The SoCal Professor was an Early '60s Rocker
William Bielby Reminiscences About His Chicago '60s Band, The Newports
"Every band of that era was influenced by 'Pipeline' and 'Wipe Out.' In the south suburbs of Chicago, we didn't even get the connection to surf lingo, but we definitely absorbed the genre into our repertoire."
[Interviewer's note: William Bielby, Sociologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is presently in the midst of writing a paper on the post-Elvis and pre-Beatles garage band era. What makes this study even more interesting is that Bielby himself is a veteran of just such a band and thus, THE LANCE MONTHLY asked the Professor to provide our readers with information about his '60's band, the Newports. When Bielby was unable to answer certain questions, he graciously forwarded them on to his former band mate, Brian Salvage, who happily responded. In a related sidebar following this interview, we're also pleased to be able to present the history of another band, the Epics, who competed against the Newports in a 1965 Battle of the Bands and won! Immediately after this interview with Professor Bielby is an edited email that former Epic, Gary Vann sent to Bielby that nicely fills additional details on the Newports/Epics era. Special thanks to Gary Vann for giving us permission to print the letter.]
[Lance Monthly] How did you first get interested in music?
William Bielby My father, who was a teenager in the 1920s, was very much into music. I've seen photos of my parents at age 16 and 18 in 1928, and they look right out of the jazz age. Their old 78s were stashed in our basement, and it was down there that I discovered boogie woogie, New Orleans jazz, '40's swing - everything from Kid Ory to Will Bradley & His Orchestra ("Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar") and Benny Goodman. Then, one evening in 1956, my dad brought home a hi-fi that played 45s and a couple of rock 'n' roll records. One of them was "Speedo" by the Cadillacs ("They often call me Speedo but my real name is Mr. Earl") and the other was the RCA EP of four Elvis songs: "Blue Suede Shoes," "Tutti Frutti," "I Got A Woman," and "Just Because." I was only eight-years-old at the time, so how hip can one be? Not very. But, I have a sister who is eight years older than me. She was 16 and coming into her own just as rock 'n' roll was happening, and she had really cool boyfriends. We more or less discovered rock 'n' roll together, and this shy eight-year-old figured out that rock 'n' roll just might allow some of the coolness of Barb's boyfriends to rub off on me. A few months later, Barb bought her first 45, "Heartbreak Hotel," and then a few weeks later we split the cost on Elvis' next single, because she wanted Elvis's "Don't Be Cruel," and I wanted "Hound Dog," which was the flip side. But no one in our family played a musical instrument. Like a million other guys in 1956-1957, I wanted to BE Elvis.
It started with lip-synching to Elvis songs with my buddy Artie Ellis. Then, for Christmas 1956 I convinced my parents to buy me a guitar . . . one of those Stella acoustics you could order out of a catalog. It didn't take me long to figure out that owning an acoustic guitar didn't make me Elvis (though drawing sideburns on myself with an eyebrow pencil I "borrowed" from my sister did help the look). I needed to learn how to play the damn thing, and I could barely tune it. By sixth grade, one of my classmates told me I should go talk to Bryan Salvage, a kid I had known since sixth grade, but not well. Bryan had a plastic guitar with nylon strings that he played with a felt pick. He couldn't read music, but he was a natural musician. He had taught himself to play the guitar, and over a couple of summers, he taught me. By the summer of seventh grade, I finally got to the point where I could play rhythm to his lead without him having to tell me when to change chords.
[Lance Monthly] Having formed in 1961, were you influenced at all by surf music? If so which bands or artists influenced you?
William Bielby Every band of that era was influenced by "Pipeline" and "Wipe Out." In the south suburbs of Chicago, we didn't even get the connection to surf lingo, but we definitely absorbed the genre into our repertoire.
[Lance Monthly] So you, Bryan, and Bob were the original Newports?
William Bielby Yes, the founders were me (rhythm guitar), Bryan (lead guitar and some vocals), and Bob Gedzun (drums). Next to join was Bob Jones in 1961 (guitar, and some vocals), and then during our sophomore year, Terry Tritt on saxophone. Terry was in the high school band, but he hadn't learned how to improvise. Bryan taught him his first solos note-by-note. That summer of 1962 Bob Caroli, a friend of Gedzun's from the Dorchester Club, joined us on keyboards (Wurlitzer electric piano). Dave Vetterick joined us for a few gigs in the summer of '63. He played baritone sax, and we had this amazing version of the Beach Boys' "409" with Terry on tenor and Dave on baritone. Sure wish I had a recording of that! By junior year,
Bob Gedzun had left the band and was replaced by Dennis Altman on drums. Bob Jones graduated and joined the Air Force. I switched from rhythm guitar to bass. Dennis was with us for a few months, and then he was replaced by Tom Dondelinger, who stayed with the band from 1964 to 1966. I left in '65 to go to the University of Illinois, and I was replaced on bass with a very colorful fellow named Ed Jambrik. He also became the band's choreographer, developing moves like Paul Revere and the Raiders used to do.
