Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The '70's Pop Fest

I will admit to being baffled throughout most of the '70's Pop Fest held at The Arcada Theatre last Friday Night (August 28th)    

For starters, two of bubblegum music's best known acts, The Ohio Express and The 1910 Fruitgum Company would be "book-ending" the show ... and all of their hits came from the '60's.    

The Ohio Express, helmed by Joey Levine on lead vocals, scored five National Top 40 Hits between 1967 and 1969 including "Beg, Borrow And Steal (#23, 1967);"Yummy Yummy Yummy" (#4, 1968);"Down At Lulu's" (#19, 1968), "Chewy Chewy" (#8, 1968) and "Mercy" (#26,1969.)   Joey has been long gone from the music scene, however, leaving Drummer Tim Corwin as the only original member of the band on stage that night ... but the rest of the group was rounded out by (according to their own hype): Guy Hoffman, Bass and Vocals; John Baker, Lead Guitar and Vocals, Jeff Burgess, Keyboards and Vocals, Warren Sawyer, Keyboards, Lead Guitar, and Vocals and, last but not least, Brad Herring on Drums.  The group opened with "Beg, Borrow And Steal", a track built around a "Louie-Louie" sounding riff, that we featured the other day in Forgotten Hits.  (The original release of this track was by a group called The Rare Breed in 1966, but the identical recording was credited to The Ohio Express a year later just before the group signed their bubblegum deal with Buddah Records.)  Overall, the group had a pleasant enough sound (although they never did one of MY favorites, "Down At Lulu's") ... instead the set was peppered with remakes and B-Sides as well as a recently recorded track released in Europe where the band is treated more favorably as opposed to here in The States where there doesn't seem to be ANY place for this music on today's musical landscape.  Seeing The Ohio Express do a faithful version of Spirit's "I Got A Line On You" was one of the highlights for me during their set ... and Corwin does a formidable job of handling the lead vocals today, preserving the original sound of the band with a little extra added "kick" here and there to keep them sounding very contemporary.

Tim Corwin of The Ohio Express ... 
I absolutely LOVE that jacket!!!

The Ohio Express in action
The 1910 Fruitgum Company clossd the show by performing some of their biggest hits ("Indian Giver", #5, 1969), "1, 2, 3 Red Light", #5, 1968, and "Simon Says", #4, 1968), while also ignoring oher legitimate known hits like "May I Take A Giant Step" (#63, 1968), "Goody Goody Gumdrops (#37, 1968), "Special Delivery" (#38, 1969) and "The Train" (#57, 1969), preferring instead to present "cover versions" of many of the other hits of the day.  (At one point I thought they were doing a Tribute To The Happy Together Tour" when they presented "Kicks","Midnight Confessions", "She'd Rather Be With Me" and "Happy Together" in rapid succession.  (Truth be told, I thought The 1910 Fruitgum Company performed "She'd Rather Be With Me" better than The Turtles did with their rushed, "can't wait to get off the stage or we might go over 13 minutes" arrangement presented at the Bolingbrook Show a few weeks ago.  I've know Frank Jeckell, original 1910 guitarist, for many years now through Forgotten Hits and have, at various time, also talked with original 1910 drummer Floyd Marcus (no longer with the group) and long-time vocalist Mick Mansueto, who handled a fair amount of the lead vocals Friday Night.  After the show Frank confided in me that this was the first time he had played in Chicago since 1968!!!  Hard to believe, but back then The 1910 Fruitgum Company was touring with some of the very biggest acts on the planet so a Chicago stop-over was bound to happen.  Once the hits stopped, so did the offers ... so I was especially pleased to see him make his return visit ... even if it was some 47 years later!!!  They performed a solid set of hits and covers.

Frank Jeckell ... and Mick Mansueto 
of The 1910 Fruitgum Company 

The middle set was perhaps the most confusing of all.  Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods were booked as the headliners of the show, yet were lumped together in the middle set with Looking Glass vocalist Elliot Lurie and Kyle Vincent, listed as "formerly of The Bay City Rollers" ... yet he was not an original member.  To help add to the confusion, Donaldson didn't sing ANY of his own hits at all ... Vincent took the leads on both "Who Do You Think You Are" and "Billy, Don't Be A Hero", both performed to near perfection on stage.  Vincent also did a couple of Bay City Rollers songs that he originally had absolutely NOTHING to do with ... "I Only Want To Be With You" (their rocked-up remake of the Dusty Springfield tune) and "Saturday Night", the break-through song for the band, which had the whole crowd up on their feet singing along and screaming for mpre.  In between we were treated to a bunch of other songs that seemingly had no relationship whatsoever to the three named artists currently on stage (although "The Heartbreak Kid" WAS a minor hit for Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods and "The Night Chicago Died" was written by the same folks who gave us "Billy Don't Be A Hero" and was, at the time, covered by Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods.)  Kyle (who looks a little bit like Andy Kim did back in the day) also covered Andy's big hit "Rock Me Gently".

