Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Mystery cloaks Archies show

Bay City-based booking agency Delta Promotions
represented this group of unknown musicians posing as
the "Archies."


When word spread that "The Archies" were to perform in Escanaba four decades ago, excitement grew rapidly.

Afterall, the group was responsible for "Sugar, Sugar," the No. 1 hit for 1969, according to Billboard magazine.

A bubblegum classic, "Sugar, Sugar" was recorded by a group of studio musicians including Ron Dante (lead vocals) Toni Wine (vocals) Jeff Barry (keyboards) and Gary Chester (drums).

The song was composed by Barry and Canadian songwriter Andy Kim who had a hit with "Baby, It's You" in the spring of 1969.

"Sugar, Sugar" received wide exposure when it was featured on TV's popular Archies cartoon series, starring Archie, Betty, Jughead, Veronica and Reggie.

In each episode, the main characters performed a song and dance segment to the delight of a youthful audience.

"The Archies" had two hits the previous year with "Bang-Shang-A-Lang" and "Feelin' So Good."

A busy studio musician, Ron Dante was also the vocalist for the Cuff Links, famous for "Tracy." Earlier, he played on "Leader of the Laundromat" by the Detergents.

"The Archies" local performance took place at the Holy Name High School gym, although the show wasn't affiliated with the Catholic diocese.

Apparently sold as a family event, the concert was booked by Bands Unlimited.

Exact date of the show however isn't known.

Old copies of the Crusader student newspaper, Delta Reporter and Escanaba Daily Press didn't mention the concert. No flyer, poster, article, advertisement, ticket stub, photo or program has surfaced.

A number people remember the show, including Kim Erickson, Carol Nygaard, Nancy Gilbert and Jay Olivares.

Musician Kim Erickson, a member of the "Upstairs to the Left" rock band, went to the show as a joke. "Boy, were we surprised when they started out with 'Hush' by Deep Purple. They did not play the music that made them popular with the young teenagers," Erickson recalled.

Carol Nygaard of Sault Ste. Marie, who went to the show with her friend Nancy Gilbert of Escanaba, remembered differently. "They did sing all their popular hits, including 'Jingle Jangle," Nygaard said. Gilbert, meanwhile, recalled they had "really good seats on the floor." The band dressed in character and the audience sang along, Gilbert said.

An attorney in Dickinson County, Olivares was drummer for the opening act, rock band Prophets of Doom.

A junior in college at the time, Olivares dated the concert to 1969 or 1970.

The venue was "stacked to the rafters with kids and their parents who were fans of the Saturday morning program," Olivares recalled.

"The audience was expecting 'The Archies Show' just like the cartoon, where they dance around and smile. Well, these musicians just stood there and sang the songs as if they were bored to death. (They) were not dressed as they were in the cartoon and comic book."

Parents, thinking they were going to see "cute cartoon-types, instead got five or six 'hippies' who did not interact with the audience," Olivares observed.

"The highlight for me was when they played a seriously good blues tune with heavy B-3 Hammond organ parts towards the end of the performance. The audience was not amused.

"They were good musicians but were totally indifferent, did the show, and took the tour bus out. They didn't take a minute to meet us," Olivares said.

Were "The Archies" racing to their next engagement or flying under the radar?

"Rumor had it that they had an 'Archies' touring in the midwest, an 'Archies' in the south and one out west... who knows? There were definitely more than one 'Archies,' according to those we spoke to at the time," Olivares told me.

Apparently, demand to see "The Archies" led to the creation of faux groups.

In a 2004 interview, lead singer Ron Dante confirmed that he "never toured or made TV appearances as 'The Archies.' The comic book people owned the rights to 'The Archies' and wanted the group to stay as an animated group." (Although Dante provided Archie's vocals during songs on the cartoon series, he did not supply the character's speaking voice.)

In fact, Dante said the first time he performed "Sugar, Sugar" live with Toni Wine was on the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon on Sept. 4, 2006. Dante produced many hits for Barry Manilow and his voice is heard in countless TV commercials.

So, just who were those enigmatic troubadours who played their one-off Upper Peninsula gig as "The Archies" and disappeared?

That question may never be answered, but earlier this year I discovered that a Bay City, Mich. booking agency did represent a quintet billed as The "Archies."

I purchased a cache of promotional photos distributed by Delta Promotions, then located at 352 Tuscola Road, including the "Archies."

One 8 x 10 shows three young men and two young women identified as the "Archies," (the photo includes the quote marks) indicating perhaps that this was a tribute band.

Their actual names unknown, the individuals in the picture are portraying characters in "The Archies" cartoon series. Depicted, from left, were Jughead Jones (drums), Betty Cooper (tambourine, percussion), Archie Andrews (lead guitar), Veronica Lodge (organ, keyboard) and Reggie Mantle (guitar, bass).

I emailed the photo to Olivares who said this was not the group which played in Escanaba, despite Bay City's proximity to the Upper Peninsula.

Seeking further information, I sent the picture to Gary Johnson, rock historian and founder of Michigan Rock and Roll Legends, who lives in the Bay City area.

According to Johnson, Delta Promotions booking agency existed from 1965 to 1970, operated by William Kehoe and James Atherton.

Besides "The Archies," the firm also represented Question Mark and the Mysterians ("96 Tears") and "The Zombies." A British rock band known for "She's Not There," "Tell Her No" and "Time of the Season," the Zombies broke up prior to their last song becoming a massive hit in 1969. Perhaps some Bay City musicians saw themselves as a "Zombies" tribute band, as well.

While specific details about "The Archies" performance may never be known for certain, perhaps the date can still be determined.

If you have documentation proving the date "The Archies" appeared in Escanaba, a shiny new "Absolutely the Best of the Archies" CD is waiting for you.

Can you solve the great "Archies" mystery?


Anonymous said...

The same Bay City booking agency sent fake Animal AND Zombies to the Escanaba area.

Sudschick said...

I just want to identify the man on the far right in the Archies studio musicians photo. His name is Harry Amanatian, and he now lives in salem, N.H.