March 14, 2009

BLAST FROM THE PAST!

The McCoys:  Part Three - The Rest of the Story
by Jerry Hilgenberg

Now appearing --- one night only!

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Rick Derringer Band onstage at Cary, NC - September 19, 2008

(In the two prior installments on The McCoys, we saw how some talented high school kids from Union City and Greenville found themselves in New York with a #1 record.  If you missed these earlier installments you can read them now at the “Archives” page of this website.)

As it turned out, “Hang on Sloopy” would represent the pinnacle of The McCoys as a band. You wouldn’t exactly call them “one hit wonders” but they would not be able to capture the magic of “Sloopy” in their subsequent recordings.

In those days it was essential for bands to tour non-stop to increase their exposure and maintain popularity, so The McCoys' managers at FGG Productions sought to get the band on the road and keep them there.

And tour they did…in fact, the band toured for nearly four years.  Most of the time they operated out of New York, although they also worked out of Los Angeles and did a tour in the UK as well.  The high point of their touring was a 2-1/2 month tour with the Rolling Stones in 1966.

It was during this time that the band really polished their performance abilities: stage presence, musical flexibility, and creativity.  It was a particularly expansive time for Rick’s talents, as he began writing and learning the fundamentals of producing records.

Between tours, they made some records, and had a hit with a cover of the R&B classic “Fever” (originally made popular by Peggy Lee), and then with a cover of Richie Valen’s “Come On Let’s Go”.   “Fever” reached #7 on the Billboard chart and was their only other “top ten” single.

Ron Brandon left the band in 1967: “Things were starting to slow down.  And they were into things I wasn’t into.  And it eventually caught up with them.  Drugs.  Little Randy and Big Randy, they partied too much.” [1]

After working as a trio for a short time, they were joined by a keyboard player named Bobby Peterson.  An excellent musician, albeit a little bit kooky (he later had a nervous breakdown during rehearsals with Johnny Winter). Peterson was from Atlanta and had been playing with Roy Orbison’s band.

Peterson is shown in the 1968 photo at the left (unfortunately, you can’t see his face!) along with Randy Hobbs in the tall hat, Randy Z on drums, and Rick on guitar.

Here’s their problem.  The McCoys were perceived with a certain “sound” --- not exactly “bubblegum”, but their records had a definite formulaic feel --- and that sound was quickly being pushed aside by the psychedelic age.  People and bands like Janis Joplin, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Traffic, The Who and Led Zeppelin were starting to dominate the music world and radio playlists.  Unless they could change this perception, The McCoys would sell fewer and fewer records.

Then two things happened to change their fortunes.  After the contract with Bang and FGG productions ended, the band signed with Mercury Records, where they produced two albums:  “Infinite McCoys” (1968) and “Human Ball” (1969 – their last album).  The lineup for both records was Rick on lead guitar, Randy Z on drums, Randy Hobbs on bass, and Bobby Peterson on keyboards.  Both records were an attempt to leave the original audience behind and develop a new audience, and have a decidedly different feel than the two albums they made for Bang.  Although neither album produced a hit record, the band was growing musically --- talented musicians gaining the attention of their peers in the music business.


Then...


Now...

Between tours, and still living in New York, the band started spending most nights in clubs, where a wide variety of musical genres could be explored.  One club in particular attracted their attention:  “The Scene” owned by a promoter named Steve Paul, who would ultimately become their manager.  “The Scene”, at 301 W. 48th Street, was a magnet for young rock, blues and jazz musicians, resident in or visiting New York, who would come there to jam with other musicians.   Before long, Rick was playing there and jamming with the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Todd Rundgren.  And before too much longer, The McCoys were established as the “in house” band at the Scene Club and were playing there almost every night.

Here’s a link to a Buddy Guy video that features some dark 1968 footage from The Scene Club.  Look closely and you’ll see another well-known guitarist in the audience:    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GfPgTo-vAAM

About that time, Steve Paul had heard about an up-and-coming blues guitarist from Texas named Johnny Winter, who’d been featured in an article in Rolling Stone.  Paul convinced Winter to come to New York, and before long The McCoys were paired with Johnny Winter.  It was a perfect fit.  Winter needed to become a little more “commercial” and The McCoys wanted to be taken seriously for the quality of their music.  Rick was featured singer on a couple of albums by Johnny Winter with the band known as “Johnny Winter and..”  (the “and” representing “The McCoys”).    So the original band with Johnny Winter was the Zehringer brothers (although by this time, Rick had changed his name to Rick Derringer) along with Randy Hobbs.  Bobby Peterson was dropped during rehearsals after he had his breakdown.

