Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Scavengers

This photographic blog will take a brief musical detour. Before we leave the New Hampshire hills, let us look at the last images from that year. The apex of my musical career had happened prior to my partyandgrades-down first semester at Bowdoin, at the end of which parenthood swept the party life away. When I got to NH, music became a business, and the band was the Scavengers. Drummer Terry McAllister was the group leader, having formerly headed Terry and the Pirates. Larry Gallagher was lead singer and hormone magnet, Steve Dore was the moody young classically trained bassist. Mr. Hangin' Five (me) played lead guitar and sang backup vocals. I played the role of George.
Our primary venue was Melody Lane on the Maine border. A good Saturday night crowd would pay each player $50 or more, almost half what I'd pull down after a week behind the counter. Our bass player Steve Dore later had several hits with The Blend, one of Maine's best bands of the 70s.
We played a variety of venues, but our home base was Melody Lane. 
I have no pictures of the Reveliers, with whom I had the hit record. All such relics disappeared with the drummer who hasn't been seen since the 90s. The Scavengers must represent the role of music in my early life. 
In the preppie sophomore stage shown in the previous post I became a dedicated folkie, a fan of the Weavers, Leadbelly and The Kingston Trio. As soon as I could drive a car, I headed for the coffeehouses then active in the Boston area: The Cafe Yana, the Unicorn, the Golden Vanity and the legendary Club 47. Lorel and I would order mochas, grab a barrel table and listen to Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee wail ten feet away, playing just for us. On Sunday afternoons my schoolmate and playing partner Bill Baker would go with me to the hootenanny at the Golden Vanity, where we'd "have a hoot" on the back steps with Rev. Gary Davis. 
One Sunday afternoon Bill and I were playing "tequila" on our acoustic (his Guild, my Kay) guitars. Into the Golden Vanity strode Tom Rush, a colossus even as a Harvard student from New Hampshire. Two lowly prep school kids were we, and Tom said:
"Hey, we don't want any COMMERCIAL music in here. We play traditional folk music, not rock 'n roll."
Duly chastened, Bill and I went back to a ballad, waiting for the day a few years later when Tom would have a big fat electric, drum-driven, amplified hit record. It just took Dylan to get him there. In 1960, he wasn't ready yet.
The Waterloo for Bill and me came much sooner, at the Concord Academy Prom. To a rapt audience seated on the gym floor, Bill and I did our folk songs, complete with rousing finish, and walked off our stools to thundering applause. For a few minutes, we were on top of the world.
Then up stepped a couple of COLLEGE guys, from Princeton, armed with Slim Jim electric guitars. The Lester Lanin-style dance band drummer sat behind his set. Without intro or warning, the room throbbed with the sound of guitar chords. Just a plain old E, like we'd played a thousand times. But what a rooming-filling, commanding sound. As the echoes of the thunderous chord faded, one of the guys stepped up to the mike and shouted:
"Good morning Captain. 
Good morning to yoooooooou
Huh huh huh huh huh huh...."
Behind this wail there beat the heavy ostinato of the two bottom strings, pounding out the blues form as the drummer kicked in with a rock back beat like nothing he'd done during his band's set of pop standards. 
The girls started to scream. Within seconds, dozens of dresses and cummerbunds were up and shaking as the folk festival became a dance party. Those girls looked much better shaking their booty than sitting on the floor. Bill and I looked at each other with the same silent thought.
The very next day we got our first electrics, Danelectro and Silvertone, and started to learn Ventures tunes. After a couple of attempts at a prep school band, I met lower classman Don Beckwith who introduced me to his neighborhood public school band, the Reveliers. When I walked in to my first rehearsal session at the drummer's bungalow in West Newton, they were already an established group and had played the Tigerama at Newton South. Except for Don, they were all greasy public school hoodlums. 
But the music brought preps and hoods together, and after a few changes in lineup we took money saved from gigs and made a 78 rpm demo disk at Ace Recording Studios in Boston. We took the demo to black-owned G Clef Records on Mt. Blue Ave. In Roxbury. The A&R man decided to give the track a surfin' title and had me record my famous "Hey look at me man I'm hangin' five" over a production surf effect.
In the wake of "Wipeout," the instrumental rose to #5 in New England and landed on the Billboard Hot 100. During the summer of 1962, you could not listen to WBZ. WMEZ or any other NE station without hearing at least a few bars before the news.
The Reveliers played the top Boston venues: the Surf Nantasket with Arnie "Woo Woo" Ginsberg, the Pepsi Dance Party, the Norumbega Ballroom. We backed up Dick and Dee ("The Mountains High"), opened for Dick Dale and the Del-tones before 100,000 fans in Providence. 
The fame and success brought only disapproval at home and school, but fifty years later the music is still being heard while the voices who demanded attention to schoolwork have long faded into silence.
Many acts with no more a two-hit wonder than "Hangin' Five" (The B-side "Patch" was also a hit) have built a lifetime of Holiday Inns, weddings and festivals upon such a foundation. For me, music became simply a way to earn easy money. The Scavengers did go to Mastertone Studios in New York with my tune "The Chosen One," but after a good band track the vocals had problems, and that was the end of my recording music for 30 years.
Melody Lane, drawing from a vacation area filled with summer camps and tourists, was a cash cow. There were also plenty of dates over the winter, especially during ski season. When we moved back to Brunswick, my band was The Vectors, all Bowdoin students. We played "Louie Louie" a thousand times as frat house cellars inebriated around us.
This stage shot shows the Scavenger setup, Larry and Steve's matching amps and my Fender Pro blasting out on a chair. Note the old mics and the horn speakers on stands.
When I left Bowdoin for Ohio in 1967, I also stopped being a professional musician until a brief attempt with a Colorado band in 1969, a few songs in the early 70s, and a family band in the late 70s-early 80s, the Chesterville Blues Band, which played golden oldies. After that, I just played oldies at parties until the Rebirth of the 90s. But that takes us far ahead of our story.
Having given full due to The Scavengers and all the music they represent, the story now turns back to the winter of 1965, when we moved to 7 1/2 McKeen Street just off the Bowdoin campus. There my naive fascination with photography would meet the intellectual rigor and challenge of  Studio Art Professor Tom Cornell.


  1. Wonderful!! Answered some questions for me thats for sure. George...the only one I didn't know personally!!

  2. Amazing! I've got a compilation called Strummin' Mental! of 'rare primitive instrumental rock'n roll' from 1957 to 1965. There's this tune I keep on recalling every once in a while, when I listen to surf instrumentals, and a specific 'rolling' sound of the bass strings hits me. I dig through my various garage and surf comps. to find this particular tune, ah which cut was it? There it was Scavengers with Curfue! I decides to look up more about Scavengers - and there are you with the story and splendid photographs, thank you so much! Do tell me where to find more Scavengers music.
    Thanks again
    from a fan in Copenhagen,Denmark