Times Past: Catching up with 1960s Ann Arbor psych-rockers The Beau Biens
This story was originally published on April 4, 2017.
The Beau Biens would have been entirely forgotten were it not for the single record they released: the "Times Passed / A Man Who's Lost" 7-inch, released in March 1967. While this Ann Arbor-based group didn't last long, and the single wasn't particularly popular at the time, over the past 50 years the record's status as a lost psychedelic classic has grown and grown.
"The Beau Biens 45 is considered one of the best garage band singles of the '60s," said Frank Uhle, media consultant for University of Michigan's Instructional Support Services by day, Ann Arbor rock encyclopedia by night. "A couple of years ago a book was published that listed just about every American DIY record that came out then, and a panel of experts voted 'Times Passed' number 427 of the more than 8,000 records included."
Though it's been bootlegged on several garage-rock compilations, the original 45 is nearly impossible to find. That's one reason why Uhle has reissued the record; another is because he located Joe Doll, the man who had the original master tapes because he was the one who recorded it at WCBN-FM during an all-nighter. Even the first pressing of "Times Passed / A Man Who's Lost" was pressed from a second-generation copy of the tape, so this new edition is even better than the real thing. The quintet consisted of Tom Kleene (vocals), Don Tapert (lead guitar), Tom Hartkop (rhythm guitar), Jim Masouras (bass), and Rick Fine (drums).
Originally a folk group, the Milk River Jug Band, the group's sound got turned on its ear when Tapert witnessed a Rolling Stones concert and only wanted to rock. After some resistance from his bandmates, the group changed its name to The Beau Biens and the train started rolling. The ensembles sound evokes a garage-ier version of The Yardbirds, powered by a fuzzed out Vox amp stomp.
We talked to Tapert about The Beau Biens' beginnings, seeing the Stones, Yardbirds, and The Velvet Underground and Nico, and Ann Arbor in '60s. We also tapped Uhle's bottomless well of local-music knowledge about the '60s Michigan rock scene and how the reissue came about.
Q: Don, I love that the other members of the Milk River Jug Band wanted to kick you out because you saw The Rolling Stones and wanted to rock out. What do you remember about the Stones show & how it affected you & your musical direction?
A: One thing that happened was that our new Jug Band lead singer, Boston blues harp player James Montgomery, was also into the Stones. We started doing "Down Home Girl" in the Jug Band sets. As for me, songs like "Last Time" knocked me out. Simple, repetitive, clean guitar licks. And the tone of Keith (Richard) and Brian (Jone's) guitars! I went straight out and bought a Vox amplifier. In about two months, the Beau Biens were the only local band playing on British amps. Everyone else had Fender Twin Reverbs.
Q: The Yardbirds are mentioned a lot with you guys. Do you remember when you first heard them, what the first song was? What did you love about them?
A: The first song had to be "For Your Love." It became the opening song for our sets and the basis of our sound at first. Then every single seemed to get better: "Heart Full of Soul," then "Shapes of Things." Kleene started bird-dogging their tours. He and I drove one Friday night from Detroit to Toledo, Ohio, to see them play at a club. We told our parents we were going to the school dance. Don't know how we pulled that one off. Jeff Beck was playing with them that night. He had this homemade pedal board for his guitar sounds. After that Hartkop went to work. He was the Reddy Kilowatt member of the band. He built shortwave radios from Heathkit. He came up with his own homemade version. I just bought one of the early fuzztone boxes that I used on "Times Passed." That and the English tube version of my Vox amp gave me a Yardbirds sound. When we saw them again a year or two later at the Michigan State Fair, Jimmy Page was with them. He did the violin bow thing. They were doing "Over Under Sideways Down," "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago," and "Stroll On" live. People just didn't get it. They were way ahead of their time.
Q: Remember anything particular about how Hartkop built his own fuzz box? Was he going for a particular sound that he couldn't get out of store-bought pedals, or was he just interested in making his own gear?
A: He just started cutting wires, transistors, and capacitors. He's still doing it today. He has an amazing recording studio in southern Oregon with analog and digital recording machines. He's recording everything from the high school jazz band to local and regional traditional blues and country bands, and singer/songwriters. It's all inside his geodesic dome house on a hilltop! He invented a solar roast coffee machine for roasting coffee beans with his two sons. They have a thriving business in the mountains of Colorado, selling Solar Roast Coffee beans.
Q: When you guys transitioned into a rock band, did you just start doing covers right away or were you also writing songs? Or were the first Beau Biens originals the songs you wrote on the single? Did you try to "rock up" any of the folk songs that were in your old repertoire?
