by Gary Johnson
The Sixth Generation formed in in the small community of Niles, located near the Indiana border in Southwest Michigan. The band was voted into the MRRL online Hall of Fame in 2011. They released their first CD album, “That Was…This Is”, in 2012. It contained their regional hit single, “This Is The Time”. What makes this somewhat curious is the fact that the album came out 45 years after the single charted on radio stations in Chicago and Southwest Michigan. Or maybe it wasn’t all that uncommon for a band whose 1967 single was on a one-song 45. The record actually had two sides, but both contained the same song! MRRL interviewed original member Ron Hamrick recently to discuss Sixth Generation’s new release and their unusual recording history.
MRRL: I guess the most obvious first question is why record an album 45 years after the single?
Hamrick: That’s a really good question. I guess the big thing is the passion is still there. Back in the day, we were a big fish in a small pond. Now we are looking to fulfill what we missed when we all went off to college. We are serious about making it, if that’s the right words. We brought out this album and we don’t intend it to be a one-album wonder or anything like that. We’re currently working on music for our second CD. We’re just very passionate about what we’re doing, reaching out to our fans who seem to love it. So we think we’re in the right place at the right time now.
MRRL: Over half of the CD’s songs were new compositions. Were you and the band writing much original material back in the 60’s, or is this a more recent development?
Hamrick: I’ve written music since I was 10 years-old. Fred Bachman and I wrote “This Is The Time”. It was the only song that we ever recorded other than a cover that was intended for the other side of the record. We never did an album or anything like that back in the day; it was just the single. While I’ve written a lot of songs over the years, it’s only when the band got back together that I’ve really started focusing my energy on it. It’s interesting, my daughter pulled out some old papers of mine while she was hunting for something in the basement and there were probably a thousand songs that I had written. She said, “Dad did you write all these?” I did, but I had never done anything with them. I’ve made a point of not going back and pulling stuff out from there. We’re very focused on the “baby boomer” generation right now. So the music that we’re very passionate about is identifying with the 80 million baby boomers in the U.S.
MRRL: “That Was The Time” is the first track on the CD. What inspired you to write a sequel to your 1967 hit?
Hamrick: “That Was The Time” is actually an autobiographical song about the band. I wrote it when we first got back together. When I wrote it I was keeping in mind that while it was about us I wanted the baby boomers to be able to identify with it. It’s actually become somewhat of a baby boomer anthem on Youtube with over 100,000 hits.
MRRL: Who put the Youtube video together?
Hamrick: I actually put it together shortly after we got together. I was trying to reach out to the baby boomer generation. What I looked for in the Youtube video were images out of the 60’s that people of our age group could relate to. It seems to have been spot on because, as I mentioned, it has had over 100,000 hits, so people are, obviously, liking the song and watching the video.
MRRL: The 60’s was an optimistic decade in a lot of ways with young people thinking that they could change the world. Are you still optimistic 45 years later?
Hamrick: Absolutely. The baby boomer generation is a big force in everything that goes on – politics, economy, you know - the works. What I have found since we started performing again is that so many people have come up to us and said; “Wow, you’ve given me back something that I never thought I’d feel again.” That sort of comment really hits home with us. It tells us that we’re on the right track with what we’re trying to do. We are developing a very passionate fan base, and while all of our performances have been in the Midwest and the Mid-Atlantic, we’ve actually picked up fans across the U.S.; and we’ve gotten some recognition in Great Britain and in Asia. So it’s kind of exciting, actually.
MRRL: You do some oldies on the new CD and two of them, “Runaway” and “Love Potion # 9”, have arrangements quite different from the original recordings. Are the new arrangements something the band has started doing since the reunion?
Hamrick: It’s something that we’re doing now. You’ve seen our performance and you know that we do some covers. But we are not just doing them as covers, we are doing them as re-makes. We are bringing a lot of our own music in our show. We’ve made it kind of an internal rule, I guess, that when we develop covers like “Runaway” and “Love Potion # 9”, we don’t do them as a copies. We’re doing more and more of that. We’re working on a show for our tour in 2013 and the covers that will be in that show will not be straight copies of what was done back in the 60’s.
MRRL: Speaking of the reunion, what prompted the band to get back together after 40 years?
Hamrick: It’s really interesting because all of us went our separate ways over the years. We vaguely stayed in touch with one another and our hearts had always been there. What actually prompted it was Paul Davies’ daughter. Dave Walenga and Paul were talking about the band one day, and his daughter said: “Why don’t you try to get the band back together?" No one could come up with a reason not to. We all kind of jumped on it very readily. It was literally like “I’ve been waiting for this call for a long time." So we started calling one another and set up a practice, not with the intention of really doing anything, more for old time’s sake. We rented a space in Indiana that had a stage and it was so amazing. When we started playing some songs from the old days like “Louie, Louie” and “Money”, it was like we had never been apart. It came together so quickly. The other fascinating thing about that is when word leaked out that we were going to play at the location, some fifty or so people showed up to watch, and they ended up dancing and having a great time at our practice. Keep in mind that we hadn’t played together in over forty years, but our magic came together just like it had never left.
MRRL: Now that the band members live in different areas of the country, is it difficult to rehearse, record, and set up gigs? Is this an issue?
