Tom Rademacher: Return to yesteryear with The Kingtones, a Grand Rapids’ 60s garage band
on August 15, 2013 at 12:04 PM, updated August 15, 2013 at 12:06 PM
If you were patronizing a popular bar named The Shamrock Lounge back in the 1960s, chances are you waited in line to get in.
Especially if The Kingtones were playing.
Now, you can return some to those days of yesteryear and thrill once more to the lure of a garage band that loomed large around Grand Rapids and environs, thanks to a new book just published by an original member of the group.
While the band’s website – www.thekingtones.com – best chronicles the longer history of the band, Bruce Snoap’s new release gives a clear snapshot of the 10 weeks in 1964 that The Kingtones headlined during Spring Break at “Porky’s Hide Away,” which 50 years ago was a huge draw for kids haunting the Ft. Lauderdale area.
“I’ve never kept a journal before or since, but I kept one for that trip,” says Snoap, who along with Phil Roberts was an original member of The Kingtones, established in 1957, when Snoap and most of the group’s other budding musicians were students at Oakleigh Junior High on Grand Rapids’ upper West Side.
They hit their stride during the 1960s, as most were graduating from high school – Roberts (guitar) from East Grand Rapids, Mike King (drums) from Creston, and Pete Mervenne (lead vocals), Bob Major (bass) and Snoap (keyboards) from Union.
In February of 1964, the five-some packed up their imported Nehru suits and Italian shoes and drove to Florida with $40 in the “kitty” for gas, oil and groceries – along with a box of fried chicken, compliments of Snoap’s grandmother.
After finishing the chicken en route, they tossed the box out the van window, only realizing 200 miles down the road that besides chicken bones, it contained one of Snoap’s shoes.
Anecdote No. 1.
Hundreds more followed, all tracked in a yellowed notebook that Snoap says “I found just two years ago” and decided to transform into a book. Literature it’s not, but the work provides a funny and sometimes mildly irreverent peek into another time and place, one not fraught with social media and sophisticated electronics.
Prices were something else, then, too, especially when you consider they found motel rooms at $12 a night, and a breakfast of two eggs, toast and coffee for 65 cents.
Even at their young age – in 1964, King was just 18, Major and Roberts and Merveene 20, and Snoap 21 – the Kingtones had established a solid reputation around Michigan, thanks to gigs at not only The Shamrock and other area watering holes, but a statewide chain known as Coral Gables.
They were also enjoying some success with an original recording entitled “Twins,” which reached No. 7 locally, thanks to airtime on WGRD radio here. (You can hear them sing that hit as well as other tunes from that era by clicking on their website).
Snoap’s book helps you understand the frustration of living on the road, and of the difficulties they found in trying to wedge their way into Porky’s. But once they did, they turned the place on its ear, especially when they belted out their rendition of “The Bird,” which Snoap writes turned the young audience into fun-seeking “savages” on the dance floor. Snoap’s completely honest in detailing, too, how on some nights the band just failed to successfully deliver their “Kingtones sound,” a reference to when the music and vocals and percussion were all in sync. But when they were “on,” it was a special blend, recalls Paul Magnan of Rockford, whose father used to book the Kingtones for shows at The Plantation, now the site of North Kent Mall. Magnan recalls Phil Roberts as “quite an eclectic guy” in that he “was always hobbling something together – speakers, this amp with that mixer, echo units, etc.” Magnan – who himself belonged to a band called “The Boyfriends” – lauded The Kingtones for “pioneering the use of different sound equipment and electronics because what was needed to sound great was not commercially available.” Snoap’s 111-page book has ample references to the band’s time on stage, but also provides glimpses into their frustration, friction points, and in Snoap’s case, loneliness for a girlfriend named Chick, whom he later married. He and Roberts played as Kingtones members the better part of 50 years. Snoap went on to become an elementary schoolteacher, and retired after 30 years in the Grand Rapids system. Roberts never married, and lives in East Grand Rapids. King left the Kingtones when he married and moved to eastern Michigan. He worked as an engineer until his retirement in 2010. Bob Major left The Kingtones in 1967 and worked first as a police officer, then a security guard. He retired in 2005. Roberts owned a recording studio while continuing to play for The Kingtones. He is still considered the group’s “philosopher.” Pete Mervenne married in 1968 and moved to Flint, where he worked delivery routes for The Detroit Free Press. Described in Snoap’s book as “a charismatic teen idol and heartthrob; the ultimate in cool,” the married father of three died in 1989 of a massive heart attack. He was 45. Three years ago, The Kingtones were inducted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In Ft. Lauderdale, the site of Porky’s is now a pet store.Editor’s Note: “The Kingtones 1964 Memoir” by Bruce Snoap, is available by special order at the Schuler Books & Music store on 28th St. SE, and via amazon.com.
E-mail Tom Rademacher at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Above Story Published by Doug Taylor with Permissions from Tom Rademacher.
Tidbit story by Doug Taylor
FS ~ 8/15/2013 – 8/28/2013