Every Friday and Saturday night, I have to watch at least one movie…each night. It’s usually before I go to bed. This past weekend was one of those weekends that we didn’t make it to the movie store, so I had to rely on choosing an old favorite from my massive DVD collection to get me through Saturday night. The choice was a good one…a little Tom Hanks project called “That Thing You Do”.
It’s really a fun little movie about a local rock and roll band in 1960’s Erie, Pennsylvania that makes it big. They get a number one record, and overnight, they start touring the country, starring in movies and making TV appearances. And just as quickly as they reach the top, it all comes apart. Hanks is one of the stars of the movie, and it just looks like it was a blast to be a part of it.
One of the problems that the band faces at the beginning of the movie is coming up with the right name. They wanted to do something clever and memorable. They decided to be “The Wonders”, but wanted it to be spelled as “The Oneders”. As you might guess, everyone referred to them as “The Oh-Need-ers”. Finally, Tom Hanks takes them under his wing and declares that they will use the name with the traditional spelling.
If you’ve never been in a band, you may not realize how important it is to have the right name. Some bands that get together try to decide on a name before they even play a lick of music. It has to be a cool name that’s memorable, yet not confusing in any way. Currently, I play in Sister Groove and the Crosstown Jam, but joined the band long after the name was chosen, so I have no idea how it was created. Before that, I was in The Hands. The initial four of us had a real tough time coming up with something that everyone agreed on, with a lot of emailing, voting, campaigning for your favorite, etc. The Hands was presented by our drummer, and I don’t know if we all liked it the most, or perhaps we were just tired of arguing about it.
Before The Hands, I was in the New Glory Stompers, which was an offshoot of a band that started in Minonk in the 1960s. The original Glory Stompers took their name from a really bad Dennis Hopper biker flick. When we got together and included their original guitar player in our band, we asked if he would mind us using an updated version of their original name, and he quickly agreed.
There are many band names out there that fascinate me just because of where they came from. A few examples:
Jethro Tull – named after the inventor of the seed drill
Steppenwolf – named after a Herman Hesse novel
Uriah Heep – named after a character in Dickens’ David Copperfield
Steely Dan – a sexual device referred to in the William S. Burroughs novel The Naked Lunch
Lynyrd Skynyrd – named after the band’s high school gym teacher
Led Zeppelin – reference made by The Who’s Keith Moon that the new band would go over like a lead balloon, or lead zeppelin.
Other names just sound cool…like James Brown’s back-up band, The Famous Flames, or the Beau Brummels, or the Cryan’ Shames, or Cheap Trick.
I have to give the award of my favorite band name to Little Richard’s original back-up band from the 1950’s…The Upsetters. If ever a name sounded so cool and described a band so appropriately, it’s The Upsetters. They played recklessly, yet were tight…they looked crazed, yet were accomplished musicians. In fact, one of the later incarnations of The Upsetters in the early 1960’s featured a young man on guitar named Jimmy James, later known as Jimi Hendrix.
So what’s in a name? Just ask soul master Jerry Butler why they changed the name of his first group from “The Roosters”…to “The Impressions”.