Herman’s Hermits starring Peter Noone cap Dogwood Fine Arts Festival May 15Published 8:39am Tuesday, April 27, 2010
By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News
It’s been almost half a century since ageless Peter Blair Denis Bernard Noone collected his first show business paycheck for acting in a 1961 television series.
After Herman’s Hermits hit in 1963, Noone, 62, enjoyed a relatively long run at the eye of the hurricane as a teen idol who kept magazines such as 16 in business, sharing covers with other sex symbols of the day – Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Mark Lindsay and Phil “Fang” Volk of Paul Revere and the Raiders, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, the Dave Clark Five and Dino Martin Jr.
Teenage girls are a fickle sort, however, and one crush quickly gives way to another.
Soon it would be Batman and Robin (Burt Ward!), secret agents Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) and Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn), the Men from UNCLE, the Cowsills (“Indian Lake”) and Bobby Sherman making tender hearts swoon.
In 16, whose articles were “mostly made up” by his friend, editor Gloria Stavers, Noone listed The Beatles and The Byrds as his favorite groups.
“A fantastic band,” he praised Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Roger McGuinn’s group, which shared the 2009 Dogwood bill with John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful.
Noone remembers consulting Eric Burdon of the Animals about places to stay and hotels to avoid. “It was a different time,” he said.
In 16 the month Sgt. Pepper came out, the cover story was “Monkees and Beatles meet” with Davy Jones wearing granny glasses, and a torch was passed.
Glasses helped give Peter his nickname “Herman,” inspired by the “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show” cartoon about a flying squirrel, a moose and villains Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale up in Frostbite Falls, Minn.
Mister Peabody was a dog and he and “his boy” Sherman traveled through time in a “wayback” machine.
The Hermits used to rehearse in a pub when it closed.
The bloke who owned it asked him in his fashionable shades what he was supposed to be, to which Noone replied, “I’m Buddy Holly.”
Informed he looked more like the know-it-all dog Mister Peabody’s bespectacled boy Sherman, it lost something in translation and was heard as Herman.
Further, the band was told they “look like hermits.” It stuck.
“I’m proud of my work,” which includes 14 gold records and seven gold albums, “but we were a band with no plans, which is why it was so wonderful” when after three years they became overnight sensations.
“Getting a song on the radio was our only goal. We didn’t have any mums or dads getting us a series. We were the first-ever punk band. The plan was to make it, so when we made it we didn’t know what to do next. Make an album? We were flying without wires.”
Carole King wrote some of their hits, he said.
Ray Davies of the Kinks wrote them “Dandy.”
Though named the outstanding young musician back in Manchester, Noone regards himself as a “jack of all trades” who can play passable piano and guitar.
“I didn’t want to be a musician. I wanted to be an entertainer. I wanted to be the leader. The Lawrence Welk of rock,” he said.
“We don’t have a set list. I can’t tell you what we’re going to do,” except humor is a major ingredient of the showman’s repertoire, which includes parodies of such figures as Jagger, Davy Jones and Tom Jones (someone shouted his name one night).
“We’re not in the dressing room drinking champagne and chatting up young girls,” he said. “We’re playing songs.”
He hums a few bars of the Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday.”
“Music is fun for us, not our job,” Noone added.
After Herman’s Hermits – Noone notes they broke up at the age the Beatles were when they started – he released in the United Kingdom “Oh! You Pretty Things” written by piano player David Bowie, who had changed his name from David Jones because another Davy named Jones was bigger with the Monkees.
“I play a bit of piano, but mostly I sing and clap. Actually, I think the guys value me most as a van watcher” so “no one drives off with our gear,” the 5-foot-9, 140-pound MGM recording artist was quoted in 16, which cost 25 cents.
Teen magazines even published home addresses, which Noone said was probably his parents’.
“When Al Gore invented the Internet,” Noone realized what a splendid vehicle it would be for communicating with his new generation of fans.
Thus was born Noonatics.com, which went live 11 years ago on April 14, 1999.
“I was jealous of the Grateful Dead and the audience they built with a couple of mediocre songs,” he said.
His personal tastes seem to run to the country side of rock.
He mentions being in Nashville where you can “hear the guitar players,” as well as Poco, Pure Prairie League and the Eagles.
“I’m one of those persistent people who work on projects until it happens, which is important in show business,” Noone told the Daily News in a 15-minute phone interview Monday afternoon while he drove to an appointment. Punctual? He called a few minutes early.
