Saturday, January 19, 2008

Mike's Blog...

My friend Mike has always reminded me of a character out of a Steinbeck novel. I can't really put my finger on which one, maybe a bit of Doc from Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday. That's because, in part, of our mutual friend, another Mike and the bar we all sort of lived at a good number of years ago, though it sure doesn't seem that long.

The bar, which closed forever after a major gunfight in which everyone inside was shot and a couple people killed, was, during our time, more reminiscent of Harry Hope's Greenwich Village saloon in O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh. Our bar had the benefits a bar receives from looking like a place where the odds of a knife fight were good, but which, in truth, rarely saw anything close to an actual fist fight.

Our mutual friend, the other Mike, had been associated with some biker gang in the past, had been in jail, had scars from a gunshot to the stomach, and had the ability to talk, without a break, on any subject for... I don't think we ever actually found the place where he stopped talking on his own and without encouragement. He once spoke about making a trip to the City County Building because of some charges that somebody in his family had filed against him and about how it took him three whole days of standing in lines and filling out forms and, as he told the story, we slowly realized that he was telling the story in real time and that the story would reach its tentative conclusion in three days.

That other Mike lived alone in a small apartment with his Beagle and with only a kerosene space heater for heat in the winter. Once, when I dropped by to make sure he had fuel for the heater, I swear it was actually ten degrees colder inside than it was outside. He was the sort of friend I would often slip a $10 or $20 to without the slightest pretense that it was a "loan." It was simply what people who had a spare $10 did with friends who didn't. In other words, it may have been charitable, but it never rose (or sunk) to "charity." A subtle but important distinction.

Both Mike's and I loved to play pool and the tables in our mock violent tavern were usually available. The game of 8-ball was born out of the introduction of shortened, coin-operated pool tables in bars and 8-ball was our game. I got sufficiently enthralled with the game that I went out and bought an expensive custom cue stick with an Irish linen wrapped flamed maple butt and a perfect shaft. I cannot remember ever being more outraged at learning that my many faults as a pool player had been my own and not, as I suspected, the fault of inferior equipment.

It is pretty though.

At some point the bar changed hands and things, as they are prone to do, changed. Any time you find yourself sitting in a favorite bar laughing with a bunch of people and taking some degree of shared solace, be sure to take a mental snapshot or two because, quite simply, nothing lasts.

We all drifted apart. A few years ago the other Mike died of throat cancer, the effect of decades of Marlboro reds and Jack Daniels. I reconnected with him a month or two before he died; someone I knew mentioned that he was in the local VA hospital and I found him there, ornery and a major pain in the ass to every nurse in the ward. I took some flowers when I went back and gave them to the nurses and told them all he didn't mean it, whatever "it" might be. I said that certain that it was true.

He moved into a hospice for a time and I would drive down with my two dogs and visit. His dog, the Beagle, had died a year or two before. The other Mike had loved that dog the way someone who only has one thing in the world to love will love that thing.

The last time I spoke to him he'd moved from the hospice to his brother's house on a small lake in Southern Indiana. He died a week or so later. My wife and I went to his wake and saw him, laid out in his casket, in some pastel 70s leisure suit he must have had in the back of a closet. In his arms he cradled the urn that held the ashes of his Beagle.

But I digress.

My friend Mike hadn't heard that the other Mike had passed away and I got the word to him through his ex-wife who worked near an agency that I volunteer for. He got a hold of me shortly thereafter and we've seen each other a few times since then. I sent him an email with a link to this blog and a month or so ago he sent me a note that he'd started his own blog. He writes very well and when I read him I am always reminded that I should try and use fewer words. But I never remember that.

His blog has been up for a while and when I looked a minute ago his site counter shows a total of 27 visits. It's damn hard to get noticed in the blogosphere.

So I want to bring it to your attention. It's called Lux Tempor and bears the inscription,

"Light for a while" - It dims so fast, use it well.

I would tell you everything I think about it because I am prone to do such things, but instead I will point you in its direction and let you decide for yourself. Click the link above. If you find you like it, add a link to your blog or tell someone about it. There is comfort in knowing that what you write and send off into cyber space is being read by someone.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Impossible Objects....

