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

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The Epidemics’ guitarist Len Gervasi knew he was on to something big when his father, Albert Gervasi, encouraged him to watch a film clip on Jack Paar’s original “Tonight Show.”

The clip was likely grainy footage of the Beatles performing at the Cavern in Liverpool, but its impact struck the young teen like a bolt of lightning.

“There’s a movie called ‘Nowhere Boy’ about when John Lennon first saw Elvis and was mesmerized by that experience,” Gervasi said. “That’s the exact same feeling I had when I saw that Cavern clip of the Beatles. It changed my life.”

A short time later, he also gathered with family at his grandmother’s house to watch the premier Beatles’ Sullivan performance. Fully entranced by that, he knew that catching them live at Olympia when they played Detroit was not just an option; it was mandatory.

Although Gervasi was perceived by local fans as an incarnation of Paul McCartney, he identified with all of his idols. He equates them as “one of the greatest things ever,” albeit a “four-headed monster” of sorts.

“I loved them all, although if I had to pick one as my favorite, it’d be John Lennon,” he said. ”I just liked his attitude.”

Some early band memories were more adrenalin-inspired, recalls Wearing. He remembers being the opening act for The Animals and Herman’s Hermits at Olympia, although his version differs a bit from Long’s.

It centers instead on having received a beating post-concert from some Detroit youths at a gas station adjacent to the stadium. Wearing, who was driving his dad’s borrowed car, also endured damages to that during a stop-off to ask directions.

“We apparently lingered a little too long after the show; I had just gotten my driver’s license and didn’t know where the hell we were,” he said. Later, they recounted the entire adventure for posterity when their bass guitar player, Denny Mills, spontaneously inserted a poem within a subsequent recording of “Big Boy Pete,” says Wearing.

“It was undoubtedly the best part of the recording,” he added.

Wearing continues to play assorted gigs with area bands. One of those groups is Tommy and the Tom Toms, who is enthusiastically embraced by local crowds.

At the other end of town, Hamtramck’s Polish Muslims observed the actual 50th Beatles’ anniversary by playing February 9, at Paycheck’s Lounge. Prior to the event, the PM’s spread the word they would feature each Beatles’ song at precisely the time it had been played on the original show, interspersing sets with other hits, too.

This was yet another band holding the English prodigies in awe. The irreverent, folksy, rock group organized in Detroit’s Poletown — immediately transported to new heights of music appreciation, thanks to love for the Beatles.

The band’s nucleus consists of Dave Uchalik, Ken Kondrat and Al Phife, who are renowned for maintaining a Beatles-like sense of humor and irreverence. The PM members also marry their Polish culture with the rock music they love, defining "polka 'n' roll."

The group rewrites its lyrics to the melodies of that era’s bands, such as their homage to the Beatles’ “Yesterday,” entitled “Paczki Day.”

"We take everybody's hard work, sweat and tears, then basically ruin it for them," Uchalik said. "We parody as society needs us; we're not afraid to jump out there."

Their February publicity promised on the 9th: “Of course we’ll also include much of our regular crap, as well as an assortment of other Beatles favorites. Standing in for Ed Sullivan for the evening (since he's dead), will be our good friend, DJ and former WCSX morning show producer, Bob Koski.”

Polish Muslim members still enjoy a dedicated following, having evolved from combining two bands, The Reruns and The Cheaters — along with input from the Mutants and Walkie-Talkies. Having initially met during a benefit for stolen band equipment, they merged incongruous terms while seeking a band name.

“We listed as many humorous, oxymoronic names we could think of," Uchalik said. "We really wanted Almighty God, due to the (former) Pope's connections here. A Polish reference was a certainty because of our heritage, but we wanted a second name totally incongruous with the first. Plus, back then, the Black Muslims were so in vogue."

There’s no doubt it was a unique time, and one nostalgically recalled by bands and fans alike.

“The timing of the Beatles’ arrival couldn’t have been better for us,” Gervasi said, referencing his neighborhood band organization. “It pushed us into a new realm; we were lucky.”

Actually, says Gervasi, organizing a band focused on talented area kids was just an extension of what they had already grown up doing.

“We’d always been into sports — baseball — and were dedicated to the team idea,” he said. “So, creating a band came naturally, and some of the groups were cream-of-the-crop musicians. Of course, some of us were yeoman, too, but it was a special time, nonetheless.”

Bill Long releases a CD this year featuring numerous original songs and some well-played classics. For more information, visit his website at http://www.billlongband.com/.

Check out what you missed in Part 1, and receive more news about Detroit entertainment and other subjects. Subscribe by clicking above for email notifications of new articles.

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