An Interview With Jake Gerber
group leader and guitarist with Rochester 60's band, The Groop Ltd.
interview courtesy Mike Dugo, www.60sgaragebands.com
thanks to Jake for the great photo and original promo sticker shown above
60sgaragebands.com (60s): How did you first get interested in music?
Jake Gerber (JG): I remember distinctly ...It was 1957. I heard Elvis on the radio: Don't Be Cruel and Hound Dog. Actually I started violin in fourth grade, but hated it. Elvis was very cool, but that was not the incentive to play. What goosed me was when I heard the opening chords of Bye Bye Love by Phil and Don. Just the rhythm of the acoustic guitars blew me away. That was in June of 1957, I believe. I talked my dad into buying me an acoustic guitar. He had a friend in the music business. I started on a J-200. I was very fortunate to have the best father on the planet. He will always be my muse.
60s: Was Groop Ltd. your first band?
JG: God, no. I was playing in bars escorted by my dad when I was 15-16. I had a couple of great teachers. I never took lesons formally, but Mike Difrancisco was my mentor. He was a great jazz player. He also introduced me to another great jazz man, Dick Longale. Between the two of them I must have absorbed something. To this day I don't know what they saw in me - possibly this overwhelming enthusiasm I had. I could not have had better people to work with.
Mike would get these rock gigs and ask me if I wanted to play with them. There were a lot of black clubs on Goodman Street, if I recall. Then I started getting known and would get people asking me if I wanted to play these one night stands with them. I remember backing up this black singer named Angle Finess. I swear to God, that was his name. He was a blues singer. Mike put that together. He would take me on all these jobs.
There are no group names that I can think of, but I certainly was playing all the time since I was 15-16 years old. I am forever indebted to Mike. Longale was the other one. He was older in his fifties or beyond? He would sit me down and say, "play me something." Mind you, this was one of the best chord players I had ever heard. He would suggest trying all these inversions. I ate it up. I still do. I can say humbly that I am probably the best chord player in pop music. No one knows what the hell I am doing playing all these jazz inversions in pop music.
60s: When was Groop Ltd. formed?
JG: This is a fond memory. The Beatles had just played Sullivan on February 9,1964. Everyone was going for it. Mind you, I was very heavily influenced vocally by the Everlys. The Beatles had it all. It was everything I liked aesthetically in music: Harmony, chord changes, etc.
It was February 14 - Valentine's Day - and a friend from Irondequoit was having a party at his house. His name was and still is Rick Rugg. I had heard Dick and Russ playing a school dance sometime during the school year. I don't remember how I met them. However, they were playing at this party at Rick's house. I, being the extrovert, went up to them and suggested I sit in and we would do a couple of Beatles songs. I learned them as soon as Meet The Beatles came out. So I told them the chords to I Saw Her Standing There. It was the easiest one with only four chords - easy to pull off. I had sung Everly Bros. tunes since sixth grade. Now it was time to actually do it. Mind you, I did not sing on these jobs with Mike Difrancisco. They were either backing up a singer or instrumental tunes. I introduced myself, and always had a guitar in the trunk of my dad's car. I went out to the car and brought it in and plugged into an amp. I had a Gretsch at the time. A Country Club...if I recall. That was the beginning. The reason it lasted was quite simple. People at the party ate it up. I knew a meal ticket when I saw it. I became the leader as I did the arrangements and sang most of the leads at that time. We became inseparable that last year of high school in Irondequoit.
We played one dance or so a month at the school after Rick's party. We played all Beatles tunes, and were an instant success. The word spread quite quickly that these guys from Irondequoit were like the Beatles. The fact is, we were just the first to pick up on using an entire repertoire of Beatles songs.
60s: Who all comprised the band at this time?
JG: By the time we played this first job at the high school in '64 we were using good instruments. I have a picture someone took of that first "show". The drummer's name at that time was Bob Fry. He played Ludwig drums. Need I say more? Russell Schaad played a beautiful '62 Fender P bass. Dick Kirkmire played Guild Starfire. I played a Gretsch Country Gent, just like George's (Harrison). We had a very small sound system for the vocals, and I think possibly two 12 inch speakers on the PA. We used Fender amps for the guitars. I think a Showman and a Tremlux and an Ampeg B15 for the bass. And Shure Mics.
60s: What type of gigs did Groop Ltd. typically play?
JG: All the high schools and colleges in Rochester, the U of R, and RIT. Then we started playing these Sunday afternoon gigs at different churches, as best as I can recall. Then we got a record out and did TV. We played on Joe Dean's Sock Hop on BBF Rochester. I would love it if someone could get that footage. It would be 1964-1965.
60s: Did you play any of the local teen clubs?
JG: Those were the Sunday afternoon jobs. We played from 1:00 to 5:00 - or something like that. I can't recall any of the names (of the clubs). The peculiar thing is, I remember certain jobs...such as this Temple out in Brighton. It was early on. When we started playing two nights a week it got a bit much. We did these shows out in the suburbs on Sundays. We were playing two and three jobs a week.
