THE COUNTRY GENTLEMEN - AN INTERVIEW WITH DON DROEGE



Don Droege bass player with mid 60s teen beat band The Country Gentlemen recently happened to surf onto my blog and thankfully got in touch. He kindly answered my dumb questions and sent me some totally cool pictures of the band.
It's quite a lengthy chat and it may pay to print and read at leisure. Anyway here's Don's recollections of his time in this fine garage combo.

The Country Gentlemen. I dig the name of the band. Can you remember how that came about?
Yeah, I was in a band, actually my first band, and we were playing at a party, Bobby and Billy Alessi came and were listening to us and I was singing The Zombies song "Tell Her No". I was the lead vocalist and the bass player in that band. Well, Bobby turned to Billy and said " We've got to get that guy in our band!" Well that's how we got together not actually how we got our name and to be quite honest it was a bit of a group effort coming up with our name. We weren't a "city" band and we were nice suburban kids, so……

In the beginning we used to dress up in tuxedos! I'll attach a picture of us like that, it's a riot!!!

                                                                           Don pictured in tux

Oh, I was talking to Bobby last year and I was reminiscing about how we first met and he says " I remember the song you sang at the party where Billy and I first saw you, it was "Tell Her No by the Zombies" and I was amazed he remembered that too.

Were you all friends before forming the band. Did you all go to the same school?
Well, Bobby, Billy and I went to West Hempstead High together. We were the first guys to wear our hair long and took a lot of shit from the jocks and the hoods for our hair and clothes. We wore Bell Bottom jeans and wild shirts and people thought we were from another planet but by the next year everyone was trying to look just like us. I guess you could say we were a little ahead of our time. Our Drummer Bob Pelicane was a catholic school guy but lived a few blocks from Bobby and Billy.

 The Country Gentlemen 1966 - picture taken by Don Strodle

You were all teenagers at the time so I suppose gigging in Clubs was out of the question. Did you play much live, and if so where? Did the band support and of the 'major' bands?
When we were young there were a few "Teen" clubs that were popular. The one that we played in almost every weekend was called "The Mod Scene" .We were like the house band and I even wrote a song for the place which we played at the end of each show. ( Have a Mod Mod Time at the Mod Mod Scene) they loved it !

We did play a gig at a place called Murray the K's ( yes the self-proclaimed 5th Beatle)World. It was actually a converted Airplane hanger in Roosevelt Field that held about 5000 people. We opened for The Standells, who's "Dirty Water" single was at the top of the charts at the time. We were awe-struck playing in front of that many people but because we had so many of our fans there we received an enthusiastic ovation.

Two side notes: The Standells needed another amp and borrowed Billy's and proceeded to blow it up. Billy was really upset and even more so when they left without reimbursing us for the damage. Needless to say after that we never "loved that dirty water". Also Roosevelt Field is now one of the largest shopping malls in America!

We also played in the Catskills in a place called Raleigh Hotel. We played in the lounge while the headliners (one of our favorite local Long Island groups at the time) The Young Rascals played the main room.

 The Country Gentlemen pictured on stage at The Cafe Wha? circa 1965

And of course we ventured into Manhattan to play at The Café Wha? In Greenwich Village. That was probably the most adventurous thing we did because we were so young and I was the only one with a driver's license. We would unload Billy and Bobby's Dad's work van and he would let us take it in to the city! Going into the village in the 60's was like stepping into a different world. The Fugs were playing upstairs to us and The Lovin' Spoonful were playing down the street and the whole place was alive with music and people we had never heard of. This was still the time that the Folkies and the Beatniks were still in" and us young Rock and Rollers were the "new" thing.


 We also did beach club gigs in the summer on Long Island. There were these clubs that would hire bands to play in the afternoon. One day at a club called "The Sands" we were playing in one room when another band, in another room began playing and we started to loose our audience, so like any good group we took a break and went to check out the competition. Well we came upon this group who didn't sound too bad but only had one singer (after all we had four, we all sang). So we came the conclusion that we had to be much better than that group. The groups name was The Hassles and their only singer was Billy Joel.

Did you know any other bands/musicians? New York had quite a scene going those days.
Well, like I said we were not a "city" band so we didn't live the life of musicians, school during the day practicing at night and gigging on the weekends. We did do a "Battle of the Bands" , I think it was in Levittown, I wish I could remember the names of all the bands there, there must have been fifty there, all I remember is that we took home the first place trophy!! And we were so infatuated with all the English groups. Some Long Island groups we knew were The Vagrants (Leslie West of Mountain fame first group) and The Illusion with Johnny Vinci as lead singer. The Illusion were from the same town as we were but were a bit older so they played in bars. We would sneak in with phony proof to see them. Also a group called Blue Oyster Cult was from our area.

