Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Woolies hit with Diddley classic

The Woolies, hailing from East Lansing,
struck a chord with their rendition of "Who Do
You Love" in 1967 and served as Chuck Berry's
back-up band for numerous shows.


Poised for national success, Michigan rock band the Woolies made a lasting impression with their version of Bo Diddley's classic "Who Do You Love."

Calling East Lansing home, the band was comprised of Stormy Rice (lead vocals), "Boogie" Bob Baldori (keyboards, harmonica), brother Jeff Baldori (guitar) Ron English (bass) Bill "Bee" Metros (drums).

Originally formed in Dearborn in 1964, the Woolies cut a 45 rpm single of Townes Van Zandt's "Black Crow Blues" for the tiny TTP label in 1965, but the record did not take off.

Undeterred, in June 1966, they entered a Vox- sponsored "best band in the land" contest which offered a Hollywood recording contract as a prize, along with set of speakers.

To their delight, the Woolies won.

While their prizes were slow in coming, the band was flown to Los Angeles where they demoed recordings to various record executives.

Lou Adler of the Dunhill label liked what he heard and ushered the Woolies into the studio to record "Who Do You Love" and "Hey Girl," an original tune composed by Rice and Bob Baldini.

"Who Do You Love" was written by Bo Diddley, born Ellas Otha Bates, later McDaniel. That song, coupled with "I'm Bad," was released as Checker 842 by Chess Records in 1956.

The rhythm and blues song refers to African-based hoodoo folk magic, but has no chord changes.

The Woolies newly-recorded songs, clocking in at about two minutes each, were produced by Jill Gibson and Don Altfield for Sunshine Productions.

After the taping session, the group returned to Michigan, opening Russ Gibb's famed Grande Ballroom on Oct. 6, 1966, along with the punk rockers, MC5.

Back in Los Angeles, meanwhile, Dunhill issued single 4052, promoting "Hey Girl" as the hit side.

However, it was the rhythmically-exciting "Who Do You Love" which grabbed the attention of disc jockeys and radio listeners.

"I walked 47 miles of barbed wire, used a cobra for a necktie. Got a brand new house on the roadside, made of rattlesnake hide," vocalist Rice snarled.

A nifty guitar solo is found about halfway though the track adds to the song's appeal.

The recording reached the Top Five at CKLW in Windsor, WKNR in Dearborn and WPAG in Ann Arbor.

"Who Do You Love" also received considerable airplay in Cleveland, Louisville, Toledo, Pittsburgh, Sioux City, Boston and Milwaukee.

Despite the confusion over marketing, or perhaps because of it, the record spent just three weeks on the national chart peaking at No. 95 on March 11, 1967.

The "Who Do You Love" single was issued in Germany, as RCA 9744, complete with a picture sleeve depicting the Woolies and the audience from behind the stage.

Back in the U. S., Dunhill issued a follow-up, "Love Words"/"Duncan & Brady," to no avail.

About this time the Woolies backed Chuck Berry for the first time when the veteran rocker played a club on the north end of Lake Lansing called the Dells.

In this active period, the Woolies moved to East Lansing to attend Michigan State University and became the defacto house band for the growing student movement at campus.

When the Woolies' Dunhill singles failed, vocalist Rice left for a solo career. In April 1968, Ode Records released "Go Now"/"Comin' Down," the only disc under the singer's name. It did not chart.

Still, the Woolies decided to press on without Rice and continued to issue 45s under their own Spirit Records banner.

Multi-instrumentalist Jack "Zocko" Groendahl replaced Rice, while the Baldori brothers assumed vocal duties.

From 1965 to 1974, the Woolies released about a dozen 45 rpm singles. (A 15-track collection of their 45s is contained on the Woolies' compact disc, "Ride, Ride, Ride.")

Bob Baldori cemented his relationship with Berry by playing harmonica on "Back Home," Berry's 1970 homecoming LP for Chess.

Four members of the Woolies played on Berry's follow-up LP, "San Francisco Dues," issued in 1971. The line-up was: Bob Baldori (harmonica and piano), Jeff Baldori (guitar), Groendahl (bass) and Metros (drums). Johnnie Johnson, Berry's original piano player, was also involved in the sessions.

That same year, the Woolies released their first long-player, titled "Basic Rock."

The Woolies maintained their regional fame and backed up their heroes, like Berry, Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters, whenever they were touring the area.

Over the years, the band played hundreds of shows with Berry, famous for "Johnny B. Goode," "Maybellene" and dozens of other songs.

The first time I saw Berry perform, the Woolies were his back-up band.

The occasion was a free outdoor concert between Pearce and Anspach Halls on the campus of Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant.

Berry was riding high with his recording of "My Ding-A-Ling" which had just reached No. 1 on the charts.

I don't know the exact date of the show, but it was probably in late October, 1972.

Berry and the Woolies played at Eastern Michigan University's Bowen Field House in Ypsilanti on Friday, Oct. 27 and probably made several stops in lower Michigan about that time.

The Woolies opened the CMU program and played "Who Do You Love," before Berry appeared on stage, as I recall.

By 1973, the Woolies had issued another LP, "Live at Lizards."

In the four decades since the Woolies were formed, they continue to be cult favorites.

Born in 1943, Bob Baldori has also pursued a solo career. He has performed with John Lee Hooker, Del Shannon, John Hammond and others.

Baldori, who lives in Okemos, operates his own recording studio and has engineered and produced over 200 albums.

He released a solo album, "Who Do You Love," in 1994. A collaboration with Bob Seeley, "Boogie Stomp!," followed in 2006.

An entertainment attorney, Baldori also does legal work for Berry, blues guitarist Hubert Sumlin and other performers.

Brother Jeff Baldori graduated from MSU in 1973 with a bachelor's degree in English. He has been active in music since he joined the Woolies at age 15.

As for the other Woolies, Rice and Groendahl live on the west coast, while Metros is also an attorney.

The significance of "Who Do You Love" was recognized when it was included in the compact disc box set, "Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From the First Psychedelic Era," released by Rhino Entertainment in 1998.

The Woolies and their fans may have been disappointed "Who Do You Love" didn't rocket up the charts, but the song has had influence and staying power enough to earn it a permanent place in the history of rock 'n' roll.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve,
I just came across your interesting article about the Woolies. Back in the 70's & 80's I was a City Policeman for Saginaw. I used to work many of the Rock & Roll concerts for overtime income and became friends with a R&R promoter named Jerry Patlow. In 1977, I told Jerry that I was getting married and asked him if he could line me up a band for my wedding reception that had a national hit. He told me he could get me Fridgid Pink so we signed a contract. However, when they heard that 100 Cops were going to be there, they backed out 3 days before the wedding. Jerry however came through and got the Woolies to appear and they were great! It was money well spent and great memories. They all signed our wedding guest book and it didn't bother them one bit to be around 100 cops, as they were law abiding guys. Last year, my wife and I were in St Louis, Mo. and saw Chuck Berry perform at a little blues club called Blueberry Hill. It was amazing to still see that guy performing last year on his birthday at age 84 (born in 1926) and now 85. Anyway, enjoyed your article, it brought back some great memories of both the Woolies and Chuck Berry. Best Regards, John