If you were to try to buy any of the guitars described below you would find them all extremely expensive. I am not, however, so much interested in the monetary value; what holds my attention is not the 7 figure price tags dangling from them. Rather, it is how these instruments seem to embody a certain moment in 20th Century popular music, from the mid 1960s through the mid 1970s, that era in which the electric guitar rose to dominate, for better and worse, what rock and roll meant.

And it had to be the guitar. In early rock and roll the guitar wrestled with the piano and the saxophone for standing as the primary musical voice. But you can't toss a piano in the car or over your shoulder, and you can't play the sax and sing. Besides, both sax and piano meant lessons, and learning to read music, and months, or even years, before you became competent as a player. While that was necessary to work inside the complexities of jazz or classical music, rock and roll was emerging as a much simpler musical form, one that stressed the rhythm over the melody. Three chords and a basic understanding of how to tune the thing and in a matter of weeks you could have your own repertoire.

No matter what clever electronic devices show up, now or in the future, it is hard to imagine anything replacing the visceral experience of being fourteen and sweeping your hand across the strings of a $100 worth of a cheap electric guitar and an amplifier cranked up to create some distortion. In that noise, in those harmonic overtones and the squeal of feedback, there is some murky affective understanding of everything that's ever happened or ever will happen. For a culture like ours, one so openly hostile to history, it may be where we've hidden history until we grow out of those fears.

What I am interested in is looking at the individual guitars that seem to hold some collective sense of that inside them. Historically important, associated with musicians who have written chapters of their own in rock music history texts. The whole concept of "best guitar player" is a trap; there are more great guitar players out there today than ever before (click on the Scotty Anderson link). Guitar playing is like a virus that runs rampant through virtually every culture on the planet. The players below occupy positions of historical importance for various reasons, many having to do with being in the right time at the right place. I don't make any case for them as "best"; in many instances they don't even make my own personal list of favorites, for whatever that's worth. But anyone who has ever been moved by their playing must feel a certain twinge of desire at the idea of possessing these objects; letting your hand run over the strings, up and down the neck, as if, whenever time travel becomes possible, it will involve some incantation mumbled over a totem object like one of these.

#1 "Blackie"

In 1970 Eric Clapton went into a guitar shop in Nashville, Tennessee and bought six vintage Stratocaster guitars for a hundred dollars each. After giving one each to George Harrison, Pete Townshend, and Steve Winwood, he took the best parts of the remaining three (built in 1956 and 1957) and assembled "Blackie," so named for its black finish. It's this guitar, pictured above on the cover of his greatest hits album, Timepieces, that holds the current record for a historically important guitar sold at auction, bringing $959,500 in the Christie's Eric Clapton Crossroads Guitar Auction.* That auction, held to raise funds for Clapton’s treatment center, exceeded the expectations of all involved.

Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Lenny" received the second highest price ever paid for a Fender Stratocaster at auction, fetching $623,500. A new world record was also set for the sale of a Gibson guitar - Clapton's 1964 red Gibson ES-335 brought $847,500. It is almost impossible not to view these prices as an attempt by the wealthiest people of my generation to buy back some pieces of their youth. It is hard to avoid the argument that the generation who shouted the loudest about the trap of materialism is now trying so desperately to reconstruct some sort of lost authentic self from the materials of their past.

But, I digress.

At an earlier auction, when Clapton first decided to sell his guitar collection to fund his drug treatment center, his sunburst 1956 Stratocaster, the guitar that graces the cover of what many believe to be his best album, Layla, set the then-record for $497,500. At the same auction his 1958 Gibson Explorer, perhaps the rarest guitar offered and one featured with Clapton in photographs and advertisements, sold for $150,000. That may sound like quite a lot of money, and it is quite a lot of money, but the Explorer would have sold for that price had it belonged to me, while a 1956 Strat that never belonged to Eric Clapton might bring $50,000-$75,000 at auction.


I think it is the combination of Clapton's place in the popular pantheon of rock guitarists, plus his identification with the Fender Stratocaster, plus the association of the specific instrument with a segment of Clapton's career. The interaction of those three elements seems to produce these results. Given that, and the continual explosion of high-end collector prices, I would not be surprised to see a seven figure price tag dangling from the headstock of the Layla Strat should it come up for auction again.

