The Fabulous Del Counts, who are widely considered the longest-running rock and roll band in the state of Minnesota, have a rich music history that includes roots in Northeast Minneapolis. Charles Schoen, lead vocalist and keyboardist for the Del Counts, once lived in the area.
“The first house I remember living in was off of 5th street and Lowry Avenue,” said Schoen. “My grandmother lived downstairs and my family lived upstairs. When I think about it, we all fit in this small place. It’s incredible. At the time, that’s all my Dad could do.”
Eventually, the family moved to North Minneapolis. After being hit by a car when he was nine years old, Schoen was unable to attend school due to the severity of his injuries. It was at that time that Schoen taught himself how to play the guitar.
“I was laid up for a year and a half in a cast,” said Schoen. “Tutors came to the house and gave me homework for the week. I would do it all on Monday right after they left. I did not have anything else to do, and I could not go anywhere. My Dad had a guitar sitting in the corner, and I got over to it. When I watched him [father] play, my mind picked up where his fingers went. I started practicing, humming, then singing. Music became my love.”
After learning how to play the guitar on his own, Schoen sought out people in the neighborhood to form a band with him. The name of the band was inspired by original member and friend Del Leon LaFave, who Schoen usually played basketball with at Perkins Hill Park, 300 34th Ave N., Minneapolis.
“Del, you’re always tapping on things,” Schoen told LaFave when he was trying to recruit him. “You ever think about playing drums?” When LaFave said no, Schoen asked him, “Why don’t you see if you can get a hold of a snare drum? So he did and he and I started playing.” Schoen came up with the name Del Counts after someone proclaimed at a practice, “Del really counts!” Not having a name for the group at that time, Schoen decided that Del Counts was fitting.
Eventually, Schoen recruited band member Bill Soley, whose father owned Soley Iron Works. Soley, who lived on the same neighborhood block, learned how to play the bass guitar with Schoen’s instruction. Schoen then recruited Thomas Aspenwall, who he discovered while walking down an alley a couple of blocks from his home.
“I was walking down the alley one day and heard music coming out of his house,” recalls Schoen. “I knocked on his door, and we talked about it.” Aspenwall agreed to join the band, and along with Steve Miller on guitar, the foursome formed the first Del Counts in 1961.
The band began practicing, and eventually began performing at different venues around the city. At first the band performed at teenage dances because they were all minors. Their first performance was at Margaret Barry House, 759 Pierce St. NE, which was run by the Minneapolis League of Catholic Women.
As the band continued to build their reputation, LaFave was replaced by their second drummer, Tony Preese, who lived at 619 Pierce St. NE Minneapolis. The band eventually began practicing in the back of a shop Preese’s father owned, Tony’s Shoe Repair, then located at 9th and Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis. It was during a practice one day, that the group was approached by a passerby who heard them playing. That passerby was Marsh Edelstein of Marsh Productions. Edelstein ran the Battle of the Bands at the Marigold Ballroom located at 1336 Nicollet Avenue in downtown Minneapolis, and invited the band to compete after listening to them practice.
“After that summer, we ended up being the number one band,” said Schoen. “That was crazy because you had the Underbeats and a lot of great groups. The songs just worked for us.”
The popularity of their breakout song at Battle of the Bands, “Let the Good Times Roll,” eventually led to the band’s first record deal from Soma records, owned and operated by Amos Heilicher, and located at 119 North 9th Street, Minneapolis. Heilicher, and his brother Danny owned the Musicland chain of stores across the Midwest.
The Del Counts recorded “Let the Good Times Roll” in 1965 under the Soma record label and garnered immediate attention from music critics and fans. The song catapulted the group into the music scene and led to gigs around the city, as well as North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Wisconsin. The group had their greatest success when their song “What is the Reason” climbed the KDWB charts to number four in 1967. “Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool Ya” charted in 1971.
