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Spotlight Artist - Herman's Hermits

 

Herman's HermitsHerman Hermits from Manchester England has the spotlight on them this month. This pop band was formed in 1963 in Manchester, England.

The original members of Herman's Hermits were Keith Hopwood (guitar, vocals), Karl Green (guitar, vocals), Alan Wrigley (bass guitar, vocals), Steve Titterington (drums), and Peter Noone (lead vocals). The youngest member of a remarkably young group, 15-year-old Noone was already an experienced actor on the British soap opera Coronation Street. Derek "Lek" Leckenby (guitar, vocals) and Barry "Bean" Whitwam (drums) (born Jan Barry Whitwam, 21 July 1946, in Prestbury, Cheshire) joined later from another local group, The Wailers. Whitwam replaced Titterington on drums, Green switched to bass guitar (replacing Wrigley), and Leckenby took over for Green as lead guitarist. After Leckenby joined the band, the group made a deal with producer Mickie Most and signed with EMI's Columbia label in Europe and MGM Records in the United States.

Their name came from a resemblance, noted by Green, between Noone and Sherman in the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon. Sherman was shortened to Herman, and then became Herman and his Hermits, which was soon shortened to Herman's Hermits. The band played on most of its singles, including "I'm Into Something Good", "Listen People," "Can't You Hear My Heartbeat," "Leaning on the Lamp Post," "Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter" (1965),"A Must to Avoid," "You Won't Be Leaving" and "I'm Henry VIII, I Am" (the last said at the time to be "the fastest-selling song in history"). Leckenby soloed on "Henry", and Hopwood played rhythm guitar on "Mrs. Brown."

 

Despite the group's competent musicianship, some subsequent singles employed session musicians – including Big Jim Sullivan, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and Vic Flick – with contributions from the band, although the role of session players on Herman's Hermits records has been exaggerated in the rock media and in liner notes on their ABKCO Records Retrospective (which does not credit the Hermits' playing). Mickie Most used session musicians on many records he produced (including several Hermits' singles); this was industry practice at the time and continues today. Even such respected groups as The Yardbirds were required by Most to use session musicians (except Jimmy Page) on their most-produced recordings. Continuing acrimony between former members of Herman's Hermits has increased the amount of misinformation about the group's role on their records; the late Derek Leckenby, in particular, was a skilled guitarist. Mickie Most commented on the VH1 My Generation: Herman's Hermits episode that the Hermits "played on a lot of their records, and some they didn't." The group played on all their US and UK #1 hits, on most of their Top Ten US singles, on a number of other singles and most album cuts. According to Peter Noone, Leckenby played the muted lead on "This Door Swings Both Ways". The riff in "Silhouettes" has been variously credited to Jimmy Page, Big Jim Sullivan and Vic Flick; however, according to Keith Hopwood and Karl Green, Leckenby replaced Flick in the studio and played the signature riff under Most's direction.

According to Hopwood, Green and Noone, Jimmy Page played on the single "Wonderful World" (although Big Jim Sullivan lists the song as part of a session he played); both may have added to the backing track. Several writers have claimed that session players played on "I'm Into Something Good"; according to the surviving band members, the song was recorded on a two-track recorder, with only a piano player in addition to the Hermits.

In 1965 and 1966, the group rivalled The Beatles on the charts and was the top-selling pop act in the US in 1965. On The Beatles Anthology video, there is a brief interview with a young girl in the audience attending The Beatles' second appearance at Shea Stadium. When asked why The Beatles did not sell out the venue this time, she replied that they were not as popular anymore and that she preferred Herman's Hermits. Karl Green has noted that he preferred harder rock, but was grateful for the hand he was dealt. Although the band's singles were written by some of the top songwriters of the day, Noone, Leckenby, Hopwood and Green contributed songs such as "My Reservation's Been Confirmed", "Take Love, Get Love", "Marcel's", "For Love", "Tell Me Baby", "Busy Line", Moon Shine Man", "I Know Why" and "Gaslight Street". "I Know Why" enjoyed a limited "A"-side release.

The group was nominated for two Grammy awards in 1965 for "Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter". According to Noone and Hopwood, the song was recorded as an afterthought in two takes – using two microphones, with Hopwood on guitar, Green on bass guitar and Whitwam on drums. Noone and the band deliberately emphasized their English accents on the record, never intended to be a single. Hopwood recalls playing a Gretsch Country Gentleman guitar in the studio, with its strings muted in order to create the distinctive sound. When playing the song live Hopwood often used a Rickenbacker guitar with a rag under the bridge to duplicate the sound, which can be seen clearly in old performance clips.

The 1967 album Blaze received critical acclaim, but barely made the Top 100 in the US and was not released in the UK. Highlights included original songs by Leckenby,Whitwam, Hopwood, Green, and Noone, including "Ace King Queen Jack" and the psychedelic "Moon Shine Man." Ray Davies of the Kinks wrote "Dandy" – a US Top Five hit for Herman's Hermits. In the US, "Dandy" was backed with another hit, "No Milk Today" (their first UK Top Ten hit in over a year, when it was backed with "My Reservation's Been Confirmed").

Following Peter Noone's departure in 1971, Barry Whitwam has continued to tour successfully with his own version of Herman's Hermits. He is the only original member in his band, with Geoff Foot (who has been associated with the band since Noone's departure) as lead singer, Kevan Lingard on keyboards and vocals and Simon Van Downham on guitar. The band continue to tour extensively worldwide and are probably one of the busiest 60's bands touring today.

When Noone left the group the Hermits continued on, first with Peter Cowap. They signed with RCA Records in the UK and, as "The Hermits", recorded two singles at Strawberry Studios and an unreleased album (under the name "Sour Mash") produced by Eric Stewart. They subsequently cut singles for Buddah, Private Stock and Roulette, with minor success in Europe. Personnel for these singles included Leckenby, Green and Whitwam with either Peter Cowap, John Gaughan, or former Toggery Five guitarist Frank Renshaw. Hopwood contributed keyboards and backing vocals to some recordings.

Since the mid-1970s there has been significant conflict over the use of the name "Herman's Hermits". Between 1974 and 1994, Whitwam and Leckenby toured the band that included Green and newer members such as Peter Cowap and Frank Renshaw.All original recordings will be released either by EMI or its subsidiaries (outside the US) and ABKCO in the US (MGM, the band's original American label, lost the American distribution rights to the group's material in the early 1970s and has since been absorbed into Universal Music; original Herman's Hermits vinyl recordings on the MGM label, however, still appear for sale as used records). Former band members and Noone have also separately re-recorded old Hermits material. New issues from both Barry Whitwam and Peter Noones bands clearly indicate that the releases are new recordings; Peter Noone tours America and Hermans Hermits starring Barry Whitwam tour worldwide including America.

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