Formed in 1964 while still at school in Fort Wayne, Indiana, The Serfmen would quickly change direction from their surf- sound roots and build a strong local following, with gigs booked every weekend. They would be asked to open for more established local bands and some nationally famous groups.
On the strength of this interest, Al Russel, a local DeeJay of the time invited the band into his studio to record a couple of tracks. The result was this, ‘A Man Can’t Live Without Love.’ (A copy of this was sold through Discogs in June 2020 for £72)
Another single followed a few months later, ‘Chills & Fever.‘ The band were by now playing all the top venues in northern Indiana and northwest Ohio, and with both singles having received extensive airplay, they attracted the attention of Indiana based agency, Dino Enterprises.
With the ‘British Invasion’ of America now in full swing, the agency suggested the lads followed in that direction. Vocalist and lead guitarist explained the transformation from The Serfmen to The Olivers:
“On the south side of Ft. Wayne was Oliver Street. Oliver. Oliver Twist. It sounded old and British. Bang. That was it. The kids seemed to like it better also. We grew our hair, had old fashioned outfits made and wrote songs we thought sounded British.”
With their increased popularity, and working with an agency, touring further afield and a whole-hearted dedication to the band became essential. Bass player Greg Church couldn’t make that commitment so left, leaving a space to be filled by a fan of The Serfmen, Billy Franze. And so late in 1965, the first line-up of The Olivers was complete – see below.
Early in 1966, DJ Al Russell arranged a recording session in Portage, Michigan. Two songs were recorded, neither taking more than fifteen minutes!
The result was the following, frantic an exciting ‘Beeker Street’ / ‘I Saw What You Did‘ which was released initially through Phalanx Records, and shortly after picked up by RCA Victor who took on the distribution.
This new, settled line-up however wouldn’t last long, for in September 1966, less than a year after their formal inception, vocalist / lead guitarist, Jay Penndorf, was drafted into the U.S. military, and replaced with Mike Mankey.
When Mike and Billy joined, they were only eighteen years old. The other members, Carl Aldrich (vocals / organ) and Chuck Hamrick (drums) were both just twenty.
For such a young band, they landed some some pretty big bookings in 1967, touring extensively and opening shows for likes of The Rolling Stones; The Hollies; The Yarbirds; The Byrds; The Standells; Bob Seger, and The Who.
Moving with the times, The Olivers found themselves changing musical direction again, as the British Invasion influences had run their course. Now, they looked to Hendrix, Cream and other heavier acts as well as James Brown and lots of R&B.
Organ player Carl Aldrich was not so keen on the heavier scene. In late ’67 he moved on, Rick Durrett the keyboard player from local Indianapolis band The Cardboard Bachs, taking his place.
Their sound developed a more psychedelic edge and fans would now be standing and watching rather than dancing. They became an established name and top draw in Indiana and surrounding states, so much so the constant gigging left no time for hitting the studio to record.
Something had to be done, and through bass player Billy’s contact with Pete Steinberg of Candy Floss Productions, an invite was secured to record at the Dove Studios in Minneapolis.
By now, early 1969, Jay Penndorf had completed his draft obligations, and joined the band for the sessions. Seven songs were recorded, all written by the band members, principally Mike Mankey and Billy Franze.
Dove Records contacted major label Sire with a view to a wider release, and it seems they were indeed interested. But for whatever reason the deal was never secured and in 1970, Dove Studios closed their doors and sold all the equipment.
The resultant disappointment felt by the band turned to disillusionment. Jay, who’d by now formally rejoined, was not really into the new music the band were performing, and when his equipment was stolen, he opted to forsake the music business for a career in the army.
The Olivers were no more.
Mike and Billy subsequently teamed up with Kent Cretors on drums and recorded one 7″ single as Triad. But again, distribution was poor and sales subsequently disappointing. They stuck around til 1971, but then called it quits.
And that, it seemed was that. One of Indiana’s finest had been let down, for what reason, nobody really knows, and they were to disappear without much more than local acknowledgement.
Until, that is, 2011, when a reference acetate of the album recording session was offered in an internet auction in California. Mike Dugo and Tim Cox, both of whom are avid collectors and run much respected ’60s based music sites, had their interest piqued, tracked down band member Mike Mankey and conducted their ‘due diligence’ to authenticate the find.
The result is that now the album has been given a full release by garage and psych label Break – A – Way Records.
Check out the immense, trippy guitar work on the two tracks posted here. I’d go so far as to say this album defines the ‘true unknown classic’ description and is well worth checking out in full.
Mike Mankey – Guitar / Vocals
Chuck Hamrick – Drums
Rick Durrett – Keyboards
Billy Franze – Bass / Lead Vocals
Jay Pendoorf – Guitar / Vocals
RELEASES BY THE OLIVERS
|I Saw What You Did / Beeker Street ||7″ single||Phalanx Records / RCA Victor||1966||‘Beeker Street’ was mis–spelt as ‘Beaker Street on the Phalanx release.|
|Lost Dove Sessions||LP||Break-A-Way Records||2012|
*** Much of the information contained within this post has been gleaned from the sleeve notes of the Break-A-Way Records release of ‘Lost Dove sessions. ***