Saturday, February 16, 2019

Hats off to Larry Finnegan

"One-hit wonder from the early sixties" is the usual reductionist treatment that Larry Finnegan receives in his home country when it comes to his 1962 #11 hit record.  However, “Dear One” continues to evoke responses of "I love this song," and "You don't hear this song that often,” whenever it is played on oldies radio or heard streaming over a computer.  When it comes to attribution, "Dear One" is frequently mistaken to be an early Del Shannon song. While Finnegan did not have the same level of consistent commercial success in America as Del Shannon, Larry certainly made his own distinctive mark in terms of international hits, songwriting and producing records for a host of others.   Thanks to the internet, it is now easier to hear a reservoir of his recordings beneath the lightning strike moment of "Dear One." Equally important are the opportunity for others, outside of Sweden, to discover more about the underrated musician, composer, and producer behind a substantial stack of sweeping sixties sounds. 

The Inside Track
Larry was actually a student in the College of Arts and Letters at the University of Notre Dame when he had his worldwide hit in early 1962. When he arrived at Notre Dame in 1959 from Jamaica Estates, Queens, NY., he was already a versatile musician who was said to be competent on guitar, piano and drums. "Larry never took any music lessons," reveals his wife Sharon Finneran.  "He had an ear for music and was self-taught."  Larry came from a family of 9 children with 7 boys and 2 girls.  Both of his parents were born in Ireland and his father worked as a security guard for the New York Daily News.  Prior to Notre Dame, Larry attended Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Brooklyn and ran for their track team.

Woodshedding, WLS & Courting Sudden Fame at Notre Dame
The legend at Notre Dame begins atop a creaky wooden floor of a dorm room in a collegiate Gothic-styled residence hall. "Larry Finneran was an extremely nice, unassuming guy. Our rooms were a few doors apart on the fourth floor of Morrissey Hall," recalls author Rich Wolfe. "He was also very quiet and often could be heard in his room playing his guitar. The big radio station in those days for ND students was WLS-Chicago. “Dear One” by Larry Finnegan started getting a lot of air time on WLS, particularly by Dick Biondi, their star DJ. Also, Arnie “Woo Woo" Ginsberg was playing it a ton in Boston." The dichotomous experience of being a recording star and student was just beginning for Larry.   Rich Wolfe elaborates: "One day I jokingly said to Larry, 'This guy Larry Finnegan is trying to live off your name.' He replied, 'That’s me.'  I laughed...a few days later found out it was true. It was so incongruous. He was the total opposite of what you would expect.  When the song later would come on WLS many rooms on the fourth floor would turn the volume on high."  Probably to the surprise of his Notre Dame classmates and many others, "Dear One" was not Larry's first record.  In 1959, Decca released "I'll Be Back Jack" a solid first effort, but it came nowhere close to the charts.  The song was later re-released on their Coral imprint in 1962 after the smashing success of “Dear One," but it sputtered again. Its commendable flipside "Ain't Nothing in this World" ambles easily along with its integration of a fluid banjo.

Old Town in New York
Another seemingly improbable aspect was that Larry's pop hit was released on Hy Weiss' Old Town Records which was a New York City label deeply devoted to R&B and doo wop. Hy Weiss was one of those colorful record industry characters who recorded and released the street corner sound as an owner of a step-ahead independent. (Interestingly, Weiss even has a co-writing credit for the Velvet Underground's "Foggy Notion" to his name.)  Larry co-wrote "Dear One" with older brother Vincent Finneran who at the time was in his senior year at Boston College.  In typical show-biz fashion, Hy Weiss changed Larry's surname of Finneran to the stage name of Finnegan. Being mistaken for a Del Shannon song factored in early on "Dear One."  This misidentification certainly helped to propel the song up the charts and eventual classic status. Still, Vincent was looking out for his brother. "A story I recall is that Larry said his brother shopped “Dear One” around NYC," conveys writer Cappy Gagnon. "One record label loved the song and felt it would be a good one for Del Shannon, Larry’s brother insisted that the song must be sung by Larry."  In addition, ace studio musicians like Gary Chester on drums and Dick Pitassy (Notre Dame class of 1965) on piano helped the recording breakthrough and stand out from the competition of the time.  "There was supposed to be a guitar solo on "Dear One," reveals musician Dick Pitassy. "Little did I know in the recording session that my piano playing would become the song's solo in the finished take." Hy Weiss was refreshingly true to his word when it came to supporting Larry and his family.  "Hy kept in touch with me even after Larry died, sending me money off and on," states Sharon Finneran. A well executed cover of Don Gibson's "Oh Lonesome Me" is one of the highlights of his follow-up attempts on Old Town Records.  1963 saw the release of “Pick up the Pieces” and features a suitable arrangement by space-age guitar whiz Billy Mure.  Despite the lack of another hit in America, there is no denying that  "Dear One" made waves around the world and launched his professional career which would first take Larry to the recording meccas of Nashville and New York City.

