Silver Laughter and smoky nightclubs

Freezing our butts off in winter at Worthington  Minnesota. From left: Jon, Ken, Mick and Paul.

Freezing our butts off in the winter at Worthington, Minnesota. From left: Jon, Ken, Mick and Paul.

This is only how I remember it, not necessarily how it really was. But here goes the story.

Sometimes the smoke was so thick in the nightclubs we played we often would lose our voices… fortunately, not all on the same night!

From the beginning, the band decided to stay true to the original versions of the songs that we covered. This meant we did not change keys to accommodate the range of our voices. We tried to do everything like the band who recorded the song did it. That meant we would sometimes sing out of our vocal range. After all, if we wanted to sound like the Beatles, we had to sing the songs like they did them otherwise it would not sound right. I think this worked for the Beatles Tribute since our voices were matched well with John, Paul, George and Ringo. Looking back, I think this made us better singers.

However, sometimes I think it may have been better to change keys especially when it came to other groups we covered. I remember learning songs by Foreigner and Boston where the lead vocals were way out of our vocal range. In cases like this we strained like crazy to keep the songs in the same key. Although this widened our singing abilities, I am not so sure we did the music and ourselves justice. Especially when we were playing in clubs so smoky they looked like San Francisco’s foggiest days.

Occasionally we would lose our voices from the smoke and the strain. Jon, being the kind of guy he was, would often insist we croak our way through the songs anyway, especially if they were new to our playlist. Even if we protested and Jon had the starting guitar riff (as in “Feels Like The First Time”), he would launch into the song with the lead singer glaring at him. Then we’d embarrassingly try to work our way through with a Joe Cocker-like performance.

On the Port Byron live recording I have, it sounds like there was no laryngitis those nights, but some of the songs are clearly at the top of or just out of our ranges! In the case of the Bee Gees songs, they did all their falsettos in the studio so they could double, triple and quadruple their tracks to strengthen the vocals. But as we were a 4 piece band playing live, we were forced to sometimes have two vocalists “double track” the melody in hopes of making the singing strong enough.

In hindsight, I think we should have listened back to some of the choices we made and spent some time improving the performances, but in the middle of it all, we were struggling to keep up with all the new material that was coming out at the time. As I have said in other places on this website, our decision to cover groups we really didn’t like or respect (i.e. Ohio Players, KC and the Sunshine Band, etc.), kept us from becoming extinct during the disco days of the 70’s.

Mick Orton

Categories: History

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