Monday, July 18, 2011

The InVictas


Now where was I? Oh yeah, the music thing.

As it turns out, I wasn't the only local guy interested in getting into a band. Through some friends I was introduced to Dick Johnson, a guitar teacher at the Lowe Music Studio in Lapeer.  He, in turn, introduced me to some other musicians who were trying to form a band.  VOILA... I'd stumbled into my first rock-n-roll group, The Invictas.

Dick Johnston (left rear) was the lead guitar player, Cary Marsh, (2nd from left) was rhythm, Jim Mikulski (3rd from left) played sax, Del Herrington (2nd from right) played bass, and I played drums. That's Fred Bibber holding the mike, more on him later.

We named ourselves after a line of Buick, made in Flint.  We were booked to appear on a TV show and had no name so we thought of a local band named Lafayette Yarborough and the LeSabres, and came up with “Invicta.”  We even capitalized one letter in the middle of the name accordingly. We were really clever that way!

I still remember our first performance, it was at a dance hosted by WTAC DJ “Sleepy Head Ted” Johnson. I'll never forget how the girls went nuts when we played.  “This musician thing just might turn out OK,” I thought.

I also remember my mother following behind and making sure that I didn't get myself into any trouble, a pattern that would repeat itself on MANY other occasions.

I recall as well that The Bunton Bros. Played on this show.   Larry Johnson was their drummer and, as I've already mentioned, he was the best drummer in Flint.  I watched his performance with awe.  Years later I was shocked to learn that he felt the same about me! We'd formed a little mutual admiration society, and didn't even know it.

We started out as an instrumental group ala Duane Eddy, Link Ray etc, but soon realized the limitations of that so we brought in a singer.  I'd seen Fred Bibber around school, but didn't know him very well.  He showed up for rehearsal with an old Kay guitar and a notebook full of lyrics from songs that most of us hadn't heard.  Cuts from the original Buddy Holly album, Chuck Berry tunes like “Johhny B Goode”...which was never a big radio hit BTW... Buddy's “An Empty Cup, A Broken Date” and others.  GREAT stuff!

He was (obviously) an extremely good looking guy too, the girls went nuts over him.  We had to form a human shield around him to keep them from tearing him apart.

Fred was a good singer, but had some difficulty finding his key when learning a new tune. Once during a rehearsal my family dropped by.  My sister opined how Fred's singing was somehow reminiscent of the “sounds of a dinosaur caught in the tar pits.”   Fred was crushed. he bears the scars to this very day!

With our new singer in tow, we bagan to book shows like mad whenever and wherever we could.  All the Flint DJs ran teen dances, and we showed up at all of them.  We became the most popular rock-n-roll band in the area.  I began to put some of that Gene Krupa and Mo' Purtil knowledge to use as well by ripping into short drum solos.  I remember how I was introduced afterward. “Pat Bergin ladies and gentlemen... 14 YEARS OLD!!!!!”  Actually I was 13, but who's counting?

Even though rock-n-roll was fun to play, we also played everything from the standards of the day (Stardust, Sept. Song etc) for the Eagles and Elks crowd and R&B stuff for the regular bar crowd.  All of us were trained musicians who could sight read, and consequently we could play anything put in front of us.  As long as we had a “Fake Book” we were good to go.  We often played 6 nights a week in clubs, dances and private functions. In addition, Dick, Cary and I were  teachers at the Lowe Studio of Music and Dance.

As the crowds began to increase, so did our ambitions.  We began to start writing our own songs.  At one point we attempted to blend jazz with rock-n-roll.  We couldn't quite figure out how to create jazz fusion from two, distinctly different genres.  The swing component of jazz didn't comport with the straight four, R&B approach of rock.  In later years Blood Sweat and Tears, Chicago, Anthony William's Lifetime and many others would perfect the style.

We noticed that other groups would perform little dance steps when they played.  We recruited the talents of one of our collegues at Lowe, a dance teacher named Sandy to try and choreograph us.  Good freakin' luck, none of us could dance worth a damn!  She became exasperated and gave up.   It befell Bibber to develop our "step."  He would (kind of) stand there with his left foot perpendicular to his right and bend one knee back and forth.  HEY, easy peasy lemon squeezy... we all quickly adapted!  Even me since by this time I was playing standing up.  This became widely reknown as "The InVicta Step" and, as far as I know, is still being performed on dance floors in Michigan today.

Then again, maybe not.

We had an InVicta reunion last year, and I'm happy to say that we're all alive and kickin'.  Even our old Mentor, Dick Johnson showed up.  He was responsible for putting the group together.  I'll bet he regrets that!!!!!!

1 comment:

  1. Awww, Freddy--bratty kid sisters usually are the ones who get zinged, not the zinger.