Archive for September, 2009

The Birth of the Chips

September 25, 2009

It was 6th grade at Parkville Elementary School. Our teacher, Mrs. Smith, took the class across the hall to Mrs. Leverton’s class for something special. In front of the classroom before the assembled combined classes was a set of drums with “The Poker Chips” lettered on the bass drum head. After the teachers got everybody settled down our classmate, Chuck Frohlich, got behind the drums with fellow classmate, Tom Poteet, standing next to him—an alto sax around his neck. They launched into “The Sheik of Araby” … it was the most amazing thing I’d ever heard. These “kids” could actually play music together, and it must be something really special since our teachers had taken the extraordinary step of putting our two classes together in the middle of the school day to hear it. Wow!

I got to know Chuck over the course of the following year. At some point we started talking about re-forming The Poker Chips as a band in the summer of 1959, inspired by that 6th grade exhibition and a search for something to do for the summer. I especially appreciated this, as my parents had chosen the last day of the 7th grade school year to tell me they were separating. My summer wasn’t starting off too hot.

We asked Tom Poteet to play but he wasn’t really interested, so Buzz Sappington played sax, with Dwight Miller on trumpet, me on trombone, and Chuck on Drums. Chuck, Dwight and I lived within walking distance of each other, and Buzz wasn’t that far away either, so from that summer—until high school graduation sent us in different directions—The Poker Chips worked, played and grew up together.

Atlantic City Steel Pier with Paul Anka, circa 1961

Atlantic City Steel Pier with Paul Anka, circa 1961

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Spring Fever Part two

September 23, 2009

Jere Stermer continues his “Spring Fever” saga…..

With Spring Fever, one of the songs I sang lead on out front, while Lee played drums, was a ballad, ‘First Take’ by Roberta Flack. I sang it slow and bluesy like the record (yes record). We we’re still playing at the Frigate Lounge when I sang it for the first, and surprisingly to the me and the band, got a standing ovation — no lie. And at the Frigate Lounge of all places. I went home with stars in my eyes. “This is what I was meant to do — sing.” I didn’t sleep very well that night picturing my self performing in Vegas — look out world, here I come.
The next night at the Frigate it was time for me to sing ‘First Take’ again and I was all soothed and cocky with the fantasy of stardom, and sang the song coolly like I was Frank Sinatra and had been singing all my life. All went well until the end of the song. There is a stretched out sustain on the last line of the song where the band and I suspend the notes. The ending phrase is, “The first time ever I saw . . . . your face  . . . . your face, etc.” One of the other lines in the middle of the songs is, “ . . . the first time ever I lay with with you . . .” Well, with my overconfidence clouding my brain, I switched the 2 lines around and I ended the song with, “The first time ever I lay . . . (sustain) . . . I didn’t have enough front-man experience to get myself out of it so I sang, “The first time ever I lay . . . your face . . . your face . . . your face . . .” The band laughed at me all during my embarrassing predicament. Needless to say, that was the very last time I sang that song or any lead song with Spring Fever. Oh, and Vegas was off the list.

me sing spot ml
Jere – singing out front with Spring Fever

A Lesson in Humility

September 19, 2009

In late August of 1965, a couple of weeks after our rise and fall from stardom (see the previous blog, “Dennis Wilson’s Drumsticks“), Danny and the Elegants did a live Saturday night audition for George Mihalos at Hollywood Park.  Hollywood Park, we learned, always had two bands playing so there was never a lull in the music – 50 minutes on, fifty minutes off with each band playing three sets per night, 9 PM until 2 AM.  Tommy Vann and the Echoes were playing out that weekend so we were to play opposite some other band.  Our group, Danny and the Elegants was a young group of players, mostly from the Towson area (except for Tommy Thompson, hailing from Rosedale) and all of us had brand spanking new state-of-the-art musical equipment.

When we arrived at Hollywood Park that afternoon to set up, the other group’s equipment was already there. They had played the night before and would play tonight too.  Their equipment was junk!!!  We laughed and jeered at the stuff set up on the stage, amps and drums that looked as if they had been through a war!  Did that stuff even work?  No wonder Mihalos was looking for another band! Chuckling from time to time, we set up our new equipment on the stage, giving a wide berth to the other bands gig stuff, acting as if it might be contagious.  We left the “Park” in a good mood, looking forward to the night to come.

Danny & the Elegants -  in August of 1965Danny & the Elegants as we auditioned at Hollywood Park

As the auditioning band that night, we played first.  The other band wasn’t there as we began to play. It was a decent first set, for us. Then the other group took the stage;  It was a group that somehow, as an inexperienced nightclub band, we had never heard of – all black guys except for a white tenor sax player.  Yep – you guessed it.  THE VAN DYKES!!!!!!  I was personally so transfixed by the magnificent sound that came off that stage when they kicked off their first set that I didn’t notice any of the other Elegants.  For my own part, my mouth hung open, I no doubt drooled, and to sum it up, could hardly believe my ears!  Totally chagrined, we, the Elegants went up for our 2nd set. At that point, I felt embarrassed because of our brand-new amps and guitars.  We did well as we could but, well – com’on – THE VAN DYKES!  Really now.

