Riding a Fad for the Fab Sixties, Middle-Aged Rockers Are Having a Ball on the Road Again

updated 09/15/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/15/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

By the hundreds and thousands they come—beaded-down baby boomers, would-be hippies sporting tie-dye T-shirts and peace symbols, toddler-toting yuppies, even kids raised on Madonna and Prince wondering what all the fuss is about. Never mind the extra pounds and shiny domes spotted among the crowds. These folks are trooping to fairs, festivals, park concerts and nightclub gigs for a nostalgic trip to the pop 1960s, a time when the beat was groovy, love lyrics mellow and the surf forever up. From Saratoga Springs, N. Y., where the manic Monkees and the Grass Roots wooed the faithful last July, to the San Bernardino, Calif, desert, where Canned Heat cooled aging Woodstockers with their dreamy, psychedelic rhythms, the move to the past is on. Whether it's the Righteous Brothers blending "Unchained Melody" or Frankie Avalon warbling one of his beach-bikini hits, the middle-aged rockers are back. "I'm just having a ball this time around," says Paul Revere of the madcap Raiders. "What really amazes me are all those kids out there mouthing the words. Why, I've got socks older than some of them." On these pages is a look at some of those oldies but goodies who are currently wowing a public yearning for yesteryear.

Monkee biz blitz

Twenty years after they went ape on the pop charts (nine Top 20 singles in 1966-68), the goof ball, made-for-TV Monkees are still a scream. Midway through a successful, seven-month U.S. concert tour, David Jones, 40, Micky Dolenz, 41, and Peter Tork, 44—minus Monkee-mate Michael Nesmith, 42, now a busy film producer who passed on the tour—are up to the same tricks and shtiks. When not performing such hits as Last Train to Clarksville and I'm a Believer, Jones still plays Prince Charming, Dolenz the funnyman and Tork the foil. The combination works. Earlier this year, when MTV began airing 46 episodes of the original series, the shows proved so popular that they had to be broadcast several times a day. That exposure boosted interest in the current tour enormously. Four recent LP reissues by Rhino Records, all selling well, plus the chart-climbing new single That Was Then, This Is Now, have also fanned the latest Monkeemania flame. "John Lennon was the first to make the comparison between the Monkees and the Marx Brothers, and he was damn right," says drummer Dolenz, a TV producer-director in Britain. "I see us gravitating toward summer comedy features. One movie a year for the next God knows how many years...The Monkees on the Moon, The Monkees Under the Earth, The Monkees Save the Earth."

Those plans may be complicated by the intention to launch a fresh weekly TV show featuring a new Monkees foursome. (Mike Nesmith's son Jason, as well as the sons of old-time rockers Donovan, Frankie Avalon and Bobby Darin are among the more than 2,000 hopefuls who have auditioned for the project.) "Ultimately it makes no difference to us," Dolenz says of plans for the show. "We are the Monkees—always will be."

Reveling in the response to their current tour, the trio brought along so many of their kids(they have nine in all, ages 1 to 17) that they hired a magician to keep them entertained backstage during the group's New York gig. Jones, who has enjoyed a successful acting career in Britain since the group disbanded in 1968, believes the latest Monkee madness best answers early critics who called them a "plastic, prefab package." He argues: "All I can say is the plastic must have been made of pretty strong material because it's still lasting."

Surf City's up again

Jan and Dean started out in 1958, soon becoming the '60s premier surf music duo and charting 13 Top 30 singles—like Surf City and Dead Man's Curve—by mid-1966. Then disaster struck. One day in 1966, while driving at 65 mph on L.A.'s Whittier Boulevard, Jan Berry hit a parked truck. The impact killed his three passengers, and Jan suffered such severe head injuries that it took him years to recover his speech and mobility. Now Jan and Dean Torrence, both 45, are trying to rekindle their musical partnership. Still, admits Jan: "When I talk I mess up once in a while. Sometimes it feels like I think one thing and then I say it a little differently. But I think it's important for me to try. It shows other brain-damaged persons hope."

When he's offstage, bachelor Jan works with similarly afflicted patients at an L.A. rehab hospital, while Dean, recently divorced, designs album covers for the likes of Linda Ronstadt, the Beach Boys and Anne Murray. "This has really been our best year ever," says Jan. "I think people are a little fed up with all the shouting that goes on in today's music. Our music, even though it's been around for a while, is a great alternative."

Dean, who lives in a castlelike stone house just below the "Hollywood" hillside sign, says the challenge has gone out of performing the old songs, but "hyping the crowd" remains fun. After the frenzy of putting together their current tour, Dean adds, "I'm still hoping to settle into real estate someday and lead a relatively normal life. No more constant phone calls."

Daddy-o's re-groom

Touring as "The Golden Boys of Bandstand," onetime teen idols Fabian Forte, 43, Bobby Rydell, 44, and Frankie Avalon, 45, have an opening bit of business—flipping coins to see who sings first. "Listen to Frankie," deadpans Fabe. "He's the oldest." Then, cornball jokes aside, the three casually dressed Philadelphia crooners treat their mostly middle-aged, wistful fans to a 2½-hour medley of favorites, like Rydell's Volare, Avalon's Dede Dinah and Fabian's Turn Me Loose.

