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South County '60s band releases CD

Album recorded at Abbey Road studios in London

The Aerovons spent three months in 1969 recording at Abbey Road studios. The Aerovons were popular at St. Louis night spots in the late 1960s and early 1970s. (click for larger version)
Memories of the Aerovons, a legendary Beatles-inspired band that was popular throughout St. Louis in the late '60s and early '70s have been resurrected in the wake of RPM Records' release of the all-but-forgotten album the group recorded in 1969.

For members of the band who grew up around south county, it's a continuation of an unusual story full of potential and irony — the stuff of dreams.

"We called the album Resurrection when we recorded it in 1969,'' said singer and songwriter Tom Hartman, who led the band when it recorded at EMI Records' Abbey Road studios when he was 17. "The fact that it sat in a vault for more than 30 years before they decided to release it is just a coincidence. A lot of things about that band seem to be serendipity.''

Hartman, who turned 52 Oct. 2, still remembers Jan. 20, 1964, and his race across icy sidewalks and blowing snow drifts on his way home from the Lindbergh School District's Truman Junior High School.

The Aerovons perform in concert. (click for larger version)
"My mom told me she was going to Famous-Barr that day and I knew they were releasing 'Meet the Beatles,' so I asked her if she would pick up a copy,'' Hartman said. "When I got home she told me she was too busy for that kind of thing. I was crestfallen. But when I got in my room, there it was on my bed.

"I played it over and over that night,'' he remembered.

Five years later, he and the Aerovons were recording in the same studio as the Beatles.

Looking back, Hartman said he must have come off as an exuberant fan when interacting with his idols.

He recalled the band's tour of the Abbey Road studio after the Aerovons signed a contract with EMI when he first met Beatles guitarist George Harrison.

"We were all dressed in fashion gear we had purchased from Carnaby Street,'' Hartman said. "George was working in a sound room above Studio II and I saw him looking at us through the glass. I figured what have I got to lose, and motioned for him to come down. He disappeared from the window and I figured, well that did it. "But he stuck his head out of the door and asked if we were with a magazine, my mom was carrying her camera,'' Hartman recalled. "He came down the steps and said: 'Hi, I'm George.' I said: 'I'm Tom,' and we talked for about 20 minutes — mostly about guitars.

"Talking with him, I realized that the songs I was playing over and over in my room were just another day at the office for him,'' he said. "He didn't recall much. I probably knew more about the songs they produced than he did as we stood talking.''

Paul McCartney was taken by the band's business card when Hartman met him at the Speakeasy, a private night club that was the epicenter of London's late '60s pop culture. EMI music executives got them inside where guitarist Jimi Hendrix was playing. Actor Michael Caine and singer Diana Ross were among the celebrities present that night.

He struck up a conversation with McCartney when they passed in an aisle. McCartney signed some of the band's business cards as souvenirs, but kept one for himself when he saw its inscription.

"It said 'the smashing English sound,' but he knew we were from America. He said: 'The smashing English sound from America,' and asked if he could keep one of our cards. Of course, we said yes.

"It was a dream come true,'' Hartman said from his home in Pompano Beach, Fla. He still has the card McCartney autographed and he, like McCartney, still is in the music business.

He has composed music for Blockbuster Video television commercials, the Home Shopping Club and most recently a modern rendition of "What the World Needs Now'' for Sandals' Bahamian Resort Spa.

"When you're a musician, you take just about every job that comes along just to pay the mortgage,'' Hartman said with a chuckle.

His wife, Karen, is a singer and several of his five children, ages 1 through 12, are showing an interest in one musical instrument or another. Hartman happily is giving them lessons, thankful they are interested in music.

He hopes his children won't have similar experiences he did as a teenager pursuing an interest in music.

"I remember when we were freshmen at Mehlville High School,'' Lemay Fire Protection District Board of Directors Chairman Jim Stonebraker recalled. "There wasn't a day that went by when someone didn't want to beat him up because he had a Beatles haircut. The worst was the day there was a group of them waiting outside for him to leave.

"We went to the principal and asked him to help get us past the gang waiting outside and the guy just looked out the window grinning. He said if he was their age, he'd probably be out there too.''

