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Garage bands and 50 years of Beatles influence in Detroit (part 1 of 2)

Bill Long's guitar collection is considerable; he also owns more than 30,000 records.
Bill Long's guitar collection is considerable; he also owns more than 30,000 records.

When it comes to overall influences on musicians, few groups have provided as much as the original four Liverpudlians from across the Big Pond.

Bill Long, a long-time area musician, is a one-man band at Mike’s on the Water in St. Clair Shores.
Wendy Clem

The Detroit area has certainly never been the same musically since their arrival, both due to their unique sound and ongoing influence with promoting the sounds of others.

The 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ arrival in America inspired area bands to fondly remember, and embrace, memories of those early days — and years. The era is discussed with reverence and awe among aging Baby Boomers, and their appreciative descendants as well.

“Of course, the Beatles influenced all musicians of the time, and all those since,” said Tidal Waves drummer and founder Tom Wearing. “Even those who don’t want to admit it. “

Wearing, now a resident of Allenton, Mich. and reporter for Tri-City Times, first heard the Beatles in his native Roseville while driving along Frazho Road.

“I remember the very first time I heard the Beatles on the radio, with ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand.’ It hit me like a ton of bricks. In a good way. And, life was never the same.”

The emergence of Motown Records resulted in Berry Gordy making preliminary inroads in the early ‘60s within the urban black community, establishing, and anchoring, his own mark. Meanwhile, suburban teens were only remotely becoming aware of that sound and its related rising stars.

By sliding into American consciousness in late 1963/early 1964, the Beatles soon affected what Detroit teens knew about neighborhood music, particularly whatever highlighted our own culture. How ironic is it that four Englishmen taught us about our own Detroit selves — to appreciate what we had and make us fans of our own people?

The Beatles had such deep admiration for R&B, black musicians and even country songs, they blazed a new path throughout white music. Our passion for their style and sound also caused us to stop, listen and love what we quite literally had right in our backyards, our very own Motown sound.

The influence of Beatles music and that of their countrymen, along with their working-class values and culture, incalculably affected how we followed our own neighbors. What occurred was the development of individual trends in the surrounding communities – trends that continue to this day.

“Early on, I think a lot of people got caught up in the Beatles’ look and image,” said Wearing. “But personally, what set them apart from all bands before and since, was their never-before-heard sound. It was something about the way they struck the chords on their guitars; the unique matching of Paul and John’s voices; Ringo’s understated drumming; and George’s imagination and sense of discovery.

“It was George, after all, who introduced many of us to Eastern music. He was among the first to utilize the sitar, the table and 12-string guitar in American pop music. Long live transcendental meditation and the Maharishi Yogi.”

In the creation of garage bands and basement musicians, a major trend spawned over the next decade. Further experimentation among those musicians influenced white Detroit sound, melody and celebrity.

Some of those bands reached considerable prominence in Detroit, then toured nationally and internationally. Bob Seger, Ted Nugent and Mitch Ryder are among the successes to rode that wave, continuing to entertain and affect others in the field today.

Wearing’s Tidal Waves realized a national hit in “Farmer John,” and even decades later, Boomers remember them and the tune fondly.

“’Farmer John’,” said the group’s former guitarist Bill Long, “was originally written by a group called The Premiers, a Chicano band in California that later opened shows for the Rolling Stones and other big names. The song was geared to emulate The Kingsmen’s style with ‘Louie, Louie’ and captured the sentiment of field laborers who fell for the boss farmer’s daughter. Later, it was covered here by the Tidal Waves. It was a national hit.”

Long, who grew up on the south end of Roseville, enjoyed the neighborhood assortment of talented instrumentalists, composers and singers. His mother, Marion, managed their first band, The Logicals, after the Normandy Street friends jumped on the guitar band wagon when Long was 11.

“My parents bought me a cheap, $30 Champ acoustic guitar, with the strings a half inch off the fret board, making my fingers almost bleed,” said Long, who now lives in Eastpointe. “My cousin had created such a guitar curiosity in me before the Beatles arrived, I was pretty well primed to be a huge fan when they got to the U.S.”

He stuck with it, then bought a 1964 Gibson Firebird 3 and Gibson Discovery amp. Days later, he knew the guitar was too big for a twelve-year-old. Still, he remained determined.

”We watched the Beatles’ first Sullivan show on my grandma’s TV,” said Long, who continues to play at metro-Detroit restaurants, bars and clubs. “A lasting memory is also one of my parents saying, ‘Don’t think you’re growing your hair like that!’”

Flowing hair — including Long’s own version of the Beatles’ mop-top — was possibly the biggest factor in irony to any parental admonishment during the next 20 years. It was an era of uncut and straight locks for Caucasians, and huge, billowing Afros for blacks.

Other trends surfaced in seeking alternative ideas as well, such as embracing vegetarianism. Long and his wife, Kathy, adopted it early in the era.

“Although Paul McCartney and his wife, Linda, were meatless advocates, I think I was actually influenced by the emergence of Indian music, culture and vegetarianism through George Harrison,” Long said. “As time went one, we’ve just preferred to eat this way, and I think we have been fortunate with our health as a result.”

Musically, The Logicals morphed into The Epidemics, then Elly Pop and Featherstone. Although there were a few band personnel changes, the fans stayed steadfast, even today. Creative growth as well as business changes occurred with time, accompanied by revolving managers, glory — and angst. People went to college, some left for the armed forces, and still others got “real” jobs. Some friendships were maintained. Others faltered.

Yet, these were — and are — all the same types of problematic evolution of global stars, too. Drama never seems to leave the realm of performers, and some of it lingers long after youth.

“It was an amazing experience, with a lot of opportunity and uplifting moments,” said Long. “And there were thrilling times, too, like when we opened for The Animals and Herman’s Hermits in 1966 at Olympia Stadium. The girls, the screaming fans, and even the Animals’ lead guitar player borrowing my guitar — it all created such a great memory.”

Long entered into a brief period of making sound cabinets with a school friend, a career from which the latter has made considerable success. One of Long’s band-mates, guitarist Len Gervasi, also found work in creating cabinetry, although that was for patients at Beaumont Hospital. Paying the bills began to matter, and there was less leisure time.

The love of music and drive to create never left, however. It continues today.

Discover more bands and adventures in Part 2, when you learn more about the Tidal Waves and Epidemics and meet the Polish Muslims.

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