Today's post is the conclusion of my interview with board member Les Hatley on the musical history of The Writer's Center. If you'd like to start with Part I--in case you didn't see that--click right here to be magically transported back to last Wednesday.
You’ve told me that Nils Lofgren of the E Street Band grew up in Bethesda and played here. What was he like? How often did you play music with him?
Nils Lofgren is the pride of this town and of the era we’re discussing. He was, and remains, a phenomenal guitar player. He played at the Bethesda Youth Center (BYC) many times. I only recall sharing a stage with him once. Sometimes the BYC would book two bands for a dance, for variety, and one time his band and the Showmen played the same night. I was nervous to say the least!
Who were some of the other acts that performed on The Writer’s Center stage? Did you have a favorite?
Some of the other local acts that performed on the Writer’s Center stage included the Velours, Lawrence and the Arabians, the Newports, the Fallen Angels, the Resumes, the Soul Set, the Viscounts, the Zebes, the Nowhere Men … the list is long. One of our pals, Frank Radice, played there several times with various groups. Frank is now President and Chief Marketing Officer of the The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (they give out television’s Emmy awards).
The Wheaton Youth Center hosted many more nationally known acts. However, my favorite BYC experience was when the Showmen played a show as the backup band for The Fantastic Johnny C, who had a national hit record at the time called “Boogaloo Down Broadway.” (Click here to hear this song.)
In 1965 I started a scrapbook and maintain it to this day. The thing is nearly 800 pages long. It includes far more than just the history of the groups I’ve played in over the years. The scrapbook is really about my huge extended music family that largely grew from a common bond, that of the Bethesda Youth Center. The first 50 or so pages feature the 1960’s music scene and include many photos taken at the BYC. The scrapbook may be a feature of a documentary currently in production which focuses on the very music scene we are talking about here. It is my intention to publish the scrapbook in 2009, tentatively titled “An American Journey.”
Who were some of your biggest musical influences?
My early influences were guitarist Steve Cropper of Booker T and the MGs, guitarists Travis Wammack and Freddy King and, though I am not much of a vocalist, Otis Redding. Hands down, my favorite song is Redding's “These Arms of Mine."
Tell us about your most recent musical project. How is that going?
Thanks in particular for asking about that! I’ve recorded with a number of people, mostly just adding guitar tracks to a song here and there. Two of my groups have recorded CD’s, and one of them, by the “Shakers”, gets occasional radio airplay. In 2008 I began recording my first solo CD, which will be called “Second Chair” and will consist of 8 instrumentals and 2 songs with vocals. All of tracks were written by me except one that was co-written with Billy Bowman, one time Billboard Magazine Indie artist of the year. We have 8 of the tracks recorded,2 to go, and hope to wrap up the project this spring. The CD is being recorded by Human Factor Productions and produced by Grammy nominated Blake Althen, who not only produces CDs but provides music for television, movies and radio.
Other"projects” consist of playing out with a number of music partners. My main group is called Seneca, and is a three time Wammie nominated contemporary gospel group. There are 10 of us in the group plus 2 sound engineers. We are currently rehearsing for some upcoming performances. I frequently accompany singer/songwriters in acoustic settings. Most frequently my acoustic gigs are with Don Bridges and Loralyn Coles or with Rick Crump. Rick and I bill ourselves as “Crumpled Hat.” Occasionally the Shakers and the Blue Dog Band play out. On any given weekend night when I am not booked I usually wind up taking an electric guitar somewhere and sit in a bit with other bands such as the Newports, Boomerang, and Bill Mulroney and the Second Wind Bandits.
What kinds of projects can you—as both a SAW member and a Writer’s Center member—envision the two organizations can do together?
The first thing we want to accomplish is to provide songwriting workshops. We have some Grammy and Wammie winning songwriters interested in participating. Lets hope this moves forward soon. Additionally, we would like to host open mics and produce concerts in the Writer’s Center auditorium, which is where we played music back in the 1960s.
Interested in reading more about the musical scene here in Montgomery County? Click here.