The Wheels (The Wheel-a-Ways)


The Wheels, l-r: Victor Catling, Rod Demick, Brian Rossi, Tito Tinsley and Herbie Armstrong
all photos and clippings courtesy Victor Catling
Brian Rossi – organ, piano and vocals
Rod Demick – rhythm guitar and vocals
Herbie Armstrong – lead guitar
Tito Tinsley – bass
Victor Catling – drums

Updated September 2013

The Wheels came out of the same Belfast band scene as Them, playing at the famous Maritime Hotel in College Square North.

They began as the Golden Eagles, fronted by the charismatic singer Brian Rossi (Brendan Rosebotham, as noted on the songwriting credits to “Bad Little Woman”) and house band for the Plaza, one of the circuit of dance halls owned by the Mecca company. Van Morrison briefly played saxophone with the Eagles – previously he and Herbie Armstrong had been in the Manhattan Showband together. Some time after changing their name to the Wheels they were fired from the Plaza and in September 1964 began a club residency in Blackpool in northern England (just above Liverpool), where they built a strong following while sharing a house with the Rockin’ Vicars. In 1965 the Wheels’ rhythm guitarist Kit Carson quit the band, to be replaced by Rod Demick of Tony and the Telstars with Tony G. Ford, Robert Green, Ernie Graham and Chris Stewart.

EMI Columbia signed them to a singles deal in 1965. All three of their releases would be produced by Tommy Scott (Thomas Kilpatrick), a young Glaswegian who had been working with Them since producing “All For Myself”, the flip to Them’s third single “Here Comes the Night”.


The Wheels’ first recording, “Don’t You Know”
This label is the flip of the US release of “Bad Little Woman”, February 1966

Rossi ‘hopes to make his disc debut with a Van composition, ‘Gloria'”

At their first session at Regent Sound Studios they chose a good cover of Them’s “Gloria” for their first single, backed with Tommy Scott’s “Don’t You Know” (a song Them would also release, on the flip to their ’66 single “Richard Cory”). The single came out in September ’65. Also from this first session was a fine version of “Mona (I Need You Baby)” with Rod Demick on harmonica and Brian Rossi on lead vocals. It would show up in 1997 on Belfast Beat Maritime Blues along with several other unreleased gems by the Wheels.

The Wheels went back to Regent Sound Studios to record five songs, two of which would appear on their second 45, from February 1966, the originals “Bad Little Woman” b/w “Road Block”. Three other songs from that session had release on Belfast Beat Maritime Blues, “Send Me Your Pillow”, “You Got Me Dizzy”, and “I’m Leaving”.

“Bad Little Woman” was released simultaneously in the U.S. on the Aurora label (it was predicted to reach Billboard’s Hot 100 chart on February 5, 1966), which included the b-side from their first Columbia single, “Don’t You Know” instead of “Road Block”. The Aurora release renamed the group the Wheel-a-Ways, possibly to prevent their being confused with Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, whose first chart single “Jenny Take a Ride” hit the charts in November of ’65.

What makes this single so fascinating is Columbia accidently sent Aurora a tape with a different take of “Bad Little Woman”. The Columbia version begins fast, with two guitars, organ and drums equal in intensity. The Aurora version starts at a much slower pace with room for intermittent guitar licks and harmonica bleats, and forgoes the organ.

With the line “and he don’t love you baby …” both versions accelerate for twenty seconds of rave-up, but the Aurora version achieves incredible velocity, with the guitars cranking out one of the best amp sounds I’ve ever heard recorded, while the vocals go completely into the red with distortion.

The band comes together for a last chord on the Columbia version, while the Aurora version ends quietly – a slow slide down a high guitar string to the final sound of a guitarist taking his fingers off the frets.

Judging by the audio quality and the assured pace of the band on the Columbia single, I’d say the Aurora version was recorded first, possibly meant to be a demo rather than a finished single. The timing of 2:20 on the Aurora label doesn’t make any sense, the song is 2:44.

The Wheels went back to Regent Sound for a third session, this time producing two covers of recent singles by other bands. “Call My Name” was another Tommy Scott composition, originally the A-side of Them’s seventh single, from March of 1966. “Tell Me (I’m Gonna Love Again)” had been A-side to the Graham Bond Organisation’s third 45, from April of ’65.

