Them

THEM - TORQUAYS - THE BAND THAT STARTED CINCY ROCKIN' - JUNIOR PROM MAGAZINE, OCT 1964

Torquays

 
 

APRIL 19, 1964
THE DAY THEM'S MUSIC CRASHED...
and worse

THEM was busy.

During THEM'S three busiest years of playing (while also performing as students at University of Cincinnati), almost every Friday and Saturday night was booked for a private or public gig, Friday late afternoons a standing gig at The Mug Club (on Calhoun Street), a standing gig at The Mug on THEM at the Mug Club Wednesdays and FridaysWednesday evenings, frequently a fashion show or other special event on Saturday afternoon, Sunday tapings at WCPO-TV or WKRC-TV or WLW-TV, "Rocktown" at the Ft. Mitchell Ice Rink, and public service appearances whenever scheduled and as we were able. On top of that, we tried to rehearse every Saturday morning to get down the latest 45-singles that had been released that week as chart-climbers.

In addition to UC and Xavier events, Cotillion and D├ębutante Parties, country club affairs and just good-time private and corporate parties, many of our gigs were at Ohio State, Miami U and Indiana U Greek clubs. Those last three venues were tiring. On a Friday or Saturday night, we had played or rehearsed earlier, then the drive to Columbus, Miami or Bloomington, set-up, play three or four hours, tear down and drive home to Cincinnati. A few times we were just too tired for the drive, and the fraternity let us just crash in their rec room. We didn't ask a sorority for boarding privileges.

Ohio State was a hoot. After one frat party, we crashed in their rec room and slept under the pool tables so we wouldn't get stepped on by any "unsteady" brothers returning to the house. One early morning around 3:00am, sound asleep, each of us beneath our individual pool table, all hell broke loose with screaming and shouting and guys bursting through the doors into the frat house... at first we thought the place was on fire. Turned out a bunch of pledges raided the house to douse the upper-classmen with liquid and slop, and they thought we were upper-classmen brothers from a different campus. (Had not realized Rock-n-Roll was a contact sport until that gig.)

We were also contracted for other gigs in and around Columbus, this one the Upper Arlington High School prom. (Among, probably at the top of the list, its famous graduates was iconic professional golfer Jack Nicklaus.)

Earlier that day (a Saturday morning) we played a Shillito's fashion show in Cincinnati.THEM performing for Shillito's Federated Department Stores fashion show

At its conclusion, we shut down, packed up and drove directly to Columbus. Three musical groups performed for the prom... a folk group (remember "folk music"?), a traditional band/small orchestra, and then us -- THEM -- for the dancing and great memories.

This had already been a long day, April 19, 1964. After we hit the road heading back to Cincinnati, we stopped in Washington Courthouse at a Frisch's restaurant and ate the menu! For energy, of course.

We didn't realize it was a real recipe for disaster further on down the road.

All the routes to Ohio State, Miami U and IU were on state and US highways; no Interstates. I-71 was not complete between Cincinnati and Columbus; we drove US 22/Ohio Route 3.

After Frisch's, around 3:00am, we made the regular entry into Wilmington, Ohio, in Clinton County, about midway between Cincy and Columbus.

Wilmington had an odd traffic pattern on its major through route; it split from a single 2-lane, 2-way highway into two 1-way roads, one block apart. The westbound road was north of the eastbound road.

About midway along the westbound road, it made a dogleg to the right.Wilmington, Ohio

George and Eugene were in the lead car; Hertz and Si were following. George, driving, kept an eye on the rear-view mirror for Stan's headlights, and Stan, driving, kept George's taillights in view.

George made the dogleg turn. After 15 seconds or so, no Stan headlights. George slowed down; still no Stan headlights; slowed downmore; pulled over to the curb and stopped. Only way to double-back to check would have meant going to next left turn, driving a block away, turning left, driving a block, turning left... easily could miss them. So George and Euge sat... and waited.

A couple -- just two or so -- minutes went by, and flashingred lights appeared in the rear-view mirror, coming quickly. Euge and George turned around and saw an ambulance approaching. It drove past the car, quickly turned into the curb ahead and stopped. The rear door flew open, and a white-uniformed "somebody" jumped out and ran back to the car. "HEY. I think we've got your buddies in here (meaning his ambulance). Follow us." Quick turn, fast run back to the open door, jumped into the ambulance. It took off and so did we.

Now our turn to follow and watch tail lights AND also a red, flashing bubble-gum machine emergency light on the ambulance roof.

No... the uniformed guy didn't say, "Dead" or "Alive." (Thanks a lot.)

But the ambulance crew sure got to Stan and Si quickly after they crashed into a tree. "That's some great emergency service," Euge and George confirmed to each other about public safety service quality in Wilmington.

About three minutes later, the ambulance pulled into the Clinton Memorial Hospital's front circle entrance, which served as the regular and emergency entrance. The Emergency Room was straight though the front doorway, which is where Euge and George followed the ambulance guys and Hertz and Si, who were banged up, cut up, and bleeding a bit but breathing.

The nurse on duty started cleaning the cuts and bruises and told us, "The doctor on call is on his way." She let Stan and Si call their folks.

A few minutes later, a new-model yellow Cadillac convertible -- with top down, naturally -- pulled into the circle and parked. A "Cary Grant" look-alike wearing light grey slacks, blue pullover sweater (probably Cashmere), tan loafers, no socks, glided into the emergency room, exuding professional confidence in his medical skills (and sartorial consulting abilities.)

The doc is stitching away. Hertz and Si are suffering through their pain. Euge and George are sitting in the waiting room between the emergency treating rooms and the hallway.

There's some new noise and activity in the hallway; it's maybe 4:00am. Everyone turned to the door opening to the hallway, and four of these go pushing by:

It was a genuine "WTF?" moment. Euge and George looked at one another, said nothing, sat back just wanting to get out of there, get back home, go to sleep and forget about it.

Stan's and Si's dads were on their way to the hospital, driving from Cincinnati, so we continued to wait.

The ambulance "guy" came back into the ER to take care of some paperwork. We thanked him for the quick service in getting to Stan and Si so fast.

He said, "We're an ambulance crew from Wright Patterson (Air Force Base in Dayton). There was a terrible plane crash here at Clinton Air Force Base today. Seventeen people killed..."

"...We were sent here to bring back four of the deceased who were stationed at Wright Pat. We got lost trying to find the hospital. We were right behind your buddies when they drove into the tree. So, we just stopped, put them in our ambulance, and got directions to the hospital from the police at the scene."

("Driving into the tree" at that dogleg was easy to do... on a full stomach of Frish's after that long day, turning the steering wheel to make the dogleg, and immediately falling to slumber in the midst of the turn.)

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There was usually one or more lessons to learn at all our gigs. "Death," though, was a distant thought except for (at our ages, the rare family tragedy) the JFK assassination and "The Day the Music Died." Our Wilmington experience did alert us to the potential of personal mortality. All we wanted to do was get our undergraduate degree, make music and make money. How risky was that?

April 19, 1964, without our knowing it, was a harbinger of worse to come. That day we saw the risk of mortality, which people -- men, mostly -- our age were facing every day in military service to the country, which Viet Nam and its gross mis-management and political misrepresentations, lies and distortions had yet to dump on our country and our generation.

We continued at UC, continued making music, earned our degrees and jumped into the uncertainties of mortal life, which we had seen play out the worst way possible returning from a simple gig at Ohio State, driving through the center of Wilmington, Ohio.

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