Savage Found

Three decades after, Miami's great rock bands hit the spotlight again

The rock of South Florida's Sixties is about to be born again, thanks to a reunion of some of the era's stars.

Exactly 28 years ago, the WFUN-AM Boss Survey had the Kinks at number one with "A Well-Respected Man." Also hitting the charts that week: Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones, the Beatles, the Supremes, the Rolling Stones, Ray Charles, and Elvis Presley. And, at number 37, with a song called "Bucket of Tears," were the Squires Five.

A local band.
The Squires were not alone, not even unusual, in becoming chart-certified recording artists in the mid-Sixties era. Local bands such as the Birdwatchers, the Mor-Loks, the Clefs of Lavender Hill, the Shaggs, the Montells, and Evil were cutting records (in some cases for major labels), playing live shows, appearing on national television, being celebrated by fan clubs...the whole bit. A South Florida band called the Ardells achieved major stardom -- complete with hordes of swooning girls -- by touring in South America, becoming so big they decided to call themselves the American Beetles. Later they renamed themselves Razor's Edge and hit the Billboard Hot 100 with "Let's Call It a Day Girl." Later the song also had the distinction of being covered by Bobby Vee.

All of this, and much more, is documented in author Jeff Lemlich's Savage Lost. And it was Lemlich's book that led to a reunion of many of the stars of the Sixties scene (scheduled for this Monday, January 31, at Stephen Talkhouse), a full-length video, and a new album, Reawakening, by the Fog, made up of Squires drummer Fred Sams, his former bandmate Steven Bates, and others.

Sams recalls that despite its national achievements, the local rock scene was nothing like today's. "There were two warlords that controlled most everything," he says. "Steve Palmer ran the Florida Bandstand [a live concert and dance], which was affiliated with WFUN. Rick Shaw had Miami Bandstand for WQAM. You couldn't play one if you'd played the other." The competition between the two AM Top 40 powerhouses was fierce, especially when it came to local music, which both stations played and promoted in a way that WSHE-FM could never begin to even understand. "We were with Palmer and Florida Bandstand," Sams continues. "But the Coasters were coming to play with Shaw, and we wanted to be on that bill. So we made up a name, I don't even remember what it was, and posed as a different band." The Squires got caught in the act. "We had played the North Miami Armory for Palmer 34 weekends in a row. When we got caught, he wouldn't let us play for three or four weeks." The band was on the outs with the big man.

Palmer, like many a warlord or godfather, had a temper, and he was tough when he had to be. But he also molded a scene of great worth and propelled innumerable young musicians to professional careers. He and his family ran the shows, managed the bands, called the shots. After the three or four weeks passed, Palmer contacted Sams and the rest of the Squires and said, "Let's cut a record." Sams believes Palmer's motive was to bring the band back in line after the fake-name incident with a dose of honey atop the vinegar. Sams also recalls Palmer's method of paying his young charges. "He handed each member of the band, individually, a white envelope. Each envelope had the night's pay, six or eight dollars. He may have had a temper, but he never took advantage of the kids. He was a real gentleman. And in 1964, when you're a sixteen year old, and you get $14 for a weekend of playing, that was good money."

The scene was different then in another way. "The bands really stuck together," Sams says. "We shared instruments and nothing ever disappeared."

There were fewer clubs and they were of a different ilk than today's. "There certainly was no Talkhouse-type of place," Sams remembers. "There were a couple of go-go places, like the Diplomat." Many of the clubs were huge spaces, with names like Thee Image and the World. "They had these huge stages, and you'd go upstairs to a big room with pillows everywhere. It seemed strange to let teens loose in that." Sams and the Squires found those venues too commercial, preferring the Place. "I remember the night Evil came in in miniskirts." One venue offered band members free beer, and a sixteen-year-old Sams decided that if one beer looked good, two looked even better. "I played my drums that night from the floor."

Today Sams lives in North Carolina. "I hadn't picked up my drumsticks in 27 years," he recalls. "Steve Bates still lives in Miami, and he called me up. He said he was reading New Times, and that there was a story in there about a book that mentioned us. I said 'You got it wrong, nobody's going to write a book after this long.'"

Bates, of course, was not wrong. Sams tracked down Lemlich and obtained a copy of Savage Lost. "I got to the last chapter," Sams recalls, "about people promoting the local bands of today, and how they shouldn't slip into obscurity as our bands did. I called Steve again. He hadn't played guitar in 25 years. I told him we were going to make an album. Randy [Boone] and Paul [Peterson] wanted to be a part of it, so I brought all these dinosaurs in to the studio." (Boone and Peterson were successful actors and singers in the Sixties on a national level; while they didn't play with Sams at the time, they met him later at a nostalgia festival.)

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