A: Our goal at first was to have the hippest and coolest set list. We did "The Kids Are Alright" and "I'm a Man" by The Who, "Laugh Laugh" by The Beau Brummels, "Sunny Afternoon" by The Kinks, "Just Like Me" by Paul Revere and the Raiders, "Last Time" by the Stones, lots of Yardbirds tunes. We didn't really write anything until the opportunity to record came up. Then Kleene and I decided we better get working on something original. No folks songs made it into the setlist.
Q: I know you named the group after a Detroit street, but was there anything about Beaubien St. that made it especially noteworthy for a band name? Or did you just like the sound of it and that you could allude to The Beau Brummels?
A: It was a pretty tough and blighted African-American ghetto. We used to drive down there from the 'burbs and find someone who would go into a party store and buy us a case of beer. There was a guy we called The Reverend who lived in that neighborhood. Yeah, The Beau Brummels must have had an influence on the name. We were still pretty mod. Definitely not rockers.
Q: What do you remember about playing the Bob-Lo boat in front of 900 classmates? Did anything crazy happen because it was senior skip day?
A: I think we were kind of surprised the senior class picked us to play. We were the only band in our school that consisted of all seniors that year in 1966. It was memorable. Our class was one short of 900 kids. It was the biggest gig we ever did.
Q: You talked about a particularly crazy Delta Kappa Epsilon party at U-M you played that devolved into the frat bros running around in their undies and puking everywhere. Did the band ever join in on the wild-man hijinks at the frats you played?
A: We were a pretty straight bunch of guys. I don't remember getting in trouble with those guys. That came later with another crowd of Ann Arbor musicians.
Q: How did you end up putting a raga-type guitar on "Times Passed"? Were you listening to rock bands influenced by Indian music, or were you guys into rags?
A: Great question. My old friend Ed Johnson picked that up not long after I laid down that track. We used to listen to The Weavers when we first started out playing guitars. They did an Indian raga called "Ragaputi." I kind of lifted the riff from there. it just worked. I don't think I had heard The Beatles or Stones mess with those Indian sounds yet. It just worked and the solo took off like a jet on the runway.
Q: Were those the only two songs you ever recorded, or are there some demos floating around?
A: Harkop claims that he has some old 1/4-inch reel-to-reel stuff that he recorded in his home basement studio, The Shack. I've never heard them myself. I don't have high hopes for them, but we'll see.
Q: What do you remember about The Velvet Underground show on April 9, 1967 at Hill Auditorium? Did it have as big of an influence of you as The Rolling Stones show?
A: It was the tour they did supporting their first album with the banana on the cover (The Velvet Underground and Nico). "The Exploding Plastic Inevitable" they called it. Andy Warhol ran around the stage with bright white light and shined it the entire show into the faces of the audience. The Velvets were not a tight band. The sound was pretty rocky. But Nico! WOW! We were ALL in love with her from the first moment. Her voice, her hair, her slinky body. We'd never seen anyone like that in the Midwest.
Q: When was the last time you saw the other members of the band? Do you guys keep in touch? Where was the last time you were in Ann Arbor?
A: I actually saw Masouras and Fine in Grosse Pointe last fall at our high school's 50-year reunion. We talked about doing a short set. I had a band put together of guys who I had played with later and we were booked into a club a friend of mine manages (in Grosse Pointe), The Cabbage Patch Saloon. But Hartkop and Kleene couldn't make the trips from Oregon and Texas. I tried to get Dave Whitehouse, lead singer of The Underdogs, Patti Quatro, lead guitar from Fanny and The Pleasure Seekers, and Crispin Cioe, leader of The Uptown Horns, to join me, but they were all working, so I did it alone as Don Tapert and the Second Avenue Band. You could hear some of that band's studio recordings on noisetrade.com. I had that band from about 1980-82 until I moved to Manhattan. I get to Ann Arbor at least once a year. I met Frank there last summer when I took my daughter to see U of M on our college tours. I've taken my whole family there. We stay at Weber's. I took them to Silver Lake, The Fleetwood Diner, and the old Del Rio. Lots of memories there for me.
When I went to architecture school from 1966-1971, we had The Bob Seger System do our Chi Phi lawn dance. George Frayne, aka Commander Cody, lived in a treehouse on the SAE front lawn and was going to art school; the MC5 was playing in the park. Iggy and the Stooges were gearing up, the Prime Movers were playing in a blues club downtown. Mr. Flood's Party and The Blind Pig were the new clubs in town and then we had the Ann Arbor Blues Festival, The Ark, Sunday jazz at the Del Rio, The Doors in Crisler Auditorium. What more could a suburban kid from Grosse Pointe ask for -- and the girls ....
