|Although their lone single was released as by The Fortels, The Men of Eden (after a name change) became Niles, Ohio's top rock and roll group. They played throughout the state, competed in and won many battle of the band events, and became extremely popular in the Mahoning Valley. However, due to suspect management decisions, The Men Of Eden would separate and head off in different directions. Guitarist Ed Byers explains why...
This page is respectively dedicated to Brendal Hodge and to Nick Edgar.
|The Men Of Eden
|An Interview With Ed Byers
60sgaragebands.com (60s): How did you first get interested in music?
Ed Byers (EB): I was six years old. The first time I heard Buddy Holly and The Crickets' 'Peggy Sue' on the car radio...I remember, at that moment, feeling an icredible urgency to learn to play the guitar. It took me almost two years to talk my parents into letting me take guitar lessons and I got my first Gibson Sunburst acoustic guitar at Bernard's Music in Niles. I started taking lessons there at age eight.
60s: Was The Fortels your first band?
EB: No. In Spring 1964, with a solid-body, single pick-up Gibson electric guitar and amp, I joined The Chessmen: Roger Bianco, bass guitar; Walt Wilson, drums; Gary Cohol, lead guitar; and me on guitar. Bill Wallace was our manager. The Chessmen lasted less than six months.
60s: Where was The Fortels formed?
EB: At Niles McKinley High School in Niles, Ohio in spring, 1965. The Fortels were an off-shoot of The Concords, which formed at Edison Jr. High in Niles, Ohio in spring,1964. (The Concords signature song was 'The Concord Stomp.') The Concords consisted of John Sandru, drums; Ed Fusco; keyboards; Bruce Simeone, guitar; and Duane Lanham, guitar. There was no bass player; that's when I was asked to join and Lanham dropped out.
Sam Crank (guitar) and Brendal Hodge (guitar) were added after Sandru and Byers heard them perform at a dance in downtown Niles. They were the very solid guitar nucleus The Concords needed to go forward.
Simeone dropped out, and we added Don Bell, lead vocals/sax to form The Fortels, named by Vicki Edgar after a popular (at that time) synthetic fabric, "Fortrel." Heavily influenced by various Top 40 groups of the day, our early play list included 'Hang On Sloopy,' 'Walk, Don't Run,' 'Henry The 8th,' 'Wooly Bully,' 'Twist and Shout,' 'Whatíd I Say' and 'SleepWalk.'
The core group was: Don Bell, lead vocals, sax, and occasional guitar; John Sandru, drums, leader, and some vocals; Brendal Hodge, guitar and vocals; Sam Crank, guitar; and Ed Byers, bass guitar and vocals.
60s: Why did the band eventually change names to The Men of Eden?
EB: It happened in late 1965 or early 1966 when the band was changing musical directions and the name "Fortels" was just a bit too "1962-ish."
The name change happened during a winter weekend getaway at Camp Round-Up in Aurora, Ohio scheduled by manager Nick Edgar. This was designed to get the band away from girlfriends and assorted "distractions" for a weekend, to write new material and to come up with a new name to fit a change in musical direction and the eraís progressive trends.
As I recall, it was Sandru who came up with the name "Men of Eden" after listening to Bob Dylan's 'Gate of Eden' from the LP Another Side of Bob Dylan. The weekend also coincided with The Beatles releasing Rubber Soul. That same weekend, Sandru and Byers wrote a Beatles-esque song titled 'Hide In A Corner,' which was regularly played at gigs but never recorded.
60s: Was it the same band as The Fortels, or was there any personnel changes at the time of the name change?
EB: The same band: Bell, Byers, Crank, Hodge and Sandru. The Fortelsí signature black shirts and white pants were gone; so was slicked back hair (except for Brendal).
60s: Where did the band typically play?
EB: Anywhere we could get a gig to get recognition and a following. We once played on the roof of an auto repair shop along busy Route 422 in Warren. The owner was having a grand opening and hired us to attract attention. We did two or three days of this, outside, in the blazing summer sun and near 90 degree temperatures. I think we were being paid 200 dollars a day for that ordeal. The appearance led to a booking at John F. Kennedy High School, which led to other bookings.
We also played teen dances at the McKinley Memorial; our high school, Niles McKinle; St James CYO, Warren; The Hideaway, Kinsman; Champion Rollarena; Packard Music Hall; The University Club; and The Gold Record, Niles.
60s: How would you describe the band's sound?
EB: At the time of the name change to The Men of Eden, we were morphing from a 'Hang on Sloopy,' Top 40 band into Animals, Stones, and Yardbirds material. We were seemingly trying to "push the envelope" into more sophisticated material, including writing our own songs, which met with limited success.
