MEET MAMA’S NEW SECRETARY

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Craig Cronbaugh

NOVEMBER 2022

Craig Cronbaugh of Des Moines, Iowa was admitted into the Midwest All Music Association Hall of Fame (MAMA) on October 15 of this year. His induction took place at the Majestic Moon Event Center in Waterloo, Iowa.

Craig had begun playing the drums professionally in 1975. Craig states:

“As far as I was concerned, my induction became my personal vindication for all the blood, sweat, and tears I had experienced during my years as a performer in various bands. My induction also recognized the wonderful musical times, such as the thrill of performing on each stage with talented musicians, as well as the gratification that comes with entertaining multitudes of people throughout the years.”

Late this summer, after becoming informed that he was slated for induction into MAMA, and during several communications with MAMA board member, Dick Cole, Craig was asked to consider becoming a member of the MAMA board of directors. Kristen Miller had also recently resigned her post as secretary.

“It all happened so fast, but I was subsequently voted in as a board member and became the secretary as well. Being retired, I didn’t know whether I wanted to take on this responsibility. I realized that I had the skill set necessary for the task, but I was still hesitant. After all, I had just been selected for induction into the Hall of Fame. I guess I ultimately surmised that this new position would, indeed, keep me in the music business. It’s kind of funny, but in retrospect, I believe I was voted in as board member/secretary before I had even formally accepted the invitation.”

Craig is grateful to MAMA president Al Huntzinger and all the rest of the MAMA members for granting him the opportunity to serve in the association.

“It will be my honor to perform my duties in order to sustain this fine organization. It is important that we maintain the lofty standards of the association, thus keeping it at the forefront of Iowa’s music industry, while continuing the recognition of Iowa and Midwestern musicians.”

The following is Craig’s life retrospection:

DRUMMER

Craig, a farm boy from eastern Iowa, began playing the drums in the sixth grade. He participated in the concert and jazz bands in junior high and high school.

“I became a good enough player and began performing in the Cedar Rapids area with a couple of country rock combos around 1970. During this period, I was especially proud of the fact that I could buy my own schoolbooks and lunch tickets with money I had made playing the drums. I graduated from Urbana High School in Urbana, Iowa in 1974.”

After further study of the drums—approaching rock and country rock music with a “jazzy” syncopation, enhancing the music approach—Craig began playing the drums in bands professionally in 1975 around the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, area. He took the stage with the area’s top bands: the Hardtimes; the Good, Bad, and Ugly (with Terry Lawless); Showboat (with Ron DeWitte and Don Daugherty); Nite Moves (with Don Daugherty and Mike Williams); and the Alumni.

After playing drums with a music trio for four months on Chicago’s Rush Street in 1976, Craig returned to Cedar Rapids and performed the drumming chores with the Al James Show. This band appeared around the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City area. The band went out of state briefly on a three-week tour, performing in three of Canada’s provinces.

Craig-Cronbaugh,-Drummer-1976

Craig Cronbaugh – 1976

Craig was also with the original 1978 backup band for the late Artie Mentz of Dubuque, Iowa, one of the first Elvis impersonators. A promo film was produced of this band. He also toured with Artie’s band and dazzled audiences during a series of concerts in Kentucky.

“To kick off this ensemble, Artie’s full orchestra, with me on the drums, performed a concert in Dubuque to a packed house. The local radio station aired a promo prior to the concert, which I still have in my archives.”

In 1979, Craig waxed his pop/jazz album, That Drummer!, enlisting the talents of Cedar Rapids musicians, most of whom have been inducted into the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The late Louis Carr, the late Fred Walk, the late Ron DeWitte, the late Mike Sexton, Don Daugherty, and the great saxophone, flute and keyboard virtuoso Terry Lawless were some of the recording partners for this project. Another Hall of Famer, Dennis McMurrin, edited the album. A 45 rpm from the album was also released and placed on area jukeboxes.

“This album has the distinction of including the largest number of Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, individually performing on a single artist’s own music LP.”

In 1980, Craig performed with the band Showboat featuring bassist Don Daugherty and guitarist Ron DeWitte—both Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Famers. This band was featured nightly in a club in Cedar Rapids named after the band. An array of area musicians frequented this establishment, and they were always invited to “sit in.” This group played every night of the week for more than two years—establishing the club and the band as a one-of-a-kind association.