RIC (Recording Industries Corp.) Records
After graduating from Notre Dame in spring of 1963 and completing his stint on Old Town Records, Finnegan next stop was RIC Records, a label, helmed by Joe Csida, with operations in both Nashville and New York City. The label's two bases seemed to perfectly coincide with Larry's affinity for pop country. The label’s initial offerings were the one-two punch of Rosie Grier, then a professional football star for the Los Angeles Rams, and Larry Finnegan.  Bobby Darin actually produced Grier's Soul City album in 1964. (Darin bought the Trinity Publishing company in 1963 from Joe Csida, who was formerly Bobby’s manager.)  For Finnegan, RIC went the sequel route with "Dear One, Part Two," but it failed to connect. The flip featured "Baton Rouge" which continues to stand the test of time. This lively and rollicking number was written by his brother Vincent and casts a celebratory mood.  Larry's next effort was a derivative novelty number "A Tribute to Ringo Starr -The Other Ringo" which spins off the 1964 Lorne Green's hit "Ringo," but ultimately tries too hard in its attempt to cash in on some of the Beatlemania.  While there was no chart success during his tenure, Larry gained invaluable experience in several facets of the music industry.

At RIC, he worked on the composition and production sides for a wide array of then peak-period pop styles (surf, soul and girl groups). These rare releases are aural testaments to his professional adaptability and skillfulness. 1964's "Surfin' in Bermuda" by the Cannon Brothers is a low-fidelity surf vocal number coated with the landlocked grit of  the Riverias and the Trashmen while West Coast harmonies and melodies can be detected under the haze.  Larry also composed and produced the soulful girl group rarity "Coolie" for Venita and The Cheries.  One of his most intriguing productions is "I'll Take You Back Back Again" from the Pittsburgh singer Florraine Darlin.  In its initial incarnation the song started as keyboard instrumental with an organ lead by the aforementioned Dick Pitassy.  Later the vocals of Florraine Darlin were added along with several additional layers of instrumentation-resulting in a catchy mid-tempo summer 1964 pop song that anticipates folk-rock while simultaneously echoing the Everly Brothers. Operating without a hit, momentum slipped away for the singles-oriented RIC Records by the mid-sixties. With the British Invasion in full effect, Larry saw the writing on the wall for heartland American acts.

One of his most intriguing endeavors during his time in New York was a 1964 girl group gem “Don’t Let it Happen Again” by the Kittens.  It actually featured two of Larry’s sisters (Mary & Christina) and is credited as a Finneran/Csida production and arranged by Dick Pitassy. It is also an example of the vast musical talent running in the Finneran family.  In addition, brother Vincent wrote the flipside “Nothin'." These days, this 45 exchanges hands in the amount of three figures.

The Tivoli Circuit-Summers ‘63 & ’64 in Sweden 
While his subsequent releases failed to return him to American charts, he was able to proceed forward with a successful career-extending move to Sweden.  Old Town releases like "Pretty Suzy Sunshine" raced up the charts in Sweden.  Sonet Records, lead by Gunnar Bergström, invited Larry to tour Sweden in summer 1963 and later signed him as a singer and songwriter. Dick Pitassy was part of Larry's backing band which included the Hi-Grades from England.  "We mainly played at what are known in Sweden as tivoli or fairgrounds," recalls Dick Pitassy. "Our musical performances were held in conjunction with other fair attractions and stage acts-even a beauty pageant one time." While Sonet Records gave Finnegan the initial incentive to break away from the rapidly changing American scene, his courageous and fortuitous move to Stockholm in 1965 quickly propelled him to stardom in Scandinavia and later in Germany. For Larry, Sweden was not totally foreign territory.  Finnegan's first exposure to Swedish sensibilities actually occurred at Notre Dame as a Communications Arts student. Finnegan, according to Claes-Hakean Olofsson, "Developed an interest in the Swedish welfare system (healthcare, disability pension, child allowance etc.) and as early as 1960 was describing Sweden as a leading country in these areas."   While he would have been on the periphery in the U.S., Larry could be on vanguard with his celebrity status in Sweden. "When I had my first child, Larry, Jr., Larry had me come to Sweden as we were living in more affordable Switzerland and presented me with a mink coat that had belonged to Princess Christina Magnuson," fondly remembers Sharon Finneran.  "A big picture of us was published on the back of one of their Expressen newspapers"  Larry's adventurous, ambitious and daring spirit propelled him beyond preordained domestic expectations and into seemingly uncharted worldwide realms.