Sure, Rydell's three-inch blond pompadour has dropped down to a thinning, gray hairline, Avalon has become pop to eight kids—12 to 22—and Fabian no longer incites lovesick teenyboppers to tear the clothes off his back. No matter; they still have 'em swooning. Says 46-year-old fan Betty Whitcomb, a Queens hairstylist: "This music just reminds me of more innocent, happier times, when record hops and kissing in the backseat were still a big thrill." Barbara Diamond, a 35-year-old Brooklyn medical assistant, adds, "I like today's music, but I love the oldies. I guess I'm just into mellow, bubble-gum music."

Avalon, who has been on the nightclub circuit since filming his run of Beach films in the '60s, thinks new and older fans like the show because it's "for people who've been pushed aside.... Pictures, records, TV, everything is youth oriented, but a lot of people still want to have their own heroes to identify with." Frankie, who now lives with his family in the San Fernando Valley, adds that the three golden boys welcome their heftier, aging-hero roles. "It's so nice to see how Bobby has filled out," pokes Frankie.

Twice-married Fabian, who had his own oldies revue before signing up for 80 shows this year with "the guys," admits with a tired smile that some things on the concert scene haven't changed since he had his first gold record at 17. "Those girls still scream," he says. "I don't know why—they're my daughter's age." Rydell, who lives near Philly with his wife and two children—12 and 17—hastens to add, "All of our wives are very understanding ladies. They know we're out on the road to bring home the grocery money."

Soul mates soar

Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield, the erstwhile nattily dressed embodiment of "white soul" as the Righteous Brothers, are coming back as Southern Cal suburban daddies, complete with open shirts, gold chains, white slacks and sneaks. Oh yes, add to Bill a gold watch, a gold bracelet and a wedding band ringed with diamond chips—a far cry from the streamlined look they had in the '60s when a black fan first tagged the two "brothers" as "Righteous," a moniker that stuck.

Two years ago they opened the Hop, their own down-home, beer-and-oldies club in Fountain Valley. The locals loved such Righteous retreads as You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin', so the pair opened a second club in Lake-wood and also took their show on the road—with sold-out results across the country. "People came to us," explains Hatfield, 46, who lives with his second wife, Linda Torrison, 34, and their two small children in Corona del Mar. "We were doing fine with our clubs, but when promoters are willing to pay a high price, sure, we'd go on the road for a bit."

On nearby Balboa Island, Medley, 45, lives with Paula Vasu, 35, his longtime girlfriend who recently became his fourth wife. With a baby due in February and a grown son from his first marriage, Medley admits that, whatever success comes from singing, "this is it for me. I'm married to Paula in my personal life and Bobby in my professional life. No more messin' around."

Revere raids on

From behind his organ (built into the front of an Edsel), Paul Revere warns the packed Reno audience, "We're going back to the '60s tonight, and if you don't like the '60s, get your ass out of here." Then the rock 'n' roll zany in the three-cornered hat and minuteman uniform revs into his hits like Kicks and Indian Reservation. Throughout the hour-long set, he blows whistles, flashes the headlights, slips on rubber masks of E.T. and Ronald Reagan and cracks sour jokes with his five-member band—not the original Raiders but a group he's been with for more than a decade. "I'm paid to have fun," says the 48-year-old mad hatter. "It's like stealing money every night."

To keep fit for his 300 gigs a year, Revere recently quit smoking and lost 15 pounds. When he's not on the road, he tries to cool out with second wife Sydney Mohrman at one of their two Idaho homes. "There was a time when it wasn't cool to have fun and be crazy," he says. "Everything had to be heavy and dead serious and it was a depressing time out there. Now, rock concerts are fun again. Kids enjoy dressing up; cool cars are back."

As for how long a rocker edging 50 can go on, Revere beams, "I can't tell, but who ever knew George Burns would be hip at 90?"

Noone's not alone

Peter Noone, or "Herman" of Herman's Hermits, regrets he didn't name his band Peter Noone and the Hermits before the British group scored with 11 Top 10 mid-'60s hits like I'm Henry VIII, I Am and Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter. "I've been battling that name for 20 years now," says Noone, 38, adding that the misnomer was originally a printer's mistaken spelling of Sherman, Peter's nickname taken from a Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon character. It was 1963 in Manchester, he says, "and we couldn't afford to have our name cards re-done."

By 1971, with the group disbanded, Noone embarked on an up-and-down acting and singing career, eventually, in 1982, playing in the Broadway production of The Pirates of Penzance. Now he sings solo with a touring group of '60s rockers. "The problem I have is that I really want to act," he confesses. "I have to invent situations that allow me to get up there and sing those old Hermits songs." Still, his greatest joy these days is Natalie, the daughter his wife, Mireille, 38, delivered last July. "We waited 17 years to have a baby," says Noone, at his Santa Barbara home. "The time was finally right."

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