During recording sessions, Johnny Winter did not really trust the people in the control room to capture the sound he was trying to produce.  Rick acted as intermediary with the production staff, and was trusted by Johnny as a fellow musician.  That’s how Rick began as a producer.  “Johnny was great in the studio; he was there to make the music that he wanted to make. We lived right beside each other and had a rehearsal studio that was just ours, with nobody else using it, it was part of Johnny's house, so we could rehearse every day.”

The McCoys appeared on four albums with Johnny Winter, and continued to perform as The McCoys, until the band finally called it quits in 1973.  By this time, Randy Zehringer had dropped out due to attacks of encephalitis and other health issues that put an end to his career as a musician.

Rick went on to make a successful solo album, All American Boy.  This album introduced his solo hit “Rock & Roll Hoochie Koo” and featured performances by Joe Walsh, David Bromberg, and Edgar Winter.

“Rock & Roll, Hoochie Koo” is unique:  It’s had a number of successful incarnations.  It first appeared on “Johnny Winter And…” in 1970, then was released on “All American Boy”.  It reached #23 on Billboard charts
in 1974, then came back in popularity after it was featured in the 1993 cult film “Dazed and Confused”.  You can find a lot of versions of this song on the internet; here’s  a real good one with Edgar Winter from 1973: 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3wTXv9KPWeg&feature=related

And check out what he’s doing on this one: 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dc7WByWjsB0

While Randy Hobbs continued to play with Johnny Winter, Rick joined Edgar Winter’s band in 1973.  Three years younger than brother Johnny, Edgar Winter is predominately a keyboard player.  Edgar’s original band, White Trash, was comprised of southern musicians, including Ronnie Montrose.  Rick was already producing albums for Edgar, and when Ronnie Montrose left the band, Rick was able to step in and take the lead guitar role (he mostly played rhythm guitar in Johnny’s band).  The other band members were Dan Hartmann on bass guitar and Chuck Ruff on drums, and that is the lineup shown in this shot of the band playing the hit song “Frankenstein”.

Here’s a link to the video:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x1mV_5-bRPo

Rick Derringer’s production work for Edgar Winter opened up a separate career track, and throughout the 70’s & 80’s Rick worked as a solo artist, studio musician, and producer.  His band opened Led Zeppelin’s final tour in 1979, and over the years he also played extensively with Steely Dan, Todd Rundgren, Alice Cooper, Cyndi Lauper, and even Barbra Streisand.

In the early 80’s Rick “discovered” Weird Al Yancovic and produced and performed on several of Weird Al’s records.

As you can see from the photo on the right, Rick is still performing.  His band for this performance in North Carolina in 2008 featured Charlie Torres on bass and Tom Curiale on drums.  (There’s a full shot of the trio at the top of this article.)

Epilog

In the late 1980’s, Ron and Kim Brandon purchased the Pizza House in Winchester, and for about 15 years, Ron did not play in a band.  He resumed playing about five years ago.  Customers at the Pizza House can see a display about Ron’s days with The McCoys, including a flyer advertising one of their appearances with the Rolling Stones.  Next time you have an order to pick-up, go in a little early and check out this fine collection of records, jackets, radio station hit lists and other memorabilia.

As we noted above, Randy Hobbs continued to play with Johnny Winter’s band, and also played with Edgar, during the early 1970’s.  He was also reunited with Rick on the album “Glass Derringer” in 1978.

Randy Hobbs also played with Jimi Hendrix on a number of live sessions recorded in 1968.  These were released in 1980 as “Woke Up This Morning and Found Myself Dead” and in 1998 as “The New York Sessions”.

He was married while a member of Johnny Winter’s band, and the wedding attracted a lot of attention as Johnny Winter, Rick Derringer, Randy Zehringer, and Steve Paul were among those in attendance. 

Here’s a link to a page of news photos about the wedding.  Click on the newspaper graphic to enlarge it:
http://www.yee.ch/winter/Band/winter_band_rand_jo_hobbs.html

Drug abuse took a toll on Randy Hobbs, and ultimately consumed his career as a musician.  A front man can stumble out onto the stage and sleepwalk through the set, but an out-of-control side player is done for.  Randy Hobbs was fired from Johnny Winter’s band and returned to Randolph County where he lived out his life.  He was found dead in a Dayton hotel room on August 5, 1993 --- Rick Derringer’s birthday.  Randy Hobbs was only 45 when he died; he’s buried in Union City.

Larry Gard’s nephew, Brian Bousman, has started work on a documentary about The McCoys, and it is a very entertaining program that has contributed significantly to this piece.  You can watch this 10-minute video at http://youtube.com/watch?v=GiX0fvjGklU.

Credits

[1]  Quoted in Gallagher, Marriott, Derringer & Trower: Their Lives and Music by Dan Muise, p. 173.