IMPORTANCE TO THE DYNAMICS:

KOMA was so very important in our early days. I believe it was 1520 am on the dial and was 50,000 watts – the maximum power still allowed by the government. Here is a link to their history, and the 60’s are buried in there somewhere.   https://komaradio.com/history/   I think they are now a small FM station.  There were a group of bands who were unofficially known as KOMA bands (us, Fabulous Flippers, Spider and the Crabs, The Blue Things and maybe another one or two I have forgotten),  although the station had no other relationships with us beyond taking our money and playing the ads. We would have 5-6 ads/night after it got dark and the radio coverage spread out across the country.


WHEN RANDY WAS IN THE DRIVIN’ DYNAMICS WAS HE ABLE TO HIT THE HIGH NOTES, OR IS THAT SOMETHING HE HAD TO PERFECT?

Randy always had the highest voice in the band. I’m not sure we appreciated it all that much at the time – not like the way he contributed to the Eagles’ success. We didn’t do a lot of the close harmony where his voice later became so important.

WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT THE DYNAMICS’ RECORDING SESSIONS:

The 1st recording session the Dynamics did was before I joined them –  done in a local studio and fairly primitive.  Later, when we got invited to record at the Ray Ruff Studios in Amarillo, I especially remember the very long drive. Shortly after getting there, a local songwriter talked to us and we worked on one of his songs that we liked. I think it was called “One of These Days”. It was a mistake to try it, as we practiced it and recorded most of the day and way into the early morning hours on just that one song and still were not satisfied. After a little sleep, we came back and did “Hurt Me” and “So Fine” without a hitch and just kept them.  I remember several of us standing in the vocal room with headsets, singing to the already recorded instruments.  It was a great experience to see how a song was recorded on multiple tracks and then mixed. I think this was an 8-track studio, primitive by today’s standards, but state of the art at that time.  

DID RANDY TRY TO WRITE SONGS EARLY ON, OR DID HE HAVE IDEAS FOR SONGS?

I don’t remember Randy writing any songs in those days.  Larry was the one who did a little of that.  Our recording of ‘Hurt Me’ was Larry’s.

RANDY HAS SAID HE IS VERY SHY. WAS HE EVER SHY ABOUT BEING ON STAGE IN THOSE DAYS?

I guess he was shy, but so were many of us. When he was performing, it didn’t show. He was very normal in social interaction – happy, friendly. Not at all aggressive or obnoxious. People liked him.

WE’VE HEARD THAT RANDY’S PARENTS WERE SUPPORTIVE OF HIS CAREER. WHAT ABOUT HIS SISTER?

Randy’s parents were very nice – typical farm family – hard working, kind. Whatever they did to support him (buying him instruments, etc – which all our folks did early on) was not something I ever saw. They did come to a local dance at times. I never knew his sister. I think she was older.  I did go out to his farm a few times to hunt pheasants and spend the night. Very nice folks.

DID BAND MEMBERS GET ALONG OR HANG OUT TOGETHER OFF STAGE?

We all got along pretty well. Larry was a bit older than the rest of us and played the “adult” more. He did the booking of gigs and tried to keep us in line. Randy’s best friends were outside the band. I recall Steve West was one of his best friends. Mine was Dave Margheim. We didn’t do a lot of things together that didn’t relate to the band during my years with them. There was travel and stage life together, and then our own lives elsewhere.

WHEN AND WHY DID YOU LEAVE THE DYNAMICS?

I left the Dynamics in the early summer of 1966 and moved to Denver, all because of a young lady. I had met Jill, a Denver girl who had come to Scottsbluff Jr. College the previous fall, and we fell in love almost at first sight. She was very outgoing, I was shy. She was tall (5’11”) and I was 6’6″. I was later told by her that when she stepped on campus that first day, some of the local girls told her there was a really tall guy she should meet. So she came right over to the bench I was sitting on and sat down. The rest is history.  We were engaged before Thanksgiving and got married in Sept ’66 in Denver.  Years later I went back, hoping I could find the bench so I could buy it, but no such luck.

DO YOU AND RANDY KEEP IN TOUCH?

We have not regularly communicated. I never got to see him during his Eagles years. The last time he came back to Scottsbluff we all performed together for the band’s 40th anniversary (a long time ago now – maybe 20 years). We talked on the phone a little after I sent him a copy of a magazine article on my Woodie that mentions him (it was one of our touring vehicles used to carry our gear). My youngest grandson is really into classic rock music and wants to meet Randy. We have had hopes to get out to CA and let that happen. Maybe someday, but the clock is ticking for all of us. 

A recent photo of Steve and his youngest grandson, with his 1948 Woodie, as they prepared for a Christmas parade.

10 comments

    • You’re welcome, and thank you! It was a privilege to interview Steve. He has so many great stories.

    • Steve was very kind to let us barrage him with questions. He is a fountain of information. I think it’s so important to document these stories and remembrances about Randy’s early days.

    • You’re welcome! We are so pleased that Steve agreed to share his memories of Randy’s early career days.

  1. Wow, this is awesome! Many thanks for this. It’s great to hear from Steve Cassells.

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