A proto-tribute band from Ohio pulls some Irish wool over our eyes in 1969
A band from Belfast, Ireland named “Them” with its intense and gifted vocalist Van Morrison released as the B-side to their first recorded single in 1964, “Gloria,” a tune written by Morrison. The song when released in America was not at first a hit on American radio, but it did go on to become a major rock ‘n’ roll standard soon to be covered by just about every garage band in America, including most of Spokane’s rock bands in the late sixties and beyond. Spokane art rock band Pearce Arrow memorably did a rendition of Gloria at the first of two Grotto Benefit dances for the underground newspaper, the Spokane Natural, in late January 1969. Vividly, the bands leader, arranger, and keyboardist Currier added in a bridge featuring the riff and lyrics for the Catholic hymn, Gloria In Excelsis Deo.
As for the lads from Belfast, Them soon after releasing a series of singles became a hit band in England. But early on Them and Morrison went through tumultuous times regarding management, money and personality differences, as often happens in a band that rises to the top swiftly. After the band broke up, Morrison and bassist Alan Henderson finished out the bands recording contracts early in 1966. Then Morrison left for New York to begin his solo career. By late 1967, Henderson, who had retained the name Them for his band, moved to Los Angeles to play and record with Kenny McDowell, Jim Armstrong and Dave Harvey. While in LA the band recorded Time Out! Time In For Them, a slightly psychedelic collection of songs. The band appeared at various venues including a May 1968 event with the Incredible String Band in LA, and in August with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention in Chicago, to back up the LP’s release. The album failed to chart any singles, and the band broke up. In 1969 Henderson tried again to create a hit LP hiring A-list studio musicians to fill in for a band. These musicians included Jerry Cole, John Stark, Ry Cooder, Mark Creamer, and producer/composer Jack Nitzsche.
Spokane’s brand new Tiffany’s Family Skate Center, a roller skating rink built across the street from Spokane’s Memorial Coliseum by Dick Robertson, also included a stage and small dressing room along the north side wall with the intention of using the skating area for teen dances at night. Robertson had promoted teen dances in Spokane early in the sixties holding them at the Memorial Coliseum before he moved on to the Puget Sound area. What was about to happen appears as a bit of foreshadowing over the rock ‘n’ roll entertainment business even today with dozens of impersonators and tribute bands rolling through every town.
In June of 1969 the band “Them” was booked for an appearance at Tiffany’s. A Spokane Natural writer named Rich went down to the rink the day of the appearance to get an interview with the band. Rich soon learned that the band hires locals to open the show based on the quality of their sound system. Spokane’s Locksley Hall was hired for the gig, and Rich found their equipment set up on stage early in the afternoon. According to one of Them’s band members that Rich interviewed, the touring musicians bring along guitars, but no other equipment, plugging into the local’s sound system to play.
Rich recorded the names of the musicians that were playing under the band name Them: Barry Hayden, vocals; Michael Shortland, guitar; Billy Carroll, drums; and Alan Henderson on bass. Rich notes that Henderson was the only musician from the original band.
However, the musicians names do not match the names of the musicians Henderson was currently playing with, that is Ry Cooder, Mark Creamer, or Jack Nitzsche. The drummer, Carroll, in previous years sang vocals for an Ohio rock band, Fifth Order, recording some folk/rock songs for Counterpart Records. Vocalist Hayden sang in an Ohio band called Dantes. When Fifth Order broke up in late 1967, Carroll went back to playing drums, and, hooking up with Hayden, formed a new band. More than likely the musicians that appeared at Tiffany’s was not Them. The real Henderson was struggling to record a hit album with his studio musicians band, not out touring on the cheap without a sound system making appearances at places such as a Spokane roller-skating rink.
What had happened here? It seems some desperate musicians organized a tour of sorts playing at small venues around the country, bringing along only some guitars, hiring local bands to provide the sound system, and advertising themselves as a band that the locals would not recognize anyway. Knock out the chords, sing the songs that a British invasion band would sing, like Gloria, collect the cash and get out of town. Probably not the first time it happened and probably not the last. If anything, Hayden and Carroll could have advertised as a Them tribute band and let it go at that. But, except for Sha Na Na, tribute bands had not been invented yet. Now we have numerous Elvis impersonators, ACDC, Led Zepplin, Beatle and KISS tribute bands playing note for note all the songs on the original band’s playlists. This says a lot about the difficulty of being an original and writing your own tunes as Van Morrison does so well. Henderson wasn’t able to generate another hit with such studio luminaries as Ry Cooder and Jack Nitzsche. Turns out rock ‘n’ roll is a lot harder than it looks.
Rich. “Natural Interview With Them.” Spokane Natural Vol. 3, No.15, 18 July, 1969: 7.
“All The Heads In The World.” Spokane Natural. Vol. 3, No. 3. January 31 – February 13, 1969: 8-9.
Carroll, Bill.“Buckeye Beat: Fifth Order.” http://www.buckeyebeat.com/fifthorder.html. 29 December 2012.
Jack Kendall interview, Spokane, 29 December, 2012.
“The Dantes.” http://www.myspace.com/theoriginaldantes. 29 December 2012.
Warburton, Nick “Them” http://www.garagehangover.com/them/. 29 December 2012.
Copyright © Robert G. Schoenberg 2012