Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

clark-fcnpThere came a point in Arlington’s cultural history – yes, the swinging ‘60s – when sports heroes were eclipsed as idols for youth by rock bands.

I experienced this at age 12, when with the British invasion at full tilt, I got my first electric guitar.

I fantasized my high-volume twanging would reverberate offensively up the streets of my subdivision. Alas, the Kent amplifier projected only to the next room.

I did help form a band called the “Tunestones,” who lost (unfairly) a battle of the bands against the “Taxmen” at Pimmit Hills youth center.

Such home-made adventures were replicated by high school kids in basements all across Arlington. This recasting of our identities spawned memories that a half-century has not dimmed.

My Yorktown High School contemporary Mike Tramonte played keyboards in the Cornerstones and the Back Bay. He recalls as a child taking piano lessons but abandoning sight reading in favor of improvised rock chords.

“We’d slow the 45 rpm records to 33 so we could figure them out,” he recently said. “The trick was to be first guy to learn the new song because the sheet music wouldn’t be out for six months.”

Tramonte, who went on to manage the nightclub The Bayou, recalls other overlapping neighborhood bands such as the Open Roads, Seabrook Farm, Nebulous, the London Zoo.

His bandmate Sandy Harwell still has the Slingerland drums his dad gave him in 1965, purchased at Chuck Levin’s. Harwell, who continues to play semi-professionally, recalls a younger kid sitting in who became guitar hero Tom Principato.

Another whose basement became a studio was Mike Caffi, first in the Hayze, then in the local “supergroup” with the Sgt. Pepper-derived name “Mother Murdock’s Marvelous Array of Animated Art.” A rare combo of Yorktown and Washington-Lee kids.

Bobby Divine, W-L ’72, says Mother Murdock’s was a model for the band he played with at Donaldson Run pool.

“We almost got electrocuted because of standing water around our beat-up equipment,” said the multi-instrumentalist whose current band is the Fabulous Dialtones.

A popular venue for dance parties was the Potomac Boat Club, where Divine remembers drummer Barry Leatherwood performing a 40-minute solo on Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.”

At Wakefield, the big ‘60s bands were the Boston Monkeys, New Found Sounds and the Pendletons, said Dan Grove, who played guitar, flute and sax in the seven-member Pendletons.

They won a battle of the bands with the prize being opening for the nationally known Buckinghams. Many in those circles went pro – Pete Kennedy, John Jennings and Pete Papageorge, who played piano in the PBS Civil War drama “Mercy Street.”

Cool bands from countywide O’Connell High included the Axmen and Quaker Blues. In 1967, O’Connell freshman Jim Matthews – now co-owner of the Birchmere – put on a dance at St. Agnes School featuring the English Setters (later famous as the Cherry People).

Word got out that the band’s guitarist Punky Meadows was stealing the girlfriend of an O’Connell football player, Matthews recalls.

“So just as the band was loading out, 20 members of the O’Connell team arrived.”

The freshman impresario called the police to head off trouble – “the best call I ever made,” he said.

In recent years Matthews ran into band members Doug and Chris Grimes (still active musicians). Like all those rockers from the ‘60s now in their 60s, they recalled every detail.

Due to its nearness to D.C and southern flavor, Arlington has long attracted controversial white supremacist groups. From the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s to the American Nazi Party in the 50s-80s.

Now there’s one with a subtler touch, profiled last month in Time magazine: The National Policy Institute, a “think tank” dedicated to “the advancement of people of European descent,” is run by a social-media-savvy man named Richard Spencer.

A magazine photo shows him in the Nam Viet restaurant in Clarendon. But its website offers only a P.O. box for an address.