Monday, October 6, 2014

Rant #1,303: Paul Revere's Ride

I am sure that you heard by now that Paul Revere, the leader of the seminal rock and roll band Paul Revere and the Raiders, passed away on Saturday.

He had been battling health problems for many months, but it was actually only until recently that he finally retired from the band, a group that he headed since the late 1950s.

He was 76 years young, an ironic age to pass on for the leader of a band celebrating our 1776 heritage.

Paul Revere Dick was the brainchild of one of the most successful, polished and misunderstood rock bands of all time.

Dropping his last name, he played off his Revolutionary War monickered connection, and ran with it literally all the way to the bank.

He named the band the Raiders, the group wore Revolutionary War outfits, and they took the Pacific Northwest by storm in the late 1950s and early 1960s as a party band, when regional bands were setting the pace for the future of rock and roll.

The Raiders were the most successful vocal  Pacific Northwest band--the Ventures were the most successful non-vocal band--to successfully break out of the local frat house and party circuit to the national scene.

Ironically, their first national hit was a non-vocal boogie woogie piano number called "Like Long Hair," but it was with vocals--namely that of frontman Mark Lindsay--that the band would garner their greatest success.

They were rock's greatest showband, what with their outfits, look and performance on stage--a mix of choreography that Busy Berkely would envy and that Mick Jagger-ish rock stance--and they were a perfect fit for TV, and it is through TV exposure that they gained their greatest fame.

They were Columbia Records' first rock act, and through that signing, they were plucked by Dick Clark to be the house band on his seminal five days a week rock showcase to go along with the already successful "American Bandstand," ABC's "Where the Action Is."

The show, in glorious black and white, showcased the hottest rock acts of the day--less the Beatles and Rolling Stones--and even created new short-term stars like Tina Mason and Keith Allison, a future Raider.

However, the show was virtually taken over by the Raiders--at various times including Jim Valley, Phil "Fang" Volk, Drake Levin and Mike Smith--and the hits started to come in droves.

"Good Thing," "Hungry," "Kicks," "The Great Airplane Strike," "Steppin' Out," "Just Like Me," were all punk/pop/rock hits, and the Raiders started to adorn the pages of Tiger Beat and other teen magazines.

They were hotter than a pistol, and Revere, still a major creative force behind the band, and also pretty much their manager and overseer, gave way to Lindsay as more of an out-front creative force of the band.

Lindsay would go on to be the band's main songwriter and producer, and Revere basically watched the books.

They continued to have hits with major TV exposure. Once WTAI ran its course, a whole new set of Raiders became stars on the Saturday afternoon "Happening" shows on ABC.

Now in color, the band--made up at various times by the aforementioned Allison, Charlie Coe, Freddy Weller, Joe Correro Jr. and other musicians--were still at the top of their game.

They were also one of the templates used in the creation of the Monkees, a band created especially for TV and which used the medium as a springboard for their own set of classic hits.

"Him or Me, What's It Gonna Be," "Too Much Talk," "Cinderella Sunshine," and other tunes kept the band on the charts, and Revere oversaw it all, even though the name of the band was now "Paul Revere and the Raiders featuring Mark Lindsay."

They continued to be booked on just about every variety show on American TV, including "The Hollywood Palace," "The Ed Sullivan Show," and the like, and they continued to be hot, with a bit of a softer sound.

When the "Happening" show came to its end, the Raiders dropped the "Paul Revere" and the Mark Lindsay portions of their name. They also dropped the Revolutionary War costumes, dressing in late 1960s appropriate rock garb.

Simply the Raiders, they floundered a bit with hitmaking, trying everything from a soul to a hard rock sound to adapt to the changing musical landscape.

They found occasional chart success, with "Let Me," one of their best songs of that period.

But they found the ultimate chart success with an oft-recorded tune that had been a top-20 hit for a British act just a few months earlier.

Don Fardon had scored a #20 hit with John D. Loudermilk's "(The Lament of the Cherokee) Indian Reservation," a song about how the American Indian experience was fading away from view as our nation was moving on from "things made by hand" to "things made in Japan."

The original song was full of war whoops and a direct indictment of the American progression of life away from the simple things. Not only did Loudermilk record his own version of the song, but many other acts did, including the Lewis and Clarke Expedition.

Lindsay, who claimed to have some Native American heritage, recorded the song as a solo for his burgeoning non-Raiders career, but Columbia decided to release it as a Raiders tune.

Revere pushed the tune from city to city, appearing on local TV and radio stations across the country, traveling on his beloved motorcycle.

The tune--pretty much watered down from the original but with the same message--rose to No. 1 on the charts as "Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian), and this set the band off on several more albums and singles, but this was really their last hit.

Lindsay left in 1974, and even Revere pulled up the tent in the late 1970s for a brief period.

He returned in about 1978 or so, and continued the Raiders' legacy pretty much to the present time with a changing cast of performers, now playing up the Revolutionary War connections once again.

They became a highly successful showband, pretty much booked coast to coast for the past 30 some odd years.

Revere left just a few months ago to pursue his biggest fight, one which he succumbed to on Saturday.

Paul Revere and the Raiders are unfairly characterized as a corporate band, even though they were a real band with real roots.

Many people find their music derivative, a mix of everything that was gong on at the time of release, not groundbreaking in the least in any musical area.

However, that is very unfair to the band.

They are the link from the early boogie woogie of rock and roll through the changes in rock that happened because of the Beatles' success--punk turning into rock and roll turning into softer rock--and the progression of rock to a mellower, almost countrified sound in the early 1970s.

They are sort of the missing link that corporate types do not want to acknowledge--hence their lack of presence in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame--but real rock fans know their importance to the history of rock and roll in the United States.

Paul Revere was at the epicenter of it all, and the band's legacy is that sort of in-between Rick(y) Nelson and the Monkees; all of them used TV as a video springboard for a wealth of good music, music that probably would have been hits anyway but were aided by TV exposure.

Think MTV, think American Idol, and there is a definite link there.

And their biggest hit, ironically, had nothing to do with TV exposure, proving that the Raiders were as competent a rock act as there was out there in the 1960s and the early 1970s.

Rest in Peace, Paul Revere, you did it your way, and you did it right.

In fact, it was a "Good Thing" for seven decades.


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