Rick Kuerth Recalls The Aardvarks
I had known Gary Walker nearly all the way through high school and we both played in the percussion section of the high school band. I had seen The Hitchhikers (pre-Aardvarks combo) perform a couple of times at dances and was impressed. When Darryl decided they wanted to add an organ to the mix, he asked me if I was interested. I was and they were, too, and that was the beginning. At that time, the band consisted of me, Darryl Dingler, Garey Walker and John Carter. Terry Potts joined us a short time later on bass.
My musical background was primarily piano. I studied from grade school all the way through my junior year in high school. It was mostly classical stuff. I also played bass drum in the marching band and tympani in the regular band. Of course, like everyone, I noodled around on electric guitar but never got to play that in the band. My music theory was good enough to get me by on the rock scene.
I am not 100% certain, but I think Rick Spratt, my predecessor, left the band to go to college, or at least that was my understanding. I think Darryl took the opportunity to reorganize the band a bit with the organ and eventually getting Terry on bass so he could concentrate on vocals.
I know there were some folks who preceded me with the band, but other than Rick Spratt, I know nothing about the reasons for those changes. I see myself and Terry as being part of an evolution in Darryl's vision for the group that really worked out quite well. I think we did really well with the group up until the time Chuck St. Louis "discovered" us at the battle of the bands at LC Walker Arena in 1966. Chuck approached Darryl first, and then arranged a meeting with the rest of us. Chuck introduced us to Jim Britton and Don Herald and suggested we replace John Carter with these two guys, and we agreed.
We enjoyed a pretty significant following and had lots of jobs every weekend before we met Chuck. I feel we were certainly one of the better groups in the area. However, Chuck reformed and refocused the group to an entirely new level. To begin with, he got us all singing in three and four part harmony, which was huge. Secondly, he brought in Chris Johnson who was a very talented guitar player in his own right, who was particularly gifted in figuring the correct chording for our cover songs. He brought a new level of professionalism and discipline to the group. Not just the coordinated and well thought-our wardrobes, but we had highly organized and regularly scheduled rehearsals where we both learned new material and fine-tuned the rest of our repertoire. He did get us connected with the booking agency in Grand Rapids and they kept us pretty busy. He arranged the recording sessions for us and took care of all the travel and booking for the group. All we had to do was rehearse and perform. He also was responsible for the publicity photos. In short, I believe that Chuck St. Louis was pivotal in raising us to the level we eventually rose to. He knew what we had to do and helped us do it. He made it possible for us to get all new equipment (Vox) and a professional sound system. Had circumstances not changed the way they did, I believe we were poised to go to the next level and start touring nationwide and start looking for a recording deal.
We recorded our singles in a Sparta studio. It was a still active movie theatre that had recording equipment installed. Bands set up between the front row of seats and the screen and the recording booth was at the top of the theatre, near the front entrance. It was fairly shabby, overall. Dave Kalmbach (owner of Fenton Records) did the recording, of course, and we paid him a fee for the use of the facilities and his time. I don't recall how much, but it had to be relatively inexpensive. We just did not have a lot of money. I also do not recall much about the specific recording equipment he used, but it certainly got the job done.
I personally did not have a huge amount of interaction with Dave. We talked, as a group, of course, with him. There was no contact other than the recording time. Darryl, who was the group's leader, had much more communication with him than the rest of us.
The first two singles we released were before Chuck started with us. ‘Cherrie Can't You Tell’ and ‘Let's Move Together’ were recorded at Ed VerSchure's studio in Holland, Michigan and Chuck arranged that. It was not the Talpa label, but Forte, our own label. We had at that time hooked up with an old friend of Chuck's, Charlie Bowbeer. Charlie was from New York and, we thought, wise to the ways of the professional rock scene. He travelled with us to several different places, but in the end, absconded with our entire bank account and the masters of the Forte recordings. He apparently made a living pressing records from our recordings under different labels and band names.
Darryl wrote all of our original material himself, and arranged it. I did not participate in the recording of 'People Of This Land' or 'I Can't Explain' and have no idea who was involved, when and where they were recorded or why they were not released. I could speculate they were recorded after our group broke up.