#2 "Tiger"

The sale of Clapton’s black Strat broke the record that had been set a short time before by the sale of a guitar built by Doug Irwin for Grateful Dead guitarist, Jerry Garcia. That guitar, nicknamed “Tiger” after the inlaid tiger on the top and played by Garcia for 11 years, sold for $957,500 to Jim Irsay, the owner of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts.

Part of the value of those guitars is not only the fact that Clapton and Garcia - rock guitarists who have attracted sizable bodies of guitar mythology - owned them, but that they were played prominently and over a long period of time within those respective careers. When you listen to the Grateful Dead, if you listen to the Grateful Dead, or download a video off Youtube the odds favor that you will be listening to this one particular guitar. Irsay, who bought the guitar, also paid $2.5 million for the original "scroll" manuscript of Jack Kerouac's novel, On the Road; in addition to other guitars and objects, it is as if he is trying to create a private counter culture theme park in his Carmel, IN, mansion.

What's also interesting is the degree to which we mistakenly locate the origin of the distinctive tone of each player with the instrument, rather than the player and the unique and singular touch he brings to the guitar. This is demonstrated very well in this video of a jam session at a Mill Valley bar from the late 1980s. The crowded little stage has Commander Cody, Sammy Hagar, James Burton, Elvis Costello and Jerry Garcia. Garcia is playing what I assume is Costello's Fender Jaguar through a borrowed amp and manages to sound exactly like he did when he played the guitar pictured above. In other words - he manages to sound exactly like himself, regardless of the instrument.

#3 "Jimi's Woodstock Strat"

There are photos of Jimi Hendrix playing a variety of electric guitars throughout his too-short career but, like Clapton, he is most closely associated with the Fender Stratocaster, favoring right-handed models he would play upside down (like in the photo above).

Unlike Clapton or Garcia, Jimi was also known for smashing his guitars or setting them on fire on stage and no one guitar survived long enough to have the same lengthy associations as “Blackie” or “Tiger.” Perhaps the most important of Jimi’s Strats to survive intact is the white model he played at the Woodstock festival in 1969. The last public sale of this guitar was for $325,000 to an Italian collector. It was resold privately to Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen and is now displayed in his Seattle rock museum.

As I write this there is a similar white Fender Stratocaster leaning against the couch across from my desk, but, even if it were the same year as Jimi's, even if it were one digit in a serial number apart, it would remain a thoroughly impotent object. I doubt that I'll ever have the chance to hold Paul Allen's guitar in my hands, but I suspect one of two things would happen. Either I would be shocked by the power of the object - an effect like teleportation, suddenly standing on stage on Sunday morning in August 1969, playing the National Anthem - or, more likely, I would be shocked by the failure of the object to deliver on that imagined promise. I secretly suspect it would feel small and cold in my hands, even though I want to believe otherwise.

#4 "Old Black"

"Old Black" is the nickname given to Neil Young's 1953 Gibson Les Paul, originally a gold top that was painted black decades ago and whose distinctive squeal is, in part, due to a Gibson Firebird pick-up set in the treble position. On the collector's market a damaged and worn, repainted 1953 gold top missing its original pickups would likely have a value well under $10,000. Should this guitar ever be sold however, a price well in excess of $1 million would result from that combination of Young's artistic gravitas and the prominent role this one guitar has played for over twenty years of records and tours.

#5 "Jimmy Page's 1958 and 1959 Sunburst Les Pauls"

The most sought and valuable solid body electric guitar in the world is the Les Paul Standard model produced from 1958 to 1960.** These guitars all have a book-matched carved maple top finished in a "sunburst" (the color is darker around the edges and gets lighter as it nears the center) finish. Some maple is highly figured and produces an almost 3-D illusion of "flames" or of tiger stripes in the wood. On the collector market a price difference in six figures can result between two otherwise identical guitars if one has a highly figured top.

