The very first winner of the very first Bill Riley Talent Show at the Cherokee County Fair in 1981 will be performing at the special Winners Concert at the Iowa State Fair at 7 p.m. on Saturday.
The renowned "Buffalo Heads" - a hip and chic boys' Barbershop Quartet from Cherokee wowed the crowds those 28 years ago by winning the Cherokee County Fair's inaugural Bill Riley Talent Show - directed, as it still is today, by Cherokee's Sherry Held.
The original Buffalo Head members - Cherokee Washington High seniors at the time - included Doug Cline, Aaron Kjennas, Tom Lee, and Dennis Goodwin.
After winning the Cherokee Bill Riley Show competition, the charismatic quartet advanced in 1981 to the semifinal round at the Iowa State Fair. However, they so impressed the late Riley with their performance, that he advised the boys to return the next year for a shot at winning the 1982 Iowa State Fair Talent Show.
Saturday in Des Moines, the Buffalo Heads will reprise their two winning song selections once again on the Bill Riley Talent Show Stage - "Java Jive" and "Coney Island Baby." They will be performing along with other past Iowa State Fair Talent Show winners to celebrate the Bill Riley Talent Show's 50th anniversary.
The Cherokee quartet was formed by Cline, Kjennas, Lee, and Goodwin at the urging of then-Cherokee Washington High Vocal Director Gary Leatherman, who created and directed the vastly popular "Young Singers," a WHS vocal/choreography group that sustained its great tradition and talent for several years during Leatherman's tenure here.
The bison headdresses worn by the quartet resulted when Kjennas, who worked at the Sanford Museum & Planetarium in Cherokee as a high school intern, saw the "buffalo heads" being constructed by the Museum staff for a display. He borrowed them for the Cherokee Fair performance , and they were an immediate hit with the fans, and gave the skilled WHS vocalists a unique identity.
According to Cline in a recent telephone interview, before the State Fair Talent Show competition in 1982, the Buffalo Heads warmed up in a steel grain bin display located near the Bill Riley Stage, and those stark acoustics really helped groove the boys' tremendous voices.
Cline is the son of Dale and Caryl Lee Cline, Kjennas is the son of Mary Ann and the late Dr. E. A. Kjennas,Lee is the son of Molly and the late Ken Lee,and Goodwin is the son of Bob and Myrna Goodwin.
Cline is a now a 6th-grade teacher at Woodside Middle School in Saydel, and lives in Johnston with his wife Sue and their sons, Mitch and Chris. He is the announcer for home varsity basketball and baseball games in the Saydel District and also emcees the Bill Riley Talent Show at the annual Johnston Green Days Celebration.
Kjennas is a medical sales specialist in Minnesota, and had a career in theater and industrial film for many years. He still performs for fun at Long Lake Theater in Hubbard, Minn., and lives on a lake with wife Julie and daughter Emily.
Lee is an Orthopaedic distributor for Wright Medical in Northern Texas, living in the Dallas area with his wife Maureen and their two sons Ryan, 13, and Collin, 5. The family's summer activities include swimming and water skiing.
Goodwin is a Territory Sales Manager with American Century Investments in Kansas City, Mo., and in his spare time raises Hanoverian horses on his farm near Lawrence, Kan.
Cline and Lee attended the University of Northern Iowa and formed another quartet, specializing in Country Music, while they were in college. Singing cover songs done originally by the likes of Alabama and the Oak Ridge Boys, they were good enough to make an appearance on "You Can Be A Star" in Nashville, Tenn.
But then life got in the way, and Cline and Lee moved on to establish their careers.
The preparation the Buffalo Heads plan for Saturday's Iowa State Fair Talent Show appearance typifies their fun-loving spirit and stage and vocal confidence.
"We're going to get together at my house Saturday at 11 a.m., sing for an hour, and call it good," laughed Cline. "We're not in this for money or anything else...just to have a little fun."
Believe it or not, Cline has ordered new bison headdresses for the group on-line at $70 per. "Would you believe there is a company that makes (fake) buffalo heads?" he asked incredulously. "We'll wear 'em, sing in 'em, and then probably hang them on a wall somewhere."
When Iowa Public Television (IPT) contacted the Buffalo Heads for information about Saturday's show, Cline responded, "The opportunity to perform on the various talent show stages instilled a higher level of confidence in each of us that influences us still to this day."
Cline said he doesn't know for sure if their performance will be on IPT's State Fair coverage that airs several nights during and after the State Fair, but he sure hopes so.
"We've stayed in touch through the years and are anxious to get back together Saturday for old times' sake. We all agree that if we could go back, we wouldn't change a thing. We had a wonderful time, and it was a super learning experience for all of us."
Cline attended the 2009 Cherokee County Fair and was at Held's Bill Riley Talent Show. When Sherry saw him, the hugs and laughter that followed were poignant and real, as is the passion for the Bill Riley Talent Show that still rages in both of them - obviously.
Cline has even offered to help Held in whatever capacity he can to re-energize the Cherokee County Fair's Bill Riley Talent Show next year. He plans on sending up some acts from his Bill Riley Show in Johnston, especially older, high school performers.
It is often said that too many people die with the music still in them. That, obviously, doesn't pertain to Buffalo Heads.