Saturday, June 1, 2019

Cyrkle Interview With Don Dannemann and Mike Losekamp

The Cyrkle: Shining Again
by Daniel Coston
Published in the spring 2019 edition of The Big Takeover Magazine

Since 1966, the song “Red Rubber Ball” has stayed in the collective conscious of millions of listeners. The band that sang that song, the Cyrkle, made more out of that magical year than most others. A band that originally sang Beatles covers in college, they became the only American group signed by Beatles manager Brian Epstein, named by John Lennon, and became the opening act for the Beatles during their final tour in the summer of 1966, during which “Paperback Writer” kept “Red Rubber Ball” out of the number one spot.

Despite all of this, and being one of the best harmony-pop bands of the era, the Cyrkle’s fortunes seem to fade just as quickly as they appeared. Stellar follow-up singles failed to catch on like “Red Rubber Ball”, or its follow-up “Turn Down Day,” which had placed in the top twenty. The band even found themselves in the unfortunate place of having done the soundtrack for a film, The Minx, that was later released as an X-rated film. 

For fans and collectors, the Cyrkle's catalog has remained a discovery of riches for those willing to dig beyond “Red Rubber Ball.” One of those bands that fans have always wished that they had made one more single, one more album. Over fifty years later, that chance may have finally arrived. 

In 2016, singer and guitarist Don Dannemann rejoined forces with keyboardist Mike Losekamp, who had joined the band through the recommendation of members of the Remains, who had also been on the Beatles tour. Working with members of Losekamp’s other current band, the Gas Pump Jockeys, the Cyrkle have returned with a live CD, with plans for more shows and more recordings. Here, Dannemann and Losekamp tell the story of the Cyrkle, then and now. 

Daniel Coston: How did the Cyrkle get back together? 

Mike Losekamp: Pat McLoughlin, who I played with in the Gas Pump Jockeys, approached me in late 2015 and asked if I was okay with him investigating if the name, The Cyrkle, was still owned by anyone. I said definitely okay by me. Pat found in early 2016 that the name was not owned by anyone and obtained ownership and approval to use it. He asked if I knew how to contact any original Cyrkle members. I did not!

Pat and I sat in my dining room while he dialed number after number for persons named Don Dannemann, to no avail. The last number on Pat’s’ list turned out to be for Don’s ex-wife Eileen, and she answered!  She was able to provide contact info for Don’s son. We texted him and he responded with a contact number for Don. Pat texted Don with my contact info and Don called me one evening! I explained what we wanted to do, asked him if he was interested, and he was, and we proceeded to reunite in October of 2016. We had been able to contact the original drummer [Marty Fried] and keyboardist [Earl Pickens] as well, who both had successful careers outside of music behind them, but they were not interested in being part of a reunited Cyrkle.

Coston: Describe that first show in Columbus in 2016?

Losekamp: The Cyrkle needed a video of the reunited group performing. We decided to invest in a concert in Columbus, Ohio which would be videotaped. We booked the venue, videographers and invited all Cyrkle fans through social media to come enjoy a free concert. On November 17th of 2016, the event took place and was a big success, resulting in our first CD release, “Full Cyrkle” now available on ITunes and all other music websites.  
Coston: How is it to work together again after all these years?

Losekamp: Working with Don has literally been  the same as it was 50 years ago! When you are part of a group and experience some success together a bond is created between the parties involved. The only difference would be how we both expanded our musical knowledge and expertise!

Don Dannemann: When I first saw Mike after 50 years, the first thing I did was give him a hug. And I really enjoyed meeting the rest of the band, and their wives. This is a real band family. 

Coston: Don, talk about the beginnings of the the group. 

Dannemann: Originally, we were the Rhondells at Lafayette College. Four guys, and we started playing Rock & Roll, and we were starting to get jobs. One of those jobs eventually led to us meeting Nat Weiss. Every year, there was a big fraternity party in the gym. They always a standard big band, and a Rock band. And we got hired as the Rock band, and they hired Warren Covington and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. This was the spring of 1964, and we told everybody that we’re gonna do our Beatles show. We wore Beatles wigs, and we did their songs at the time, and it was one of those magic moments. Everybody thought it was great, including Warren Covington. He said, “Maybe we could do something where you become part of the band. You could be part of our band, and you could step out and do your Rock & Roll show.” So we decided to try it, and did a gig together in Atlantic City.