On their early tours and on the first Led Zeppelin album, Jimmy Page played the Fender Telecaster guitar that he'd played in The Yardbirds. But by the time of the second record this had been replaced by a 1958 Les Paul. Some time later Page was given a second Les Paul, a 1959 model, by guitarist Joe Walsh. These two guitars would be his primary instruments during his time in Led Zeppelin. The value of the Page and Zeppelin connection is added to the starting price of somewhere between a quarter and a half million dollars each guitar would have if it were owned by you or me. Who knows what a well-heeled Zeppelin fan might be willing to pay to play a classic Page riff on one of these guitars? No doubt it will be something that one of Jimmy's heirs will get to find out.

Pictured at the beginning of this post if Page playing his Gibson SG twelve/six string double neck guitar, both fitted with two humbuckers. The guitar Jimmy played on stage every time Led Zeppelin played "Stairway to Heaven." The link to that particular song could quite possibly push this guitar into seven figure territory as well.

#6 "Duane Allman's 1958 Dark Burst Les Paul"

The Allman Brothers Band had a fuller sound than most bands of their era, something they achieved by having two drummers and two lead guitarists. The twin guitar leads of Dickie Betts and Duane Allman provide the band its identity, especially live. Duane Allman is credited with introducing a style of single-note electric slide guitar playing, and the tone he achieved with that was due, in part, to the fat humbucker pick-up sound of his two vintage Les Pauls.

Initially Allman played a late 50s "Cherry Sunburst" model, one with a bright red color around the edges that turned to a yellow gold in the center. But in early 1971 he bought a second Les Paul, a 1958 Les Paul, with an exaggerated tiger stripe sunburst pattern and a dark brown tobacco sunburst finish sometimes referred to as a "dark burst" by collectors. The guitar had been owned by singer Christopher Cross, and was found for Duane by Billy Gibbons of Z Z Top. This was the guitar on the At Fillmore East and Eat A Peach albums. The guitar is currently on display at the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.

#7 "Pearly Gates"

Billy Gibbons' 1959 Les Paul ,"Pearly Gates," is the source of the Rev's heavenly sound. As a young musician weaned on blues and rock in southern Texas, Billy Gibbons' life was forever altered when he heard the sound of Eric Clapton's Les Paul and Marshall combination on the John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers album. Like a crusader in search of Holy Jerusalem, Gibbons set out eagerly on a quest for his first Les Paul. After stumbling across a few choice finds in the course of his search, including an original '58 Flying V, Gibbons finally found the guitar of his dreams several years later. Nicknamed "Pearly Gates" this '59 Les Pau fell in to Gibbons' hands through a series of strange circumstances and coincidences.

"In the early days of ZZ Top, we acquired an old thirties model Packard automobile," explains Gibbons. "That automobile served us well. It was huge, flashy and lowered, but not intentionally - it was just, plain old. Not long after we got the Packard, one of our girl friends decided to head to California to try out for a part in a movie. We gave her the Packard as a way to get there. Not only did she arrive, but she got the part. We named the automobile "Pearly Gates" because we thought it must have had divine connections."

According to Gibbons, the girlfriend sold the car to a collector and sent the money back to the band. Her timing couldn't have been better. "The very day that the money arrived a guy called me up wanting to sell an old guitar," says Gibbons. "It was a '59 Sunburst Les Paul. I bought the guitar and called the girlfriend to thank her for being so kind. She said, 'it looks like the car went for a good cause. Since the money that put the guitar in our lap came from selling the Packard, we'll lay claim to the name Pearly Gates. Now you can go make divine music.' Try as I may I haven't been able to find another guitar that sounds as heavenly."

Gibbons has played this brilliant burst on every ZZ Top album since their first, and its thick, sweet tones have confounded a bevy of guitar builders who have tried in vain to imitate its voice. The '59 Gibson Les Paul may be the one of the most desirable electric guitars, but Billy Gibbons 59 may be the most coveted Burst of all. [taken from Guitar World May 1997]

In the case of Gibbons we have a guitarist who lacks the top shelf heavy weight status of Clapton, Page or Hendrix, but who may have a guitar that alone has a value pushing $750,000.

#8 "The Mother of All Bursts..."