The Van DykesThe Van Dykes

Roland Gannon Memorial

September 11, 2009

The following information comes from Woody (Elwood) Schneider, bass with the Nomads, regarding the recent passing of their lead guitar, Roland Gannon.

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Hey folks,

Just got the information on the memorial service for Roland Gannon (lead guitar Nomads). Shawn Gannon called me late last night and related information as follows:

  • Roland Gannon Memorial Service
  • September 19th / 2:30 p.m.
  • Epping Forrest Clubhouse
  • 354 Severn Road
  • Annapolis, MD 21401

According to Shawn, there is no phone number for the clubhouse since, it is a rental building on the Severn River.

Don, can you put this out to R&B Jam people list since I’m sure I don’t know all the people who knew Roland. Roland worked at Fred Walkers (remember that) and Yeager’s music stores and I know he knew a lot of musicians. A picture of a 2009 Memorial Day reunion is attached.

Thank you all for being Roland’s bandmates and friends.

nomads_04

When Joe Tex was a no show, almost.

September 1, 2009

It was not a Rainy Night in Georgia, but a Foggy Day in Pittsburgh that landed the 1966 Majestics at the then Baltimore Civic Center to back up the likes of Little Stevie Wonder, Solomon Burke, The Marvelletes Percy Sledge, many others while filling in for “Joe Tex and the No Shows.” The Joe Tex Band was to back up the performers in this Motown extravaganza. Unfortunately, their flight was fogged in in Pittsburgh. A quick call from someone (some say DJ Kerby Scott) brought the Majestics in to quickly sub for the Joe Tex Band.

Damn!

“It was snowing and cold in Baltimore,” recalls Majestics tenor sax player Ray DeMoss, remembering good news, bad news. “But we were paid scale!”

I suspect we were called because we could all read music. The show had to be rehearsed, of course, and without the performers, in the afternoon. So we crowded into the ice hockey Baltimore Clippers team dressing room (very bare with cinderblock walls) and rehearsed. Hard.

“We had an endless rehearsal in the locker room,” remembers Majestics trombone player Don Lehnhoff, who some forty years later would become the maestro behind the Baltimore Jams and this very blog. “Little Stevie Wonder’s ‘handler’ was standing in for him.”

Everyone knows that any band can sound good in an empty room with cinderblock walls. We sounded better then good. We sounded great. The promoters were happy. We were happy.

Show time.

“The sound system consisted of only a couple of speakers,” recalls bass player Duke Gore, a professional soundman even today. “The Civic Center people set up eight or 10 mics across the front of the stage and piped us through the scoreboard horn array. I don’t remember any monitors.”

We used our own amplifiers. Needless to say, in the expanse of the Civic Center we sounded about one inch tall. About as tall as we must have looked from the nose bleed section 313, row xx. And we looked very white.  We were the only white faces there.

We tried our best. But I recall at one point early in the show the MC said: “How about a hand for the band!” A polite but decided stream of booos issued from the dark.

Performers came and went. We did our best, but it was all sliding downhill. Then came some disasters.  Some repeats were missed. We had a ragged start and finish on some tune. We were dead tired.

Then came Stevie Wonder, still called “Little.”

Little Stevie Wonder in 1966

Little Stevie Wonder in 1966

“Little Stevie Wonder stumbled over my amp when he came to the piano to play ‘With A Child’s Heart’,” says Duke. “I had to stand behind him because my music was on the piano.”

As Duke stood reading his music on Little Stevie Wonder’s piano’s music stand, LSW rocked his head back and forth, as he and Ray Charles were wont to do, and in the breeze the music (which LSW didn’t need) floated off and sailed, sinking toward the stage floor, floating left, right, left, right. And Duke watched it all the way to the floor, looking left, right, left, right…never missing a note.

“Little Stevie Wonder was absolutely fabulous on ‘Fingertips’,” remembers Ray.

Then, my upper lip started to bleed. I had pushed a little too hard in rehearsal and now, in reaching for some of those screeching notes that were meant for Joe Tex’s lead trumpet player, a cut had opened.

I suspect there were other disasters and great successes, but they have faded into the recesses of my memory. But, what will always stand out was what happened on the last song.

We had made it through. A marathon. An ordeal. Don, Ray and I were playing the finale chorus on the last song…a driving horn lick that went dat dat daaa, dat dat daa tada ….dat dat daaa, dat dat daa tada.. daaa…. and we still sounded about ‘this big.” Until, suddenly, there was a ground swell of volume and a great lifting of energy. We sounded like 10 horns!  We sounded great!

“I’ll never forget when the Joe Tex band started playing behind us,” says Duke. “At first I didn’t know they were there, and I wondered why the horns suddenly sounded so much bigger.”

Joe Tex’s band had just finally arrived, just in time for the last chorus of the last tune, and had come on stage in their street clothes—playing, blasting, blaring that final chorus along with us.

It sounded great. We were jammin’ with Joe Tex. The audience cheered. We were great.

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