March 13, 2014


Bristol certainly caught fire when the Hot Beats took the stage. From left: Bobby Morris (drums), Dominic Rodrigues (bass), Denny Rodrigues (vocals), Dan Rogers (rhythm guitar). Horizontal with carnation: George Oliver (lead guitar).

Hands down — Bristol High School in Bristol, R.I., gets the award for the coolest Class of 1966 in the entire state of Rhode Island. The student body yielded not only Ron Medeiros and the Night Rockers, but also the band responsible for this long-forgotten, two-sided scorcher of a disc: The Hot Beats. No lightweight ballad flipside here, folks … the Hot Beats come out swinging with a Kinks-riffed girl putdown complete with blistering guitar solo, backed with a grungy "Indian-beat" instro. Yeeeoooowww!

The Hot Beats consisted of Denny Rodrigues (pronounced "Rod-rix") on vocals and tambourine, his brother Dominic "Rid" Rodrigues on bass, George Oliver on lead guitar, Dan Rogers on rhythm guitar and Bobby "Bomba" Morris on drums. The crew were all seniors at Bristol High School except for Dominic and 14-year-old guitar prodigy George Oliver. (Paul "Flyers" Ferrera, who was in the first incarnation of the band, had brought over his younger next-door neighbor to sit in on a practice. "Guys, you've got to hear this kid play!" The lead guitar position filled itself.)

Lofty ambitions to be bachelors … such a devil-may-care attitude with this crew! (And as you may have guessed, "Don't swear it" is a humorous typo.) From the Bristol High School yearbook, 1966.

The band was managed by Jim Wilson, Dan's uncle who was a mere eight years older at age 24. Jim hit it off with WPRO radio personality Howie Holland, which helped the Hot Beats land slots at Rocky Point and the Channel 12-sponsored State Fair. But Uncle Jim did more than just line up performances for the crew; he also shuttled them to the gigs in his station wagon.

In June 1966, the Hot Beats cut their sole 45. (The date can be pinpointed with the number on the record label: "JW6166" translates into Jim Wilson and the date of June 1, 1966.) The songs were cut in a basement studio in Riverside, R.I., by the little brother of the best man at Jim's wedding. The project was financed with gig money — as they racked up performances, they'd divide the proceeds by one extra member and put the extra cash aside for the single.

Now, the word "Listen" is only mentioned once in the entire song. But the title would have made more sense if the pressing plant — Golden Crest in New York, infamous for styrene pressings where the labels invariably fall off — didn't trim off the beginning of the recording. In its original form, the tune started off with Denny whispering "Listen" before the drums kick in. The band was not happy to find that the engineers took it upon themselves to cut out that part.

In the pre-draft years before rock and roll turned introspective, intellectual and downright serious, teenage subject matter basically revolved around one thing: girls. Hotties, heartbreakers, cheaters and cheatees. Our man Denny lets loose with some choice words to his overbearing gal — he won't be tied down!

You don't think like me
You don't think like me
You want to settle down
I want to run around

Don't try to tie me down
Don't try to tie me down

Come on listen you
You and me are through
One girl's not enough
Even if she's tough

Don't try to tie me down
Don't try to tie me down

You are in the past
Our love didn't last
Now you know that I
like to see girls cry!

Don't try to tie me down
Don't try to tie me down

Keep away - I can't stay!

And to top off the whole package is the label name, "Rychard." During sound check, Denny would repeat "Richard, Richard" instead of the typical "check, check." Well, turns out this was a case of wisecracking teens getting one over on the adults, yet again. When I asked George what the odd label name meant, he pointed to his groin and said, "You know, Richard." Eureka!

Releasing a 45 meant that the Hot Beats could now perform on Wing Ding, a local television show on WPRO. (Bands were only allowed to play if they cut a record.) "Listen" apparently proved too raw and wild for prime time, as the execs rejected the A-side and opted to play the instrumental flipside instead. It must have been hilarious to watch frontman Denny, relegated to the sole function of hitting the tambourine throughout the duration of "Injun" in front of the studio audience.

The Hot Beats gigged steadily and secured a spot on Saturday nights at Bambi's in Newport, a teen club of which Papa Cowsill was the co-owner. As the house band on Saturdays, they would play the breaks in between the main groups such as Mitch Ryder, the Barbarians and the Cowsills. According to Jim, the guys would give out their 45 at gigs and throw them out to the audience like frisbees. The band performed at various venues throughout Rhode Island such as the Warren Canteen and Leo's First & Last Stop Bar in Newport, and on to Connecticut and the Springfield State Expo in Springfield, Mass.

Ask a Rhode Islander to say "heart beat" and nine of out 10 times, you'll hear "hot beat." From the fully autographed Bristol High School 1966 yearbook at Rogers Free Library.

The band stayed together through some of the college years, adding John "Sully" Sullivan on keyboards. Denny and Rid eventually left the band, Rit DeFelice replaced Denny on vocals, and around this time the name Hot Beats was dropped in favor of the more current-sounding Bitter Truth.

Drummer Bobby Morris joined the Navy and, an interesting anecdote, was in basic training with the lead guitarist for the Outsiders (Cleveland). Unfortunately, Bobby died after an accident in the late 1980s. Sully switched to guitar, sat in with the Barbarians for a spell, and currently plays in the Fat City Band.

George Oliver was asked to join Tangerine Zoo, but was forced to decline because he was too young! (He was only 16 years old at the time, and his parents wouldn't let him.) He then teamed up with drummer Donald "Smitty" Smith post-Tangerine Zoo in the outfit Friends Incorporated. George released a solo 45 in 1980 with the songs "My Life" (written during Friends Incorporated in 1973) and "You And I." He still writes and records music on a 16-track in his apartment, and most recently collaborated with Ron Medeiros on a song Ron had written shortly before he passed away in late 2013.

Dan and Denny still enjoy talking about music and reminiscing about their rock and roll days.

January 2014: After paying our respects at Ron Medeiros' wake, George Oliver (center), Tim Warren (right) and I headed over to the local Sip 'N Dip where Tim signed the Hot Beats for inclusion on his upcoming Back From The Grave Volume 9 series.

Listen / Injun
(JW6166) June 1966

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