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The Epics Story: A Direct Reply to William Bielby of the Newports
By Gary Vann, The Lance Monthly
(more articles from this author)
2002-09-02
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". . . ten, leather-jacket gang members (like "West Side Story") entered the gym, jumped on stage and said they were there to kick the Newports' asses."

The interesting thing about the Newports was that they were a pioneer band and, aside from the Visitors, the one and only first ones to move from folk to rock. You literally had no competition in 1961, '62, '63, and '64. Even the Thortoneers were the only band at the time allowed to play PX dances.

Being two years younger, Dave VanSoest (who was a year older than me) and I had a lot of catching up to do to be as good as you guys. Bryan was known as kind of a guitar wiz by all of us and you were the bass player that all the bass players studied closely. By the time he bought the Ampeg guitar and amp, you guys had a tight sound and a great reputation.

I am not surprised you lost to the Vistors at Thornridge High School (THS) . . . it was political. All of the Visitors were from South Holland and all their friends voted for them, so you guys West of Indiana Avenue never had a chance.

You are right about Ed Jambrik. The night you saw him, he was still learning to take your place. The guys all bought Paul Revere and the Raiders cowboy type pullover shirts and Ed would jump on to the Ampeg B-18 and put on a show. He was the showman for the group and kind of wild. We went into debt and went to Roseland and bought iridescent wedding tuxedos with ruffled shirts. We looked like a lounge group. The Prophets wore anything they wanted.

The date on the trophy above on my fireplace mantel reads: "First Place Winner of the KIP Battle of the Bands - Sept 15, 1965." The three bands were: The Newports, The Prophets and The Epics. Although we were younger and less experienced, we had an advantage of having a great, classically trained organist and vocalist: John Hunter from THS, and Santefort, who had a different aggressive rock style than Dondelinger. Caroli lacked wattage with his little Wurlitzer and John had a fairly powerful Ampeg for his organ, which also sounded a whole lot better than the piano. I had new equipment from Zordons: Gibson 335, Bandmaster and an Echoplex.

I was the only guitar player in the area to have the cool tape loop system unit, which alone was $250 then (it was the only way anyone could accurately duplicate Jorgan Ingman's Apache echo sound). When switched on in "Sleepwalk," it sounded better than Santo and Johnny! Santefort also played a loud Dave Clark rock style, too. As you saw him at St. Judes the year before playing against Tom (on Tom's drums), he was extra good by 1965. Also, our PA was quite good.

But, the tide really turned when the applause was made to determine the winner. Dave and I were quite well known with the crowd and were current students. We were also very well known to a lot of the girls' clubs having played many KC Hall-type and St. Jude Sunday dances. Bryan, Tritt, Tom were all graduated and many didn't remember them. Probably what also helped was the crowd [that] was doing a lot of dancing with our sound. Then all of a sudden, a leader from the greasers started to cheer for us and encouraged the whole gym to also cheer us. He was Jose Gonzales and, although I was a preppy and had that vote, Dave was a greaser and had the greaser crowd behind him and the minority vote, too.

There were quite a few greasers there that night. Socio-culturally, and psychologically, the Prophets and the Newports didn't have a chance! Terry was very angry and I believe that technically the Newport sound was superior in some ways with a greater range of musical experience than us younger guys.

We won $50, got the trophy and a contract to play all PX dances after games, putting the Thortoneers out of business with the only gig that they could get. This also left the Newports without PX gigs, too. We now got real popular, and John Hunter was elected president of the Thornridge Student Council. The student council voted on having a concert January '66 as a moneymaker. They booked Paul Revere and the Raiders who were as big as the Beach Boys at the time. So guess who was the opening act?

I think Bryan and Terri were in the audience. I am sure they wished they could have opened the show. Actually, after the show back stage, I was asked by Mark Lindsey and Paul Revere if I was interested in being a replacement for their lead, Drake Levine who was just drafted to 'Nam. My father said no as I was only 16 and would have to quit school. Drake was only 18. I am confident that if the Newports had opened and Bryan had met Paul, Bryan would have been hired by the Raiders on the spot. The Newports already were playing "Kicks" and "Steppin' Out."

Then Terry really got his revenge. The week after they lost the battle, I got a call from him and he said the guys were all sick and couldn't return to Roseland to St. Peter and Paul's Church for a second gig. The gig was ours. So my dad drove us and, at the end of the night, ten, leather-jacket gang members (like "West Side Story") entered the gym, jumped on stage and said they were there to kick the Newports' asses. We told them that we were not the Newports but they didn't believe us. They smashed up the drums and beat up Dave VanSoest and Dave's Brother Larry, who was our roadie. The priest called the cops and we all hid in his office. The police escorted the Epics out of town with the lights flashing.

Terry again got his revenge when we played the talent contest in the nice new auditorium to a packed crowd. The Newports did not get invited to play and the next day he went to the principal to get us in trouble. He told him we sang dirty words to "Louie Louie." So Dave and I were called on down to the principal's office and we told him that John didn't sing anything wrong . . . I didn't think he did. Later in 1977, John had a Rush Street Group called Hunter and the Hounds and they came to town. He told me he did throw in a few words that night!

By 1967, we had played a lot of gigs and I did very little studying. I went to JC and Mike Gedzun (cousin of Bob and cousin of Bill Gedzun of Urbana U of I) tracked me down. We started a new group: The Real Thing. It consisted of an organ, Mike on drums, a sax, and several rich kids from Flossmore, including Terry Depresio on vocals, a bass and a rhythm. We played college towns: Urbana at the Brown Bottle, The Red Lion and The Chances R. The One Eyed Jacks' drummer (Bill Gedzun) helped us to get in to these bars. We had a lot of blues, and also a Top 40 and psychedelic sound. We all had Kustom and Twin Reverb equipment by that time, as well as light systems. We won the Homewood Flossmore High School Battle of the Bands in '67 and the prize was a recording of a 45.

We cut the record at Chess Studios. The A-side was "You Don't Know Like I Know" (a Wayne Cochran song) and "Jezebel" (by Johnny Ray) was the B-side. We were playing so much that my grades were poor and I almost went to 'Nam. About the only thing that saved me from leaving school and going on the road with a band was Bryan's old girlfriend. Her name was Georgiana Ferguson. After she left Bryan, he went in the Navy and then Kaleidoscope. He went to work together with her sister Maureen at the Hi-Low. She married Bob Ditusa, who Brian and Caroli knew well. She met me at Junior College. We went to Illinois State, got Sociology degrees and we got married in 1972.

I just joined the Northern Michigan 22 piece jazz band. I bought a new Echoplex, and in addition to the Gibson 335, also just bought a Strat. We sound kind of like the Thortoneers, but I can't get them to play "Maria" and "Tonight" or "Peter Gunn"!!


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