Everyone knows that Grant County is home to classic and cool celebrities like James Dean and Garfield creator, Jim Davis. Their rebellious attitudes and kookie antics became hallmark of the era. But, there’s a few more hometown heroes here that have contributed to this area’s classic cool vibe.
Five teenagers started their own band in Marion, Indiana in the late 1950s. They called themselves The Jiants, in homage to James Dean and their high school mascot, The Marion Giants.
The quintet was composed of guitarist/songwriter Jerry Hedges, vocalist Andy “Russell” Anderson, pianist Bill Lee Balsbaugh, bassist Ray Umbarger and drummer Ron Wolfe.
They took the traditional twangy sounds of the region and incorporated throbbing beats, giving it a rock ’n’ roll flair. The Jiants toured the area being a sock hop favorite with their electrifying live performances. They started with rock ‘n’ roll covers, then moved on to composing their own songs. In a lot of ways, their music was the missing link between rockabilly and 1960s garage punk.
In 1959, their biggest hit Tornado was released as a 45rpm single by regional label, Claudra Records. The B track on the record was She’s My Woman. Their edgy rockabilly style rode the airwaves and contributed to the musical revolution that occurred during that time. The group disbanded in 1961.
While the band’s tenure was short, they are not forgotten. Recently, The Jiants got more attention when Tornado was featured in 2017 movie, The Last Word. The classic tune was also covered by lots of bands and artists throughout the years, like Ray Umbarger’s daughter Lisa of The Toadies. Many European DJs, including British DJ Keb Darge, have remixed Tornado in the last couple years. These Grant County rebels are just one more reason to stop by Classic Cool Indiana.