American pop culture evolved more during the 1960s than at any other time in history. It’s a decade easily broken down into thirds -- three distinct periods within a 10-year block where popular music and teenage trends changed drastically.
The early years (1960-1963) were mostly an extension of the 1950s, as sweater-wearing pop crooners like Paul Anka, Frankie Avalon and Bobby Vee continued filling the AM radio airwaves. The middle years (1964-early1967) were filled with lovable mop-tops with funny accents and matching suits as the British Invasion re-introduced America to rock ‘n’ roll. The remainder (mid-1967 to 1970) was a time of psychedelic music, hippie culture, rock festivals and political activism.
This weekend, music from the evolutionary years of 1964 through 1970 will be represented as Star Plaza Theatre in Merrillville presents its annual “Salute To The Sixties” concert with performances by The Grass Roots, The Buckinghams and Herman’s Hermits.
“This ‘Salute To The Sixties’ show is nothing but hit after hit from start to finish,” said vocalist Carl Giammarese of The Buckinghams. “It’s a high energy show that has the audience singing along all night. It’s a very family friendly show where we see grandparents, kids and grandkids all together having a good time.”
Helping lead the charge of the "British Invasion" in 1964 was a snaggle-toothed lad of 14 named Peter Blair Denis Bernard Noone, best known as “Herman” all those years ago, when he was sporting schoolboy uniforms and publicly pining for Mrs. Brown’s lovely daughter.
“I was the youngest one of them all. Everyone else was already in their early twenties by 1964,” reflected Noone of when he was rocking the Colonies alongside blokes like John Lennon, Keith Moon, and Keith Richards. “Even the guys in my own group were a few years older than me.” But the age difference did not prevent Noone from hanging with the big boys.
When all was said and done, Herman's Hermits ranked as the fourth best-selling band of the British Invasion behind The Beatles, The Stones and The Dave Clark Five. Ray Davies of The Kinks took advantage of the boy band’s popularity and expanded his own group’s fame by writing the Top 10 hit, "Dandy" for the Hermits. "We made Ray some money with that one," chuckled Noone. “He probably wishes he’d kept it for the Kinks.”
Herman’s Hermits have sold over 50 million records and racked up more than a dozen U.S. hits, including -- "There's A Kind Of Hush," "Can't You Hear The Pounding Of My Heartbeat," “No Milk Today,” "Mrs. Brown You've Got A Lovely Daughter,” “Henry The VIII,” and "I'm Into Something Good.”
Noone enjoyed a second wave of popularity as host of the VH1 cable series, "My Generation” from 1989 to 1993 where he interviewed hundreds of rock stars and pop culture celebs. "It was the No. 1 show on VH1 for four years," said Noone, who later had a recurring role as "Paddington" on the CBS-TV daytime drama, "As The World Turns."
Although now in his mid-60s, Noone has managed to retain all his boyish charm, good looks and that timeless smile, enabling him to still make ladies swoon and chant his name.
As the string of hits for Herman’s Hermits were waning and the British Invasion was coming to an end, a teenage Chicago pop group named The Buckinghams were just kicking their career into high gear.
Although their very name was adopted in tribute to the U.K. bands they were inspired in 1964 after watching the Beatles change history on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” The Buckinghams were among the first American bands to take back the American Top 40 from the Brits. Their rise began in 1966 when The Buckinghams appeared on a hometown WGN-TV program called,” All Time Hits,” and caught the attention of USA Records. Their first single, “Kind Of A Drag,” became a hit on Chicago-based AM radio powerhouse WLS-AM and within a year, The Buckinghams were popular from coast to coast and named “The Most Popular Group in America.”
“That was in 1967,” reflected lead singer/rhythm guitarist and co-founding member Carl Giammarese. “That was the result of a poll put out by one of the big teen magazines of the era. Their readers voted us as their favorite band that year.” No surprise considering The Buckinghams landed five Top 20 radio hits that year with the songs “Kind Of A Drag,” “Don’t You Care,” “Hey Baby (They’re Playing Our Song),” “Susan,” and “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.”
“That was a great year for us,” reflected Giammarese on how the group appeared on all the big music television shows of the day – “Shindig,” “Hullabaloo,” and “American Bandstand.”
When asked about highlights from his five-decades with The Buckinghams, Giammarese sighs loudly. “Man, there have been so many,” he said. “I would say having the top hit ‘Kind of a Drag’ followed by five more consecutive hits was a highlight for sure. We couldn’t believe it. I’ll never forget playing in so many great places and doing ‘The Ed Sullivan Show,’ ‘American Bandstand,’ ‘The Joey Bishop Show,’ and others. We also had the opportunity to meet so many great people like Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Chuck Berry, BB King, Little Richard, The Turtles, and so many others. Perhaps the best highlight of them all is that all these years later I’m still a Buckingham and still singing all the songs and people are still coming to hear them. I never would have dreamt that I would still be doing this all these years later. “
While their chart hits may have stopped a few decades ago, The Buckinghams continue to perform hundreds of live dates each year and have continued to record and release new music over the years. “We do festivals and fairs in the warm weather months and the theatres in the cold weather months,” concluded Giammarese. “One of our favorite places in the world to play has always been the Star Plaza Theatre. We’ve been doing shows there for Charlie and his bunch for a lot of years.”
Opening Saturday’s “Salute To The Sixties” show are The Grass Roots one of the few rock groups of the era who can straddle the “oldies” and “classic rock” radio formats of today.