Hardly anybody had heard of the Beatles. Steve Lawrence topped the Billboard charts with “Go Away Little Girl” and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons were defying puberty while advising us to “Walk Like a Man.” John Kennedy was entering the twilight of his presidency and Lawrence of Arabia was scooping up a bunch of Academy Awards.
In the basements of Chicago suburbs, small groups of teenage boys were forming rock ‘n’ roll bands with names like the Travelers and the Nitelites. They played at parties and high school hops and hoped that one day they might appear on the Ed Sullivan Show.
In time, a surprising number of them did indeed appear on the Ed Sullivan Show. They made hit records and toured the country and appeared on all of the talk and variety shows. They were chased by groupies and swamped with letters from fan-club members. Then, just as quickly, they fell victim to competition and infighting and the inevitable ups and downs of the business. The bands broke up and the members went their separate ways, fighting the horrifying suspicion that perhaps they had peaked before turning 21.
Today several of these bands are back together in one form or another, trying to recapture their past success. Some are doing it just for fun, while others are seriously trying to be stars again. Twenty-five years later, they’re still playing clubs in Chicago and they’re still singing the same songs.
Nick Fortuna, bass player, the Buckinghams:
We played in a couple of bands before the Buckinghams. I had two friends from my neighborhood who played guitars, and I played on the basketball team with one of them. We would hang around together and he said, “I have an electric guitar–you should come over and check it out.” So I did, and I was like “Oh, wow.” I was awed by this. There was this great guitar and this great amplifier. I think it was a Silvertone; it was some kind of Sears product. And I thought, “Oh, this is the greatest thing.” And he would just let me mess with it and it was like everything he learned, I would pick up. Eventually I ran into a person who had an acoustic guitar and didn’t want it and I got it from them. Later, I got an electric guitar of my own and I’d mess around with some friends, It wasn’t like a working band or anything. Once in a while, we would get together and have parties and play a couple of Ventures songs.
Eventually, I ran into Carl [Giammarese’s] cousin and he said, “We’re putting together a band–do you want to come over and jam?” And that’s basically what we did. It started progressing. We played the basement circuit. We played dance-type places and ballrooms where they would throw dances on weekends. It was usually the basement of a restaurant or something like that.
Jim Pilster (“J.C. Hooke”), percussionist-vocalist, the Cryan’ Shames:
It was the time of garage bands. When you had a party at home, you’d have a band. Back in those days, you’d set up and play in your living room. That’s kind of how it all got started. I didn’t play any instruments really, but I had a lot of energy. I’m one-handed. I was born without a hand on the left side, sort of a congenital deformity, and I had good vibes. And that was at a time when people with energy and good vibes could actually go out and do something. When you’re young and stupid, you don’t know you can’t do it.
We were all sitting around one night. I had taken a liking to these guys. They weren’t the Cryan’ Shames then. They were the Travelers. They played around and I hung out with them, and one day they said, “Why don’t you come onstage and beat a tambourine or something?” At the time, I did play bongos. They said, “Why don’t you come onstage and jump around?” And that’s basically what I did, and it got us noticed.
I started jumping around and we started doing some choreography. It wasn’t very sophisticated, but we were about the only energetic band around. Everybody else was like imitating the Rolling Stones, standing around and looking moody, going to gas stations late at night and peeing on them.
I hung out in an Old Town cafe with an artist named John Brown who ended up designing all those leather capes for David Crosby. He helped me fashion a hook for my left hand and it became the trademark of our group, a big harpoon-shaped thing. It was a gimmick sort of thing.
Jim Fairs, guitarist and songwriter, the Cryan’ Shames:
All I remember was being onstage one night in Hinsdale at some kind of hall, and I’m looking over and there’s this guy wearing a hook on his left hand playing the tambourine. I leaned over to Tom Doody [lead singer] and I said, “Who’s that?” And he said, “That’s the Hook.” And so I figured he was in the band then. I figured that since this guy is onstage, he must be in the band.
It was kind of nice, because here was this guy who didn’t have to figure out how to play his guitar. He could just get onstage and enjoy the music. I was trying to figure out how to put all this music together. Everyone was trying to figure out how to play their instruments or trying to look cool, and here was a guy who would get up onstage and enjoy the music, to dance, to sing an occasional harmony, to play the tambourine, and to have a good time.
The times at that particular time were different. I think it was the effect of the largest generation in the history of the world being born in poverty and coming of age in incredible wealth and prosperity. There was an amazing amount of energy because everybody had money to try things and there were a lot of people trying them. Just about anything went. There were so many people trying so many things that all you could sense was an explosion rather than any one particular direction.
Ray Graffia, percussionist-vocalist, the New Colony Six:
We were part of the choir and they were having a choir concert at a girls’ school. And after the concert, it was decided that the school was going to have a group imitate the Beatles and lip-sync their songs. There was a group of guys who were already going to do it. So we said, “Why don’t you let us do it and we won’t lip-sync it? We’ll sing it.” All we really wanted to do was get out of classes.
It was so successful that the girls’ school asked us if we would repeat the first performance at their next sock hop, and we said, “OK, but we’ll perform other material too.” So we formed a band to perform at the girls’ school.
