Sorry for the delay on this…much happening on the book front (which I’ll share with you in the next newsletter, out next week), and I even took a fast but delightful vacation back east to see family… if you’ve never been to Casco Day (always the last Saturday in July!), well, you’ve missed America at its best.
But let me resume my rock ‘n’ roll biography. I left you last time standing with me in the record section of Grant’s Department Store in Bangor, Maine, listening to Beatle songs. For those of you who aren’t rock historians, I’ll just point out that in April, 1964, the top 5 songs in America were all by the Beatles. I don’t think that will ever happen again.
Over the next couple years, I kept listening to rock ‘n’ roll, of course – along with Thelonious Monk and some other stuff. That meant mostly the earliest waves of the British Invasion – the Dave Clark Five (“Glad All Over,” “Catch Us If You Can”), the Animals (“House of the Rising Sun,” of course) and Freddie and the Dreamers to start with.
I saw a whole lot more of Freddie and the Dreamers (“I’m Telling You Now,” “Do the Freddie”) than I wanted to – I think they were on Ed Sullivan more than any other band around that time; I always wondered if Ed just thought they were cute (Freddie was a very small guy who sort of bounced around the stage) or he got a good deal on them.
By the end of 1964 we had our next great band, the dark side of raunch and rebellion to stand as contrast to the Beatles’ sweet, cheeky and irreverent but basically polite style: the Rolling Stones. I remember someone saying, as we listened to “Heart of Stone,” “They don’t even take baths.” When you’re 14 in Maine, that’s real rebellion!
But it was true that they were clearly the antipode to the Beatles – they didn’t wear uniforms on stage, their first great advertising slogan was “Would you let your daughter marry a Rolling Stone?”, and they of course had the guts of the blues at the base of their music in a way the Beatles never did. I glommed on to them as hard as Pigpen did in Palo Alto, not that I knew about Pig or Palo Alto at the time.
No, by summer 1965 I was in Dexter, Maine, which was considerably more happening than Dedham (we spent the ’64-’65 school year there living in a rented house on a 300 acre farm), but still a wasteland for music. What we got was a fairly bad television program called “Where the Action Is” around 4 o’clock after school, with endless early videos of Paul Revere and the Raiders lip-synching their hits. I’m not being entirely fair, because on a little googled research, they had some incredible guest acts, including the Yardbirds, Spencer Davis Group, Aretha Franklin, and the Kinks…but I just remember Mark Lindsay.
Salvation came courtesy of my sister Maggie in early 1966. My family was visiting Maine’s closest thing to a city, Portland, and I was presented with some options. One was joining my parents to see the film Dr. Zhivago, which, truth to tell, is what I wanted to do. But my sister had been a Herman’s Hermits fan for some time now, and they were appearing in Portland. The Hermits were definitely British Invasion, but also a clear precursor to the boy bands of the future…Maggie was 13 and had a definite thing for Peter Noone, the smiling star and vocalist of the band.
Some times, even when you’re a snarky 16 year old, you know when it’s time to do the right thing. Per the parents, Maggie couldn’t go to the show alone, so I ditched Julie Christie and Omar Sharif and accompanied Maggie to the Portland Civic Auditorium for what would be my first big time rock concert. It had all the trappings of a big show. The promoter (says me now after 25 years on the road) didn’t know how to set up the outside lines, so there was a monster crush at the front doors…I remember a girl in front of me being squeezed so hard in the mess that the buttons on the back of her blouse were popping off. Fortunately, the glass doors did not implode.
The opening act was a local Rolling Stones cover band, and we were assured by the m.c., a local, popular, and very cheesy DJ, that their lead guitarist had just come back from substituting for Brian Jones, who’d missed a Boston concert due to some unspecified illness. Knowing what I know now about Brian…it was probably true.
By the time the Hermits came on, we were standing on our chairs – security had thrown in the towel – and they gave us their hits (“Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter,” “Henry the Eighth”). But what I really remember about the night, aside from Maggie being very happy with her big brother as she screamed along with the rest of the mostly adolescent female audience, was how incredibly, almost painfully, loud it was. The Hermits may not have been Blue Cheer, but by god they could turn their amps up to 11 with the best of them. Of course, it was also the first time I’d heard a rock band with more than two amps, so maybe it was just my ears…but it carved not only notches in my ear drums but my brain. I was hooked, if not on Peter, on rock ‘n’ roll.