The Barbarians Are Coming!

The Barbarians Are Coming!

March 1964. Midnight. Heading home. ‘55 Chevy ragtop. Cold outside. Cold inside. Heat’s on high. Radio tuned to WBZ. Dick Summer’s playing “I Saw Her Standing There.” My life changed.

The Beatles had debuted on The Ed Sullivan Show a month before, invaded the US, topped the Billboard charts with two albums and went on to pack Shea Stadium in August ’65. A new look, a new sound and the fans went wild. When John Lennon said that the band was “bigger than Jesus“ in March ’66, everyone went wild. Until the Fab Four came along, music to me meant Elvis, Chuck Berry, Duane Eddy and The Ventures (and what was cooler than Del Shannon’s “Runaway”?). Bob Dylan sang “The Times They Are a-Changin’” and he was right.

I had a guitar and an amp, both ordered from the Sears catalogue. A Silvertone guitar by Danelectro. Not bad. A Silvertone amp. Pretty bad since the volume at 10 sounded the same as at 1. I jammed with friends in my garage. A true garage band. We weren’t good, but we loved it.

I graduated from Provincetown High School. Class of ‘64. “Footsteps in the sands of time” was our motto. Quite prophetic, considering where we lived. I was accepted at UMass Amherst for the fall semester. Life was getting serious. What to do now? Back to my summer job at Ho Jo’s in P town. I helped man the soda fountain. All the 3D burgers and ice cream you could eat. Clean up after closing, share the tips and head “downstreet.”

Victor Moulton, known as Moulty, worked in the kitchen washing dishes and we became friends. A few years earlier, during a failed pyrotechnics experiment, he’d lost his left hand below the elbow. He’d had an “accident.” He sure did. He blew his hand off. A photo in his wallet showed his mangled, surgically draped hand. Now he had a hook. With a notch in the end of a drumstick he could play the drums. Moulty had rhythm and a nice kit. He also had hair, and lots of it. After work we could go to Victor’s Restaurant on Bradford Street and play music.

Moulty wasn’t shy and loved a gag. One time, he was sitting in a coffee shop having a coffee and donut. Some guy sat next to him, doing the same. Moulty said, “Mind if I dunk?“ “Not at all,” was the reply. The guy got part of Moulty’s donut in his coffee. In later years, Moulty shook more than one well-dressed record promoter’s hand with his only hand while straightening the guy’s tie with his hook.

One set of drums, one Silvertone guitar and one crummy amp. Sick of ice cream, sick of dishes and the beat goes on. The Rumpus Room was a beach bar in town. Down the alley, attached to The Old Colony Tap. Four walls, wrap-around windows, right on the beach. A bar, a stage and a dance floor. Lenny Enos, known as “Lenny Blue,” owned and ran the place and said if we had a band, he’d give us try. Jerry Causi was in town, recently discharged from the Coast Guard. He had a Gibson bass, an Ampeg amp and could play and sing. Great, you’re in. Now we’re three. Then Ronnie Enos joined. He could play and sing, had long hair and, most importantly, he was cool. Now we have a band.

Lenny Blue gave us a standing gig at The Rumpus Room. I was still 17, but since I was turning 18 in July, he said it was okay. We’d get a cut of the door and have to carry out the beer cases that were stacked up by the bar after closing. Part of the deal. Great, stack ‘em up. Lenny Blue ran the door. A powerhouse of a man. Short-sleeved white shirt, bar towel around his neck, collecting the gate. A buck to get in. Nobody messed with Lenny Blue. More than one rowdy patron was eased politely or forcibly down the alley and back onto Commercial Street. Take a right, take a left. Didn’t matter. Just get out.

First Rumpus Room show. The place is packed. The alley’s packed. We’re having a ball. Playing music and getting paid. We put a large banner on the wall behind the stage. “The Barbarians,” in huge red letters. Moulty painted his name on his bass drum. We put flyers with “The Barbarians Are Coming!” on practically every car in Provincetown. Causi’s singin’. We’re rockin’. People are dancing. Empty beer cases are stacking up by the side door.

Moulty and I quit our day jobs to dedicate ourselves to rock ‘n’ roll. What a “summer of ‘64” so far. Seven nights a week at The Rumpus Room. We played matinees at the Surf Club less than a block away. We carried our equipment through the streets twice a day, banging cymbals and the bass drum and making as much spectacle as possible. People loved it. More music. More fun.

We were getting some favorable press from local newspapers, too. Walter Chrysler (of automaker fame) owned the Chrysler Art Museum in town and took an interest in our group. How about a night at the museum? Sure. Under his direction, we all bought leather jackets for the gig. Same style, different colors. Quite expensive. I mistakenly thought Walter was paying for them. TV cameras and the press were at the show. Lights, cameras, action. Next thing we know, we’re on the 11:00 news and in The Boston Herald.

At The Rumpus Room that night, not many beer cases got stacked and Lenny Blue was less than pleased. He never hired us again. Anyway, rock on. Labor Day was coming up and somebody knew a guy who knew a guy in New York City. We packed up Jerry’s Pontiac and headed to the Big Apple. By that time, we had a new manager and had signed off large percentages of our future.

At the end of October, we played at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium as part of the concert that became the film TAMI Show (released in December ’64). Ronnie left the band in December, so we needed a new guitar player. Jerry recommended his friend Geoff Morris, who had a Gretsch Country Gentleman, an Echoplex and a Fender Twin Reverb. For his audition, he played some Chet Atkins, Les Paul and the solo from ”Johnny Be Good” (the last one with his guitar behind his head). Geoff, you’re hired.

February 1965. We appeared on Shindig. We had a regional hit record. Off on the rocket ride. A few years later, The Barbarians morphed into Black Pearl. Another blast off ensued.

(by Bruce Benson)

Bruce Benson played guitar in The Barbarians and Black Pearl.

Published On: April 23, 2024