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'He was a natural frontman': Friends remember Mike Bullock, the voice of Fargo rock and blues

Bullock, 67, died earlier this week following a stroke in the Philippines, where he’d lived for about the last five years.

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Mike Bullock fronts Mike and the Monsters during a 1989 special for Prairie Public Television. Special to The Forum

FARGO — For most of his performing life, Mike Bullock wore a mustache, but no facial hair could cover a smile that shined as bright as the spotlights on him.

Friends are remembering the former frontman of Mike and the Monsters as a thrill to be around and a joy to work with. Bullock, 67, died earlier this week following a stroke in the Philippines, where he’d lived for about the last five years.

“He was a great guy to be around. He had a magic smile that never left,” says Tom Carvell, who became friends with Bullock as eighth graders at Ben Franklin Middle School. “He was always a real positive guy, the guy cliques gathered around.”

The two stayed close and helped shape the Fargo music scene. They also wrote some of the area’s most recognizable jingles, like ones for Laney’s Inc. (“8 to 8 at a regular rate”) and Site on Sound (“See the future, feel the sound, bring it on home from Site on Sound”), both of which have been around for 30 years.

“He had an uncanny knack for commanding the stage from day one,” Carvell remembers, adding that Bullock’s act beat his group in a high school battle of the bands.

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The two teamed up the following year, joining the jam band Exit.

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The Fargo band Exit around 1970, (from left) Jeff Johnson, Tom Carvell, James Klein, unidentified and Mike Bullock. Special to The Forum

James Klein was the drummer in that band and recalls everyone being impressed with Bullock’s vocal audition. Just as impressive was that he had a van.

“So we told him he had the gig if we could use his van and he would pick up another instrument,” Klein says with a laugh.

Bullock took the conditions seriously and brought flute to the band’s sound.

In 1972, after Exit split, Bullock, Carvell and Klein were recruited to a revamped version of the region’s classic rock band, The Uglies. There, Bullock would add a saxophone to his repertoire and the group would tour the Midwest for the next seven years.

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Mike Bullock (front center) fronted The Uglies in the 1970s with Andy Baily, James Klein, Larry Stock and Tom Carvell. Special to The Forum

After leaving the Uglies, Bullock and his family moved to northern Minnesota, where he built a log cabin.

Still, music was a draw, and around 1980 he moved back to Fargo-Moorhead and started the Michael James Band with Klein. The group’s take on the blues soon found a growing audience, and the act relocated to Minneapolis.

A few years later, Bullock returned home again and in the mid-1980s started what would be Mike and The Monsters, a group that included a horn section to play blues, soul, R&B and rock.

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Mike Bullock (kneeling) fronted The Michael James Band in the early 1980s. Special to The Forum

“He was a natural frontman. A great blues singer, a great blue-eyed soul singer,” says Steve Eidem, who played trumpet in Mike and The Monsters. “You could tell he was very involved in each song. His vibe was very apparent that he was enjoying himself and he had respect for all of the other players on stage.”

While the group had a faithful following, it didn’t tour as much as other Bullock acts, instead playing select dates closer to home, including annual summer sets at Soo Pass Ranch in Detroit Lakes, Minn.

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Bullock put more work in as a recording and sound engineer, producing the first album for Kid Jonny Lang & The Big Bang in 1995. A decade later, he did the video and audio work on the documentary “Fargo Rocks.”

Mike and The Monsters quit playing in the late 1990s, but regrouped to play Eidem’s wedding in 2002. Having the band meant having lots of uninvited fans crash the party to hear Mike and The Monsters play one more time, something the groom didn’t mind.

“Whatever he did, he put 110 percent into it every night. Even if his voice was shot he wouldn’t back down,” says Carvell, who played guitar in the band.

Carvell says Bullock took a lot of inspiration from Ray Charles, while Klein saw Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger in Bullock’s style.

Dave Hanson never played with Bullock, but he recorded music for the Michael James Band. Later, they would work on film projects and commercials, including Paradiso’s “Chips are free, dinner extra” spot. He saw another rock legend in Bullock’s all-in way of working.

“He was the Keith Richards of Fargo,” Hanson says. “He never missed first call in the morning, no matter what he’d been doing the night before. We thought he was indestructible, which is why we were so surprised to hear he’d died.”

Bullock surprised his friends about five years ago when he announced he was moving to the Philippines, but he returned regularly to reconnect with his old mates.

Klein says over drinks at the HoDO last summer, Bullock said this would be his last trip to Fargo, that the travel was too much and he was happy in the Philippines with his girlfriend.

Friends say his legacy will be the music that he helped make, whether on the stage or recording another artist.

“We knew there probably wasn’t going to be another Mike and The Monsters reunion, but in the back of your mind, you’d think about it,” Eidem says. “He was a legend in the Fargo-Moorhead area and for a while in the Twin Cities. Everyone knew Mike.”

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