45 Friday: THE TWEEDS – We Got Time

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

 

A few weeks ago we talked about the Tweeds and their first 45. I planned to finish their story and cover their second 45, and then I remembered that someone had already done some research on them, long ago. So I contacted Jim Duffey, longtime local record collector and historian. He generously sent me a copy of his article as it appeared decades ago in Discoveries Magazine, a now-defunct collector’s publication. It shed some light on what we already covered and I’ll be drawing on it for the rest of the story.

The short story: Kenmore teens Paul Varga (drums), Ted Connor, Alan Shaw & Dave Constantino (guitars) formed a band when they were all no more than 14 years old! Shaw left and James Dunnigan came in, completing the group with a bass guitar. This is the best-known Tweeds lineup. After playing in local dances and teen clubs, they won a Battle Of The Bands at WKBW’s annual Fun-A-Fair. They were rewarded with the to record in a New York City studio, toward a possible major label contract. A Thing Of The Past / What’s Your Name was released in the Summer of 1967.

This brings us up to 1968 and today’s record. But first a few additional facts to fill in the gaps with what I already wrote and inform the rest of the story.

— Varga was a student at Kenmore West but the Connor, Constantino and Dunnigan all attended Kenmore East.

— 1967 was the first year for WKBW’s Fun-A-Fair event. It was co-organized by Maury Bloom, area promoter for Decca Records. The contest prize is unclear – apparently a “chance” at a contract with Decca. There was some kind of further acceptance process which included an audition. I’m not sure if they had to pass an audition first before being allowed to record, or if the recording session served as the audition. In any case it was recorded at Decca’s NYC studios and released on Decca’s affiliate label Coral.

— I believe The Rogues, Caesar & His Romans, The Rockin Paramounts and The Vibratos all performed at the Fun-A-Fair. Not sure if they were only performers or actually competed. Two bands that did compete were The Druids and The Cavemen. Though they didn’t win they may have gotten noticed there- both bands got to release a 45 around this time.

— Dave Constantino wrote Thing Of The Past specially for the session. Credit for this (and the other three Tweeds sides) was shared with all members for the sake of unity but Dave was the main writer.

— They used the same Decca studio where things like Bill Haley’s Rock Around The Clock (a Decca release) was recorded. Mike Jacobs produced and Paul ‘Green Tambourine’ Leka helped.

— Thing Of The Past never cracked the Billboard Top 100 though it sold 30,000 copies over time, peaking at #2 on the local charts.

 

In February of 1968 The Tweeds returned to the Decca studio to record their second 45. Mike Jacobs – son of Coral artist Dick Jacobs – again produced. I Want Her To Know / We Got Time came out also on Coral. Since they had done well with the ballad A Thing Of The Past, I Want Her To Know was similarly intended as the ‘plug side’. But some radio station DJ’s were pushing the rocker side We Got Time. This hurt the momentum of the single.

Following a shakeup at Coral they were given a new producer, John Simon, who promised to cut an album if the single did well. With this motivation, Tweeds’ members personally tried to intervene to get DJs to stick to the I Want Her To Know side. Their manager George Constantino (Dave’s father) tried to contact Coral/Decca for help too. But nothing came of it. DJs continued splitting the play and the single stalled.

Ultimately I Want Her To Know / We Got Time only sold about half as many copies of the first record. So no album would be recorded.

I chose the ‘Rock’ side We Got Time for today’s feature. Unlike the Beatles/Beau Brummels sound of their other tracks, this one has a harder sound, like the British Invasion sound of The Who as filtered through an American teen garage band sensibility. Note that it has TWO guitar breaks- unusual. It’s interesting also to note that the members were 14-16 years old at the time of the first recording, and half a year older at the time of the second! Bear that in mind when listening.

Jim Dunnigan left the group not long after this, as he was preparing for college. Tim Murphy came in on bass but soon Ted Conner also left – drafted – and the Tweeds became a trio consisting of Constantino, Varga and Murphy. When Murphy left Billy Sheehan came in and they continued for awhile as The Tweeds, but eventually became Talas.

45 Friday: THE TWEEDS – A Thing Of The Past

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

In the 1960s it was pretty easy to start a band. Minimal equipment was needed. A guitarist could use a one-piece Fender amp. If that was too expensive Sears had the flimsy but loud Silvertone series. A band just starting out could even plug several instruments or microphones into it!

Teen bands could put together a repertoire of pretty easy songs – Louie Louie, Mustang Sally, Wipeout, some early Kinks and Rolling Stones. Beatles too, though that required MORE chords, and voices that could harmonize.

But it wasn’t that hard to do. And if you saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and heard all those girls screaming, it was something you might want to do!

Every town had quite a few groups of teens trying to get their act together, alongside slightly older, more experienced youngsters who may have cut their teeth on pre-Beatles Rock’n’Roll. The Tonawanda had one such group who were clearly in the first category. Judging from their pictures none of The Tweeds were older than 16 when they started playing High School and CYO dances.

Ted Connor, Paul Varga, Alan Shaw & Dave Constantino were the four clean cut young men in question. With Varga on drums, Shaw, Connor and Constantino all played regular electric guitars. Mr. Constantino started off on the the right foot with a decent but low-level Gretsch guitar – while the others made due with cheapo models. This was good enough for places like The Teen Corner in Tonawanda. Short hair and suit-and-tie were the order of the day.

As 1966 turned into 1967 they must have realized that a bass player was the next step to professionalism. Alan Shaw was out, and James Dunnigan was in. Soon the Silvertone amps were placed with topnotch (for the time) Fender Twin Reverbs and Constantino traded up to the top of the Gretsch guitar line, the Country Gentleman. That may not mean anything to you, but it’s impressive gear for a 16-year-old to own and even better, that’s the stuff the top bands would use. George Harrison played a Country Gentleman.

Now they were playing places like the Boulevard Cave on Niagara Falls Boulevard. Still all very young, they entered the Battle Of The Bands at WKBW’s annual Fun-A-Fair. As many as 30 bands participated: The Rogues, Caesar & His Romans, The Rockin Paramount, The Vibratos. Playing against all the great local bands of the day – many of them comprised of ‘seasoned veterans’ (with 3 or 4 years of R&R performance under their belts)  – the Tweeds beat them all.

Their prize was a chance to cut a record in a real recording studio. So they traveled to New York City. Being still young (mostly 17) Dave’s father went wih them. Anyway, he was their manager too!

They cut two tracks, both written by all four members- A Thing Of The Past and What’s Your Name. I’m not sure which was the intended A-side but Thing Of The Past was the side that got radio play locally and became a Western New York hit in the Summer of 1967.

I don’t know if their Battle Of The Bands prize included the release on Coral Records, or if it was pitched to Coral who thought it had potential and put it out. Either way, it was issued along with promotional copies and distributed around the country. It must have sold fairly well because it’s not rare, and The Tweeds got asked to cut a second recod for Coral in the Spring of 1968.

As most of you know The Tweeds picked up a bass played named Billy Sheehan, also from Kenmore/ Tonawanda, and gradually became Talas. That’s a story for another day.

For today, here’s A Thing Of The Past. While What’s Your Name is medium tempo, upbeat mood folk/rock, Thing is a different thing – a heartbroken teen ballad which sounds surprisingly jaded and world-weary coming from such young men. But I guess there’s no age limit on getting a broken heart.