[Lance Monthly] What type of gigs were the Newports lining up in the early '60's?
William Bielby We did the Dorchester Club gigs for two summers, and by sophomore year we were doing parties sponsored by the various "Tri-Hi-Y" girls' clubs from our high school. In May 1962 we had a great gig, going back to our grade school to play at the May Dance, THE social event of the year for seventh and eighth graders. We also did a few private parties, and even a few wedding receptions. By senior year, 1964-1965, the high school finally began allowing live rock 'n' roll music at the dances after football and basketball games (until that time, the closest thing to rock music allowed into the school was the high school jazz band).
[Lance Monthly] How popular locally would you say the Newports became?
William Bielby Early, when we were still The Trebles, we were the only band around. The two other serious bands from that era, The Mus-Twangs (a band featuring Paul Cotton--later of Poco--that had a sound like Johnny and the Hurricanes) and One-Eyed Jacks, were guys four to six years older than us, so they were in another league by then and not doing local gigs. And we were so young . . . we were sort of a novelty back when we were 13 to 15 years old. In the pre-Beatles era, there really wasn't such a thing as a "garage band." So until our junior year in high school (1963), we were the only high school rock band in the south suburbs of Chicago. The Beatles changed all that, and within a matter of months we had plenty of competition.
[Lance Monthly] How did "Beatlemania" impact the band?
William Bielby It changed everything. First, it brought lots of competition. Second, it changed our playlist to mostly vocals. It allowed us to showcase Bryan's incredible voice. But no one else in the band was much of a singer, so we couldn't do the harmonies. But I think we probably saw the Kinks, the Stones, and Paul Revere and the Raiders as stronger role models that the Beatles, in part because their songs had easier chord changes and didn't require harmonies.
[Lance Monthly] What other bands or artists influenced you and what were some of the songs the Newports routinely played?
William Bielby Very early on we aspired to sound like Duane Eddy, which wasn't easy, given the equipment we were using. Most of our repertoire was twangy instrumental versions of top-40 hits, plus a few mellow-sounding things for slow dances. Gedzun also had this brilliant idea that we would do an acoustic set, with Bryan on banjo, me on acoustic guitar, and Bob on conga drum, and we'd do Kingston Trio songs. Bob Jones introduced us to blues and R & B, and under his influence, we added songs like "Messin' With The Kid," "Kansas City," and "Bright Lights, Big City." Then, by '63-'64, we had more of a frat band sound: "Shout," "Louie, Louie," "Money" plus songs by the Beatles and the Beach Boys. Bryan was doing more singing by then, though we never had a P.A. system. We were always dependent on either the house system or running mics through the guitar amps.
[Lance Monthly] You also referenced the One-Eyed Jacks. That's a band whose name I've come across a few times while doing research. What do you recall about them?
William Bielby The One-Eyed Jacks started out as the house frat band at Sigma Alpha Epsilon at the University of Illinois. Bill Gedzun was killed in an auto accident shortly after graduating [from] college. The lead guitarist Robert or Richard Bender, is a physician,
living in Dallas.
[Lance Monthly] Did the Newports ever record?
William Bielby We recorded once. There was a middle-aged man down the street who fancied himself as a country and western singer, and he talked us into being his backup band during the summer of '62 for gigs at the local VFW (we were quite a sight - with this balding country crooner backed up by 14-year-olds). I can't remember his name; we referred to him as "Ozark." He had a recording studio in his basement--pretty basic, nothing fancy. He did a recording of us doing "Tequila" and one or two songs. I had that tape for a few years, but it's long gone. Also, about a year ago I learned from a fellow in one of the competing bands that his father had recorded his band and the Newports at a Battle of the Bands after I had left the group to go to college.
[Lance Monthly] Did the Newports participate in many Battle of the Bands?