Hamrick: Yes it is, although we’ve managed just fine. Three of us live in the Washington D.C. area and three of us live in Michigan. To complicate that a bit further, one of the members who lives in Michigan goes to Florida every winter. So we found it a challenge but we’ve overcome it. Back in the day I don’t think we could have pulled this off, but now we can because of things like the Internet and technology that allows us to create files and send them back and forth so that we can practice together, so to speak, even when we’re apart. We actually get together about once a month, usually at my house. We do these marathon practice sessions of two or three days – eight hours a day – putting music together. It’s worked well, actually.
MRRL: Where did you find Steve Blevins, the newest member of the band and what has he added to the band?
Hamrick: He’s from the Washington D.C. area. When John Dale, our original guitar player, decided he was going to retire, we started a search. We searched back in Michigan as well as out here. We interviewed a number of people. We had some practice sessions with several, and what we were looking for was not just someone who was a talented musician but also someone that could readily fit into our brotherhood, because that’s what it really is. We needed someone that fit our personalities and fit our way of thinking and is passionate about the 60’s music. We interviewed Steve. We had him come to a practice session, and he fit in really well immediately both mentally and musically. He’s brought not only a lead guitar, but he also plays the sax and the flute. So we’ve been able to incorporate more into our shows because of that.
Sixth Generation 2013 (L - R) Fred Hulce, Dave Walenga, Ron Hamrick, Steve Blevins, Paul Davies, Fred Bachman.
MRRL: It was a nice touch to include the two songs that were recorded for the first single on the CD. Can you explain why “This Is The Time” was issued on both side of the original 45 while “Glitter And Gold”, written by the Hall of Fame songwriting team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, was left in the can? You had to be one of very few bands that released a one-song 45 in the 1960’s.
Hamrick: We were teenagers back in those days and we had no business sense at all. We had a manager, but we were the first band that she had ever managed, so she was kind of feeling her way too. The short story is that we recorded both the songs but no one had a clue as to how to get the rights for us to release the Mann – Weil song. We loved the song, killed when we did it live, and had a great recording of it. But we just didn’t know how to release it, and we toiled with that for a while. Then our manager finally said, “Well let’s just put “This Is The Time” on both sides and get this over with.” Had I known then what I know now, it’s no big deal to get those rights. In fact it’s a very simple process.
MRRL: Forty-five years later,“Glitter And Gold” finally gets its release. It would have made for a great two-sided 45 in 1967.
Hamrick: I totally agree. “Glitter And Gold” was a fantastic song and I have liked it since the very first time I heard it. Actually, back in those days, The Turtles had released a version of it. Prior to that, I think the original recording of the song was done by the Everly Brothers.
MRRL: “This Is the Time” was very radio-friendly and sounds like it could very well have been a hit record in 1967. Were there any opportunities for a major label to pick up the single for national distribution?
Hamrick: We were never presented with that opportunity. I wish we would have been. The song was recorded in one of the leading studios of the time. It was recorded at Sound Studios in Chicago, which was ‘the’ place to do recordings, and the sound engineer that we had was a legendary guy named Stu Black. We had all those things going for us. We managed to get the song played on WLS and WCFL, the big stations at that time in Chicago. We made some trips over to Chicago and we played with their deejays live on several occasions, but we were never able to get over that hump. We didn’t have the knowledge to do it.
MRRL: Why didn’t Sixth Generation record a second single in the 60’s?
Hamrick: Honestly, I don’t know why we didn’t go back and record more. We didn’t really know how to get to that next level. Chicago was only 80 – 90 miles from us. There was a deejay/promoter back in those days who was a very big deal named Carl Bonafede. He was the original manager of The Buckinghams. Interestingly enough, when we were recording at Sound Studios, Carl was there. We got his attention, and I wished he would have got our manager to step aside back in those days, but nothing like that ever happened. I’ve stayed in touch with him over the years, and have been in touch with him regularly since we started performing again. He’s not totally retired and he’s paying attention to us again.
MRRL: Were you guys aware of Dave Kalmbach’s Great Lakes Recording Studio in Sparta?
Hamrick: No. I didn’t know anything about it at all.
MRRL: The cover art for your new CD is impressive. Who designed it?
Hamrick: I hired a graphic artist to do it. I told her the concept that I wanted and she came up with several different designs and we zeroed in on that one.
MRRL: I know the CD can be purchased on iTunes; is it available at other outlets?
Hamrick: It can be ordered off of our website. When you buy off of our web site, you get a hard copy CD. When you buy from iTunes you get the download. I'm currently in the process of working with Amazon where we will release both the hard copy CD and the download.
MRRL: What’s next for The Sixth Generation?
Hamrick: We have a number of new songs that we are developing right now. We intend to be back in the recording studio in early spring, and hopefully we’ll have another CD by late spring or early summer.
MRRL: How about touring?
Hamrick: We’re in the process of booking dates, but we do have quite a few actually. We’re going to playing once a month at a location in Northern Virginia called the Workhouse Art Center, and we are going to be performing back in Michigan in Niles in June. We’re also trying to set up something in April in Southwest Michigan, and we are also going to be playing at Lake Tippecanoe in Indiana in June and in September. We’ve got a number of other things that will probably come to fruition; we just haven’t got contracts signed yet. We’ll probably end up doing about 30 performances this year.