The Masked Marauders–A Musical Mystery Solved

Our small crowded map company office is not very office-like. It is never visited by any business associates. Our important customers are not local and are not near enough to bother visiting us, nor would they have any need or reason to. So the office décor is relaxed and personal. Large shelves full of books, walls hung with pictures–from old, framed classroom images of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln to color posters advertising The Beatles at the London Palladium, 1963. Photo calendars, tiny Civil War era flags, Statue of Liberty holding forth a working light, little circus figures, Civil War posters, D-Day maps, artifacts, political signage, posters advertising a 1977 Jasper Johns exhibit, framed photographs of Buddy Holly, grandfather Charlie McDermott in his WWI uniform somewhere in France, U.S. Grant, Antietam battlefield, PT Boat calendars…all visible from the corridor.

People tend to poke their heads in.

One of these people is a very nice chap named Mark Voorheis. He lives in nearby Friendship, NY. A very small town and like all of Western New York, it has seen better days a long, long time ago. Despite this small town residency, Mark is very much a man of the world. Heavily involved in Friendship affairs, the Underground Railroad, the Gatling gun in front of the American Legion, the library board, genealogy, the Civil War, veteran issues and knowledgeable to an extraordinary degree about all of them. Mark had actually attended a Beatle concert in 1966 in Boston and gave me his annotated program of the event. It’s hard to waste your time with anybody who pops in. Everybody who settles in to talk has some fascinating interest, background, area of expertise…and most have more than one.

Mark Voorheis stopped by one afternoon in late 2006. He was in the vicinity. His ultimate musical idol is Jerry Lee Lewis. He was talking Jerry Lee Lewis, highly recommending the Hellfire (?) biography and urging me to read it. (I did. Jerry is not exactly a charming cad. Pretty much just a cad. Though John Lennon stated for the record that The Beatles never recorded anything to compare with Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On, which canonizes Jerry Lee and covers a multitude of sins.)

We were talking music and enthusiasms. I mentioned that I collected bootleg Beatle albums. My first “bootleg,” passed to me by a friend in 1969, was The Beatles’ original Get Back album. It had been released in a plain jacket only to select DJ’s but then the trade release was nixed and the whole project was delayed and revamped. Ironically, this early version of the album, never officially released, was vastly superior to what was eventually “reproduced,” lathered up and released as Let It Be.

As with all the conversations carried on at our shop, this one wandered. Eventually it came to rest on another murky release around the same time period. I brought up the strange case of The Masked Marauders album. It had been clearly established that it wasn’t a supergroup recording anonymously but what it in fact was, I’d never heard.

Mark rather casually remarked that “The Masked Marauders” was he and his brother and a couple of his brother’s friends who sang and played on that album. Mark, sitting across from me, was, specifically, the droll voice that intoned the opening, “Duke, Duke, Duke, Duke of Earl…

This he also remarked casually.

Thus the whole masked Marauders story emerged. Rhino records had, I learned, released a CD of the original album and supplemented it with voluminous liner notes (or whatever you call the copy that accompanies a CD) containing everything there was to know about the genesis of the recording, the deliberate mystery about it and some really quirky bits, such as the fact that Sharon Tate (Charles Manson’s victim) was originally to have graced the cover.

The startling local angle to this 60’s rock ruse and legend was passed along to the Olean Times Herald newspaper. Reporter Tom Donahue wasn’t as staggered by this breakthrough as I had been but he appreciated the exciting development and covered it with a fine and finally accurate account of a story which had percolated in my life for nearly forty years. I wonder what rock and roll mystery could wash up next at our door.

Elvis anyone?

Shorty Black Raincoats

In the 4th book of my novel Sidereal Days, the fictional band the Sparrows land late in the evening at London Airport in October 1964 for a month-long tour of England. They are met late at night at the airport by an unlikely duo–two Englishmen in “shorty black raincoats.” They are none other than George Harrison and John Lennon, who welcome their fellow rock & rollers to Britain.

I was contacted by a reader who thought this scenario was preposterous. Why would George and John, certainly not known as nature’s noblemen, go out of their way to welcome a middling American rock & roll band in the middle of the night to London Airport and England. It’s a fair question and one I can only answer by saying, I don’t know why exactly except that the two actually did this very thing. The timing was a little different but when America’s greatest little band of all time, the Lovin’ Spoonful, flew to Britain in 1966, there to greet them were John and George. The meeting was captured by a photographer and the photograph appeared in the great teen magazine of the day, 16 Magazine. The little gathering of musicians are huddled in a circle and appear for all the world like hip heads of state conferring about the issues of the day. The first issue was likely, “Were yellow Sun records actually from Nashville or was it Memphis?” Or perhaps John Lennon was asking John Sebastian where he got the wire rim glasses he was wearing – a question that within a year or two would revolutionize the optometry business.

It’s well-known that the Beatles were immense fans of American rock & roll and always felt that the Brits did a version of rock & roll but that the Americans were the actual authentic fountain. And the Beatles were always willing to pay homage to the original source. John Lennon was later to say that the Beatles never did anything to compare with Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On. But of course John Lennon said an awful lot of things.

Jerry Lee

We sent out postcards announcing the e-publication and availability of our first title, Sidereal Days, The History of Rock & Roll, A Romance. The postcard hoped to pique recipient’s interest by posing a few esoteric/obscure r&r trivia questions. The answers to all questions are of course embedded into the novel itself.

In the mean time here are some answers…..

Jerry Lee Lewis heard Elvis’s first recordings and saw the Sun Records label and determined to travel to Memphis and showcase his song to producer Sam Phillips at Sun. Jerry Lee was apparently completely broke at the time but he was a man in a hurry. So he hustled around, managed to sell 13 dozen eggs, pocketed the money and made his way to Memphis. Phillips, luckily for the future of r&r, was an accomodating and accessible guy and invited Jerry Lee to pull up a piano and show what he had. Ten seconds of Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On was enough to convince Sam Phillips that it would be a hit. Right again.