Earl Pickens was a really good keyboard player, but he didn’t have any formal training. So, Warren says, “Earl, play me an E flat arpeggio”, and he didn’t know what that was. They figured out pretty early on that this wasn’t our thing. 
Tom [Dawes, guitarist, bassist and vocalist] played stand-up bass for the gig, and he was having a really hard time with this music. I remember one of the musicians leaned over to Tom, who didn’t know where he was in the song, and said, “It doesn’t matter what you play, just keep thumping.” So the Rhondells/Tommy Dorsey combination didn’t last long, but after that, we decided to follow up and book another show in Atlantic City. And then played there in the following summer. At the end of that summer, most of us had graduated from school, and Tom only had six months to go, so we were going to go our separate ways. This is when Nat Weiss heard us. He was in town for a convention, and he walked into the bar and heard us play.

He introduced himself, and said, “My name is Nat Weiss. I’m a matrimonial lawyer, and I’m good friends with Beatles manager Brian Epstein. We’re going to start a company in America and take on groups. Give me a call.” He gave us his card. We thought he was bullshitting us. We’d had a lot of people promise us stuff.

Later, I’m back in New York, working with my father at a sheet metal company. So I called him, and he said, “Come up to the city, I’ll introduce you to Brian.” So he gives me an address for an apartment on the lower East side, and I go down there to this second floor apartment. Nat eventually arrives, and says, “Come downstairs, I want you to meet Brian.” 

I follow him downstairs, and sure enough, there’s a limo parked out front. Nat beckons me and leads me into the limo. I’m now facing Brian Epstein. Oh, my God. He introduces me by saying, “Brian Epstein, this is Don Dannemann, one of the finest guitar players I know.” We shook hands, and we chit-chatted. Eventually, the limo stops, and Nat beckons me out of the limo. They left, and I watched the limo fade into the night. Fade to black, end of scene. It felt like a movie.

They wanted to hear some recordings, so we set up a studio in my family’s basement in Eastchester, NY and made some demos. We got them together for Nat, and I went to Nat’s apartment. I brought with me my tape recorder, which was a pain to lug around, but I also brought a pair of stereo headphones. This was the fall of 1965. Stereo was around, but most people had not heard it.  The first time you heard stereo through headphones, it sounded amazing. I said to Nat, “Here, listen to these through the headphones. You can hear the songs better.” I hit play, Nat looked up at the ceiling, and his eyes just lit up. I thought, “We got him!” That got us into a few clubs in New York, and then got us signed to Columbia. 

Coston: How did you all find “Red Rubber Ball”?

Dannemann: Tommy Dawes was hanging out in Greenwich Village, and met a guy named Barry Kornfeld, who had a publishing company with Paul Simon. Tom heard a guitar and voice demo of Paul singing “Red Rubber Ball”. Nat had asked us to look for material, and he heard it, and we said, “Okay, let’s try it.” 

Coston: Didn’t Paul Simon also offer you “Feelin’ Groovy”, after “Red Rubber Ball” was a hit?

Dannemann: We came into the studio one day, and Simon & Garfunkel were also in there, just finishing up. Paul Says, “Hey, one of the songs we’re working on for this new album we think would be perfect for you guys. Listen to it. It won’t come out from us for a while, so it’ll be your song. They played it, everyone is bopping around, thinking it was going to be a hit. Then, at that moment, our brains froze, and we looked at each other and said, “Yeah, that’s good, but not right now.” For whatever reason, we didn’t do it. We play it now in our show, and we say, “If we had done it, it would have sounded like this.” And when we play it, you hear a big gasp from the audience, like, “Are you kidding?” 

Coston: Was part of the reason why turned it down because you wanted to have one of your own songs as as a single? Both you and Tom Dawes were starting to write more, by that point?  

Dannemann: We weren’t thinking that far, at that point, but I will say that might have been an influence to make us not think clearly. The next single, “Please Don’t Ever Leave Me”, which we didn’t write, was already planned to be the next single. But yes, that’s a perceptive question, and I think that might have been part of why we didn’t do it. 

Coston: How did you find out about the name change for the Cyrkle?