We decided that everyone who was hot in rock ‘n’ roll at that time was British, so we would bring rock ‘n’ roll back to America. Britain called America the “new colony,” and there were six of us. Hence the moniker the New Colony Six. We dressed up in red coats and white slacks.
The summer after we started, we went out to California. We went out there with all the, money we had plus whatever our parents would send us, plus people in the neighborhood who recognized our situation would bring us bags of groceries. We accepted them because we were doing badly.
We shared living space with Paul Revere and the Raiders. We were dressed in our costumes with what we thought were our revolutionary ideas. Then here come these guys, and they had the same idea. Lo and behold, they’re in the same outfits with the three-cornered hats.
Gary Loizzo, guitarist and lead singer, the American Breed:
In 1962 and 1963 we were Gary and the Nitelites, and we were playing for all the radio and disc jockey personalities in Chicago. They had hops. All of the bands that were playing around and had some kind of following one by one got contacted and you got affiliated with the DJs. Like Art Roberts and Clark Weber would go to high schools and promote dances and things like that for the stations. We became kind of the staff band for some of these disc jockeys. Pretty soon, these disc jockeys who knew managers and producers told them to come out and see the band because we were doing really well.
We were playing all the latest songs that were happening. All of the people coming out to see us were young, and consequently they wanted to hear what they were hearing on the radio and that was before all of the overexposure you have now. There was no MTV. There wasn’t a band every week. The only time they could hear anything was on the radio or if they were lucky enough and went to the high school on the weekend to see a band. But it was never a big band.
When we got picked up by Bill Traut [producer and manager], he said, “Gary and the Nitelites? That’s kind of a square name, guys.”
Bill Traut, manager and producer of the Cryan’ Shames, the American Breed, and the Shadows of Knight:
Gary and the Nitelites were a bubblegummy R & B Top 40 band. They did stuff like Stevie Wonder tunes and Martha and the Vandellas. They were very popular. They had a nice image, a bubblegummy image. I met them. I auditioned them, and I liked them. They were the first group I had seen in Chicago that had black and white musicians in the same group. That was very appealing. I thought that maybe a blue-eyed soul band would work, and they were definitely a blue-eyed soul band.
I had some tunes in the can and it was in the middle of winter in December and a friend of mine, Kenny Meyers [then president of ACTA Records], got caught in a snowstorm in Chicago. And he called me and said, “Bill, I’m stuck in Chicago–you got anything for me to do tonight?” And I said, “Well, we can walk over from the Drake and go over to my studio on Walton Street if it’s plowed out and listen to some tapes.” He said, “Fine–let’s do that.” We spent the night listening to tapes.
One of the tapes I played was Gary and the Nitelites, and Kenny said, “I think that’s wonderful. I love what you’re doing and I love the horns.” He absolutely freaked for the horns.
The next day we called and got an appointment with Gary Loizzo’s father, who was their manager in those days, to come down and meet with us. And Kenny said, “I hate the name Gary and the Nitelites. Let’s call you something else. You guys are all-American looking and you look so great and you’re black and you’re white. Let’s call them the America something. Let’s make them look like America.” So I said, “Sure–we’ll put a fucking flag on the cover.” And one of the other guys said “Breed” and Gary’s dad got all excited about that because he really thought the name was wonderful.
I said, “Sure. I like it. Sounds fine to me. Let’s do it.” I was used to changing the names of groups.
Jimy Sohns, lead singer, the Shadows of Knight:
At first, it’s like a big party. Then it’s a grind. The band started in 1963 while we were in high school. We did the whole teen club circuit. We worked out of a place called the Cellar in Arlington Heights. It was an old gutted warehouse where people had the fun of writing their own graffiti on the walls. They had Coke and hot dogs and everybody danced and had kind of a nice time.
Originally we were the Shadows. Then, before our first record came out, they were going to change our name, which was pretty stupid be cause we had developed a two-year following and everybody knew us as the Shadows. They were going to change our name to Tyme because Cliff Richard’s band back then was called the Shadows. Later, we found out that all we would have had to do was call ourselves “the American Shadows” on European releases.
At the last minute I just said, “Why don’t we be the Shadows of Knight?” And the people at Prospect High School thought I named it after the Prospect Knights because three or four of us were from Prospect. That never really entered my mind. It’s just that everything was English back then and I thought it sounded English. I don’t know what I was thinking of.
Bob Monaco, manager and producer of the American Breed and the Cryan’ Shames.
It was a fun period. It was exciting. At that point, there weren’t a lot of bands who were making it out of Chicago. We were breaking new ground. The bands back then were groundbreakers for the bands today. In the early 60s, it was very difficult to get anything going. But it was exciting because you felt that things were starting to happen.
The Centuries and the Pulsations merged to form the Buckinghams. The Shadows were now the Shadows of Knight. The Traveler’s were the Cryan’ Shames. Gary and the Nitelites had become the American Breed. And the New Colony Six were coming back to Chicago.
Some parents of members of the New Colony Six decided to help their kids out by starting a record company called Centaur (later Sentar). Centaur Records put out a song by the group called “I Confess,” which made only a small dent in the national charts. No national hits had come out of Chicago, until Bill Traut and the Shadows of Knight put out a cover of Van Morrison’s “Gloria.”
