|I’ve read many accounts that consider the Swinging Machine the best of all local bands in the Tidewater area back in its day.|
In 1963 three friends from Oscar F. Smith High School in South Norfolk formed the Chevelles. The group included Evan Pierce, Jr. (lead guitar), Richard Bocock (drums) and Steven Curling (saxophone). At Old Dominion University they met Esdras ben Lubin who took over on lead guitar and vocals, and suggested the band change their name from the Chevelles to the Swingin’ Machine. The addition of fifteen-year-old Billy Gene Stallings on organ helped their musical acuity considerably.
Esdras left the band and the group found Gary Richardson and Lee Caraway from the Villagers (out of Churchland High School in Portsmouth). Steve Curling left for college and was replaced by Bob Fisher, though Steve would occasionally sit in with the group.
At the time of the release of their 45 the band consisted of:
Gary Richardson (vocals)
Lee Caraway (guitar)
Billy Stallings (organ)
Bob Fisher (sax)
Evan Pierce (bass)
Dick Bocock (drums)
According to Evan Pierce, the band fought with their producer Frank Guida and was disappointed in the record. However, fans of the mid-60s band sound really love this 45, with “Do You Have to Ask” being especially tough and original. Frank Guida who was also owner of S.P.Q.R., is listed as one of the songwriters. “Do You Have to Ask” was recorded in the fall of 1965, “Comin’ On Back Home” five or six months later.
“Comin’ On Back Home” reached #39 on a Syracuse, NY AM radio station, WOLF 1490 in early June, 1966. How it reached the charts so far away from their base is a mystery.
Besides the 45 there is an early version of “Do You Have to Ask” and a simply amazing rocker, “Brother Look Out” that were unreleased at the time. They’re both now available on the Aliens, Psychos and Wild Things series.
There is also a tape of ten cover songs recorded in a studio, probably made as a demo to get live gigs. The songs include versions of “Tell Mama”, “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”, “Fire”, “Spooky”, “Get Ready”, “Wrap It Up”, “Sunshine of Your Love”, “Rock and Roll Woman”, “To Love Somebody” and “Dear Eloise”.
I would love to hear a live recording of the band – if anyone has a tape, please get in touch.
In 1967 Wayne Richardson joined on trumpet. Bob Weaver was a later member as well. Vince Screeney from the Sting Rays replaced Evan Pierce while he was in the army. Rocky Cantrell filled in on occasion.
Gary Richardson died tragically from a drug accident in July of 1968. The Swinging Machine continued for a short time with William “Rocky” Smith on vocals, but soon disbanded. Dick Bocock and Bob Weaver formed a new group, the Machine.
Their 45 producer Frank Guida passed away on May 19, 2007.
I want to say thank you to Diane for sending in these rarely seen photos of the band. Diane and Lee Caraway were married until he passed away in 1979.
Diane had this to say about the photos:
Anyone who hung out with the band will know the panel truck. That was their equipment truck for many years.
The Lighthouse pics show them unloading the equipment and setting up for the dance that night. The pics of them on stage don’t do it justice because the camera won’t pick up all the colors and psychedelics flashing on the stage background, the lights in that place were hooked into the sound system.
One pic is Gary and Wayne Richardson standing in front of a cottage the band was staying in at Nags Head when they were playing at the Casino.