The Dickens came from Pensacola, Florida. The members of the band were:
Rick Pierce – keyboards & vocals
Louie Boyleston – guitar
Ron Bowman – rhythm guitar & lead vocals
Jimmy Smith – bass, harmonica & lead vocals
Skip Higgins – drums
A news clipping shows the band as a four piece formed at Pensacola High School before Rick Pierce joined. The article notes the band played dances at Pensacola teen clubs the Place and the Beacon Club, and that they won the St. Ann’s Annual Talent Context.
In September, 1967 they cut two good, quirky versions of Left Banke songs on Format Records F45-5004/5, “I’ve Got Something On My Mind” / “I Haven’t Got The Nerve”. The single was produced by Jerry Ray for Daddy Rabbit Prod.
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“I Haven’t Got the Nerve” is taken at an incredibly fast pace.
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Jerry Ray is again listed as producer, but Rick Pierce arranged them and the production is much better than the first single. The band sounds more mature, with better keyboard work and stronger vocals than the first release, and the horns fit in fine on “Inside-Outside”.
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This single had release as Format F-45-5006/7 in March of ’68, with publishing by Tamrof Pub BMI.
I contacted Ron Bowman, the lead vocalist on these songs, who provided this info on the band, plus the photos and sound clips:
The Dickens began forming circa ’62-63. Pensacola, Florida, Gulf Breeze to be precise. Ron Bowman & Louie Boyleston swapped their baseball gloves for acoustic guitars & began playing folk music, until they heard the Beatles. With electric guitars in hand, Winston for Ron & Silvertone for Louie they began scratching up Beatles, Stones, & Hollie records to learn the chords & lyrics. Time for a bass player. We knew a guy who looked the part, but he was too much into surfing, but he auditioned singing “Mrs Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter”. We figured he could learn to play a 4 string instrument. Next a drummer. In West Pensacola we learned of Skip Higgens. He had a drum set. So voila, we had a band.
We’d play the run of the mill soul music all the other Pcola bands were playing, especially because people could dance to them, but our tastes were deep into the British Invasion, especially the vocals. I did most of it, but Jimmy & I were both the lead singers. We managed to get known, won a couple Battle of the Bands, then we heard about an amazing keyboardist (actually he played everything – from drums to pedal guitar) also from West Pensacola, Rick Pierce.
Once he joined the band, we really took off locally. Our early manager was a local disc Jockey, Daddy Rabbit Ray. We recorded our first session in Memphis where we recorded our first single “I’ve Got Something on My Mind” & “I Haven’t Got the Nerve” both Left Bank songs. We sold 90 copies in Albany, NY. We also recorded the first of Rick’s original songs “No One Seems to Know”, but that didn’t make vinyl. I think this was in ’66, I know we attended a Monkeys concert while in Memphis.
Q. What was the connection with Memphis?
Our manager knew of a studio. Why Memphis, beats me.
Q. Were you all fans of the Left Banke or was that mostly Rick’s influence?
Oh yes. They came to Pcola. We were deep into baroque music. Or ‘broke music’. All of us, not just Rick, but because of Rick’s fine piano/harpsichord musicianship, we were able to pull it off. Our main influence, besides the Beatles & Stones, were The Hollies. Damn those boys could sing harmony.
Because of this mild success, we rented out places in small southern towns like the Natl Guard Armory to make a decent wage for high school kids. In ’68 we recorded in New Orleans. All 3 songs were Pierce originals with Ron singing lead. A-Side “One of a Kind Woman”, B-Side “Inside Outside”, & the unreleased “I’ve Been Gone”. We sold far more of these singles & were listed on Billboard’s Hot 100 Charts with a bullet. Later we found out our manager had sent our tapes to MGM. They offered to fly us to LA to record an album & I guess groom us for a national audience. They offered Daddy Ray $40,000 as a finder’s fee. He thought “Gee if they’re that good, I’ll keep them on my label, FORMAT RECORDS. Just as well we didn’t know this at the time…
Q. Are the unreleased songs, “No One Seems to Know” and “I’ve Been Gone” still around?
I have two versions of the New Orleans session of “I’ve Been Gone”, one with & one without the lead. Jimmy Smith remixed this when he worked at Capitol Records. Another Rick Pierce original. Don’t think “No One Seems to Know” from Memphis survived.
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About early ’69 we splintered off & Jimmy, Rick, & I formed a newer ‘Stoned Dickens’ foursome, John Russel played lead guitar, Rick moved to drums. Lots of Cream, Buffalo Springfield, Hendrix.
I did a short stint in the Phaetons as a bass player/ backup singer. Made a ton of money as Charlie Capri, our manager, kept us on the road. But that lasted less than the Stone Dickens, maybe 4 months.
With the narco cops following us around, Jimmy & Ron hightailed it to California. We formed a group called The Alleycats (several versions of members, one including Louie again).
Louie went on to open a mod clothing store, Oz Boutique. He was probably the best rhythm guitarist I’ve ever heard, although I do have one recording of my song “Real Fine Love” where he tears up the lead. He knew the chords to every rock & country song. Unfortunately he died of a heart attack about 2005 in his 50s.
Skip went to New Orleans & kicked around before winding up in Vienna, Austria, where he still lives. We are in touch.
Rick went to Atlanta, got very in with the Atlanta sound. I saw him last playing a solo gig in Marietta, Ga. We are not in touch now, but I’m working on this.
Jimmy’s still in Sherman Oaks. He’s worked a lot in the movie industry & was working at Capitol Records where he had access to their mixing room. This is where our remastered New Orleans session came from.
I stayed based in LA for a total of 17 years. In ’79 I joined the first American band ever to play for Club Med, The Hollywood Party Boys. Mexico, Switzerland, Greece, & always Paris, per diem. When I returned to LA, instead of resuming my music career while working for every record company mail room, including Billboard, I went to LACC & became an Elec tech. Moved back to Pensacola area, where I still live. I’ve always continued to write & record music.
You can hear Ron’s songs since The Dickens era on his Youtube channel.
Thank you to Ron Bowman for answering my questions and his help with this article.