Liar, Liar

I've been to Minneapolis a few times, and from what I can tell, there's a pretty good party atmosphere there. If one of the most memorable Minnesota hits, The Castaways' "Liar, Liar" is any indication, the city is off-the-rails, hang-from-the-balcony party central! This group from Richfield, about ten miles south of Minneapolis, began to take shape around 1962, with guitarists Roy Hensley, Richard Robey and drummer Denny Craswell. At first they were casually doing the frat party scene, but their wacky performances caused such a sensation that demand for their services was high.

Two key components to the group appeared later with the additions of keyboardist Jim Donna and guitarist Bob Folschow. Donna wrote "Liar, Liar," an idea derived from the often-used schoolyard chant, which may not have looked like much on paper. But it came to life with an untraditional arrangement somewhere between surf and garage rock. With a catchy organ riff, stinging guitar punctuation, blood-curdling scream midway, the whole thing doused in echo, the real key to the song's appeal was Folschow's bizarre falsetto vocal: 'Liar, liar, pants on fire, your nose is longer than a telephone wire!' The extended proboscis imagery was weird enough, but could this guy's voice have been any higher and more shrill? He was just far enough below dog-whistle range for human ears to ache from the sound. A voice no one else would dare to put on record. I mean this all in a good way, of course.

The record, released on the Twin cities' Soma label, took off big at the end of summer '65, at the very least assuring the band of many years to come fueling fraternity debaucheries from coast to coast. The follow-up was a misstep, though; the similar "Goodbye Babe" limited Folschow to just one line. His falsetto, when compared to that supreme whine on the earlier record, sounded like a talkie-toy on low batteries. The more rocking, harmonica-driven "A Man's Gotta Be a Man," on the flip, might have been a better choice to promote. There was one more single on Soma ("Girl in Love") and a hometown 45 (on two labels, Taunah and Bear) of "(I) Feel So Fine" (an alternative-titled Shirley and Lee remake) backed with "Hit the Road Jack" (the Ray Charles classic).

The Castaways

In 1967, with no recording deal, the Castaways popped up in a movie shot at a horror-themed club, the Haunted House, a few doors west of Hollywood and Vine, probably the only such dive in history with a smoke-snorting monster for a stage. They lip-synced their hit inside the grotesque beast's sharp-toothed mouth in an audition scene featuring former drummer of The T-Birds and future cult horror film actor Sid Haig, preserved for our guilty pleasure in the "beach" film It's a Bikini World (its top-billed stars being Deborah Walley and Tommy Kirk). The Animals mimed their hit "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" while The Gentrys and The Toys also did their hits, each dating from 1965, indicating the film was shot earlier and sat on the shelf a year or more before release.

While other Castaways had existed before them including a one-shot mid-'50s doo wop group on Excello, so was there a late-'60s band from New Zealand using the same moniker. Before the decade was over, the Minneapolis Castaways found themselves once again confined to the party scene, sort of living up to their name...but this time with their very own hit to perform over and over, as long as Folschow's creepy-high voice held out. Denny Craswell departed in 1969 to play drums for Crow ("Evil Woman Don't Play Your Games With Me"), but the remaining members of The Castaways continued on and word has it you can book the guys for your frat party even today, though Jim Donna is the only remaining group member. How do you figure Jim found someone capable of hitting the otherworldly Bob Folschow wail? Or if he learned it similar to the way Johnny Weissmuller taught himself to imitate the studio-created Tarzan yell? Guess you'll have to catch one of their shows to find out!

- Michael Jack Kirby


Liar, Liar