For the Courier-Post
Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013, I journeyed up to Clear Lake, Iowa for the 54th Annual “Winter Dance Party.” This is my fourth time in five years and my third to review. If you’ve never attended the “Winter Dance Party” and you like the music of the 50’s & 60’s, then I highly recommend attending. You’ll have a great time and make some new friends. The only bad part is that it’s freezing cold that time of the year with temps in the minus degrees.
Thursday evening was the kickoff concert with a regional act, “Denny & the DC Drifters” opening the show and they did a lot of songs of the 50’s & 60’s by acts from that era and did a nice job, especially the two girl singers in the group. Jeff Nicholas, president of the Surf Ballroom & Museum, then welcomed everyone for coming and introduced Peter Asher of “Peter & Gordon” fame, as host of this year’s event. Peter assumed his duties as host and introduced the lively Gary “US” Bonds who opened with “New Orleans”, one of his biggest hits, followed by “Dear Lady Twist”, “Twist, Twist Senora”, “School is Out”, “This Little Girl”, “Seven Day Weekend” and closed with “Quarter to Three”. Gary used his wife and daughter as backup singers and towards the end of his show he asked his wife to do a song which was a “Ronettes” song “Be My Baby”.
Up next was the “Tribute to Ricky Nelson” with the “Nelson Twins” (Gunnar & Matthew) who are the sons of Ricky & Kris Harmon Nelson. Mr. Asher introduced them by first telling what an influence Ricky had in his life and career. The Nelsons did a wonderfully put together tribute to their dad with photos, video clips and singing all of Ricky’s hits such as “Lonesome Town”, “Hello Mary Lou”, “Travelin’ Man”, “Poor Little Fool”, “Be-Bop Baby”, “I’m Walking”, “Teenage Idol”, “It’s Up to You”, “It’s Late”, and “Garden Party” just to mention a few.
Gunnar and Matthew took turns telling stories about their father between songs. One story they told was how Ricky came to write “Garden Party”. He was invited to do an “Oldies” in New York at Madison Square Garden. He didn’t want to do the show as he was singing country and not doing the old songs. He told them that he didn’t look the same but he was talked into doing it. They told him they didn’t care how he looks, that the fans just wanted to see him. When he didn’t play many of the old songs he was booed off the stage. So he came home feeling disappointed but turned a bad situation into something good by writing “Garden Party” which became a hit for him.
Gunnar & Matthew also sang their #1 mega hit “(Can’t Live Without Your) Love & Affection” and that put the Nelson Family in the Guiness Book of World Records as the only family in entertainment history with three generations of #1 hitmakers! The Nelson were backed by Bobby Vee’s sons, Jeff on Drums & Tommy on the slapping Bass, and David Morgan on keyboard, an original member of the “Stone Canyon Band”. Also, the Nelsons brought out legenary British guitarist, Albert Lee, to join them on a few songs. At one point of the show after a song Matthew came from behind the mic and walked over to me and handed me his guitar pick and said, “This is for you”!
Friday afternoon from 1 p.m. - 4 p.m. in the Surf Ballroom Lounge was “Alan Clark & the Classics” playing the songs of Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, the Big Bopper, Chuck Berry etc. Alan is an entertainer from the Los Angeles area who has traveled many years to play at the Winter Dance Party. He has built a following of fans who attend his packed show. As entertaining as Alan is he should be on the Main stage, which is what I’ve heard the fans say ever since I’ve been attending. A couple sitting next to me, Bob & Joyce, from the Des Moines, said, “that guy’s great, he can sing anything”. He certainly would get the crowd moving if he was on the main stage. He has good stage prescence and has fun reacting with his fans.
Friday night was the Winter Dance Party’s Sock Hop with music by “Marvelous Marvin Short & his Band” from Branson, Mo. Marvin is noted as being one of the best sax players in the world and is equally known for his high hair. Marvin is a real performer and with his band performed the music of Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, & many others while the crowd danced away. There was a dance contest.
