Michigan Invasion 2013
- Category: Dr. J's Blog
- Published: Saturday, 02 March 2013 17:42
- Written by Gary Johnson
The Beatles spearheaded a mid-1960’s phenomenon that came to be called the ‘British Invasion’ wherein a wealth of rock and pop acts from the United Kingdom, as well as other aspects of British culture, became immensely popular in the United States. Besides setting rock and roll on its ear and selling millions of records, the Beatles were also a major influence in the formation of countless teenage bands across America, including hundreds in the state of Michigan. Forty-nine years after the “Fab Four” changed rock and roll forever, one of those bands, the Sixth Generation from Niles, Michigan, is planning an ‘invasion’ of their own at the birthplace of the Beatles; the city of Liverpool and its world-famous Cavern Club.
It all started with a write-up of the Sixth Generation on a British web site run out of Liverpool by Bill Hart called Lanky Beat. 'Lanky' refers to Lancashire, the geographical area in Northwest England located between two of the most important musical cities in the United Kingdom, Liverpool and Manchester. The area was a hotbed of British Invasion acts during the 60’s. Besides The Beatles, the area produced Gerry & The Pacemakers, The Searchers, Cilla Black, The Hollies, Freddie and The Dreamers, and Herman’s Hermits.
Ron Hamrick, Sixth Generation’s keyboardist/vocalist, has done a great deal of business in Great Britain and learned about Hart and his web site through his ‘real job’ as the C.E.O. of an information technology company. It was there that Hamrick first met the Liverpudlian, and they have had many conversations over the last couple of years. Hart’s site presents a webcast featuring musical segments, and he’s played a number of the Sixth Generation’s recordings after developing a friendship with both Hamrick and drummer/vocalist Dave Walenga. Hart is also a member of rock and roll band called The Lankykats; and he is a well-known figure in Liverpool with a lot of connections to venues and promoters in the Lancashire area.
The interest in the Sixth Generation that he helped generate through his popular webcast led to a very unique opportunity for the band. They received an invitation to play at the renowned Cavern Club in Liverpool on July 7, 2013; at a musical celebration to commemorate Ringo Starr’s 73rd birthday.
They will be the only American band on the bill, and they may well be the very first Michigan garage band to ever play in the club that kicked off “Beatlemania” in Liverpool over 50 years ago. No place on earth has a more storied Beatles history than the Cavern Club. From their first performance there on February 9, 1961, to their last on August 3, 1963, the Beatles performed at the Cavern 292 times.
The original Cavern opened as a jazz club in a series of cellars on Maxwell Street in Liverpool in 1957. Before the club opened for business, the cellars had been used as bomb shelters during World War II. The Cavern operated as a jazz club until rock and roll took the venue over in 1961, spearheaded by local “beat groups” like The Beatles and Rory Storm & The Hurricanes.
The Beatles quickly established themselves as the Cavern Club’s signature act and were booked for lunchtime gigs several days a week as well as weekends at the venue. It was there that they forged their musical identity with the audience only inches away. And it was at one of their lunchtime performances at the Cavern that they were first seen by Liverpool businessman Brian Epstein. Epstein offered to become their manager and soon helped to get the band signed to Parlophone Records in 1962. It was on that label, working with producer George Martin, that the Beatles began their remarkable recording career.
By 1964 “Beatlemania” had taken America by storm and the band’s phenomenal success gave the Cavern Club a prestigious status that made it an important gig for a multitude of British bands and recording artists from the United States. During its original run, the Cavern played host to a large number of star attractions that included The Rolling Stones, Elton John, Donovan, The Who, Chuck Berry, The Kinks, Bo Diddley, The Animals, Joe Cocker, Badfinger, The Moody Blues, and The Yardbirds. Several Michigan legends such as The Temptations, Wilson Pickett, John Lee Hooker, Edwin Starr, and Stevie Wonder also played the club.
