Richmond Music 'Back in the Day'
Memories from those making music
To borrow from Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone:
“Imagine if you will” … you and your buddies, instruments in hand, exiting the bright sunshine and fresh air to enter a dark, dank parallel universe. It takes a few awkward moments for your eyes to adjust, but soon your vision becomes crystal clear. You have entered “the club” hours before your big show. Chairs are stacked on tables, the pungent smell of stale beer and cigarette smoke permeates the well-worn carpet, and the club owner barely acknowledges your existence. For most mortals, this would be intimidating; but to a musician, it’s heaven, a sweet addiction that there is no desire to cure. In just a matter of hours, you’ll be on that stage, the club will be packed, the music will be loud and that feeling of oneness between you and your audience will be indescribable.
I reached out to several of my friends from bands back in the day, and each one came alive when talking about those days.
My first call was to Nick Colleran, who founded the very popular Escorts in the early ’60s (not the same as today’s Escorts). The Escorts were one of the first local bands with the foresight to record live. That project, “The Escorts Bring Down the House,” has been preserved on CD. After his tenure as band leader, Nick went on to found Alpha Audio, one of Richmond’s most legendary recording studios.
Next, I spoke with longtime friend Buzz Montsinger, who played saxophone in The Joker’s Wild, a group that represented J.R. Tucker High School. Buzz actually started out as a kid playing with Nick Colleran. The Joker’s Wild backed up soul acts of the day like Junior Walker & the All Stars, The Isley Brothers, and Sam & Dave.
I reached out to Greg Duncan for his remembrances of Gregory D & the Mainmen. His highlights were being onstage with legends like Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons.
Richmond Music Stylings and Perspectives
Since many of us had performed in soul bands, I contacted Mike Parker for a different perspective. He played guitar in Richmond’s answer to The Beatles: The Barracudas. With the mop-top hair and Edwardian Suits, these Highland Springs kids performed with Herman’s Hermits, Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs, and even The Swingin’ Medallions.
One of my favorite conversations was with Don Quisenberry, bassist for Tidewater’s Bill Deal & the Rhondels. Don is well into his 70s and still rocking that bass. He talked with great enthusiasm recalling the band’s international run from 1963 until about 1978. They performed their late ’60s hits – “May I,” “I’ve Been Hurt” and “What Kind of Fool Do You Think I Am” – from Canada to South America. Don spoke of opening for Neil Diamond on several occasions. The Rhondels also shared the stage with The Rascals and Black Sabbath. One of their most interesting package shows was at Madison Square Garden in New York, on the bill with Deep Purple, Crazy Elephant and Neil Young.
I did some self-reflection as I looked back at the 56 years I’ve been blessed to have been on the stage. At our first gig as middle-schoolers (then called “junior high”), we took home a hefty $14. We’ve opened for The Impressions, Drifters, Percy Sledge, Junior Walker, Chubby Checker, Billy Joe Royal – to name a few. I’ve been on stage with more than 60 fellow Centaurs and played more gigs than I can recall.
So, here’s my takeaway: we all cherished, and still cherish, those precious hours on stage. We’ve backed up big artists and played local nightspots like Tantilla, The Wigwam, Tilly’s, 2001, The Mosque (now Altria Theater), The Satellite, Howard’s Steak House, The Sheik, The Westwood Club, Parker Field, Rogues Gallery, The Peppermint Beach Club, Peabody’s Warehouse and many more. Proms and fraternity parties, we played ’em all. We’ve recorded records, some of which have become valuable keepsakes.
This is just a sampling of great bands around Richmond. My apologies for not including all. From my conversations, I am sure of this: the experience we share creates a special and unique bond among us, and the once-friendly competition has mellowed into lifelong friendships and memories that will never be forgotten!
Richmond musician Ron Moody had his first hit record at 19 and continues to entertain fans through Ron Moody & The Centaurs and The Ron Moody Band.