“There’s a psychedelic siren, wailing in the night.” These words signaled the arrival of underground legends Crusin’ and their unique brand of 1960s rock n’ roll that first rocked Eastern Iowa nearly 50 years ago.
Crusin’s lead singer and keyboardist Max Allan Collins is better known to fans as a prolific author of novels, short stories and comic books. The Muscatine-born scribe studied at the University of Iowa’s prestigious Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Since then he has penned bestsellers in the genres of mystery and crime, including the critically-acclaimed graphic novel Road to Perdition, which was later adapted as a 2002 Hollywood blockbuster.
During his teenage years, Collins stumbled onto the two passions that would stay with him for the rest of his life: literature and music. He discovered the works of hardboiled fiction writers like Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain and Mickey Spillane, whom Collins would later befriend and was anointed his literary heir. Around this time he discovered the music of New York crooner Bobby Darin.
“I liked Darin from ‘Splish Splash’ on,” Collins told a journalist in 1999, “though it was ‘Mack the Knife’ that hooked me—I saw a live performance on TV, and Darin’s brash bravado, attached to this grisly crime story in song, captured my imagination. My obsession with him began in the sixth grade.”
Collins’ formed The Daybreakers in the spring of 1966 when he was still a student at Muscatine High School. His father, the late Max Allan Collins Sr., was a music teacher at Muscatine High and was instrumental in helping his son start his first band. Local guitar teacher George Dunker also aided Collins’ efforts by introducing him to his future bandmates: lead guitarist Mike Bridges, rhythm guitarist Denny Maxwell, drummer Buddy Busch and bassist Chuck Bunn.
The combo practiced in the Collins’ family basement and would eventually be recognized as talents on par with other popular acts in the area. The Muscatine Journal reports that the band members “outshined 30 competitors from all over the Midwest, including Minneapolis and Chicago, winning the Carnival of Bands competition at the Col Ballroom in Davenport.”
The group’s first nationally released single, “Psychedelic Siren,” became a hit on the now defunct radio station KSTT in Davenport during the December of 1967. With continuous airplay, the song, and the group, became a local sensation. The song was distinguished by its raw energy and Collins’ snarling vocal delivery that reinforced the power of his lyrics, capturing a moment in time that redefined the conventions of popular music.
After some of the members left The Daybreakers in 1972, the group evolved over time and took on different names, such as Rox, The Ones and finally settled on Crusin’ in the mid-70s. They have been described by Collins as “a retro band with a 60s slant.” They are still considered by many to be among the first ’60s revival bands to emerge from the Hawkeye State, where they have played on and off for four decades.
In addition to music and literature, Collins entered the world of film when he wrote and directed the feature films “Mommy” and “Mommy’s Day,” both of which serve as unofficial sequels to the 1956 cult classic “The Bad Seed.” Crusin’ contributed songs to the soundtracks of both films. Occasionally Collins plays with his side project Seduction of the Innocent.
Collins explained why he decided to focus more on writing instead of dedicating his energy to music in a profile by January Magazine:
“I’ve spent lots of time playing rock ‘n’ roll, and have had a little success. There have been periods where I made a living from it, which defines success in that arena, but it really is just a footnote to my writing career. I might have been able to make it as a performer and songwriter, but I would have had to focus all my time and talent and energy on that. I think I chose wisely, in turning to fiction.”
The Daybreakers were inducted into the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on August 30, 2008 in Arnold’s Park, Iowa. The original members reunited for the induction ceremony and played their first set in decades, including the song that made them famous (perhaps infamous), “Psychedelic Siren.”
The current line-up includes Collins, drummer Steve Kundel, guitarist Jim Van Winkle and bassist Brian Van Winkle. They are limiting their personal appearances due to the rigorous schedule that comes with it.
The band’s recordings, under assorted names, are sought after by collectors, music aficionados and fans alike. And if fans play their cards right, they might be able to see Crusin’ kick out the jams live onstage at an unsuspecting venue near them.