They were just Attleboro school kids. When The Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan show in February 1964, their lives, like so many millions of others, were changed forever. Within days, they were wearing their hair long in front and soon, buying zip suede boots.
Two years later, these kids - 14, 15, 16 - became their own garage band, "The Velvet Dandelion."
In you lived anywhere around Attleboro in the mid-1960s, you would remember them.
The band began as "The Lost Soles" in 1966 with Dave Haslehurst, Dana Davis, Lee Holbrook and Guy Blaser. Kenny Pelletier replaced Blaser on drums in late 1966. The band name changed to "The Vipers," before finally becoming "The Velvet Dandelion." Ronnie "Rocket" Ritchotte, a 12-year-old guitar prodigy, came on board in 1967; Holbrook left in 1968 and was replaced by Ritchie Raposa on bass guitar.
Dave Witherall, a photographer at The Sun Chronicle, was their manager.
Shown in fascinating yellowed newspaper clippings and photos, wearing both Beach Boys clothing and a boyish sensibility, their influences were The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Bee Gees, The Buckinghams, The Byrds, Jimi Hendrix and Cream.
The fresh-faced kids played in churches and fairs and anywhere their parents consented to drive them to enter Battle of the Bands contests which were held almost monthly at places like Rocky Point and Crescent Park.
Kenny Pelletier, now in his late 50s, spoke for them. He left Attleboro in 1976 and has resided in Sugar Land, Texas, for decades. Pelletier has been a worship song leader and guitarist in his church for the past 22 years, has recorded CDs of worship songs and was a weekend DJ on a Christian radio station in Houston for more than 16 years.
SUN CHRONICLE: Tell me about the quality of the rock era in Attleboro in 1966. There were some great musicians spawned there then, I've been told.
KENNY PELLETIER: Attleboro was a great place to grow up in the '60s. From the moment The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan on Feb. 9, 1964, our town was affected. I remember going to Brennan Junior High, and the very next day some boys were already beginning to wear their hair "Beatle" style.
Many youth in the Attleboro area were affected by the British invasion, and bands started to spring up. It was a cool thing to be a part of a band, not just from the pleasure of rehearsing to make good music together and the joy of performing it on stage, but to get the girls to notice you!
Our band would spend a lot of time together even when we weren't rehearsing. We would hang out at Bud White's Music Shoppe, take the bus from downtown Attleboro to Pawtucket to go to Ray Mullins music store, and just dream about the new guitars and drums we'd like to have if we could only afford it!
SC: Did you get so many gigs because there were so many 'Battle of the Band' venues where you could play?
PELLETIER: The gigs came to us from a number of sources. 'Battle of the Bands' were very popular in the greater Attleboro area at the time, and we performed in a number of them. That gave us great exposure.
Our manager Dave Witherall got us some gigs. Everyone in school knew the kids who were in bands, and our name got spread around by those means. We played at a lot of Attleboro school dances, church dances, etc., but only got around as far as Fall River and the Newport Navy Y.M.C.A. Our parents would only transport us and our equipment so far.
SC: So, you didn't have any band vehicles?
PELLETIER: Just my dad's 1961 Chevy station wagon and the trunks of the other dad's cars.
SC: Did you ever regret the band's final name or want a change?
PELLETIER: We never regretted the name. However, on the face of my bass drum, the name was too long to print, so I only had the letters 'V D' on it. I remember my dad was not very pleased about this, but we were young and naive. This was at the beginning of the hippie and psychodelic era, and the name seemed to fit with the times.
SC: Please give me a set list sample of the songs you would play.
PELLETIER: "My Back Pages," "Bring It On Home to Me, "Do You Believe In Magic?," "Knock On Wood," "Sunshine Of Your Love," "Walkin' The Dog, "You Can't Do That," "In My Own Time," "Hey Baby (They're Playin' Our Song)," "Mr. Tambourine Man," "I Can See For Miles," "September Wind" (original song by K. Pelletier).
SC: Where did you rehearse?
PELLETIER: My cellar, Dave's rumpus room and Dana's bomb shelter.
SC: Did your kid band make any fashion statements?
PELLETIER: We all bought suede "Beatle" boots that zipped up the back, but I can't recall any other clothing.
SC: What were your best and worst gigs?
PELLETIER: Best gig: June 22, 1968, the Fall River Arts Festival. We played several sets throughout the day and did great, got great publicity.
Gig from Hell: Feb.17, 1968, Battle of the Bands at St. Mary's Center, Norton. Placed 7th out of 7 bands. We were the first band to perform, and then right afterwards, packed up our equipment and went over to Murray Universalist Church in Attleboro to play at a "Speakeasy" dance. There, we played great.
SC: Do you remember your last gig, before the band broke up?
PELLETIER: Yes. Oct. 18, 1968, Welfare Hall dance, Attleboro.
SC: You left the city 32 years ago. Do you have any idea where these guys are now?
PELLETIER: Lee passed away in 2002, leaving a wife and four kids. I had had no contact with Lee, Ritchie or Ronnie since I left Attleboro in 1976 and took a transfer from Augat Inc. to one of their subsidiaries here in Houston.
Dana Davis has written many songs over the years. He performed in other local bands such as Whiskey Run and the Davis-Greene band (with Joel Greene) before retiring that band in 1981. He later owned a remodeling/construction company, and became a Luthier. He is currently enjoying life in Norton, as far as I know.
Dave Haslehurst was last known (by me) working in Attleboro as a fireman and plasterer.
Lee Holbrook played with numerous bands, and later in life moved to Fort Collins, Colo., where he played bass in "Rounder" and the "Book 'Em Danno" bands.
Ronnie "Rocket" Ritchotte went on to great success as a guitarist. He has performed with Cher and Les Dudek in Black Rose; played and toured with Ricki Lee Jones; was the lead guitarist with Steppenwolf from 1985-1993; has played with David Lee Roth and went on tour with Lou Gramm of Foreigner. Ronnie was only 12 when in 'The Velvet Dandelion,' and at that age was already a brilliant guitarist.
Richie Raposa, I'm told, became a recording engineer and was involved in recordings done by Tony Danza, Schooner Fare, John Kay and David Lee Roth. He has been involved in programming, keyboards, vocals, engineering and mixing.
I, for the time being, am no longer in radio. I left KSBJ at the end of 2007 to spend more time with my wife and my sister, who left Attleboro to live with us after mom died. I was in radio in Houston for 16 years, all with Christian radio stations.
I was blessed to be with the Morningstar Radio Network for 18 months and was being heard in 60 cities coast-to-coast. They later moved to Nashville. I was able to be heard all over the world through the wonders of the internet on KSBJ for 11 years. I would get e-mails from people all over the world listening in. It was very humbling.
In closing, I'm so thrilled that you have allowed me to bring back a part of Attleboro's past to today's pages of the Sun Chronicle. I hope this brings back some great memories to the folks who lived in Attleboro during this exciting time.
Thanks again for allowing me the opportunity to share this.
JAMES A. MEROLLA can be reached at 508-236-0431 or at email@example.com.