(Above: The Fredric, circa 1967).
In an earlier post I wrote about the phenomenon of the local chart hit, a product of a bygone era when local radio programmers had sway in adding songs to the playlists of their radio stations. It was a phenomenon I investigated in writing my dissertation to see if the influx of high school garage bands circa 1966-68 had any impact on songs by performers of color missing the charts in local markets. (Spoiler alert: It didn’t.)
Along the way I was able to learn about some fantastic songs by local musicians who were hoping to make it big in the music business. One of those bands in Grand Rapids was The Fredric. In a great piece on the band posted by the West Michigan Music Hysterical Society (a fun site all the way around) we learn that the story of the band is not unlike any other “kids get together, make music, don’t quite get the break” story common to the era, with one major exception – these guys DID make it, sort of. After touring Michigan and supporting national acts like the Box Tops and Tommy James and the Shondells, they were signed by Capitol Records. The label immediately decided the band needed a new name, and they were rechristened The Rock Garden.
That’s about where the story ends. The band released a couple of singles that are now hard to find – “Johnny’s Music Machine” and “The Winds of South Chicago” – before splitting up over creative differences with the label. (Think of the scene in That Thing You Do where the band realizes that they’re a product, and you get the idea.)
From out of this band, though, music lovers in the 70s got a special treat. One of the members of the Fredric/Rock Garden was a singer named David Idema. Idema went solo after the demise of the Garden, changed his name to David Geddes, and delivered some of the most tragic records of the decade in “Run Joey Run” and “The Last Game of the Season (The Blind Man in the Bleachers),” the latter getting my vote for possibly the most depressing record ever made.
Back to the Fredric: Their sound was outstanding. Think the Lovin’ Spoonful meet the Association, with perhaps just a little pinch of psychedelia, and you get the idea. Original lead singer Joe McCargar – who is now a colleague of mine at Grand Valley, teaching audio production – handled vocals across their Phases and Faces LP. Good luck finding one of these: the foreign eBay market has driven the prices for originals close to four figures. There are reissue CDs to be found, however, which I recommend tracking down and giving a listen. Songs like “Cousin Mary Knows” and “Five O’Clock Traffic” make the search worth the effort.
Just a few months ago when my CD arrived I showed it to Joe, who was happy to see that people remembered his music. (He did, however, detail how he’d have mixed the album differently.) I shared the CD with the students at WCKS radio, the student station at GVSU, without telling them who it was. They fell silent, until one of them said “Wow… this is really good.” When they saw the cover photo of one of their professors, much younger, it all clicked for them. I’ve argued that great music is timeless, and their enthusiasm for the tracks backed up my contention.
You can enjoy this wonderful slice of pop goodness by clicking here.