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Local ‘70s rockers Sunblind Lion return to studio for ‘Sanatorium’ concept CD
by Emmitt B. Feldner of The Review staff

PLYMOUTH – Combine a 1920s public health crisis with a 1970s area rock-and-roll band and the result is a concept album for the 2010s – “Sanatorium” by Sunblind Lion.

The first new recording by the group in more than three decades tells the fictional story of people living, and working in 1927 at Rocky Knoll Sanatorium, which was originally built by Sheboygan County as a tuberculosis sanatorium.

Sunblind Lion’s roots don’t go back quite so far, but the group was a fixture on the local rock scene throughout the 1970s, recording several albums - in the pre-CD days of vinyl recording - that are still cherished by local fans.

While the group hasn’t released a CD since 1980’s “Live Lion,” they have come together a number times over the years to perform and key members Keith Abler and Michael Dellger kept the urge to write and record.

Dellger wrote the lyrics for “Sanatorium” and Abler the music, and both are quick to point out that the roots of the project stretch back to before the forming of Sunblind Lion.

“When we were in college, we just did some things, joking,” about Rocky Knoll, which by then had been converted to a nursing home, Abler related.

Dellger added that The Who’s rock opera, “Tommy,” had just been released, “And I said our answer to Tommy will be Rocky Knoll. It was done more satirically.

“Eventually, Keith came back to me a few years ago and said, ‘I want to approach it again.’ I said we’re going to have to change a few things,” Dellger continued.

Dellger, who taught English for many years at Kohler High School, started by writing a 68-page short story about Rocky Knoll called “The Sanatorium” - replete with fictional character and events - which became the jumping off point for the album.

“It’s a story about the human condition and people have been able to relate to it because of that,” Dellger said.

The two began collaborating on songs growing out of Dellger’s story.

“ We would have what I call our ‘Rocky rants,’” where the two would put down words and music on a digital recorder to be refined later, Dellger explained. “It was as personal and intimate a thing as we could have, which ultimately led to a real cohesion in the CD process.”

The process began in earnest a few years ago, Abler noted, and recording began last February.

“It’s just been a project that’s been a labor of love for the last couple of years,” Abler said. “Putting it together was better than that, and recording it even topped that. The whole concept and the process of artistic contribution and building has been a big kick for me.”

They recorded the CD at Rock Garden Studios in Appleton, with Marc Golde engineering the album with assistance from the Eager Brothers.

Both musicians raved about the facilities, the process and the production, and feel it is reflected in the final product.

Modern technology helped them to overcome what might have been some insurmountable obstacles to recording the CD.

For instance, Sunblind Lion keyboard player Duane Abler (Keith’s brother) lives in California, but was able to record his tracks digitally and send them to Appleton, where they were added to the mix.

Keith Abler and Dellger recorded rough demo tracks in Abler’s basement, then gave copies to the rest of the band members (Dave Steffen, Steve Olschesky, Dave Hassinger, Duane Abler, Larry Baldock and Dick Colbrath Jr.), who picked up on them and developed their parts quickly.

“No one song took more than three takes in the studio,” Abler said. “We brought in a few musician to fill it out and it all just came together. What a great experience it was.”

Reception for the new CD has already been positive, Abler said.

“Others have told me it’s defi- nitely our best work. Older fans think this is kind of a neat evolution,” he said.

Despite the lack of new material over the past several decades, Sunblind Lion has come together over the years for performances, and both Abler and Dellger are sure the band will do the same this summer to support the new CD.

“We’d like to do more and we’d definitely like to play (“Sanatorium”) live,” Abler admitted. He said he could see performing the new concept album as the first set in a concert, then following it with a second set of the band’s older material.

They also said they would like to continue recording.

“We’ve been working together so long, we enjoy working with each other,” Abler stated. “We’ve got some songs we’ve written that are in the can that definitely didn’t apply to this project.”

“Sanatorium” is available at Dreams Unlimited and Bookheads in Plymouth, Roots Music in Sheboygan Falls and the Music Boxx in Sheboygan, as well as at CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon and elsewhere on the web. It can also be purchased at the band’s website,, where a full copy of Dellger’s story is also available.

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