The Charles – Motorcyle


By Bob “The Record Guy” Paxon

The Charles were one of the house bands at Gilligan’s on Walden Avenue in Cheektowaga. Gilligan’s – later the site of Uncle Sam’s – was opened by local club owners the Goldstein family (the extended family of Buffalo’s legendary entertainment impresario Harry Altman) one week after their Williamsville music mecca The Inferno burned down.

I don’t know too much about The Charles. If you know more about them, please contact me! I’ve been told they were mostly from Florida, and maybe they came here just to do some gigs, but somehow they hooked up with keyboardist John Valby and he joined the band. The writer credit for Motorcycle is Valby, with A. Lee and J. Wyatt and M. Tice. Since the record was produced by Michael Tice and Joel Sainer I assume they were the managers and Lee and Wyatt the other members.

The record came out on the one-shot Calliope label.  I don’t know what’s at that 441 Hopkins Rd address but I have a feeling Michael Tice was related to local promoter Eddie Tice.

Motorcycle/Down By The Riverside (a Valby/Tince original, not the standard) is often listed as being from 1966 but I think that’s wishful thinking on the part of Garage Rock collectors. If it were indeed from 1966 it would be way ahead of its time, but I think it’s actually from 1968 or even 1969, by which time there had been many records with a similar sound.

What is the sound? it sounds like the typical theme from one of the many Biker exploitation movies of the time, like Hells Angels On Wheels. These themes were often done by Davie Allan & The Arrows, though they’re not far from the harder rock sounds of Steppenwolf. The lyrics are tough, violent, talking about punching and killing people.. this would have worked as a Biker movie track but it’s hard to imagine it becoming an AM radio hit. You have to wonder what they were thinking. Maybe the band wanted something for their club patrons to buy at gigs. No promotional copies exist and I don’t recall ever seeing evidence that they were put into the hands of radio DJs or distributors.

Motorcycle has found popularity with the Garage Rock crowd and has been complied on several Garage compilations, most notably Scum Of The Earth.

The Charles had a second 45 on the Mercury label, probably about 1970. Almost simultaneously John Valby issued his own first solo record as a 45 also on Mercury. Both of these are so obscure that even hardcore collectors don’t seem to know about them, and they may exist only as promo. I’ve never seen stock copies of either! This is not a loss for collectors or local music fans as both are pretty forgettable, as is Down By The Riverside.

Valby’s subsequent career is well-known to local partiers, as a piano pounder and singer of songs for the whole family to join in, ala Mitch Miller. Um, no, actually as a singer of supremely dirty, X-rated songs, leading to his nickname of the name Doctor Dirty. Many records followed on a variety of his own labels, from the early 70s right into today’s CD market. And he continues his lucrative career of live performances, which nowadays can take him across the country.

Incidentally, the video linked here uses photos of British bikers. I guess the spirit is there but they are a decidedly different bunch from the hardcore American bikers this songs suggests.

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