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More Rock n’ roll stories

Backstage clashes! Myths and rumors! Blasts from the past!

By Michael Summers


Fort Wayne Reader


A couple years ago, FWR did a piece on rock n’ roll stories from Fort Wayne’s past (FWR #167). It was a popular story, as these things go, and we heard a few more. Here’s a sampling…

The Diva vs. The Maestro

In February of 1999, the legendary Aretha Franklin stopped by Fort Wayne for a couple shows with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic. For many in the audience, the performances rankas one of the more memorable shows they’ve seen on the Embassy stage.

But for many Philharmonic musicians and staff, it’s the rehearsal before the performance they’ll really remember.

A bit of background…

At the 1998 Grammy Awards, Franklin — the Queen of Soul, Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame inductee, and possessor of one of the most powerful and expressive voices in popular music — stepped in at the last minute for an ailing Luciano Pavarotti to sing Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma,” an aria from the opera Turandot. Franklin received a standing ovation, and “Nessun Dorma” became a staple of her concerts for the next several years.

Franklin’s dip into opera was met with generally favorable reviews from critics. Most felt that while she certainly had the pipes for it, her delivery was still rooted in the church. But overall, she didn’t embarrass herself, she did the songs justice, and if Franklin wants to try her hand at opera… well, why not? Besides, who’s going to say “no” to the Queen of Soul? I mean, you saw that hat she wore at the inauguration in 2009. Who says “no” to Aretha Franklin?

Well, funny you should mention it… When Franklin came to Fort Wayne that year, her touring conductor was delayed because of winter weather, so Edvard Tchivzhel, the Philharmonic’s conductor at the time, stepped in during rehearsal. Franklin and the orchestra went through her classic Atlantic records catalog — Franklin leaning against the piano and snacking on a bag of Doritos — and everything was going swimmingly until it came time for the opera part of the show…

Edvard Tchivzhel became Maestro of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic in 1993 and held the position until the end of the 2007-2008 season. Born in St. Petersburg Russia when the city was still called Leningrad and educated at the Leningrad Conservatory, Tchivzhel was already an internationally recognized and respected conductor when he and his family defected to the United States in 1991 while on tour with the USSR State Symphony Orchestra. In addition to his tenure with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, he has also conducted with the Baltimore Symphony, the Indianapolis Symphony, and the Greenville Symphony Orchestra, just to name a few.

But Tchivzel did not know the Queen of Soul, by reputation or otherwise. So Franklin launched into the Puccini… “All the notes were there, and there were some extra ones, too,” says a section musician with the Philharmonic who was at the rehearsal. Tchivzel, who may not have known “Natural Woman” but definitely knew “Nessun Dorma,” called a halt to the proceedings to correct what he saw as a few flaws in Franklin’s technique…

“He would stop and make her start over again,” says a witness. “This happened two or three times, and then things started to get a little tense.”

Tchivzel told Franklin “Madame, you do not know your music…”

You can probably imagine how well this went down with Franklin, who implied that maybe the problem was on his end, saying “well, we performed it Detroit last week and it was just fine then.”

It escalated from there. At one point, Franklin called out into the hall “Is there anyone out there who can conduct this?” And you can probably imagine how well that went down with Tchivzel.

This went on for about 20 minutes, with both Franklin and Tchivzel — the original Diva and the old-school Maestro — playing their parts like pros from central casting. The orchestra witnessed the entire incident, torn between fascination and the urge to crawl under their seats in embarrassment. “We kept looking at each other, whispering because we didn’t want to attract the attention of either one of them,” says a member of the orchestra. In fact, the entire hall was pretty full, with a lot of staff from the Philharmonic and the Embassy present. A camera crew was there as well; at some point, one of Franklin’s people gently but firmly indicated they should turn the camera off.

Eventually the rehearsal broke down. But as Tchivzel walked off, he said to Franklin — without a trace of irony — “You do not know the meaning of the word respect!”

