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Herman's Hermit Karl Green makes himself at home in Chesterton

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The Long Road Back: Karl Green, one of the founding members of Herman’s Hermits, talks about the way things were and The Long Road Back--the title of his new album, released on March 1--at the Chesterton home of his friend and biggest fan, Conor Mahoney.               (Tribune photo by Kevin Nevers)

 

See Related Story: Herman's Hermit on Jagger, Moon and living the life

 

By KEVIN NEVERS

So what’s a bloke to do, after he’s vanguarded the British Invasion, toured the States with the likes of The Who and The Stones, even brought his mum to Beverly Hills to meet Elizabeth Taylor, only to watch the crowds get smaller and the venues dodgier as British Beat’s 15 minutes ticked away until--well before he was 30--his band had become a nostalgia act?

If that bloke is Karl Green, one of the founding members of Herman’s Hermits--Mrs. Brown, you’ve gawt a lovely dawta!--he’d do this, beginning around 1980: hang up his Gibson Thunderbird for a bit, raise a family, go into the kitchen and bathroom tiling business, and get sober.

Then one day--because it’s what an aging ex-pop star with a Facebook page also does--he’d friend a Chesterton, Ind., kid whose favorite group in the world, improbably and against all reason, is Herman’s Hermits.

So what’s a kid to do, whose old man’s 45s and LPs have hardwired into him a sexagenarian’s taste for Merseybeat, garage rock, and sunshine pop, who’s caught Peter Noone’s reboot of the Hermits about five dozen times, and whose fondest wish is to go into the hardscrabble business of tour-managing pop acts?

If that kid is Conor Mahoney, he’d start by making a pest of himself on the Facebook pages of rockers and poppers of a certain age: Peppy Castro of the Blues Magoos, Susan Cowshill of The Cowsills, Jimmy Sohns of Shadows of the Night.

And Karl Green.

And then--because he’s brash enough to think the guy might actually take him up on the offer--he’d invite Green to visit him in Chesterton, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Hermits’ first No. 1 hit, “I’m into Something Good,” in 1964.

Which was how, in 2014, Green came to visit the States for the first time in a generation, to gig a little, knock up old friends, and hang with a fan young enough to be his grandson.

Which is how, now, on his second visit to the States in years, Green’s come to be sitting at the dining room table of Mahoney’s home on South 14th Street.

Where a Chesterton Tribune reporter feels obliged to tell him--because if it bleeds it leads --that not a single Trib employee under the age of 30 has ever heard of Herman’s Hermits.

“I shouldn’t imagine they would,” Green laughs. “That was 50 years ago.”

So just how gobsmacking was it to meet a 21-year-old who not only digs the Hermits but gets them, who’s got the Hermits’ on his playlist because to his ears it’s still fresh? “I was amazed,” Green says. “I’m still amazed that anyone his age knows what we were all about. But Conor’s obsessed with the Sixties music. He’s just obsessed with music, actually.”

For Mahoney the difference between Sixties pop and contemporary pop is the difference between analogue and digital, between High Fidelity and Auto-Tune, between fresh veg and a can of creamed corn. “A lot of the stuff today is electronic. It sounds as if people didn’t put much effort into it. They don’t put their soul into it. It’s repetitive. Music from the Sixties, it has more passion. And the musicians worked really hard.”

As it happens, full credit for the outreach to Green goes to Mike Bruccoleri, a Valpo musician who’s played with Herman’s Hermits Starring Peter Noone. “One day,” Mahoney recalls, “Mike Bruccoleri and I were talking and he says to me, just as joke, ‘You should see if Karl will come out of retirement and come to the U.S. and do some shows.’ So I did, just kind of joking around. It took Karl a few days to respond but then he said yes, out of nowhere.”

In the end Green spent two weeks in the States, did a handful of shows--one of them at the Uncle Joe’s that was, on North Calumet Road, the others at small watering holes in Illinois and New York--and while he was here celebrated not only the 50th anniversary of the Hermits’ first chart topper but also his 67th birthday.

“At the time I had no idea that Herman’s Hermits was still so popular here,” Green says. “Over in England we couldn’t get arrested. So I came over and played with Mike Bruccoleri. We just went around picking up gigs and having a bit of fun. We didn’t earn any money. I didn’t come over for the money. I came over for the crack.”

The crack?

“Means something different in England,” Green says. “Means a good time. We had a real good time.”

The last couple of years on the road, as the sun began to set on the Seventies, were definitely not crack, Green remembers. “The Hermits were getting gigs playing at Playboy clubs, in Vegas and Reno and Tahoe. They all sound glamorous but they were quite seedy. I like playing rock and I didn’t enjoy playing these lounges where you’ve got birds with their bosoms out.”

So Green took a powder. “I figured this is the way the band is going. I didn’t like it. So I got out and became a tiler, for 34 years.”

Tiling?

“I had a tiler come do my kitchen floor when I was on the road once. It cost a fortune. And I thought, ‘That’s a good way to make a living.’ So I told the missus, ‘When the bubble bursts, I’m going out as a tiler.’”

Mahoney bears an uncanny resemblance to Mr. Peabody’s Sherman. That makes him quite possibly the most guileless-, least shifty-looking guy in the world. And that’s probably why, when Peppy Castro needed someone to manage a Blues Magoos tour of the East Coast, he tapped Mahoney. “I learned how to collect the money and talk to the management and call before and get all the information for the next day, what time loading is, how to sell merchandise and what the percentages are.”

“That’s my dream job,” Mahoney says. “Tour-managing a band that works the entire year. I don’t care if I’m making $200 or $300 a night or a $1,000 a night. I would just love to be working non-stop every single day. I like seeing the country and I love doing the front work.”

What wisdom has life on the road taught him? “Always treat everybody equally,” Mahoney says. “You don’t treat celebrities at a gig any different from the average fan.”

Herman’s Hermits made themselves at home in the States, made most of their money here, made their best memories here. It makes sense that they would. That Mancunian thing that played so well in Peoria never stood a chance in Manchester. Half a century later, Green still prefers the music scene here.

So what’s the U.S. got that the U.K. doesn’t? “Enthusiasm,” Green says. “The music scene’s a lot better than in England. It’s alive and well here. In Chicago you just go to any bar and there’s a great band playing. In England all the rock clubs are closing. In England the only way you can get arrested is go on one of those talent shows.”

Mahoney’s gleaned one other lesson from knocking about with musicians: the artists do tend to be artistes. “They’re moody. You never know what side you’re going to get. It’s probably from the stress of performing. Except Karl. He’s different. I don’t know why. He’s not moody. He’s a very, very nice person. After he came to visit that first time, he told me he thought he would never do anything again. He’s thanked me, gave me an autograph once that says ‘To Conor: Thank you for changing my life for the better.’”

 

 

 

Posted 3/242016

 
 
 
 

 

 

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