Over the next two decades, the Del Counts toured and performed with many well-known musicians and opened for artists Wilson Pickett, The Moody Blues, The Hollies, The Young Rascals, Sonny and Cher, Tiny Tim, Three Dog Night, and Strawberry Alarm Clock.
Locally, the band performed at venues like the Medina Entertainment Center (500 Highway 55, Medina), as well as packed performances at the old Met Center (7901 Cedar Ave. South, Bloomington), and First Avenue (701 N 1st Ave., Minneapolis). The band became part of the Twin Cities nightclub circuit as the house band at Cascade 9 (829 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis), Mr. Nibs (2609 26th Avenue South, Minneapolis), Burnsville Bowl (1200 Highway 13 East, Burnsville), and several others for up to two years at a time.
The group also performed on several television stations and at local events and festivals such as Aquatennial – even if there was no payment involved. “We didn’t get paid for doing it,” said Schoen. “It was self promotion. If you want to continue the passion of music, sometimes you aren’t always paid. Increasing your audience base can happen this way.”
The Del Counts recorded under several different labels including Mar-Bil, Hand, Maple Leaf Records, APA Records, and Moon Sound – where the iconic Prince also recorded some of his first music. Schoen fondly spoke of an encounter he had with Prince in 1978 at Moon Sound Studios, then located at 4937 South 28th Ave, Minneapolis.
“We were looking for a cheap place to record,” said Schoen. “That was the best buy at the time, which was about $300 for a session. Walking in, Prince was standing by the [sound] board, mixing ‘ Soft and Wet.’ I was standing next to Prince, bopping like a kid, and he asks me, ‘What do you think?’ I said, ‘I think you’ve got a hit.’ He just looked at me, smiled, took his hand and punched me in the shoulder. Several months later he was on Bandstand.” Years later, Schoen was asked to perform at a Prince after-party during the 1990’s at Coffman Memorial Union on the University of Minnesota campus.
Over the decades, the band members have changed, with Schoen remaining the only original member. Current members include Charles Schoen on keys and lead vocals, Chris Casteneda on guitar, Tim Miller on bass guitar, and Jon Schoen on drums. The band’s music persists as the band plays at weddings, anniversaries, and class reunions. The band also plays at a variety of VFWs throughout the year around the metro area. Schoen says that fans who have been there from the beginning of his career in music, continue to attend the band’s shows today. In April 2019, the Del Counts celebrated their 58th Anniversary with a show that was packed with fans and past band members, who performed at John P. Murzyn Hall, 530 Mill Street NE, in Columbia Heights.
The Del Counts also have had four different days declared and dedicated to them by former Governor Mark Dayton, and most recently by Governor Tim Walz on April 26, 2019. It’s a feat that has not been accomplished by anyone else in the state. Not only has Schoen earned two lifetime achievement awards (Bill Diehl, Mid-America Music Hall of Fame), but the Del Counts were also inducted into the Minnesota Rock and Country Hall of Fame in 2006.
The band is currently working on a new album and is in the midst of filming a documentary. When asked if Schoen plans to retire from playing music anytime soon, the 72-year-old responded candidly. “I will continue to rock and roll until God turns out the lights, and pulls out the plug.”
More information about the band, their history, and booking can be found on their webpage at: https://www.delcounts.com/bio.
Below: Promoting “Let the Good Times Roll” and “What is the Reason” Bob Phalen, Kelly Vincent, Charles Schoen, Steve Miller. In suits: Charles Schoen, Bob Phalen, Jimmy Reed (WDGY radio DJ) Steve Miller, Kelly Vincent, Marsh Edelstein. In the 70’s, Mike Wright, Steve Miller, Charles Schoen, Al Miller, Tom Holt. (Photos courtesy of Jon Schoen) Del counts 58th anniversary band. Bobby Jones (back), Bill Davis, Charles Schoen, Chico Perez, and Brad Marsh. (Photo by Keith Bridges)