Monday, November 7, 2011

November 7, 1965: Dick Clark's Caravan Of Stars, Municipal Auditorium, Nashville, TN (Paul Revere/The Byrds/We Five)

Mr. Tambourine Man-The Byrds, 1965, Columbia Records
Although this blog plans to explore the history of the modern rock concert after 1966 in all its permutations, it's worth taking a moment to step back and see what prehistoric rock concerts were like. We think of a rock concert as a loud event that tries to present musical artists in their best and most exciting light, in a unique and authentic performance that is different than any other, even on the same tour. It wasn't always like that.

In 1965, one of the principal rock concert attractions was "Dick Clark's Caravan Of Stars." Clark, host of ABC-TVs American Bandstand, would tour America with a busload of rock musicians. It was a Greyhound Bus, too, not some elite motor coach. They mostly played lesser venues in cities far from the major musical capitals. This Fall 1965 version of the Caravan included Paul Revere and The Raiders, The Byrds, The We Five, Bo Diddley, The Results, Dale Wright and The Men Of Action and Soul, Inc. A few local acts probably filled out the bill.

Every band probably did 10-20 minutes. Songs were short in those days, so even the headliners could probably get in 7 or 8, if they did a medley or something. Dick Clark and/or some local Nashville DJ's probably provided some between song patter, just like AM radio. The crowd was probably mostly under 18, probably way under 18 for the most part.

None of the bands would have brought their own equipment, save for electric guitars and the like. They would have been plugged into a "house" sound system, probably about three amplifiers. The amps were probably rented, too, so musicians could hardly make a decision about whether they preferred Fender or Sunn. The vocals were probably run through the auditorium sound system, the same one they used for basketball games or beauty pageants. There would have been no means or even concept that the vocals needed to be "mixed" with the amplified guitars. There wouldn't have been any onstage monitors, so a musician on the right or left side of the stage had to guess what else was going on. Perhaps there was one microphone for the drums (run through the PA), but often as not the drummer simply had to play as loud as he could, with no amplification at all.

For a group as popular as the Byrds or Paul Revere and The Raiders, the feeble sound system may not have mattered, since it was de riguer for girls to scream throughout the entire show. In many ways, a 1965 rock show was little different than the circus, with a parade of acts briefly flashing their wares before being moved off for the next batch of animals. It's easy to laugh now at the seriousness of Fillmore musicians, feet planted, staring fixedly at their hands as they hammer away on their guitars, but it was all in reaction to performances like Dick Clark's Caravan Of Stars.

Nothing is really known to me specifically about the Nashville Caravan show, but it was probably pretty much the same as all the others. They had already played Louisville, KY (Nov 5) and Chicago (6), and would go on to play Rome, GA (8), Murfreesboro, TN (9), Florence, AL (10) and then 17 more shows, ending in White Plains, NY. All told, the Caravan played 23 shows in 24 days. For this post I can only do a brief overview of some of the bands on Dick Clark's Caravan Of Stars, to give a whiff of what rock concerts were like before the world changed.

Paul Revere And The Raiders, the headline act, were originally from Boise, ID, and first became popular in the Pacific Northwest. They played a sort of hard-driving mix of rock and rhythm and blues. Their name was supposed to inspire fans with the idea that the Raiders were "warning"  American teens about the British Invasion, led by the Beatles and Roling Stones. By 1965, the Raiders appeared almost every weekday on a Dick Clark TV show, Where The Action Is, miming their hits and other songs.

Although Paul Revere and The Raiders were hugely popular due to TV, and were extremely corny in that they wore pseudo-Revolutionary War garb with Tri-Corner hats, they were actually a real kick-ass band both live and in the studio. Rock history has dismissed them as a TV concoction who did dance steps while they played (harder than it sounds) and wore silly costumes, but songs like "Kicks" and "Hungry" were pop classics. They were produced by Terry Melcher, the son of Doris Day.

The Byrds were also produced by Terry Melcher, and they were on Columbia along with the Riaders. They had recently hit it big with "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Turn Turn Turn" and they heralded the coming folk-rock boom, which has aged much better than tri-corner hats. The Byrds did not like riding on the Greyhoud Bus with the other bands, since they wanted to smoke pot, so they rented an RV and followed the bus. David Crosby and Chris Hillman drove, while Roger McGuinn rigged up a tape player to blast Coltrane and Ravi Shankar as they rolled across the land.

The We Five had just had a big hit with "You Were On My Mind." The group had nice folk-rock harmonies, featuring singer Beverly Bivens and Mike Stewart (John Stewart's brother), and arranged by Bob Jones. They were all good musicians, but most of the We Five faded away from the professional music scene after the band broke up in 1967, except for Jones, who became Mike Bloomfield's drummer (not a typo) and continues to record and perform today.

Bo Diddley (1928-2008) had been a big star in the 1950s and had faded some, but bands like the Rolling Stones and The Animals had revived his career, among the first of many African American musicians who would be indebted to the British appreciation for American musical roots.

The rest of the acts were just filler. According to Chris Hjort's exceptional chronology of The Byrds, So You Want To Be A Rock "N" Roll Star (Jawbone Books 2008), The Results featured two female singers from Clark's Cincinatti office.

In the 1950s and 60s, and even into the early 70s, buses full of musicians toured the country, grinding out hits to fidgety teenagers, mostly inaudible and guaranteed to be presented as trivial. Rock music meant something else to people than just entertainment, and rock music in person could be a powerful event, like the symphony or John Coltrane, not like Barnum & Bailey, and trivial "teen" events didn't do them justice. Events like Dick Clark's Caravan Of Stars were ananchronisms by 1966, and few people remember them now, and rightly so. Another world was waiting to appear, and it would appear a few months later.

Coda
Paul Revere and The Raiders had hits until 1971 (who can forget "Indian Reservation?"), but after some ups and downs they continue to perform today. The Byrds lasted until 1973, but their influence went far beyond their record sales, with both David Crosby as a member of CSNY and the Sweetheart Of The Rodeo album opening the door to the Eagles and country-rock in general. The We Five are unfairly forgotten, but that's what happens to bands who stay off the oldies circuit. Ex-guitarist-now-drummer Bob Jones is back in Hawaii, however, and he's still laying it down funky and playing it clean. Bo Diddley kept on rocking until the very end, immortalized with the phrase "Bo Diddley beat."

Anyone with additional knowledge, corrections, insights or recovered memories (real or imagined) about this show is encouraged to Comment or email me.

1 comment:

  1. I was 12 when I saw the show in Rome, Ga, at the city auditorium. My mother took me. I don't recall much about it other than there was considerable screaming for the Raiders. I think I had a thing for Beverly of the We 5. At the time I wondered who Bo Diddley was and why was he there, little did I know.

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