Dannemann: Brian would come and visit us whenever we were in town. We knew that we were going to have to change the name. Brian visited us one day, and hands me a business card. I looked at it, and he said, “Look at the other side.” I could barely make out what it said. “The Cyrkle”. “The Crikle? I said. “No, the Cyrkle. I was talking to the boys,” and when Brain referred to the Beatles, he called them “The Boys”. “And I told them that we had this new American band, and that they needed a name, and John said, “How about the Cyrkle?” And we all said “Yes, what a great idea.” I had some trouble with the mis-spelling. But I came to like it. I’m the worst memorabilia person in the world. I probably threw the card out the next day. I wish I had it now.

Coston: Don, while “Red Rubber Ball” was going up the charts, you were enrolled in the Coast Guard reserve during the spring of 1966.

Danneman: It was my way to not going to Vietnam, but still being legit. “Red Rubber Ball” was recorded before I went in. While I was in the reserves, “Red Rubber Ball” worked its way up the charts, and became a hit. 

So here I am in boot camp, and when you’re in boot camp, you’re a zero. Somehow, it got communicated to be that had the opportunity to go on Hullabaloo. Could I possibly make it? So I asked the people in charge, and they were really nice. They gave me a three-day pass to be on Hullabaloo. We did the show, and my understanding is that was the last episode of Hullabaloo, before it went off the air. On that show were Peter & Gordon, Lesley Hope, and the host was Paul Anka.

My dad drove me back, and I got back to boot camp early in the morning, no sleep. The show was going to air the following Thursday, and now my credibility is being tested. A lot of us were in the dining room in the evening that the show was supposed to come on. And the whole place erupted. “Wow! Yay, cool!” It was very surreal, watching myself with this whole dining hall erupting. 

Eventually, it comes to our week of assignment. Everyone from my week went onto a Coast Guard cutter. You got on the ship, and off you went. And I begged and pleaded, please, can you get me stationed somewhere in New York? I offered to have play the officers club. “You could have a hit band play your club!” And they said yeah. They stationed me on a buoy tender on Staten Island. 

At night, I would get on the Staten Island ferry, and we would record all night, and then I would be back on the boat the next morning. And we were also doing gigs on the weekends. And not in New York, it was usually get on a plane, and meeting the band somewhere. I would also pay somebody to do my weekend duty. 

This was a six month active duty reserve, then a total of six years inactive duty. I knew that this would be a bit of a pain in the neck, but at least continue the Cyrkle. But the six months ending was going to be too late for the Beatles tour. I was going to miss the tour, and they were in the process of trying to figure out how to replace me for the tour. This is what I refer to as Andy Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame. We were in the middle of that fifteen minutes where everything goes right. What happened was the US government, out of the blue, changed the six month requirement to five. And that let me out just in time for the Beatles tour. 

Coston: Do you remember what you talked about with the Beatles? Did you have the chance to talk to them at length, or was it mostly small talk?

Dannemann: There was a fair amount of small talk. The best example I can give you is when we formally met them for the first time. We had briefly met Paul, and we had already played two shows with them. Before the third show in Cleveland, we were asked, “Would you like to join the boys backstage?” So we go in,  and it was their dressing room. It as not luxurious, but I remember that it had some couches. It was set up like a line. I remember that we had some interaction with John Lennon. “So guys, how did you like your name? I bet that you can’t even spell it yet.” We had a little laugh about that. 

Here’s my impression of how it went. You shake hands, shake hands, shake hands. Ringo looked forlorn, like I don’t belong here, although I’ve gained a lot of respect for Ringo in later years.  He found his own sound with each record. He fine-tuned it, and brought a personality that was way more special than I thought at the time. Paul was that kind of jovial, pleasured smile. John looked sort of introspective. He had his granny glasses on, his legs were folded up. Somehow I ended up in front of George. I ended up on my knees in front of George, who was sitting on this low couch, so we’re face to face. The general conversation went along the lines of, it’s great to meet you. And he was very humble. “He said, it’s amazing that we’ve gotten to this point. It’s hard to believe. I still pinch myself. But it’s great to be here and meet you, and I’m glad that you’re on this tour. It’s great that you’re working with Brian, and that we have the same manager.” It was very warm. Real warmth from him.

