Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Bill Milhizer and The Charades

In recognition of the Fleshtones' 40th anniversary in May of this year, I've been combing through the Sweat: The Story of The Fleshtones, America's Garage Band and online archives for some little-seen nuggets. Here's a terrific photograph of Bill Milhizer and his first band, The Charades, in Troy, New York, in the mid-1960s. The photo appears in an article at The Spot 518 promoting the Fleshtones show this weekend in Troy, where Milhizer lives. Local hero, and all that.

Here's the story of The Charades, from Sweat:
In the summer of 1964, Bill bought his first drum kit, the same set that he plays now with The Fleshtones. In March of that year The Beatles had completed their infamous assault on North America by holding the top five spots on the Billboard singles charts, and now every teenager in Troy wanted drums and guitars. Forget the old accordion players, the soft-shoe horn players, the sequined Big Band dance players (Bill’s parents had hung up their own patent leather shoes around this time). Rock & roll and pointy boots were in and listen to the girls scream!
Overnight, [Paul] Buehler [Milhizer's drum teacher in Troy] had dozens of Beatle-wig-wearing students. So he turned to Bill, his best and most serious pupil, and asked him if he could take up some of the slack for the beginning students. Bill was only sixteen but he was capable in getting students off the ground and off to playing a set, because by that time Bill had been out playing with his own band The Charades, named after the popular movie from the previous year starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. The title tune, a Henry Mancini number, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song in 1963, and Bill and his band loved it and played an instrumental version as their theme song. Local desires and circumstances required that the band play and sing everything because people in Troy wanted to hear old swing music as well as popular rock & roll. A couple of guys in the band were Polish, and since they played some Polish weddings they had to do polkas, and later they clumsily learned some Latin music because people wanted to do a tipsy cha-cha or samba. And of course they had to do the hits so every weekend they’d throw in a new Beatles tune. 
Milhizer found his way from Troy to the Lower East Side in a characteristically roustabout, roundabout way. Nearly forty years after joining The Fleshtones, Lucky Bill's going strong. “I make enough money to easily take the bus,” Milhizer reflects in the article. “And, I do…. To that extent, we’ve been a success… We’ve met a lot of people in little places around the world.”

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