William Bielby We did one while I was with the Newports, in the spring of 1965 at Thornridge High in Dolton. Thornridge was the rival of our school, Thornton Township in Harvey, IL. The big T'ridge band was The Visitors. They had those big ol' Gibson amps that were shaped like trapezoids. We were better musicians, but they totally outclassed us on equipment. And they had the home field advantage. As I recall, we did "Money," a couple of Beatles' songs, and the Kinks' "You Really Got Me." They kicked our butts.
[Lance Monthly] Was the Newports strictly a cover band, or did you write original songs too?
William Bielby Bryan and I made up a couple of songs about girlfriends, "Oh Nancy," and "Crystal," and we had a couple of instrumental songs we made up, but we were mainly a cover band. Bryan and I lost touch with one another for nearly 20 years, and when we first got back together again in '87, we picked up our guitars and spontaneously launched into "Oh Nancy" without saying a word to
one another. I'm certain that no one on the planet had played that song in 25 years.
[Lance Monthly] Did you ever play "Oh Nancy" or "Crystal" live while with the Newports?
William Bielby We probably did "Oh Nancy" and "Crystal" a few times at gigs, most likely spontaneously when we had already run through our playlist.
[Lance Monthly] How far away from your home did the Newports typically play?
William Bielby We rarely played more than 15 or 20 miles from home, in part because we were dependent on parents and older siblings for transportation.
[Lance Monthly] I believe the band disbanded in '66, a year when garage bands were literally found on every street. Even though you had left the band by this time, do you know why the Newports decided to call it quits?
William Bielby That's a great question, and I realize now I've never asked the other guys about this. From what I gather, Caroli was going off to college, and Tom Dondelinger moved on to bigger and better gigs . . . joining his brother in Rotary Connection (with Minnie Ripperton) and later H.P. Lovecraft and eventually Van Morrison. Bryan and Terry started a new band called The Tories (in a Paul Revere and the Raiders motif . . . complete with costumes and coordinates moves), and I think Jambrik was in that band too.
[INTERVIEWER'S NOTE: Bill was kind enough to contact Bryan about the end of the Newports, and he forwarded Bryan's response to THE LANCE MONTHLY. In Bryan's words, "I think the Newports lasted until 1966 or 1967. I think 1966 was senior year for Bob C. and Tom D. Tom went on to the Chicago Music Conservatory. I know I went to his final performance for grades. He and Jim Nyholt had a dual project. I don't know where Bob C. went to college. There really wasn't a defining moment that ended the Newports. The Newports just inadvertently ended. I went into the Navy in November 1968. Ed Jambrik was the bass player for a while; he was from Thornridge. Ed ended up moving to Florida I think in 1967."]
[Lance Monthly] Did you have any idea at the time that Tom was primed for "bigger and better" things?
William Bielby Tom D. was a serious musician back in high school . He studied at the music conservatory in Chicago. I actually expected him to join a symphony orchestra. He's changed the spelling of his last name to Donlinger. If you go into Google and do a search on "Tom Donlinger," you'll get a number of hits that will give you his background. He also recorded with Jerry Garcia and Mike Bloomfield (search under that name in an artist search at CDNOW and some of his recording credits will pop up).
[Lance Monthly] What about the Tories? Were they together long?
William Bielby I don't think the Tories were together for very long . . . I'd guess no more than a dozen gigs. [INTERVIEWER'S NOTE: According to Bryan, "I think I played with the Tories from 1967-68 . . . same with the Roadrunners, which I re-joined in 1970 (it was pretty much a wedding band by then)."]
[Lance Monthly] Did you have any regrets about leaving the band?
William Bielby I had great regrets about leaving the band. I would have been perfectly happy to stay at home, go to the local junior college, and stay with the band, if it hadn't been for the pressure from my parents to go off to college. Of course, it probably would have been the dumbest mistake of my life had I done so.
[Lance Monthly] Did you join any bands after you left the Newports?
William Bielby Nothing too serious. When I got to U of I there was a band called The Terminal Pros ("terminal probation" was what you went on just before you flunked out). Their bass player had dropped out of school and moved back to Chicago. He came down on weekends, and I filled in on the weekday gigs for that year. It was great, because I was able to use his Fender Bassman instead of my underpowered Magnatone amp. And it was a classic frat band sound of the mid-1960s.