So we stated talking about where we were from, and I told him about how I got into music. It was getting very personable. And I took a shot, and I said, “What do you think about marijuana? Is it cool? What do you think about that?” And he thought a bit, and he was about to respond, when the road manager, who was young guy that Nat had hired, is standing behind me. And out of blue, he leans over my shoulder and says, “Hey George, what guitar did you use on “And I Love Her”? And all of a sudden, the conversation went from this really nice, personal conversation, to here’s a silly Beatles fan asking me something that I don’t even remember. And right after that, people came in and said, “Okay, we have to end this.  The concert is coming up.” So it was shake hands, great to talk with you, and out we went.

Coston: Talk about the crowds at the Beatles concert. 

Dannemann: I was afraid that we were going to be booed, or told to get off the stage, but I swear, they said, “Here’s the Cyrkle”, and people cheered. We got a good reception.

One night, we finished our set, and I went out to watch the Beatles play. The woman next to me, I didn’t know her, she was just crying. Imagine the Wizard Of Oz, and the Wizard is behind the curtain, and he’s playing the organ, and every note he hits is sending out an electrical charge to every seat in the audience. Every note, someone gets up and screams. It was powerful.

Coston: In St. Louis, a rainstorm prevented the Beatles from going on, so they played the next day, and they went on first. So the Beatles actually opened for you. 

Dannemann: Yes, they did. They said that rain was threatening [the next day], and the show went on. As we were about to go on, they said, “It looks like it’s gonna rain, and we need to get the Beatles on.” The Beatles went on, and it still wan’t raining when they finished. We thought that we were done. We thought it was a downer, but we did understand. So the Beatles go offstage, and [the promoters] said, “Go on. It’ll be okay.” So my recollection of that, looking up at the stands, was that a lot of people filed out, but a third of the crowd stayed. It was a very enthusiastic third. So you figure, if there was 50, 60 thousand people, we still played for twenty thousand people! It was actually a good concert. 

Coston: Do you remember the first gig you had after the Beatles tour?

Dannemann: My recollection is that it was in Mansfield, Ohio. I do remember that it was an afternoon concert, under cover, but outdoor seating. And almost nobody showed up. It was a real slap in the face. Whoops, back to reality.

My sense of the history of the Cyrkle playing live is that by ourselves, we didn’t draw a huge audience. But if we were playing a larger show with other groups, we always did well. 

Coston: Mike, who were you playing with before the Cyrkle, and how did you join the band?

Losekamp: In early 1965 we formed a group, Mark V, in Dayton, Ohio which was very successful in the Southwestern Ohio area. We had “house gigs” at a couple of nightclubs playing five to six nights each week. That group had a single released in fall 1966 on Counterpart Records called “Hey Conductor.”

The drummer, N. D. Smart, left Mark V and joined the Remains. Through discussions while touring, N. D. found that the Cyrkle was in need of a keyboardist and recommended me to them. I went to New York, auditioned for the group and joined them in mid to late October of 1966.  

Coston: Describe any memorable shows from those days.

Losekamp: In 1967, we were a opening act for The Turtles which I enjoyed. We also appeared on The Mike Douglas Show, Where The Action Is, and The Hollywood Palace which were three popular TV shows of that era. We were able to meet actress Joan Crawford when she hosted Hollywood Palace!

Dannemann: We played with the Turtles several times. They went on to become a much bigger band than us, but early on, I remember that we had an argument about who was going on first. And I can’t remember who won the argument! We had a good time with them.

Coston: Talk about Neon, which was your follow-up album in 1967. That album feels a full band effort.

Losekamp: Recording Neon was a fantastic learning experience for me, as it was the most time I had spent in the studio to that point, and I enjoyed every minute of it! The Neon album included “The Visit”, which was the first lead vocal I did for The Cyrkle.

Dannemann: We were doing Neon, and I remember thinking, “This is going to be really good.” There are some really good songs on there. Tom put together these amazing harmony parts. Good singing, and good playing. I listened to it years later, and then I listened to “Red Rubber Ball” for the first time for a number of years. And “Red Rubber Ball” has a magic that Neon didn’t. It’s really good, but it just lacks a certain magic.

