Who says you can’t go home again?
Certainly not The Doughboys, a Plainfield, N.J., combo that first formed as The Ascots in the fall of 1964 when its members were still in middle school.
Enamored of the sounds coming out of the U.K. courtesy of the first British Invasion — specifically those with a somewhat grittier edge a la the Stones, The Yardbirds, The Animals, The Pretty Things and Them — they echoed their idols’ approach in a determined effort to achieve their own slice of stardom.
After discarding the name The Ascots and exchanging it for The Doughboys — with full World War I regalia in tow — and coalescing around a steady lineup consisting of Richie X. Heyman (drums), Mike Caruso (bass), Myke Scavone (vocals, harp, percussion), Willy Kirchofer (guitar) and Mike Farina (guitar), they ended up achieving more than a modicum of hometown success.
A win on a year-long Battle of the Bands competition sponsored by a local teen television program brought them a contract with Bell Records, resulting in a pair of singles, “Rhoda Mendelbaum” and “Everybody Knows My Name,” as well as ongoing airplay on WMCA and permanent billing on the station’s touring concerts throughout the tri-state area. Eventually, they worked their way toward an even more rarified strata, serving a stint as the house band at Greenwich Village’s
fabled Café Wha? nightclub throughout the summer of 1968.
The band stayed solvent until the end of the decade, with dwindling membership finding the various members going out on their own. Richard X. Heyman continues to enjoy a devoted following as a leading power-pop practitioner with a string of highly regarded solo albums to his credit. Scavone enjoyed success with the band Ram Jam, courtesy of a worldwide hit, “Black Betty.” Kirchofer played with Jake and the Family Jewels prior to forming his own country outfit Willy & the Wranglers. Caruso worked with Tommy James & the Shondells and had occasion to jam with Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Miles. Farina opted out of music and moved to California to pursue a career in television production.
Nevertheless, it was Heyman’s professed desire to revisit his roots that prompted his wife and current musical collaborator, Nancy, to reach out to Scavone, Caruso and Kirchofer in 2000 with the prospect of organizing a reunion. The one-off get together turned into a series of semi-regular gigs, interrupted by the untimely passing of Kirchofer in 2005.
Guitarist Gar Francis, who had played with Kirchofer in Willy & the Wranglers, was recruited as his replacement, culminating in Is It Now?, their aptly named debut album, which makes its bow more than 40 years after the initial incarnation.
Goldmine recently had opportunity to chat with Heyman and Scavone and to share their thoughts about the belated journey that took them from past to present.
What do you think differentiated The Doughboys from other cover bands operating in the same vein in the mid ’60s?
Richard X. Heyman: Back in ’64, not everyone and his brother (or sister) was a musician. It was a small handful of people that were still in their adolescence who were already playing guitar and drums, etc. I think one of the things that set us apart was the fact that when the British Invasion hit, the original members of The Doughboys had all been playing their respective instruments for several years.
I had been a drummer since I was 5 years old, and at the ripe old age of 12, I, along with Mike Caruso, who’s an incredible bass player, and Willy Kirchofer, probably the most talented guy I ever knew, started this group. When Myke Scavone joined us in ’65, that really set us apart, because none of the other bands had a lead singer as cool as this guy. He had incredibly long hair for the time, down past his shoulders, could dance up a storm and nailed every vocalist from Eric Burdon to Mick Jagger, Keith Relf, Ray Davies to James Brown and Wilson Pickett.
Myke Scavone: We were cool; they weren’t! But seriously, the real thing was that we didn’t just play the hits. What we did was, we really dug into these albums and played the obscure stuff that most people wouldn’t play, like “2120 South Michigan Avenue” off the first Stones album and “Out in the Street” off the first Who album, [and] “Bald Headed Woman” off the first Kinks album.
Plus, more importantly than anything, I had the longest hair in New Jersey at that point — especially among high school kids. Everyone else was getting kicked out of high school; I didn’t. I went to North Plainfield High School, and they knew they didn’t have the right to kick me out of school. They wouldn’t let me be in the marching band, though, so I failed band. I was half a credit short when it came time to graduate, but they let me pass anyway.
And the other thing is that I think our energy level far exceeded everybody else’s. Most of the other bands, at least the ones I saw, were not particularly energetic onstage. We had Richard Heyman playing the drums! And Mike Caruso on bass! And Willy Kirchofer on guitar! Those three guys were way beyond most people’s levels of musicianship at that point.
What are some the special memories that still linger after all these years?
