Oscar and the band still 'majestic' after all these years

2012-11-16T00:00:00Z Oscar and the band still 'majestic' after all these yearsTom Lounges Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
November 16, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Oscar Hamod said he enjoyed the many years he spent as Dean of Students and as an educator (teaching Special Education and industrial arts at Thornton Fractional South High School in Lansing, just as younger brother Sam Hamod enjoyed teaching social studies, math and psychology at TF South. But neither could ever fully put behind them the thrill of cranking up amps and rocking a stage to the screams of an audience.

“Rock ‘n’ roll is something that just stays with you,” explained Oscar, who picked up an old acoustic guitar his freshman year at Gary’s Edison High School. “You get older, you move on, you do other things, but the music is always there inside you. It never goes away. It certainly hasn’t for us.”

Those words have proven true for the Gary-born brothers who had spent their wayward youth as half of Oscar & The Majestics, a hard-rocking, soul-influenced, garage-punk quartet who regularly sold out concert halls throughout the greater Midwest during the 1960s.

Liken the blues-edged, guitar-driven sound of Oscar & The Majestics to that of the early Stones, Kinks and The Animals, but with a distinct Chicago attitude and groove. Though they hailed from “da region,” Oscar and his troupe recorded most of their tunes at the legendary Chess Recording Studios in the same studios where Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley rolled tape on their biggest hits.

Their story began when Oscar traded in that old acoustic guitar for an electric model. “It just felt right. I never wanted to put that thing down,” said Hamod, who knew he would never have to, if he could only talk his brothers Sam and Bud into the idea of forming a band.

“First it was the drums for me, but I quickly found I enjoyed playing bass more,” noted Sam. “Our brother Bud (Hamod) played drums for a short time, but he didn’t stay with it like Sam and I did,” added Oscar, who eventually got the group up and rocking with the help of neighborhood pals guitarist Robert Wheeler and drummer Vince Jacim, later replaced by his brother Walt Jacim. Bud Hamod stayed on for a while once the core band was formed, serving as “a utility guy” who added organ, sax and other sounds to some of the group’s early recordings.

High school dances led to a house gig at The Broadway Lounge in Gary (owned by Oscar and Sam’s father), and success with those prompted Oscar to start playing promoter and booked his band gigs at local VFW and American Legion halls, followed by even bigger shows at the Hammond and Valparaiso Armories. Having developed a strong regional fan base, Oscar decided it was time for his band to start making records and booked time at the Sound Stage Studio and later at Universal RCA Studio in Chicago.

During their heyday, Oscar & The Majestics came to record a boatload of songs and released seven official 45rpm singles for a trio of regional labels. First came “Jackie, Jackie” and “Come On Willie” for Hamod’s own imprint, Ark Records, both becoming local Hoosier hits thanks to air play on area radio stations WLTH, WWCA and WJOB. “Come on Willie” became the unofficial school song for Wirt High School since the school’s mascot was “Willie Wirt.” “The kids would all sing the song at the games, because the chorus was ‘Come on Willie!’” recalled Oscar.

Then came a recording deal with Chicago’s USA/Destination Records, which was the first home to such Windy City hit-makers of the day as The Buckinghams and The Cryan Shames. Oscar & The Majestics had expected they would eventually move on to a major label after their stint at the regional USA imprint, just as The Buckinghams had been groomed by USA and later sold to Columbia Records. But USA instead shut down its Chicago operations, leaving Oscar and his boys on their own. Oscar set up his own label once again, this time calling it Soulful Records, which released the group’s final singles.

But a new chapter to the Oscar & The Majestics story began when those old USA/Destination singles were recently re-discovered and re-issued worldwide through the New York archival label, Sundazed Records, which led to Oscar’s group getting a re-boot and an opportunity to rock once again all these years later.

An opportunity the four, still region-based original members – Oscar (lead guitar and lead vocals), Sam (bass and vocals), Walt (drums) and Robert (rhythm guitar and vocals) -- have embraced several times in the last year, most recently before a packed costumed audience for the Michigan City Park Department’s Halloween Bash at the newly renovated Marquette Park Pavilion.

“That was a great night,” reflected Oscar of the recent Halloween Bash. “We used to play Marquette Park Pavilion all the time in the ‘60s and sell it out, but I didn’t know what to expect this time. People came up that I hadn’t seen in years. A lot of the old fans were there and a lot of younger people came and told us they enjoyed the night. It felt wonderful for us to be playing there again.”

Though they now carry AARP cards along with their stage gear, the foursome plan to continue playing shows. The band will rock out again tonight at Northwoods in St. John, playing their old songs and famous covers of the era, with the same vim and vigor they gave audiences decades ago.

“It’s been a real blessing that this happened,” said Oscar of how Sundazed Records through happenstance came to resurrect the band’s career a couple of years ago. “Sundazed specializes in reissuing classic rock songs and bands. They were looking to put together a compilation of garage rock songs and the Midwest was known for its big garage rock scene in the 1960s, so Sundazed made a deal to get the original recordings from the USA/Destination label in Chicago, which had us, The Buckinghams, the Cryan Shames and a lot of other bands who recorded for USA/Destination at the old Chess Recording Studios.”

The end result was “2131 South Michigan Avenue,” a huge collection of songs named for the street address of Chess Studios, featuring two dozen bands that had history and archived songs in the label’s vaults. Among them were Oscar & The Majestics, who had five songs on “2131” (released as a 3-vinyl LP collection as well as a 2 CD set).

“All the other bands had one or two songs on the ‘2131’ compilation, but they really liked us and put five of our songs on it,” said Oscar. “They got a lot of response to our songs on that album and they called and told me they wanted to take those five songs and others we recorded back then and release a full album of our music.” The end result was “No Chance Baby,” a 14-song collection with the title coming from one of Oscar’s personal favorites among the songs he has written. Released in 2011 (on both CD and 12” vinyl formats), “No Chance Baby” features the original 12 singles released by the group between 1964 and 1968, plus a groovy fuzz-tone custom version of the classic, “House Of The Rising Sun,” that languished in the vault for 45 years without ever being released.

 Follow the ongoing rock ‘n’ roll adventures of Oscar & The Majestics online at: www. oscarandthejmajestics .com and on Facebook.

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