Q: Frank, was it hard tracking down the Beau Biens folks -- and all the rest of the bands -- for your Ugly Things article? It's crazy in-depth!
A:It all started with Joe Doll, who produced the 45. A friend of mine, Jim Heddle, was working at WAAM in the mid-1990s and wanted to record a history of the station for its 50th anniversary. He'd been a fan of Joe's radio show there in 1967-68, and, pre-internet, tracked down Joe in the Bay Area. Joe dubbed tapes of some of his last shows for Jim, and he shared them with me. I was blown away by his ability to shift from the top-40 Joe Doll Happening earlier in the evening to the trippy weekend midnight show he called Strobe, and I later got in touch with Joe myself. By the way, Joe recently put about 10 hours of his 1968 WAAM radio shows online, including Strobe, plus a bunch of other cool stuff, at joeut.weebly.com.
When I found out Joe had also produced 45s by local garage bands while he was a student at U of M, I decided to document their stories, too. I knew that another group he produced called The Aftermath had included drummer Rich Dishman, who still plays with George Bedard, so he was easy to find. But The Beau Biens proved elusive at first. I ended up finding an interesting comment about the band online, on a sales listing for a bootleg CD with their song "Times Passed" on it. I decided to message the person, identified as "Don Detroit," and he wrote right back and said he was actually Don Tapert, the lead guitarist of the group. He then put me in touch with rhythm guitarist Tom Hartkop, and I also found their manager, Ron Salvo, on my own.
Q: Was it meeting Joe that led you to reissuing the single -- he still had the original tapes?
A: Exactly. Joe moved from Ann Arbor to California after graduation in 1968 and took what must have been a large truckload of stuff with him. It included many reel-to-reel tapes from his radio work here and in Ohio, and even things like a broken-down mixing board from WCBN and a huge record-cutting turntable from Motown Records, where he worked in the electrical shop right out of high school. Joe had taken good care of the tapes and offered to help in any way needed with the project. I am also very fortunate to have a friend who is a reissue producer, Alec Palao, who lives an hour away from Joe. Joe drove the tapes to Alec's home studio, where they were transferred to high-resolution digital files that Joe then remastered. Alec has produced everything from the history of our local '60s label A-Square Records, home to The Rationals, The MC5, and The Scot Richard Case, to retrospectives of The Beau Brummels, The Zombies, and tons more. So, I knew it was going to be done right.
Q: Out of the records on Joe's label(s), why did you pick the Beau Biens single to reissue? Do you have plans to reissue the other singles on his label(s)?
A: The Beau Biens 45 is considered one of the best garage band singles of the '60s. A couple of years ago a book was published that listed just about every American DIY record that came out then, and a panel of experts voted "Times Passed" number 427 of the more than 8,000 records included. The original single is also very hard to find. I have a somewhat battered one I bought from a friend, but in many years of scrounging around Ann Arbor, I have never seen one turn up at a garage sale, and nobody else I know has either. In recent years it has appeared on several bootleg albums, but never in very good fidelity.
Our reissue 45 was produced from the first-generation tape that actually ran through the WCBN deck in February of 1967 when the Beau Biens recorded it in two overnight sessions. They did it in the same studios we are in today, by the way. I personally think the reissue sounds better than the original 45, which was produced from a second-generation dub copy. The single was also pressed by the same company that made it 50 years ago, Archer Record Pressing in Detroit. The founder's grandson Mike Archer handed me the 45s when I drove in to pick them up and said his grandfather had made the original pressing.
As for other reissues from Joe's tapes, The Aftermath were just approached by a German label, Perfect Toy Records, who have licensed one of the tracks they recorded at WCBN in the fall of 1966. Because he had saved multiple takes of their songs, Joe was able to create an extended mix of their cool raw version of Junior Wells' "Messing With the Kid," which will be out this summer on a compilation called Down & Wired. Joe also released three other 45s here and when he was a student at Ohio Wesleyan, and recorded several other sessions that never saw the light of day. He has an album's worth of material by an Ann Arbor psychedelic folk group called The Crystal Set Radio Band, for one, and I hope to get some of that material out on CD down the road.
Christopher Porter is a library technician and editor of Pulp.
Pick up The Beau Biens' "Times Passed / A Man Who's Lost" (Malibu) 7-inch in Ann Arbor at Wazoo, Encore, and Underground Sounds, or via franks45vault.tumblr.com. Or order the 7-inch and issue 40 of "Ugly Things" magazine with Uhle's extensive history of Joe Doll's work, as well as a Beau Biens feature, from webstore.ugly-things.com.