by David Galassie
"I should have known you'd bid me farewell..."
The opening line of The Cyrkle's #2 hit, "Red Rubber Ball" was prophetic for the rock and roll band. Their brief and shining moment encompassed 1966 and most of 1967, their fortunes intertwined with the likes of The Beatles and Paul Simon.
The Cyrkle began life in 1961 as The Rhondells, a frat band formed by Tom Dawes and Don Dannemann in Easton, PA while attending Lafayette College. Playing mostly covers of Four Seasons songs and other top groups of the time, the duo's musical skills far exceeded their material and they developed a successful following around the northeast. Soon they graduated from smoky college bars and were playing dates at resorts in Atlantic City. In 1964, while appearing at the Alibi Lounge, they were heard by an entertainment lawyer named Nat Weiss who soon arranged even better bookings. Weiss was famous for aligning himself with Brian Epstein during The Beatles' first forays into America. He was largely responsible for arranging their Shea Stadium and Carnegie Hall concerts in 1964 and 1965.
In 1965, Nat Weiss booked The Rhondells for shows in New York's famous Greenwich Village where they were heard by Paul Simon. But this being the sixties, military service for Don Dannemann intervened and the group had to go on hiatus until his return. This left Tom Dawes free to find other work and he signed on as a bassist on a Simon and Garfunkel tour. One fateful night, Paul Simon played a song for Dawes that he'd recently written during a trip to England, "Red Rubber Ball." The wheels were now set in motion.
By early 1966, Dannemann had returned from his service with the US Coast Guard. The group reformed and took the name, The Cyrkle, it being thought that "The Rhondells" as a name sounded too passe, too early sixties-ish, too much like all those surf and car bands- The Hondells, The Rip-Chords, The Ventures. Rumors have persisted for years that John Lennon renamed the group, though this has never been substantiated. It has been suggested that Brian Epstein had requested Lennon's advice before signing the band. The creative spelling would be typical of John Lennon and presumably owes itself to the success of The Byrds who were white hot at the time, and of course, The Beatles.
With drummer Marty Fried and keyboardist Earl Pickens, The Cyrkle became the opening act for The Beatles on what became their final concert tour through America in 1966. "Red Rubber Ball" had been released in April 1966 and undoubtedly, the group's association with the Fab Four didn't hurt as their record climbed to #2. Later that summer, they released "Turn Down Day," which made it to #16, an anthem about teen-age freedom to do nothing on a typical summer's day. This song, using sitar and a plunky piano style further exemplified The Cyrkle's care-free image. But sadly, soon things fell apart.
Personnel changes within the band and their misguided refusal of an eventual hit helped signal the end. Paul Simon's "59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)" instead became a Top Twenty hit for Harper's Bizarre. In August 1967, they received word of Brian Epstein's untimely death from an overdose and things went downhill quickly for the band from then on. By 1968, Tom Dawes had quit the band. Don Dannemann and Mike Losekamp soon followed; Losekamp had become Earl Pickens' replacement when he chose to attend medical school.
Despite the demise of The Cyrkle, Tom Dawes and Don Dannemann went on to other successes behind the scenes. Both became writers of commercial jingles and opened their own publishing houses. Dawes wrote the famous "plop plop, fizz fizz" jingles for Alka-Seltzer among other ads. Marty Fried became an attorney and Earl Pickens became a doctor. Only Mike Losekamp stayed in the business and played for other groups. The Cyrkle actually regrouped briefly in 1986 to play a benefit in conjunction with the Hands Across America project, but haven't played since.
The Cyrkle may be largely forgotten today, save for the regular plays of their two hits on oldies radio, but once upon a time, this underrated band played with rock's royalty and were managed by a king-maker himself. A brief and shining moment, yes, but they truly earned their place at the top. How ironic that in their biggest hit, they presaged their own demise:
"The story's in the past with nothin' to recall
I've got my life to live and I don't need you at all
The roller-coaster ride we took is nearly at an end
I bought my ticket with my tears, that's all I'm gonna spend."
About the author: David Galassie is a human resources specialist in Columbia, SC. A frequent contributor to Rewind the Fifties, he has been published online in The Comic Book Electronic Magazine, Long Story Short, and in print in Good Old Days Specials magazine.
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