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Catalina Island Museum's rock n' roll symposium next weekend

On December 10, 1963 the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite introduced the American public to an obscure musical group from Liverpool that was causing near riots among teenagers in Great Britain. When the Beatles played on the Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday, February 9, 1964 nearly half of all American television sets were tuned to the broadcast. Two months later, the "British Invasion" was in full swing. During the next three years British musicians dominated the American music charts.

But just what was it that made these British artists so appealing to American teenagers? In many respects the answer is surprising. This symposium, The Catalina Island Museum Presents The British Invasion Rocks America is the first of its kind and will examine the migration of the blues from America to Britain and back to America during the "British Invasion."

Catalina Island resident and rock icon Spencer Davis worked with the museum to organize the symposium, which takes place in the Avalon Casino on June 30th. The Spencer Davis Group produced such hits as "I'm a Man" and "Gimme Some Lovin'" and was at the center of rock 'n' roll during the 1960s.

"The symposium includes many of the best known figures of both American and British rock 'n 'roll," Davis stated in a recent interview from his home overlooking Avalon's harbor. "I was really surprised and quite pleased that people such as Peter Asher and Micky Dolenz almost immediately accepted our invitation to participate in the symposium. It was quite clear from the beginning that the idea was both timely and compelling. One thing is for certain: all of the participants tell wildly entertaining, highly insightful stories when they were giants of rock 'n' roll."

When "I Want To Hold Your Hand" hit the top of the US charts in 1964, giving the Beatles their first number one single in America, it was the start of this country being bombarded with British artists. As part of the popular duo Peter and Gordon, Peter Asher was at the center of the onslaught. But, as he revealed in a 2010 interview, he witnessed one of the earliest moments of the so-called "British Invasion."

Peter Asher in the studio

Asher met Paul McCartney while he was dating his younger sister, the acclaimed actress Jane Asher. Although yet to arrive on American shores, Beatlemania was sweeping England, and McCartney found a refuge at the Asher home in central London. It was in the basement of this house that John Lennon often joined him at an upright piano. Asher remembered, "One particular afternoon, John came over. They were down there for about an hour and a half. They called me down and asked if I wanted to hear what they'd written. They sat side by side on the piano [and played me] a very early version of 'I Want to Hold Your Hand.' I felt it was a great artistic moment."

Today, Peter Asher tours the world with his own multi-media show dedicated to his life and music: "Peter Asher: A Musical Memoir of the Sixties and Beyond."

"I am absolutely thrilled that Micky Dolenz accepted our invitation to be a guest at the symposium," Michael De Marsche, the museum's Executive Director stated. "We have an incredible lineup of speakers that includes Spencer Davis, Peter Asher, Emperor Rosko and Martin Lewis. Micky now takes us over the top."

Singing the vocals on such hits as "Last Train to Clarksville" and "I'm a Believer," The Monkees enjoyed a string of hit singles between 1966 and 1969. The television series starring Dolenz, Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork and Davy Jones was partly inspired by The Beatles' film A Hard Day's Night, and the overwhelming success of The Monkees in recordings, concerts, television and radio made clear that the demographic of America had undergone a dramatic shift.

Reflecting the enormous cultural changes that were occurring in 1967, the group went psychedelic and starred in their own film, Head. Dolenz proved himself to be not only a superb singer but also a versatile comedian and actor. During the ensuing years after The Monkees' initial success, Dolenz embarked on a solo career and occasionally re-united in concert with fellow Monkees Peter Tork and Davy Jones.

With Steve Winwood singing such hits as "Gimme Some Lovin'" and "I'm a Man," the Spencer Davis Group was one of the most respected bands that invaded America during the 1960s. The exhibition Gimme Some Lovin': The Spencer Davis Group opens on June 30th at the Catalina Island Museum and is the first exhibition dedicated to the band. The exhibition draws from Spencer Davis' own archive of photographs, memorabilia and recorded interviews.

The Spencer Davis Group circa 1966

"Unlike so many groups coming out of Britain in the mid-1960s, the Spencer Davis Group was not a pop band trying to emulate the Beatles," Michael De Marsche recently stated. "They were a band heavily indebted to American blues. They incorporated that sound with greater authenticity than any other band of the time - British or American. My question was: how did a bunch of white guys from England and Wales create music that sounded like it came from rural Mississippi or Alabama?"