To me, it wasn’t even a song. To me, it wasn’t even music. To me it was just a college yell. To me it was just a bunch of noise. I could understand it. I knew it was commercial and I knew it would sell records, but I was a jazz guy and I hated that shit. I was not a rock fan at all in those days.
I talked to the program director at WLS, Clark Weber, and I told him I wanted to do “Gloria.” He told me it was a very good idea because he’d gotten in a record by Van Morrison’s group, Them, on the song “Gloria,” and he was only able to play it for three days and parents had threatened to make their kids not listen to the station anymore. So he had to take it off the radio. So he said, “If you come up with a really good record of ‘Gloria,’ I’ll play it ’cause I can’t play the other one. You’ve got to remove the dirty lyrics.”
That’s what I did. I took out a line that said “We roll around. She comes up to my room and we roll around.” The line I dropped was “We roll around.” That’s all. It was a minor line, but in its day it was shocking.
So we cut the record. We changed the ending slightly by double-timing it and I tripled the voices on the yelling of the line “Gloria.” That was my idea. I always believed in hitting the chorus hard. Almost like a college yell. We cut the record, and I thought we had a great record. My engineers were burned out. My music director quit, and I took it immediately over to a pressing plant on the south side of Chicago.
I brought 40 copies to WLS and I already had my distributors with 4,000 records on the shelves just waiting. The Shadows had a room with a phone line set up in Arlington Heights where all of their friends came in and called the station to request “Gloria.” I brought the record in to Clark Weber and I played it for him and the secretary started dancing around the office. She didn’t even know me. She just loved the record. She just started dancing around.
The next night at five o’clock, they put the record on and the phones hit the fan. They said the transformers were breaking at the station. The next morning I got a call from WLS and they threatened me. They said they knew that all these calls were coming from people I had planted and that they were going to pull the record off the air.
The truth is, I didn’t know that the Shadows had set up this phone room, and so I said, “Hey, it’s not true. They’re not calls coming in from people I’ve planted.” They kept it on one more night and they got their first calls from Denver, Portland, New Orleans, and Dallas.
Clark Weber, DJ, then program director Of WLS:
The original version of “Gloria” had come out and there was a line in that original record with something to the effect of “I knocked on the bedroom door and she let me in.” And today you can’t believe that that would be objectionable, but in the 60s it definitely was. And I said, “What a great record. Too bad I can’t play it.” And Bill Traut said, “Why?” And I said, “Because of that lyric line.” And he said, “If that record was produced without that line, could you play it?” I said, “Hell yes.”
The next morning when I got off the air, Bill Traut was standing at the studio door and he said, “Listen to this.” So I listened to it and I said, “We’ll play it right now.” What I realized after a matter of days was we had a monstrous hit on our hands.
Jimy Sohns, Shadows of Knight:
The new Rolling Stone magazine picked the 100 top songs of all time, and “Gloria” was up there. Of course, in their infinite wisdom they put a picture of Them and Van Morrison in there even though they sold no records at all. They go on to say that that record didn’t do anything until we put it out. Theirs went to number 81 and ours went to number 6. It bugs me.
I think we were all trying to put Chicago on the map. We were lucky enough to break out first. We were the first band to break out of Chicago and open up all the doors. There was a lot of talent here and everybody had been passing it over. We were trying to compete all at once to make Chicago and the midwest noticed.
When the bands were starting out, there was a symbiotic relationship between artist and DJ. They would appear together at concerts and hops and autograph sessions.
Paul Geallis, record promoter:
It wasn’t nuts like it is now. There were personal relationships with radio stations and the people there. And the fact that there were local groups made the DJs want to help them more. The big thing to promote records then was all the big jocks would do record hops and they would get the group for nothing. The group would go from place to place, playing for nothing, and the DJs would play their records on the air and say “The Buckinghams are going to be here. . . . The Cryan’ Shames are going to be there.” It was kind of a “You help me, I’ll help you” scene.
Today is ridiculous. Today you got people who don’t give a fuck about anything. They have no talent. They have people afraid to move. You don’t have talented people at radio stations anymore. You just have followers. All the guys wait for somebody to make a hit, then they all copy the same thing. You have such a dryness of exciting music today. It’s ridiculous. There were hundreds of groups coming out of Chicago then, all kinds of ’em. There was room for everybody.
Ron Britain, DJ:
There was a thing I used to do on WCFL on Sundays called Chicago Countdown that featured local bands. Stations would always say, “We can’t play this because it doesn’t have a chart number.” And I’d always say, “If you can ‘t play it, how’s it going to get a chart number?” It was a catch-22 thing.
I felt that radio stations should support the local artist. If the product was good it should be played on the air, and there was no other place to showcase all-Chicago music. So I did Chicago Countdown with the groups. They were local bands, but they had to be good. It couldn’t be something that was recorded in the basement. The point was to play good product coming out of Chicago.
Dex Card, DJ, host of The Silver Dollar Survey on WLS:
We were very anxious to play records of Chicago groups. We thought it had special significance for the area. We lobbied with our program director to get the groups played. We thought it would be a good thing.
You have to remember that the radio industry was not as complicated as it is now. At first, WLS was basically the only radio station in town playing contemporary music. Now you have probably 10 or 15 stations playing basically the same thing. But back in those days, before WCFL came in, we were the only ball game in town. I had 40 percent of the audience that was listening to the radio. And that wasn’t because of my talent. It was because the pie wasn’t split so many ways.