We were also influenced by The Stones, Beatles, Byrds and many more I know I am leaving out. There was also somewhat of a West Coast/San Francisco influence: The Leaves ('Hey Joe') and The Seeds ('Pushiní Too Hard'); Midwest regional groups; Richard and The Young Lions ('Open Up Your Door'), Terry Knight and The Pack ('Mister, Youíre A Better Man Than I'), The Woolies ('Who Do You Love'); to the really "off the wall: The Nightcrawlers ('Little Black Egg').
60s: Did Men of Eden participate in any Battle Of The Bands?
EB: Yes. (We competed against) The Fantasticks and another group headed by former Concord keyboardist Ed Fusco (the name of which escapes me)...as well as The Sands of Time and The Jaggz.
At the Cleveland Teen Fair (in August í67) we competed against Cyrus Erie (featuring Eric Carmen), The Measles (featuring Joe Walsh), and The Choir ('It's Cold Outside).' This was the largest battle of the bands we had ever seen. There were three stages going simultaneously, with more than 100 groups competing over the course of three days.
60s: How well did the band typically fare in these battles?
EB: We always won at home, but always lost on the road.
60s: You earlier mentioned Nick Edgar. How did you hook up with him?
EB: The late Nick Edgar, brother of Vicki Edgar, came up with the name "Fortels." Nick was a good friend, a school teacher and guidance counselor who was a great guy, deeply devoted to the band, bought a sound system for us, and eagerly tried to promote the group. Nick left us in 2010, God rest his soul. I remember cruising around with Nick in his GTO and MG convertibles listening to the radio. He hooked us up with music publisher Jim Maderitz of Girard who became the publisher of 'She' and 'Merry-Go-Round.' (Note: 'She' and 'Merry-G-Round' [Wam Records 51245] comprised the band's 45-rpm single; it was released as by The Fortels. See more below).
In 1966, Nick was ousted in favor of Ross Cibella, an energetic, seemingly well-connected music producer from Warren who fell in love with The Men of Eden at one of the Champion Rollarena appearances. He was on a mission from the get-go. He promised more appearances, more money and a record audition with White Whale Records (record label of The Turtles). We had stars in our eyes and readily bought in to it. We thought this guy was going to take us to the top.
Little did we know how much dissention and bedlam that would result. His ideas of (1) how the band should sound; (2) how it should look; and (3) the direction it should go, caused a deep rift.
Brendal Hodge was the first casualty. Brendal did not see eye-to-eye with Ross and left the band. He was replaced by Michael DeChristofaro. 'Merry Go-Round' was never performed again. It was the beginning of the end for The Men of Eden, as we knew it.
As I recall, The Men of Eden fired Ross Cibella on New Yearís Day, 1967. John Sandru took charge of managerial duties and bookings. The band hired Bill Green and Wayne Stewart after Byers saw an ad in the Youngstown Vindicator for a keyboardist/ guitarist/vocalist :looking to join rock group - serious inquiries only." We brought them up for an audition and they were hired on the spot. Greenís keyboard added a dimension that we never had. Wayne Stewart could sing like Robin Gibb and Graham Nash. We started doing Holliesí hits.
The group (temporarily minus Bell, whose family relocated to Florida) also added Bill Wallace, manager of The Chessmen, as a vocalist. Wallace could sing like Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati of The Rascals (the band at this point, with so many voices, was taking on more and more ambitious vocal projects, including performing much of the Sgt. Pepperís Lonely Hearts Club Band soundtrack). Wallace also had a great Kustom PA system.
60s: How popular locally did The Men of Eden become?
EB: We became extremely popular in the Mahoning Valley. We were always recognized as "gthe band from Niles." Competition for public appearances was unbelievably fierce! If you took the stage and really sucked, you were dead on the spot! We practiced for hours on end, first in the basement of The Voodoo Lounge (Sandruís dadís bar in downtown Niles), then in Don Bellís basement, and lastly, in the basement of the Sandru family home in Niles.
We developed a good following in Warren and Youngstown along with outlying areas. There was fairly serious talk of an Ohio-statewide tour right after graduation from high school (June, 1967) which never materialized.
60s: How far was the band's "touring" territory?
EB: Kent and Ravenna, Portage, Trumbull, Mahoning, Columbiana and Ashtabula counties.
60s: What other local groups of the era do you especially recall?
EB: The Measles, with Joe Walsh, which later became The James Gang. The Jaggz, which later became The Holes in the Road, The Executioners, The New Hudson Exit (from Youngstown, a group which featured Glass Harpís Phil Keaggy on guitar) and The Rebels.
60s: Where was the Wam Records 45 recorded?
EB: At WAM Recording Studios on Ellenwood Avenue in Youngstownís southside.
60s: What do you remember about the recording session?
EB: I remember we were somewhat nervous but very curious. We were awestruck by the notion of making a record and laying down some tracks. My guitar teacher, Chuck Reeger, was the producer and engineer on the sessions, which occurred in October of 1965. Two other tracks were recorded: 'Gina,' an instrumental, and a Beach Boys-like song, 'On The Beach.'
