Gary Charlson

Hailing from Kansas City, Kansas, Gary Charlson was an outsider living on the fringe of the outsider capital. Married, working for his father’s heating and cooling company, and bored by 24, Charlson needed more than a copy of Roger McGuinn’s Thunderbyrd when he walked into the vinyl emporium Caper’s Corner on Mission Road in 1977. Introduced by fellow Byrd-maniac and Caper employee Corky Carrel, Charlson and Prellberg bonded immediately, prompting Gary to reveal his own aspirations to be a rock and roll star. The two exchanged numbers, and within the week Charlson was performing “Real Life Saver” over the phone. Three takes later, Teen Titans was shelved for good.

Gary Charlson was an accomplished guitarist who had fronted various bar bands throughout the early part of the decade but missed headlining Power Pop ’78 due to his lack of a backing band. It was here that Prellberg first tried on the producer hat, pairing Gary with Millionaire drummer Larry Bell and Gems bassist Barry Shank. Basic tracks were laid down in December at Chapman Recorders, a tiny 8-track outfit in downtown Kansas City. Over the next several months, Charlson would sneak in after work to add a plethora of overdubs, recruiting Millionaire Kathy Buehler to sing back-ups on the bitter flip, “Not The Way It Seems,” before finally mixing in the spring of 1978. Outside the studio, Prellberg was busy writing the E.R. Squibb Corporation for permission to use a picture of a wintergreen Lifesaver on the back of the accompanying picture sleeve. Squibb replied with confusion, but the answer was “no” regardless. They put it on there anyway.

After all the positive press Gary Charlson’s first single had received, followed swiftly by the Gems 45 failure, and compounded by the heartbreak of the Secrets*, Titan desperately needed to get back to their winning ways. Prellberg proposed recording an obscure Dwight Twilley song he had seen on American Bandstand in 1976 entitled “Shark.” The tune was intended to be Twilley’s follow up to his sublime “I’m On Fire” 45 but was nixed last-minute over fears it would be perceived as a Jaws cash-in. Titan was not nearly as discerning. As it happened, neither Jaws nor its 1978 sequel would have any effect on Charlson’s second single. “Shark” took Charlson back to where he started—reinventing unheralded pop songs for a small but captivated audience.

Though the Titan bank account was bare, its shelves were full of projects waiting to be finished, including the Arlis! & the Boy Wonders EP, the Boys' live EP and second single, and the Gary Charlson live record. Titan’s relationship with Gary had soured over the year since “Shark” was issued. While the label was busy with the Boys, Arlis!, and the sampler, Charlson’s budding career was left to dangle in the wind. When it blew west at the end of 1980, Bomp was only too happy to let the wayward Charlson in. A deal was struck to issue the Live Shark recordings on Bomp—the project got a catalog number (12133) and cover before news got back to Sorrells. Having shook hands with Gary, in addition to paying for the chairs, beer, and invites, Sorrells felt that Titan had first dibs on these recordings. When Gary went to pick up the masters from Chapman’s, he was sorely disappointed.

Gary Charlson’s career never recovered from the Live Shark debacle. He recorded an album’s worth of demos, including “Close Enough” with Kathy Buehler, none of which have seen the light of day until now. A few years later, Charlson would play in two prominent KC cover bands with ex-members of the Secrets*; the 4-Skns with Pat Tomek; and the Crayons with Steve Davis—proof that Titan blood ran deep in Kansas City.

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