Compounding his star status with his initiative, resolve and recording skills allowed Larry to become a major player in the Swedish music industry.  In Stockholm, he partnered with Swedish musician Rune Wallebom (a singer for the Violents) and established the record label Svensk American.  He also resurrected his publishing company Seven Brothers Music which was aptly named after his brothers of the same number.  In addition to producing and releasing several hits from Swedish acts like Sven-Ingvars, the label became home to several of Larry's own successful singles along with fittingly titled "My Type of Country." album.

Everyday, Everybody and Everytime
Besides refining his production skills during these years, Larry reached the peak of his own musical powers by straddling pop and country in Sweden. Along the way, he continued to develop his own distinctive guitar style which formed the back bone of "Everytime."  Obviously inspired by Buddy Holly's chiming and charming "Everyday" and Tommy Roe's inclusive "Everybody," Larry reeled off the lovely little "Everytime." This understated number is accented by a springing guitar tone where Finnegan is mostly likely utilizing the whammy bar in the best way. "Notice how it's in perfect sync rhythmically. It sounds pretty organic too, not to mention that it would be a pain to do that with a pedal or an amplifier effect," explains musician and writer Mike Fornatale. "As far a gear, I'll guess it's a Gretsch with a Bigsby vibrato." Overall, Larry's durable sounds satisfies listeners affinity for straightforwardness, sincerity and the plain-spoken, while convincingly expressing Larry's commitment to what he stood for and believed in.

The Crossroads of the Sixties in Sweden
Things truly did come into focus for Larry in Sweden. Stylistically, his records are at crossroads of pop, country and rock 'n'roll. Unquestionably, it’s the sound of middle and southern America played out in on Scandinavian stages during the mid-sixties.  It took a transatlantic crossing to have success with a sound that had the strongest distilled American elements.  It could be said that many of these Swedish releases were his most innately American thematically and stylistically.  These records continued to reflect the deeply rooted influences of Marty Robbins, Don Gibson, Johnny Horton and even Elvis. Larry could most authentically be himself playing this down home vernacular sound in foreign lands. While, 1966’s "Bound for Houston" will easily draws comparisons to Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues," it stands on its own with a chugging rhythm, requisite twangy and coiled guitars and a dollop of doo wop.

Somewhat hidden as a flipside, there is one intriguing musical departure with "Song for an Unknown Soldier." This could be said to be Larry’s Pet Sounds moment as it was released in 1966 and it addresses not only the sad plight of the solider, but also the senseless destruction of mother nature and human life itself through a series of striking vignettes. Musically it is reminiscent of the Beach Boys' "I'm Waiting for the Day" with its sectioned orchestration between the elucidating vocals. His unrivaled star status in both Sweden and later Germany allowed Larry to simultaneously retain his roots, while branching out in striking new directions.

Suzie  (and the Sunny Girls)
While Larry achieved Gold Record status in the States and celebrity status in Sweden as a recording act and singer, his arrangement, composition and production accomplishments tend to get overlooked both here and abroad. In Sweden and later in Germany, Finnegan continued to make strides in both the creative and technical sides of the recording process. For instance, he wrote and produced for the Dutch/Swedish singer Suzie (born Maria Pereboom in Holland) including her biggest Euro-hit "Johnny Loves Me" (not the "Johnny Angel" follow-up  by Shelley Fabares.)  Astoundingly, in October 1963, the Beatles opened for Suzie in Stockholm, Sweden!  In 1965, she married Mike Watson the bass player for the aforementioned backing group the Hi-Grades, the Lee Kings and later on intermittently for ABBA. Larry Finnegan was said to be fastidious in the studio and would require take after take.  Larry’s professional relationship with Suzie could be compared to Quincy Jones’ mentoring role and exacting production work with Lesley Gore.  Larry’s studio skills helped Suzie become one of the biggest stars in Sweden and in several other European countries.  Suzie’s “Johnny Loves Me” was even released in United States on the APT label in 1965. “Don’t Let it Happen Again” was the flipside.  Yes, that’s the aforementioned song previously recorded by the Kittens that featured two of Larry’s sisters almost a year earlier. Suzie also recorded "Don't Let it Happen Again" in German and Swedish. For a brief time 1967, Suzie led the Sunny Girls who have become international cult favorites over the years with the P.F. Sloan song "From a Distance." Larry & Suzie's musical relationship ended on a strong note in 1969 with an enthralling German-English cover of  "Da Doo Ron Ron," This record perfectly encapsulates Larry's production ability to capture that flash feeling of heart-lifting excitement.

