This could finally be the Electras’ breakout year.
Rare vinyl copies of their lone 1961 recording are fetching prices north of $2,000, even though the band tended to stray from the beat. Two separate CD versions of that same recording are being sold after some “Behind The Music”-style intra-band squabbling.
Of course, it’s not musical chops that has renewed interest in this obscure garage rock recording; it’s the bassist: Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.
“Their enthusiasm is only muted by the fact that they weren’t that good,” summed up Chuck Miller, an Albany-based columnist for Goldmine magazine who recently bought a slightly scuffed copy of the vinyl album.
The Electras were formed in the fall of 1960 at St. Paul’s School, a tony private boarding school in Concord, N.H. The band was named for a cool looking Buick — not the Greek mythological character — and they played pre-Beatles standards by Eddie Cochran and the Ventures at local school dances.
The seven members (with help from their parents) put together about $1,000 to produce their one album in 1961. In a basement music room with a single microphone, the teen rockers ripped through covers including “Summertime Blues” and “Ya Ya.”
Boogie-woogie surf musicThe songs tend to sound like surf music with an overlay of boogie-woogie piano. Most tracks are instrumentals. Careful listeners can pick out the steady thump of Kerry’s bass — nothing fancy, though the liner notes credit him as the “producer of a pulsating rhythm.” (The same notes also call the diplomat’s son a resident of Oslo, Norway.)
“Frankly, I think he and I were probably the best musicians in the band,” said Electras pianist Jack Radcliffe, now a Boston-area newspaper editor who still performs as “Ragtime” Jack. “Although his beat wasn’t great for a bass player.”
Kerry left the band after high school, although he reportedly strums the Spanish classical guitar on the campaign trail and is learning to play patriotic nuggets like “This Land is Your Land.”
Of the 500 albums pressed, the few that have shown up on the market have sold for big money. Miller recently paid $800 to a dealer for a less-than-mint copy that has the name of an old St. Paul’s schoolmate inked on the cover. Another copy sold this year for about $2,500, to the amazement of the old band members.
“Somebody has to be crazy to pay anything like that for the album,” said Larry Rand, the Electras’ lead guitarist and vocalist, better known as a constitutional law scholar and semiretired teacher in Connecticut.
Rand helped spearhead a remastering of the original tape now available through www.electrasrockandrollband.com for $14. He said the reissue was essentially done as a lark now that his old bandmate is running for president.
But Radcliffe, the pianist, balked at the agreement signed by the rest of the band earlier this year, saying the maracas player and the saxophonist were being denied their fair share of proceeds. He noted the saxophonist’s image was expunged from the group shot on the Web site.
Radcliffe produced an alternate CD for the same price through www.johnkerryandtheelectras.com. He said his version preserves the original album cover artwork, a scrawled line drawing of a generic rock band, and the liner notes.
Neither Rand nor Radcliffe have gotten feedback from Kerry about the CDs. Kerry campaign spokeswoman Juanita Scarlett confirmed the candidate has no involvement with the reissues, but added: “It’s not surprising that John Kerry’s album is a hot commodity now. He’s a man of many talents.”
Rand said the original profit cuts were determined by lawyers based on contributions to the album, but the band members have since decided to share equally seven ways “in the spirit of fairness.”
Both versions of the CD are attracting sales — Radcliffe said he has moved about 400 copies, and Rand said he’s sold more than 500 — but interest in Kerry’s first band of brothers could really heat up if he becomes the next president.
While a lot of presidents played musical instruments — including Thomas Jefferson (violin), Warren G. Harding (cornet) and Harry Truman (piano) — a victorious Kerry also would enter the far more exclusive club of presidents who rocked, along with saxophonist Bill Clinton.
Rand speaks hopefully of an Electras reunion, maybe at a Kerry inauguration.
Miller, who bought the album to include in a record guide he wrote, plans to sell his vinyl copy for a nice profit if Kerry prevails.
And if President Bush wins?
“It will probably go on my wall,” Miller said.