As the groups began to develop and the hits began to come, each began to develop its own image. The Buckinghams were making it big with their Beatles look and catchy pop songs like “Kind of a Drag.” The American Breed firmed up their bubblegummy image with songs like “Step Out of Your Mind” and “Bend Me, Shape Me.” The Cryan’ Shames developed their harmonies, which became one of their trademarks (for example, in a cover of a Searchers tune called “Sugar and Spice”). And Ronnie Rice was writing love ballads like “I Will Always Think About You” for the New Colony Six.
Ronnie Rice, lead singer, songwriter, guitarist, the New Colony Six:
We were all supposed to look pretty clean-cut. We were supposed to look that way, but as soon as they got busted, it was trouble. New Colony was a pretty clean band, but there were a couple of guys in the band who we had to kick out because they didn’t keep up with the rules of the band. We didn’t care about what you did at home, but acid was pretty prominent, prevalent, whatever. So if we caught somebody doing drugs, we’d do a fine and then we’d just kick them out.
Back in those days, if they found out you were involved with drugs or anything like that, the radio station wouldn’t want to play your records. The underground stations thought it was hip, but we weren’t doing music for the underground stations. So we were pretty clean. We were basically the Pat Boones of rock music.
Jim “Hooke” Pilster, Cryan’ Shames:
We were always a very grubby band. We prided ourselves on being the grubbiest. Some clothes didn’t get washed for six months, and a stink would precede you whenever you’d come into a room. You’d see how long your hair could get. One guy kept whining about getting battery acid on his Levis.
There were, you know, purple Beatle boots that laced up the back. It was a strange time. My parents were like, “Ucccch.” I had a pair of pants I didn’t wash for, we counted it, 50 days. Now I look at the whole punk scene and it’s kind of the same thing. But we never even considered sticking a pin in our nose. The worst we did was not bathe forever.
Tom Doody, lead singer, the Cryan’ Shames:
We were teenagers in rebellion. You know, hormonal things were happening. Jim [Pilster] had a pair of jeans that he wore for a year without washing them. We used to stand them up in the dressing room and we’d throw water at them.
Rock ‘n’ roll has always been hormones and rebellion. You rebel against garbage that happens. Today, I’m rebelling that there aren’t more classical music stations. I’m a real drag of an old rock ‘n’ roll person. I’m a Republican. I was probably the only rock ‘n’ roll person that never did drugs. I had marijuana about three times, never got into it at all. Back then, that made you a Republican.
Nick Fortuna, Buckinghams:
Long hair was in, but it was a different kind of fashion. It was a different type of styling. The image was a little bit more of a continental-type look. The Buckinghams were always a pretty clean-looking band anyway.
The Beatles had a really big influence on us. The players and musicians really got touched by the Beatles. And that whole English scene. That little country really did a lot of damage here and it was a change of life, a change of thinking, a change of attitude, everything. Everyone that used to be wearing the motorcycle boots and the jeans and hanging out on the street corner, and getting into trouble, all of a sudden all of these guys I knew from back then were wearing these bell-bottom pants and growing long hair and walking around with flowers a few years later.
It was like everyone went to this place someplace else and came back different. I don’t think it had anything to do with chemicals, even though everybody wants to put it that way. The reason they say people got like that is because they all got high. But it was more than that. I never even got high at the beginning of all that stuff. It was a way of life. Everybody changed their thinking.
Jimy Sohns, Shadows of Knight:
We had a bad-boy “steal your daughter” image. It was justified. I was warned in Chicago, Cleveland, Texas, California, New York City. They’d give you a line that you couldn’t go past onstage, but to the singer, the job was to go past that line. So the show would go OK. We’d do “Gloria.” I’d take my shirt off, and you could get a citation for indecent public exposure for taking your shirt off.
We used to go on these tours and we had like 15 rooms–all the bands. And there was this one room we called the “holding room,” where we’d invite all these girls to a party after the show. So, after a while, you’d try to figure out who was cool to keep around and who wasn’t. One night, my friend would go in the bathroom and come out with a lamp shade on his head and nothing else, and whoever stayed we thought was cool. And whoever didn’t, well that was their thing.
One time, the other guys thought it would be fun to leave us at the concert after the show. And girls could always find out where the backstage was. So they left in a limo and left us with the van. We wound up coming back to the hotel with 30 girls in the van. So I guess we had the last laugh.
They billed themselves as Chicago’s Rolling Stones, and they lived that life. They were reasonably bad. They always tore places up. Sohns was pretty much devoted to having as many girls as possible in his hotel room the night after the show. Every time they went to a town, I’d get a report from the hotel that they did something, either stole the pillows or turned fire extinguishers on all the cars in the parking lot or dumb things like that. Later on I decided to get out of the management business. I was sick and tired of people telling me “the bus ran off the road,” or whatever it may be. We were sick and tired of being hand-holders.
All of the bands from Chicago were enjoying the effects of a healthy competition. They got bookings on American Bandstand and the Ed Sullivan Show. They were selling records. They played before thousands of people. In 1967, though, the Buckinghams broke away from the pack with a string of hit records that earned them the honor of being named “band of the year” on American Bandstand. No other group from Chicago would achieve this prominence.
