NORFOLK, Neb. — A half-century later, Larry Rupiper still smiles as he recalls his family’s band playing for thousands of fans — mostly young people — in the 1960s and 1970s.
“When we started out, a lot of small towns developed large dance halls,” he said. “We would play in front of thousands of fans in one night. It was invigorating, and we fed off it.”
As teenagers, the Rupiper brothers literally built their rock and roll career from the ground up — they rehearsed in their parents’ basement.
From those early beginnings, the boys from Cedar County, Nebraska, formed “The Corvettes” while in high school. After graduation, they disbanded the band as they moved on to the next phase of their lives.
But the music brought the Rupiper siblings back together in a new form as “The Wanted” band performing in northeast Nebraska and southeast South Dakota.
And now, 45 years later, the band will reunite when they are inducted Saturday into the Nebraska Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The band members will perform during the ceremony at Divots Event Center in Norfolk, Nebraska.
“I was really surprised (the selection committee) knew us like they did,” Larry said. “One of them said, ‘I remember you guys playing to all those big crowds in northeast Nebraska.’ I didn’t realize we created a little impact in the music field.”
Saturday’s performance will feature Larry Rupiper on lead guitar and vocals, Clair Rupiper on bass guitar, Mary Ellen (Rupiper) Kline on keyboard and vocals, and David Kline on drums.
The Wanted band has actually waited a year for the induction, as last year’s ceremony was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mary Ellen still finds it hard to believe her family’s band has received such recognition.
“I don’t think any of us ever thought of an award while we were performing,” she said. “It’s awesome (to be inducted), and I look at it with an ‘I’m not worthy’ attitude, I guess. At the time, it was just fun.”
Music was often heard when growing up in the home of Clarence and Bernadette Rupiper. As a Christmas present from their parents, Larry and Clair — a respective fifth and seventh grader at the time — received a Gibson acoustic guitar with weekly trips to Yankton for lessons.
Larry, vocalist and lead guitar player, along with Clair playing bass, soon believed they could start a band but needed a drummer. An older brother, Jerry, was outfitted with a new set of Ludwig black Pearl drums and was provided lessons. Soon, they were playing “by ear” to their favorite records.
“We formed a band called The Corvettes, and we played our first gig at the Bow Valley dance hall for a friend who asked if we could play (for her Christian girls club),” Larry said. “That was back in 1959 or 1960. We got $100, and that was pretty good (money). We had a great time.”
The Corvettes grew in popularity, playing for school dances, proms, homecomings and ballroom dances.
The Rupipers’ instruments also reflected the times — the accordion during the height of orchestra leader Lawrence Welk and the guitar out of the popularity of rock and roll superstar Elvis Presley.
The Corvettes stopped playing after Jerry was called to the service. When he returned from the service, Jerry became a drummer for a country band called The Wanted. Eventually Larry joined as lead guitar and vocalist, and Clair joined as the bass player.
“We often played the Skylon Ballroom in Hartington because they had such large crowds. We would be playing to a crowd of 2,400 kids,” Larry said. “You looked out over that crowd, and it was incredible. Everyone was getting into the groove, and we had fun while doing it. I would give anything for a video of it today.”
The Wanted played for 50% of the gate, performing at places like the Groveland in Tyndall and at Nebraska venues such as the King’s Ballroom in Norfolk and dance halls in Bow Valley and St. Helena.
When it came to wedding dances, The Wanted used a wider range of music to suit the parents and older generation.
“I know we were too loud and too fast of music for the parents, so we were learning some instrumentals to play so the parents would be appeased by the music,” Larry said with a chuckle.
The Rupipers had no aspirations of shooting for the big time, even though they received offers from booking agents and an invitation to play in Las Vegas, Larry said. “We were pretty grounded in our lives as young parents. The thought of being a rock star was not deeply ingrained in our souls,” he said.
However, they did attract the attention of country artist Tanya Tucker during the Knox County Fair in Bloomfield, Nebraska. Tucker headlined the grandstand and went over to the dance hall after her show to see The Wanted perform.
“Tanya sat with my wife and my brother’s wife, and she danced with a couple of my buddies to our music,” Larry said. “She came up and talked us at the stage.”
When Mary Ellen joined in 1969, she was living in Lincoln, Nebraska, and was reluctant about her ability to contribute to the band. But she agreed to join them, coming to Yankton on the weekends for the gigs.
“Music has always been a major part of our lives. As a little girl, I remember falling to sleep listening to my brothers’ practice,” she said. “I learned to play piano very young and picked up the chords to tunes while singing by myself with records. I guess my brothers took notice, and I later was asked to join The Wanted.”
The Wanted played mostly Top 40 because their audiences requested it — sometimes the same popular song multiple times in one evening.
“I remember doing ‘Crocodile Rock,’ some Jim Croce, Grand Funk, ‘Smoke On The Water,’ ‘Taking Care of Business,’ anything that was really popular,” Larry said. “I like playing what moved. You could feel it in your bones.”
With her vocals and keyboard, Mary Ellen brought a different dimension that allowed the band to take on slower songs, Larry said.
Jerry retired from the band, and Dave Kline replaced him as drummer. Mary Ellen and Dave began dating and eventually married.
Mary Ellen remains amazed at the audiences who consistently showed up for their performances.
The band reached a crossroads when Dave and Mary Ellen were expecting their first child.
“We started our family, and I didn’t know what to do about the band,” she said. “At that time, I was young and wondered, ‘Should I continue as a pregnant lady on stage?’ I did as long as I was comfortable but quit before our first child was born in September 1975.”
The Wanted retired in 1976 and never played again except for family and a few friends. However, the band will reunite one more time Saturday night.
Larry anticipates feeling their late parents’ presence Saturday during the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction and the band’s reunion.
“We were very fortunate that our parents were so adamant about us learning music and providing the opportunity for us to play,” he said. “They had seen us play plenty of times, and they would be happy and proud (to see our achievements).”
Tickets for the Hall of Fame induction ceremony are on sale at www.eventbrite.com or at the door.
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