To answer the question De Marsche sought out Spencer Davis, a long-time resident of Catalina Island. The two met during a visit to the island by Pattie Boyd, former wife of George Harrison and Eric Clapton, whose photographs were exhibited at the Catalina Island Museum in 2011.

"I've been interested in the influence of the blues on British rock for a long time. I thought I knew a thing or two until I met Spencer. His knowledge is absolutely encyclopedic, and his interest started when he was a kid. He had exotic tastes for his native Wales, and he developed early an abiding love for black musicians from the American South. The raw emotion of the blues was far different than anything he could hear on BBC radio. The music inspired him to pick up the guitar and sing. After he enrolled in college, he realized that he could make a little money singing and playing the blues in little pubs and coffee shops."

It was during Spencer Davis' earliest days as a musician that a single comment from a pub owner changed his life.

"He was told that the trend was toward hiring groups like the Beatles, who were now all the rage in Britain," states De Marsche. "He's living in Birmingham and begins to search the city for a few musicians who might share his interest in American blues. He finds himself one night in a dark, little back room and hears a boy of 15 who is, in Spencer's words, playing the piano like Oscar Peterson and singing like Ray Charles. He recognized immediately that Steve Winwood was something special. But, as Spencer is fond of saying, the important thing was that they had similar record collections."

Spencer Davis' discovery of Steve Winwood's immense talent is a defining moment in rock history. Joined by Steve's brother Muff on bass and Peter York on drums, the Spencer Davis Group exploded onto the music scene, releasing within a brief period of time a series of hits, including "Somebody Help Me," "Keep on Running," "Gimme Some Lovin'" and "I'm a Man." The band rocketed from obscurity into instant stardom.

A documentary film accompanies the exhibition and is focused on interviews conducted with Davis while De Marsche organized the exhibition. The film is shown in the gallery, where all the photographs are exhibited. You can hear Spencer tell the story of the band while viewing the photographs. His commentary reveals aspects of the group's history never told before. And it shouldn't be forgotten that nearly all of the photographs haven't been seen in over 50 years. It's a unique exhibition, offering a rare glimpse into one of the era's most celebrated bands.

The opening reception for the exhibition Gimme Some Lovin': The Spencer Davis Group will take place on June 30th at 6:00 p.m at the Catalina Island Museum. The reception is free to museum members and $10 for non-members. The exhibition runs through August 22nd.

The Catalina Island Museum's symposium will include Martin Lewis, the L.A.-based, British-born TV and radio personality, who is a widely-respected scholar on the Beatles and British pop culture. Lewis will moderate the a panel discussion with musicians Spencer Davis, Peter Asher, and Micky Dolenz together with DJ Emperor Rosko formerly of Britain's first pirate radio station - Radio Caroline. A question and answer period with the audience will occur after the symposium.

Lewis commented on the upcoming event, "It is fascinating to me that so few American admirers of the Beatles and the other British Invasion artists realize the incredible influence on UK artists of American music. In essence, without this country's phenomenal musical culture , there would never have been a British Invasion. So it is fitting as we approach July 4th - a date that is usually regarded as Independence Day that on Catalina we will be celebrating what I call Co-Dependence Day! Examining and saluting the connections between American and British music and how the former inspired the latter. I'm especially pleased to be joining with old pals Spencer, Peter and Micky and such a broadcasting giant as Rosko for this incredible event. I encourage those in traveling distance of Catalina to join us for this fun voyage into the rich history of the British Invasion."

The Catalina Island Museum Presents The British Invasion Rocks America will take place on Saturday, June 30 at 4:00 p.m. in the theater of the Avalon Casino. Immediately following the symposium at 6:30 p.m., symposium participants will be available for a signing in the museum's Harbor Room. The signing is free to the public. The opening reception for the exhibition Gimme Some Lovin': The Spencer Davis Group will take place on the same day at 6:00 p.m in the museum. Spencer Davis and the Catalina Island All-Stars will perform during a Fourth of July Concert and Fireworks at The Point at the Avalon Casino. The concert begins at 6:00 p.m.

For more information or to purchase tickets to the symposium, exhibition or concert, the museum may be reached by phone at 310-510-2414 or at its website

The Catalina Island Museum is Avalon's sole institution devoted to art, culture and history. The museum, its digital theater and store are located on the ground floor of Avalon's historic Casino and are open 7 days a week, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Published June 21, 2012

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