Half a Century of Paul Reveres

It should have been easy knowing what to write about Paul Revere when he died – he was an Idaho icon forever. The trouble was that I knew so many Paul Reveres. Choosing one would be like writing a book with one chapter.
So here’s a little bit about all of them:
My first glimpse of Revere, who died last weekend, was at a Paul Revere and the Raiders dance at the old Miramar Ballroom on Fairview Avenue in the early 1960s. Originally a local band, the group had had some regional hits and were playing mainly in the Portland-Seattle area at the time. They were a big enough name by then that every high school in the valley was buzzing with the news of their return.
The Miramar was so packed that night they could have passed out grease guns to help people squeeze through the crowd. It took a long time to wriggle my way to the stage, where I stood for the rest of the night behind Revere’s upright piano. There wasn’t much choice, actually; the crush of bodies had me pinned. That was okay, though. I could see the entire band and was inches from Revere himself. A rock and roll junkie, I wouldn’t have traded the experience for the keys to a new car. That Paul Revere became my hero that night.
The following year, a miracle. Two friends of mine were playing in his band – Dick Walker on bass and Charlie Coe on guitar. Dick and I had met at Boise High School, and Charlie was my guitar teacher. One day Dick casually asked if I’d like to go to a rehearsal with him. A Raiders rehearsal? That was like asking if I’d like to have lunch with Elvis.
What I remember about that day was one song. Revere ran his band through an instrumental called “Night Train” for most of the afternoon. It wasn’t a difficult song, but he wanted it just so – the arrangement, the balance between the instruments, the tones of the instruments, the way the band members moved while they played.
That Paul Revere was a taskmaster. His Raiders were tight, solid and, by the rock and roll standards of the time, good musicians. Compare their version of “Louie Louie” with the Kingsmen’s. Revere’s was harder-edged, “blacker” sounding. It was a regional hit before the Kingsmen recorded theirs and scored the national hit. As Revere later put it, “I got the ball and went 99 yards and the Kingsmen scored the touchdown.”
The mid-60s brought Paul Revere the teen idol. He and a mostly new group of Raiders had a string of national hits and were the house band in a network television show. It was obvious they’d made it big, but I didn’t appreciate how big until last summer, when a member of that group played recordings for me of its appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, the Tonight Show and other programs. Johnny Carson called them “America’s number-one band.”
When the band’s run ended, its leader returned to Boise and became Paul Revere the businessman. He had a gift for predicting which way the city would grow and buying real estate in the right places. In addition to working at The Statesman then, I was a correspondent for People Magazine, which in its early days wasn’t limited to Hollywood fluff. One of my assignments was a “where are they now” story about Revere. The response from his fans encouraged him to start yet another Raiders band, and the Paul Revere of the oldies Circuit was born.
When he turned 50, I interviewed him by radio phone (no cells then) aboard a cruise ship in the Caribbean.
“You wouldn’t believe how much they’re paying me to play a show a night and spend the rest of my time having fun,” he said.
He sounded relaxed, happy. Who wouldn’t be? This was the Paul Revere who would spend the rest of his career playing aboard luxury liners, at casinos, state fairs, private parties for zillionaires … Good work if you can get it.
It was during this time that I came to know Paul Revere the storyteller. Time and again, I marveled as he mesmerized listeners with show-business yarns: The Beach Boys’ Dennis Wilson tossing a potted plant through a window of a high-rise hotel because it frightened his unstable brother Brian. A teen idol losing his platinum-plated Rolls Royce. Wayne Newton throwing a $500 microphone because the cord appeared too short (it wasn’t) for him to reach down and shake fans’ hands. He could tell stories like that all night, leaving all who heard them gasping with laughter.
The last Paul Revere I came to know was my friend. My wife and I spent some of the most enjoyable times of our lives at his and his wife Sydney’s beautiful home on Boise Avenue. We came to love her late mother almost as much as they did. When my mother died, Paul and Sydney were the only people outside the immediate family to attend her graveside service. And they surprised me again by showing up unexpectedly at my retirement party.
He played music almost to the end, even when he had to be carried on and offstage. When I asked him last summer if there was anything he still wanted to accomplish, he said he wanted to play until he was 99.
And he wanted to write his life story. He’d been talking to me for years about helping him with it. It would have been a great read because his life was spiced with so many great anecdotes. Did you know, for example, that as the teenage owner of a drive-in restaurant he was the one who came up with the names “Papa Burger,” “Mama Burger” and “Baby Burger,” now used by A&W drive-ins all over the world?
We actually got a start on the book, but his life was just too busy to do it the way it needed to be done.
It was on his mind almost to the end:
“We need to do it soon,” he said the last time we talked, in August. “This thing (the cancer) is gonna’ get me, and I need to do it before I don’t have any memory left.”
Until it actually happened, I couldn’t quite believe that he was dying. He was always such a force – larger than life, bigger than cancer.
Now that he’s gone the book won’t happen, which is a shame. It would take a book – a big one – to do justice to his stories, his wit, his amazing life and extraordinary personality.
With that I’ll wrap it up. I need to have a drink and cry for my friend.

Tim Woodward’s column appears in the Idaho Statesman every other Sunday and is posted on http://www.woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at woodwardcolumn@hotmail.com.

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