This is their time (again)Published 8:13pm Sunday, July 17, 2011
Gary “Dr. J” Johnson of Essexville said, “You probably already know that Michigan is the number-one rock and roll state. Michigan Rock and Roll Legends formed in 2004 for the purpose of honoring all of the important artists and songs that put Michigan into that number-one position. I’m here tonight to induct one of southwest Michigan’s great rock and roll bands, The Sixth Generation. They’ve proved that so far tonight, don’t you think? One of my favorite songs is Bob Seger’s Rock and Roll Never Forgets. Rock and roll has certainly not forgotten these guys because in the 2011 vote for Michigan Rock and Roll Legends, The Sixth Generation came in first place” with 34.9 percent.
“In the process,” Johnson continued, “they beat out some pretty big stars – Diana Ross, The Romantics, Suzi Quatro and Sonny Bono, who was from Detroit,” as well as Anita Baker, Marshall Crenshaw, Iggy Pop, Edwin Starr and The Spinners.
“These guys did pretty well,” Johnson said. “Tonight, This is the Time.”
The Sixth Generation shared bills with the Kingsmen, the Buckinghams, the Box Tops, the Ides of March and the Electric Prunes.
Drummer Dave Walenga, of Linthicum, Md., said afterward, “We’ll have to go back and look at it in retrospect because it went so quickly. When you’ve practiced as long as we practiced and play as hard as we play. I think everybody had a great time. I know we did.”
Sixth Generation is calling it the Full CIrcle Tour 2011, which takes the Niles-Buchanan garage band from Niles Riverfest to Oct. 8 at Dowagiac Elks Lodge 889, billed as the Skyliner reunion for the Five-Mile Corner dance venue where they played often enough to be the house band.
“For not playing for 40 years,” Walenga added, “I think we did okay.”
Their fans seemed to agree, loading up on T-shirts, caps, posters and Legends of Rock buttons at the merch table.
This American Legion hall is where the band, beset by college and military obligations, called it quits on a snowy night in December 1970 – the same year the Beatles broke up.
Members went their separate ways to Alaska, Maryland and Virginia.
On Memorial Day 2010, Amanda Davies, daughter of bass player Paul “General” Davies, who has been best friends with Walenga since their Niles junior high days, asked her dad and the drummer, “Bingo,” “Why don’t you get back together?”
“We never thought about it,” they answered.
But that wasn’t quite true. As it turned out, every member of the band never lost the dream of one day reuniting and making music as The Sixth Generation.
Last October, they came together to play together for the first time in four decades and “had a great time.. We played together so well, in fact, that we decided to work hard to get ready for a reunion tour” which kicked off July 16 and will take them to various venues throughout the Midwest and East Coast.
Sixth Generation is fortunate to consist of all of its original members: Fred Bachman, John Dale, Paul Davies, Ron Hamrick, Fred Hulce and Dave Walenga.
To set the mood for the days of AM transistor radios tuned to your favorite radio station for the latest 45s spun by a DJ, Larry “Pic” Pickles imagined a station called WTSGB, warming up the crowd with some Rascals from 1968; “All My Loving,” with which the Beatles signaled the British invasion during their first appearance on Ed Sullivan; Dave Clark Five from 1965; the Apollo 11 countdown; some “sweet soul music”; and the Kingsmen, Sir Douglas Quintet and the Esquires’ “Get On Up,” with which they open their 26-song set to come full circle.
Sixth Generation reels off “Gimme Some Lovin’ “ by the Spencer Davis Group, “Little Bit of Soul” by Music Explosion, “The Last Time” by the Rolling Stones,” and a “good Motown song,” “My Girl.”
Shoes and sandals sail off the feet of the women who have been dancing in a circle since the opening number when the group hits “Barefootin’ “ before their hit, “This is the Time” and the Fred Bachman/Ron Hamrick sequel, the nostalgic “That was the Time.”
“That was the Time” references “happy chaos” and the Vietnam “war that would not end,” but “music always made things right.”
The times kept on rolling by and the songs kept us flying high – especially if they head into the studio with it at the end of the month, as Walenga stated.
“This is the Time” was recorded May 18, 1967, in Chicago. By September, it hit No. 1 at Spin-It Record Shop, ahead of “Come Back When You Grow Up” by 1993 Dowagiac visitor Bobby Vee.
They will also slow things up with a mellow Bachman tune, “Smooth Sailing” and an original blues tune by Walenga and Davies, “I Can’t Believe I Made It,” which Paul sings while Fred straps on his Hofner bass.
They alternate between crunch, such as “You Really Got Me” by the Kinks and “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying” by Gerry and the Pacemakers with some stellar surf guitar interspersed by Buchanan’s John Dale.
When “John B. Dale” finishes being Chuck Berry on “Johnny B. Goode,” a female fan deposits panties at his feet. “I thought it was a sock,” one of the musicians laughs.
Walenga jokes that Dale used to be a “hayseed,” but with time has become a “hay bale.” He teases the slender Bachman for his “six pack” compared to his “keg.”
But mostly they keep the patter to a minimum because they’re serious about the music and delivering their show.
With fans in the house from Seattle, Florida and Maryland, Sixth Generation decides to play “Name That Tune.” Hulce barely hits one note before it is correctly guessed as “Louie Louie” by the Kingsmen, which segues with a drum fill into “Money.”
Following the induction ceremony, Sixth Generation returns with “Love Potion No. 9” and a song which fills the dance floor to capacity with a flash mob – “Hanky Panky” by Niles natives The Shondells and their frontman Sixth Generation know as Tom Jackson. Walenga even worked at Spin-It Record Shop at 406 E. Main St. after Tommy James and owns a copy of the 45 on the Snap label.
After “Spooky,” Amanda Davies is called to the stage to be thanked for restarting it all.
A welcome from the band in the form of a newsletter shows the short-haired teens in their matching striped shirts they probably bought at Paul’s and posed on a tree hanging over the river in Niles’ Island Park.
One photo promoting the release of “This is the Time,” which received airplay on Chicago’s WLS, the Big 89, shows the band with their equipment setting up for the St. Mary’s Fun Festival.
Sixth Generation is barreling into the homestretch behind “Hang On Sloopy,” “Twist and Shout,” “Proud Mary,” “Mustang Sally” and the Beatles’ “You Can’t Do That.”
For an encore for the “gluttons for punishment,” they perform Grand Rapids’ Del Shannon’s “Runaway” and “I’m a Man” by Chicago, with Pic on tambourine.
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