Guest column: March 23, 2016
Editor’s note: This column is reprinted at the request of a member of the band, as it was submitted.
It wasn’t the American Legion hall where they played on many a Friday night after the local football game. It wasn’t the garage where they rehearsed, or one of the many teen clubs and birthday parties where they performed the tunes of the day, some fifty years ago. Rather, it was February 27, 2016 at the Georgia Agricenter in Perry where the spotlight shown once again on the 60’s garage band from Fort Valley known as The Malibu’s.
I was in the crowd of several hundred fans gathered in Heritage Hall, quickly relegated to being a people-watching wallflower since my Fort Valley-graduate husband was busy mingling. That’s what reunions do, bring people together to reminisce with old friends. Thank goodness for name tags.
It was like a sock hop, this concert, except the median age was about sixty. We got to keep on our shoes, since there was no gym floor to worry about.
Memorabilia of the Malibu’s heyday dotted the large room, including a madras outfit with black and white saddle oxfords worn at one performance. There were framed photographs and news clippings, some using the band’s other title, changed on the advise of their agent to The Sixpence. A vintage guitar was on display, along with playbills advertising gigs from Macon to Montezuma and beyond.
There were folks from near and far, but the tables were set in the green and yellow of the Fort Valley Greenwaves, the town and high school that spawned The Malibu’s. Mostly the tables sat empty, though, what with all the handshakes and hugs, folks taking smartphone pictures destined for Facebook, and, oh, yes, dancing.
When the band started with a crowd pleaser like “Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy”, people sang along, many rushing to the dance floor, some beckoning to their partners from across the room.
The crowd jitterbugged to “Johnny B Goode”. Others ventured out to slow dance to “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”. Still others jumped up at the first chords of “Double Shot of My Baby’s Love”, deciding their feet couldn’t be still any longer. The acoustics weren’t great in the cavernous metal building, but nobody cared. When it comes to dancing to the oldies, it’s not the quality of sound as much as the songs themselves, and the memories they evoke.
One of my favorite albums from high school was “The Super Hits” by Atlantic Group, a hit parade of soulful songs Baby Boomers remember well. The Malibu’s brought those songs, and the crowd, to life with their renditions of “Knock on Wood”, “In the Midnight Hour”, and “Mustang Sally”, the crowd, arms raised, shouting, “Ride, Sally, Ride!” I closed my eyes and was sixteen all over again.
The guys in the band weren’t dressed exactly alike, as they once were, now mostly jeans with black shirts. Some, like those in attendance, sported hats or baseball caps or sunglasses, still looking cool despite thicker waists, gray hair, and bifocals.
The three vocalists wowed the crowd through three sets of hits, backed up by two guitars, a saxophone, trumpet, keyboard, and drums. Old photos flashed on the wall behind the band stand, marking the years, while the drummer marked the beat.
It was in 1964 that David Luckie and Wes Wheeler, inspired by The Beatles, got the idea for a band. Soon they were joined by Dennis Herbert, Chris Smisson, and, later, Eddie Byrd. Their fledgling group was named for the popular Chevrolet Malibu car, the apostrophe added for emphasis.
They first used the high school band room for practice, later switching their rehearsals to Wes’ family garage, becoming a true “garage” band. In addition to covering popular groups and songs of the day, the band recorded a 45 of two songs written by David Luckie: “I’ve Gotta Go” and, on the flip side, “I Want You to Know”, both later included in two CD compilations. Grady Trussell and Mike Jacino joined the group as others rotated out.
There were other garage bands around in the 60’s, all riding the wave of popularity set to music by the Beach Boys and the like. Hawkinsville had The Tip Tops, and Reynolds had The Mustangs. It’s The Malibu’s, though, who get the longevity award. Three of its original members, David Luckie, Dennis Herbert, and Eddie Byrd, have remained involved over the years, playing in various bands with a variety of names.
The Malibu’s/Sixpence had a concert in 2001, reuniting for the first time since the original band broke up in 1969. Now, here they were together again. “Once the music bug bites,” David Luckie explained, “it stings you for the rest of your life.”
For an appreciative crowd on a recent Saturday night, we were happy we got to ride along with The Malibu’s one more time.
Dawne Bryan lives in Cochran, GA where she is a regular contributor to The Cochran Journal.