That last bit… well, at first we didn’t believe it either. It’s the kind of joke you couldn’t put in a movie because it just would have been too tidy (though if it had been in a movie or sitcom, someone would have replied “she may not know the meaning, but she sure knows how to spell it.”)

But we’ve heard it from so many different people who were there, all of whom swear it’s true, that we’ll stand by it. And did Tchivzel know what he was saying? Most of those who were there don’t think so, and add that Tchivzel wasn’t really in a joking mood at the time.

No rock at the Embassy? Blame INXS (that’s the myth, anyway)

The Embassy Theatre seems to be undergoing a sort of rock renaissance of late. Just this year, Matchbox Twenty and the Avett Brothers have played shows there, with Alice In Chains due to make a stop later this spring…

But using the word “renaissance” implies a revival or a return of sorts, and some readers might be forgiven for wondering if rock shows were ever a regular occurrence at the Embassy.

Well, they were, at least for a time in the 80s. And there were some interesting shows there, too. Your humble remembers Robert Palmer playing there in the summer of ’86, at the height of his “Addicted to Love” days, and that same year The Fabulous Thunderbirds — riding high at the time with “Tuff Enuff” and their cover of “Wrap It Up” — graced the Embassy stage. Bachmann Turner Overdrive played there in 1985; they were long past their winning days by then, but they still took care of business…

It’s a great place to see a rock show. The venue is more intimate than a sports arena, and there’s not a bad seat in the house. But unfortunately, rock concerts at the Embassy seemed to dry up in the late 80s, and according to rumor, the show that ended rock at the Embassy for a long, long time was INXS on October 21, 1987.

As we said, that was the rumor, and in trying to verify the truth of it, we stumbled upon Joel Harmeyer, Technical Director at the historic Embassy Theatre. Harmeyer was at that show — a fifteen-year-old with a bad haircut, as he puts it. “I probably know way more about that show than I should,” he laughs. “It was my first rock show, and my first time at the Embassy.”

Rock geeks love a good “I-saw-them-when” story — catching a show by a band just on the cusp of greater fame and/or glory — and INXS at the Embassy, October 21 1987, might qualify as one of those. The six-piece Australian band were hardly unknowns by then, having notched up one genuine top 10 hit called “What You Need” the year before, as well as a handful of what were called “MTV hits” back in the day — those of a certain age might recognize titles like “The One Thing,” “Don’t Change,” “This Time,” “Listen Like Thieves,” and “Original Sin.”

But when they stopped in Fort Wayne, the band had just released a new album called Kick. And by “just,” we mean that week. The first single, a slinky tune called “Need You Tonight,” was climbing the Billboard charts. The song would eventually hit #1 and Kick would go on to sell something like 6 million copies in the US alone. Three subsequent singles from the album would make the top 10, at least two of which — “Devil Inside” and “New Sensation” — those same folks of a certain age could recognize immediately…

On October 21, 1987, all that was still in the not-too-distant future. Harmeyer took a look at the event file when he started working at the Embassy and found the show didn’t even sell out. “I think we only sold half the house,” he says. “I saw them, I think, nine months later at Market Square in Indianapolis, and it was sold out.”

INXS blend of rock, pop, and dance music grooves hardly seems like the kind of music to inspire destructive behavior. Nevertheless, the story we heard is that during the show, many seats in the Embassy were torn apart and broken, and that soured the Embassy on booking rock acts.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t find anyone to confirm that story. Harmeyer, however, offers up a professional perspective as technical director that suggests another reason why rock seemed to disappear from the Embassy for such a long time. “Any rock show at the Embassy, we have to watch the decibels,” he says. “Shows hate when you talk to them about this, but we can’t have it too loud, because our beautifully decorated plaster might get damaged with consistent sound pressure.”

