Sunday Morning Coffee — July 23, 2023 — Shimmy Shimmy…

Shimmy, shimmy bop.

Okay Boomer, be straight with me. When our SiriusXM presets wander over to 60s Gold there’s not a song we don’t remember. Not one with which we don’t sing along. Sometimes we know all the words; sometimes we make believe we do. No matter. It always brings back those special times in life when innocence was our prevailing virtue, but we were too young to know it.

Sittin’ in a native hut.
All alone and blue.
Sittin’ in a native hut
Wonderin’ what to do

Which is the reason every summer the bubblegum Happy Together Tour continues to sell out venues across the country. Last Saturday night in Las Vegas was no exception. Over 2,000 Medicare recipients packed the Smith Center, our beautiful performing arts center located far enough away from the Strip to keep visitors at bay and close enough to downtown Vegas to be convenient yet avoid the chaos of Fremont Street. My date, my wife, was a late scratch so friends Jim and Connie were nice enough to let me tag along as the third wheel with an extra ticket and empty seat.

I admit I’m a Happy Together Tour groupie, but with an asterisk*. Last weekend was my third straight year hearing most of the same stuff but ever since Cousin Brucie left SiriusXM, Saturday nights haven’t been the same.  I needed a fix. So, for $90, cheaper than a Grey Goose martini, up, extra cold with a twist at Bellagio, I got what I needed. In some form there were remnants of the Cowsills, Vogues, Classics IV, Gary Puckett and a Turtle. And then the special guest who stole the night during his 20 minutes.

Along came a native girl
Did a native dance
It was like in paradise
Put me in a trance

My relationship with the Happy Together Tour actually dates back to 1984 in Tucson, Arizona. I was managing the local greyhound racetrack at the tender age of 32. A product of New York and Miami, no doubt I was too headstrong for the sleepy pueblo. However, that is exactly the reason I was hired by a young entrepreneur by the name of George Gillett. To try and shake things up. Insert some life into a struggling business. We tried several things with marginal success, but for a venue located in the less than desirable city of South Tucson we had our work cut out. Beginning with the very unsavvy customer warning sign at our main entrance of “No guns, no knives, no weapons.”  I knew I had my hands full. I was only there for two years, which was a year and 364 days longer than the sign lasted.

Our only chance of success was to try and entice people to South Tucson. Other than great Mexican food, it had a ‘Do Not Travel’ warning after the gorgeous Arizona sunset. I proposed a series of concerts at the track. Staff looked at me like I was out of my mind. Which I probably was. Nonetheless, we booked Merle Haggard, Tony Bennett and Happy Together. They were a bunch of borderline soon-to-be has-beens with one thing in common: they were affordable even if it was a ticket sale disaster. And maybe some of those who attended the concerts would even return one day for the races.

Merle Haggard worked. We had about 2,500 people at $10-$15 dinero a ticket. Tony Bennett didn’t. Mr. Bennett, of recent memory, fell out of public favor in the 70s and early 80s. He had well publicized financial issues with the IRS and a cocaine addiction. Martial woes completed the trifecta. We had him booked for a Father’s Day gig but two weeks prior, with only 100 tickets sold, we canceled him and the $15,000 price tag. His people didn’t take kindly to that and sued the racetrack and me personally. Bennett, then still a decade away from his unlikely comeback, settled for $7500 to avoid a South Tucson visit and no doubt facing me in a courtroom.

Happy Together, like Merle, was a success. We had about 2,000 spread in folding chairs and blankets throughout the racetrack infield area. The air was permeated by the aroma of exactly what you think would permeate it. This was 15 years after most of this music was en vogue, but still long enough ago for radio stations to format the new idea of oldies music. Our 1984 program, like the poster reads, had Spanky McFarlane without her Gang; Gary Puckett sans the Union Gap who so enjoyed his preconcert nourishment he forgot the words to Young Girl. He started over three, maybe four times. Everyone was so buzzed it didn’t matter. The Association was still intact and just as they started Windy, a desert breeze blew though the outdoor venue scattering blankets, rolling papers, unfinished joints and the canvas covering of the stage. Not exaggerating.  Order was finally restored with the featured act the Turtles, Howard and Mark, back together coming off their gig as Mothers of Invention. The night was great. The plan was accomplished. Most in attendance found their cars were still in the parking lot when the show ended and even had all four tires. Only a few of them drove off earlier with new owners.

Thirty-nine years later I probably would have gone to last Saturday’s show anyway as live 60s and 70s music is always special. However, because of my personal history with Happy Together dating back to Tucson there’s always that nostalgic pull. The demographic at the Smith Center was what you’d expect. The average age of the crowd was deceased. Others had weekend passes from their nursing homes. Originally, the show was supposed to run for two hours without an intermission. That turned out to be a bad idea as prostates had other ideas. All of a sudden an intermission was announced. People cheered. The line for the restroom rivaled In-N-Out’s drive-through at noon. Seniors were pacing, anxious for their turn. For me it was perfect — nobody was going to beat me to the bathroom or the parking lot afterward. In fact, I hear some of the crowd is still filing out.