For anyone not alive during the 1960’s it would probably be hard to comprehend the hold that the Beatles had on popular music at that time. In 1964 alone, the British foursome charted an almost unbelievable total of 30 songs in Billboard’s Hot 100. On April 4th the Beatles held the top five positions on the Hot 100, a feat that no other artist has ever matched. By the end of the year the band had been responsible for 10 of the Top 40 songs of 1964; including Billboard’s Song of the Year, “I Want To Hold Your Hand”.
The original Cavern operated for 16 years until it was closed for good in 1973 because British Rail decided it needed the subterranean land to build an extension to Liverpool’s underground railway network. In 1984, there was an attempt to reopen the original Cavern following the completion of the railway expansion. Unfortunately its ceilings and general structure had been destroyed during the rail construction project, thereby putting an end to those plans.
Shortly thereafter, a British company decided to build a new shopping center at the original site and, more importantly, a ‘new’ Cavern Club. The new version of the club was built just a few yards from the site of the original and great pains were taken to try and make it an exact replica, even using bricks from the original Cavern for added authenticity. The rebuilt Cavern Club is going strong today and is very popular with both locals and tourists.
The Sixth Generation will kick off their “Michigan Invasion” in Wigan, a town in Greater Manchester, England, on July 4th. Bill Hart has been hired as the band’s U.K. manager, and he told Hamrick in a recent phone conversation that there is a buzz building for the arrival of the Sixth Generation. The band has scheduled nine gigs in Lancashire during the two-week period in July. The Lankykats, who are in the same general age bracket, will be opening for them at most of the shows. Hamrick said that they will probably play a short set at the Cavern on the 7th since there will be a number of different bands playing at the event; but the Sixth Generation will play full two-hour shows at the rest of their gigs on the tour.
Hamrick, Walenga, along with band mates Fred Bachman, Paul Davies, and Fred Hulce will fly from Washington D.C. to England following a show in the Baltimore area at the end of June. Their families will be traveling with the band, and Hamrick said in a phone interview that “everyone is really pumped about the trip”. On off-days, the entire group “will do some sight-seeing in and around Liverpool where all the music history is, as well as touring the Manchester area”, Hamrick explained. “We’re also planning to take the train down to London for a couple of days”.
Hamrick said he attempted to contact Paul McCartney about the musical event at the Cavern Club by sending a message to a publishing company that McCartney owns in New York and that Ron discovered on Google. He also used Google to send a message to the “birthday boy”, Ringo Starr. He went on to say that he doesn’t really expect either Paul or Ringo to attend the show, but it would make for one very exciting event if one or both of the Beatles just happened to be present.
During our interview, Hamrick stated that his favorite Beatle back in the 60’s was John Lennon, and that he thought that “Rubber Soul” was the best of the Beatles’ albums. Ron said he really liked the early songs of the band, and mentioned George Harrison’s “If I Needed Someone” and Lennon and McCartney’s “I Saw Her Standing There” as two of the songs often covered by the Sixth Generation in concert.
This is shaping up to be a big year for the Sixth Generation. The 2011 MRRL inductees will start sessions for their second album in April. One of the songs they are going to record is titled “Rock on England”. The Hamrick composition is about the British Invasion and its influence on the Sixth Generation, and the band plans to release it in the U.K. prior to the tour, probably as a free mp3 download. In addition, the band's 1967 single, “This Is The Time” is leading this year’s voting for Legendary Michigan Songs by a wide margin, and it is certain to be one of the ten recordings to be inducted in June of 2013.
It’s doubtful that anything could match the anticipation and thrill of the band’s first British tour and playing the Cavern Club, however. Ron Hamrick shared the band’s motivation for the trip during our interview: “The real exciting thing about this is that when we were young and we first formed the Sixth Generation, the Beatles were such a big influence on us. What makes this trip so special is that it’s come full circle, with us going back to their origins in Liverpool after they helped create our origins over 40 years ago”.