So, maybe the “destroyed seats” story is an urban myth. Maybe there was no draw the line moment for rock shows at the Embassy, and they just faded away for a while due to the fact they were simply too loud for the venue. Maybe they just didn’t make any money…

But one of the recent rock acts on the Embassy stage has its own Fort Wayne related “I-saw-them-when” story. The Avett Brothers first played here in May, 2006, as part of a DID event. Matt Kelley of OLG booked the band, and our own Sean Smith wrote about them in FWR #54. They played in the plaza at the corner of Wayne and Calhoun, and tickets were a whopping $5.

In the 60s, Indiana garages weren’t just for tractors…

In early December of last year, Frank Gray’s column in The Journal Gazette talked about a 60’s band from Fort Wayne called The Olivers, who recorded an album in 1969, only to have their record company deal fall through and the recording seemingly lost to time…

It was our kind of story — someone had actually mentioned The Olivers a couple years ago, after FWR #167 was out — and we shake our pasty fist at Gray for beating us to it. But one sentence in the piece did cause us to raise our bushy brows in interest: a mention of a guy who runs a blog dedicated to Indiana garage bands from the 60s.

That guy’s name is Tim Cox. He’s a record collector from Columbus, Indiana, and since 2006 has run and maintained the blog “60s Indiana band szene,” detailing the stories and music behind many of the seemingly countless rock n’ roll bands of the era.

And Fort Wayne is well represented, with stories, photographs, and music from bands like the Miles Bluffton Blues Band, The Jersey Chains, The Chessman, The Children, and many others. Some of these bands made a recording or maybe even a 45 or two, some played lots of gigs, but whatever the case, when Cox started posting their stories, he began hearing from people who remembered the band. “I’d hear ‘hey, that’s my dad’ or ‘that’s my grandpa’ or ‘I dated this guy back in the day…’”

Indiana’s “scene” wasn’t as big as some of our neighboring state’s — Michigan, Ohio, and the Chicago area seem fairly bristling with bands — but in the days before DJs and inexpensive sound systems, every dance and party needed a band, and in Indiana there were plenty eager and willing to meet that need. “Look at a Journal Gazette from the 60s,” Cox says. “Literally, every week, there are bands playing. The hard part is finding which ones are from Illinois, which ones from Ohio…”

That can actually get pretty complicated. Cox says he has a whole stack of stuff that he has no clue where it’s from. It might be on an Indiana label, or the band may have played or recorded in Indiana, but finding out where they’re actually from requires a certain amount of diligence.

Cox says he was too young to have heard these bands in their day, but for him, the records are a great snapshot of a time in music before things became “too overdone.” “I don’t want to insult anyone,” he explains. “But as a kid in the 70s, everything was The Eagles, Yes… Things were so horribly complicated you couldn’t play it, much less reproduce it on stage. For me, the music’s ‘real,’ which sounds kind of phony, but it’s a bunch of kids getting together, playing, and this is their little testament to what they did at the time.”

Some of the musicians in these bands went on to have professional music careers, and Cox says he’ll hear from guys who dismiss their early stuff as too primitive or immature. Some others even take exception to the phrase “garage band,” seeing it as somewhat demeaning. “In their own little microcosm they were professional band,” Cox says. “Their intent was to play, make some money, meet girls, have a good time, and many of them thought ‘music could be my life’.”

And as we said, for some of them, music did become their professional life; for many others, music is something they still pursue to some degree, for fun or a hobby. “That’s one of the things that surprised me, what a large percentage of them still play,” Cox says.

Cox and Kim Bowman, a musician from Columbus, recently started a Facebook page on 60s Indiana garage bands, and Cox says he has plenty of stuff to organize and put up on his site — photos, flyers, and lots of records. “Do you want to know a secret about record collecting?” he says. “The ones who bought the records back in the day were all girls. Boys didn’t buy the records. These old 45s, people will write their names on them, and they’re usually all women’s names. They wanted a momento of the show. The boys? For them, the band was their competition. Why would they want a momento of that?”

You can find the 60’s Indiana Band Szene blog at indiana-bands-60s.blogspot.com.

Also on Facebook (Indiana 60’s Garage bands).

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