The Capital of Annapolis

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The years melt away when Dave Walenga picks up his drum sticks and jams with his friends.

Each time they take the stage, they’re teenagers again, ready to take the rock and roll world by storm. At least until the gig ends.

“Then the aches and pains set in,” said Walenga, who resides in Linthicum.

But it’s worth the effort. The six members of The Sixth Generation are starting to strike it big in the sixth decade of their lives.

“To be able to have a second chance is a blessing, it really is,” Walenga said. “We don’t want to be good for our age, we want to be good.”

The band has a new CD, “That Was…. This Is,” and is planning about 30 shows next year in several states. Most will be in the Midwest or the Mid-Atlantic. Three members live in Michigan, where the band was founded; two live in Maryland, and the other resides in Virginia.

They split monthly practices between the two regions, and are already working on a second CD. Not bad for a group that took a 40-year hiatus. They kept in touch, but never entertained a reunion until one of their daughters mentioned it.

“We’ve always been so close,” said keyboard player Ron Hamrick of Burke, Va., who is CEO of an IT company. “When we’re back together, it’s like we never were apart. Our chemistry adds something to the music, it really does.”

Kathy Lunz is certainly a believer. She likes to say she’s the group’s “number one groupie,” and flew to Michigan for the first reunion show.

“I love these guys,” she said. “(They play) music that makes you feel good.”

Lunz works at Petal Pusher Florist & Gifts in Linthicum Heights, where the band had a CD signing last weekend. Sue Crawford of Glen Burnie, who met Walenga in exercise class, bought two copies.

“I like all (the songs),” she said. “It just brings back lots of memories of good, old days.”

That’s not by coincidence. The group’s songs have a `60s flavor and are filled with generational observations and reminiscences. The CD’s cover features two watches, another reference to time.

“It’s nice to give someone a two-hour capsule where they can be taken to a simpler time,” said Walenga, a grandfather who designs and sells swimming pools.

The Sixth Generation got back together in the fall of 2010, practiced steadily, and began playing a few concerts. They were voted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends hall of fame last year and began working on their first album.

Before college and draft ended the band’s initial four-year run in 1970, the group put out a 45 with an original song, “This Is The Time.”

The tune is featured on the CD, as well as Hamrick’s sequel “That Was The Time,” several other originals and remakes of classics such as “Love Potion (hash)9,” “Heatwave,” and “Runaway.”

The band’s other members are: Fred Bachman, Steve Blevins, Paul Davies and Fred Hulce.

“Back in the day, were a big fish in a small pond,” Hamrick said. “We’re looking for more this time around.”
Replacement player

The biggest challenge in the band’s comeback was the retirement of one of its members.

When Alexandria, Va. resident John Dale left, the group could have trudged on with five members, or broken up. Neither option was ever considered.

Instead, they started looking for a replacement.

As it turned out, new technology helped bring the old band back to full strength.

After exchanging over 50 emails with potential candidates, and calling a dozen, the group auditioned six people. The last was Bowie resident Steve Blevins, who they found through Craigslist.

“There are a lot of good players, but we were looking for a brother,” Walenga said. “And we found Steve.”

Blevins, who is an Emmy-winning freelance artist, plays guitar, saxophone and flute and has added an extra layer of musicianship, his bandmates said. He’s been with the group about a year.

Blevins has played in bands since high school, but didn’t think he did so well when he tried out. The others thought differently.

“They saw past the first-day jitters,” said Blevins, who most recently was in tribute groups for The Monkees and the Grateful Dead. “It’s been really great.”

The Sixth Generation hopes to have its second CD ready for the summer. Walenga said the new songs they’re working on are “tighter and superior” to previous material.

“We appreciate each other and our life experiences,” he said. “Even when we have creative differences, it always comes down to what’s best for the band.”

The biggest challenge is finding the time to practice and perform. “I wish my other job would allow me more time for this job,” said Hamrick.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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