In 1983, Craig co-established the popular band Nite Moves along with Don Daugherty (leader of the popular band the American Legend). In 1985, Nite Moves produced a 45 record, two video performances and went on tour. The band gigged through the states of Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and Wyoming. Upon returning home to Cedar Rapids, the band continued playing seven nights per week in clubs around Cedar Rapids and Iowa City.

The retro rock band, the Alumni, chose Craig as the band’s timekeeper in 1987.

“One of my greatest musical joys has come from knowing that young drummers have credited me with influencing them to pursue the drums.”

As fate would have it, Craig was involved in a car crash traveling home from a gig in the fall of 1990. A car operated by a drunk driver had swerved out of the lane and hit the car Craig was driving nearly head-on.

I was extremely lucky. Among other injuries, my right leg just below the knee was severely fractured and required a six-hour surgery and four titanium pins to repair.”

After a lengthy recovery, Craig decided to attend college and confine his drumming—at least professionally.

“During the time I was with the Alumni, which had only performed on weekends, I had dabbled with a brief radio internship at KGRN in Grinnell, Iowa. Therefore, I decided to work towards a communications degree in hopes of becoming a radio news broadcaster.”

COLLEGE/NEWSPAPERS

Craig obtained an associate of arts degree in Communications Media from Kirkwood College in Cedar Rapids, then transferred to the University of Northern Iowa (UNI), graduating cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in Communications Broadcasting/Broadcast Journalism with a Political Science minor in 1995.

While at Kirkwood in 1993, he was awarded the Outstanding Achievement award in Communications Media. He’d also garnered a Certificate of Achievement in Broadcast Studies as part of a scholarship a year earlier. This award was presented to Craig during an IBA (Iowa Broadcasters Association) banquet by veteran news broadcaster, the late Jack Shelley.

During Craig’s time with both of these institutions, he was the reporter, columnist and photographer for a small weekly newspaper in Victor, Iowa, called the Victor Echo.

“I had to schedule interviews, write stories and take photos during the week in order to have them ready for the publication. I’d lived in Brooklyn, Iowa, so this was achievable while attending Kirkwood; but during my first year at UNI, I had to leave this newspaper because it was impossible to attend UNI full time and work on the paper—especially since, at the time, I was staying during the week with my sister and her family in Grundy Center.”

Craig worked as an intern for a semester at UNI campus radio station KUNI. A feature he’d researched, compiled, and voiced won an Iowa Broadcast News Association award in 1994. Also, while at UNI, Craig became a member of the UNI Golden Key National Honor Society and the Society of Professional Journalists.

After graduating from UNI, instead of pursuing a career in radio, Craig was hired by the Marengo Publishing Corporation (MPC) in Marengo, Iowa. This entity owned seven weekly newspapers. He subsequently became the editor, reporter, writer and photographer for the North English Record.

“My office was located in North English, Iowa. During both of my newspaper stints, I’d always added a feature to my weekly articles about a local person or business—extremely interesting people! My motto has always been ‘everyone has a story.’ I still believe that.”

Undoubtedly, one of Craig’s favorite interviews was with famed cowboy poet Baxter Black in 1997.

“I still have our telephone interview in my archives. I also took a variety of great photos of him. We met on more than one occasion, and I was thrilled when asked to drive him to the airport at the close of his Iowa visit. Baxter passed away in June 2022.”

While working for MPC and the North English Record, Craig covered almost all school events and meetings. He kept busy writing features about the school and its teachers. The challenging work paid off, because Craig was presented with two first-place awards for Coverage of Education from the Iowa Newspaper Association in 1997 and 1998. He also was awarded three EPIC (Excellent Performance In Communications) certificates for photography.

Phil Terrell owned an insurance business in North English and provided office space in his building in order to keep the town’s newspaper local. As an Iowa State Legislator, Representative Terrell traveled to the Iowa State Capitol each winter during the legislative sessions.

“One day in 1997, Phil approached me with information concerning a job opening as a legislative information officer at the statehouse. I applied for the position; and with Phil’s good word, Legislative Service Bureau management subsequently telephoned me asking me to come in for an interview. Days later, they informed me that I had been selected for the position.”

IOWA STATE CAPITOL

In December of 1997, Craig began his new career at the Iowa State Capitol. By 2005 he’d become director of the Legislative Information Office. During those years at the statehouse, his various tasks included public speaking, assisting legislators, archiving historic files, photography/videography, producing documentaries, graphic design and research.

