If you grew up in the Midwest in the 1970s, Head East dominated that ancient contraption called the transistor radio.
“Never Been Any Reason,” “Love Me Tonight” and “Since You Been Gone” not only got a lot of airplay regionally, they made the Billboard pop singles chart. They weren’t huge hits, but they were FM staples from coast to coast.
“Save my life, I’m going down for the last time.”
Surely you’ve heard that refrain from “Never Been Any Reason.” Their signature song has been featured in such movies as “Dazed and Confused” and “Sahara” and on TV (“That ’70s Show,” “Friday Night Lights,” to name a few).
“‘Never Been Any Reason’ is our ‘Stairway to Heaven,’” keyboardist Roger Boyd says with a laugh over the phone from his farm in southern Illinois. “Even if you don’t remember the band name, you know that song.”
Head East was formed in 1969 when the original members, including Boyd, were attending the University of Illinois. There have been several lineup changes, with Boyd as the lone constant.
“We’ve never broken up,” he says. “We’ve been going at it since 1969. Even though we’ve changed members over the years, not until this current lineup since 2008, did people start telling us ‘You sound the same as you did 40 years ago.’
“That makes me feel really good, because that tells me that my ear is right.”
Boyd says he never intended to have a career in rock music; it was just a happy accident.
“I was going to be a college professor,” he says, “so when the band started to take off, I’m sure that was great news to my family.”
Head East was a do-it-yourself pioneer. They funded and recorded their debut album, “Flat As a Pancake,” in 1974 at Golden Voice Recording Studio in South Pekin, Ill. They released it on their own Pyramid Records and sold out all 5,000 LPs and 500 eight-track tapes they had pressed. They also own the publishing rights to their songs (a rarity in those days).
When rock stations in St. Louis and Kansas City started playing “Never Been Any Reason,” A&M Records swooped in, signed them and rereleased the album in 1975. It went on to sell more than 500,000 copies.
“ ‘Flat As a Pancake’ has held the test of time,” Boyd says. “It holds up pretty well, it still sounds fresh. There’s just something about that record for people.
“It didn’t chart very high (reaching only No. 126 on Billboard’s album chart), but it was such a steady seller for so many years. I have the gold record to prove it.”
Subsequent albums didn’t sell as much but charted higher — “Head East” (1978) and “Head East Live!” and “A Different Kind of Crazy” (1979) all cracked the Top 100.
Head East faded in the MTV era but kept touring. Boyd estimates he’s played more than 5,000 shows. He started to slow the pace in the 1990s and went back to school to get his Ph.D. in sociology and criminal justice and worked with troubled youths.
“We do 25 to 30 shows a year, mostly in the summer, and that’s plenty for me,” he says. “I’m 65 now, and I couldn’t be more blessed.”
He gets a kick out of seeing younger faces in the crowd.
“I’ve had more kids tell us, ‘We heard you in ‘Dazed and Confused’ and had to check you out.’ I guess once you stay a dinosaur long enough, you become a classic.”