Nick Fortuna, Buckinghams:
One day, everything is basically normal and you’re living in this normal everyday situation, and one day you wake up and you walk into a store and you open the door, and it’s like walking into a new world. It wasn’t a slow process. It wasn’t an overnight situation, but it sure seemed like it. It happened very quickly.
We didn’t think at all about any of our business. The only thing we thought about was what we were going to wear that day and how hard we were going to party afterwards. Back then, mostly, we were existing. That merry-go-round was never going to end, but it does. Everything comes to an end.
Carl Giammarese, lead guitarist, the Buckinghams:
It was great meeting Ed Sullivan. You really felt like you’d made it. ‘Cause here you were on the show of shows, so to speak, and it was a great opportunity. We were mostly just goofing off then. I was 18 years old, and musically we weren’t very developed. The music was kind of secondary. It was an exciting period, though. We had a good time. There was all that excitement and glitter that was happening around us.
Clark Weber, DJ:
The Buckinghams were real nice guys, but like a lot of the guys back then, the success came so fast for them. They went from nobody to somebody in the matter of a few weeks, and I think they had a hard time dealing with that kind of success and adjusting to being in the limelight. It didn’t make for a harmonious situation.
Ronnie Rice, New Colony Six:
I wrote a song called “Treat Her Groovy”–take her to a movie. Man, what a trip that was. Our record company thought that was going to be a number one for us. Turned out to be number 12 in Chicago and nothing in the United States. Then they said write another one, and I wrote one called “I Will Always Think About You,” which they still play. That was a number one for us here.
It got us on the Mike Douglas show, ABC, Jerry Lewis. That’s when we traveled with groups like the Association, the Beach Boys, the Monkees, the Temptations. It was hot. It was everything you wanted it to be. You’re 22 years old, you’re making good money.
When “I Will Always Think About You” hit number one, the feeling I couldn’t explain. We had number one in Chicago, and the Beatles’ “Lady Madonna” was number two. And that was a neat feeling. I’d been praying for a hit record ever since I was 16 years old. I’d pray anywhere. In the washroom. “Please God, give me a hit record. Please God, hit record. Please.” Then I got one, and that’s the greatest experience. Then, you had all the groupies. Big ego trip. It always is.
Ray Graffia, New Colony Six:
We played the Milwaukee County Stadium with the Monkees, and at that time our song “Things I’d Like to Say” was very hot. We were playing at second base, and there’s a chord in the song followed by the word “baby.” And we came out and we hit the chord and said “baby.” We heard 40,000 people go “Ahhhhh.” That was a memory.
Jim “Hooke” Pilster, Cryan’ Shames:
Things happened so fast in those days. One time we recorded a song in an afternoon, and we heard it on the radio on the way back from the studio. And I’m not kidding. That’s how quick things got done in the city at the time. You didn’t have to get Top 40 before they actually played you.
The Beatles were our heroes. We bought the 15th row out at the Amphitheater. We had a date in Rockford, but we were late because we went to see the Beatles. They were our heroes. We missed them by 30 seconds one night at the studio. I always lamented that. We got there right after they left.
We opened for the Byrds when they came through the first time. We would have opened for them for free. We would’ve paid to open for the Byrds. They were our heroes, too. Back in those days.
Jim Fairs, Cryan’ Shames:
One thing that held us together was the kids–the kids that came to see the band. When you would go to play, you’d show up and at the place you’d play, outside there would be 3,000 kids. This was just at your local club. This wasn’t even a concert. There’d be 3,000 kids, three or four lines around the block, cars everywhere. Everybody would wave when they saw you and it would be a tremendous amount of fun.
At that time, nobody had MTV and hardly anybody had a cassette player. Nobody had discs, no decks, nothing. So if you wanted to have a good time, chances are that there were not too many places to go, and this was one. And you had the tremendous fun of having 3,000 kids show up to see you. And having everybody enjoy it and go crazy. It was a lot of fun. That will keep you together.
The Shadows of Knight was the first band to go to New York from Chicago, and they were booked onto the Ed Sullivan Show and at the Paramount Theater. Now, the agency that was booking them was not a rock ‘n’ roll agency. It was run by a man whose motive in life was to bring back the big bands. So the Shadows showed up at the agency and everybody fainted. They had been booked to open for Harry James.
It was the most stupid booking that you could possibly imagine. The audience hated them. Booed them. Harry James was so mad that this band opened for him that he went to the agency and he said, “If these guys are playing the Ed Sullivan Show and I’m not playing the Ed Sullivan Show, I’m leaving you.” So the band got to the Ed Sullivan Show, rehearsed, and stood in the wings while Harry James subbed for them on the show.
In the meantime I get a call from the hotel. The cops have just gone up to their rooms and busted them. Caught flushing heroin down the toilet. I still don’t think they found any heroin. It probably was just the police saw a bunch of long-haired guys and decided to bust them. And they saw them flushing the toilet. That was my first week in the management business.
