An exclusive interview with
LeRoy Hoikkala

Conducted by Lars Lindh

Yes, there is actually one old friend still around. LeRoy Hoikkala is the only member of Bob Dylan’s early band still living in Hibbing. On the Tracks interviewer, Lars Lindh, met with him and his wife, Bette, in their home in Hibbing on July 2, 1999.

You were born here in Hibbing?

Yes, and my parents are also from Hibbing. Well, one was from southwest Minnesota and the other was born in Hibbing, so they are local.

But you have relatives further back that came from Scandinavia?

Yes, from Finland and Norway. That’s my great grandparents. My grandfathers did come from Norway and Finland. We don’t do the "roots," we’re Hibbing.

So you have lived in Hibbing all your life?


When did you meet Bob?

I knew Bob pretty much from school and everything. Growing up you see each other. It is a small town. You know, everybody knows everybody in town. How we got to meet as far as playing in a band was Monte Edwardson–who is a guitar player; who is very good; he still plays today; he is a natural guitar player–we worked downtown, Monte and myself. Right across the street [from school], we met each other and we walked to a little job, an after-school job. And Bob was just there one day. Monte and I had been messing around with playing drums and guitar; just jamming a little bit. I had taken lessons for quite a few years. So, Bob just happened to say, "Hey, you guys going downtown?"

We actually walked from school to downtown, so we told him that we were playing, you know, just getting together and jamming around and playing. So, he said: "Hey, I’m playing piano, mouth-organ, harmonica and guitar. Maybe we could get together and kind of play a little bit."

We said, "Yes, sure."

So we started playing in Bob’s garage that was attached to his house, that little garage. We jammed in there for quite a bit, and we got a couple of jobs. The first time he ever got paid to do anything was with our band the Golden Chords.

Sometimes we’d go into the house to play, because he had a piano in the house.

Anyone else besides you, Monte Edwardson and Bob?

No, it was just the three of us at that time. I played drums.

Where did you play?

It was at the National Guard Armory, a pretty big building. We hired the police department, because you had to have the police, we hired people to collect tickets, we sold tickets, made tickets. We hired someone to clean the place up and everything, and we made money. It was kind of fun. It was one of those things where you put a lot of money out and do something; try to fix a Saturday night rock opera or "jam," and a lot of kids came. That was probably the first time Bob ever was paid to do anything musically.

Was it a dance or more like a concert?

It was a dance. There was a wide-open area, no chairs, nothing, big stage, that’s all.

Was that a onetime show?

Yes, that particular one. That was kind of how we got together and started playing.

Then we played that talent show, you know, where we actually won but lost, because the kids went crazy [but the judges] gave it to someone else that tap danced. Bob was a little detached on that one saying, "We should have won, you know?" Because, in fact the audience was with us, but they gave it to someone else. We came in second. (He laughs.)

That was the three of us as the Golden Chords. The reason we called it the Golden Chords was because Bob was really…he could really chord with the piano and the guitar, really chord beautifully. He was really a natural at chording. And my drums were gold, sparkling gold. So, we said Golden...Chords, that´s how we got the name.

What tunes did you play ?

Ah, some of the Little Richard tunes, [like] "Jenny, Jenny." Some of the southern type music, the blues songs...a lot of Little Richard. Bob loved Little Richard, so we did a lot of Little Richard stuff.

It was kind of new for the kids around here. We used to sit together with a reel to reel tape recorder at night and tape the AM-stations that came in really good at night. We taped it so we could listen to the new songs that didn’t come along here. Hibbing was kind of a backward-area. The last to get in.

So we listened to the songs from the AM radio, taped them and then Bob would play them, because that was more the type of songs that he liked; the bluesy songs. We listened to Shreveport, there were a bunch of DJs down there that we listened to.

Was Bob kind of the leader?

Yes, kind of, but he wasn’t really close to anybody. I don’t think he ever had a bestfriend. He was kind of a loner, as we all were kind of loners. We’d hang around the motorcycles, the Harleys, and ride in our convertibles. He had a convertible like mine.

When we decide to play we used to go to Collier’s Bar-B-Q. Van Feldt’s owned it. On Sundays they were closed but they still had to clean up the place, do the potatoes for french fries and everything. So we used to go down there–it was right off the main street–and we’d bring our instruments in there, set up where you walk in, and leave the door open. The kids could hear the music from Howard street when we jammed.

Was Bob playing piano then?

He played guitar and a little harmonica, at that time.

What we kids used to do on weekend nights in the summertime was cruise the streets with our cars. That was where the kids used to hear us when they were [cruising or] walking up and down the street. That’s one of the fun things we did together.

Did Bob write any of his own songs at this time?

He changed a lot of songs. He listened to a song and he changed them. He didn’t like the way they read. Just like a lot of the songs that he’s recorded. I use to say that he wasn’t copying someone, but he took the basic song and if he didn’t like the lyrics he just changed it to what he wanted. He was a natural. He is a great songwriter. Some songs he didn’t change, others he changed to his own liking.

Did you tape any of those songs?

Yes, but I don’t have them anymore. Too bad! You know, Bob was just my friend, and he still is. When he became famous it was like a different person. He has his life and we don’t communicate now. We were friends and we played in the band and all of a sudden he went ...and now he’s a different person.

One of the big things that we really enjoyed was James Dean. We went to Steven’s Grocery and Confectionary to look at all the magazines of James Dean; how he got killed in that car accident.

Did you go to Lybba’s Theater with Bob?

Yes, we went to movies related to music all the time. James Dean, Brando …things like that. It was usually John Bucklen, Bob and myself.

Did John Bucklen ever play with you?

He was kind of a beginner. Actually all of us were beginners. But he didn’t play with the band, no. Bob jammed with a bunch of guys, but that wasn’t [as a] band. Then in the end it broke up. We didn’t really form a band. We played as the Golden Chords here and there and then Bob went to Duluth and got some friends there that played more blues and jazz type of music. Then he took off to Minneapolis.

You’ve just read an excerpt of the interview with Leroy Hoikkala. The complete interview appears in On the Tracks issue #18 and is available from Rolling Tomes.



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