The Wheels version of “Call My Name” would show up as the b-side to their third single “Kicks” in August of 1966. It would also appear on the b-side of most UK promo copies of “Bad Little Woman”, though mislabeled as “Road Block”. A 1992 Record Collector article on the band erronously listed the mislabelled promo b-side as “Kicks” – impossible as the Feb. ’66 release date would have been a month prior to the Raiders’ release of “Kicks”!



The nearly solid sound spectrum during the song’s peak!

Notice for Aaron Shcroeder’s Aurora Records in Billboard, Feb. 6, 1965


“The Wheels say most of the English groups just hate showbands.”

Six-member version of the Wheels
from left: Tito Tinsley, Victor Catling, Rod Demick, Brian Rossi, Eric Wrixon and Herbie Armstrong

The Record Collector article and the notes to Belfast Beat Maritime Blues state that Brian Rossi left the band after the failure of the second single, and that Eric Wrixon from Them joined the group on keyboards. According to this chronology, Wrixon would be playing on the third Regent Sound session that produced “Call My Name”. However, since “Call My Name” was recorded in time to be on some promo copies of “Bad Little Woman”, then it’s likely Rossi was still with the band at the time of that session. If so, then it’s also probable that “Kicks” was the only session that included Eric Wrixon.

Curious as to who sang on the singles, I asked Rod Demick and he stated in an email that he sang lead vocals on the singles released by The Wheels. In an interview with Shindig magazine Rod specified that Brian Rossi sang lead on “Mona” and “You Got Me Dizzy”. Victor Catling wrote to me “Rod was the lead singer with that [hard r&b] style of music. Rod used one of those harmonica racks when playing. Brian Rossy sang ballads and rock numbers when we were on stage. Herbie and Tito also sang but mostly as backup singers. I never heard what happened to Tito.”

From their first Regent Sound Studios session, “Mona” has lead vocals simultaneous with the harmonica, and I don’t think either is dubbed, so that confirms Rossi on lead vocals and Demick on harp. It’s a step from that level of singing to what Rod accomplishes on “Gloria” (from the same session), “Bad Little Woman”, “Road Block” & “I’m Leaving” (these three from their next Regent Sound session).

Rossi was probably not with the band by the time they recorded their version of “Kicks”, so Demick is likely singing on that song, which is very different in style from their other recordings.


Cityweek, September 1, 1966

An article from the Belfast newspaper Cityweek in September 1, 1966 depicts a six-member lineup including both Wrixon and Rossi. This show is described as a short-lived reunion with Rossi before the band broke up in early ’67, but the article doesn’t mention anything about it being a reunion, nor does it suggest the band is about to break up. In any case, they did fall apart.

I know of only one version of the Wheels’ “Bad Little Woman” from that era, a great one by the Shadows of Knight. An obscure group called the Right of Way copied the Shadows of Knight version, unreleased until Norton’s Northwest Killers Vol. 3. This can only be a testament to how obscure this single was at the time.

After the Wheels, Rod Demick and Herbie Armstrong recorded two singles as the James Brothers for Page One Records in 1967, “Does It Have To Be Me” / “You Don’t Really Love Me” and “I Forgot To Give You Love” / “The Truth About It”. I haven’t heard either. Rod Demick switched to bass and with Herbie they backed Screaming Lord Sutch for a time, and then recorded two LPs together in the early ’70s. Demick has since played with many bands. Armstrong joined Fox and also Van Morrison’s band for a time, and then had his own groups.

Brian Rossi passed away in 1984. There are some photos of the Wheels within a tribute video created by his daughter Tamara Rossi; if anyone has access to better quality versions of any photos, please contact me at chas_kit@hotmail.com.

Thanks to Bruce Welsh for pointing out the first James Brothers 45 to me.

Special thanks to Victor Catling for the newsclips and photos seen here.