Germany and the Race to the Moon
Thanks to Bear Family Records, his German language recordings originally released on Vogue Schallplatten became readily more accessible due to their inclusion on their "Komm Doch Zu Mir" CD release from 2000. Larry's quick and strong grasp of the German language and the Schlager style is presented in stunning sonic clarity. The Youtube era revealed one of his last and most adventurous undertakings before it was removed for some reason. His production on "Race to the Moon" by Gordon Young and the California Brass has almost an otherworldly Joe Meek feel to it.  Besides both producers being deeply enamored by the sound of Buddy Holly, there are other overlapping connections and small degrees of separation.  During it time on charts, Joe Meek took notice of “Dear One” and had Tony Victor cover it with the Tornados of “Telstar” fame supplying the rhythm backing on their rendition. Joe Meek also worked with the legendary Swedish rock & roller Jerry Williams.  Jerry Williams (Sven Erik Fernström)  recorded  his 1964's "More Dynamite" album with the aforementioned Dick Pitassy who composed "Race to the Moon."

1969 Larry Finnegan production of a Dick Pitassy composition

Back Home Again in Indiana
In 1970, Larry returned to South Bend, Indiana and a drastically changed America after five years of being overseas. Larry appeared to make the disorientating transition back in his usual genial, dignified and resilient manner. "I don’t recall when I first learned that Larry was a Notre Dame guy, but I became a fan.  Five years after I graduated in 1966, I was back at ND as Assistant Director of Admissions.  I became a Big Brother.  A year later, I was the Director of Big Brothers," relates Cap Gagnon. "A year later, Larry volunteered.  I can’t recall what his job was then, but I seem to recall that he said something about having formerly been a singer………and I said something like, 'You’re THAT guy!!'"  Gagnon continues: "He was a wonderful and modest man.  I asked him what happened to him after Notre Dame.  He said that he went to Sweden.  When I asked why, he said 'After the Beatles, the music tastes changed and guys like me couldn’t get arrested'  He mentioned a long list of folks who were in Europe with him.  The only one I remember was Big Dee Clark (“Raindrops”), although I believe he also mentioned Jackie Wilson."  It could be conjectured that it was a difficult shift in situation as Larry went from doing things on pretty much his own terms as a stratospheric star in Europe to quotidian workaday life between the prevailing blue-gray skies on the flatlands of South Bend.  However, Larry once again demonstrated his adaptability and ingenuity.  "When we returned to South Bend, my home town, he went to work as an advertising manager for Wheel Horse Products," explains Sharon Finneran.  "He invented a safety lawn mower which I have the patent for."  Wheel Horse Products was a South Bend-based manufacturer of lawn and garden equipment.  The company was later acquired in 1986 by the Toro Company.  In July 1973 everything came to a halt as Larry tragically died of a brain tumor, only a week after being diagnosed, at the way too young age of 34.  He was buried in the Cedar Grove Cemetery on the Notre Dame campus.   

Going Global into Crossover Country 
His radical (at the time) relocation to Sweden allowed Larry to freely express a middle American rock-pop-country aesthetic deep in the '60s.  Meanwhile, his early '60s pop contemporaries (e.g, Terry Stafford, Curtis Lee, Johnny Tillotson, Tommy Roe, Brian Hyland) had to navigate the tricky path, with varying results, to stay viable in the post-British Invasion era of American pop music of the mid to late '60s.  All in all, he didn't need to recast himself into something he was not in order to get with the capricious cosmic times. In a sense, Larry followed the brave tradition of American roots musicians who made the bold break to Europe where they were better appreciated in many cases-while blazing his own international and independent path. Larry was also before his time as country and pop did not coalesce together in the United States in the mainstream until the breakthrough of Glen Campbell.  Photographs from his time abroad reveal a look of quiet self-determination on his face as he pushed himself into new territories both musically and culturally. In the face of numerous challenges, he found opportunities to continue as a musician while also evolving as arranger, composer and producer.  The break away from the familiar allowed him to realize his hopes, dreams and aspirations as a crossover act on international and stylistics levels.

Out of this World
Finally, Larry is remembered  as a class act, a steadfast worker and most importantly as a good person by those who were fortunately able to interact with him during his too short time on earth.  Wherever his captivating record "Dear One" is played, Larry's musical spirit is readily recognized even if he himself is not. On one level, this seems appropriate as he seemed to be one to let the music speak for itself.  However, his wide-spanning, yet unsung life story is so remarkable that it simply compels long overdue acknowledgment and "Hats off to Larry." 

