A shining black Cadillac hearse, with ghost flames and skeletons, ironically helped me, very healthy at age 60, turn the hands of the clock back some 40 years and resume rocking. A chance encounter with some old fans and new musicians inspired me to reunite my 60’s rock ‘n roll band and even search the country for a classic hearse—the band’s original alternative to a band bus. Now we have 3 of the 4 original members on stage, and we’re rocking like we used to when we were…well, young. People tell me I’m living a dream.
During the 60’s I was the lead singer in a rock ‘n roll band known as The Invictas. The band had four members, including Dave Hickey on drums, Jim Kohler on bass, Mark Blumenfeld on lead guitar, and me on rhythm guitar and vocals. We were fortunate enough to have recorded one particular song, which led to a provocative dance, and became a top hit on the charts from Buffalo to Miami--The Hump. The song and dance were pretty racy for the 60’s, but The Hump was the rage with college and high school kids at least partly because it left parents shocked. I’ve been told that some parents turned the radio off when they heard the song. In reality, the song and lyrics were benign when compared with the songs of today. The band traveled in a black ’55 Cadillac hearse known for constantly breaking down. We had fan clubs, police escorts, lots of female companionship, and our record label proudly proclaimed The Hump was banned in Boston. For a group of young guys going to college at the time, we were having a hell of a good time.
After the band
In the late 60’s Viet Nam was on, Dave and Jim joined the service, and the original band broke up. Eventually we all followed other more traditional careers. Dave (the drummer) became a partner in a printing company, Jim (bass player) became an ink specialist for International Paper, Mark (lead guitarist) started a ceramics business in California, and I started an ad agency. When I turned 60, I was staring down the barrel of retirement, wondering how long I would want to continue with my advertising business. My hair had turned gray. I was divorced, financially sound, and could relax, go fishing, follow the sun, and do what I wanted. Things were about to change, but I couldn’t have anticipated the direction.
My Blue’s Brother’s moment
I was visiting former drummer and longtime friend Dave Hickey and his wife Marilyn in Rochester, NY. We had been out to dinner, and decided to go to a popular blues bar known as the Dinosaur. When we arrived, the place was packed. A band known as the Mary Heights Blues Band was playing. Band members caught wind of the fact that Dave and I were in the crowd and out of professional courtesy invited us up to do a song. I sang one song with the band. That led to the crowd cheering for us to play what else but The Hump. I walked up to Dave and said, “Guess what…I’ve had a Blue’s Brother’s moment. We have to put the band back together.” Dave said “Yeah, sure”, but he never thought it would happen.
Reuniting the band
It took several weeks to locate everyone and six months of practice to put the band back together. Since most of the band members lived in the Rochester area and I was in Charlotte, NC, to reunite the band, I would have to do a great deal of traveling. But I was prepared to do so. On stage we soon had Dave on drums, Jim on bass, Dave’s brother Bruce Hickey on guitar, Dave Profeta on lead guitar, Sammy Gruttadauria on keyboards, and myself on rhythm and vocals. When we started to practice we were rusty, but deep inside we all still had the passion for playing. The first weekend we were billed to perform, I wondered if anyone would show up. Did anyone remember The Invictas or even care that we were going to play again? We were pleasantly surprised. We had a sell out crowd. We’ve been rocking ever since.
They still love The Hump
Today, The Invictas album known as The Invictas A Go Go on Sahara records, sells on the Internet for several hundred dollars. We were never impressed with the quality of that album --recorded in just one weekend in New York. An original single 45 of The Hump on Sahara records sells today for $50 to $75. The Hump was recorded in Buffalo, NY, with the help of our friends. We brought about 30 people and several cases of beer into the studio so we could attempt to capture “live” the sound of the band playing to a crowd partying. It worked. We got the enthusiasm of a live concert. There’s also a pirated version of our album released in France. I continue to be amazed that our 60’s music is still selling and The Hump remains a fun and exciting song to play. At our concerts we have Hump dance contests and show new fans how to do the dance.
