What’s a band without merch?
By ANDREW MCGINN
It’s a real shame the Bushmen never got to go through a “Sgt. Pepper” period.
There would’ve been more merchandising opportunities. (I say this as someone who once nearly bought a “Sgt. Pepper” cookie jar.)
Nevertheless, a T-shirt with an image of the savage young Bushmen emblazoned on it — looking every bit in their collarless Beatle jackets like the great Merseybeat band that almost was — is proving to be an unlikely hot seller at More Time in Jefferson.
It’s fair to assume that when the Fender Bandmaster amps finally stopped reverberating 52 summers ago at the Greene County Roller Rink — the boys having just pulverized “The Last Time” by the Stones for truly the last time — not a one of them imagined a day when a Bushmen shirt would be available for sale at a store on the Square.
And yet, here we are, a half-century later, still talking about a band that really only existed for 22 months.
Clearly, the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame made the right move in deciding to induct the Bushmen come Labor Day weekend, the first Jefferson band to get that call and the closest you can get to rock ‘n’ roll immortality in the Hawkeye State without chartering an airplane in Mason City in February in questionable weather conditions.
Tell me that doesn’t warrant a little Bushmen swag. (And tell me you wouldn’t buy a David Baller bobblehead, too, if one existed.)
The shirts feature a vintage photo of the band — guitarists David Williamson and Roger Dunlop, bassist Bruce (Smith) Banister and drummer David Baller, all still in school at the time — in their Liverpudlian finery.
More Time owner Jen Badger has had to restock the shirts weekly since they went on sale in February.
“It’s a bigger hit than I thought it was going to be,” Badger said this week.
Bandleader-cum-visual artist Williamson, a 1966 graduate of Jefferson Community High School, initially thought he was just going to have Badger’s ShineOn designs screenprint a few Bushmen shirts for family ahead of September’s induction ceremony at Arnolds Park on Lake Okoboji.
Now, it seems, everyone wants one.
One Saturday morning, Badger arrived at More Time, 106 E. State St., to find someone waiting for her to open up just so they could buy a Bushmen shirt.
She recently took a call from someone requesting a Bushmen shirt in size XXXXL.
Shirts up to size 4XL are set to be in the next round of printing (already the third or fourth batch).
Baller, the band’s drummer, special-ordered a shirt to fit his dog.
Mike Butterworth, of the Nadas, the popular Des Moines band a generation removed from the teen hops of the ’60s, saw the Bushmen shirt and wanted to know how he could get one.
The Nadas are being inducted this year as well into the hall of fame.
“The Bushmen may never tour again, but the Bushmen T-shirts are going to go global,” Williamson joked.
Badger said the shirts, priced at a mere $10 (clearly, Williamson isn’t Gene Simmons), will be on sale at the store through September.
There’s just something about the shirt that invites conversation.
This past weekend at the Civic Center in Des Moines, a woman saw four mop-topped guys in collarless coats and asked Williamson if he was wearing a Beatles T-shirt underneath his jacket.
“I said, ‘No, it’s better. It’s a Bushmen shirt,’ ” Williamson said.
At a deli in Des Moines, Williamson explained, “A guy yelled over from another booth and asked, ‘Are you one of the Bushmen?’ ”
It just so happened the guy’s dad had been in a rock ‘n’ roll band, too.
What it really comes down to is a love of the music, which laid the foundation for everything to come, and of an era when the rules had yet to be written, which we can now only envy.
The Bushmen had the good fortune to come along in 1964 rather than 1974, and if you had to pick any 22-month span of time in which to be a cover band, they picked quite possibly the best 22 months on record.
Singles during that time evolved effortlessly from “Glad All Over” to “Eight Miles High.”
The Beatles alone progressed from “Can’t Buy Me Love” to “Rain,” with the “Rubber Soul” album in between.
Induction into the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame comes with an expectation that you’ll perform at the ceremony’s concert, set this year for Sept. 2.
“It was a lot easier to put a band together 50 years ago than it is to put a band back together,” Williamson quipped.
The Bushmen haven’t played a single lick together since that night in July 1966 at the roller rink (the present-day site of Spare Time Lanes).
Banister, who went on to become a classical guitarist in Europe, hasn’t played the bass or even rock ‘n’ roll for about as long.
He went out and bought a new bass specifically for the occasion.
Admittedly, it took a couple of practices for Williamson to get over his nervousness of playing with Banister again for the first time in more than five decades.
“He’s the real talent here,” Williamson said. “I’ve been six strings and a smile for years.”
The set list is solidifying, too, and at this early stage includes Chuck Berry’s “Memphis,” the Young Rascals’ “You Better Run” and the Kinks’ “I Need You.”
Calling the Bushmen a cover band, however, is a slight disservice. For them, it’s not about what you say, it’s how you say it.
“We’re after an essence,” Williamson said. “We’re not the Rumbles. We don’t want to sound like a different band on every song. We put the Bushmen sauce on everything.”
So what does the Bushmen sauce taste like after 52 years in the cupboard?
“We have all grown in different ways and we are not going to sound like we did 50 years ago,” Banister cautioned.
“We will sound better,” he added.
Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you sell a T-shirt.