Hartman still remembered the incident.

"Yeah, but a few years later all those guys had long hair, too,'' Hartman said. "We converted most of them.''

Hartman wrote each of the 12 songs on the Aerovons' original album. The CD released this summer contained four bonus tracks — their single, "Train''; its B-side "Song for Jane''; "Here'' — a previously unreleased tune that Hartman recently updated; and the demo track "World of You'' that got them their EMI deal.

The professionally produced version of "World of You'' leads the CD followed by the title track "Resurrection,'' "Say Georgia,'' "With Her,'' "Quotes and Photos,'' "Words From a Song,'' "Bessie Good-heart,'' "Something of Yours,'' "She's Not Dead,'' "The Years,'' "Everything's Alright,'' "The Children'' and the four bonus songs complete an album Hartman's group recorded so long ago it sometimes seems like a dream.

The British rock magazine New Musical Express ranks "Resurrection'' eighth on its top-10 releases of the summer.

Without knowing anything about the band, it's easy to see the Beatles' influence on the musicians who made it. Stonebraker, who until recently was among a handful of people who had ever heard the music, said the band covered acts like the Who, the Bee Gees, the Beach Boys and the Hollies in its St. Louis-area live performances.

Despite what some reviewers have criticized as a naive reliance on '60s-era studio effects, the music has a melodic quality that still speaks to listeners in 2003.

Band members returned from three months of recording in London in the fall of 1969 and the wheels fell off their dream after drummer Mike Lombardo left the group to try and patch up a marriage strained by months of absence. Second guitarist Bob Frank had left the group before it went to England fearing he was about to be drafted and sent to Vietnam.

"EMI said: 'Look, you've already lost two members,''' Hartman recalled. "'How are you going to be able to tour and promote this record?' They offered to go ahead with it if I would agree to move back to London and let them build a band around me or they said I could be one of their staff producers.

"But living in London is a lot different than living in St. Louis and that sounded crazy,'' he said. "Professionally, it was frustrating because we had all come so far. We were all such good friends.''

EMI shelved the recording after Hart-man declined to return to London.

Hartman kept playing concerts in the St. Louis area at venues like Rainy Days, Bruno's Bat Cave in Festus, Castaways in Berkeley and "The Last Train to Clarksville'' that featured local acts who entertained party-goers on regular jaunts from St. Louis to Clarksville, Mo.

His mother, Maurine, who acted as his manager, took him to Los Angeles after his return from London. He did some recording for Bell Records. But the label never promoted him, and they returned to St. Louis. Because of the time he spent in London recording his album, Hartman had to quit Bayless High School and eventually got a GED, which allowed him to enroll in Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville in 1972.

"No one would have believed I recorded an album at Abbey Road studios, but I did play it sometimes for friends,'' Hartman said. "I got really involved with this girl and that softened the blow. I transferred my emotions to her.''

In 1975, he moved to Florida and finished his music degree at the University of Miami. He has been in Florida ever since.

"I'm going to come back and visit St. Louis someday. It's been over 25 years since I've been there,'' Hartman said. "I'm going to take my kids to 7938 Kammerer Ave. and show them where all the Aerovons' songs were written. I'll take them to the Crestwood shopping center. I hung out there a lot. I can't take them to the 66 Drive-In, I hear that's gone now.''

Hartman never dreamed his album would ever be released, but just before last Christmas English rock critic Kieron Tyler contacted him for an article he was doing about his album being bootlegged all over Europe. Tyler's article spurred RPM to officially release the recording and the buzz has been growing ever since.

"It could have been sitting in EMI's music library forever and no one ever hear it,'' Hartman said. "It makes you feel real good to know that people are going to enjoy it after all these years.''

Had it been released in 1969, it would have beat the group Badfinger's Beatles-inspired release by a year and could have taken its place in music lore. Musically, Hartman said he's gotten much better with age, but the success of "Resurrection'' doesn't make him want to form a new band.

"If it had been released, the band would have broken up by now, and by now, the money would have been spent,'' Hartman said. "In a way, it may be good that things went the way they did. If there is any lesson in my experience, I guess it's that you should believe in yourself and your dreams.''

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