Rocking On with the Pawnbrokers
Rocking On with the Pawnbrokers
in , , , , , , ,

Rocking On with the Pawnbrokers

Photos Provided by The Pawnbrokers

In the 1960s, The Pawnbrokers emerged as a new band that defied the era’s musical conventions, continually evolving while staying true to their musical roots and inspirations in Fargo-Moorhead. Born in the walls of Concordia College, Mike Naylor, Kent Richey, Steve Hanson, and Blake English went on to pioneer innovations in the local rock’n’roll music scene. Over the years, they’ve created a story worth telling that’s filled with passion, challenges, and a deep love for the art form of live music. Decades removed from forming the band, The Pawnbrokers are still rocking on and performing to this day. Join us as we dive into the highs, lows, and legacy of The Pawnbrokers.

When Blake began his college journey at Concordia College in 1965, he hadn’t quite found his musical stride, yet fate had other plans. Friends from college, including Kent Richey and Mike Naylor, had a shared passion— to form a rock group. But with Concordia’s conservative stances against rock ‘n’ roll and dancing, it wasn’t smooth sailing. While looking to find ways around the system, they found Steve Hanson from Moorhead State, and thus, the Pawnbrokers were born.

Blake fondly recalls the origin of the band’s unique name, “Mike always joked that it was because we were always getting our gear out of hock, but honestly? We loved the movie (1964’s ‘The Pawnbroker’) with the same title and it seemed unique.” It wasn’t just about the music; it was about the presentation and dedication. “We were determined to give our audience and venue owners their money’s worth,” Blake said.

As with any band, The Pawnbrokers had their influences. “Mike and Kent were heavily influenced by legends like Bob Dylan, the Stones, the Byrds, and the Beatles,” recalls Blake. Their setlists comprised iconic songs from these greats, and their rendition of tracks like “Chimes of Freedom” and “Eight Miles High” always left the crowd wanting more. ar dapibus leo.

The Fargo music scene was in flux during this time, transitioning from the 50s rockers and surf vibes into new territory. The Pawnbrokers emerged as leaders of the new era in the local music scene. Their rising popularity caught the attention of local DJ, Ron Yantz at KQWB, who became their manager and booking agent. This collaboration furthered the band’s reach, playing gigs across Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

The original band circa 1967. Left to Right: Steve Hanson, Kent Richey, Blake English, and Mike Naylor.

It wasn’t just local gigs, as the band had its share of star-studded experiences. They supported various national bands during their Fargo tours, and Blake still fondly remembers the time they met the Yardbirds. “Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page were so down-toearth; it was refreshing,” he says.

1967 was a year that marked history for The Pawnbrokers. Mike, Kent, Steve, and Blake weren’t just making music; they were creating waves. With the release of their first 45 rpm vinyl record, “Someday,” which soared on local charts, the Pawnbrokers were more confident than ever and seemingly unstoppable. And not just in their music; they were trendsetters in other ways at the time as well. According to Blake, they were some of the first to introduce light shows in their acts, and also some of the first to break away from the era’s top 40 format. Every local gig pushed their creativity and drive.

The 1960s were good to The Pawnbrokers. Their music resonated with many, their performances were memorable, and their name echoed across Fargo’s vibrant music scene as the fanbase grew.

Left to Right: Blake English, Mike Naylor, Kent Richey, and Steve Hanson.
A ‘Top 40’ record survey showing the Pawnbrokers' first recording, ‘Someday’, at #10 on the charts.

The late summer of 1967 saw the Pawnbrokers evolve, with Paul Rogne joining the band. This new addition diversified their musical range and their collaboration with another rock band, The Box Tops.

However, the journey wasn’t always smooth. As 1968 rolled around, the draft brought challenges. Mike Naylor was drafted and enlisted in the Army Security Agency, leading to changes in the band’s lineup. The involvement of the Selective Service meant that Mike Naylor had some life-altering decisions to make. While he chose to serve, he found solace in forming bands even in the most desolate of places, like Alaska and Asmara, Ethiopia. Mike’s resilience epitomized the spirit of The Pawnbrokers: always find a way to make music, no matter the circumstances.

Meanwhile, the remaining members of the band faced their own set of challenges. Without Mike’s leadership, Kent, Blake, Steve, and Paul had to find their footing. In 1968, they recorded a new 45 at the Dove Studio in Minneapolis, including tracks “Smell of Incense” and “Realize.” Kent’s departure from the band later that year marked another significant change, adding members Terry Demmen and Tony Passanante.

