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Vilas Craig, born in Richland County Wisconsin,
started singing and playing guitar early in life.
In 1957, he formed his first band called The Kollege Kings. The Kollege Kings were one of the first bands
to play Rock 'n' Roll in Wisconsin.
In 1959, they recorded and released their first two original songs "Spring Fever" and "My One My Only Love" on a 45 rpm record.
In 1960, Vilas changed the bands name to Vilas Craig & The ViCounts and released several more records. The band released other singles such as "Don't You Just Know It" and "Rotation" under the alias The Six Shooters. The later singles "Unlucky Am I", "Summers Over" and "Looking for a Girl" were recorded in Nashville with Billy Grammer, Hargus Melvin "Pig" Robbins and other studio session musicians.
The new singles "It's All About the Baby" and "Four Boys of Bethlehem" were release in 2022.
Keith Ruetten: Admin Top Contributor - Richland Center Area Yesterday & Today - Wisconsin
Note: On Sunday May 28, 2023, Vilas Craig passed away at the age of 84.
Vilas Eugene Craig was born on December 21,1938, in Akan Township, Richland County, the son of Melvin and Lavina Craig. Vilas was educated in the rural schools, and graduated from Richland Center High School in 1956.
Vilas developed a deep love for singing and playing the guitar at an early age. In 1957, Vilas along with three members of the Richland Center High School band trumpet section, started his first band the Kollege Kings. The Kollege Kings began with Vilas on vocals, guitar and saxophone, James Chitwood on bass, Steve Prestegard on piano, and Bill McCorkle on drums.
By 1959, the band’s lineup had changed with the addition of Gene “Fuzz” Mueller on guitar, and Karl Gillingham replacing McCorkle on drums, and Al Sugden replacing Chitwood on bass. The band quickly gained popularity, captivating audiences with their energetic performances and vibrant sound. The Kollege Kings recorded their first two records “Spring Fever” and “My One My Only Love,” at Kay Bank Studios in Minneapolis in April 1958. The Kollege Kings hold the distinction of either being the first or second rock and roll band in southern Wisconsin, a group named The White Caps with Johnny Edwards apparently recorded a song in 1957.
In 1960, Vilas changed the name of the band to Vilas Craig & The ViCounts. The band played every weekend on Friday and Saturday nights, often at a high school dance on Friday and at a public dance hall on Saturday night. Vilas did all the promotion and bookings including advertising, while the rest of the band attended college or had full-time day jobs. Vilas graduated with a music education degree from UW-Plattetville, that he paid for himself earning a living with his band. On December 3, 1960, Vilas married Judy Lee Anlauf of Prairie du Sac, and together they had four children, with Vilas supporting the family through his music at the same time.
Vilas Craig & The ViCounts enjoyed a large fan following, while playing in such area venues as the Platteville National Guard Armory, the Potosi fire station, Fennimore Memorial Building, Checkerboard Ballroom in Prairie Du Chien, Blaine Gym in Boscobel, Royal Palace in Galena, Cobb School Gym, Riverview Ballroom on Hwy 60, and the Soldiers Grove Auditorium.
During the 60s the band also had the opportunity to play with several nationally known talents including Bobby Darin, Bobby Goldsboro, Jackie DeShannon, The Rivieras, and Gene Pitney. The demands of his teaching career dictated that Vilas needed to quit playing with the band, and thus Vilas and the ViCounts came to an end as the 1960s were winding down. Vilas however was far from being done with music and continued to play for decades at various jobs.
In June of 2017 Vilas organized and held a 60th reunion concert at the Legion Park in Avoca. Performing with a band that he billed as Vilas Craig & The Nu ViCounts, that included Doug Bachelor of Fennimore on guitar, Roddy Dull of Boscobel on bass, Bill Becker of Mount Hope on keyboards, and Gordon Glass of Richland Center on drums. The group played a mix of the Vi Counts original hits and some popular cover tunes from the 1960s, to an enthusiastic crowd of over 200 fans.
Vilas Craig’s musical journey took him through various bands, each showcasing his immense talent and versatility. His first bands, The Kollege Kings, and Vilas Craig & The ViCounts marked the beginning of his professional career. The band’s unique style and Vilas Craig’s soulful vocals resonated with audiences, earning them a loyal following.
His career also saw him join forces with The Six Shooters, a band that epitomized his artistic growth and evolution. Their music encompassed various genres, from rock and roll to country, and showcased Vilas Craig’s versatility as a singer and guitarist. Throughout his career, Craig’s music was characterized by heartfelt lyrics, powerful vocals, and soul-stirring melodies. His ability to connect with audiences on an emotional level made him a beloved figure in the music industry. His ability to infuse authenticity and emotion into his music touched the hearts of countless fans. His legacy lives on through his recordings and the memories he created during his performances. Craig’s talent, passion, and dedication to music made him a remarkable figure in the industry. From his early days as a young artist in Richland County, Wisconsin, to his involvement in influential bands, he left an indelible mark on the hearts of his fans.
A list of Vilas Craig’s recordings includes:
1959 – “Spring Fever” and “My One My Only Love”
1960 - “You Know How,” “Little Miss Mary,” “My Heart,” “If I May,” “Don’t You Just Know It,” and “Rotation”
1962 - “Little Miss Brown Eyes,” “Poor Loser,” Walkin’ Down The Avenue,” “Don’t Sweetheart Me,” and “Skinny Minnie Twist”
1963 - “Gotta Find My Baby,” “Love You, If I May,” “Chumba,” “It’s All Over,” “Blackout,” and “Heartbreak Hotel”
1965 - “Unlucky Am I,” and “I’m Looking For A Girl”
1966 - “Summer’s Over,” and “Poor Loser.’