On the back cover of their 1967 Colonization album, New Colony Six cofounder Pat McBride wrote that the band had sought in vain for a "professional writer" to pen the albums liner notes, "one who could, through his reputed talents, build us into the Rock Heros [sic]of the New Generation. He would describe our sound as thrilling, beautiful, mind blowing and would compare us to The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Fabian, etc."
Ironically, McBrides tongue-in-cheek comments were not that far from reality. Not only did the New Colony Sixs music reflect the exuberance of the Beatles, the raunch of The Rolling Stones, and the cocksureness of Fabian, but it boasted superior songwriting and a versatility and originality matched by few rock n rolls varied history.
The New Colony Sixs four albums stand testimony to their diversity. Their 1966 debut Breakthrough, is a masterpiece of garage-band rock and today is a highly sought-after collectible. The aforementioned Colonization added to that sound a health dose of psychedelia and Mersybeat-inspired ebullience.
But it was with the 1968 Revelations album that The New Colony Six demonstrated a mastery of divergent styles equaled perhaps only by The Monkees. Therein, the band offered 11 superlative originals that evidenced their command of garage rock, soul, country, bubblegum, and ballads. Even the occasional forays into jazz on their 1969 Attacking A Straw Man album did not detract from their trademark impassioned delivery. Given their superior musicianship, it was a mystery why the music press of the day gave The New Colony Six little or no coverage. The band has remained a relatively unknown entity out side of their native Illinois, save for their two national hits "I Will Always Think About You" and "Things Id Like To Say."
Hopefully, this Rhino compilation, which features the highlights of The New Colony Sixs career from their first single, "I Confess," through their independently produced singles for the Sunlight label in the 1970s, will generate some long-overdue acclaim for this highly underrated band. More than 25 years later, this "professional writer" is more than happy to affirm Pat McBrides observation that The New Colony Sixs music is indeed thrilling, beautiful, and mind-blowing. Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Fabian fans take note!
P.O. Box 48124
Los Angeles, CA 90048-0124
Rising out of primordial Chicago as a Cro-Magnon garage band, The New Colony Six evolved into an exuberant pop group Famous for ballads of love, sorrow, and joy. They launched the Chicago Rock Revolution, hitting the local air- waves in November 1965 and the Cash Box charts on February 2, 1966. Preeminent among Chicago bands of the 60s, The New Colony Six heaped up 15 national chart items, nearly all original compositions.
A press release pegged them as "combining hypnotic effects with great sounds, producing an ultimate escape from mediocrity and piercing the monotone mass with earned clarity and cool professionalism." Indeed.
It all began in the spring of 1964, when six young gentlemen found themselves on stage before a sell-out crowd. The occasion was a talent show at St. Patrick High School in Chicago. Cameras clicked and spectators cheered; the six were a smash.
The Chicago-born Six were Patrick McBride (b. July 30, 1946; leader, spokesman, lead baritone, harmonica), Raymond Graffia Jr. (b. March 28, 1946, founder, lead tenor, tambourine), Gerald Van Kollenburg (b. June 26, 1946; lead guitar), Walter Kemp (b. October 6, 1946; bass guitar), cousin Gregory Kempinski, a.k.a. Craig Kemp (b. January 16, 1948; organ), and James Chitkowski, a.k.a. Chic James (b. May 24, 1946; drums).
In the summer of 1964, billed as "The Patsmen" in honor of St. Patrick High, the Six played sever- al dances. "We didnt like the name Patsmen very much," recalled Ray Graffia. "We wanted something different. Everything that was happening in music was coming out of England, so we said, Lets bring rock n roll back to America. The British called America the new colony and there were six of us, hence the name New Colony Six."
By early 1965, the Colony had amassed a large local following. Venues ranged from college campuses to George Dettlos Wine & Roses Cocktail Lounge in Schiller Park, Illinois. Then, as Pat McBride told The Chicago Daily News, "We went to Hollywood, figuring thats where the real action was. Our parents didnt object, thinking we would either score some kind of success or give it all up. We starved."
The New Colony Six moved into a duplex at 6720 Sunset Blvd. Paul Revere & The Raiders lived upstairs. Walt Kemp: "We both pulled in about the same time, wearing the same colonial outfits. The only difference was that they had an audition with Dick Clark, which they took good advantage of. We cursed them daily as they went to work while we sat around the pool unemployed."
Depressed and in debt, the Six returned to Chicago in the fall of 1965. Draft- deferred college students by day, the Six spent nights and weekends rehearsing and performing.
Ray Graffia: "We needed financial backing to make our first record, so some of our parents got together to form the Centaur Record Corporation." Ray Graffias father served as president. Distribution was handled by USA and then Cameo-Parkway Records.
The first New Colony Six release on Centaur was the garage masterpiece "I Confess" (November 1965). Crudely recorded, strangely structured, and divinely sloppy, "I Confess" rocketed to #2 on the WLS Silver Dollar Survey. (WLS-AM, Chicagos 50,000-watt giant, was heard at night in 38 states.) Backed with the eerie farfisa organ thriller "Dawn Is Breaking," "I Confess" reached #71 on the Cash Box charts and was even licensed for English and Canadian release.