Jimy Sohns, Shadows of Knight:
In the summer of 1966, I had a total of 48 hours off, I think. We used to open for the big bands when they came into Chicago. We’d open for the Beach Boys, Paul Revere and the Raiders. Right after our first record came out, we opened for the Rolling Stones. That was great. Meeting Jagger. We partied and whatnot. It was a party.
We did the Dick Clark tours. We did Ed Sullivan and American Bandstand, Where the Action Is, Top of the Pops in Great Britain. We were very popular with the British bands because the Yardbirds and the Rolling Stones, they were all doing Chicago blues, and we were a band from Chicago and they were very into Chicago. Our first two albums have a lot of the first white versions of blues songs like “Boom Boom” and “I Got My Mojo Workin’.”
At first it’s like a party, then you realize you have to sleep sometime. Especially if you’re a singer, because your voice depends a lot on how much sleep you get. I figured that out pretty quickly.
Al Ciner, guitarist, the American Breed:
When the Buckinghams made it, it just firmed up our resolve that we were going to make it. We felt we could do it, too. We felt that we were as good an act as they were and we were just as strong.
There was a lot of respect between the bands. I think all the bands were friends then. We thought the Buckinghams were good. But we were all 20 years younger, and I think you’re a little more jealous when you’re a kid. If there was a lot of competition between the groups, there was also a lot of competition inside the groups between the members, because young people are like that.
Ronnie Rice, New Colony Six:
We all envied each other and we were all jealous of each other, because I know what competition is about and I know that even though each guy gets a record out, we’d say “Oh–he didn’t make it nationally yet? Oh! Dem guys? They didn’t do it. Nope. Are you kidding? They’re that big-time?”
Now we’re all buddies. Can’t wait to see each other and say, “How ya doin’? What’s going on?” We didn’t hang out together back then. We’d just work different jobs together. We were friends, but you’d hope that the other guys didn’t do quite as well as you. This is kind of how I felt. Everybody was watching each other. You’d see the Cryan’ Shames and say, “What’re they doin’ in Billboard this week?” When we had a hit record, we were happy as hell and we all thought we’d hit the big time.
Tom Doody, Cryan’ Shames:
It was kind of like Wrestlemania. We were all real friendly, but there was always that edge. Everybody felt that they were the best, and we all went out to prove it.
Nick Fortuna, Buckinghams:
Before “Kind of a Drag” came out, we all played basically the same circuit and we were all striving for the top rung on the ladder. After “Kind of a Drag,” it was like we weren’t in their league anymore. We went to the majors and they were still in the minors. I feel that, then, the competition and the resentment was left back with them. We didn’t really look at it that way anymore. When we went on the road and we did interviews, we would talk about a lot of the local groups.
While the bands were making it big, the country was going through a period of change. Even though none of the bands from Chicago was particularly political, they all were affected by the “generation gap” and the civil-rights and antiwar movements. The American Breed, whose bassist, Charlie Colbert, was black, were particularly affected by the times.
Charlie Colbert, bassist, the American Breed:
We were the first integrated band to play a lot of places like Mississippi State and Birmingham. It was kind of a challenge to spearhead a lot of things. We also had it in our contract that anybody could come and see our act.
We were in Mississippi and we had white and black setup guys, and they went into this hardware store to buy a baseball bat and balls because we had a bit of time. We had a layover for a day. And the guy ran ’em out of there. We found out that night, talking to people at this restaurant, that the guy who ran ’em out was up for the slaying of three civil-rights workers.
Gary Loizzo, American Breed:
We had walked into the store to find a softball and I went in with our black roadie, and the store owner saw me come in there with a black guy asking for a baseball and he was fuming. He threw us out of the store. I said, “All we want is a baseball and we’ll be on our way.” He said, “Get out of here. I wouldn’t dare serve people like you.” He was part of the Ku Klux Klan and everything and I had no idea what I was doing. Thank God we got out of there.
There was a lot of prejudice that I was unaware of down there. We played colleges, and colleges didn’t have any bias. It was the older people who frowned upon having a black person in the band. They weren’t into that. I had never thought that we were “integrated.” It never crossed my mind. I’d known Charlie Colbert since I was 15 or 16 years old and I’d go over to his house and sleep over. Color doesn’t become a barrier if you’re a friend. So I never thought about it.
They used to travel through the south and we used to have Chuck Colbert go into the hotels ahead of time to see if we could get rooms. If he couldn’t stay in the hotel, we wouldn’t stay there. We’d go someplace else. But Charlie had to go in ahead of time to find out if they allowed blacks.
Jimy Sohns, Shadows of Knight:
I was a white boy from the suburbs and I had never been exposed to that many black people or anything, but I had been brought up to believe that people were people. We went through the south with Dick Clark on a Greyhound bus with the McCoys and the Outsiders and ? and the Mysterians. We’d go into restaurants and sit with our bus drivers, who happened to be black, and people wouldn’t serve us. They had white washrooms and black washrooms. I had never thought about that stuff until I went down there. We thought it was stupid. People were people.
We were going through two things at the time. We were going through the white-black thing, and we were going through the long hair-whatever thing. My parents were great. They’d say “Rock ‘n’ roll will be dead and long hair will be a memory.” I had long hair, and we’d go to restaurants and they wouldn’t serve us. They called you names: “Faggot.” “Hippie” came later.
