Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Night Beats rocked U. P. fans

The Night Beats rocked the Upper Peninsula in the early 1960s. Members included, from left, J. D. Renny, Dave Barton, Gary Myers and Joe Arkansas.


What was it like touring with a rock 'n' roll band in the early 1960s?

Gary E. Myers can tell you. He performed in the Upper Peninsula in those days with two musical acts, and kept track of the dates.

A drummer, Myers was a member of the Night Beats, and later played with the Darnells, a Milwaukee-based group which recorded a version of Gene Vincent's "She, She Little Sheila."

The bands played venues in Sault Ste. Marie, Marquette and Ishpeming in the era when John F. Kennedy was president of the United States and pop music was dominated by Elvis, Dion, Brenda Lee, the Four Seasons and the Beach Boys.

The Night Beats actually originated far from the remote locales of northern Michigan. Although he was born in Milwaukee in 1942, Myers moved to Bradenton, Fla., when his father retired. At age 17, he began to find drumming gigs, first with a band called the Swinging Saints, which included Dickey Betts, who later found fame in the Allman Brothers Band.

In St. Petersburg, Myers took a six-nights a week club gig with the Night Beats. When the group signed with Milwaukee booking agent ACA (Artists Corporation of America), Myers found himself on the road in the midwest, beginning in early 1962.

The Night Beats were led by Joe Hudspeth, a colorful rhythm guitarist nicknamed "Joe Arkansas" in reference to the state where he was born. In addition to Myers, the other band members included J. D. Renney on lead guitar and Dave Barton on bass.

"All of us sang, but none of us knew anything back then," Myers recalled.

After playing a few weeks at the tour's first stop in Madison, the Night Beats drove to Sault Ste. Marie where they performed at the Delmar Hotel, 227 Ashmun St., from Feb. 25 to Mar. 11, according to Myers. A return engagement to the eastern U. P. followed during the summer, after which the Night Beats appeared at the Hollywood Supper Club in Spread Eagle, Wis., just across the border from Iron Mountain.

On July 29, 1962, the day after the Wisconsin gig ended, the Night Beats entertained at the Venice Nite Club & Pizzeria, 113 N. 2nd St. in Ishpeming, during a week-long job.

In the months after the Venice gig, the Night Beats picked-up Milwaukee guitar player Denny King when his group, the Darnells, broke-up. The Night Beats then returned to Ishpeming for another stay, this time from Nov. 12 to Dec. 9, 1962.

Less than two months later, the Night Beats were performing shows at Marquette's Clifton Hotel, during a three week engagement beginning on Feb. 4, 1963.

King's tenure with the Night Beats was brief, however. In the period after the Marquette show, King and Myers left the group to re-form the Darnells.

With Joe Arkansas remaining at the helm, the Night Beats hired drummer Roger Dault, who had worked with the band in Bradenton, and continued on as a trio.

The new version of the Darnells found employment quickly, appearing at the Clifton Hotel from Mar. 18, 1963 to the end of the month.

During the summer of 1963, the Darnells left for Los Angeles where they recorded two instrumentals, "Spooner" and "Sleepy," which were released as a single on the Tide label in September.

The Darnells returned to northern Michigan in the fall when they performed at Gigs Gagliardi's Roosevelt Bar in Ishpeming from Oct. 1 - 28, 1963.

Released on the Tide label, the Darnells' 45 rpm record received some Upper Peninsula notoriety. "I was in Ishpeming the only time I've heard one of my records on the air. The Darnells had just returned to the midwest from southern California and an Ishpeming disc jockey liked our record, 'Spooner,' and used it to open his show for a while," Myers remembered.

By the early 1960s, the Roosevelt Bar, 206 W. Division St., had became infamous as the hangout for folks who were involved in the filming of the 1959 drama "Anatomy of a Murder." Producer/ director Otto Preminger hosted a birthday party for Duke Ellington there when the jazz great was on location composing the movie soundtrack.

Musicians playing at the Roosevelt were offered sleeping rooms upstairs. Myers remembers writing his name on the ceiling with the soot from a lighted candle, along with a couple of other band members and imagining future performers looking up to realize who had preceded them.

While Myers was playing at the Roosevelt, rival band Dave Kennedy and the Ambassadors, a combo from LaCrosse, Wis., were performing at the Venice. Myers and Kennedy were also competitors offstage as each dated the same Green Bay girl for a few months. Myers related to me that Kennedy failed show up on stage for one Ishpeming gig because his fellow band members locked him in a closet when he became too drunk to play. The Ambassadors did that show without their leader.

Ishpeming resident Jim DeCaire, founder of the musical comedy group Da Yoopers, has fond memories of Joe Arkansas and the Night Beats appearing at the Roosevelt. DeCaire recalled the band playing material by Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent, two influential American singers and guitarists. "Dirty rock 'n' roll," was how DeCaire described the songs, as opposed to the white bread, Pat Boone-type material which other groups might perform.

DeCaire and his buddies were too young to get into the Roosevelt, so they had to listen to the music through the building's open windows from their car parked in the alley. Those underage rock 'n' roll fans likely heard the band perform "Say Mama," which Vincent and his Bluecaps popularized during concerts in the upper midwest with Cochran. Bands covering Cochran, who died in a 1960 car accident in England which also injured Vincent, would almost certainly perform "Summertime Blues."

Arkansas also dressed for his frontman role and was often clad entirely in white, DeCaire remembered.

In the mid 1980s, when DeCaire formed a band, he decided to pay tribute to Arkansas by naming the new group after him. DeCaire called Arkansas, who owned a bar in Des Moines, and got permission to use the name. The Joe Arkansas Band then released "Yoopanese" on cassette in 1985. Shortly after, a cousin of DeCaire's persuaded him to change the name to more accurately reflect the regional nature of the music. DeCaire came up with "Da Yoopers," a moniker now widely recognized.

Myers, meanwhile, continued in music, releasing a solo 45, "Poor Little Baby" backed with "If (You'd Only Be Mine)," in November, 1963. He was also a member of Milwaukee's Mojo Men. Myers played in numerous Wisconsin and California bands, as well as gigging in Las Vegas, Reno and Lake Tahoe, until he left full-time performing in 1982. In a lengthy music career, Myers played pop, rock, jazz and country utilizing a variety of instruments, including guitar, bass, vibes, keyboards and drums. Over the years, he backed many name artists including Chuck Berry, Del Shannon, Gene Pitney, Johnny Tillotson, Mary Wells, Tommy Roe and others.

In recent years, he's written "Do You Hear That Beat?" and "On That Wisconsin Beat." The exhaustively researched books contain everything you'd want to know about Wisconsin music in the 1950s and 1960s, including band biographies, discographies, photographs and trivia enough to satisfy any music fan. Numerous Upper Peninsula groups which recorded for Badger State labels are also included.

Today, Myers lives in Downey, Cal., and continues to play music on a part-time basis.

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