September 6, 2008

BLAST FROM THE PAST!

This is the second installment of the series by Jerry Hilgenberg on the bands and music of our years in high school.  This installment is a two parter!

Installment Two is on "The McCoys." 

Again, we thank Jerry for his research, hard work and writing skills.

Where else can you get such fabulous entertainment virtually for free!

Now appearing --- one night only!

The McCoys:  Part One - From Union City to New York City

Here’s a photo of a Winchester landmark that I’m betting most everyone will immediately recognize.  The Pizza House has been operating from the little white building on East Washington Street for many years, and for a lot of us it established the “gold standard” for store-bought pizza.

But this story isn’t about food.  Instead, it has something to do with the current owner of the Pizza House, Ron Brandon, and his connection to one of the great bands of the 60’s – The McCoys --- and their story.

The founding members of the McCoys were from Union City: Rick Zehringer, his brother Randy, and their neighbor, Dennis Kelly.  These guys --- much like our classmates who formed “The Illusions” --- were very young when they started. 

As a youngster, Rick was always interested in guitar, and his parents encouraged this interest with his own electric guitar before his tenth birthday [Note 1].  The instrument came naturally to him, and after a few initial lessons from his uncle, Rick's dad located a guitar teacher in Union City, and later, a teacher in Richmond.  Before long, the lessons were discontinued, because the teacher in Richmond no longer had anything new to show Rick.  Instead, he said Rick was showing him things.

Younger brother Randy started out as an accordionist, but he soon set that aside and took up drumming.  Dennis Kelly, who lived in a house on the street in back, was interested in playing music and stopped around one day when he heard Rick practicing on the front porch.  Rick offered to teach him bass if Dennis could get his own instrument, which is how it turned out that Rick started teaching bass guitar to Dennis.  Soon, it occurred to these guys that they had the nucleus of a band, and in 1962 “The McCoys” was formed.  Rick was born in 1947, so he was turning 15 at the time.  Randy was only 13.

Lacking microphones and other sound equipment, they decided to learn instrumentals to get the band started.  Rick had an album by The Ventures [Note 2], a popular guitar group from the early 60’s (“Walk, Don’t Run”).  He figured the easiest song on the album to learn was a number called “The McCoy”.  After learning this first song, the band decided to become The McCoys because that would give them an automatic theme song.  So that’s where the band originally took their name, from that Ventures tune.

Pretty soon they were playing weekends, in Union City, Greenville, and places toward Dayton.  A booking agent suggested they change the name of the band to the Rick Z Combo, in order to provide a flashier name, and they played with that name for a while. 

One night while they were playing a dance over at Greenville, a kid was at the side of the stage playing along on a piano --- with a cast on one hand --- and that kid was Ronnie Brandon.  It happened that the boys were looking for a little more balance in their sound – balance that a keyboard could provide --- so they invited Ron to join the band.  After joining, Ron Brandon played for three months without being paid, because the band was booked-up three months in advance at $60 per night, and they couldn’t raise the rate!  That $60 didn’t allow the new guy to be paid.

 

Dennis Kelly was a little older than the Zehringer brothers, and when he left for college he decided to give up his spot in the band.  He was replaced on bass guitar by Randy Hobbs, another Union City native.  Hobbs had a reputation around town as a “hood” but he was also a very talented natural musician who fit-in well in the band.  He was raised by his mother, and they didn’t have a lot of money.  Somehow, Hobbs managed to get hold of a beat-up six string Danlectroguitar.  He removed two of the strings and managed to tune down the ones remaining so it sounded like a legitimate bass.  On his own, Hobbs was already learning and playing Motown bass lines (performances created by the great Motown bassist James Jamerson) and he turned out to be a good singer as well.

With this new lineup, they once again changed the name at the urging of one of their promoters.  This time, they became Rick and the Raiders [Note 3], and cut a private label record shortly thereafter that they could pitch at their shows. 

Bear in mind, even at that early age, Rick Zehringer was a very gifted guitarist.  Before long, Rick and the Raiders were playing a lot of shows in and around Dayton.  Local promoters took notice, and pretty soon they were opening for the Beach Boys and many other well-known acts.  The band also demonstrated that they could learn songs quickly, so often they would not only open for an act, they would also remain on stage and serve as the back-up band for the headliner.  Among the famous acts that Rick and the Raiders provided back-up for were Ray Stevens, Chuck Berry, The Drifters, Roy Orbison and Lou Christie.  Not bad for some high schoolers from out in the sticks in Indiana.

It was at one of these gigs that they were discovered and got their chance. The boys were opening for The Strangeloves (“I Want Candy”), who liked what they heard and they immediately signed the boys to a recording contact with Bang Records (home of Neil Diamond and Van Morrison in addition to The Strangeloves) [Note 4]. 

The backstory of The Strangeloves is pretty unique.  They billed themselves as three brothers from Australia: Giles, Niles and Miles Strange --- born of the same mother but to different fathers.  Their publicity releases said all three brothers were raised on an Australian sheep farm, where they were involved in some sort of sheep cross-breeding “get rich quick” scheme.  (Hence, I suppose, the name of the band: “Strange Loves”.)  In reality, these guys were three music producers from New York City:  Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein and Richard Gott – a.k.a. FGG Productions. (Click here to read more about The Strangeloves.) As they were actually producers affiliated with Bang Records, they were in a unique position to move quickly and sign the band, and just a few days later, the boys from Union City found themselves recording in New York City.

(To Be Continued)

   Credits