60s: Did The Men of Eden write many original songs?
EB: There were probably fewer than eight to 10.
60s: Who wrote the songs that comprised the single?
EB: Sandru and Byers wrote 'She'; Brendal Hodge wrote 'Merry-Go-Round.'
60s: Do any (other) '60s Fortels/Men of Eden recordings exist?
EB: Just 'Gina' and 'On The Beach.' There was another session at WAM in late 1966 which was engineered and produced by Cibella. These sessions featured a young guitar player from Liberty, Ohio nicknamed "Pete" who was, in reality, Phil Keaggy, later of Glass Harp fame. The session was a study in futility as Cibella tried to take the band in a very avante-garde musical direction. We werenít buying it and Cibellaís familiar response to our protests throughout that session was, "Shut up or Iíll clear the studio!"
Cibella also experimented with adding a female singer to the group, "Monday Darr" (Cathy Dohar of Warren). The experiment didnít last long. It had not occurred to him that a woman would necessitate a name change. The Men of Eden was just a tad gender-specific. He suggested "Adam and Eve and the Men of Eden." We threatened to have him killed. Monday, a really sweet girl with a great voice, departed the group after only a couple months.
Cibella also attempted to form an all-girl group who were very easy on the eyes but very hard on the ears! Very little musical talent. Cibella insisted we teach them to play and he told us he wanted us to appear on the same bill. The idea was dropped when Sam Crank threatened to quit.
It should be noted that the band lost all its equipment in a devastating fire that swept through The Gold Record, a popular dance hall in Niles on April 22, 1967. The owner told us it was OK to leave our equipment in place following a Saturday night performance because we were returning the next day to practice.
Sandru was staying at my place for the night when we were awakened by an anonymous phone call from a female around 4 a.m. who asked if I was Ed Byers from The Men of Eden. She went on to inform me that The Gold Record had burned to the ground and all our equipment was lost. John and I sped to the scene and found the place leveled, reduced to glowing embers. The Niles fire chief told us it was likely a furnace problem, although many years later someone told us that the owners were losing money and hired to have the hall torched. Luckily, I had brought my bass guitar home, but lost my Fender Dual Showman amp. We had to start all over again getting new equipment. Our student council held a benefit concert for us at Niles McKinley High School a month later to help us buy new equipment.
60s: Did the band make any local TV appearances?
60s: Does any home movie film footage exist of the band?
EB: There was a fair amount of footage shot and the one that sticks out in my mind was shot at the Men of Edenís appearance at the Cleveland Teen Fair Battle of the Bands, Public Hall, in Cleveland, August 1967--one of the groupís very last appearances. By this time, the band had somewhat expanded to included Bill Green, guitar/keyboards; Wayne Stewart, vocals; Bill Wallace, vocals; Sam Crank, guitar; Ed Byers, bass guitar; and John Sandru, drums. The footage of this appearance was shot by Bill Greenís father. As I recall, there was no audio portion of this film and its whereabouts are unknown.
John Sandruís father also shot some footage at a McKinley High School dance. Again, minus sound.
60s: What year and why did the band break up?
EB: Unofficially, September 1967. The very last gig was Packard Music Hall, Warren, Ohio.The last song was the Beatles' 'Nowhere Man.' Sandru and Bell were heading off to Ohio State, and Byers was leaving for Washington, D.C. and a career in Broadcasting. As I recall, there was a one night University Club (reunion) gig over Christmas break, 1967.
In the summer of 1968, I played bass for The Human Beinz. Only one appearance at The Freak-Out in McKinley Heights, Ohio. Their bass player suddenly took ill. I lived very close to the club. It was a no-brainer.
60s: What keeps you busy today?
EB: I spent 36 years in broadcasting, radio/TV as a deejay, program director, news director, and TV news operations manager. I also worked as a freelance journalist for a number of publications. I retired from broadcasting in 2004 and currently hold a position with Medical Mutual of Ohio, Cleveland as Manager of Media Relations.
60s: How do you best summarize your experiences with The Men of Eden?
EB: I always thought Bryan Adams nailed it in the song 'Summer of '69,' his 1986 biography of a garage band: "Those were best days of my life..."
In many respects, they were. We were 15, 16 and 17-year old kids, playing gigs two and three nights a week, making upwards of 150 dollars a week! That was a lot of money in 1966-67! Has there ever been a better way to make money?
We were young and innocent idealists who, in the autumn following graduation, were shipped off to the military, college, or the school of hard knocks.
Life would never be the same again. Nor quite as much fun.
|Men of Eden: Bill Green, Sam Crank, Don Bell, John Sandru, Wayne Stewart, Bill Wallace and Ed Byers