There was this phrase back then, “Are you a boy or a girl?” All that crap. We were on the baseball team in high school, and they didn’t know what to do with us. They made us do extra laps. Nobody knew what to do with us. We went through a lot of things people don’t realize.
In the late 60s, the success began to evaporate. A couple of the bands began having problems with their management. Some devolved due to competition, or infighting, or the simple feeling that they had run their course and it was time to move on. Out of the euphoria of overnight success came the grief and aimlessness of a fall. Many of the musicians thought that their lives had peaked and that they had nothing more to look forward to.
Carl Giammarese, Buckinghams:
The bubble burst. That was a strange time. I peaked, and it happened so fast that I was pretty depressed for years to come because it was like my life, my world had come to a standstill by 1970. It was incredible–to be 22 and to feel like your life is over, like you’re old. I remember feeling that way up into my 30s. I was 30 years old, thinking, “Jeez. It’s over.” Now I’m 40 and I’m going, “What the hell was wrong with me? I had my whole life and I still do.”
We were a bunch of arrogant little kids. We thought we knew it all and we weren’t taking crap from anyone. We had that kind of attitude. We started to realize that rock music was a big business and there was big money to be made, and our managers were making it all and we weren’t.
We thought it was just easier to fire our manager and get a new manager and fire our producer and get a new producer. We found out that it was a lot easier said than done, because at that time our record company didn’t care too much about what the Buckinghams did. They were too concerned with Janis Joplin and whoever else. We were given one bad producer after another. If we could’ve been given a real producer, that could’ve been the key to our survival. It turned into a disaster, basically. It seemed rather hopeless at the time. Finally, at the beginning of 1970, we decided to break up.
Tom Doody, Cryan’ Shames:
It was hard times. It was emotional hard times more than anything. You were leaving something successful to go somewhere nobody knew who you were. It was very difficult. It was a real emotional wrenching. It’s what you find baseball players or football players or anybody going through. It’s kind of hard to leave the limelight.
Jim Fairs, Cryan’ Shames:
I didn’t mind leaving any of it. I never look back. I have enjoyed things I’ve done as I’ve done them, and I certainly enjoyed the Cryan’ Shames when they happened and as they happened the first time. I left them in 1969, but from then on I went and did other things and never particularly cherished any one period of my life over another.
I’m not sure how people are led to where they go, but I went down to the east coast of Florida and I didn’t really enjoy it. People said “Hey, check out the west coast. It’s lower key. The sand is white. The oceans are calmer.” I went to an island off of Florida, a little strip of bacon off the west coast of Florida, on what I would have to call a personal search. I spent about ten years there. And that is where I will end up, if I have my way, on that particular island.
I literally went to Florida and pitched a tent. I had nothing, knew nobody, and I built up my life there to the point where I was producing Gregg Allman and the Allman Brothers Band. But it was great to start from scratch without anybody knowing you or knowing that you’d been in the Cryan’ Shames, or in fact knowing anything about the Cryan’ Shames.
Bruce Gordon, bassist, the New Colony six:
The last show we played together as the band was January of 1972. It was a show at some multipurpose bowling alley/entertainment spa in Indiana somewhere. That’s all I remember. We did the show and it was like, “OK guys, take it easy, see you later.” Was there a gala celebration? No.
At that point there had been infighting within the band, jealousy, a lot of hate, you name it. People grew up through a whole era of insecurity. We should’ve grown up enough to realize the value of the entity we had and we should have carried on instead of dealing with things immaturely. If management was mature at the time, they would have perhaps taken hold of us and said, “Hey guys! Wise up! Look what you’ve got here!”
Pete Wright, manager, the New Colony Six:
You gotta grow. You gotta go somewhere. The Colony got nuts. They wouldn’t save their money. I put them on salary. We bought a big bus for them to sleep in, and they probably slept in it four times. They’d go to hotels. But they had their shot. And we made good records. Ronnie Rice wrote great songs that made 14-year-old girls happy. And they identified with it. And that’s a talent.
To varying extents, these groups have all re-formed in the 1980s.
The Buckinghams are the most successful of the re-formed bands. Giammarese and Fortuna lead this group, which performs over 150 dates a year and has a rather large fan club. Chuck Colbert, Al Ciner, and Gary Loizzo have returned to the American Breed, playing small venues and festivals. Bruce Gordon and Ray Graffia began fronting a new New Colony Six about a year ago; Ronnie Rice, who performs mostly as a solo act, joins them for an occasional performance. Jimy Sohns leads a Shadows of Knight that has remained faithful to the group’s garage-band sound. Even though Tom Doody lives in California now, he flies in about 15 times a year to do concerts with Jim Pilster and the new Cryan’ Shames. The bands have different goals. The Buckinghams and the American Breed expect to have new albums out within a year. The Cryan’ Shames will probably never go into the studio again.
Jim “Hooke” Pilster, Cryan’ Shames:
We’re not trying to start anything up with new music or anything. We’re just having fun. I’ve watched other groups try to regroup under their old name, and it just doesn’t work. Ever since we broke up, people have been asking us to play. They’re like, “When’re you gonna play? Why don’t you play some more?” We avoided it and avoided it for 10 or 11 years, and in 1982 at ChicagoFest we decided we’d have a reunion. It was so well received it was scary.
