Pittsburgh was one of the last towns to succumb to the British invasion of the early 1960s, thanks to an R&B soul and a garage-rock scene that provided the region with a hard hat alternative to what the Brits were throwing down.
One of those bands was Clairton's Arondies. Guitarist Jim Pavlack and drummer Bill Scully starting playing and singing together in the early '60s. Gary Pittman joined up as a singer and bass player.
By the end of 1962, they had a solid rock & roll trio heavily into R&B. They formed the Arondies and began to book gigs, doing shows by late 1963. They worked the local Mon Valley circuit, from the Juliot Hotel to the Sigma Nu frat house to the Clairton VFW. As Scully recalls, with a grin, "We were big celebrities - in Clairton."
By late 1964, they'd begun recording demos and early in 1965, they released their debut single on the Astra label, "69" b/w "All My Love," both written by the band.
After cutting "69," the Arondies started working with local WMCK jock, promoter, and all-around Svengali, Terry Lee. While TL and Porky were blissfully spinning the record, the other stations shied away from playing a song titled "69."
"My uncle Al McDowell was at KDKA at the time," Scully told the Post Gazette, "so my aunt and uncle took the record to Clark Race and asked if he would play it. So Clark is listenin', and it's got this nice sound, and we say '69,' and he says, 'I can't play this.' My aunt didn't know." We remember a push by the label to rename the song "The Class of '69", but that ploy didn't really fool anyone.
Still, the Arondies sold 10,000 copies of "69," regarded as a garage rock instrumental classic and to this day Pittsburgh's signature rock anthem among its boomer generation.
A month after making a splash with "69," they split with Lee in a fight over the Benjamins. He was getting them lots of bookings, often two or three shows per night, but not very healthy paychecks. The royalty checks looked a little on the slim side, too. All work and no pay...
Scully quit the band. Pittman and Pavlack formed the Soul Congress, picking up Uniontown soulman Billy Sha-Rae and kit player Jack O'Neill of The Grant Street Exit. They moved on to the Motor City, where they backed artists like the O'Jays. In '71, they scored a minor R&B hit with "Do It."
Meanwhile, Scully hooked up with Herb Marshall in a jazz-rock quartet, but by the '70s, all of the members were out of the music business. The facts of life are that garage bands have the shelf span of a May fly.
"69" is still a local cult hit, and was resurrected in the '80s by the Cynics, whose Gregg Kostelich in 1999 released the first Arondies CD on the Get Hip label, "Introducing the Arondies." The 13 tracks were laid in live sessions dating from November 1964 to a radio appearance on WMCK from 1965.
And you know what - it still holds up pretty well today. Garage rock is really the roots of rock.
Arondies - "69"