The follow-up was another double-sided monster. "At The Rivers Edge" offered a Yardbirds-like rave-up, fueled by wailing harmonica, thundering drums, and driving bass. "I Lie Awake" (WLS: #20; Billboard: #111) evoked Gershwins "Rhapsody In Blue" yet retained the mesmerizing tension of "I Confess." Sadly, "I Lie Awake" was hampered commercially by a legal dispute over ownership of the name "Centaur." Thus Centaur became Sentaur (and, finally, Sentar) Records.
In the summer of 1966, Chicagoan Ronnie Rice (vocals/organ/guitar) replaced Colonist Craig Kemp. Rice (b. Israel, March 30, 1944) had previously released solo singles on the IRC and MGM labels.
The first Colony 45 with Rice was "(The Ballad Of The) Wingbat Marmaduke" (September 1966). The "Wingbat" fairy tale, loosely inspired by J.R.R. Tolkiens The Lord Of The Rings, did not chart, even in Chicago.
But the next outing, "Love You So Much" (WLS: #2), notched a respectable #55 in Cash Box. With rapid-fire rhythms reflecting Chic James Drum & Bugle Corps background, "Love You So Much" was a sublime slice of power pop, overflowing with ringing harmonies. The flipside "Let Me Love You," opened as a blistering rocker, abruptly changed into an angelic ballad, and concluded with maniacal intensity.
"Youre Gonna Be Mine" (WLS: #8; Cash Box: #98) utilized harmonic textures reminiscent of the early Hollies. The stunning, calliope-like solo was vocalized by Ronnie Rice!
The dynamic "Im Just Waiting Anticipating For Her To Show Up" (WLS: #14; Billboard: #128) featured the Colony on vocals only. The instrumental tracks (with first-ever horns) were provided by Chess Studios staff musicians, including Maurice White, later of Earth, Wind R. Fire. In the summer of 1967, bassist Walt Kemp departed to concentrate on college. His replacement was Les Kummel.
The Six signed with Chicago-based Mercury Records in September 1967. Ronnie Rice; "We gave Mercury a demo of two songs. One was a bubblegum thing I wrote called Treat Her Groovy. The other was I Will Always Think About You, which Les and I wrote. They loved Treat Her Groovy and really thought it was a hit, but hated I Will Always Think About You."
Despite Mercurys promotional muscle, the buoyant "Treat Her Groovy (WLS: #12) did not chart nationally. But the captivating, ultra-romantic "I Will Always Think About You" (WLS: #1) hit #22, propelling The New Colony Six into two full years of national prominence.
The groups 1968 and 1969 TV appearances included The Mike Douglas Show, Upbeat, and Lloyd Thaxtons Showcase 68. Photos of The New Colony Six ran in a Montgomery Ward catalog seen by 21 million people. The Colony toured with The Beach Boys and even collected more than 30,000 "Toys For Tots" in Louisville, Kentucky.
The New Colony Six were chosen WLS "Best Chicago Area Group" in December 1968 and again in December 1969. The 1968 award, involving more than 87,000 listener votes, was commemorated by a gold plaque in the stations lobby.
The resounding success of "I Will Always Think About You" was, in a sense, a mixed blessing. In spite of numerous up-tempo, even psychedelic, cuts, DJs tended to pigeonhole the Colony as a "ballad band." Still, the Colony did enjoy six consecutive tender smashes.
"Things Id Like To Say" (WLS: #2; Cash Box: #13) was the biggest hit of the Colonys career. Rescued from B-side oblivion by WLS DJ Larry Lujack, "Things Id Like To Say" was an emotionally charged tale of undying love. The song built to a magnificent crescendo, only to dissipate like an unraveled relationship.
Major personnel changes came in 1969 Drummer Bill Herman (formerly of Aorta) replaced Chic James. Keyboardist Chuck Jobes and guitarist Bruce Gordon joined The New Colony Six. Jobes and Gordon, like Les Kummel, were veterans of the local group The Revelles.
On August 4, 1969, founder Ray Graffia left The Colony, later forming The Raymond John Michael Band with Chic James and Craig Kemp. The RJM Band recorded several 45s for the Ivanhoe and London labels.
In Autumn 1970, Les Kummel departed and New Colony leader Pat McBride retired from active membership, turning to production. In addition to the New Colony Six, McBride worked with the Mercury act Trilogy.
The New Colony Six signed with Chicago-based Sunlight Records in spring 1971. Three 45s saw release: the irresistible "Roll On" (WLS: #10; Billboard: #56), the gripping "Long Time To Be Alone" (Billboard: #93), and in April 1972, the Colony's last national chart record, "Someone, Sometime" (WLS: #13; Billboard: #109).
Shortly after "Someone, Sometime," Ronnie Rice returned to solo performing. Rice has since become the most popular one-man rock 'n roll show in the Chicago area.
Led by sole original member Gerry Van Kollenburg, The New Colony concentrated on live performances throughout 1972-1974. After two final singles on MCA, Van Kollenburg quietly pulled the plug.
But 14 years later, Ray Graffia Ronnie Rice re-formed The New Colony Six for a one-time reunion at Chicagos Park West in 1988. The response was overwhelming. During the early 1990s, Graffia's retooled Colony played the local summer concert circuit, occasionally featuring Ronnie Rice.
Today, as always, The New Colony Six say the things theyd like to say with originality and versatility. Decades after "I Confess," Colonization still runs rampant.
(edited by Harry Young)
From the liner notes "Colonized! best of The New Colony Six"
© 1993 Rhino Records, Inc.
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