And while at the capitol, he had the opportunity to consort with numerous luminaries—from newscasters Dan Rather and Katie Couric to famed pianist Roger Williams and opera legend Simon Estes. Craig’s duties also included taking photos at Iowa political events. 

I’ve photographed all of Iowa’s governors from Terry Branstad onward. I’d also met and chatted with two former Iowa governors: Robert Fulton and Robert Ray.”

Craig’s extensive collection of celebrity photos include Ralph Nader, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Craig moved to Des Moines in 1999. In April 2000, he met future wife, Marlene. The couple were married on October 20, 2001.

“What great fortune! Fate had blessed me with a successful career and a beautiful wife! I often reflect on the car crash, a decade earlier, as being a significant turning point, redirecting my life for the better.”

FRANKIE LAINE

Craig had discovered famed singer Frankie Laine during his teenage years. Immediately, he’d purchased one of Frankie’s Columbia Records “Greatest Hits” albums.

“Frankie’s voice fascinated me! I’d never heard any singer vocalize with such dramatic emotion. As a young drummer, I realized that music is, indeed, an emotional art. Laine didn’t simply sing the lyrics of a song, but he ‘felt’ the lyrics, giving rise to renditions that were dramatic and heartfelt. Frankie Laine also possessed the ability to sound believable in a variety of music genres, from pop to jazz—to cowboy songs and even early rock and roll!”

Originally, Craig had developed an interest in drumming because he’d seen the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. Ringo Starr had become his first inspiration. Eventually, Craig gravitated to the big band drummers such as Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. (During the 1970s, Craig met Buddy Rich on a couple of occasions.)

“Their techniques floored me! Therefore, I began listening to big band and jazz recordings. This new and astounding love for this genre inspired me to enjoy the singers in those bands. I treasured the likes of Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, Johnnie Ray, Frank Sinatra—and finally, Frankie Laine.”

Craig has recorded concerts of his favorite entertainers over the years. Since 1972, he’s recorded such artists as Buddy Rich, Bobby Vinton, Harry James, the Carpenters, Frank Sinatra, Bobby Vee, Chubby Checker, Rick Nelson, Mickey Gilley, Frankie Laine and Kay Starr.

“These recordings have all been digitized and reside in my archives.”

Craig’s personal photography includes shots he snapped of Buddy Rich, Bobby Vinton, Harry James, Mickey Gilley and, of course, Frankie Laine.

For years Craig had declared that his goal was to one day meet Frankie Laine and shake his hand. In November of 1985, while performing in clubs each night as the drummer for Nite Moves, he took a sabbatical, hopped on a Greyhound bus and traveled to San Diego to fulfill his quest to meet Frankie Laine.

“I’d been a new member of the Frankie Laine Society of America. During a telephone conversation with Frankie’s secretary, Muriel Moore, she gave me Frankie’s home phone number. I called Frankie before a gig one night. It was so thrilling talking to him! I expressed my desire to travel by bus to San Diego to meet him and shake his hand. He thought I was nuts!”

Frank-and-Craig

Craig and Frankie Laine

Frankie had become convinced of Craig’s sincerity and agreed to meet with Craig upon his arrival in San Diego. In fact, Frankie had invited him to spend the entire day with him.

“He drove us in his car from one appointment to another, then a brief visit to his new home in Point Loma. We certainly had bonded during that first visit.”

In the years since, Craig had visited Frankie at his home two more times.

“In 1993, I took my daughter, Latisha, then 12 years old, to San Diego to meet Frankie during his 80th birthday party. This was truly an unforgettable time with my daughter.”

Craig’s archives include various photos and videos with Frankie through the years. There are also a couple of audio interviews he’d conducted with Frankie—as well as a video interview and telephone conversations.

“All of these have been digitized and reside in my Frankie Laine Library.”

In 2000, after taping Craig’s on-camera portion for Frankie’s documentary, Frankie Laine: An American Dreamer, in San Diego, Craig and his future wife, Marlene, visited Frankie at his home.

“I will never forget Frankie pulling me aside and telling me, ‘She’s beautiful.’”

Craig had maintained a special friendship with Frankie Laine for the next two decades until Laine’s death in 2007.

During Craig’s years as Frankie’s friend, he was able to amass one of the world’s largest collections of Frankie’s career. Besides his brief on-camera shot, he’d also assisted in the creation of the documentary, receiving a screen credit for his research.

