Down at Junior’s Motel
There’s a place to go, a mile west of Otho
OTHO — There’s a place to go, a mile west of Otho, tucked away on a gravel road, it’s called Junior’s Motel.
But it’s not a bed and breakfast.
Owned by Kirk Kaufman, Junior’s Motel is a professional recording studio concealed by green ivy and situated behind a house and next to an old barn. It has served as a music sanctuary for Kaufman and other musicians he has invited over since 1972.
Kaufman has been playing music since he was a teenager in the late 1960s. He primarily plays acoustic guitar, but also plays bass for the band HAWKS.
He said the Junior in Junior’s Motel comes from a nickname he earned from some of his previous band names containing the name Junior in them.
The Motel part of the name came after he allowed some of the bands recording there to stay the night.
“A lot of bands that would record here, if it was a multiple day thing, and they stayed at a motel, they wouldn’t have enough money to pay me,” Kaufman said. “So I just let them crash here. At the time it seemed perfect.”
Occasionally, he’ll get a few calls from people looking for a place to stay.
“I’ll get calls from construction people wanting to book a room at the Junior’s Motel,” he said.
The recording studio was built in 1972 after Kaufman and one of his bands recorded in Alabama.
“The Rolling Stones had just left this tiny studio,” Kaufman said. “It was just a little building and we thought, ‘that reminds us of our chicken house back home.'”
After returning home to Otho, Kaufman got to work.
“We got back and just started building the structure, not knowing what we were doing,” Kaufman said.
The design for the studio came from Tom Hidley, who would go on to become one of the top studio architects in the world, according to Kaufman.
In its early years, the studio was called West Minist’r Sound. It was named after a cover band Kaufman was in called West Minist’r.
Inspired by legendary bands such as The Beatles, Kaufman set out for a career in music.
“Music is a thing where it’s like the pot at the end of the rainbow,” Kaufman said. “We all enjoy music because it makes us feel good. If a certain song comes on, suddenly you are at peace. A lot of people say music is their life, but they don’t do anything about it.”
Kaufman remembers the first time he was moved by a song by The Beatles. He was washing dishes in the kitchen at his parents’ house on the farm in Otho.
The house is on the same property as Junior’s Motel.
“My mom made me wash the dishes, so I was in the kitchen with the radio going and ‘She Loves You’ came on,” Kaufman said. “It was just the beat and stuff to get me going.”
“Back when The Beatles were out and when a new song came out you really liked, it just like ‘oh yeah,'” he added. “It was like you lived for those moments, but then it was back to reality.”
Kaufman was in his early teens at the time.
As a boy, Kaufman and his family lived on the east side of Fort Dodge until gypsum was found on that land.
When he was 6 years old, the family moved to the farm near Otho, where Kaufman lives today.
He graduated from Prairie Community School in Gowrie in 1968.
During and after high school, Kaufman played in a band in one role or another.
“After I graduated, that was also around the time of Vietnam,” he said. “I had a pretty high draft number.”
As a result, Kaufman attended Iowa Central Community College for two years before dedicating more time to music.
He had considered farming before launching into his music career.
“I figured if I am doing this music thing, I should do this music thing,” Kaufman said. “There were a few tight years where I wondered if it was a good idea or not, but it worked out. I was glad I did it. I don’t think I would change anything.”
Kaufman and the band West Minist’r released a song called “Bright Lights, Windy City” in 1969.
He said it was his first taste of success.
“We recorded it in Omaha, printed up the records, and it got picked up on a big station in Kansas City,” Kaufman said. “And I thought, ‘wow, nothing to this.'”
“We didn’t get any massive airplay or anything, but we got a little taste of something,” he added. “That was kind of a big deal. It got our blood flowing.”
That band, made up of the same members of the HAWKS, would eventually break up, Kaufman said.
“We kept the studio going and we had multiple bands with the same people,” he said. “It took us several years and we ended up landing the deal with Columbia Records.”
It was in the early 1980s when Columbia came calling.
“That’s when the HAWK thing came up,” he said. “Columbia flew us to New York. We heard our song being played on the New York station and I thought, ‘how many million people are listening to this thing?’ It was kind of scary, but was what we were trying to do.”
Kaufman said the HAWKS had some opportunities they didn’t capitalize on.
“We had some great opportunities to go out and tour with some major bands,” he said. “Well, we should have went out because that would have promoted the record. We are talking Van Halen tour, Tom Petty tour, dates with The Police, The Who.”
“We thought, ‘let’s wait a few months, finish the record, and then we will go out forever,'” Kaufman said. “We just didn’t jump through the window quick enough. We had some lost opportunities, but again, no regrets. You never know what might have happened.”
The HAWKS recorded a pair of albums in the early 1980s. The group had two singles that charted. “Right Away,” was No. 63 on the Hot Billboard in 1981. “It’s All Right, It’s OK,” went to No. 32 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart in 1981.
The band went on to release a total of three albums. “HAWKS” was released in 1981 and “30 Seconds Over Otho” in 1982, both on Columbia. A collection of unreleased HAWKS material came out in 2003 on Not Lame Records called “Perfect World Radio.”
The last album was made from tapes the group still had in their possession.
Kaufman and the HAWKS will be returning live at Shellabration July 8 at the Harlan and Hazel Rogers Sports Complex. The band will open for Huey Lewis and the News.
Joining Kaufman on stage will be Frank Wiewel, of Otho, founder of People Against Cancer, on vocals; Dave Hearn, of Fort Dodge, owner of Silhouette Multimedia, on keyboard; Larry Adams, a contractor in Leander, Texas, on drums; and Dave Steen, of Lincoln, Nebraska, a songwriter, on guitar.
The last time the HAWKS played together in a gig situation was in 1982.
The HAWKS actually met Huey Lewis back in 1980 as Kaufman recalled.
They played together on the same episode of the TV show “American Bandstand.”
“It ended up we shared a dressing room,” Kaufman said. “We had a bottle of wine and a good talk. I don’t know how he could ever remember that, but he was a really nice guy.”
“He comes off as a nice guy in his videos and stuff like that and, yeah, he is that person,” Kaufman said. “He is a friendly, nice guy.”
Kaufman said he is anxious about his upcoming performance.
“I can be relaxed,” he said. “But it’s a rush. It’s a stress. You just don’t want to hit any sour notes.”
He plans to continue creating music at his studio.
“I am taking it pretty easy right now,” he said. “I am not promoting the studio, but when people call I am not turning them down. I needed to keep my mind clear and do some rehearsing. You gotta keep your chops up, if you got any.”