You’d figure a band named “The Doughboys” would feature lead singer “Somebody” Pillsbury, or at least a few wealthy bakers. Surprisingly more obscure, these Plainfield native rockers took their moniker from the nickname of World War I American Infantry soldiers.
The group originally spawned under the name the Ascots in 1964 when bassist Mike Caruso asked drummer Richie X. Heyman if he wanted to play with a few fellow classmates from Hubbard Junior High in his hometown of Plainfield. After some guitarist shuffling, they settled on Willy Kirchofer, “probably the most talented guy I ever knew,” Heyman says in a telephone interview from his home in Eatontown. A year later, they convinced lead singer Myke Scavone, then a drummer in a rival band, to front them. Making bakery history, they changed the name to the Doughboys in 1966.
Not content with just the name, the band also dressed the part. “That was our manager’s idea at the time,” Heyman says. “He thought it would be an interesting gimmick. We went out and found authentic World War I uniforms in the East Village (at retro clothing shops). It was amazing — they had racks of jackets, pants, and hats. Of course, (it) didn’t last too long because we had a few rebels in the band who didn’t like wearing uniforms.” He says the trend lasted about six months but even when they gave up the uniforms they kept the name.
The group comes to the art deco Record Collector store in Bordentown City for their second gig this year on Saturday, July 19, as part of the Living Room Series, presented by Randy Now’s Capital Garage show on 91.3 WTSR. The Living Room series, which launched this past spring, offers music fans a chance to sit up close and personal with a variety of indie bands. In the age of high fuel prices, interest is expanding rapidly, pulsing neon energy into the historic Farnsworth Avenue night scene.
Heyman, the son of the late Nathaniel and Elinore Heyman, graduated Plainfield High School in 1969. His father was employed in the dress manufacturing business as well as taking the leap to own and train racehorses. His mother currently resides in Bethesda, MD. Heyman has carried his father’s passion for animals forward in an alternate direction by volunteering for various New York animal rescue efforts such as City Critters and KittyKind.
The ’Boys continued their momentum by winning a year-long battle of the bands on a local teen TV show, resulting in a recording contract with Bell Records. They released two singles, “Rhoda Mendelbaum” and “Everybody Knows My Name,” which enjoyed airplay on WMCA in New York City. After steady touring backed by WMCA, opening for Neil Diamond and the Four Seasons, they eventually landed a slot as the house band at Cafe Wha? in Greenwich Village in 1968. Their trademark cover, which they continue to perform, was “Bo Diddly.” Displaying multi-task showmanship, Scavone and Heyman would frenetically circle and pound dual floor tom-toms with their maracas.
By the end of the decade though, the yeast ceased to rise and the members parted ways. With individual careers in motion, Scavone joined the band Ram Jam, which penned the hit “Black Betty.” Kirchofer founded two bands, Jake and the Family Jewels and Willy & the Wranglers. Caruso supported sessions with Tommy James, while Heyman pursued a solo career, at one point backing Beach Boy Brian Wilson on a New York promotional tour. Heyman describes the reclusive pop genius as “very enigmatic. We got to hang out at his hotel room and backstage. It was very exciting for me because I’m a big fan.”
Fast forward to 2000, when Heyman’s wife, Nancy, convinced the troops to re-enlist for a surprise reunion for Heyman’s birthday. After Scavone rehearsed with Caruso and Kirchofer, the cover was blown a few days in advance. Fortunately, it gave Heyman a chance to peruse the set list and mentally prepare. The time lapse was of course, undetectable. “As soon as we hit the first bar of ‘Route 66’ it was like 1966 all over again. That rush of playing high energy rock ‘n’ roll came flooding back,” Scavone said in an interview with Goldmine Magazine.
In 2005 the ’Boys assembled in the studio to record a collection of covers originally performed in their ’60s sets, including the Rascals’ classic “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out my Heart Anymore,” the Animals’ “I’m Cryin,’” and legendary “Route 66.” Tragically, Kirchofer died after a brief illness during the recording, sending the band into a tailspin. Displaying bravery under fire, however, they mounted a new assault by adding North Plainfield guitarist Gar Francis (session player for Billy Idol on “Mony Mony”), who had also played with Krichofer in Willy & the Wranglers. He contributed guitar overdubs and song writing, which blossomed into their current album “Is it Now?,” a gritty blend of retro originals and sushi-raw covers. The members decided it made perfect sense to dedicate the album to their fallen comrade, showcasing the initial tracks they were able to record before Krichofer’s death.
