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The Night Shadows

The Atlanta-based Night Shadows were one of the earliest and longest-lived garage bands in the U.S., with a career that extended from the formative days of rock & roll to the psychedelic era. Guitarists Ronnie "Goose" Farmer and Johnny "Cha Cha" Pitner and drummer Craig Wemmers formed their first band, the Kavaliers, in 1956 -- the teens soon recruited friend Aleck Janoulis to play bass, followed by the 1958 addition of keyboardist Mike Moore, who also brought to the proceedings a homemade theremin capable of creating cosmic sonic embellishments that foreshadowed the group's later evolution into acid punk.

In mid-1959 drummer Ray Massey signed on in place of Wemmers, and with the inclusion of trumpeter Donald Adams, the Kavaliers' lineup was complete. With a repertoire comprised primarily of R&B covers, the group slowly built a local fan following, although their roster remained in seemingly constant flux -- around the time that Adams left for college in the fall of 1959, Bobby Newell replaced Moore, and singer/harpist Bobby "Bones" Jones was installed as frontman. At this point, Janoulis (the de facto leader) changed their name to the Night Shadows, and the rechristened unit made its public debut in mid-December at the Maid of Athens Annual Masquerade Ball.

The Night Shadows spent the better part of 1960 and 1961 serving as one of two house bands at the Misty Waters skating rink, splitting time with local rivals the Zots. This iteration of the group also was the first to make any official recordings, cutting an acetate of the song "Blindside." Jones and Massey left the Night Shadows in the spring of 1961, with the male/female duo of Ervin Barocas and Helene Kopell (aka Little Erv & Helene) tapped as lead vocalists and Charles Spinks installed on drums; in 1962, the group issued its first commercial single, the risqué frat rock stomper "Garbage Man" -- another early release, "The Elevator," is perhaps more notable for its flip side, "Station Break," a jazz-rock instrumental that is almost certainly one of the very first attempts at fusion.

Upon first hearing the Beatles in late 1963, the Night Shadows immediately shifted gears and adopted a more British Invasion-like sound -- by this point Little Erv & Helene were no longer in the picture, and the remaining members (Janoulis, Newell, Spinks, and guitarist Jimmy Callaway) hired new vocalist "Little Phil" Ross, a high-school freshman equally adept at belting out R&B standards and Beatlesque rockers. The Night Shadows refined their new approach throughout 1964, although collegiate audiences throughout the South still preferred beach music classics to contemporary rock & roll -- in fact, in an ironic twist of reverse discrimination, many white fraternities refused to book the group on the grounds that they preferred African-American R&B acts.

In 1965 the Night Shadows landed a deal with Dot Records, but the escalating conflict in Vietnam forced Callaway (the only member not attending high school or college) to take a job as a fireman in order to support his pregnant 14-year-old wife. Janoulis lured co-founder Ronnie Farmer back to the lineup after a two-year absence, and thanks to academic commitments and subsequent occupational deferments, all five Night Shadows were able to avoid the military draft, but also severely limited their opportunities to tour outside of the Deep South. Their first Dot single, "So Much," appeared in January 1966, enjoying hit status in seemingly random regions of the U.S. -- a national fan club was even established in Texas. The group then opted to re-record an early crowd favorite, the "Garbage Man" single's equally naughty B-side, "The Hot Dog Man" -- Dot executives blanched, however, and the single instead appeared surreptitiously on the Banned Records label.

By mid-1966 the Night Shadows were experimenting with guitar fuzz, vibrato, and reverb -- their sound eventually grew so distorted that Janoulis was forced to use amplifiers during live performances. When Lockheed Aircraft, where he worked as an aerospace engineer, assigned him to a six-month project based in Ohio, Janoulis booked the group a stint as the house band at the Atlanta nightclub the Pigalley, recruiting cousin Danny Stephens and friend Dave Gallagher to play bass in his absence. He did return to Atlanta long enough to record the cult classic "60 Second Swinger," issued on the Gaye label in late 1966. This single represented the first recorded fruits of the Night Shadows' evolving acid punk sound, and by the time of an April 1967 appearance at Emory University, the group had undergone a total psychedelic overhaul, performing with strobe and liquid lights.

While still under contract to Gaye, they next cut the single "Don't Hold Your Breath" for the local Baja label, crediting the record to the Square Root of Two to avoid legal hassles. That summer, Janoulis began work on a full-fledged psychedelic opus, also titled The Square Root of Two -- cobbled together from a variety of tapes recorded on portable cassette machines, the resulting LP appeared in 1968 and remains an underground classic of the era, with original copies fetching upwards of $1,000 on the collectors' market. In August of 1969 Newell left the Night Shadows, bringing to an end the group's heyday -- other members came and went (among them guitarist Barry Bailey, later to resurface in the Atlanta Rhythm Section) before the group finally called it quits in mid-1969. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi
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