The photo is of Dan Erlewine in 1966 playing the 1959 Cherry Sunburst Les Paul that he sold to Michael Bloomfield. George Gruhn, the foremost authority on vintage instruments in the United States credits Bloomfield with single-handedly starting the market for collectable solid-body electric guitars. In the Paul Butterfield Blues Band Bloomfield played a Fender Telecaster and that guitar began to rise in popularity. Later he switched to an early 1950s gold top Les Paul and that guitar, which had been very unpopular with rock players, suddenly became sought and prices rose. When Bloomfield left the Butterfield Band to start The Electric Flag he acquired his '59 sunburst and I believe all of the sunbursts pictured above were originally bought by those players because of Bloomfield's influence.

Mike Bloomfield was, along with Jimi Hendrix, the finest blues-based rock guitarist of his generation. The guitar above can be heard in a perfect setting on "Albert's Shuffle" from the Mike Bloomfield/Al Kooper/Steve Stills Supersession album (and pictured on the cover) and can be seen in action with The Electric Flag at Monterey Pop here (though you may find yourself screaming at the screen "Show me the guitar! The guitar!!! before it can be seen clearly at the very end).

Bloomfield's guitar is owned privately by a collector and little is really known about how it was acquired. It would be very interesting to see what might happen if it were ever auctioned. I hope that Michael's guitar would be seen for the historically important instrument that it is.

#9 "Van Halen's Frankenstein"

Sometime in the late 1970s Eddie Van Halen got an idea for a guitar that sounded like a Gibson but played like a Fender. For $50 he bought a body from a pile of Charvel "seconds" and bought a neck for $80. He stuck a humbucking pickup in the bridge position and painted the body white with black stripes. Sometime later he took that body and repainted it red with black and white stripes (creating confusion among his fans that Eddie had two guitars when he really just had the one). Like many of the other guitars pictured above ("Blackie" "Lenny" "Old Black") Van Halen's "Frankenstein" has been reissued in a limited run of guitars that copy every part, every scratch and every cigarette burn (and sell for $25,000). The only guitar in this list that is from the next generation of guitarists, I'm sure Eddie's original guitar would sell in the mid-five figures; how much higher beyond that would be very interesting to watch.

#10 "Sir Paul's 1964 Höfner Beatle Bass"

The least expensive instrument on this list is also, hands-down, the most valuable; I should run that by Alanis Morissette and find out if it's ironic.

You might think that any list of the most valuable rock-era guitars would have a significant number of Beatles instruments on it, but it won't. Why that's not true gets back to the equation that adds up to the values of the instruments above. Both George Harrison and John Lennon played various guitars throughout their career with The Beatles, but if you think about that amazing body of work, there really are no specific guitars that dominate, or are even associated with particular songs.

The last live Beatles performance was the "Rooftop Concert" featured at the end of their film, Let It Be. During the Let It Be sessions and on the roof Harrison plays a Fender Telecaster custom-made with a solid rosewood body. From a collector's perspective one could argued that this guitar stands out in particular from all the guitars associated with George and John. The guitar was first offered for sale in a London auction in 1999 but failed to meet the $300,000 reserve price. The guitar was finally sold in September 2003 during an Odyssey Auction, live online on eBay, $370,000 (the total topped $434,750 when the 17.5% buyers premium was included), but that is still roughly less than half the value of all the guitars described above.

While George and John were fine guitarists, The Beatles were never known as a "guitar band" and whatever magic we suspect might live on in Beatle objects, those objects do not appear to be guitars.

With one very notable exception.

Unable to afford a Fender electric bass guitar, Paul McCartney selected a German-made Höfner "violin" bass, a left-handed 1961 model. As a left-handed guitarist he was initially attracted to the symmetry of the body design. In 1964 he received a new model (the 1961 bass was later stolen during the Let It Be recordings) and that 1964 Höfner electric bass guitar (with the set list for the Ed Sullivan Show still scotch-taped to the side) is the one instrument unquestionably infused with some major Beatles' mojo. When I think of the single most valuable and historically important instrument of the rock era, it is this one that always tops that list. I can't imagine the bass will ever come up for sale, there's no reason to believe it would ever leave the McCartney family, so it's actual value will never really be known which is probably more appropriate than anything else because that renders it priceless.

