1964-1965 - The Beginnings
While still in high school at Cambridge High, probably sometime during 1964, three members of the Class of 1965 decided that they would like to learn to play the guitar. Music was being influenced by the Beach Boys, The Beatles, and a host of other bands.
Joe Brocato, Steve Tyler and Greg White would soon be passing around among each other, an old guitar....borrowed from one of Joe's friends who really knew how to play.
Every other day or so, the guitar would travel from person to person, along with books showing how to make chords, and the basis for a band would start to form. A band that would, in the years to come, captivate many Cambridge teens and become a local drawing card.
Bill Handley, who in the 10th grade was also learning how to play the guitar using his father’s acoustic and playing in a folk group, was also learning some bass. After a few misadventures with drummers, it was decided that Bill would give up the bass and move to the drums, thus becoming the first full time drummer.
After becoming more adept, Steve Tyler soon picked up the bass and also offered his parent's kindergarten building as a place to practice. Thus, the same location that had seen the young men set off chain reactions with 2 x 4 blocks, would be the basis for a chain reaction that would go off among the future teens of Cambridge.
Instruments would come from borrowed sources, or The Dixie Bargain Center-a local pawn shop. Since a band is comprised of more than guitars, others who played an instrument were also invited to sit in.
Scott Frey, (deceased) a classmate who knew some guitar, sat in at times, along with another classmate, Doug Turner - who had a drum set and knew how to play them. Inspired by a group from Delaware - The Dimensions - who would be featured many weekends at the Yacht Club, they decided to form their own band. Soon, songs such as Hully Gully, Wipe Out, and La Bamba would soon emanate from the kindergarten building.
Woody Pliescott also offered drumming services when Doug was not available, but due to his involvement in working at his father's plant, and also in local and national powerboat racing, he dropped out. After Doug decided that he also did not have time for music, the core group decided to make some changes.
It was at this time that Bill Handley switched to take over the drumming chores, while Steve Tyler became the bass player for the group, leaving Joe and Greg on guitars, along with Scott. The group was born and called themselves The High Five.
After learning enough songs to "get by" they decided that the kindergarten was not the only place that they would like to be heard. Soon classmates like Dee Mathews and Susan Pink along with Susan Beach and David Bambrick, would hire them to play at their birthday party. One such "gig" offered them the whole sum of $10 for the party....$2 each! Another time, they played at the Legion for a 16th birthday party for Susan White...Greg's sister. A video has surfaced of probably, the earliest known clip of the band, practicing in Sunny Day Kindergarten. It can be viewed here Early Video (Clip compliments of the Tyler family.) It appears the drum head says The Gremlins, and the name of the drummer is unknown at this time. Left to right, Steve, Joe, Bill, Mystery Man, Greg.
Scott decided that the group was not for him, and it became a 4 piece group, with a name change. They would now be known as The Gremlins, due to the fact that much of the music they played was surfer music, and surfers were often plagued by "gremlins." It was a cute name, and believed to be acceptable.
By now, they were seniors and graduation was at hand, with college in the future. All enrolled at local universities in Baltimore and College Park...well within driving distance of Cambridge on the weekends. And, each weekend that they could, they arrived back in Cambridge to learn new songs, and even play on Saturday night at locales such as the Armory, the Legion or some country club.
They were making money and having fun. The "teen scene" around Cambridge often consisted of attending a dance with The Gremlins providing the entertainment. Other local bands were also hitting the scene, and the competition had begun.
With jobs appearing on the shore in Easton, Chestertown, Salisbury at the Club Hullabaloo, in College Park at Ritchie Coliseum and other places and Baltimore, they were honing the skills that would push them to the front of the line in the Cambridge area.
The college scene also provided the opportunity to view a higher class of local band in the D.C. area, and one of the favorite hang outs to travel to was The Bayou...a club that would later be famous for hosting/starting many bands who eventually found national recognition. The house band at that time was The Telstars, and they became mentors and an inspiration that influenced and stirred the performances of The Gremlins.
A local businessman, Edwin Travers was inspired by the group and their ability to attract the hoards of teenagers each weekend, to a location where the teens seemed to have "fun" and for the most part, stay out of trouble. There were still incidents of drinking and fighting and perhaps other activities not deemed socially acceptable, but the events were, for the most part, good clean fun. But they were not monitored that well.
Travers had the idea that given the proper venue, and management, the dances could be held to provide a place for the teens to come to, and also perhaps a little money could be made. He approached the band with the idea of opening up an old bar on Rt. 16 and holding Saturday night dances there.
The club would be called The Carousel and would be open to the younger crowd....a place where teens could drive to, or parents could drive their kids to and drop them off, and a night of fun could be had by all.