Acknowledgments & Sources: Sharon Finneran, Mike Fornatale, Jörgen Johansson, Dick Pitassy, Rich Wolfe, The Spectropop Discussion Forum Archives, Bomp List Refugees, Bear Family Records,,

Special mention and thanks to Cappy Gagnon and Kathleen Herzog as their enthusiasm, responsiveness and willingness to help provided the momentum to make this project possible.

Friday, January 25, 2019


While the cover makes this looks like a swirling album of Japanese psychedelia, this is actually a stripped down Merseybeat record proudly revealing its skiffle roots. This duo is from Okayama-located roughly halfway between Hiroshima and Osaka. Google Translate cites George Harrison, Gene Clark, Jonathan Richman, Love, Happy End, Belle & Sebastian, Hollies as their influences, but I’m hearing Billy Bragg, the Decibels, the Dentists, the Nerves, Television Personalities and Tony Molina topped off with charming vocals that evoke Davy Jones and Peter Noone shaping their sound.  Overall, their 8 original songs, capturing and delivering the spirit of 1962-1967, are as compact and efficient as a vintage Honda Civic. This debut offers finely crafted pop like “Gimme Looks” which strums along in a guitar-driven and stately manner that recalls the best of the 1978-1980 mod revival.  The spare elegance is quickly followed by the dashing Hi-Five-ish beat of “EZ Boy.” The only deviation and misstep is the song “Stay” as it wilts towards the besotted blooze rock stylings of early ‘70s John “Lost Weekend” Lennon. While “Stay” does feature competent blues licks and provides contrast, it’s a letdown compared to all humbucklin' punch found in the surrounding succinctness. The crisp production, distinctive presentation and gnarly guitar tone allow these Doorbells to truly stand apart as there is enough grit not to be trite and more catchy hooks packed into one song than many acts deliver in their entire careers. In brief, this combo achieves that tricky balance of sounding off the cuff while simultaneously maintaining their rarefied cool. 

Friday, December 28, 2018

Favorites Recordings from 2018

Cut Worms-Hollow Ground
Harsh Mistress-All Roads Lead To This
Outrageous Cherry-Meet You In The Shadows
Paul Collins-Out of My Head
Dear Nora-Skulls Example
The Number Ones-Another Side of The Numbers Ones (ep)
Mystic Braves-The Great Unknown
Peach Kelli Pop-Gentle Leader
La Luz-Floating Features
SOLEIL-My Name is SOLEIL (Japan)
SOLEIL-SOLEIL is Alright (Japan)
Jonathan Richman-SA

Reissues & Collections
Webster's New Word-Columbia & RCA Singles
The Striders-Columbia Singles
The Wildlife-Columbia Singles
Andre Tanker Five-Afro Blossom West (Trinidad)
Lee Hazlewood's Woodchucks-Cruisin' for Surf Bunnies
Don Cole-Something's Got A Hold On Me - The Don Cole Story

Music Books read and enjoyed

The Empty Bottle Chicago: 21+ Years of Music / Friendly / Dancing-John E. Dugan
White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day-by-Day-Richie Unterberger
Mexican Roots, American Soil: A Quest for the American Dream-Ernie Bringas (The Rip Chords)
Beastie Boys Book-Michael Diamond/Adam Horovitz
So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star: The Byrds Day-by-Day, 1965-1973-Christopher Hjort
A Spy in the House of Loud: NY Songs and Stories-Chris Stamey (The Seeds are not from TX though)
Siren Song: My Life in Music-Seymour Stein

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Kent 3-Spells

Never fitting in with any sub-strata (with built-in devotees) the Kent 3 have been taking the dark ol' state routes off the Western musical map for the last decade. Their should-be-legendary albums are too musically adventitious to neatly land in the usual RnR/garage/punk slots while too spry, agile and lyrically keen to fit in with their lumbered region predominated by gang grunge.  While they offer no manifestations of cheap hope, happy endings or pretensions, they do offer some vivid vignettes with coursing lyrics-informed as much by Frederick Exley as they are by that Pickwick poet Lou Reed. This is street poetry for undercover punks not on the streets. These are vigorous yet free-flowing songs for uniting those who will never be united. Spells can rouse listeners to the short-cut depths of the contradictory and skewed turn-of-the-century West-that takes place off the I-10 between open dumpsters and closed unidentified warehouses. Its surf-rock drumming, trebly, but tough guitars, and literate Beat-inspired lyrics are splattered on the blacktop and reign-in everything from a low desert midnight mass to a brackish Pacific Northwest mountain pass.  While this band only published praises might be found between the smudged ink and yellowed pages of a Fiz zine, attuned ears and a miner's light on the lyrics etched into this compelling and convincing album might finally give this band some long awaited due.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Modern Sound Quintet-Otinku

