Burlington Express

Hailing from Topeka, Kansas, the Burlington Express rattled into Cavern’s subterranean station in May of 1967. The quartet of bassist/vocalist Blair Honeyman, trumpeter/keyboardist/guitarist Mike West, guitarist Greg Gucker, and drummer Eric Larson formed in Topeka West High’s after-school hours, driving the neighbors mad in 1965 with their shaggy post-Invasion racket, as the generically named Mods. Local gigs at Club Four Corners, Pop’s Pizza Parlor, and the Empress Club soon gave way to weekend excursions into Nebraska, South Dakota, Colorado, and Oklahoma in the Gucker family’s Chevy station wagon. Their set was cover-heavy, but the Gucker/West original “One Day Girl (Twenty-Four)” struck a nerve on the dance floor, prompting a call to Cavern.

More a band of high schoolers than not, the band was far from studio seasoned. None of them had even set foot in a control room. With Gucker and Honeyman’s fathers financing the session and eventual record, Gucker thought it would be wise to bring in someone who knew anything about the process. He called in a favor from his old guitar teacher. By spring 1967, Blue Things of Hays, Kansas, were a year removed from their controversial RCA-issued “Doll House” single and on the verge of breaking up. At only 24, rhythm guitarist Mike Chapman was settling into a normal routine in Topeka, married with children, and giving guitar lessons. With nothing to lose, he accompanied the Burlington Express boys into the studio to “produce” what would be their lone 45. The single barely climbed its way out of Cavern, much less up any kind of chart.

Burlington Express reached top speed in August of 1968 when they opened for The Who at Kansas City’s Municipal Auditorium Music Hall. Gucker hoped their 30-minute set would launch them out of the plains states, but his bandmates had other ideas. “The rest of the group was getting into the blues pretty heavy,” recalled Gucker. “Also, I was the only member who was living in Lawrence and attending Kansas University.” Something had to give, and Gucker was that something. Of the original Burlington Express, only Gucker would carry on as a professional musician, spending the remainder of the ’60s and the first few years of the ’70s with White Clover, which gave way to Kansas—yes, that Kansas—in 1973. The remaining members scattered like dust in the wind.

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