Bob Zimmerman played a talent contest at the Memorial Building

The Golden Chords — Bob Zimmerman, Monte Edwardson and Leroy Hoikkala — played a talent contest at the Memorial Building 400 East 23rd Street on Saturday March 1, 1958.

The piano and song group became Group II finalists in the afternoon preliminary round of the Hibbing Chamber of Commerce “Carnival Talent Contest”, part of the 1958 Winter Frolic festivities. The evening competition didn’t look too fierce, and Bob tells LeRoy, “We’re gonna take ’em.” Amidst shouts of “this is way too loud,” and “hold ‘er down,” the band plays on obliviously during the finals. High schoolers in the audience thought the band had won, but judges give way to older more conventional thinking. A13-yr old pantominist is declared the winner. An ecstatic Bob declares, “Hey, we really reached ’em. We knocked ’em dead.”

““Bob was a little detached [after the contest] saying, ‘We should have won, you know?’ Because, in fact the audience was with us, but they gave it to someone else.” — LeRoy Hoikkala

The Golden Chords, Little Theatre, Memorial Building, February 1958.

Bob Zimmerman, with Monte Edwardson and LeRoy Hoikkala.

“Bob had complete arrangements worked out in his head and he used us so that he could hear them come alive”

LeRoy: “He would write a song right at the piano. Just chord it, and improvise on it. I remember that he sang one about a train in R&B style”

During the Golden Chords days Bob, LeRoy and Monte worked out a song “Big Black Train”, the only Zimmerman-penned rock song known to exist.

Monte Edwardson: “He wrote a thing called “Big Black Train”, that we used to do. At the time I couldn’t believe one of us could just write a song.

Big Black Train

Well big black train, coming down the line
Well big black train, coming down the line
Well you got my woman, you bring her back to me
Well that cute little chick, is the girl that I want to see

Well I’ve been waiting for a long, long time
Well I’ve been waiting for a long, long time
Well I’ve been looking for my baby
Searchin’ down the line

Well here comes the train, yeah it’s coming down the line
Well here comes the train, yeah it’s coming down the line
Well you see my baby is finally coming home

LeRoy Hoikkala: ”He changed a lot of songs. He listened to a song and he changed them. He didn’t like the way they read. Just like a lot of the songs he recorded. I use to say that he wasn’t copying someone, but he took the basic song and if he didn’t like the lyrics he just changed it to what he wanted.”

John Bucklen: “It was difficult to tell which songs he wrote and which he didn’t write, because sometimes I’d discover that he said he wrote a song and he didn’t and other times I thought he did not write the song and he did. So, it was … pretty similar to the music we were interested in at the time.”

LeRoy: “He was improvising quite a bit. He would copy a lot of songs. He’d hear a song and make up his own version of it. He did a lot of copying but he also did a lot of writing of his own. He would just kind of sit down and make up a song and play it a couple of times and then forget it. I don’t know if he ever put any of them down on paper.”

“Big Black Train” was later, in fall of 1958, to be recorded by The Rockets at the Kay Banks studio in Minneapolis, for the Aladdin Record label, but never released. The Rockets was then Monte Edwardson, LeRoy Hoikkala, Jim Propotnick and Ron Taddei.

“..and we finished it on the way to the recording studio”. A handful of acetates exists. “ … used the others to get played on the radio.”

Bob 1965: “I never sang what I wrote until I got to be about eighteen or nineteen. I wrote songs when I was younger, fifteen, but they were songs. I wrote those. I never sang anything which I wanted to write. Y’understand? The songs I wrote at that age were just four chords rhythm and blues songs. Based on things that the Diamonds would sing, or the Crewcuts, or groups like that, the uh, the, you know,’In the still of the night’ kinda songs, you know.

LeRoy Hoikkala (Thin Man)

“I knew Bob pretty much from school and everything. Growing up you see each other. It is a small town. You know, everybody knows everybody in town. How we got to meet as far as playing in a band was Monte Edwardson–who is a guitar player; who is very good; he still plays today; he is a natural guitar player–we worked downtown, Monte and myself. Right across the street [from school], we met each other and we walked to a little job, an after-school job. And Bob was just there one day. Monte and I had been messing around with playing drums and guitar; just jamming a little bit. I had taken lessons for quite a few years. So, Bob just happened to say, “Hey, you guys going downtown?”

We actually walked from school to downtown, so we told him that we were playing, you know, just getting together and jamming around and playing. So, he said: “Hey, I’m playing piano, mouth-organ, harmonica and guitar. Maybe we could get together and kind of play a little bit.”