In general, recordings of steel drum bands usually end up sounding thin while failing to capture and convey the dynamic live experience. Over the years I have purchased albums like Liberace presents the Trinidad Tripoli Steel Band, only to donate them right back to the thrift stores.  Still, the appealing description of this 1971 album on the Bear Family Records website recently enticed me to reconsider and re-investigate recorded steel drum sounds.  Modern Sound Quintet actually formed in Stockholm, Sweden and was led by Rudy Smith who hailed from Port of Spain, Trinidad-the epicenter of the steel drum/pan sound.  This international quintet was comprised of musicians from Barbados, Ghana, Surinam, and Sweden.  They conspired to make a churning sound that endures as their jazz orientation is not just a mere accessory, but a bedrock foundation underneath the gleaming steel pans.  The recording itself fastens the melody-carrying steel pans with the shingled percussion to avert the usual shrill ping and rapid evaporation that plagues many recordings of unaccompanied steel drums.  “Flowers in the Rain” presents percolating pans seemingly submerged in liquid to create a shimmering effect. “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” previously recorded by the Cannonball Adderley Quintet, and the Buckinghams, features a pronounced piano setting the scene before the steel drums deliver the signature sweeping chorus.  “Flamenco Groove” is one of the album’s original compositions and serves as a testament to Rudy Smith’s full command of the pans-working within and beyond the tension & release framework of the flamenco tradition.  While originally available only in Finland upon its initial release in 1971, multiple reissues of Otinku have proven these radiant Afro-Caribbean sounds too panoramic, durable and adventurous to stay bound to one particular place and time.

Friday, November 02, 2018

The Striders-Columbia Singles

While the Spiders, fronted by a teenage cross country runner named Vince Furnier (later Alice Cooper), crept about Phoenix during the mid-sixties, over in Albuquerque, the Striders swiftly sprung from the Duke City to the City of Angels. Being managed by promoter, producer, musician and wunderkind Lindy Blaskey certainly fast tracked the group’s rapid rise from University of New Mexico students to recording artists for Columbia Records. Their particular California Cinderella story resulted in three singles issued in the still resonating years of 1966 & 1967.  Their recorded repertoire was certainty intriguing as half of their songs were previously first done by more recognized acts.  It’s almost as if Columbia Records was trying to get additional mileage from material like “Sorrow” (McCoys, Merseys) “There’s A Storm Coming” (an enduring Dirty Water album cut by the Standells) and “When You Walk into the Room” (written by Jackie DeShannon and most associated with the Searchers).  Adjoining these covers, are a couple of songs written by the aforementioned Lindy Blaskey. "Am I on Your Mind" falls short in its emulation of the Troggs, Dave Clark Five, and Paul Reveve & the Raiders with its lack of punch, while “Say that You Love Me” is a pleasant mid-tempo number somewhere between the sweep of the Beau Brummels and the fragility of the Nightcrawlers. The Striders went out on a strong note as their last single was arguably their finest two minutes.  Despite the potentially misleading MC5-ish title of “Do it Now,” it sounds like early folk-rock Turtles with vocal harmonies galore elevating the cavalier "time to move on" lyrics. Numerous personnel changes and the seismic late '60s shift towards heaviness probably contributed to the demise of a group that has yet to be properly documented.  Overall, it's another unanticipated set of restored recorded remnants of the California pop dream from a determined group and manager from the perennially overlooked city of Albuquerque.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

The "Shifting" Winds: Taking the Nation by Storm

The Winds (1961-1965) were the folk forerunners to Webster's New Word (1965-1967) who went on to work along the adventurous frontiers of early folk-rock in New York City.  Their experience ranged from playing turkey festivals in Turlock, CA to hobnobbing with giants like Frank Sinatra. They could easily hold their own on show biz big stages like the Hollywood Palace extravaganza that was nationally televised by ABC Television on April 3, 1965, while also crossing paths and sharing stages with some of the folk era's most influential underground musicians. Many of these folkniks would later form the vanguard of the electro-folk sound.