60s: Did Groop Ltd. participate in any Battle Of The Bands?
JG: We never did. We were successful right out of the shoot. I, however, did those things as a judge. It was amazing how many people I fooled. It was all because of Mike Difranceso and Dick Longale. It was those bloody chord inversions that made people believe I was good. It was a great act...I always felt guilty. I knew these great players and they never were making the money or the fame. They are the ones that deserved it, sure as hell not me. I believe it was my image that sold me.
I grew up playing with Jim Barton. He was and still is an unbelievable keyboard player. He is very soulful. We started playing together when we were 14-15m but when the Beatles hit he did not want to go for the ride and keyboards fell out of favor. He got screwed.
60s: How far was the band's "touring" territory?
JG: Canadaugia, New York. We played at Bristol Mountain Ski Lodge foe the winter of '65. It was a great time. And we played Bristol, New York (30 miles).
60s: How would you describe the band's sound?
JG: This was strictly a Beatles cover band - an ersatz Beatles as it were...
60s: Did Groop Ltd. have a manager?
60s: How popular locally did Groop Ltd. become?
JG: Huge. We recorded a record in Buffalo in, I believe, June of 1964. It was on the radio all the time. We also were the opening act for (many of) the British Invasion (groups) and did the concerts with Gerry and The Pacemakers, Freddie and The Dreamers, Wayne Fontana, Jr. Walker, and Gary Lewis and The Playboys. They were the worst band I ever heard. We opened up the shows and did our Beatles bit - then they came on and did the same songs. They were so bad you could not tell what the song was. They played all the wrong changes and the vocals were terrible.
After the record hit the local charts we were very popular. I remember one job at the Auditorium Theatre in Rochester. That was a great venue. We had been the opening act for the British groups. When we were leaving the back artist entrance we were mobbed by all these girls. That's the honest to God truth. They were chasing us to our cars or wherever we were going, and asking for autographs.
60s: Did the band open for any other national acts?
JG: I cannot remember most. You would have to find the newspapers of the day. Actually, I think we only did two of those shows - but the great thing was there would be something like six British acts.
60s: Your record was As Time Goes By b/w Tomorrow on the Integrity label. What do you remember about the recording session?
JG: That's a great question. We recorded it in Buffalo, New York. This is great. Dick Kirkmire's parents would not let him go. I double tracked the guitars. It was a four track studio (If I recall, possibly a two track). I remember Russell's car broke down on the freeway. We were picked up on the side of the freeway by our manager. I was being flippant before. His name is Bob Rice. I love him like a brother. He was our manager after we got to the point where I could no longer handle it.
I was the first one. We had business cards the whole bit: " The Groop Ltd" (with the Liverpool Sound)". I think we had three variants of the card and a very sixties logo with the name in flowers. We were ahead of our time on that one. It was very psychedelic...
Back to the recording...Kerim sang the leads. I overdubbed the guitars, acoustic and electric. The little bastard would not let anyone else sing on his songs...
60s: When recapping the name of the band members, you didn't list Kerim. I assume he replaced Bob Fry, correct?
JG: Good point. Bob Fry was the first drummer. He was with the band for I believe only one job. My parents knew Kerim's father. "Piano Pasha." He played at a place called the Crescent Beach Hotel on Lake Ontario. He was a great concert pianist from Izmer Turkey.
My parents told Pasha that I had a band. At this time, in June of 1964, my parents insisted I meet this kid. He was 15 years old. On a lark I met with him. He was sitting in with his dad playing drums for a set. He was a great jazz drummer. I spoke with Kerim between sets. I told him I had a Beatles cover band, but had no idea he was enamored by the Beatles as well. We got together in his hotel room and he picked up a guitar and played me all the guitar parts. I was blown away.
I said I would pick him up and bring him to a rehearsal. He came and the rest is history. He not only played all the instruments but sang all the parts. Kerim was heaven sent. His dad was having problems with Kerim and asked my parents if he could live with us. We adopted him in, I think, August of '64. It was not formal but he was sharing my room at home for the remainder of this time with the band. Kerim played with The Monkees after the Groop and the Heard. He again stayed with my girlfriend and myself in Los Angeles of 1968-69. He toured with the Monkees in the summer of 1967.
I must add this. I came back to Rochester from Los Angeles in June of 1967 right after Sgt. Pepper was released. I had no idea Kerim was playing with The Sundowners, The Monkees backup group. He called me at home and said he was in town with The Monkees. I said, "what?" He said to meet him at the hotel where they were all staying, and that he would leave my name with the security people. So I get to the hotel and it is like the bloody Beatles were staying there. The Monkees were huge!
I had to show an ID to get past the guards. Kerim met me as soon as I got off the elevator. There was so much security you would not have believed it. He took me to Mickey Dolenz's room, and the rest of the band was hanging out there. They had a ton of grass with them - they traveled with a brick..ie kilo. This was funny; we were smoking reefer and there were cops all over the floor of the hotel. You could smell it as soon as you got off the elevator.