There are some other guitars that are possible additions to this list. Bruce Springsteen's Fender Telecaster/Esquire pictured on the cover of his Born To Run album comes to mind, as do the vintage Telecasters played by Keith Richards. These offer the same odd sense of rendering one's past somehow physical, material, capable of being tuched, held in your hands. There is something of that in every kind of collecting I suspect.

* In 2006 a Stratocaster signed by numerous celebrities including Eric Clapton was sold for over $2 and a half million dollars in a charity auction that raised funds for tsunami relief. That guitar represents a generous donation to a worthy cause but the instrument itself is of little value. It is akin to receiving a $15 DVD for pledging $250 to your public television station.

** The most valuable electric guitar would be the 1958 Gibson "Moderne" should one actually be found to exist. Designed by Gibson in a series of three "futuristic" guitars - the Flying V, Explorer and Moderne - most experts do not believe the guitar was ever actually produced, others believe it's possible that a small number of prototypes were built and are still out there, somewhere. Drawings for the guitar were found, and it is those that were used for the "reissue" built by Gibson in 1983. The original Moderne, should it exist, is the Maltese Falcon of electric guitars.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Surrealism versus Realism in the Battle of Elvis....

Who knows how many Elvis impressions have been done? Above is what gets my vote for the greatest impression of all time. Will Sasso takes the last days of the king and comes up with a prescription drug-addled Elvis that is impossible to describe to anyone. It's like The Matrix of impressions - You can't tell anyone what the Will Sasso impression is, you have to experience it yourself.


Much better known but comparable was Andy Kaufman's Elvis. His is the younger, virile, 1968 Comeback Elvis.

Where the pleasure in Sasso's Elvis is in the build up of surrealism - the tension that arises from not having any sense of how far he will take it - the pleasure of Kaufman's Elvis is in the transformation of Kaufman's "foreign man" character into an unexpectedly accurate Elvis.

What results from these two impressions is a battle between a wildly surreal Elvis and hyper-realistic Elvis. Sitting here waiting for the New Hampshire primary, I thought it might make for an enjoyable interlude.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Glad All Over

I can remember all sorts of specifics from my youth. I think as I get older my memory of things back in the mid-1960s actually improves (while my memory of this morning gets fuzzy). But, while I can remember watching band after band take the stage on The Ed Sullivan Show, I can’t remember what it was like to actually have a serious discussion over who was better – the Dave Clark Five or The Beatles, even if I do remember the question coming up.

There was a brief window in 1964, maybe even into early 1965 when The DC5 were riding high in the charts and showing up all over TV. Pretty soon however, you realized that Lennon & McCartney were actually growing as writers, turning out song after song and stretching the boundaries of what pop music could be, while Dave Clark & Company had pretty much done what they were going to do, never really producing a complete “album” as opposed to a steady flow of LPs with one hit single and tons of in-one-ear-and-gone-tomorrow filler.

But Dave Clark, the mastermind behind the band, understood the pop music business as well as any of the era’s impresarios and stretched the band’s talents to include eight top ten records and 15 albums in the United States between 1964 and 1967. In those three short years they made more appearances on the Ed Sullivan show than any other band, eighteen in all.

Dave Clark was born on December 15, 1939. With a reputation as a daredevil, he worked as a stuntman in over 40 films. When his soccer team needed money in 1960, he decided to form a band. He bought a set of drums and learned how to play them. The band started out life as a backing group for Stan Saxon, a North London singer. They signed a recording contract with Ember/Pye in 1962, and became more and more popular in England. Their first single in the UK was “Do You Love Me.”

Shortly after Liverpool gave the world Mersey Beat, the DC5 began to promote themselves as the vanguard of the “Tottenham Sound.” The band’s peak came early when in January 1964 they knocked the Beatles "I Want To Hold Your Hand" off the top of the UK Singles Chart (the position it had held for 6 weeks) with "Glad All Over." Toppling the Beatles brought some major press for the group and they took advantage of this with the release of their next single, "Bits and Pieces" which reached number 2 on the British Charts.

