Miners pulled hundreds of millions of pounds of zinc and lead out of the ground near Baxter Springs, Kansas, to put into everything from gasoline to paint to pipes. And chat piles, mammoth hills of smashed stone and dust a hundred feet high, were the waste products of such mining operations.
Daniel and Mike Brewster grew up in the shadows of these grey dunes. Performing in different rock bands throughout adolescence, by 1965—with Daniel in college and Mike in high school—the two brothers joined forces in a new group. Originally known as the Blue Sounds, they soon took on the Baxter’s Chat handle in honor of the hulking mountains of stone debris that dotted their hometown. The lineup featured the guitar-playing Brewster brothers, bassist John Green, vocalist Norman Manning, and drummer Elmonte Scroggins—an African-American friend from nearby Pittsburg, Kansas—making them one of only a few racially integrated bands performing in the area.
While woodshedding their talents at school dances, teen clubs, and roadhouses, they caught the attention of John Pearson, who had them come up to Cavern to record two 45s of original garage rock. Daniel provided the overdriven organ tones that saturated “Don’t Come Around Today” b/w “You’re Alone” and "Loves Other Side" b/w "You're Mine,” both released on Pearce in 1967.
The band returned from a 1968 tour of Maryland with twin tragedies in their near future. Booked to play a homecoming dance, young Mike Brewster, barely out of high school, was killed in a car accident. “Some truck pulled out in front of him—BAM!—that was it, him and his girlfriend both,” said Daniel. Unable to overcome the loss, Baxter’s Chat was done by ’69, the same year Scroggins was drafted. Returning home from Southeast Asia in 1971, he found similar peril on the roadways of America when his motorcycle broke down on Route 66. “He survived Vietnam, he comes back and gets run over on the highway,” said Brewster.
Felled by calamity and misfortune, Baxter’s Chat was over, thought their namesake mine endures even today. While cleanup of the lead-contaminated chat piles has been ongoing for years, approximately 100 million tons of chat still remain in the area, looming large on the landscape.