There are several other recordings that exist that are on a CD that John Carter put together. I personally was not involved with any of those. After the Forte release, I am not aware of any other recordings of the band that exist.
I do not recall the name of the TV show (Note: Swingin' Time), but it was out of Windsor, Ontario. It was near the end of a tour we did and we were on the way back home. Saturday morning, I believe, and live. The really big deal, of course, is that we shared the stage with the Grateful Dead. We also had to share a dressing room with them. They were all high and pretty full of themselves and actually made fun of us. Their lip-synch performance was awful. We did a much better job with our performance—the first and only time we did that. We performed the songs off the Forte label.
Aside from the Dead, the most memorable recollection was when the host told us we all had to go out on the dance floor and dance with whatever girl we wanted to. He also told us about two million kids were watching on TV. We were all terrified because NONE of us knew how to dance!
Incidentally, near the end of the Aardvarks' time, Charlie and Chuck introduced us to Harper and Rowe, a singing duo from England and Canada. They were very good and came to the U.S. looking for a band to back them for a nationwide tour. We did not really want to do that at that time and hooked them up with another band, Frederick, who played a couple of shows locally with them, but never toured. Frank and Ralph did travel to Los Angeles and performed with The Turtles and were trying to get a contract with White Whale Records. They eventually released one album, which I have a copy of. Incidentally, that was recorded at Ed VerSchure's studio, as well.
One group that was fantastic, in my opinion, and that you hear very little about, is The Woolies. We actually had to wait at the studio in Sparta while they recorded, 'Who Do You Love'. We also played with them a few times and there was a high level of mutual respect between us.
The end of the group came when Garey joined the Army and left the band. We did one show after he left with the former drummer of the Shackelfosts, but it simply was wrong. He was a great drummer, but not Garey. It was like someone ripped our heart out and it was just not the same. Shortly after that, both Terry and I let the group, and that was it for the real Aardvarks. Darryl tried to keep things together with a new lead singer and another drummer, but it simply did not work. I left for the Army, as well, and when I returned, found a new group, Revelation. That band consisted of the Shackelfosrt drummer, Tim Smiley, Chris Johnson and Jim Britton. I heard them perform a couple of times and can tell you they were fabulous, but undisciplined; they had no real manager and ended up a bar band, with no recordings. Jimmy had really matured as a lead guitar player, Tim's voice was incredible, the drummer was very good and Chris was great on the bass.
So where are they now? Well, I'm sure you know that both Terry and Don died. Jimmy still lives in Muskegon and has a recording studio and is active in the country music scene. I have not talked to him at all since the band. Garey lives in Maryland, I think, and still plays drums at his church. He stayed in the military and retired as a Warrant Officer. Darryl lives in Grand Haven, Michigan and manages a golf course. He also has a studio and I have heard some of his material and it is great. He also collects Fender amps. John recently retired and lives in Holland, Michigan. I am not aware of any musical activities on his part. I am retired here in Vermont and still play my piano nearly daily. Back to the classics, but I do George Winston, as well. I play bluegrass on my five-string banjo. And yes, I have two electric guitars and my Martin acoustic. When my youngest son took up guitar, I figured, "Great! I can teach him some CCR and Beatles!" Not. I had to learn heavy metal to play with him and his friends. So, I do Metallica, Rage Against the Machine, etc. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
I have to tell you, I find it utterly incredible there is still interest in our band, and that particular time period of music. As I said, there were a number a groups going at the time, and most were pretty bad, some were okay, and a few were pretty good. I tend not to judge them by recordings they made, but by having heard many live on stage. Live performances are what separates the wheat from the chafe. Of course, we always included our recorded material in our live performances and because there were no fancy recording tricks or overdubbing, they sounded exactly the same live.
One final thought. I never considered us a "garage band". Yes, we originally rehearsed in Garey's basement, but he did not even have a real garage. One of the first things Chuck did was to rent us a building for us to rehearse in (our rehearsal hall). We never played in a garage, except once at my house. We were able to play as loud and long as we wanted and didn't bother anyone.