The Dave Clark Five took the U.S. by storm with 6 sold out tours and 15 Top 20 hits in three years. One of their tours included an amazing 12 sold out shows at Carnegie Hall in 3 days. Five more records from the group were released in 1964 that reached the top fifteen in the U.S., including the top ten songs, "Can't You See That She's Mine" (#4) and "Because" (#3). Their hot streak continued the following year with "I Like It Like That" (#7), "Catch Us If You Can" (#4) and their sole U.S. #1, "Over and Over", which had been released earlier by Bobby Day as the flip side of his hit, "Rockin' Robin".

All told, The Dave Clark Five placed 17 records in Billboard's Top 40 to go with 12 Top 40 United Kingdom hits between 1964 and 1967. Their song "Over And Over" went to number one in the U.S. on the Billboard Charts Hot 100 at the end of December 1965.

The band was also distinctive on three ways. In a design uncommon for a pop group of that (or any) era, the leader was the drummer. Dave Clark would play and sing with his drums positioned at the front of the stage, with the guitarists and keyboard to his rear and sides. The group was also unique in the British Invasion because it featured a saxophone, a sort of hold over from the early rock bands of the 1950s (and an element that would not resurface in a rock band for another decade when Clarence Clemmons took center stage with The E-Street Band).

The real genius of Dave Clark, and what set him apart from all of his contemporaries, was a business sense that was decades ahead of its time. Right from the beginning, he held ownership of all the DC5 masters and continued receiving royalties for years. Even more, he retained all the rights of the group’s numerous TV appearances, which is why you so rarely see them included in the growing stream of British Invasion TV specials. In the DVD series that’s been released collecting old Ed Sullivan highlights there are multiple disc releases of the British Invasion era that feature The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Animals, Herman’s Hermits, Freddy & The Dreamers and others, but there isn’t a single DC5 clip included.

Perhaps it was Clark’s background in cinema that was responsible for the band’s most individual accomplishment.

After the success of the Beatles movie A Hard Day's Night in 1964, the DC5 released their own film Catch Us If You Can (released in the United States as Having a Wild Weekend) in 1965. Directed by first time director John Boorman whose next film would be the film that gets my vote for Best US Crime Film Ever, Point Blank (1967), and Deliverance four years after that (and Boorman got closer than Kubrick to directing The Lord of the Rings in 1970, producing a screenplay that’s a very interesting single film adaptation), the film is immediately interesting for the way in which it deviates from the Richard Lester Hard Day’s Night pop-group-in-a-movie-formula. The Wikipedia entry has a nice summary:

“Far from being a conventional pop vehicle, this serious, thought-provoking film concerns itself with the frailty of personal relationships, the flimsiness of dreams, and the difficulty of maintaining spontaneity and integrity in a stage-managed ‘society of the spectacle.’ (That such a message is articulated through one of the very mass media that have created this society is just one of several ironies.) Boorman, an established documentary filmmaker and veteran of TV commercials, already displays great technical skill in this early film. This debut offering is particularly compelling (it drew favorable notices from Pauline Kael and Dilys Powell), not least because of the enormous cultural energy of the time (mid-1960s) in which the film was made.”

By 1967 pop music was awash in the bright colors and paisley of psychedelia which proved a difficult fit for the band. One of the strangest moments in pop music came with their last single, a cover of Neil Young's "Southern Man." The best description was a comment made by my friend, Indianapolis musician John Sheets after I played the single for him. There was a long pause, and John looked at me and said in the most serious tone I've ever heard him use, "Everything about that was wrong."
Below, however, is the "psychedelic" DC5 covering The Youngbloods in the early 1970s and doing a rather nice job of it.

When the group split, Clark attended drama school. Mike Smith continued in the music business, writing commercial jingles and producing other artists. Lenny Davidson became a guitar teacher in Hertfordshire and ran a business that services church organs. Rick Huxley went to work for the Vox musical instrument company before opening Musical Equipment Ltd in Camberwell, and then turned to electrical wholesaling. Dennis Payton went in to the real estate business and continued to play music part time until his death in December 2006.

In March of 2008 The Dave Clark Five will be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.