The band - consisting of Bill, Joe, Steve and Greg - knowing that this would provide steady employment and an opportunity to do what The Telstars were doing....honing their skills......jumped at the opportunity. Renovations were made, a stage was built and wired, walls painted, and a teenage haven was born. The Carousel opened to the public on September 2nd. The Gremlins would play there for years to come and entertain hundreds of teens on Friday and Saturday nights, with the parking lot and the road filled with cars. In the summer, dances were held on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights - and usually Friday and Saturday nights in the winter! Pictures can be seen here Carousel Eventually, another local and a class member from 1965, Ricky Cannon, who sang and played organ, was asked if he would join. At that point, Rick became a member of The Gremlins, and a valuable asset to the band's performance, increasing the group to five members. Their popularity only grew as time went on, and The Carousel was the place to be. Here are pictures of the 5 piece Gremlins 5 Pieces and after Steve left
The business of college and playing started to take its toll on band members. Steve Tyler, who was attending John's Hopkins University at the time, decided that the band was taking more of his time than he could spare, and he opted out of the band to pursue his education. This left the group with a hole. Joe decided that he would start learning the bass to take that position, putting the group back to four members.
THE JOB - 1968
Like most groups in the day, the band aspired to do bigger and better things. It was great to have a steady job at a local club....but one at a larger, more well known club would be better, and perhaps the opportunity to be "discovered." It was decided that the group would audition at a club in Virginia Beach for the opportunity to be the house band for the summer. After the audition was over, the next week a call arrived in Cambridge to inform the group that they had the job if they wanted it...and they said yes.
Publicity photos were needed and a professional sitting at a studio took care of most of those, while "stunt" photos were taken to highlight the character of the group. Plans were made to spend the summer "at the beach." Photos here
Before this could be done, one day Rick made an announcement. He would not be going to Virginia Beach to play. He had personal reasons. Needless to say, this was a bomb shell. A unanimous decision was made to reform the group, looking for a singing guitar or organ player. What would this mean for the future of the group?
ANOTHER MAJOR TRANSITION
The Gremlins were lucky, in that another local boy, John Johnstone was available and he could sing, play organ and guitar. It was a great find for the band. The fall and the winter/spring allowed the group to "get used" to each other and the sounds only got better. The following grew and the attendance was huge. Cambridge had a band to be proud of and the kids followed them from venue to venue.
E. S. GRIT
The four piece group worked hard, and around January-February of 1969, decided to rename the group...a risky move since the name was well known. Members tried to come up with a name that would be catchy and attractive.
The final decision was to use a name suggested by Joe Brocato....E.S. GRIT, which supposedly stood for "eastern shore dirt." Joe had delivered The Grit newspaper and he came up with the name while looking at it one day. Thus the birth of a new name to go with the same hard driving sounds that they were known for.
The band now had Joe, Bill and Greg who started the original group, and John. While they still enjoyed the work at The Carousel, another chapter in the history of the band was about to be written. Photos here
D.C. – THE CRAZY HORSE 1969
A contact was made with a Dave Williams who managed The Crazy Horse on M Street in Washington. The owner of that club, needed a band for the summer at another club he owned on the street, The Blue Max.
It was decided that the Grit would relieve the house band at The Crazy Horse on the Sunday night that they took off. That would be the Grit's “audition” for the M street- Blue Max gig. After playing that Sunday night, they received a call telling them they had the job…but not at The Max! They were to be the new house band at The Crazy Horse, a job that would last about 16 weeks during the summer of 1969. Photos here
It was during these months that the group really tightened up the performance skills and harmonies that they were known for. At one point, they decided not to take off for two of the Sundays allowed, and played for 20 straight days! The only drawback was Dave Williams constantly pulling on his right ear lobe….which was the signal for “turn it down, you are too loud!”
After the stint in D.C. they returned to Cambridge to again play. It was also a time when they thought about the future. Many locals took an interest in the group, and it was thought that commercials could be done for various businesses in the area, with the ads being played on the radio. Greg and John had attempted to write a few songs, but with no real backing, nothing had come of it. John put his attempts to the commercials.
E. S. GRIT POST GREG
Joe Brocato had left college, and was now looking at marriage and a child. Bill Handley was already married and had a child, John Johnstone had not made a decision regarding school, and Greg White - who got married in September of 1969 - was set to graduate, in January of 1970, from Maryland with a teaching degree, along with a full time job teaching in the D.C area.
The group had finished a stint at the Club 1320, outside of D.C. in Virginia, in late July to early August of 1970, and returned to Cambridge and planned to play the Carousel and other venues in Maryland that fall.
Sometime in the Fall of 1970, after starting back to teaching in September, Greg made the tough decision to get out of the band, since the other members felt that to get ahead, it would take a more professional approach to travel and playing. With the possibility of the draft looming if the teaching job were lost, Greg made the decision to stay with teaching.
He made a few attempts to play part time with others, among them Bob Davis (who went on to play with area bands, and now plays in Transfuzion) and Don Jones in a group called Three Penny Opera, but nothing further would ever come of it, and he stopped playing for the public around 1972.
E. S. GRIT version 2
By late Fall of 1970, the other three had incorporated Steve Woolston into the group to take over the lead guitar position, forming the second version of E.S Grit. That continued until the next big shake up, only a few months later, in 1971. A sad situation.
After taking a few months after Greg left, and forming a great group, the guys were on their way...until fate intervened. They continued to play, until Feb 6th of 1971. That was the day that Joe Brocato died in a tragic manner when he was accidently shot. This left not only a hole in the hearts of band members, past and present, who felt like they lost a brother, but a hole in the band that possibly, could not be filled.