People remember what they heard and the time. It’s more than just the music. I hate to say it because it’s such a cliche, but it was a magic kind of time. They want to hear more than just our music when they hear it. They want to feel the whole time. People want to remember that time when they were young.
Tom Doody, Cryan’ Shames:
I’ve always liked being onstage. I hated recording, absolutely detested it. For me to record, all I thought you had to do was get a mike setting and sing it through and that would be that. But that’s not the way recording is done. You have to do it over and over and over. I like the way it is now. I like it live. If we had to record records now, I wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole.
There’s a certain magic in hitting the track once. When you get to be our age, the only people who really make it are country and western. There aren’t a hell of a lot of 50-year-old rock ‘n’ rollers out there.
Ronnie Rice, New Colony Six:
I think I’m the luckiest cat around. I’ve been able to do everything I’ve wanted to do. I never knew it would get this good for me. I’ve just got it so good. It just continues to go well. I keep asking for more money and I keep getting it. It’s sick. I’ve been performing for the past ten years, and it’s just what I like doing best. Having a party with the audience. All I care about is the audience. I don’t care about owners or managers. The audience is more important. They’re the ones keeping me happy.
It’s an easy life. That’s the problem. I have a good time singing, then I relax and eat. I try to cut back and that lasts about an hour and a half. I eat too much. That’s one of the bad habits.
Bruce Gordon, New Colony Six:
For about a hundred years now, we’ve had the desire to get back together and play. It’s great fun. There’s nothing like it as far as having a great time. It’s just wonderful; it’s not for the money. The music and performance of the group is better than it ever was. It’s better not only because the people have progressed, but also because of the technology that’s available.
People remember material. That’s what they come there for. To see you do what you did. They like it and they respect it. Collectively, our dream would be to have something on the radio again.
The unfortunate part of our breakup was the loss of the fun and the excitement. The fortunate part of it is the maturity that has been brought to the rejoining. When we took the stage for the first time at Park West, it was magic.
Ray Graffia, New Colony Six:
Even though we’ve only been back together for maybe six months, there hasn’t been a raised voice at rehearsal. We have respect for other people’s points of view. Everybody’s looking at this as a marriage that is maybe going to work.
Gary Loizzo, American Breed:
One of the first times the idea came up about getting back together, I said I didn’t want to play oldies. I really didn’t want to do that. Back in the 60s and 70s when we played, we were the featured act. Every time you go to a wedding you see bands that play oldies, and I didn’t want to categorize myself with those people, but I didn’t want to be too closed-minded.
The first thing we played was up in Lansing for 25,000 people, and these people went crazy. They were up dancing in their seats and singing and I said, “I must be missing something. I don’t understand why these people are having such a great time. We’re just playing some old songs.” Then I found out that that’s what people really want to hear.
Al Ciner, American Breed:
We’re kind of winging it: I think we sing as well as we ever did. Even better, maybe. I think I sing better than I used to. It comes through maturity. It comes through being a little less self-conscious onstage. I feel that as an act, we have the potential to be a lot better than we ever were in the old days because everybody’s a lot looser. There’s less ego involved. I don’t think my ego’s any less strong than it used to be, it’s just more under control.
This is more or less a celebration of life for me. We’re all still friends after all these years and we’re all still close, and it’s a real treat for me to be able to go up onstage with the same guys and the same music and have it sound as good.
Jimy Sohns, Shadows of Knight:
We’re doing a “Gloria” video search now. We’re looking for girls to play Gloria in a video we want to do. People come out of the woodwork for these things. We have everything from ex-Playboy bunnies to leather dresses, spandex, leopard skin. Fur coats with garter belts and nylons. We had a girl in a cheerleading suit with a big “G” on her chest who spun around with her little skirt on. No panties. Most of them are good-looking, but I don’t pick them. I can’t put myself in that position. It’s too much of a pressure thing for me. We have forms to fill out if you want to lie about your measurements. I’d pick them all if it were up to me, believe me I would.
When you’re 18 years old, you’re not really worried about money. You want to be famous. I’ve been famous for 25 years. I’d like to have some money now.
Carl Giammarese, Buckinghams:
There seems to be this tremendous demand for 60s bands and 60s clubs. There’s the baby boomer thing. They grew up listening to our music, all the tunes remind them of stuff they were doing back in the 60s. They broke up with their girlfriend, they were dating this person, the Vietnam war–all kinds of stuff. There are so many of us that want to hear that music again. That’s why there’s such a demand for it. Fifteen-year-old and 16-year-old kids go nuts for the music. It’s like they’re hearing it for the first time. They’re hearing it on the radio. They’re responding. It’s new music to them.
We’ve built up a whole momentum thing in the last couple years. We’ve built up quite a following in the midwest again. We actually have a great working fan club again. We’re starting to get interest from record companies. There’s still a lot of music left and a lot of time left. We’ll have to see what happens.
Ron Britain, DJ:
It’s like yesterday. It’s just like we’ve entered a time warp and nothing’s happened. These guys look to me basically kind of the same. It’s a good feeling because you know them. They’re casual friends. And they kind of like you because you were with them before. It’s hard to believe that 20 years have gone by.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/courtesy Michael G. Bush, Gloria Knuth and Marlene O’Malley.