The Band’s Music
Our music is party rock ‘n roll. Every song is designed to get people onto the dance floor having fun and me dancing on the bar if possible. We play 60’s favorites like Twist and Shout, Mony Mony, Mustang Sally, and What’d I Say. We mix in a variety of original songs like Big Caddy Hearse, One More Time, Skip ‘N Go Naked, Toast One To The Good Times, and of course, The Hump. We also get the crowd involved--asking them to sing along, raise their fingers in the air, and clap their hands to some of our favorites. People say we make them feel young again, and they are having the time of their lives.
Our Hot Rod Hearse
For the band reunion I purchased the 1984 Cadillac hearse from an emergency room doctor in Oklahoma City. (I am not making this up.) The hearse came complete with a red skull on the hood, brass knuckles on the gear shift, skeletons on the door locks, and in the back there’s a bar and seat. Since purchasing the “new” hearse, the engine has been rebuilt and--just like the original—it has demanded numerous other repairs. It has been quite the money pit, but people love it. We also wrote a song called Big Caddy Hearse. Here’s a sample of the lyrics:
It’s got a 502 up under the hood
and a 4-barrel carb to boot…
It swallows premium gas
like it’s chugging a beer
and driving it is really a hoot.
You can’t help but notice
that long black hood
and the ghost flames on the side,
I’m gonna ask you just once
you wanna go for a ride?
Come on, I’ll show you inside.
It’s a big caddy hearse with a 4-barrel carb
and the engine sounds really mean,
It’s got a big back seat…
Rock Till Ya Drop page 3 of 3 by Herb Gross
There’s lots of room--made for love
if you know what I mean”
Now, we are into “firsts”
At our age, we play because we love the crowds and want to have fun. Sure, the band gets paid, but making money is not our goal. We’re looking for “firsts”. For example, we recently played for the first time in Florida, rocking several thousand people at The Villages and The Oldsmar Classic Rock Festival. Being on The Today Show was a first. We opened for the Beach Boys, playing right before they came on stage, and with that feat made the front page of our hometown newspaper, The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. The band has also been featured in USA Today and over 50 other newspapers across the country as the result of an Associated Press article. Now there are several other firsts to accomplish, like playing on a rock ‘n roll cruise ship, rocking in Key West, playing at some of America’s largest festivals, and possibly having our own TV show, tentatively to be called Rock Till Ya Drop.
And due to the band, here is another first. I am the now the TV spokesperson for the White Haven Memorial Park Cemetery in Rochester, NY. When I was first approached for the project I turned it down stating, “I play in a rock ‘n roll band, and drive a hot rod hearse. Even though my entire family is at White Haven, I do not plan on arriving there anytime soon. I do not believe I fit the image of what you need and I plan to Rock Till I Drop with The Invictas.” The president of the cemetery eventually convinced me that I was right for the project and we produced 10 TV ads for the cemetery.
Rock Till Ya Drop is now my philosophy of life and I’m trying to inspire others. Life is short and we all should live life to the fullest. Rock Till Ya Drop has become a book, song, web site and the theme of The Invictas Tour.
I hope the story of The Invictas will inspire some of you to follow your passion and dreams like we’re doing. Remember… life is short. Have fun, and may you “Rock Till Ya Drop.”
The challenges I’ve faced since reuniting the band? The band disappeared for over 30 years. Selling the band and getting good gigs has been a real challenge, but we are getting there. It’s also a challenge keeping the band in the media. The band has a great story and will inspire others but getting media coverage is not easy. All of this takes up a great deal of my time.
What advice do I have for others? Gary Lewis of the Playboys said it best “Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something.” If you have a love or passion, perseverance is key to your living your dream.
Web Sites: www.theinvictas.com www.rocktillyadrop.com
Bio: Herb Gross is an award winning internationally recognized advertising results expert, TV producer and entertainer. He has promoted hundreds of products and services, worked with companies of every size, is the author and presenter of the strategy known as “How To Win The Ad War.”
As an entertainer, he is the lead singer and song writer and agent for Herb Gross and The Invictas.
Thanks to Pat Gallaher for her fine editing.