The Evolution of the Tree Stumps: Russ and Ron Jankowski
The earliest version of The Tree Stumps included signature members, brothers Ron and Russ Jankowski. From childhood, Ron and older brother Russ played as a duet or trio for church functions and parties, with Ron on guitar and Russ on accordion and occasionally on drums. Like many Cleveland kids in the 1950s, Russ took up the accordion and later switched to the electric organ for the onslaught of rock ‘n’ roll (he still uses the same accordion in his current band). Ron played guitar from age seven on, cutting his teeth on groups like the Ventures.
The boys were accomplished enough players to appear on the popular Gene Carroll talent hour TV show in the late 1950s with drummer Ed Rindfleisch. The Tree Stumps also appeared on the Gene Carroll show with the Gary Harrington line-up in 1965 and on Don Webster’s Channel 5 show, UpBEAT, with The Buckinghams.
In the early 1960s, many local bands were transitioning to a surf sound or the emerging British Invasion genre or pop R&B (rhythm and blues). Emulating the radio hits of groups like the Beatles and Stones led The Tree Stumps to continually experiment with new songs and genres, drawing on the flood of changing pop music that made the 1960s famous. The radio charts were loaded with new bands, new songs and new sounds, making the dream of all musicians to hear themselves on the radio. However, the path to stardom would invariably require a hit song.
Ron Jankowski was already writing songs. In the fall of 1966, The Tree Stumps recorded two of Ron's songs, "Listen to Love" and "Jennie Lee", at the Cleveland Recording Studio. Although "Listen to Love" was the “A” side of the record, it was the “B” side’s "Jennie Lee" that really caught on in the local Cleveland market. These songs remain in the realm of excellent pop music. Russ’ son, Dan Jankowski, currently does versions of these songs with the band Copperfoot.
During the Jankowskis’ tenure, The Tree Stumps enjoyed much success and popularity. After several personnel changes such as the addition of a lead singer, Ron and Russ left the band in 1967 for broader creative horizons, continuing to play together in several bands. The music scene was morphing with the introduction of more psychedelic rock and a bourgeoning FM radio market. Doing a variety of songs off the FM charts, the brothers’ new band Kismet Maze would take them through the rest of the 1960s.
Following that, Ron and Russ started Audi Badoo in 1969, with a new line-up and a female vocalist. This group also included drummer Artie Dussault, the father of current Cleveland blues singer Colin Dussault.
When Mike Hay returned from the Navy, he and Ron eventually reunited as a country-folk-rock duo called Spring Wheel. They recorded an album in 1973 on Paramount Records. In 1976 Ron left Cleveland for Los Angeles to see if he could make it as a songwriter. Russ stayed behind and continued to perform in other popular bands.
A Lifetime of Music
Today Russ can be found living in Rocky River and still playing live music with longtime local band, The Bottom Line. Winners in "The Knot - 2010 Best Wedding Band" and "FOX 8 News - Best Wedding Band" contests, it continues to be one of Northeast Ohio's most successful bands. For more than 30 years, The Bottom Line has played mostly private functions and occasionally clubs. This seven-piece group, fronted by two dynamic lead vocalists, can go from sophisticated jazz and ballads to a band that “rocks” the house. (See their website http://www.bottomlineband.com/ .)
One of The Bottom Line’s founding members, Norm Strelka, has been with Russ in the group since 1979. He was previously in the Stone River Band with Mike Hay. An affable Rocky River native and great guitarist, Norm has a music history that is intertwined with that of the Tree Stump alumni going back to high school. Those days included Michael Stanley and Chris Johns, formerly in the Scepters together with drummer Chuck Inglefield. (Norm almost joined the Stumps on guitar at one point, but he did not want to wear the band uniform suit of the day.) As a longtime performer, local guitar teacher, and retired owner of Westgate Music, Norm taught many a local kid to play guitar (including this writer).
Once in L.A., Ron never looked back. He lives in Yorba Linda, California, where he is also a worship leader at the Canyon Christian Church. Ron, a prolific songwriter, has had his songs performed in Paramount and Disney films. He still records in his home studio. As a secular artist, Ron has been signed with Audi Badoo on United Artist and Spring Wheel on Greene Bottle Records.
Ron’s songs have been performed by several artists, including Iris Larrat, Canadian Country Female Artist of the Year in 1981, who recorded "You Can't Make Love To A Memory." Ron's composition hit number 6 on the Canadian charts and the next release, "Country Loves Song", reached number 20. Gloria Loring sang "It's All Falling In Line" on her Full Moon No Hesitation album, producer George Duke. In 1988-89, Veronique (Quebec) did three songs - "Falling in Line“, “Just Another Dream” and "What Kind Of Love" (written with Kim Palmer) - for A&M Records, producer Richard Carpenter. (All three songs can be found on You Tube.) “Falling in Line” was also sung by Laura Hunter in the Disney TV movie "Rock And Roll Mom" with Dyann Cannon.
As a devoted Christian, Ron has been concentrating on contemporary Christian praise and worship compositions that are used in various churches in the L.A. area where he has been part of the worship teams. His latest CD project, "Let Your Glory Fill The Earth", is with the Christian artist Joseph (Tate Music Group, distributor) and can be found at http://JosephSongs.com.
Looking back at the reunion of The Tree Stumps in July, Ron says, "I was overwhelmed by the turnout and response as were all the band members. We appreciate all of the friends and supporters of The Tree Stumps".
Greg Williams is a licensed civil/mining engineer. He was raised in the Rocky River area and now resides in Granville, Ohio.