Victor Catling of the Wheels

Wheels Sessionography

Regent Sound Studios, Summer 1965:
Don’t You Know (b-side to first single, Columbia DB 7682, September 1965)
Mona
Gloria (a-side to first single, Columbia DB 7682, September 1965)

Unknown studio and date:
Bad Little Woman (A-side to US release as the Wheel-a-Ways, Aurora 157, Feb. 1966)

Regent Sound Studios, late 1965:
Bad Little Woman (a-side to second single, Columbia DB 7827, February 1966)
Send Me Your Pillow
You Got Me Dizzy
I’m Leaving
Road Block (b-side to second single, Columbia DB 7827, February 1966)

Regent Sound Studios, late 1965 or January 1966:
Tell Me (I’m Gonna Love Again)
Call My Name (b-side to third single, Columbia DB 7981, also shows up on some promo copies of their second single mislabeled as “Road Block”)

unknown session, probably without Rossi, so assume Demick on lead vocal:
Kicks (a-side to third single, Columbia DB 7981)


The Wheels, l-r: Victor Catling, Rod Demick, Brian Rossi, Tito Tinsley and Herbie Armstrong


5 thoughts on “The Wheels (The Wheel-a-Ways)”

  1. I met an older gentleman in an Irish pub in Trenton, N.J. about 15 years ago when we’d put “Baby Please Don’t Go” on the juke. He turned to us and said “That’s the best *ookin’ band ever come outta Belfast”. I told him that they weren’t,that The Wheels were. After muttering “Jesus wept” half a dozen times he regaled us with stories about seeing The Wheels and Them at the Maritime (which he said was nothing more than a sailor’s flophouse with a back room where bands played) over numerous snakebites. He said most of the locals were quite disillusioned/offended when both bands relocated to London and the scene there was never quite the same. He also mentioned that for a time, to play it safe jobwise, “the bald fella” had both a show-band (a big crowd puller in Ireland till even the late 60’s) and The Wheels. I left him a cassette with the barman weeks later with all The Wheels cuts I’d had from an acquaintance who’d plundered EMI’s master archives and copied all their tracks (later to all appear on Big Beat’s “Belfast Beat Martime Blues”). I never saw him again but he did leave instructions that a pint was on him everytime we came in, I guess he liked the cassette. Sadly I’d moved out of the area and never got the chance to give him a copy of “Belfast Beat” with all of The Wheels tracks on it!

  2. “Real Real Gone” the new CD by Herbie Armstrong will be released on October 24th on the Floating World Record label.
    Featuring brand new recordings of ‘Have I Told You Lately’ and ‘Mandy’ as seen on BGT and the Van Morrison produced ‘Real Real Gone’ plus more classic Herbie material.

    The cd will be available from Amazon and all good record stores throughout the UK.

    To celebrate the release of Real Real Gone Herbie will be performing as special showcase at Upstairs at the Garage in London on October 27th.

  3. I am a personal friend of Brian Rossi’s daughter and Brian’s wife Pat. I have listened to the Wheels, with Brian Rossi, and @58 I still feel their music was fantastic, better than the screeching and Rap ( for those who can’t sing so they “rap” it). They should rap it in old tissue and drop it in the waste bucket! Anyway, if you go to Tamara’s Facebook page you will see an article done about Brian, and the song written for Tamara to memorialize her father, who she was not able have him in her life but four short years. Ms. Pat Rossi is Tamara’s manager, plus she does alot of the videos of Tamara, most, if not all can be found on YT. Listen to Tamara sing “WHERE EVER YOU ARE NOW” and be prepared to be blown away! I was lucky enough to get one of the very first CD’s of this song. It is an autographed copy from Tamara to me. She is a lovely lady, that, I might add is also a Lawyer. Yes she has a law degree, and sings with the voice unmatched by anyone! Thank you for all the Bio research. You are truely a musical marvel! MONA PACK from Calif.

  4. Hey C, just a note to mention that the question of who sings what with the Wheels may still be unanswered. I have seen claims that Brian Rossi sings on the first two 45s, and I think it sounds like different vocalists between “Bad Little Woman” on the one hand, and “Kicks” on the other. I can’t prove it but Demick’s memory may not be entirely right, and it could well be Rossi on “Road Block” and “…Woman”. The recent Wheels CD indicates that Demick sings it all, but gives no exact credits for vocalists.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *