Haze reunites over funky mystery record

Discarded album revives forgotten chapter of Minneapolis music history

She found the album, released on ASI Records, for sale on a number of Japanese sites for more than $50. With three band members' names and most of the track titles, Pierce and Lind went to the white pages, where they found an abundance of Paul and Peter Johnsons living in Minnesota.

Before long, she felt like a telemarketer reading a script: "Is this Paul Johnson? Hi, my name is Shelley Pierce. Just wondering if you played in a band called Haze?"

A dozen fruitless calls later, she realized she was getting nowhere. She decided to go back to the internet—someone in the band was bound to do a vanity search someday, she thought.

If you remember this band, or know where some of the band members might be today, or MAYBE YOU WERE IN THE BAND HAZE—please get in touch with us. Maybe you caught this band in action back in the day, or know more about the ASI Label—we would love to hear from you too.

Peter and Paul Johnson sprawled out on the living-room floor in front of their family's only television set. It was February 1964, and the junior high school students could hardly wait for The Ed Sullivan Show that night. It was the Beatles' first American performance, and the Johnson brothers had heard their No. 1 hit, "I Want to Hold Your Hand," on the radio. This was their first time seeing the band perform on TV.

More than 73 million Americans tuned in that night as Sullivan introduced the British pop sensations to the stage.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the Beatles. Let's bring them on," Sullivan said over a crowd erupting into screams. As the Beatles performed four of their tunes, studio cameras zoomed in on girls hyperventilating, screaming uncontrollably, and bouncing out of their seats.

Peter and Paul Johnson were mesmerized. They wanted to be just like the Beatles.

The two begged their mother to buy them guitars for Christmas. They waited patiently for the 10 months, constructing makeshift guitars out of cardboard boxes, sticks, and rubber bands in the meantime.

When the two finally had guitars of their own, they practiced hours a day, and decided to form a band in 1965. Paul removed two strings from his guitar so he could play it as a bass. Their school friend Willy Thomas picked up vocals. They were the Fabulous Fascinators.

The boys spent hours on the second floor of the Johnson home, strumming away as long as their mother, Carrie Johnson, allowed them. They played shows around their Selby-Dale neighborhood in St. Paul, performing covers of their favorite artists including the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Temptations.

Their black peers weren't always their biggest fans. It was the height of the Black Power movement, and some of their neighbors expected them to stick to what they considered "black music."

"Why you playin' that white-boy music?" someone would yell during their show. Classmates would stop them in the halls at Como Park Junior High School, suggesting they play more James Brown, less Beatles.

"We just like the music," Peter Johnson would respond with a shrug.

In 1968, a boy named Steve Powers came to one of the band's gigs at the Loft, a youth recreation center. He didn't own a drum set, but carried drumsticks in his back pockets everywhere he went. He joined the band, along with Solomon Hughes, a Minneapolis teen and guitarist who had been playing around town with other bands. The Johnsons' cousin Janelle Green joined in on the action, too, picking up timbali and percussion. Peter Johnson learned to play keyboard, handing the lead guitar to Hughes.

By the late 1960s, they called themselves Purple Haze and started performing all original songs. Dressed in handmade, color-coordinated, low-cut, button-up shirts; 52-inch bellbottoms; and gaudy jewelry, Haze had a sound and an image to go with it.

Since they were an all-black band from inner-city St. Paul, most clubs wouldn't touch them. They refused to hire black bands for fear of attracting a black audience. So Purple Haze took their show on the road, driving hundreds of miles throughout the rural Midwest to perform at high school and college dances.

In the early 1970s, the band traveled down to Iowa to play a show at a college in the dead of winter. To save money, Purple Haze would pack up their equipment and head back to the Twin Cities instead of finding a hotel. When they hit southern Minnesota, the weather turned hazardous. The temperature sunk below zero and the snow made visibility almost zero.

They had just entered the outskirts of Albert Lea when their car sputtered to a stop. There were lights in the distance, but no sign of human life anywhere close. Fearing they might freeze to death, each member one by one took off down the road for the closest set of lights. Every man for himself.

Thomas took the lead, sprinting down the deserted highway. He spotted a hotel and was the first to make it to the locked doors, pounding away until a sleepy man answered.

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