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Hermits, Animals, and a British Invasion Beat-Down

Herman's Hermits circa 1965 (Image credit: Lucas0707 via Wikipedia, CC BY SA 3.0)

It was Thursday July 1, 1966, and the British Invasion was in full swing. Beatlemania had engendered a musical wave that had swamped America with numerous English pop and rock groups. Rolling Stone Keith Richards and Kinks front-man/rhythm guitarist Ray Davies were both twenty-one years old. I was fourteen. The British were coming to Honolulu in the form of Herman’s Hermits and The Animals, and I had tickets.

I couldn’t have known going in that it wouldn’t only be rock stars who laid down a “beat” that night.

Though the Beatles never played the islands, everybody else did. In those days, airliners couldn’t cover the distance to Japan and points east without a refueling stopover at Honolulu International. The record labels and band management figured it made sense to add a show. The arrival of these musicians was something of a happening in the midst of the quiet Pacific Ocean. Such arrivals were always trumpeted in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, which I scanned regularly to see who I would be spending my allowance money on. In a box of thoroughly yellowed newspaper clippings from that era, I have images of both Herman (Peter Noone) and Animal’s vocalist Eric Burdon stepping off 707s, wincing and pasty in the unremitting sunlight.

Though the Hermits were the million-sellers and the top of the bill for Honolulu International Center’s (since renamed the Blaisdell Arena) sold-out show, it was the Animals that I was chiefly excited about. While Herman, with his schoolboy charm—he was only nineteen—and instantly recognizable vocal delivery had catapulted the group into the highest reaches of female-driven stardom, the Animals were gritty, blues-based, and heavier.

Back then, unlike rock shows to come which largely dispensed with such formalities, an announcer always came out to whip up the fans. A star promoter named Tom Moffatt usually did the honors at the biggest shows. When Moffatt introduced the Animals, the rafter-packed house lit up. They’d splashed down in 1964 with a riveting turn on “House of the Rising Sun,” and the originals they penned thereafter cemented their popularity.

After an interim of fifty-five years, I can’t remember the exact set-list, but can envision them opening the show with a song like “It’s My Life.”

The group surely would have played “Don’t Bring Me Down.” Just released that May, the moody number featuring Alan Price’s trademark pulsating organ had climbed to #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.

It’s a good bet The Animals closed the show with their second best-known number, “We Gotta Get Outa This Place.” The iconic song, anchored by bassist Chas Chandler’s genius riffage, rose to #2 and #13 on the British and American singles charts respectively, and would undeniably have brought down the house at the HIC. (It also just happened to be the anthem for the more rebellious students at the high school I attended, Maryknoll Catholic.)

In retrospect, the contrast between Hermits and Animals couldn’t have been starker, but interestingly, it was the former who agreed to take the latter out on the road in support. Noone confirmed in later interviews that his band “liked” The Animals.

The Hermits had something going for them that The Animals didn’t: a cacophony of ear-shattering screams from the females in attendance. When Herman hit the stage, probably to the up-tempo strains of something like “I’m Into Something Good,” the testosterone-laced appreciation of Burdon and company gave way to a mass influx of estrogen-inspired hysteria.

The level of frenzy likely increased when the Hermits laid down the hardest-hitting hit in their repertoire:

The rest is Hermit’s history, a history that includes the sale of 80 million records. Amazingly, as of Super Bowl Sunday 2018, Mr. Noone and his Hermits were still at it.

After the final encore, I did what I always did: made my way to the huge interior corridor through which the limousines would depart, hoping to possibly meet or at least catch glimpse of the rock stars. By the time I got down out of my $3.00 seat, hundreds of teenagers had descended, and the Honolulu police had cordoned the corridor off with a rope. I spotted a friend of mine from Maryknoll High, Randy, one of the rebellious kids. We maneuvered our way to the front of the throng awaiting the superstar Brits. We were right on the rope when Alan produced a jackknife.

I looked up at him, shook my head, and said, “No.”

But he got a devilish gleam in his eye and I knew he was going to do it. The fans, mostly girls, were straining at the rope when a black sixties limo appeared at the end of the corridor. As the vehicle neared, Randy opened his knife, reached down cutting upwards, and cut the rope. It fell, and the mob burst forth.

At that precise moment, one of the policemen saw what Randy had done.

A word about the frontline cops in the 1965 Honolulu Police Department: many of them were huge Hawaiian and Samoan men. While two burly officers fought back the surge of fans, three others jumped on Randy. The limo accelerated and sped past, and through the half-tint window I could see Herman’s bemused expression as girls scrummed close enough to endanger themselves.

Meanwhile, unconstrained by contemporary strictures against law enforcement, three cops were beating the living s%$t out of Randy. They moved him toward a nondescript metal door, pummeling him all the way. I’m talking roundhouse punches to the head, and close-quarter elbows jammed into ribs. The last I saw of my schoolmate he was being thrust through the door in the battering clutches of majorly pissed-off cops.

Another limo rolled past as girls screamed, and in its wake, I saw the jackknife lying on the concrete in the middle of the corridor. I believe the cops left it there so that observers would know why they had beaten the hell out of Randy. Finally, as the mob realized the show was over and made for the exits, one of the cops sauntered over and picked it up.

Over the ensuing weekend, I found Randy’s phone number in the Maryknoll student/family directory and called to see how he was doing. His voice didn’t sound so good. He told me he was bruised over much of his body, including several welts on his face and swollen lumps on his head. He told me he was resting and recovering. Not surprisingly, since the Maryknoll community was pretty upper-crust economically and privileged, Randy told me that his parents were considering a lawsuit against the HPD for the whooping they’d administered on his ass.

I remember thinking, but not saying, that I didn’t think that was going to fly.