Like so many of my generation, a defining, life altering moment in my young life occurred on Feb. 9th, 1964, when Ed Sullivan said, “Let’s give these four lads from Liverpool a warm welcome”… and out stepped our future, The Beatles. This profoundly significant moment set off a chain of musical events like no other in music history. February 9th began what came to be known as the British Invasion, spawning dozens of English bands that landed in America bombarding us with the new sound of Rock and Roll. Sixty-three-year-old Ed Sullivan helped lead the invasion. As the months wore on, every Sunday night Sullivan introduced an English band with cool clothes, long hair, guitars, amps and a uniquely different sound. And the girls went wild!
The impact was immediate and transformational as my friends and I talked, ate, slept and sang these new songs and watched the response that they elicited. It wasn’t long before we decided that this was for us and we started a band. We hardly knew how to begin this adventure. We quickly learned three major chords and wrote songs that we hoped would warrant the same attention as Donovan, Dusty Springfield, The Searchers, The Hollies, Cream, Herman’s Hermits, The Animals, and Gerry and the Pacemakers. One band, much nastier in appearance, much harder and rawer in sound was The Rolling Stones. We were mesmerized and couldn’t take our eyes off of them. We had never seen anything like this before. With each new album that they released, we studied, dissected, devoured, scrutinized, and critiqued their lyrics and the chord changes. We were totally hooked.
By 1965, we were a full-fledged band — The Mods, named after the culture that so swayed us. We started playing the multitude of C.Y.O.’s (Catholic Youth Organizations) that had dances at EVERY parish throughout the South Shore of Boston every Friday and Saturday night as well as armories, ballrooms and high school teen mixers. We were a top 40 band singing and playing those hits on the radio which rocked the airwaves week after week. We played live throughout 1965 and 1966 and became one of the most visible bands in the New England area. We were a great live band, generating a following, filling venues wherever we played, and receiving phenomenal press. Eventually we became popular beyond our wildest dreams. We mirrored what we heard on the radio and what we saw in concert: these bands wrote great songs, had attitude, played hard, wore paisley, bell bottoms and long hair… and so did we.
Around mid-1966 we heard that local promoter, Robert Walker, who would later go on to found the lecture agency The American Program Bureau, was staging a Battle of the Bands. The prize for this musical showdown was an opening spot on The Rolling Stones concert at The Manning Bowl in Lynn, MA on June 24, 1966 in front of 17,000 screaming, music loving, Rolling Stones fans. We had to win; it was our destiny. To get a jump on the competition, we enlisted our large fan base to come to the hockey rink in Walpole where the battle would take place. We stacked the deck in our favor and hoped our strategy would pay off. We knew many of the other bands that would play that night but we felt terrific (actually “groovy”!). We looked great, we sounded great and our fans went crazy …it was awesome. Out of twenty-four local bands, victory was ours!
June 24th couldn’t come fast enough. The day of the Stones concert finally arrived and we began setting up our equipment in front of the band’s massive amps. It was three hours before showtime and we waited impatiently for the doors to open. We were more than prepared to show 17,000 Rolling Stones fans our stuff.
As it was three hours till show time, we needed a place to relax and prepare for the show. With time to kill we were led into a dressing room in the basement of the venue. The room was dark and dirty but had one bright spot… The Rolling Stones. We were sharing the only dressing room with Mick and the gang! Two years earlier we were five kids from the South Shore of Boston dreaming the dream, pursuing the dream and now we were living the dream hanging with Mick, Keith, Bill, Charlie, and Brian…the band that ultimately changed our perception of music, our appearance, our lives, our culture. Three hours of heaven. They were our rock gods but who knew that rock gods came in such small packages. It was a bit shocking. They were so much shorter than we had imagined…but who cared, they were the Stones.
The afternoon whizzed by and soon it was time to play to an enormous crowd of Stones fans. Not an easy task. It was obvious what everyone wanted and who everyone came to see but we played a great set and ultimately won the audience over. It was The Mods’ moment in the sun.
Actually, the rain. It began to drizzle. We quickly struck our equipment and the legendary DJ Arnie “Woo Woo” Ginsburg introduced the Stones. After ten songs and under a threatening sky, rain began to fall and the frenzied audience started to rush the stage. As the barriers were breached the police dropped tear gas to quell the mob. The scene was absolute mayhem. Brian handed me his dulcimer just as they ended “Lady Jane” and the boys immediately rushed from the stage, jumped into waiting vans and sped away.
The event made world headlines. It was an experience that had all five of The Mods walking on air for a long, long time. Without question, the events of that day solidified the direction that I personally wanted to follow — a future in the music industry.
And did I mention the girls!?