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Early Days:  The Teddy Bears and more

I was blessed to come of age in the late 1960s.  In my opinion, the sixties were the last great era for youngsters who wanted to learn to play popular music.

Early Teddy Bears

The Teddy Bears, at our first practice/party, at the Blakemore house.  From left:  Doug Hedderich, Larry Reves, Andy Curry, and Frank Blakemore.  My only real memory of this day was that it was the first time I got an erection while dancing with a girl.  Sweet.
I'd sung, acted, and played the ukulele since I was very young.  Here's a picture of a school choir which appeared in the Wichita Beacon when I was about nine.  I'm the rightmost child in the photo.

My rock and roll career began in 1966, when I was 14 years old and a sophomore at Hickman High School in Columbia, Missouri.  I was befriended by a three guys who existed pretty close to the bottom of the social structure at Hickman.  Since I was fairly new to Columbia and had no friends, I was easy pickings for their overtures.  They persuaded me to join in forming a band.

The only guitar I had was a cheap classical guitar, and the only thing I knew on it were 4-string chords from when I played the ukulele as a small child.  This was no problem, as talent was not required.  It turns out there WAS some nascent musicianship in the bunch, but it was hard to tell at the time.

The guys were Frank Blakemore, Doug Hedderich, and Larry Reves. 

Later on - perhaps late 1966 - we added Dave Moorman, an equally socially-inept guy but actually pretty able on keyboards.

You shouldn't think that I wasn't having, um, ... legitimate musical experiences during this time.
At Hickman High, I was selected for Choraleers as a sophomore and the elite madrigal group as a junior.

Our gig at the
              skating rink
Here is a photo of our first and only gig at the roller rink, which we played for free.  Note the massive wall of equipment.
To start out with, Frank had the equipment:  A Harmony electric guitar and a Gibson Falcon amplifier.  Larry had a cheap set of drums.  I don't remember what Doug did for a guitar, but we assigned him to the bassist role even though no one actually had a bass.  I managed to scrape up $7 to buy a pickup from Burstein-Applebee and put it on my classical guitar.  Then, during a family trip, I crushed that guitar by rolling over on it when my stepfather had to stop suddenly.  No problem:  Frank and his dad took the neck off of it, glued a couple of pieces of plywood together, cut it in an... interesting pattern... screwed the neck to the body, and glued the pickup down.  Of course, no one had any idea about the importance of scale length, so it was impossible to intonate.  Around that time, I borrowed $40 from my parents and bought a Wards Airline amp from a pawn shop in Kansas City.  That was a terrible amp.
My first electric
Here is a picture of my homemade electric guitar.  The neck, bridge, and tailpiece came off of the classical guitar pictured above, which was crushed when I rolled over on it in the car.  Frank Blakemore and his Dad made it for me.  The pickup cost me about $7, from the Burstein-Applebee catalog, and it was hardwired to the cable.
I think we had one [cheap!] microphone, and we would just plug it into a second channel on one of the guitar amps.

At some point, Larry - the drummer! - purchased a brand new Epiphone Olympic electric guitar and a Gibson Lancer amp, which was LOUD, at least to our ears.  

Dave Moorman was a keyboard player, but the only keyboard he had access to was the Thomas organ in his house, so when he joined, we could only practice there.  Understandably, his parents were reluctant to allow this to happen, as they didn't want to leave us unsupervised but they probably couldn't bear to hear us practice.  Nevertheless, we did get a few practices in there, where I met Dave's neighbor, Linda, who became my first love.  Oh, how sweet that is!

We played - or tried to play - the standards of the day:  Gloria, Just Like Me, Kansas City, Louie Louie, Get Off My Cloud, Little Latin Lupe Lu, etc..  One of our favorite songs to "play" was Barry McGuire's "Eve of Destruction."  We even tried some Dylan stuff (Desolation Row!).  But invariably, each practice would degenerate into the jam session from hell and we would end up doing absurd stuff like "Dirty Old Man" by the Fugs.

