Audio Autopsy, 1966, Warner Bros. Records: The Pre-Teen Bantams, Rock's First Boy Band
Pre-dating the Osmonds, Hanson, and the '90s Boy Band Parade, these pre-teens actually played and sang on their lone Warner Bros. album.
It’s common knowledge, as well as a pop cultural landmark, that when The Beatles appeared on CBS-TV’s The Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964, hundreds of thousands, if not untold millions of kids picked up Sears guitars and started growing their hair!
Some bided their time, and followed their rock’n’roll dream as adults, some were teens and wasted little time in clearing out the garage to gain rehearsal space. Some were even pre-teens and in single digits, and dared to begin their pop dream right then and there!
Enter two tiny-titan trios of tot tuneage from the mid-’60s: Gary & The Hornets and The Bantams. The Hornets, from Franklin, Ohio, were led by guitarist Gary Calvert (13), who had his two brothers, guitarist Greg (11), and 6-year-old drummer, Steve in tow!
It might have been a photo finish as to which of the two boy bands, The Bantams or Gary & The Hornets formed first, got signed first, or released their debut single or album first.
I’ll side-step that argument, and assume it was The Bantams, solely based on the fact that, at the time, I had never heard of Gary & The Hornets, but I actually owned The Bantams’ first album, Beware: The Bantams! It was 1966, and I was 11.
Plus, the Hornets lose “cool” points because they stooped to recording a hot dog jingle. Had there been a playground tussle during recess after lunch, my milk money’d be on The Bantams, tiny hands down!
Plus, all the Hornets could muster in their single year in the biz, was three singles for Smash, and two appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson!
Plus, if we’re playing record company roulette, Warner Bros, the label of The Bunny, beats Mercury all day, every decade, so The Bantams it is!
Beware made it into my Houston bedroom at the time the same way every album for many years made it there: Dad, in local radio, would bring home boxes of promo albums from the major labels (ooh, sorry, Mercury): Jazz for himself, and rock and pop for me! My brother cared little about music, so this arrangement, mercifully, gave us one less thing over which to fight!
“…So, They Loaded Up the Truck, and They Moved to the Beach…Venice, That Is.”
In the mid-’60s, the Kirchner step-dad moved the 9 kids, Mrs. Kirchner, and two German Shepherds from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Venice Beach, California: Not as an entertainment-biz concession to the boys (the youngest, Fritz on bass, Jeff on drums, and Mike-the first to get a guitar), but simply to look for work, according to WFMU’s Bubblegum OD with Becky Ebenkamp.
The boys had seen The Beatles on Ed Sullivan, and that’s all it took. Several gigs around town and a battle of the bands ensued, in particular being named Special Award Winners in the National Band Championship at Pacific Ocean Park, Santa Monica!
It wasn’t long before The Bantams managed to get the attention of Warner Bros. A&R exec, Dick Glasser, who produced and arranged Beware.
Filled with covers, Beware: The Bantams was certainly well-represented by Beatles songs, including “Twist and Shout” (Phil Medley, Bert Burns), and Lennon-McCartney originals, “I Should Have Known Better,” “World Without Love,” “Please Please Me,” “Ticket to Ride,” and “From Me to You.”
The Bantams appeared in several TV shows and movies, including The Cool Ones in 1967, starring Roddy McDowell. As they entered their 20’s, they continued to perform under the name “Monkey Chow,” making appearances mainly in Southern California. It was at a show at Gazzarri's on the Sunset Strip, where Fritz met his wife, Janine. Having settled in Victorville, California, Fritz and Janine continue to perform as a duo.
The Bantams appeared on the final episode of the syndicated Hollywood-a-Go-Go in this 1966 clip (filmed at KHJ-TV Studios, LA), a performance of “I Should Have Known Better.” The little girl dancing in the video with The Gazzarri Dancers is actually a 7-year-old Kirchner sister…a little lady Bantam!
In an impressive spurt of musical maturity not afforded Gary & The Hornets, The Bantams lay down a naturally soulful groove backing Little Dion for two songs during a 1970 Jerry Lewis MDA telethon!
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