Coston: How did the Cyrkle get involved in The Minx? And did you know what kind of film it was?

Losekamp: Don Dannemann and Tom Dawes were involved with composing the soundtrack before I became a Cyrkle member.  Most of the soundtrack was recorded in 1967.

Dannemann: No. When we were approached to work on it, it was not an X-rated movie. It was originally called Squeeze Play, hence the reference to it in the title song. Later on, we were told that the movie wasn’t that good, and that they had added those extra nude shots to get more attention. I just learned that the film now has a cult following, which is funny to me.

Coston: The Cyrkle also released a number of singles in 1967 and 1968. There’s nearly an entire album there. Did you record them as singles, or were they part of another planned album?

Losekamp: All of those tracks were recorded in 1967 and would have been part of a album had the group stayed together.  

Coston: It sounds like the Cyrkle wound down in 1968, rather than blew up. What were your feelings, at the time?

Losekamp: A lot changed with the death of Brian Epstein. He was the driving force behind several artists, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Cilla Black, Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas, and the Cyrkle, and all were managed by his company NEMS, which besides Epstein also included Robert Stigwood, who managed the Bee Gees and Cream. So I guess I was disappointed, but resolved to the group disbanding due to the loss of his business leadership.

Coston: What did you both do after the Cyrkle? Don, I know that both you and Tom Dawes got into writing songs for commercials. 

Losekamp: After The Cyrkle, I returned home to Dayton, in late January 1968 and formed a group, Green Lyte Sunday, which I stayed with until 1980. We did release one album on RCA Records in early 1970 that included six of my original compositions. That group also toured for a short time with Guess Who, Friends Of Distinction and did a couple of shows opening for Lionel Richie and the Commodores. Since 1980, I have been with several groups. I never quit playing music, working two to four nights each week, in spite of holding down a full time job for 29 years with AT&T .

Dannemann: Again, that was Tommy. As the band was winding down, he made some inroads, and got an assignment to do a 7-Up commercial. So he wrote a 7-Up commercial, and we all recorded it. Written by Tommy, performed by the Cyrkle. (sings” “7-Up, 7-Up, 7-Up, the un-cola.” That gave him the idea that maybe this is a good way to stay in the music business and make a living. So he formed a commercial production company, and realizing what he was doing, I thought, “Maybe I’ll take a shot at this.” So we started our own companies. 

It worked out pretty well. Sometimes, we did come up against each other. The clients would say, “We want you to do some demos. We will pick the winner, and they will do the commercial.” We came up against Tommy a couple of years in a row for Coppertone, and we beat him. I was like, “Beat you, you son of a gun.” And I say that, knowing how good he was. 

A couple of favorites was one that ran for nine or ten years. (sings) “It’s the next best thing to your good cooking. Swanson makes it good.” That was pretty big. I think we did six or seven airlines. My favorite was Continental Airlines “Move Our Tail For You.” We did a lot of kids commercials. We did a bunch of Barbie Doll commercials. “All of your dreams come true with Barbie!” We did a lot of Hasbro. The game Operation. We got one of the really good announcers, who didn’t sing, but I said, “Bob, I think you can do this.” It was kind of zany, (sings) “Operation! And I’m the doctor for you!” 

We were assigned to do a Mr. Potato Head commercial, and the agency said,” I want this to be sung by a kid with no teeth.” Funnily enough, my kid had no teeth at the time. And I said, “Do you think you can sing this?” And he did! He did a great job. (sings) “Oh look at that funny guy, it’s Mr. Potato Head.”

Back when I might have been in fifth grade, I remember listening to my new transistor radio, and I come across Alan Freed’s radio show on WINS, in New York. One of the first songs that I remember hearing was called “Church Bells May Ring.” One day, a music person that we dealt with from one of the big agencies in New York, he said, “Hey Don, I’m coming over, I’m going to do a demo.” He comes in, and he brings this guy. This guys says, “Don, I want you to meet Tony Middleton, from the Willows.” Who sang “Church Bells May Ring.” Wow! Are you kidding? What he wanted to do was a version of the Twist. It was for Brim Coffee, and it was the Brim Twist. “That’s the Brim Twist!” It was a big commercial. We did it really, really quickly. I could play guitar. I learned how to play real drums without playing the kick drum, and then I would get on my hands and knees and overdub the bass drum. Then added bass, keyboards, or whatever. Tony Middleton sang the lead, and I sang the background with two other people that I worked with, at the time. 