Bringing It All Back Home
The original inspiration of the Winds started on the Pacific Coast before coming to fruition in the crossroads of America. "The first time I ever saw Buddy (Hill) was in San Francisco," recalls KC Lynch.  "It was 1960, and my father saw in the paper that the Notre Dame Glee Club was coming to town to do a concert. We went, and Buddy did three or four solos (“negro spirituals” as they were then called).  I walked out of there astounded by the beauty and power of his voice, and with a strange feeling that we would somehow meet.  I went to sea that summer as a merchant officer on the China run.  When I got to South Bend that fall I met Mike Kealy.  Although we had never known each other, we both came from the Bay Area and both of us had played in typical Kingston Trio type bands at our high schools.  My girlfriend had dumped me while I was at sea, and Mike set me up on a blind date with the Saint Mary's student who years later became my wife and the mother of my two wonderful daughters.  Mike and I started a folk duo, and soon went looking for that voice I had heard in San Francisco.  We found him, and that was the beginning of the band."  

Down in Bermuda and up in the Bend
Buddy was born in Warwick, Bermuda  Previous to Notre Dame, Buddy studied at the prestigious Boston Latin School  "Buddy was more British gentleman than anything," offers future Webster's New Word bandmate Jerry Peloquin. "His voice was so powerful.  He was a tenor of course and standing next to him in full voice was like being next to the Chicago Bears offensive line on game day." The band later went on tour Bermuda in 1964 including a show at the legendary Forty Thieves Club in Hamilton.  An early iteration of the Winds featured Jim Higgins on upright bass and Rich Leuke on banjo, who was a man before (or after) his time.  Rich had a penchant for wearing an "Amish" beard, openly identified himself as a Socialist and shunned contraptions with combustion engines. (Rich was replaced by John Bill, and later by Gus Duffy.) In contrast, the dapper lead singer Mike Kealy embodied the genuine Big Man on Campus persona that held sway at the time. "You have to remember that Father Hesburgh's aspirations at that time were to make Notre Dame the Harvard of the Midwest," adds Lynch.

Left to Right, Rich Leuke, Buddy Hill, KC Lynch and Mike Kealy
Vestibule Folk
In 1961, the harmony-rich group made their first recording in the form of a self-taped a cappella version of  "Shenandoah." The group utilized the natural echo present in the vestibule of Notre Dame's south dining hall.  The sea shanty "Haul on the Bowline," featured Gus Duffy on lead vocals was recorded at the hungry i in San Francisco complete with the sounds of the Clancy Brothers drinking in the back.  At the time, the Clancy Brothers were a major influence in folk music "Liam, Paddy and Tom Clancy were friends of the family and I myself come from the Irish/Celtic musical tradition that believes a song should tell a story or evoke a feeling." The traditional spiritual "We are Crossing Jordan River" incorporated the frailing banjo style of Rich Leuke.  Rich was said to be pioneering banjo player at Notre Dame in the '60s folk era.

The Best is Yet to Come
Besides two of members hailing from the San Francisco Bay area, extensive summer touring allowed the Winds to establish a strong presence in the West.  In summer of 1963, the Winds were the house band in the Celebrity Room at the Cal-Neva Lodge owned by Frank Sinatra that actually straddled the two state lines. "Sinatra was actually kind of like a mentor to me," fondly recalls Lynch. "I met him in the kitchen where I found out that he had been watching us, loved our act, and had been responsible for tables full of noisy drunks suddenly disappearing from the audience.  Lounges pay well but they full of loud and inattentive people, and not at all the concert atmosphere we were used to. When I was seriously injured in a rockfall climbing accident, Frank visited me in the hospital in Reno and sent occasional notes to cheer me up. In 1964, when I was going through long months of recovery Frank would occasionally call me up in San Francisco and say 'Chum, you’ve got to promise me you’ll go back to school and get your degree.  I wish to hell I had gotten mine.'  He was a nice man, and a thoughtful one." 

Pacific Coast Old School & Midwestern Fields of Opportunities
The group not only demonstrated their adaptability by playing a vast array of venues, but also straddled two different eras in the music industry and competing factions in the restless folk scene. "We had had one foot in the campus folk scene and one in the urban folk scene," explains Lynch.  "We would play a super club, change our clothes and then hit the downtown folk clubs. Norton Wais and his wife Nadine were our managers in San Francisco. Nort had been the partner of Abe Saperstein in the Harlem Globetrotters franchise. They were old school but wonderful people who soon had us booked all over the country. Our second paying gig was in a night club with Count Basie and Mel Torme. We were regulars at the famous SF folk clubs, like Enrico Banducci’s hungry i and The Purple Onion." The group was also featured in one of Ralph Gleason's columns in the San Francisco Chronicle. In late 1964, Fantasy Records released “Whisper to the Mountain” which was written and sung by Mike Kealy.  Their debut single received radio airplay and did especially well in the Bay Area. "The Ox Driver Song" appeared on the flipside.  This stirring American traditional was  also recorded by Odetta, the Seekers and Pete Seeger.  The Winds' version showcased the strong lead vocal of Buddy Hill.  Fantasy launched their satirical doo-wop-ish and now highly sought  second single "Radiation Baby" in spring of 1965.