Goin’ shimmy, shimmy ko-ko-bop
Shimmy, shimmy bop
Shimmy, Shimmy ko-ko-bop
Shimmy, shimmy bop

Clockwise from top right: The three Cowsills; Gary Puckett; The Turtles- original Mark Volman (r) and his new partner Ron Dante highlight the Happy Together Tour.

Every year the Cowsills open the tour. There were seven Cowsills back in their day, 1967, featuring Momma Cowsill and six of her calves. Now it’s down to just three—Bob, Susan and Paul. They were as goofy as ever with We Can Fly, Indian Lake and The Rain, the Park & Other Things. They closed with their most recent hit, Hair, released in 1969. That song will forever be a part of the hippie movement written for the Broadway show of the same name and the rebellious freedom for which it stood. The crowd heard the first few chords and snapped awake from its collective nap; even more importantly, we remembered when we had hair: I let it fly in the breeze, get caught in the trees, give a home for the fleas in my hair.

Ultimately, The Vogues and Classics IV turned out to be cover bands. None of the originals who recorded the hits are left. The Classics IV are actually the not-very Classics II. Dennis Yost, the original front man, died in 2008. Nonetheless, they covered Spooky, Stormy, Traces, and Every Day With You, Girl. The Vogues, a foursome from Pittsburgh, are now down to three and none of whom recorded You’re The One, Five O’Clock World and Turn Around, Look At Me. The songs were familiar even if the on-stage talent wasn’t. It’s akin to seeing Frank Sinatra Jr. sing Fly Me To The Moon. However we reminisced. And smiled. And kept smiling the rest of the night.

Joined her in her dancin’ spree
Felt my spine a-tingle
Held her tight and close to me
Man, I’m glad I’m single

Gary Puckett left the Union Gap at the blackjack table, put on his trademark Civil War Union Army jacket and swooned the biddies with Woman, Woman, Lady Willpower, Over You and This Girl Is A Woman Now. Puckett, 81, remembered all the words to Young Girl proving that Prevagen does work.

Heaven, she showed me what to do
First I was amazed
Soon I learned a step or two
Put me in a daze

The Turtles were only a Turtle. They closed the show as the featured act of their own tour, but probably shouldn’t have. Originals Howard Kalyan and Mark Volman, a couple of nice Jewish boys from each coast, are no longer together as the twosome who gave us so much joy back in the late 60s. Kaylan retired in 2017 with health issues. That leaves only wild-haired Volman, though he is physically struggling. Diagnosed this year with Lewy body dementia, at times it was tough to watch. Challenged by memory and his gait, the act really now belongs to Ron Dante, not a Jew. Once upon a time we knew Dante, but not by name. He was Archie Andrews, the lead singer of the Archies. Dane did his Sugar, Sugar from 1969. The women up front wanted to be his candy girl. He also did a respectably nice job with the Turtles It Ain’t Me Babe, You Baby, She’d Rather Be With Me, Elenore and of course the signature Happy Together. Volman accompanied as best he’s still able.

Goin’ shimmy, shimmy ko-ko-bop
Shimmy, shimmy bop, oh
Shimmy, shimmy ko-ko-bop……

Little Anthony was as smooth as ever.

Stealing the night was a first timer in the act and the oldest performer among the troupe. And the best. Jerome Anthony Gourdine, who as soon as he started the first note of Going Out Of My Head became Little Anthony all over again. High pitched voice, smooth moves and impeccably dressed, good enough to head over to the Aria after the show and step in as the maitre’d at Carbone. He’s eighty-two years old and can still belt it. Back in the day of the Imperials, their first two songs were recorded in the late 1950s—Tears On My Pillow and the song he said he could never understand and liked even less, Shimmy, Shimmy Ko-Ko Bob. Both Going Out Of My Head and Hurts So Bad were just as good in 2023 as the 1964 originals. Little Anthony had the crowd standing. Well, at least the half that could. He had them swaying and clapping and keeping time on their walkers. He was that good and that much fun. Connie turned to Jim and said, “We have to do this again next year.” There was no mention of me tagging along but, if Little Anthony is back, so am I.

…..Shimmy, shimmy bop.






















  • Ken Rich says:

    As I have commented before, you are the master of restoring old memories. You missed your calling.

  • Hal Alter says:

    I woke up this morning and sat in my bed to read this. I almost pissed in my pants I was laughing so hard. I have seen this show and it is really entertaining. Your way of reviewing this show is priceless. Keep them coming.

  • Roy Abrams says:

    I ❤️ oldies. I wish I knew about this concert.

    Nicely written. You were like Little Caesar.

    Saw Gary Puckett and the Union Gap at the Southpoint about a year ago. Kirby Puckett was better.

  • “Sandy” Merison says:

    Perhaps the best cup of Sunday Morning Coffee I’ve ever enjoyed.

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