RXH: Those WMCA “Good Guys” gigs were a blast. We shared the stage with the likes of Neil Diamond, The Music Explosion, ? and The Mysterians, the Four Seasons, Fontella Bass, The Buckinghams, The Parliaments, The Critters, The Crystals, The Shirelles, The Syndicate of Sound, Terry Knight and the Pack and many, many others. Each act would come out and play three or four songs, and it was very exciting to see all the current hitmakers performing live.
We opened up for The Beach Boys at Symphony Hall in Newark, N.J., and had a mind-blowing altercation with Dennis Wilson. We closed our show (as we still do today) with “Bo Diddley.” Myke and I would each play a floor tom with maracas while we shook and shimmied and basically beat the hell out of those poor drums. We had forgotten to bring the second tom with us, so we asked The Beach Boys if we could borrow theirs. They graciously lent us the drum, and we did our usual savage version of the song.
Well, the sight of Myke Scavone going nuts with a pair of maracas on his drum apparently did not sit well with Dennis Wilson. He literally ran out on stage and jumped Myke and started a street brawl. He was swearing up a storm, which actually shocked me more than the fighting. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I had no idea that famous people, especially one of The Beach Boys, even knew those words — that’s how naïve I was! Anyway, the two of them fell in a heap of maraca dust and toppled floor toms and had to be dragged apart by various members of the two camps. It was quite a scene. This all took place as the curtains were closing. I can only imagine what the people in the audience were thinking.
MS: It really was absolutely thrilling, especially at our age, still in our teens, being able to play with big bands who had hits, from The Parliaments to the Music Explosion, from Neil Diamond to ? and The Mysterians. You almost felt like you were out of your league, but at the same time you thought, “I’m on the same stage as these guys are,” so you felt like you were moving beyond the high school dances and Hullabaloo clubs, and had reached another level.
Had either of you been in touch with any of the band members over the years?
RXH: Myke and I had a band in the mid-’70s called Act Your Rage, and Caruso played bass for me in the early ’80s out in L.A.
MS: I hadn’t been in touch with Richie for about 15 years or more. I was working as a painter at that point, and one morning I went to get my cup of coffee at a local bagel deli, and I see this Aquarian Weekly, which is a local music paper, on the counter. And diagonally across the top right-hand corner of the front page, I see the words “Richard X. Heyman.” I open it up, and there’s this whole feature article on Richie. At the end of the article, there’s an address on First Avenue in Manhattan.
So, I call information, and ask for Richard Heyman; they said they had a Nancy Heyman, and I said, “Yeah, that’s the same number.” That’s when I called and spoke to Richie. I told him to let me know when they were playing; they got ahold of me, and I went to see them on various occasions when they were playing in the city. I got to know Nancy, who had shared all her questions about the Doughboys, because of all that Richie had told her in the past.
She asked me to help put together a surprise reunion gig for Richard’s birthday in 2000. I rehearsed with Mike and Willy, singing from behind the drums, just so we could get an idea of how we sounded. We picked 10 of the top songs we used to do in the ’60s. Nancy booked a gig at a club on the Lower East Side in New York, with the idea of turning up there and surprising Richie by having The Doughboys onstage, ready to perform! The surprise got blown a few days beforehand, but that was OK, because it gave Richie time to review the tunes and prepare himself mentally!
Was there any ‘break-in’ period,’ or did everything just flow naturally?
RXH: As soon as we hit the first bar of “Route 66” it was like 1966 all over again. That rush of playing high energy rock ’n’ roll came flooding back.
MS: I don’t think it could have been any more natural. When we hit the stage that first night, even though we hadn’t rehearsed with Richie, it was like we’d just played Cook School three weeks before.
How were the songs chosen for the album? Were any of these in the band’s original set list?
RXH: We went into the studio to record a bunch of our live set, which at the time was all covers. Those sessions were with Willy on guitar.
MS: One of the main things in the back of all of our minds in the very beginning was that we wanted Willy to be remembered, and so, the five cover songs are there, not only because we love those songs, but because they were the only things we ever recorded with Willy. And even though they were kind of sloppy live recordings, we did a lot of work to clean them up, and it became extra exciting having Gar being able to play with Willy on those tracks as overdubs. As far as the cover songs, they were definitely included in our original set list back in the ’60s. And the originals obviously were a combination of what Richie, Gar and myself wrote.
Will The Doughboys continue to be an ongoing entity, and if so, will there be further gigs and more releases?
RXH: As of now, we’re having fun gigging and promoting the album, and we’ll see how it develops.
MS: We expect we’ll be a continuing ongoing entity for at least as long as our hearts hold out. As long as one of us doesn’t collapse onstage! We’re surprised that hasn’t already happened. We hope you’ll be hearing about The Doughboys for another 10 or 15 years or so, when we’re releasing our seventh CD.