I traded my bass for an acoustic 12-string in '67 (the times were a changin') and didn't pick up an electric guitar again until 1975, when I was in grad school in Madison, Wisconsin. We had a grad student band that was pretty good. We did a few parties, one wedding gig. We changed our name for nearly every gig, but the name that stuck was Anonymous Bosch. We're getting back together to play again for the first time since '76 at the August meetings of the American Sociological Association in Chicago. The other two key members, Steve Gortmaker (guitar) and Paul Cleary (keyboards) are both professors at Harvard. We have a band in my department at UCSB, The Soc Pistols, that comes together once every three or four years for a special occasion, like the retirement of a colleague. Sometimes we'll reserve a lecture hall on a weekend afternoon and make a lot of noise, just for ourselves.
[Lance Monthly] So you don't hide from your colleagues the fact that you were in a rock 'n' roll band?
William Bielby Anyone who knows me well personally or professionally is aware of that part of my background. And now as I'm starting to do research on guitar bands, just about everyone is aware of how I developed that interest. And anyone who stumbles into my office in the Sociology Department at UCSB will see old Newports posters and photos, a Hagstrom bass identical to the one I played in high school, several electric guitars, an acoustic guitar (a Silvertone Kentucky Blue, identical to my original), and three amplifiers.
[Lance Monthly] Other than the Anonymous Bosch and Soc Pistols, do you perform regularly anywhere?
William Bielby The Anonymous Bosch reunion in August will be the first time in many years that I've played in front of a large group that isn't comprised of friends and colleagues (and even then, it will mostly be people I know). I'm also going to try to get Bryan and Terry to join us, which would be quite a trip, since the three of us haven't played together since the summer of '65. I did have one really fun experience a couple of years ago. At the time, Evan, the son of one of my sociology faculty buddies, Jack Sutton, was in sixth grade at a local private school. Evan had learned to play guitar and had agreed to perform "Peggy Sue" at a school sock hop. He was to be accompanied by a classmate and the music teacher, but for some reason they weren't able to do it. It was a big deal for Evan, so Jack told him he would play rhythm guitar, and I would play bass.
So there we were, a kid about the age I was when I started, and two middle aged men performing for 5th and 6th graders, playing a song I was performing for 5th and 6th graders 40-plus years ago. But the real kicker was that this was no ordinary audience. All the parents were invited, and this being a private school in Santa Barbara, the audience included quite a few celebrities: Dennis Miller, Jeff Bridges, Bernie Taupin, and, amazingly enough, Peter Noone of Herman's Hermits. Also in the audience was the brother of the CEO of Universal/MCA, and Jack and I played with this fantasy that we'd immediately be signed to a record deal, quit our day jobs, and achieve the glory every kid dreams about as a teenager.
[Lance Monthly] Did you receive any feedback from Peter Noone or any of the other celebrities?
William Bielby No comments from Peter Noone et al. I see Peter Noone around Santa Barbara once a month or so . . . often at the airport. One of these days I'll work up the nerve to start a conversation.
[Lance Monthly] You've alluded to the sociological study that you're preparing on '60's bands. What else can you tell me about this?
William Bielby Mainly, I'm interested in the guys (and, if they're out there, girls) who started the first guitar bands in the post-Elvis, pre-surf and pre-Beatles era. Before there was such a thing as a garage band, which kids were hip enough, had enough musical talent, and resourceful enough (before the era of inexpensive imported guitars) in forming a "rock combo?" The area where I grew up south of Chicago is an interesting place to study this phenomenon. It was racially mixed (my high school was about 35% African-American) but [a] residentially segregated suburban area. The electric blues scene was exploding just 10 miles north of where we lived. I'm interested in how the white kids were and were not influenced by blues and R & B, and how the black and white kids who were into playing music experienced those days.
I can probably come close to identifying every one of the bands that were playing in bands in the area in those days, and I want to interview as many of them as possible, as well as the people who worked in the music stores, the teen clubs, etc. Basically, I'm interested in how music became part of the lives of aspiring musicians who were at most, ALMOST famous. Another big part of the project will be to understand what those experienced from 40-plus years ago mean to these people today.
Cultural sociology is a thriving area of scholarship these days, but cultural sociologists who study rock music rarely study those who actually made music as part of their everyday lives, even if they didn't become stars. I plan on spending two years doing interviews, and a third year writing a book. My goal is to write something that will be important for sociology but that will be recognizable, meaningful, and interesting to the people I'm writing about. This is totally different from anything else I've done as a sociologist. I'm known mainly for statistical studies with lots of numbers, tables, and graphs, not for ethnographic work. But the nice thing about being a sociologist is that you can reinvent yourself and your scholarly interests whenever the spirit moves you.
For more on the Newports and Epics, visit: community.webshots.com