Barbara Dyer: Groupies

Wed, 04/08/2020 - 9:30pm

What are groupies? According to Google, groupies are people, especially young women, who follow music groups in hopes of getting to know them. Well, we certainly heard about them in the different eras of the 1960s and 1970s. After thinking it over, reminiscing with a friend of mine, although we did not know it, I guess we really were “groupies” in the 1940s and1950s.

Television had not come to Camden, but we had records and radios and were listening to all of it in the Big Band era. It is now history to the elderly (I hate that word, but what is, is). We are also called the Greatest Generation, according to Tom Brokaw, and that is a nicer phrase to hear.

We sang their songs and bought their records, both 45s and 78s. Benny Goodman had a concert in Carnegie Hall and it was sold on two records. The price was $10 and I was working, but that was a lot of money then, when your paycheck was only $35 for the week. Being young, I just could not resist buying the twin records.

In the 1950s, when the Big Bands were beginning to lose their steam in the cities, they came to Maine. We groupies, of course, were going to see them whenever and where ever they played. Naturally they played on week nights and we had to be at work at 8 a.m. the following morning. But little sleep was worth it, just to see them in person and dance to their wonderful music.

Vaughn Monroe was a favorite of mine, with his great, deep singing voice and 6 feet, 2 inches tall.

He was playing in Lewiston and nothing would keep us from that performance. I had just purchased my first new car, after saving money for seven years, and filled it with gas and groupie friends of mine.

With him was Rosemary Clooney to sing, and he sang his theme song, “Racing With The Moon.”

We all danced the night away. On the way home we stopped in Augusta for a snack, got home in time to take our showers and made it to work on time. Monroe gave up his orchestra about three years after that night and died in 1973.

Harry James was another favorite, playing his trumpet, and came to the Augusta Civic Center. That large hall was packed with people from all over Maine to hear him play his trumpet, like nobody else. I saw him again in Belfast on the old Steamship Pier. We arrived home a little earlier, as it was only 18 miles to go. James gave up his orchestra in 1947 for a short time and then reorganized again, and he played until he died in1983.

On one of the hottest and most humid nights of the year, Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians came to Waterville. Of course it was almost too hot to dance, but his orchestra kept on playing and it must have been even more uncomfortable on the stage. We decided if they could play, we could dance and did.

Old Orchard Beach quite often had Big Bands, playing on the pier. One of the several nights we went was Cab Calloway.

We left one day after work, because we could not miss him. He had an excessive amount of energy and sang about every song his orchestra played. Most of the band leaders were clean-cut looking and dressed well. His hair was rather ruffled and he sang very loud and fast. He was known for the songs, ”Minnie the Moocher” and “Hi Di Hi Di Ho.”

We saw Louis Prima one night there, but Old Orchard was quite a distance after working all day, and we got home just about in time for work the next morning.

Gene Krupa, the great drummer, never came to Maine, that I knew of, but we did go to Brunswick to hear Buddy Rich. He was good but only second to Gene Krupa.

Tommy Dorsey never made it to Maine because he was lost over the English Channel during World War II. “In The Mood” was his theme song, and everyone started to “jitterbug” when they heard it. We had not seen “jitterbugging” in Camden, until the soldiers at Camp Camden were doing it at the USO dances in the Camden Opera House. It caught on quickly and stayed.

We would loved to have seen Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Charlie Barnett, and singers like Tex Beneke, Bob Eberle, and Helen O'Connell.

Some people do not know that Ozzie Nelson once had a band, and his wife, Harriet, sang, before they were on television as a comedy couple, when Television came in.

There were many we did not see, either because they did not come to Maine, or possibly we missed them (I doubt that very much). We do have great memories of those nights.

It has been a great trip down Memory Lane for me and maybe for you.