In 2001, Craig’s work on the documentary included chatting on the phone and setting up an interview for the documentary with actress, singer and dancer Lucy Marlow. He’d also communicated with singer Jo Stafford, who had recorded a series of duets with Frankie during the early 1950s. And he chatted on the phone with actress Terry Moore to ask for an interview for the production. Lucy had co-starred in two movies with Frankie and Terry in one.

Craig’s video interview with actor/singer/director Jerome Courtland at the star’s home in Chicago became part of the documentary.

“Jerry had co-starred in three movies with Frankie.”

Craig also interviewed Frankie Laine’s youngest brother, Phil LoVecchio.

“Even though Phil’s interview wasn’t included in the documentary, it was part of the premiere of the unfinished documentary that was screened during Frankie’s 90th birthday party in San Diego at the U.S. Grant Hotel.”

As it turned out, Ringo Starr—among other high-profile celebrities including Dick Clark, Patti Page and Pat Boone—appeared in the documentary.

When I discovered that Ringo had been interviewed and would appear in the documentary, I suddenly realized that I was part of the same production as the drummer who had inspired me to play the drums!”

Since meeting and becoming friends with Frankie, Craig had continued sharing his Frankie Laine association. In addition to his work on Laine’s documentary, Craig hosted a radio program in 1998, The Laine Project and was subsequently featured on an Iowa Public Television special in 1999, Memory Laine.

Craig published his book in 2005, Reaching for a Star: A Memoir of My Life, My Music, and My Friendship with Famed Singer Frankie Laine. Also that year he appeared on two TV programs, Des Moines Now, and a feature spot on KCCI-TV during which he spoke about this book.

David Miller’s NPR (National Public Radio) radio program, Swingin’ Down the Lane, highlighted Craig in 2007.

“I was interviewed by Dave about my book and my friendship with Frankie Laine. A number of rare—mostly unreleased—Frankie Laine recordings were featured with brief commentary.”

David Miller had published his own book in 2021, Close Encounters, about his meetings and interviews with big band, jazz, and pop singers over the years. Because Craig had been responsible for Miller and Laine connecting for an interview a few years earlier, Craig was thrilled to discover that he was included in the chapter about Frankie Laine in Miller’s book.

For three consecutive years, beginning in 2013, Craig conducted a series of presentations called Remembering Frankie Laine designed to entertain senior citizens and baby boomers in venues around the Des Moines area. In a class-like setting, Craig played Frankie’s music, featured videos and radio shows and brought highlights from his collection to view. Kyle Munson, of the Des Moines Register, wrote a wonderful piece about Craig’s project—published just before the first presentation which really helped to stir interest.

Beginning in 2015, Craig wrote monthly blogs on the Team Frankie Laine website for six years. This website is an affiliate of the American Jazz Institute. The blogs recalled all of Craig’s various experiences with Laine.

Due to Craig’s diligent work over the years, Jimmy Marino (Laine’s former manager and current president of Team Frankie Laine) presented Craig with one of Frankie Laine’s gold records in 2022!

DODIE STEVENS

During the late 2000s, Craig created five music videos for singer Dodie Stevens. Stevens is best remembered for her 1959 million-seller “Pink Shoe Laces.” She was only 13 years old when that record became gold. That same year, Dodie co-starred in the movie Hound Dog Man, starring Fabian.

Craig had contacted Dodie through longtime friend Tony Cooper, secretary of the Frankie Laine International Appreciation Society. Dodie, a child prodigy known by the stage name Geri Thorr, had sung at age eight with Laine in 1954 on his television show The Frankie Laine Show.

Cooper had located Dodie in 2015—asking her whether she and Miss Geri Thorr were one in the same. They were. Just by chance, Cooper had seen an old clip on the internet of Dodie singing and noted a striking resemblance to Geri Thorr!

“As Frankie Laine collectors, we all had attempted to locate little Geri Thorr for years, wondering what had become of her. It was not until we had discovered that Geri Thorr was, in fact, Dodie Stevens, that we were able to contact her.”

Dodie-with-Craig's-book

Dodie Stevens with Craig’s book

Eventually, Craig tracked down Dodie; and through their common connection with Frankie Laine, the two quickly became friends.

“She reveled in my friendship with Frankie Laine. Once she learned of my video work, she asked me to create a music video for her. She still performed and was constantly writing and recording new songs.”

