April 2, 2016

THE BACK BEETS (Wilmington, MA)

That's the way life was in the woods of Wilmington. From left: John Given (vocals), Frank Sasso (bass), Ricky Goodrow (rhythm guitar), Lenny Zaccagnini (drums), Larry Zaccagnini (lead guitar). Photo courtesy of Frank Sasso.

The nucleus of the Back Beets consisted of Wilmington, Mass.-based identical twin brothers Larry and Lenny Zaccagnini, along with their cousin Frank Sasso from Cambridge. The boys started way back in 1963 playing all instrumentals a la The Ventures. The Zaccagninis’ dad was a guitar player and instilled music in his sons. Early on they couldn't afford a drum set, so Lenny played on turned-over potato chip cans (in the pre-bag era)! The brothers wanted their cousin to play bass, so they taught him “Satisfaction” and that was the first song he ever played.

Wilmington Town Crier, Dec. 21, 1967
The band was rounded out with two other Wilmington kids, singer Johnny Given and rhythm guitarist Ricky Goodrow. Originally calling themselves The Fourth Dimensions, they settled instead on The Back Beets when the Fifth Dimension came out with a hit song the week after one of their recording sessions. The Back Beets played all top hits of the day, heavy on the Animals and Beatles — and even a cover of Boston stars The Remains “Why Do I Cry.” Johnny remembers the neighborhood kids coming by to watch them practice in the basement. The ’Beets played mostly in the Wilmington area, and ventured down to Frank's hometown of Cambridge a couple of times. They played anywhere for free at first, then started to get some paying gigs.

The crew hooked up with Boston area radio personality/promoter Marv Cutler and his own Marc Enterprises. (Despite the Tufts address on the record label, neither the band nor their manager was affiliated with the university. Cutler lived in Medford and the local PO boxes all had Tufts addresses.) Marv sent them to Ace Studios in Boston where they recorded two original tracks in December 1967 for Cutler's first and only Marc label release. However, Uncle Sam came calling for Frank, so he joined the Air Force rather than get drafted and left the band just as the single was coming out. As a result, the band dissolved and the 45 received little promotion or distribution.

Prior to the Ace session and resulting Marc single, The Back Beets recorded the same two tracks at Five Star Music Productions, a studio famed for its song poem output. And even before this, an acetate was cut with their original name, The Fourth Dimensions. All of these versions can be heard below.

A post-Back Beets anecdote, courtesy of Frank: While stationed in Alaska, Sasso joined up with other musicians to form popular club band 7 O’Clock Solution, playing covers of Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Procol Harum, etc. “We would play till 2-3 in the morning and then be at work at 7 a.m. One time I fell asleep at my desk and got chewed out by my superior, and got put on confinement to the base for one month. We had a big-paying gig so I snuck off base and played facing away from stage so my face could not be seen. Two hours in, I decided it was safe and turned around — and just then the first sergeant with the military police came in and dragged me right from the stage and arrested me!”

That's The Way Life Is / Sandy
(45-0001 • 21173/74)
December 1967

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