 Bo Donaldson

Confused yet?  Well, we certainly were!!!  In fact, when Kyle Vincent sang the opening line to the Bo Donaldson hit "Who Do You Think You Are" ... "Who am I?" ... I couldn't help but wonder aloud the very same thing ... "Who the heck WAS this guy and why was he signing all the Bo Donaldson leads as well as The Bay City Rollers tunes?!?!?"
I quickly checked his website which bears the clever opening comment "You're either here because your'e a new fan reading up on my past to get some insight, a stalker trying to decipher a code that instructs you on what to do next you on what to do next, an old fan seeing if there’s anything new to be known or you're a journalist who doesn't rely on Wikipedia for your backgroud.  Good for you.  No matter what brought you here, welcome!"  

 Kyle Vincent

However, from there, he really doesn't tell you much! 

While there's plenty of name-dropping going on (Clive Davis, Barry Manilow, Kim Fowley and more) there is absolutely NO mention of The Bay City Rollers anywhere on his site.  Now I'll grant you this ...he's got a GREAT rock and roll voice and kept us thoroughly entertained throughout the show ... and he LOOKS like a '70's rocker (but hey, so did I back in the day ... 

... So, with very little help from Kyle himself, (and against my better judgment) I had no choice but to resort to a Wikipedia search just to see what came up.  
Once again, I couldn't find any direct ties to The Bay City Rollers ... but he HAS played with just about everybody involved in '70's and '80's rock.  The list of "who's who" is really quite amazing ... and contains Bryan Adams, Gerry Beckley of America, The Cowsills, Ron Dante, Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods, Amy Grant, The Guess Who, Robert Lamm of Chicago, Corey Hart, Barry Manilow, Ziggy Marley, Richard Marx,Sister Hazel, Rick Springfield, The Ventures, Dennis Tufano, Survivor's Jimi Jamison, 10,000 Maniacs, Donald Byrd and many, many more. So clearly this guy has been around in any variety of capacity working with some of the biggest names in the biz.  (In fact, you'll find that most of the "name" acts shown above provided background assistance in Kyle's own ventures. rather than the other way around ... which tells me he's very highly thought of within the industry ... and, like I said, is one of the best singer / performers we've seen in a long, long time.)  Maybe after he sees our review he will drop us a note and better fill us in on his very impressive background ... and tell us why HE was singing all of Bo Donaldson's hits instead of Bo doing them himself!!!     

Lastly, I would be completely remiss if I didn't single out Elliot Lurie of Looking Glass.  Elliot has been away from the scene for a little while ... but has not lost one iota of talent in the process.  Having written and sang two of our favorite hits from the 1970's, "Brandy" and "Jimmy Loves Mary-Anne" ... and possessing one of the most unique and distinctive voices in all of rock and roll (seriously, I can't think of another single person who sounds ANYTHING like him!), I couldn't help but wonder what he's been doing with himself these past 40-something years!  However there is absolutely no update information (or contact information) to be found on his website, allowing him (I guess) to continue to lead the life of mystery.)  I can only assure you that his vocal chops were well in force on Friday night. (Elliot - again, if you see this, please contact me so we can give our readers an update!)  Frannie talked to him after the show, complimented him on his set and told him how we had just  recently watched a video of Looking Glass performing "Brandy" and how his "hair was down to there ... and your shirt was open down to there ..." ... got a good laugh from Elliot who seemed to genuinely appreciate the warm welcome he received at The Arcada Theatre.

 Elliot Lurie

Admittedly, the crowd was sparce at best.  (I swear that in the past I've seen longer lines for the Men's Room than those occupying seats Friday Night at The Arcada Theatre for the '70's Pop Fest) ... but 'though small in number, they roared and sounded ten-fold larger every time a new hit was performed from the stage.  Host Scott MacKay of The River (one of Chicago's 47 Classic Rock Stations) went against type and admitted his own guilty pleasure of his love for this '70's Bubblegum Music ... and Scott's wife Suzie barely sat down the whole evening as she danced the night away to the pop sounds coming from the stage.  The folks that were there LOVED it and showed their joy and appreciation throughout the performance.  Most of the acts came out afterwards for a meet-and-greet in the lobby, hawking their wares for the fans, and we got to talk to quite a few of them after the show.  The one point that was clear in EVERYBODY'S mind ... audience and performers alike had a REAL good time reliving this music from all of our lives.  It was "feel good" music at its finest and I can't help but feel that adding a couple more Bubble Gum Royalty Acts to the line-up might not make it even better.  Our Forgotten Hits Buddies Ron Dante (The Archies) and Tommy Roe (the King of Bubble Gum with hits like "Shelia", "Hooray For Hazel" and "Dizzy") immediately come to mind ... and would put this thing over the top should they consider a return performance.  The crowd LOVED it ... and it looked like each and every performer felt the same way.  (kk)

 Me and Frank Jeckell,
cooling off outside after the show

Very special thanks to Luciano Bilotti for all the great photos.  (Tim Corwin shot from The Ohio Express website; kk 16 Magazine shot from The60sShop archives collection)