Sixth Generation invading BritainPublished 4:48pm Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Sixth Generation found a unique way to celebrate Ringo Starr’s 73rd birthday July 7.
The quintet, formed in 1966 as a Niles garage band, will be the only American group performing on the bill in the birthplace of the Beatles, Liverpool’s Cavern Club.
Sixth Generation’s United Kingdom tour July 4-13 includes performances at several venues in northwest England.
Before their role reversal of the 49-year-old British invasion, however, the baby boomer band performs May 4 at Dowagiac Elks Lodge 889 and for a private event in Niles in June.
They have rehearsed four new songs for a follow-up CD, including keyboardist Ron Hamrick’s “Rock On, England,” paying tribute to “how that music influenced us.”
It will be released as a single ahead of their tour after an April recording session.
There are even plans to put a new spin on 1967’s “This is the Time,” leading balloting for Legendary Michigan Songs by a wide margin and certain to be one of 10 tunes inducted in June.
Walenga, of Linthicum, Md., who has visited the Cavern Club, describes the walk down those storied stairs as an “unbelievable experience.”
Starr and his cohort, Sir Paul McCartney, have been invited, though they are not expected to attend. “We have no idea if it will reach them, but it doesn’t hurt to try,” said Hamrick, another Cavern visitor.
When Sixth Generation reunited in 2010 after a 40-year break, no one expected tours, CDs with original songs, hall of fame status or the boomer anthem “That Was the Time,” with more than 100,000 YouTube views.
As Walenga likes to say, “Nothing surprises me. And now this opportunity. We’re not reliving our youth. We’ve never been. This is our first time. We take this in stride.”
Hamrick, Walenga, Fred Bachman, Paul Davies and Fred Hulce and their families fly from Washington, D.C., to England after a show in the Baltimore area at the end of June.
“We had no intention of going big-time,” Davies, of Niles, said. “We were just making music and having fun until we had to get real jobs. We never thought it would lead to this. We did it for yuks. I’m getting excited,” though his initial reaction was, “You must be kidding.”
“It’s outrageous, humbling and thrilling,” Davies said. After a practice in Virginia last weekend, with vocalist Bachman adding guitar duties from departed addition Steve Blevins for retired original member John Dale, “I think he’s going to be a lot better than he thinks he is.”
Though Sixth Generation performs “I Saw Her Standing There” and “If I Needed Someone,” Davies expects them to steer clear “in the Beatles backyard. We couldn’t do them any justice.”
It will be Davies’ first trip to England. He visited Italy and France in the Navy.
From their first performance on Feb. 9, 1961, with Pete Best (Starr joined the Fab Four in 1962) until Aug. 3, 1963, the Beatles played the Cavern 292 times.
Taking that stage on the Beatles’ drummer’s birthday makes it “more special for me. If no one shows up, I’m still playing at the Cavern Club,” Walenga said.
That’s unlikely with a substantial number of UK subscribers on internet radio stations and a significant portion of iTunes sales occurring in the UK. Sixth Generations’ October release, “That Was … This Is,” found a receptive audience.
As the band’s UK manager, Bill Hart, said “You’ve stirring up a lot of interest over here.” Hart runs the www.lankybeat site.
“Lanky,” as in Lancashire, the area between Liverpool and Manchester which launched Herman’s Hermits, Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Searchers, Freddie and the Dreamers, Cilla Black and The Hollies.
Hamrick, of Burke, Va., has done business around the world through his day job as CEO of an information technology company and learned about Hart, his web site and his band, The Lankykats, who will open for Sixth Generation.
“We were kids. We’re a lot smarter now,” Hamrick said. “We’ll take it to wherever we can. When we got back together close to three years ago, I don’t think any of us dreamed of this, but our fans hadn’t forgotten us. Fifty showed up to our first practice.”
The original Cavern opened as a jazz club in a series of Mathew Street cellars in 1957. The cellars had been World War II bomb shelters. Rock and roll claimed the venue in 1961 with beat groups such as The Beatles and Starr’s former band, Rory Storm and The Hurricanes, leading the way.
The Cavern Club was where businessman Brian Epstein saw The Beatles on Nov. 9, 1961, offered to become their manager and landed a 1962 record deal on Parlophone, joining forces with producer George Martin.
The Rolling Stones, Elton John, Donovan, The Who, Chuck Berry, The Kinks, Bo Diddley, The Animals, Joe Cocker, Badfinger, The Moody Blues and The Yardbirds performed at the Cavern.
McCartney returned to the Cavern stage on Dec. 14, 1999, while promoting “Run Devil Run.”
In 1964, the Beatles charted 30 songs in Billboard’s Hot 100.
That April 4, they held the top five positions — a feat still unmatched.
The original Cavern operated for 16 years until 1973, when British Rail decided it needed subterranean land to extend Liverpool’s underground rail network.
In the mid-’80s, a British company built a new shopping center at the original site with a “new” Cavern Club. Great pains were taken to make it an exact replica, including original bricks for authenticity.