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Red Rubber Ball
In 1961, Tom Dawes of Brooklyn, New York and Don Dannemann of upstate Albany met while in line for a medical checkup prior to attending Lafayette College, a private school in Easton, Pennsylvania. At a freshmen mixer, Don joined Dawes, drummer Jim Maiella and keyboard player Earl Pickens on stage, which was the beginning of The Rhondells, a folk-rock group doing mostly covers of the era's hits. Don played guitar and did the main vocals, while Tom, familiar with a variety of stringed instruments, sang harmony.
Gradually, the group played frat parties, as they became a popular band at Lafayette and around Lehigh Valley. The first personnel change saw Maiella leave the group as he was replaced by Marty Fried.
By 1964, the group branched throughout the East Coast. “We were playing in Atlantic City the summer we graduated. We had played there the summer before, at the Alibi, right off the boardwalk. That summer, Nat Weiss turned up. He was a good friend of Brian Epstein, manager of The Beatles. He wasn’t into rock at all. He was a matrimonial lawyer and he liked us,” said Don. (1)
In 1965, Nat Weiss booked The Rondells for shows in New York's Greenwich Village, where Paul Simon heard them. With the military draft hanging over his head, Don Dannemann enlisted in the US Coast Guard. With six months of basic training ahead of him, 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.
While on tour, Paul Simon played Red Rubber Ball for Dawes, a song that he co-wrote with Bruce Woodley of The Seekers. 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. Rumors have persisted for years that John Lennon renamed the group, though this has never been substantiated.
With record labels on the lookout for Beatles-styled acts, Weiss had the newly christened Cyrkle record an audition tape. The roster for the Cyrkle changed once more with keyboardist Mike Losekamp joining the band replacing Earl Pickens.
Meanwhile, John Simon (no relation) was making his way up the ladder at Columbia Records. “I had been a ‘trainee’ at Columbia,” says John Simon, “and had just been moved to the pop department as an associate producer and assigned a few acts that the experienced producers didn't see as profitable when Nat Weiss walked into my 10-by-10 windowless cubicle. He said he was ‘an associate of Brian Epstein’ and that every other producer in the place had turned him down. He played a demo of Red Rubber Ball, which I thought was okay. I asked my scary, imposing boss — gruff Bill Gallagher — if I could have $5,000 to cut it. He said sure, as if it were pocket change!” (2)
“We sat down in the session and headed out the arrangement, building on the demo,” Dawes remembered. “John Simon thought it should have a Hammond organ calliope-stop lick, and that little ‘so-mi-fa-mi-re-do’ lick popped into my head. I hummed it to him, we adopted it and the first pass was Dannemann on electric guitar, me on acoustic, Marty Fried on drums and Simon on Hammond. Then I overdubbed bass. John and I overdubbed tambourines for the “think…it's gonna be all right” parts, then Don and I sang and doubled the parts. John Simon was the catalyst: He had interesting musical ideas, played keyboard really well and he drove the boat.” (2)
L-R: John Simon, Marty Fried, Don Dannemann, Tom Dawes, Nathan Weiss, Brian Epstein
Photo courtesy of John Simon
Red Rubber Ball debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 chart on May 21, 1966, where it remained for thirteen weeks eventually reaching # 2. (3) The song put the Cyrkle on the map and led to their biggest break.
Brian Eptein took notice and put them on the bill of the Beatles' August tour of the U.S., along with Bobby Hebb, The Ronettes and The Remains. It was an 18-day whirlwind that began August 12th in Chicago and wrapped up on the 29th in San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, the last American concert performed by the Fab Four.
“That tour was totally awesome,” Dannemann recalls. “I'll never forget that first concert. We hadn't met The Beatles and we were in awe of them. The first night we wondered if the crowd would boo us off the stage and demand The Beatles, but they whooped and hollered, and we did well. That was a relief.” (2)
Don reminisced, “We were playing an indoor arena that first night in Chicago. After we played, I stood behind the stage waiting for The Beatles to come on. They looked really good in their dark-green velvety jackets. I was watching all these young girls sitting in the front rows, and it seemed like they were sitting on electric chargers. Every once in a while, one girl would fly out of her seat, almost higher than you'd think was possible. Then another one — there was this out-of-control popping of girls! I looked around and there was a grown woman, possibly a reporter, standing next to me, sobbing uncontrollably. You couldn't hear enough to know if The Beatles were performing their stuff well, though — you just couldn't tell!” (2)
Later that summer, they released Turn Down Day, which reached #16, a song that extolled the virtues of doing nothing on a typical summer's day. With Tom playing the sitar and a choppy piano style, the song simply enhanced The Cyrkle's carefree image.
A phrase from Red Rubber Ball best described the future of The Cyrkle —“ the roller coaster ride we took was nearly at an end.” One minute you're playing Candlestick Park in San Francisco, waiting for The Beatles to take the stage and give their last live concert performance. And what happened the next minute? “I remember most vividly the contrast between Candlestick Park with, what — 50,000 people cheering and screaming,” says Dawes, “and The Cyrkle's next gig two nights later is at some low-life dive in the Catskills in upstate New York, where there were 14 people in the audience, including one guy who's tapping on his water glass and yelling, ‘Hey, keep it down, keep it down, I'm tryin' to eat here!’” (2)
“Once out of that 15-minute bubble, nothing went right. We were heading into the studio one day to work on our second [and last] album when we ran into Paul Simon. He and Art [Garfunkel] were working in the same studio. Paul told us they'd just finished a song he thought would be perfect for us, and said that since they wouldn't be releasing their version of it for months, we could put it out first. But we passed on 59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy).” Harpers Bizarre picked up the song and rode it to # 13 in early 1967. (2)
The Cyrkle continued to record and had four more songs in the lower reaches of the Hot 100. “Coming off the mountain was very difficult,” Dannemann confides. “The last job we played was in the beginning of 1968, at a teenage nightclub somewhere in Pennsylvania. We actually had broken up, but the gig had been booked way in advance. We drove two rented station wagons ourselves and dragged in the equipment. (2)
Danneman stated two reasons why the group broke up. “One is the fact that we were not really exciting personalities. Though we did have a very good college concert, we didn’t draw people. But when people did come, like at a college concert, everybody came because it was the only thing happening on campus that night. So when people came, we were very well received. Standing ovations, wild applause and all that stuff. But we didn’t draw. Second, I think, was a poor choice of material and no proper PR. We broke up in 1967.” (1)
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.
From an unidentified live performance, the Cyrkle performs Red Rubber Ball.
This video features the follow-up hit, Turn Down Day.
Tom Dawes scored the music for this popular Alka Seltzer commercial.
You’ll see Linda Gray in this commercial for Leggs Pantyhose with the music written by Tom.
1) Francos, Robert Barry, FFanzeen, The Cyrkle: We Had A Good Thing Going, March 22, 2010. Link
2) Eskow, Gary, Mix Online, Classic Tracks: The Cyrkle’s “Red Rubber Ball, Link
3) Whitburn, Joel, Billboard Top Pop Singles 1955-2002. Page 167.
4) Classic Bands, The Cyrkle, Link
Don Dannemann and Tom Dawes adding overdubs to Red Rubber Ball.
Photo courtesy of George Schowerer.
© 2017 Jerry Reuss