On the bus ride to the War Memorial I was sitting next to Kerim and Davey. Kerim looked and me and said, "You would not believe this guy that just was axed from the tour as opening act." I asked him what this was all about. He said this guy named Jimi Hendrix was a guitar player that had this power trio. He kept telling me how great this guy was. I met Hendrix a couple years later when the Rustix opened for the Experience.
By the time we got to the venue it was mass hysteria. The screaming was so loud I could not believe it. Kerim made the grade. (He also co-wrote a song with Davey Jones on the Astrology album?). Kerim insisted I go on the road with the tour for a few days. I shared a room with him and went to Buffalo and somewhere else. We were like brothers that hated each other, but had a mutual respect. When I think of him it is very sad.... He was the most gifted natural musician I have ever known...
Here is a good thought. Kerim had to go back and visit his mother in the summer of '65. Bob Rice, our manager, got Steve Gadd to replace Kerim for that period. Steve Gadd is an incredible drummer. Has played on most of Paul Simon's sessions, and also played with Lennon and McCartney at various points. I know he played on Paul's Take It Away since he is on the video.
60s: So Kerim wrote the sides of the single?
JG: Kerim wrote both tunes. He was a musical genius. I think anyone that ever played with him would back me on that. This caused much friction in the band between Kerim and myself. We both wanted to be the leader. We split the lead vocals. Dick sang harmonies and did one lead on Long Tall Texan - I guess we did a few tunes that were not Beatles. We did some Searchers, too, I believe. Those (the single) were the only original songs the band ever did.
60s: Do any (other) '60's Groop Ltd. recordings exist? Are there any vintage live recordings?
JG: In fact there are some somewhere. I know we did two or three live television shows. I would love to see that now. I have two of the records myself. I think Bob Rice, the manager and owner of Integrity Records, may have some. He would be the one to tell you what it was like. He's a great guy. I have been blessed with the people that involved themselves with me musically.
60s: Do you recall anything about the songs (Hey Girl, It's Alright, Slow Down, Instro, and Empty Heart) that were recorded at the Fine Recording Studio and were recently discovered by Mark Taylor?
JG: I don't. However, I did a bit of recording backing other people when I was young. There were two great singers from a band called The Rustix: Al and Charlie. Before they had their group I met them and recorded with them at some small studio. That sounds like the kind of thing we would have recorded. These guys were great singers. They were Blue-Eyed Soul, and easily as good as the Righteous Brothers were. This was about 1961 or 1962. I would bet those are the tunes you are referring to. That was my first studio job.
60s: The songs recently discovered in the Fine Recording Studio are credited to Groop Ltd. so they couldn't be the backing songs that you refer to. It's not possible that the band recorded songs without your involvement, is it?
JG: I was involved in everything with that band. I may have forgotten. If it was recorded by the Groop I was playing guitar and singing. It amazes me that other people have a much better recollection of this period than myself. I was very busy for a few years. I was the hired gun on guitar and vocals for all the bands in Rochester. I filled in with everybody at one time or another.
60s: Why did the band break up in the '60's?
JG: It was like a poor man's Beatles. There was internal conflict between Kerim and myself. I remember once we almost got into a physical fight during a break at a performance. Does that sound pretentious? This was between sets. You could have heard a name drop it was so quiet between us...
60s: Did you join any band after Groop Ltd?
JG: Yes. The Quirks, Gingerbread, T Bones. I also played as a fill in guitarist for a bunch of bands that I can't recall.
60s: You alluded to the fact that after Groop Ltd., Kerim went on to The Heard. What did you think of that band? They were another legednary Rochester garage band...
JG: Unfortunately I think I may have "Heard" them only once. We were all good friends. They were smart. They did not do the Beatles covers as such. They did some definitely. But I think Gary Quinn was Jagger's doppleganger. They did the Stones and more blues tunes. They had a lot of talent. Pete (Genovese) played drums, and Brad Wheat guitar and vocals. Bradley was a very gifted guy. He was not a great technician on guitar, but was very much like Brian Wilson. He played great, no question. It was his simplicity and his great ear for harmony. That far exceeds this business of everyone thinking the faster you play the better you are. That is bullshit. Brad was in the pocket. Gary was on vocals. I can't remember who else was in the band. The talent was there. I am sure they were great. The problem was this. All this talent in Rochester and not one of the bands broke nationally. Actually - I should be corrected; Mitch Miller and Chuck Mangione made it. It is a pity. There is this conservative movement. There is something to be said about Liverpool and Rochester. Long dark cold winters breed terrific musicians.
60s: What about today. How often, and where, do you perform?
JG: I write great pop songs. I have recorded in Nashville and Los Angeles as well as in Rochester. I still play for a couple of hours per day. I just play guitar to write. I switched to bass a few years ago. I play and sing all Maccas lines. I am still looking to get signed. My material sounds so much like the Beatles people still ask the same thing: "Is that a Beatles song I have not heard before?" They are that good.