“Is It Now?” kicks off hard with the in-your-face single, “Black Sheep,” experiencing high rotation airplay on 91.3 WTSR’s “Capital Garage” hosted by Randy Now. “Black Sheep” fist-pounds an insistent tribute to the Yardbirds’ “I’m a Man,” complete with searing harmonica solo. Scavone defies the Geneva convention by taking no prisoners as he wails, “I came out feet first/Jumped out running, too much thirst/Some say I’m mad, some think I’m rude/How I survive is all attitude.” And attitude is what got them noticed by Bruce Springsteen guitarist Little Steven Van Zandt (Silvio Dante on “The Sopranos”) and host of the “Underground Garage” on Sirius Radio, designating it the “Coolest Song in the World,” to be featured on an upcoming compilation. Van Zandt is also wise to keep the ’Boys on radar, as his label, Wicked Cool, recently signed sister New Jersey band the Grip Weeds, whose drummer, Kurt Reil, recorded the album at his Highland Park House of Vibes studio. The Grip Weeds are obscurely named after Private Grip Weed, the John Lennon character in the 1966 movie, “How I Won the War.” It was the army issue round wire glasses worn by Grip Weed that went on to become Lennon’s trademark. The band played the Record Collector on Saturday, July 12.
While the Grip Weeds’ current release, “Infinite Soul, The Best of the Grip Weeds” frolics bombastically through Ray Davies-fronts-the-Who retro-pop, the Doughboys cling firmly to the Rolling Stones/ Animals R&B underbelly of ’60s rock. Collar-grabbing titles such as “Out of the Night,” “Hear Me Moan,” and “Too Little Too Late” set the stage loud and proud, allowing Scavone to howl and sneer Jagger-style.
Heyman says: “I’m a huge Stones fan, but back in the ’60’s I was a definite Beatle-maniac. (However), when Scavone joined the group in ’65, he brought with him this adamant love of the Stones where I liked it all — it was either/or. Because he was our lead singer we went more in (the Stones) direction, which was fine with me, because as a drummer I love playing that material. It’s more aggressive.”
The ’Boys break pace by yukking it up with the tongue-in-cheek “She Comes in Colors.” Borrowing the psychedelic line from the Stones, “She’s a Rainbow,” “Colors” wryly points out how hell hath no fury as a woman scorned. (“She comes in colors and you know right now I think she’s seeing red/I don’t know what you done or maybe it was something that you said.”)
The ’Boys first performance this year at the Record Collector on Friday, April 18, was as blistering as it was close to never happening. Drummer Heyman, en route on the New Jersey Turnpike, experienced multiple engine stalls in his 1994 Ford Taurus. He was urgently warned by the other band mates via cell phone to exit immediately or risk financially painful towing fees. In a true display of “the show must go on” dedication, he and wife Nancy resorted to passing gridlocked traffic on the shoulder a in last ditch effort to keep the car running.
Miraculously, they arrived, “and still had enough time to set up for the show. I think with all the pent up frustration of getting there, I took it out on the drums. I don’t usually look at the drums as an enemy for something to beat on. I look at it as a musical instrument, but I definitely got off on the energy of trying to get to that gig. We had a great time — really intimate, one of the best performances ever.”
With a career spanning four decades, Heyman is no stranger to more nail-biting logistics disasters. Dependent on taxis in New York, he’s had more than one pull away, trunk agape loaded with valuable amps and instruments. Fortunately, the take-offs were oversights; the cabbies returned, having assumed the passenger was already in the taxi. More treacherous, Heyman was once involved in a snowy pile-up on the Garden State Parkway while driving a borrowed station wagon. Fortunately, he was able to walk away without serious injury.
On safe pavement and gaining considerable traction, the Doughboys’ ascending career includes 2008 dates at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park and Bethlehem Musikfest. They also have a television appearance on Comcast Backstage in Boston slated for September. Heyman stresses part of the mission is to recruit younger fans who weren’t alive in the ’60s, but resonate with the explosiveness of the ’60s sound. The ’Boys also plan a second album sometime in the future, but aren’t in a particular hurry, as their recording process only requires a few basic tracks. “Things move pretty fast with the Doughboys,” says Heyman. “It’s an original ’60s band intact, (which) is very high energy at this point. I don’t think there’s anything quite like it right now. The live act is on fire right now. Just over the last several months the band’s gotten better than ever. Now, finally, I’m playing like I did when I was 18 years old.”
The Doughboys, Saturday, July 19, 7:30 p.m., the Record Collector Store, 358 Farnsworth Avenue, Bordentown. The 1960s Jersey band, which reunited in 2000. www.the-record-collector.com or 609-324-0880.