Andy and Linda
              going to the Junior Prom
Not the Teddy Bears, but from the period - Spring 1967.  Linda and I before the Junior PromI've had a soft spot for gardenias ever since.  I think the band for that dance was Kansas City's "Classmen," and they were good.
How bad were we? We had two gigs.  The first was a freebie at a roller rink on the outskirts of town, after skating.  We couldn't get back in there even after changing our name to The Nightshades and having someone else call for us.  The second was a frat party where we were asked to leave after about a half an hour, without getting paid.

I remember going to Frank "Crickit" Balsamo's house once and jamming a little with him and someone else.  He played in a GOOD high school band called The Tonks, as well as a Herb Alpert-styled band, the "Marijuana Brass." (!)  We did some song which needed a B chord, and I remember that I didn't know how to play one.

But the main thing about the band was that it gave us an excuse to hang out together and have some fun. We'd hang at the end of a hallway at Hickman before first period, making other students nervous, and drive around together in Frank's car or Larry's dad's car on Saturday afternoons.
Another shot from
              the roller rink
Here's another shot from the roller rink.  I don't know what my left hand was doing all the way up on the neck.  Note my "beatle boots" and the artistic job on the bass-drum head, as well as the crowd of adoring fans.
Frank Blakemore is now a Vietnam veteran (Navy, river boats) and a retired cop in Moberly, Missouri, and he's quite a good rock guitar player.  He's also married to HIS high-school sweetheart, Sandy, and they have two grown children. 

Doug Hedderich still lives in Columbia. 

Larry Reves died young, in the late 1970s, leaving his high-school sweetheart Debbie widowed; he had one son.   Debbie, who was Frank's cousin, has also passed away.

Dave Moorman is now a pastor in ??.

Other high-school bands of the time and place: 
The Nightriders,
The Tonks,
The Ensytes,
he Dalton Gang,
The Folkswingers,
the Marijuana Brass. 

They were all a lot better than us.  But ya gotta start somewhere...

Here are some band pictures from my 1967 HHS yearbook.

My stepfather - an Air Force officer -  was transferred to Kelly AFB in San Antonio in Summer of 1967, so the Teddy Bears were no more.
Leaving my first girlfriend crushed me.
Although it's hard now to imagine that we would have stayed together - we were so young! -  to have parting forced on me was devastating.

We arrived in San Antone a couple of weeks before school started, and I walked around the neighborhood and immediately found a garage band.
Before I knew it I was playing "Double Shot" with them and trying to get to second base with a girl I'd never met before. 
Here's a shot of the one gig I played with that band, on a borrowed bass guitar; it was a Jr. High dance.
I'm behind the guy in the middle (Darryl) with the Teisco Del Rey guitar.  White jackets and Silvertone amps, yeah! 
The guy on the left, Jesse, was actually pretty good.

My mother soon found a house she liked a whole lot better, so we moved to Olmos Park, a close-in suburb, where I attended Alamo Heights H.S.. 
Other than jamming on the Vanilla Fudge version of "You Keep Me Hangin' On" with Jeff Kass, and writing some lame angst-ridden original songs, I didn't do much playing there.

But I was musically active in school.  The choir director, Mr. Harold Greenlee, took an interest in my vocal development.
He got me a gig as a makeup person for the San Antonio Opera Festival, where I got to hear Robert Merrill, a young Placido Domingo, and more greats of opera.

Shortly after I arrived at Alamo Heights, the boy who was to play Woody in Finian's Rainbow was injured playing football, and Mr. Greenlee drafted me as his replacement.
 I had to learn the part in two weeks.  Also went to district and state vocal solo contests, where I did pretty well.  I was named a National Merit Finalist, with highest score in the school.

A year behind me at Alamo Heights was Chris Geppert, who later became Christopher Cross.  He played in a heavy psychedelic band called Flash.

The first real concert of popular music I ever went to was in the early Spring of 1968.  James Brown and His Revue, including the Famous Flames, at an arena in San Antonio.  I went with girl friend Linda Meador, who had to "story" to her parents about where she was going (they should have been more concerned about whom she was going with, but... I digress).  I recall that the show was very late in starting, and that the P.A. was very inadequate.  But what a show!  Linda and I were one of very few white people there, which didn't bother either of us.  About 10,000 people, and they were all dancing together.  Great music, great light show.  To this day, I think it's the most exciting live music I've ever experienced.

Copyright 2007, 2014 by Andy Curry