E. S. GRIT version 3
After the death of Joe, a bassist was needed. After a period of mourning, a decision was made that, since a replacement drummer could be found in the form of David Lewis, Bill Handley would move to bass position – the spot he had played originally back in 1964 - and take over Joe’s duties there. The group was now four again, and could move forward after some work to reorganize the act. Thus, the new group was now the founding member Bill, along with John, Steve and David.
They could often be found playing at club in Cambridge owned by Jim Gabriel, called The Bourbon Barrel. Joe Brocato’s sister, Bonnie, remembers going there many nights to hear them play, and also remembers them using David Lewis’ parent’s house to practice and refine the routines.
Thoughts were given to recording a record and trying to “break into the big time.” Others had done it, why not them?
E. S. GRIT version 4
Later, when more of the Allman Brothers songs were introduced into the line up, a second drummer – Jamie Brohawn, another local lad from Cambridge, who was only 15 at the time – was introduced. Practice was done in a studio they had constructed, behind the Bourbon Barrel. This, like the time the earlier group played at the Crazy Horse in D.C. help them to get really tight as a group. John and David were doing most of the lead singing chores at this time.
Arrangements were made, and the boys traveled to New York, where working with a sound engineer named Dixon VanWinkle - who became a friend to the band - they laid down tracks that would be mixed to create a record. The studio was home to many famous artists, and they met Peter, Paul and Mary, James Taylor, Paul Simon and others.
In the later years in New York, Warren Stubbs - another Class of ’65 member- was invited to come up and write a few songs for the band which were recorded, including “Long Sleep.” Several other trips were made to record over a period of time. It was proposed to the band that they could possibly be an opening act for the band Foghat, but this did not happen.
More of The Later Years
Until a meeting of older, surviving members can be arranged, to document the years after the mid 1970’s, the history will continue below with events of the last couple of years. Contact me if you have information. Greg White
It should be noted that John died Feb. 24th, 1991 and the replacement drummer, David Lewis, died in 2013.
At present, that leaves Handley, Woolston and Brohawn to fill in the blanks after Brocato's death in 1971. Please email if you have any memorabila that can be posted on this site. Also, feel free to leave your memories and comments in the Guest Book on any page. More below:
Post 2005 - The Reunion of earlier members
When it was time for the Class of 1965 to have a 40th reunion in 2005, the idea was tested to see if a band reunion could also be done. Former members of the past bands,
Doug Turner, Ricky Cannon, Steve Tyler and Greg White met one March day in Cambridge to see if they could still keep time, and to see if they would be able to play a song or two for the event. Three had met originally in the kindergarten about 1964, to form the original band that played as the Hi Five, and later as The Gremlins, while Ricky was added later on, as spoken of above. Greg White, a founder, was in the band when the name was changed to E.S. Grit. It made sense for them to play the reunion!
This expanded to weekly practices, and the addition of songs, until it was decided that the group would now be the entertainment for the event, and the DJ was canceled!
Songs were learned (relearned since they had played them many years ago) and the deed was done in August of 2005 at Suicide Bridge Restaurant. The evening was deemed a success and all had a great time, while the group played for the class and a group of family and past admirers. For a short moment, the class was able to "travel back in time" to the days of their cherished youth. Photos here
After the reunion, hurricane Katrina hit, and it was decided to add another classmate, Mike Baker who played keyboards and sang, to the array and a dance was arranged in November with the proceeds to benefit the American Legion in New Orleans. The dance was held at the American Legion on Rt. 50 in Cambridge, the same place that several members had played in their youth when entertaining the teen community that supported their efforts to play. After the band took the stage and played that evening, several thousand dollars were raised and forwarded to the Legion.
2007 - Birthday Party
The next time the five would meet, would be to play for a birthday party, the same type of event that helped launch the group way back when. This party was to celebrate, in 2007, the members of the class turning 60 years of age. It also was a great success and brought the guys together again. Then, they laid down their instruments for a time.
2009 - Social Security Party
In 2009, they again reunited for the class to play at a "Welcome to Social Security Party" in the year that they all turned 62 years of age. Again, it could be said that a great time was had by all. The former band members were honored that former drummer/bassist and founding member Bill Handley, was able to attend these functions to see the group in action again.
And since then, there has been no Rock & Roll music made by former members of the original band as a unit, though some have carried on individually. It should be noted that Steve Woolston (click for more) has continued on in later years with several bands, notably Golden Touch, and original member, Greg White has been playing during 2013 - 2015 in the lower Eastern Shore area, in a trio that plays '60's rock and roll. The group is called Days Gone By. Click here to view information; Days Gone By
More Grit data will appear above when the information is summarized by former members.
Thank you to all who have visited this site, and who have kept the memories of the band alive. Speaking for all past members affiliated with the band, it was a privilege and a pleasure playing for so many fans, for all of those years! Please tell others about this site.
Until the next chapter is written, so long. Thank you. Greg White
Contributors to this history:
Bonnie Brocato Bidwell
Betty Jean Johnstone