Saturday night was the Big Concert of the Winter Dance Party with host Peter Asher starting off with a “Peter & Gordon” song for the “Tribute to the British Invasion”. Afterwards, Peter said he hoped the audience wouldn’t mind but that he was going to be giving the history of how the British music helped change things in England. In the 50’s, he said, there were a lot of bombed out buildings from the war and and thank the audience or its support during those times. Peter said the “Beatles” took their name from “The Crickets” and “The Hollies” took theirs from “Buddy Holly”. He said the English were big fans of American music and the bands there were playing music by Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Gene Vincent, Little Richard, Bo Diddley etc. and not music they had written. He mentioned how “The Moody Blues” were originally a Blues band. He then introduced the original lead singer of “The Moody Blues”, Denny Laine, who also formed “Wings” with Paul McCartney. Denny was suffering from throat problems but still managed to perform well. He sang “Say You Don’t Mind”, “Go Now”, “Live & Let Die” and “Mull of Kintyre”.
Next up in “The Tribute to the British Invasion” Peter brought out Terry Sylvester who replaced Gram Nash in “The Hollies” as lead singer when he departed the group. Terry also was with “The Swinging Blue Jeans” who big hit was “Hippy Hippy Shake” which he opened with and then did “Hollies” songs “Long Cool Woman”, “The Air That I Breathe”, & “Carrie Anne”.
Interspersed throughout the tribute Peter told stories how he first got together with Gordon when they were in school and were the only ones who played an instrument. They would get together at each others house and eventually got a place of their own, rooming together. Peter showed photos of the place they lived, photos of different stages in their career, and showed a film clip of Gordon singing alone on “A World Without Love” joining in for a duet with his late partner, Gordon Waller.
He told the story how Paul McCartney had started a song for “The Hollies” but never finished it and when “Peter & Gordon” got their record contract their producer asked if they had anything they wanted to do. Peter asked Paul if he ever finished that song only to find out he had not. Peter told him they wanted to record it and that he had to finish it. He went to McCartney’s and watched him finish the song and the rest is history. Peter said that without Gordon he would never have had a career in the music business. He said he’s just the harmony guy but Gordon was the heart and soul of the duo.
Peter then brought out a man that I’ve acquired a great admiration for, Albert Lee, also British, who is one of the world’s greatest guitar players. In the mid-60s he was a top R&B guitarist, in the 70s he was doing Rockabilly and later country. He traveled with “The Everly Brothers” off and on for 20 years and with Emmylou Harris’ band. Emmylou once said she was glad that she got to play rythmn guitar with Albert Lee. I might add too that Albert came out and played some with each act on the show as they were all excited to have him join them. He has played with almost everyone from Jerry Lee Lewis to Eric Clapton. His first big recognition came while playing with “Heads Hands & Feet” where he became a “guitar hero” playing his Fender Telecaster at breakneck speed. He sang a couple “Everly Brothers” songs and some by Emmylou Harris plus telling some stories.
Eric Burden and the Animals followed Albert to the stage with an introduction by Peter who said Eric was the most soulful singer of the era. Among the songs Eric sang were “House of the Rising Sun”, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”, “Spill the Wine”, “We Gotta Get Out of This Place”, “River Deep, Mountain High”, and his new single “Til Your River Runs Dry”. Eric’s unique voice seems even more gruff than it did in the 60s. He has gone through several transitions from “Eric Burden & the Animals”, “War”, “The New Animals” and just Eric Burden solo. He has withstood the hands of time and still performing 50 years later but with a different look and sound. Eric once told me many years ago that one the biggest mistake he made was breaking up “The Animals”. When I first went to work in LA I worked in a building that housed the PR firm I worked for on the second and third floors, but on the first floor was Marty Melcher’s office, husband of Doris Day and the office for “War” where I used to see Eric frequently in those days.
The final act of the evening was the Academy Award nominee for his movie “The Buddy Holly Story”, Gary Busey. Gary did a great job in the movie portraying Buddy and even doing his own singing, however, he should have never tried singing Saturday night. He was excited about being there and being a part of the event, wanting to perform well, but he has lost his singing voice over the years. I won’t say any more than that about his singing as I felt sorry for him. I’ve always liked Gary and appreciated his acting ability. I even represented his son, Jake, very briefly. Tommy Allsup who played with Buddy on that fateful night in ‘59, helped back up Gary.
Then as Gary left the stage, someone backstage tried to start a fight with him but was stopped before it got started. The security got him out of there. However, the Winter Dance Party was still a great event, Peter Asher was the perfect host, and everyone seemed to have a wonderful time.
Musicians bring warmth to Iowa for ‘Winter Dance Party’