We said, “Yes, sure.”


So we started playing in Bob’s garage that was attached to his house, that little garage. We jammed in there for quite a bit, and we got a couple of jobs. The first time he ever got paid to do anything was with our band the Golden Chords.

Sometimes we’d go into the house to play, because he had a piano in the house.

It was just the three of us at that time. Me, Monte Edwardson and Bob. I played drums.

We played at the National Guard Armory, a pretty big building. We hired the police department, because you had to have the police, we hired people to collect tickets, we sold tickets, made tickets. We hired someone to clean the place up and everything, and we made money. It was kind of fun. It was one of those things where you put a lot of money out and do something; try to fix a Saturday night rock opera or “jam,” and a lot of kids came. That was probably the first time Bob ever was paid to do anything musically.

It was a dance. There was a wide-open area, no chairs, nothing, big stage, that’s all.

It was a onetime show, that particular one. That was kind of how we got together and started playing.

Then we played that talent show, you know, where we actually won but lost, because the kids went crazy [but the judges] gave it to someone else that tap danced. Bob was a little detached on that one saying, “We should have won, you know?” Because, in fact the audience was with us, but they gave it to someone else. We came in second. (He laughs.)

That was the three of us as the Golden Chords. The reason we called it the Golden Chords was because Bob was really…he could really chord with the piano and the guitar, really chord beautifully. He was really a natural at chording. And my drums were gold, sparkling gold. So, we said Golden…Chords, that´s how we got the name.

Ah, we played some of the Little Richard tunes, [like] “Jenny, Jenny.” Some of the southern type music, the blues songs…a lot of Little Richard. Bob loved Little Richard, so we did a lot of Little Richard stuff.

It was kind of new for the kids around here. We used to sit together with a reel to reel tape recorder at night and tape the AM-stations that came in really good at night. We taped it so we could listen to the new songs that didn’t come along here. Hibbing was kind of a backward-area. The last to get in.

So we listened to the songs from the AM radio, taped them and then Bob would play them, because that was more the type of songs that he liked; the bluesy songs. We listened to Shreveport, there were a bunch of DJs down there that we listened to.



Bob was kind of the leader, but he wasn’t really close to anybody. I don’t think he ever had a bestfriend. He was kind of a loner, as we all were kind of loners. We’d hang around the motorcycles, the Harleys, and ride in our convertibles. He had a convertible like mine.

When we decide to play we used to go to Collier’s Bar-B-Q. Van Feldt’s owned it. On Sundays they were closed but they still had to clean up the place, do the potatoes for french fries and everything. So we used to go down there–it was right off the main street–and we’d bring our instruments in there, set up where you walk in, and leave the door open. The kids could hear the music from Howard street when we jammed.

Bob played guitar and a little harmonica, at that time.

What we kids used to do on weekend nights in the summertime was cruise the streets with our cars. That was where the kids used to hear us when they were [cruising or] walking up and down the street. That’s one of the fun things we did together.

Bob changed a lot of songs. He listened to a song and he changed them. He didn’t like the way they read. Just like a lot of the songs that he’s recorded. I use to say that he wasn’t copying someone, but he took the basic song and if he didn’t like the lyrics he just changed it to what he wanted. He was a natural. He is a great songwriter. Some songs he didn’t change, others he changed to his own liking.

We taped those songs, but I don’t have them anymore. Too bad! You know, Bob was just my friend, and he still is. When he became famous it was like a different person. He has his life and we don’t communicate now. We were friends and we played in the band and all of a sudden he went …and now he’s a different person.

One of the big things that we really enjoyed was James Dean. We went to Steven’s Grocery and Confectionary to look at all the magazines of James Dean; how he got killed in that car accident.

We went to movies related to music all the time. James Dean, Brando …things like that. It was usually John Bucklen, Bob and myself.

John Bucklen was kind of a beginner. Actually all of us were beginners. But he didn’t play with the band. Bob jammed with a bunch of guys, but that wasn’t [as a] band. Then in the end it broke up. We didn’t really form a band. We played as the Golden Chords here and there and then Bob went to Duluth and got some friends there that played more blues and jazz type of music. Then he took off to Minneapolis.

— Leroy Hoikkala in On the Tracks issue #18


An exclusive interview with LeRoy Hoikkala

you can find the whole interview I made with LeRoy ”I met an old friend I used to know” (Lars Lindh)






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