Early Encounters Recalled
People often ask me who were the first musicians that I met early on in life. And for that matter, what was the first concert I can recall? Okay, in truth they don’t ask me all that often, but regardless, it makes for a good premise when it comes to recounting my earliest encounters.
So even if you don’t care about the questions, I’m going to answer them anyway.
The first rock stars I recall seeing in an up close way was a band called the Five Americans. They were all the rage in Dallas, the city where I was raised. They even managed to score a pair of national hits by way of the singles “Western Union Man” and “Sound of Love.” (By the way, the songs still hold up if you care to investigate.)
The group was making an appearance at the opening of a new car dealership — what else? — and while I don’t recall if they actually performed, I do remember I was so close to them that I could get a good view of their coifs. Their hair was quite long, especially for the mid ‘60s,and it was so neatly tiered, that I’m wondering in hindsight if they were actually wearing wigs. I guess that’s one thing I’ll never know.
As a kid, I was always caught up in the debate over who would last the longest — the Beatles or… the Dave Clark Five? Yes, the latter were quite the contenders back then, so much so that they outranked Herman’s Hermits, who were the Beatles’ other main rivals in 1965. For some unknown reason, the Stones never entered the discussion. It was only when I went to college and my roommate Jim, a devout Stones enthusiast, offered his stirring testimony about the brilliance of Mick and the lads that I became fully aware of their potency and prowess.
Anyway, I recall that the Beatles did come to Dallas, but not being old enough to buy my own tix or arrange my own transportation, I missed out. Consequently, I never got to see the Fabs, one of the big regrets of my life. I did manage to see the Jimi Hendrix Experience when I returned to Dallas to attend SMU, but I also turned down the opportunity to see Cream around the same time.
Nevertheless, Hendrix was phenomenal of course. I actually remember quite a bit about the show. Chicago–then known as Chicago Transit Authority–opened and played some songs from their forthcoming debut album. An extended version of “I’m a Man” was one of the highlights. Next up was a band called Fat Mattress, the side venture by Experience bassist Noel Redding. Consequently, Redding did double duty, playing guitar with his band and then coming out later to play bass with Hendrix.
Three years ago I met a former member of Fat Mattress, Jim Leverton, who currently performs with the British band Caravan. They happened to be one of the featured groups on a music cruise we sailed on. I mentioned the Dallas gig to him, and to my amazement, he actually remembered the gig quite clearly. More than 45 years had passed, but amazingly, the circle was complete.
As far as Hendrix — well, suffice it to say he looked amazing in his purple stage outfit. I had pictures that were taken that night for many years after — in black and white — but unfortunately they were lost to the ages.
There were earlier concerts as well. The first show I recall seeing was a performance by Peter, Paul and Mary circa the mid ‘60s. (I’m not counting a cabaret performance at a Miami Beach hotel my parents took me to by crooner Julius LaRosa). I also saw Sonny and Cher in the mid ‘70s after they had shed their Bohemian caveman look in favor of matching white suits and the respectable garb they wore on their popular television variety show at the time.
Still, the first concert that made the most indelible impression on me was a multi-act bill featuring Mitch Ryder and the Byrds. Sadly, the only glimpse I got of the latter was watching Roger McGuinn and David Crosby out on stage between acts setting up their instruments. (Where were the roadies, I’m wondering now.) McGuinn was wearing his signature granny glasses and Crosby had donned one of his trademark capes. Unfortunately, my date had a curfew which forced us to leave before the Byrds’ set.
I fared better when I attended a show starring the Beau Brummels, McCoys (a band that included a young Rick Derringer) and Freddie and the Dreamers. My most vivid memory of that particular show was the stage set-up, essentially being a big box that required the performers to ascend a tall ladder to the top. There was no backstage to speak of, so it was easy to make my way to the side of the stage where I could watch the musicians enter and exit.
Freddie was a happy go lucky, gregarious performer best known for his namesake dance, “The Freddie,” a slapstick shuffle that found participants flinging his arms and legs out wildly from side to side. Freddie looked kind of cranky as he climbed up the ladder to the stage, but I was struck at how he instantly assumed his characteristic comedic guise once he hit that final rung.
Later that evening, after the show, we went out to the back alley and found a limo that had the Lovin’ Spoonful squeezed inside, all four musicians confined to the back seat for some strange reason. They had been on a bill with the Supremes earlier in the evening and had apparently come by to rendevous with Freddie and the others. A crowd swarmed the car and someone asked John Sebastian where he got his famous round specs and he replied that he had gotten them in Cambridge. I’m not sure whether he meant Cambridge Massachusetts or Cambridge England.
That wouldn’t be my last encounter with a member of that particular band. But that’s another tale entirely.