|Lothar & The Handpeople|
Illini Union, early 1967
As the 60’s progressed however, groups started taking on more unique monikers. In the psychedelic era, it seemed the more unusual and absurd the better. Names such as the Strawberry Alarm Clock, the Chocolate Watchband, Iron Butterfly or the Electric Prunes come to mind.
Another, Lothar and the Hand People, clearly falls into this category which is what makes it all the more incredible that there were TWO bands with the name.
In the summer of 1966 the band relocated to New York. It was around then that the band’s sound began to change from a blues-based rock to a more experimental psychedelic rock. The group eventually became known for their use of a theremin and were considered pioneers for their blending of electronics and synthesizers with rock music. The group would also jam with Jimi Hendrix and share the stage with the Grateful Dead and the Byrds.
Between 1967 and 1969, the group recorded three singles and two albums for Capitol Records. Their most popular song being “Space Hymn” which was the title track off of their second and final LP. The group called it quits in 1970.
Meanwhile... back in Illinois
|Daily Illini, Oct. 15, 1965|
That was really the core of the group through second semester of 1965-66. At the end of the semester, Lee Neher got a draft notice and left the band. For fall semester of 1966, we decided to play as a four piece with Fiorio, Eiter, Kastner, and me. That was the best lineup, and lasted until fall of 1967.
|Lothar at the Red Lion Inn, Spring 1967|
After breaking up, several members formed another group which was briefly known as W.C. Fields before changing their name to Uncle Otto’s General Store.
Guitarist Bill Fiorio would go on to join an early lineup of REO Speedwagon before changing his stage name to Duke Tumatoe. Over the decades, he has released several albums as Tumatoe and continues to perform today.
In the spring of 1965, at the apartments at Orchard Downs (where the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity was living due to a fire at the chapter house), Bill Geist and I were tossing around potential names for rock'n'roll bands. A couple of guys and I had put together a small band specifically to play for an Alpha Chi sorority exchange. Memory fails me a little here, but the two names we came up with were The Vice-Grimmick Five and Lothar and the Hand People.
Geist had the habit of calling a lot of things hand-so and so, and that's where that part of the name came from. I came up with Lothar, the sidekick of Mandrake the Magician in the Sunday funnies. It just seemed to fit. As it turned out, we used "The Vice-Grimmick Five" for the exchange, and I think we only knew about four or five songs. I was playing guitar then, Frank Eiter was on drums, Bill Schneider (a Sigma Chi) was playing bass, and Duff Schweniger was singing. If we had five people, I don't remember the missing name, but we may have had only four, which would have made the name even funnier.
That summer ('65) the drummer, Frank Eiter, who was also a Fine and Applied Arts major in industrial design, went back home to Geneva, Illinois, and played in a local band of friends. He also had decided to paint his bass drum head with the name Lothar and the Hand People. As it turned out, Frank's band was hired to play a Phi Gam fraternity rush event one night that summer. As I lived in Western Springs at the time, I attended, as did a lot of Chicago area students from Phi Gam.
As I wandered around the "rush party" that night I ran into a perspective rushee from my high school (LTHS) named Tom Flye. Tom was also a drummer and I had met him briefly when I was still a senior at LT and played in a band called the Invictas. I don't remember exactly how I knew him, but suffice it to say that we chatted for a few minutes, and then moved on. The fact that Tom was one of the Colorado "Lothars" means that he had seen Frank's bass drum head, and, probably innocently enough, took it with him to school, probably not even knowing that that same fall semester, we were forming Lothar on campus in Champaign, as part of an all-fraternity Phi Gam band.
Davis adds, “We probably should have tried to register the name, but we were just dumb college kids with dreams of stardom.”
In Jack’s defense, I don’t think anyone could have predicted that another band would pick up on the name and claim it for their own. At the same time, the Denver group likely had no knowledge of the Champaign group.
Without Jack Davis connecting the dots to that chance meeting with Tom Flye in the summer of 1965, the question of how two bands arrived at such an usual band name at the same time would have likely remained a mystery.
While both groups disbanded more than 50 years ago, Sundazed Music has just released two live recordings of the Denver-based Lothar including a concert from 1966 recorded in Denver at the Exodus club. It is a rare audio document of the band in their bluesy garage rock days.
|The Hop (WCIA), Spring 1967|
For more info on the Jack Davis collection at the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: Finding Aid for Jack W Davis Papers
For more info on the Denver group: Lothar and the Hand People