Sixth Generation: Niles band reunites after 40 years apart
Editor’s note: This is a sneak peek of what is inside Horizons 2016. Find more stories in the publication Copies are available inside Thursday’s newspapers and at Leader Publications’ office at 217 N. Fourth St., in Niles.
They don’t have thousands of screaming fans at their shows.
They don’t have a number one hit playing in an endless cycle on the pop radio stations.
They aren’t making millions of dollars.
But those things aren’t important to The Sixth Generation.
What does matter to the four Baby Boomer rockers of the Niles-based band is that they are making music they and their growing fan base like to hear. They are also recapturing a bit of their youth.
“It’s an experience that we absolutely love,” said Ron Hamrick, who does most of the songwriting. “I get emails all the time about how much people enjoy our music and that feeds us to keep going with this thing, to see where we can take it. We are always thrilled to be on stage together.”
It is pretty amazing, when you hear their story, to believe that Paul Davies, Hamrick, Fred Hulce and Dave Walenga are making music at all.
The band actually broke up in 1970 when the members went off to college, but got back together 40 years later.
They live, collectively, 600 miles apart.
They are all in their mid-60s.
Despite all this, they are still performing shows and writing original music straight out of the 1960s.
Their second album, “Feelin’ Good,” with eight new songs is scheduled to drop Feb. 26.
All the songs, while different in composition, center on the theme of being happy.
“We are a ‘60s band playing ‘60s music and writing ‘60s music,” Walenga said. “If you come to our show, it is the same as if you were at the old American Legion on a Friday night back in 1967. We play the same show we would’ve played then. It’s music that, when you throw it in, your day gets better.”
That was the time
To gain an appreciation for what the band members are doing now, you have to take a look at where they came from.
The Sixth Generation formed in Niles during the summer of 1966 with six members, including John Dale, of Buchanan, and Fred Bachman, of Niles, who are no longer with the band.
The name comes from the fact that they had six members, and that they were playing the music of their generation.
“After bouncing around 1,000 names that one just seemed to stick,” Walenga said.
They covered the big hits of the ‘60s and gained popularity playing dance venues throughout the Michiana area, even opening for some big name bands of the time, like the Kingsmen and the Box Tops.
The group recorded just one original song in their first stint together. “This is the Time” was played on radio stations from Chicago to Pittsburgh and was a No. 1 hit regionally.
The band eventually disbanded in December of 1970 as members pursued college, careers, the military and other life choices.
Paul Davies and Dave Walenga stayed in touch after the band broke up, visiting each other a couple times a year to reminisce about the old days.
At one such visit in Niles in 2010, Davies’ daughter, Amanda, asked a question that would change their lives forever: Why don’t you get the band back together?
“The idea got planted,” Paul said.
“Just from that little throwaway statement, everything else has happened,” Walenga said.
The two began tracking down their former band members and eventually found them. They agreed to rent rehearsal space in Mishawaka.
“We went down and thought we’d play a couple songs and have fun with it. It turned out to be quite an experience,” Walenga said.
Although members say they never publicized the reunion, somehow word leaked out and around 50 people showed up to hear them play.
The music wasn’t perfect, they said, but it didn’t take long to settle into the rhythm they had back in the day.
“We had to knock a little rust off but I’ll tell ya, it didn’t take us very long,” Hamrick said. “It was like we had never been off the stage. The fans were rocking.”
With the impromptu audience and the good vibes, the band members knew it wouldn’t be the last time they played together.
“We all felt like there was unfinished business, that there was still music to be made,” Walenga said.
About a year later, The Sixth Generation reunited for real, playing its first show in 40 years at the Buchanan American Legion — the same place where they played their final show four decades earlier.
A new generation
Today, the band members are spread out all over the United States. Davies lives in Niles, Hamrick in Virginia, Hulce in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Walenga in Maryland.
They play shows regionally every month or so, with their busiest schedule coming in the summertime. They mostly play on the east coast and across the Midwest with gigs at places like the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the Workhouse Art Center in Virginia and on the Chicago lakefront.
However, their tour has taken them as far away as Liverpool’s Cavern Club — the bar known as the birthplace of the Beatles — in 2013.
“That was a big thrill,” Davies said.
Despite the distance between them — about 600 miles — the members still manage to practice and create new music.
They released their first album, a nostalgia ‘60s throwback “That was… This is,” in 2011.
They began work on a second album in 2015, with Hamrick doing most of the songwriting.
To do so they had to embrace technology, uploading portions of unfinished songs online to practice and finish on their own.
“We can pull up what music we will be developing, we can add our parts to it and practice so that when we get together we are ready to record,” Walenga said. “Grandpa has gone high-tech.”
As for their audience, band members say they consist largely of Baby Boomers like themselves, although they have fans of all different age groups.
Hamrick said the ‘60s music pervasive in movies, television and commercials helps younger people connect when they hear their shows.
“Sixties’ music is kind of osmosis today with the younger generation,” Hamrick said. “They hear it, and so when we play they are attracted to that also. You’d be surprised at the number of younger people who enjoy our music.”
Social media and the internet has also helped the group broadcast the Sixth Generation’s sound to a larger audience.
The band’s single, “That Was the Time,” has more than 100,000 views on YouTube with listeners from all over the world.
Band members say they have no intentions of stopping anytime soon.
“As soon as we feel we are not producing good music we will retire,” Walenga said. “I still think that there is a lot of good music left.”
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