In 1969, the Pawnbrokers recorded their final 45 at KDSU Studio on the NDSU campus in Fargo, a cover of Boz Scaggs’ “Dime-A-Dance Romance.” When the remaining members of the Pawnbrokers graduated college in 1969, the band officially ended their time together, that is, for the time being.

Fast forward to 1994, and “Someday,” their debut track, found its way into a compilation LP, ‘The Best of IGL Folk Rock.’ The band may have taken a hiatus after their college days, but their music continued to resonate with fans old and new. The LP was given a limited release, therefore not widely distrubted. Still a hot commodity to fans and plenty of local music lovers, the release became a collector’s item, enforcing the timeless appeal of the Pawnbrokers’ music.

"When the original band played from 1965-1969, playing in bars was not an option except for the 3.2% beer bars in South Dakota. We played in many old-time dance halls, school auditoriums, local event centers such as the YMCA, armories, and outdoor county fairs. Today, we play in many bars (Fargo VFW, West Fargo VFW, the Fargo Elks, Dempsey's, and the Blarney Stone). We play outdoor street dances and at school class reunions. One local venue that is a throwback to the way entertainment was delivered back in the '60s is the TAK Event Center in Dilworth, MN.”

This led to a 2006 reunion performance that set the stage for their continued musical journey, and as of 2023, the Pawnbrokers are still rocking, with a lineup that pays homage to the past while performing for fans old and new.

Their 2006 reunion, held at the Fargo Theatre for the movie premiere of ‘Fargo Rocks,’ was not just a trip down memory lane but also a reminder of their love of music. “To think we could still pull off a performance after all those years was surreal,” Blake said. The documentary ‘Fargo Rocks,’ which celebrated Fargo-Moorhead’s rich rock and roll history, featured the Pawnbrokers, amongst other legends, as a tribute to bands and artists that made Fargo’s music scene what it was. Sharing their stories were the very musicians who lived through those golden years, painting a vivid picture of the era.

The story of the Pawnbrokers didn’t end with the reunion performance, which reunited the five orignal Pawnbrokers. Inspired by the reception and love from fans, the original members regrouped and embarked on their second chapter. Collaborations with members from Blake’s new band, Blues Tonic, marked the rebirth of the Pawnbrokers, leading to performances that reignited their old spark.

By 2019, the Pawnbrokers entered another chapter, with Tony Passanante rejoining and infusing fresh energy into the band. Fast forward to 2023, and the lineup now boasts talents like Mike Jenkins and Don Nustad, who continue to charm audiences with their music. Also this year, the Pawnbrokers signed a record deal with a California company, Permanent Records Roadhouse, authorizing them to re-issue two Pawnbrokers’ songs, “Realize” and “Dime-A-Dance Romance,” on a compilation LP and in a digital platform.

"Upon retirement in 2016, I moved to Fargo. One night while searching for live music, I happened to run into Blake and his band setting up at Lucky 13. I got up and played a few sets and a couple of weeks later he called to ask me to join the Pawnbrokers one more time and here we are playing a lot of classic rock, blues, and country tunes in the FM area again.”

The band continues to perform at local venues all across the area. Check out local bars’ event calendars, such as the ones above, to see when you can support them next!

Their journey from playing at local Fargo venues to signing a record deal in 2023 has been nothing short of extraordinary. What stands out in the Pawnbrokers’ narrative is their connection to the community. From playing at class reunion events to taking local stages, they’ve always been rooted in their origins. The local community has, in return, showered them with support and admiration.

According to Blake, it’s this mutual love and respect that’s kept the Pawnbrokers going. “It’s been one heck of a ride. From those initial jam sessions at Concordia to touring and recording, every moment has been a lesson. And through it all, it’s the music and our fans that kept us going.”

The Pawnbroker’s Influences

  • The Beatles
  • Bob Dylan
  • The Rolling Stones
  • The Byrds

Written by Grant Ayers

Family Fun with Bowling, Lasertag, & Escape Rooms at Kingpinz!

Family Fun with Bowling, Lasertag, & Escape Rooms at Kingpinz!

What's in my Sketchbook with Lisa Burns

What’s in my Sketchbook with Lisa Burns