“When one career stops I begin another. I’m a working class guy who can’t be unemployed,” he said.
When the Hermits played lunchtimes at Liverpool’s Cavern Club (“The Beatles loaned us gear”), they brought sandwiches from home because they couldn’t afford lunch, 16 reported. More likely, their parents thought sandwiches from home would be more nutritious.
Noone’s dad, Denis, was an accountant. Peter got him and his “mum,” Joan, a 40-room house with his royalties, but he never did buy the Rolls Royce he talked about.
Nor does he admit to being “the world’s worst driver,” another quote attributed to him.
Asked if he was like Jagger with his London School of Economics background and invested his money wisely, Noone said, “It’s easy to make money in the music business, but hard to keep it. I’m still making mine.”
At one time Noone owned a boutique called The Zoo on E. 60th Street in New York where you could buy groovy clothes like a satin brocade dinner jacket. His band dressed like Edwardian dandies in the mid-Sixties.
Noone answered the question of whether he and the original Hermits remain on good terms by saying he was in Nashville while Keith was “stuck at my house” in California when Icelandic volcano ash grounded thousands of flights.
Keith would be Hopwood, one of the guitarists. The original Hermits you might remember from “Shindig” or “Hullabaloo,” also included Karl Green on bass, Derek “Lek” Leckenby, who wore glasses, on lead and rhythm guitar, and Barry Whitwam on drums.
Some of them went from being Heartbeats to Hermits.
“We all kind of grew up together and know each other’s pros and cons,” Noone said of his bandmates, likening their coming up to the Marines. If one got in a scrape, they all fought.
Noone played Pinocchio in a Christmas special with Burl Ives as Gepetto.
He wanted to branch out and act in three movies a year, like Elvis.
As a teen idol, no detail was too meager to meet intense demand for morsels.
He liked to travel – Hawaii being his favorite vacation destination – he collected medallions and funny sweatshirts.
One essay attributed to him was called “The Word is Love” (like the Rubber Soul song McCartney penned for The Beatles) and “and the Answer is Yes,” about the benefits of being positive.
In “Ten Ways to Make Me Love You,” Herman coached, “Don’t ever scream and don’t ever point. I really don’t dig that. So stay cool.”
In chatty articles that read like personal letters, such as the February ’68 ” ‘Erman luv letter,” he relates traveling in Greece, looking forward to touring the Far East and why there was no winter tour of the States – the Hermits were in South America, particularly enjoying Argentina and Brazil.
He reportedly shopped for homes in Spain and Switzerland in February 1967.
Their concert at the Ohio State Fair became an NBC TV special.
During the 1970s, Noone starred in various stage, TV and film productions, including ABC’s musical version of The Canterville Ghost.
He starred in three films for MGM: Mrs Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter (about dog racing), Hold On! and When the Boys Meet the Girls.
He received favorable reviews in the lead role of Frederic in several Broadway theater productions of The Pirates of Penzance during the 1980s.
Also in the ’80s, Noone fronted a new-wave band called the Tremblers, and released a solo album, One of the Glory Boys.
He hosted VH1′s My Generation from 1989 to 1993, and in 2001 was voted “VH1′s Sexiest Artist. The Viewers’ Choice award.”
He also hosted the PBS special The British Invasion Returns.
“I’m Into Something Good” made the movie “Naked Gun.”
He divides his time between England and Santa Barbara, where neighbors include Dennis Miller and tennis player Jimmy Connors.
Noone sang “I’m Into Something Good” on Fox with Mike Huckabee.
Besides Dowagiac, where kids sang “Henry the VIII, I Am” in their best British accents on the Fitch Camp bus – second verse, same as the first, and no Willies or Sams – May takes him to Dallas, Ontario, Idaho, New York and Las Vegas. He starts June in Oregon.
In March 2007 Noone appeared as a men’s mentor on the hit TV series, “American Idol,” with Lulu. He sang “There’s a Kind of Hush.”
“I go for the Shelley Fabares type or the Lula type,” he once told 16.
For those in Dowagiac who caught him on Idol, some will likely inquire about his anecdote of what “She’s Not There” by the Zombies is about.
Dogwood Fine Arts Festival is made possible through support from the St. Denys Foundation and grant awards from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.
Herman’s Hermits starring Peter Noone is underwritten, in part, by Wolverine Mutual Insurance Co.
For tickets or more information about this and other Dogwood Festival events call (269) 782-1115, (866) 490-2847 or visit www.dogwoodfinearts.org.