"Walk Like a Man" by The Four Seasons. The Drifters' "Under the Boardwalk." The Beatles' "I Wanna Hold Your Hand." "My Girl" by the Temptations. And who can forget "Louie, Louie" by the Kingsmen? Most Saturday nights from 1962 to 1966 I played those songs and scores of others at fraternity parties. Not as a DJ, but as an electric guitar player for one of the most popular rock 'n' roll groups on campus. We called ourselves the ICBMs: Mark Busenkell played electric piano. Denny Friedman was on tenor sax. And Cro (Crozier) Fox was our Ringo-like drummer. At the chilly peak of the Cold War, we chose a name we knew would get students' attention. But our "ICBM" didn't stand for Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. We chose to think of ourselves as the Intercollegiate Beat Men, a reference to the previous decade's cool Beat Generation we all wished we could escape to. We knew only 10 or so songs really well; dozens more passably. At parties, we played the first 10 until the fraternity brothers and their dates were pretty well, um, relaxed. Then we would slip into our second-string tunes. No one ever complained. Two of our members, Mark and Cro, were Zeta Psi brothers, so we'd play at parties there at least two Saturdays a month, watching the brothers' dates disappear upstairs one by one after a few glasses of light-blue "Zeta Psi Punch" -- a six-ounce can of Welch's grape juice to each gallon of grain alcohol. But rock was not my first musical love. Or even second. So shortly after starting with the ICBMs, I began to search for other outlets for my musical tastes. One spring afternoon in 1962, I heard the sound I'd been searching for. Someone was playing a killer banjo outside in the Quad. Behind the banjo I heard a good flatpicking guitarist and the exhilarating sound of a mandolin. Bluegrass. But something was missing: an acoustic bass, the foundation of every bluegrass group. I introduced myself, and a minute later, my bass and I were jamming with the group. We quickly became The Harlan County Boys: Dave on banjo, Al on mandolin, Larry on guitar and me on bass. We got occasional work at Penn's coffee house, The Catacombs, and played outdoors to impressive crowds on warm days. But the Harlan County Boys never made it big. One of the members -- I don't remember who -- thought he knew why. "We're called the HARLAN County Boys," he said, "and I'll bet people are mis-hearing it as HARLEM County Boys. They think we're from Harlem." And since a bluegrass group from an inner city region was unheard of, he theorized, that's why we weren't getting any work. So we put our heads together and came up with a new name, one based on a well-known bluegrass region. We called ourselves the Black Mountain Boys. Duh. None of us got it. Now everyone thought we were BLACK Mountain Boys. Same problem. In the '60s, black and bluegrass didn't mix. The group never made it but we all loved the music and kept playing until key members either dropped out of Penn or graduated. Then I found Lou Palena playing the grand piano in the west wing of Houston Hall. He was a year older than me, a philosophy major and to this day one of the best amateur jazz piano players I have ever heard. Over the next few months, we added a saxophone (Denny from my rock group), a trumpet (Jamie Knox, a Penn med student) and a drummer (Barry Miller, a local high school junior). Even at his young age, Barry was a better jazz player than any of us. So we didn't hesitate in naming our group The Barry Miller Orchestra. Now THIS was a group that could go places. And against all odds -- Philadelphia being a great jazz city -- we DID go places. We became the house band of a classy nightclub, the Erie Social Club in the Northeast. People like Wayne Newton, Dee Dee Sharp and the Temptations, would come to the club with their music and after one rehearsal we'd play it during the shows. In 1996 -- the year of my 30th Penn reunion -- I had this great idea. I'd contact some of the members of my old groups and perhaps put together a mini-concert for our classmates. But letters sent out through the Alumni Office were returned "addressee unknown." The only person I found was Denny Friedman, now a Center City attorney. We vowed to get together but never did. I've continued to search for Cro Fox and Mark Busenkell, the two Zeta Psi alumni; for Barry Miller, that genius drummer; and the guys from the bluegrass group. I tracked down banjo player Dave Rapkin a few years ago -- he's a record producer in New York City -- but we never did hook up. I still hope to hear from some of the guys. Maybe you know where they are. If you do, please contact me through the DP. Who knows. You might be treated to an ICBM reunion sometime during the next millennium.Comments powered by Disqus
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