Usually, you would do a demo, and it would go back to the agency, there would lots of discussions, and then you would finally book a final session. This one, the demo went to the agency, and it went right on the air. 

Coston: Tell me about the double-neck guitar and bass that Tom Dawes played.

Dannemann: That goes back to the Rhondells days at Lafayette College. Tom and I played guitar, Earl played electric keyboard, and Marty played drums. We had conversations about, “Gee, we should get a bass player.” Tommy went out and bought a double-neck guitar. One was a regular six-string guitar, and the other was a regular bass guitar, and he would go back and forth between each. Later, we also got a regular bass, and Earl learned to play the bass. So the combination would always be, I’m always on electric, Tommy is on bass, Earl on keys, or Tommy is on guitar, and Earl is on bass. And we went back and forth, so we always had a bass.

Tommy became really creative with his bass parts, like McCartney. He’d play different lines, and I used to get mad at him. “Tommy! That’s not the bass line.” But he couldn’t hold himself down. It was part of his DNA. It was his creativity that created the basslines for “Turn Down Day”. Kudos to Tommy for that.

Coston: Talk a bit about Tom Dawes. 

Dannemann: He was a full fledged comedic wise guy. If you were going to spend any time with him, you could count on some laughs.  Very dedicated to getting things right. We prided ourselves, as the Rhondells, on doing Beatles and Beach Boys songs, and doing them really well. I remember him coming to me one day, and he said, “I finally got the part to this song.” He had spent all night getting this Beach Boys song that required some work. He would stay up night with his headphone on with a stereo record, trying to figure it out. That’s the kind of guy he was.

When he died in 2007, we had been talking about getting a band back together. We were both retired by this point, so let’s play. We were really up for it. The concept is that anybody in this band can’t need money. They can retired, or be okay without making a lot of money. The next thing was that when we do play, there has to be enough money to hire a roadie, because we don’t want to lug anything around, and have just enough money to drink a few beers afterwards. We hadn’t even decided on a name.

So he and his wife, who was also a jingle writer, they were going to visit us in Pennsylvania. They were still living in New York. And he calls and he says, “I just came back from the doctor, and he wants me to immediately go into the hospital to have corotid artery surgery. I don’t think it’s that big a deal, supposedly it’s a 45-minute operation, then you stay overnight.” And he died on the operating table. Some complications, I’m still not clear what it was. I just remember crying on the phone with Earl [Pickens]. And Earl became a surgeon in Gainesville, Florida. And we were really sad. Tom was a really great guy.

Coston: What you would have said in 1966, and what you would say now?

Dannemann: If it had been in 1966, it would have been. “Hey, this is Don Dannemann. We’re glad to be on the Beatles tour, and meet the boys, and play for these big crowds. It’s cool for us college guys to now have a couple of hits, and having this great experience. And thank you for listening.”

For the now, when Red Rubber Ball came out, I thought, “It’s cool, it’s cute.” I was not even sure that it deserved to be the big hit that it was. Since we’ve had the revival of the Cyrkle, and I’ve been paying attention to the experience of the song, and singing the song again, and talking to people after the shows, I have found that this cutesy song was a major piece of work that had a genuine influence in people’s lives. 

One example was a guy that came up to me after a show, and shook my hand and said, “Thank you.” And I said, “You’re welcome. Why?” And he said, I want you to know that ‘Red Rubber Ball’ got me through a really nasty divorce.” It just gave me the confidence to get through it.” Another example was another guy that came up and said, “I was in Vietnam, and we had a little electric tape recorder, and on it was ‘Red Rubber Ball’. And I can’t tell how many battles that song got us through.” We both got tears in our eyes, and we hugged.

The bottom line of it is that I would say to Cyrkle fans now, is that I had no idea at the time how meaningful “Red Rubber Ball” was, in thousands of people’s lives. Most of whom I may never get to meet, but at least with this revival, I will get to meet some of them, and share the experience. And thank you for listening! I’m honored to be a part of a very small fraternity of people that not only have had hit records, but actually had meaning in people’s lives. 

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