This page has been reconstructed from a cached version of the original, which was a part of the now defunct Boston Rock & Roll Museum web site www.dirtywater.com.
In the excitement of the early days of the British Invasion of 1964, Van Leister and Paul Narotski, two boyhood friends from Mattapan who had harmonized with the songs of Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers, Del Shannon, and the Beach Boys, watched the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show and said, "Let's start a band."|
Van approached Jack Petersen, whom he had known since pre-nursery school classes at their church, and who Van knew had taken piano lessons for many years. Jack was intrigued, but pointed out that none of them had even held a guitar. Van convinced him that this was a minor inconvenience; after all, they had been singing along with records for years and sounded pretty good, thank you very much --- what's the big deal?? Van's brother Robbie was recruited to play drums and sing backup, but was shortly let go when it was found he couldn't carry a tune or keep a beat. Their youthful naiveté and unabashed enthusiasm led them to continue their search.
Still needing a drummer, they proceeded to audition Harry Sandler, a neighborhood kid who owned a pair of drumsticks. He auditioned by playing along with a record in his living room on a vinyl-covered stool with a loose, jangly sounding rack. Van and Jack looked, listened, and said, "Wanna play in a band?" And at the snap of a finger, Harry was rescued forever from a seemingly unbearable future as a management trainee in a soon-to-be-defunct discount store.
Now all they needed was an actual musician to round out the band. Enter 14 year-old musical prodigy Chuckie Norton. Chuck was quite unhappy at being relegated to bass guitar in the Miltones by leader Jack Marcellino (who years later would go on to be a founding member of Sha-Na-Na because his 14-year-old bandmates were even better than he was. So, when the boys asked him if he would rather be bassist for the Miltones or LEAD guitarist for this new vocal group, Chuck chose this unlikely collection of exuberant dilettantes with no visible evidence of musical ability. They all went out and bought instruments. They practiced a few songs, headed to Walker's Riding Apparel for some cool band clothes, and Crystal's Shoes for Beatle Boots.
They learned a dozen or so songs and played their first show within weeks, a free performance for the Milton Demolay on December 28, 1964 as The Evergreens, a name suggested by Jack's cousin Ralph Donabed. Ralph could actually play a little rhythm guitar and was quickly recruited, as the boys could use all the help they could get… (They may have been naïve but they weren't stupid.) Ralph soon became the "Al Jardine" of the group when he opted to go back to college in Washington DC rather than drop out and hitch his wagon to the Evergreens' star (life is about choices, both good and bad). [You might remember that Al Jardine left the Beach Boys early in their career to go to dental school, but scooted back when they started to hit it big…. Who knows what would have become of the group if Ralph had stayed?]
As a result of that highly successful gig, they were hired for $50 to play their first paying job at Gate of Heaven School in South Boston, a fee that eventually escalated to $100 in the form of bonuses to play longer for the screaming fans. After the others in the band fended off attempts by Van to name the band "The Curtains" (any lamer than "The Doors"??) and Paul's suggestion of "Paul N. and the RayMen", they somehow got comfortable with "The Mods" (as in Mods and Rockers) by default more than by any great attraction or meaningfulness of the name. They were being booked regularly at local high school and church dances all over the South Shore and especially Braintree, where they had a huge following. They were cooking now!!! Not only was the music a thrill, but the girls were well worth playing for! By the time the spring came, the band was the hottest thing in Braintree, and each of them was invited to Braintree High School's Senior Prom.
Their repertoire was highlighted by tunes never before attempted by local bands. Van and Paul traded lead singing duties admirably. Their music was distinguished by Paul's high lead harmonies on songs never heard live before the boys brought them to the stage: songs like the Everly Brothers' All I Have to Do is Dream and the Beatles' Tell Me What You See, and Jack and Paul's tight background harmonies that made their Beatles covers soar, such as You Can't Do That, Money, Twist and Shout and, especially, Boys with its thrilling "Mop-bop-shu-wah" backgrounds.
Chuck's Fender Jazzman rang out with bell-like brilliance on lead, and Harry's distinctive flamboyant drumming style thrilled the girls (at least by his own account of those years).
If you wanted to see the band at the Rexicana Ballroom in Marshfield, you had to hitchhike to Marshfield early, or you wouldn't get in. Soon they got a call to play the Cotillion Ballroom in Taunton, where the owners were trying to develop a regular dance… the Mods were well received, and the crowds got bigger and bigger, until they were offered the position of "house band" and were put under contract by owner Sam Stone and his partner Ronnie Hebshie. R&S Productions, as Sam and Ronnie were known, bought the boys new amplifiers and guitars, stage clothes, publicity photos, Mods book covers, and a candy apple red Econoline van with the band's logo painted on the side!! They began booking the group all over New England. One of the highlights was that they became the Tuesday night band at the Rathskellar (later known as simply "The Rat") in Kenmore Square. Monday nights the regular band was "The Lost" (with Willie Alexander) and Wednesdays it was "Barry and the Remains." This gig led to their becoming popular with the college crowd, and they began doing college mixers.