Dodie had recently designed a contemporary music concept called “Affirmasong,” a unique, inspirational and motivational program. All the songs have positive, uplifting, messages written by Dodie and featuring her and daughter, Stephanie, on vocals.

The first music video Craig had created for Dodie was a promotion for a peaceful world, titled When? Of course, Dodie had written and performed the song. Craig compiled text to accompany a video link. The project became part of an online magazine article (with the video) featured by the Iowa Peace Network in Des Moines in 2016. A second video Craig had produced for Dodie, Respect Me, was subsequently added to this site.

PROJECTS

In 2021, Craig received a shipment of CDs from Laine’s management—recorded material valued at $10,000. He subsequently developed a program whereby—through the Iowa Department of Public Health’s various branch volunteers (and to the delight of Iowa’s seniors)—the CDs were distributed as free gifts of music to Iowa senior citizens’ facilities and Easter Seals of Iowa. The project was a wonderful success.

In early 2022, Craig donated 18 DVD discs to the Iowa Historical Society, each containing a video documentary that he’d produced during his career at the Iowa State Capitol. The productions—based upon the Iowa State Capitol and Capitol Complex—are available for viewing at the society.

JIM FREEMAN

Recently, Craig reconnected with his friend Grammy Hall of Fame member Jim Freeman of the Five Satins. Jim was one of the backup singers in the original group and was a backing vocalist on the 1956 recording “In the Still of the Night.” Freeman was also part of the original 1957 recording “To the Aisle,” later featured in the movie American Graffiti. He also wrote the Five Satins’ release “Wonderful Girl,” a chart hit.

“I had met Jim in 2001, when I was a Legislative Information Officer at the statehouse. At that time, Jim lived in Iowa and operated a small business in Norwalk. The Iowa House of Representatives brought him in to accept a resolution in his honor.”

Representative Mark Smith, the sponsor of the resolution, asked Craig to assist in presenting this honor to Freeman. Representative Smith knew Craig was a musician and would likely be interested. The resolution, Iowa House Resolution 36, states, in part:

A Resolution honoring James ‘Jimmy’ Freeman. WHEREAS, Jimmy Freeman was a pioneer of American Rock and Roll; and WHEREAS, as a member of the Five Satins, Jimmy Freeman recorded one of America’s most beloved and recognized Doo Wop ballads, ‘In the Still of the Night.’”

In early 2022, Freeman asked Craig to write a few pages about his assistance in presenting Freeman’s 2001 resolution. Freeman’s grandson, Jeff Shuford, a nationally syndicated columnist, is overseeing the project. The memoir is titled From a Church Basement to Seven Music Halls of Fame: The Untold Journey of Jim Freeman of the Five Satins.

Craig is a self-described avid archivist. Not only has he created his Frankie Laine Library, but he has also cataloged written works, audio, video and photos of his own music, college, newspaper, radio, television and legislative careers as well as all of his associations over the years.

“I am an enthusiastic overthinker and an extremely organized hoarder!”

Craig lives in Des Moines with his wife, Marlene. They have three grandchildren. Marlene’s son, Matt, has a daughter, Payton (21); Craig’s daughter, Latisha, has a son, Keon (19) and a daughter, Kena (14). Now retired, Craig was director of the Legislative Information Office at the Iowa State Capitol for 24 years. He continues to be an honorary member of Team Frankie Laine in San Diego. And, of course, he’s now a MAMA board member and secretary!

Links:

That Drummer!: (Craig Cronbaugh video music retrospective) https://youtu.be/kocV1KKM7D8
Nite Moves: (1985 Craig Cronbaugh-drums) https://youtu.be/cC36cxIsB_E
Nite Moves: (1986 Craig Cronbaugh-drums) https://youtu.be/zWq5T9ermp4
Team Frankie Laine: (Craig Cronbaugh blogs) https://frankielaineteam.org/
Reaching for a Star: (Craig’s book link with video of Remembering Frankie Laine promo by Craig Cronbaugh) http://www.frankielainebook.com/
Iowa Peace Network: (Dodie Stevens story and videos When? and Respect Me by Craig Cronbaugh) http://iowapeacenetwork.blogspot.com/search?q=dodie+stevens
Dodie Stevens website: (Craig Cronbaugh video productions) https://affirmasong.com/
Jim Freeman: (Singing “In the Still of the Night”) https://youtu.be/WEYzZnZL7og