The Winds/The Four Winds/Winds of Notre Dame/Winds from Notre Dame
The old school management did everything to put the quartet in position to succeed.  "The addition of Notre Dame (i.e,, The Winds of Notre Dame)  was not something we did ourselves, states Lynch. "It was placed on us by management simply because of the name recognition and drawing power. Norton also got us on the Midwestern state fair circuit in summer 1964 complete with sponsorship from the Pioneer Seed Corn Company. Gus Duffy will tell you about the groundbreaking jingle he wrote for them and we performed on stage."  The group also established a foothold in Chicago and opened for Nina Simone at the historic Palmer House hotel.

"You Can't Seem to Find How You Got There"
The Winds felt some of the early tremors in seismic shift from folk to folk-rock in 1965.  In their experience, the new vibrations came in the form of an amalgamation of sound and electricity without a descriptor at the time from a group from New York.  "Enrico booked the Lovin’ Spoonful to follow us and the Clancy Brothers (who influenced everybody) at the hungry i. “Do You Believe in Magic?” was climbing the charts fast, and I remember watching them set up and rehearse on the tiny stage, remembers Lynch.  "It was the first time we-or the hungry i for that matter - had ever seen amplifiers or wires. (They were scrambling to find AC outlets in the old brick walls behind the curtains.)  That was our first live exposure to what would become the Village Sound, and we liked what we heard." 

The New Vanguard
Directly feeling these new currents, the Winds flowed into new directions and they proceeded to go into the previously unexplored realms of amplified folk & roll. It was in San Francisco during the summer of 1965 that we went electric and changed our name from the Winds to Webster's New Word, offers Lynch.  "Our influences shifted from the Gateway Singers, the Limeliters and the Four Freshmen to Dylan and the Byrds. We also had the close relationship with the early Jefferson Airplane at that time."   

Start Spreading the News
An unforeseen chain of events occurred that would help propel the group from the fairs, fields and stages of the heartland to the major label big time of New York City.  Their talent was spotted by the Corinthian Broadcasting Corp. who had television stations in Houston; Tulsa, Sacramento, Fort Wayne, and Indianapolis (WISH Channel 8).  For their "Campus Talent '65" program Corinthian auditioned more than 1,000 performers at 102 colleges and universities, with the winning acts appearing on prime time local television specials in the aforementioned five regional markets.  Playing under their representative name, the Winds of Notre Dame, they won the Indianapolis event on WISH Channel 8, and joined leading lights like Eloise Laws who had captured the local Houston crown for a national showcase at the New York discotheque, Arthur in December 1965. More than 700 advertisers and agency representatives and even Andy Warhol were said to be in audience. The Winds got the ultimate big break as the legendary John Hammond of Columbia Records was in attendance that night with an offer in mind.  The group found themselves in the middle of a major label bidding war, but sided with their initial suitor Columbia Records in the end.  This was only the beginning of Webster's New Word's adventures in New York City and beyond.  Some of the sights, sounds and stories from that vibrant era can be found here.

The Eternal Presence
"Over the years the band went through multiple names, music styles, banjo players, drummers, bass players, lawyers, record labels. managers, home cities, girlfriends, wives, and every other thing that most other bands of that era went through," summarizes Lynch.  "Players came and went, and some tried to come back.  But not Buddy.  He was always there: the only one besides me who was there from the very beginning to the very end."
 Left to Right, John Bill (banjo), KC Lynch, Buddy Hill, Mike Kealy
Bridging the Divides
The Winds were versatile in that they could rub shoulders with the show biz jet set, while also sharing stages with self-marginalized artists and truly talented musicians who were all mixed together in the rumble tumble tail-end of the beatnik scene and the pastoral campus folk revival. In a span of four years (1961-1965), they skillfully proceeded between the commercial common ground, academic responsibilities, the mountain ranges of the West and the subterranean spaces of the urban folk scene-while unknowingly building the future foundation for Webster's New Word. Crossing the country and vast cultural spheres in 1965, they quickly incorporated the Byrds' ringing convergence of Dylan and the Beatles and fully developed their harmonious folk-pop-rock sound as Webster's New Word.  Lastly, as an integrated touring group they directly encountered threatening intolerance all while maintaining musical credibility in the stratified urban folk scene and performing as consummate professionals in the prime time.  They accomplished all of this in a transitional era where the overarching currency of the day was some elusive notion of the authenticity which shifted like wild mercury or should it be said the Winds.