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PSS Winter '09 - Bruce Springsteen Photo

Eric Bloom ’66 recalls his favorite band

wilmer alexander and the dukes

by Eric Bloom ’66

I arrived in Geneva, like all members of the Class of ’66, in September 1962. Only 17, I couldn’t legally buy alcohol until my 18th birthday in December. I do recall getting thrown out of the Oaks by Dutch Venuti for doing the aforementioned before that date. In a few months my birthday arrived, and later that same month, Brian Fitch ’66 and I decided to take a walk around town checking out the local watering holes.

As we were walking by the old Hotel Seneca, we heard music coming from the Holiday Bar and Grill. Neither of us had been in there before. We stood outside and listened for a bit. The music sounded great, and it was freezing outside, so we walked in, ordered a couple of beers and checked the place out.

In another room, a great-sounding R & B band was playing. I think it was $2 to get back there. The music was so good we forked over our money and went to the back room to see the band. This was a pivotal moment for me as the band playing was Wilmer Alexander and the Dukes. I’d never heard of them but they were awesome.

The small room was packed. Everyone was partying, dancing, drinking, laughing and generally having a good time. I’m sure some readers from my era could tell their own stories about seeing the Dukes, but for me this was a revelation. Damn, they were a great band!

Wilmer was the front man, playing sax. The rest of the musicians were Doug Brown on guitar, Ralph Gillote on Hammond organ and other keyboards, and the Alberts brothers on bass and drums. Ebo Alberts, father of the brothers, was the band’s manager and took the door money.

As the night wore on, Fitch and I warmed up to the crowd and they warmed up to us, and as I recall, we had a great night.

Eric Bloom '66 and his HWS bandmates, Lost
and found.

In the ensuing years, I must have seen the Dukes play at least 100 more times as Wilmer and I became good friends. I was 18 the night we met and Wilmer was 19. He was a musical genius, a great player and very charismatic, especially with the ladies. The band just rocked. And they didn’t just play R & B. They stayed up with the times and played British Invasion tunes and all the current hits of the day.

When I decided to do a summer semester in 1966, my roommates Bob Dillinger ’66 and Gary Andreoletti ’65 had left Geneva, and I kept our apartment at 395 South Main. I spent most of that summer working at an auto parts store in Canandaigua and going to see Wilmer play at night, wherever he was playing. Many nights I’d drive him home because he liked my ’55 Chevy and offered to buy it from me more than once. I should have taken the offer as I had a car fire with it in front of Superdorm the next fall on the way to one of my own gigs.

Late in 1965, Dillinger and I started our own band, just trying to copy what Wilmer had going. Drummer William Cabot, now Dr. William Cabot ’66, asked Dillinger and I to pull together a group to play at Beta Sigma, and we did our best to copy Wilmer and our other role-model, The Downcounts, another college band featuring Bill Britt ’65 on guitar. Eventually our little group evolved into a band called Rick and the Ravons, which lasted with a variety of players until 1966, essentially with Dillinger and me as the core players and two local town musicians. We were a pale copy of Wilmer but we had fun.

When Dillinger graduated, I moved into a single room on the top floor of Medbery C. I had gigs booked but the band no longer existed. One day, I heard music drifting over the Quad from Sherrill Hall, and I wandered over to see who was playing. There was a band rehearsing, including Peter Haviland ’69, John Trivers ’69, George Faust ’69 and several other players. They sort of knew me, and I had heard of them but we’d never met because I’d been living off campus. To make a long story short, some fusion of players evolved from this meeting, and Lost and Found was formed with me up front, Trivers on bass, Haviland on guitar, Faust on guitar and local musician Jeff Hayes on drums.

Lost and Found played the area for the next two years, including entire summers in the upstate area near Clayton, N.Y., and Alexandria Bay on the St. Lawrence River. We actually had quite a bit of work and gained a decent local reputation. I always stayed in touch with Wilmer, and I certainly couldn’t compare my meager efforts to his. He was playing to thousands a night all over New York State, and I was playing little bars and fraternity parties.

One Lost and Found highlight was opening for the Dukes in the school gym for a spring concert in 1967. Willmoth Pears ’66 helped me sew some Christmas tree lights and paint day-glow artwork onto some old clothes, so that I would have an ‘electric suit’ for the performance. I still have it, and I had a chance to reconnect with Pears a few years ago at a Blue Oyster Cult performance.

I kept playing in the Geneva area until late 1968, which included doing the sound for Richie Havens, Alan Ginsburg and Iron Butterfly on campus. These were great years. I don’t think the vibe of the Sixties can ever be reproduced. Think about the impact The Beatles had, The Rolling Stones, Sly and the Family Stone … but I keep coming around to Wilmer Alexander. If I could turn back the clock, one of the things I’d do is go back to Club 86 in Geneva and see the Dukes just one more time.