The Country Gentlemen released one 45 then were gone. Why break up?
It's something I remiss to this day, it was probably my fault. My father had a prosperous Plumbing and Heating business that he wanted me to be a part of so he was always trying to make me feel bad about playing music and not working for him. I guess I finally succumbed to him and quit the band. (big mistake).

Did you play in any other bands?
Not me. I still play for my own enjoyment. I write and play piano and guitar as wall as bass. After The Country Gentlemen, Billy and Bobby had a few different groups before forming Barnaby Bye with Peppy Castro from The Blues Magoos ( their hit song "We Ain't Got Nothing Yet" continues to get airplay to this day) and Mike Ricadella from The Illusion. We were still very good friends at the time even though we had broke up as a group, Billy and I even shared an apartment for a few years. After Barnaby Bye Billy and Bobby continued their solo (duo) career as "Alessi" and made a number of albums and are still recording as Alessi and Barnaby Bye has reunited and are coming out with a new CD! They're actually performing in April locally and I'm going to the show.

What was your bass guitar of choice?
I get that sick feeling in my stomach when I think of the instruments I gave away or sold for almost nothing. I had an original Mini-moog! My first bass was an inexpensive Hagstrom which is seen in the Café Wha? Pictures and as soon as I could afford it I got a hollow body double cutaway Guild bass. It was the same one that Chas Chandler of the Animals used and I am still on the lookout for one. I also had a Fender J bass which I also sold when I was trying to work my way through art school in the 70's ( I went to The School of Visual Arts in Manhattan).

Was the Brent 45 the band's legacy or is there any demos lying around somewhere? Or band pictures?
Actually, I had a few rare test pressings of some songs we did before the Brent 45 but I've lost track of them and I am in the process of trying to reclaim them ( they might be somewhere in my old house now occupied by my ex-wife). As far as pictures, I have a few that I'll send you along with this e-mail.

What songs did you perform live? Did the band have any other original songs in the playlist?
We were basically a cover band but we had at least a half a dozen originals we always played in our sets. Billy and I were constantly writing and Bobby got the bug soon after. Between the three of us we could have easily come up with an albums worth of tunes if we has stayed together.

 Bobby Alessi pictured at band practice

Who were The Country Gentlemen's main influences?
Our influences were the bands we loved to cover, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Donovan, The Kinks, The Yardbirds, The Turtles, The Zombies, The Dave Clark Five, The Spencer Davis Group and The Hollies. We also covered The Rascals, The Beach Boys ( Bobby and I are still huge Beach Boys fans) as well as groups like Paul Revere and the Raiders. Other groups we were influenced by but didn't actually cover were Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds, The Doors, Dylan, The Everly Brothers, The Drifters, Elvis, Wilson Pickett, Van Morrison, The Who, Procol Harum, I could go on but …………

So there it is ……… ten questions answered, hope you found it as enjoyable as I did remembering it! Thanks again for the interest and I'll be glad to answer any questions you might have in the future.

P.S. My 19 year old daughter's boyfriend turned me on to your website, he's a musician as well an he's a bona-fied 60's fanatic as is my own daughter, in her words "There was just so much good music going on back then". I am glad I was a part of it.
P.S.S. That 12 string you noticed in the picture I sent was a Framus, unfortunatly Bobby no longer has it.

Originally posted on 'Flower Bomb Songs' February 2008

Comments:

I was in a JR High rock band in '65 '66 '67 in Davison Mi.The Country Gentlemen played @ our teen club (beneath the Bowling Alley!) sometime in my 7th grade year. My band which I was the drummer/leader(kind of a "Dave Clark 5" thing!) was caleed "The Conqwuest"... we actually opened for "The Gents" & this must have been later in the bands history as ALL of the guitar players were plugged into VOX SUPER BEATLE AMPS...w/ VOX PA SYSTEM!! & being a drummer myself I was enthralled w/ the lights in the bass& tom toms & various other drums of this "Beatlesque" group ...we were playing all Fender "Showman" amps w/a like PA & for a band of All 8th graders other than myself we thought we were stylin'....

My group WAS in demand as we were all so young & were really talented.This made for a truly novel act @ the time...we were good & cute!!We played all the local teen clubs, high school dances, a place called Sheerwood Forest outside of Flint,Mi.won lots of "Battle of the Bands" & biggest claim to fame was opening for the "Safaris"...(Wipe Out...Surfer Joe..fame!)@ a Davison event. Not bad for 13 yr old kids... Thanks its been a nice memory sparked by your site.....Nino

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