Head East is an American hard rock band originally from East Central Illinois. The band was formed by vocalist John Schlitt, guitarist Danny Piper, keyboardist Roger Boyd, bassist Larry Boyd, and drummer Steve Huston. They met and formed the band while John, Roger, and Larry were studying at the University of Illinois, Steve was at Eastern Illinois University 45 miles away and Danny was not in college. Eventually both Larry and Danny dropped out of the band and were replaced by Mike Somerville (guitar) and Dan Birney (bass). The band achieved success in the Midwest during the 1970s, but fell into obscurity in the following decades on both coasts while remaining strong in the Midwest and South.
Originally known as the TimeAtions, the band adopted the name Head East on August 6, 1969 at the suggestion of the band’s roadie, Baxter Forrest Twilight. In a 2011 interview, founding member Steve Huston claimed that soon after sunrise one morning in 1969 Baxter Twilight woke the band members in their communal home / practice facility. Having been up all night sitting in the front yard consuming acid, the roadie said that when the sun rose it turned into a giant talking head and told him the band’s new name should be “Head East”. After thinking on it briefly, the band liked the unusual nature of it and has kept the name. However, other members of the band dispute Huston’s claim about the naming.
Head East recorded their first album, Flat as a Pancake, in 1974 at Golden Voice Recording Studio in South Pekin, Illinois. Released on their own record label, (Pyramid Records), all 5,000 records and 500 eight-tracks produced were sold. Several midwest album rock radio stations, chief among them KSHE 95, St. Louis and KY-102 in Kansas City and others, began airing songs from the album as well. With those sales, and the song “Never Been Any Reason” on radio, A&M was impressed enough to sign the band and re-release the album in 1975. The album reached gold status by 1978 and would remain their most popular album, spawning another hit in the song “Love Me Tonight”, which peaked at #54.
The band followed with the albums Get Yourself Up and Gettin’ Lucky, released in 1976 and 1977 respectively. Neither album achieved the success of their debut album. However, their fourth album simply titled Head East (1978) produced another hit with the band’s cover of former Argent singer Russ Ballard’s “Since You Been Gone,” which peaked at #46.
In 1979, the band released the double-LP Head East Live! and A Different Kind of Crazy. The former peaked at #96 on the US Top 100 charts. The band also performed on the soundtrack to the comic anthology film J-Men Forever. Head East also performed at the Culver Academies Prom.
In March 1980, bassist Dan Birney and guitarist Mike Somerville left the band, while singer John Schlitt was fired over a drug dependency. He would later recover, become a born-again Christian and reappear as the singer of one of Contemporary Christian Music’s most successful bands, Petra.
Remaining members Boyd and Huston hired Mark Boatman, Tony Gross, and Dan Odum to record their following album titled U.S. 1, released in October 1980. The album was their last to reach the charts and last recorded release on A&M.
The band continued with little success, releasing albums on small labels. Some of them were Onward and Upward (1982) on Allegiance Records and Choice of Weapons (1988) released on Dark Heart Records with Kurt Hansen taking on bass and vocal duties. These were the last studio albums recorded with new original material being released as Head East. Subsequent albums featured re-issued, remixed studio and live performances of the more successful material. They would still continue to play around, with guitarist Somerville returning from 1994 to 2003.
In 1999, a live album titled Live on Stage was released. The album featured songs from two shows at Denver’s Rainbow Music Hall. The first five tracks are from a 1980 show featuring the original personnel, while the last 10 tracks are from a 1981 show featuring the latter lineup. The band continues to tour to this day, playing 30 to 40 shows each year.