Take Five: The Early Rides of Paul Revere

In part because the group’s leader was named after a hero of the Revolutionary War – and because the band’s choice of dress doubled down on that image – Paul Revere and the Raiders have often been thought of as America’s answer to the so-called British Invasion. But in truth, the pianist and bandleader born Paul Revere Dick put his group together in the late 1950s, with a style that was in line with like-minded hard-charging Pacific Northwest bands like The Sonics and The (Fabulous) Wailers.

And while the campy and wisecracking Revere was the group’s namesake, he wasn’t its front man; that role was ably filled by pony-tailed and powerful singer (and, in the early days, saxophonist) Mark Lindsay. By the time the group hit its mid-sixties commercial stride – with hits like “Just Like Me,” “Good Thing,” “Kicks,” “Hungry,” “Him or Me (What’s it Gonna Be)” and many more – Revere’s musical role in the group would diminish, with him often not even appearing on the recordings. But in the band’s early days, Revere – who would be co-credited* (with Lindsay) for writing many of the Raiders’ biggest hits – proved his musical mettle with some fiery rhythm and blues piano work. Here are five tunes that showcase the expansive artistry of Paul Revere, who would have celebrated his 86th birthday this January.

“Beatnick Sticks” (1960)
The debut single from Paul Revere and the Raiders, “Beatnick Sticks” doesn’t traffic in the style for which the group would find well-deserved fame in the mid ‘60s. Instead, the instrumental tune features some sprightly boogie-woogie piano work from bandleader Revere along with a snappy, twangy guitar solo by lead guitarist Robert Wright. With songwriting credited to the group, “Beatnick Sticks” is essentially an r&b reading of the 19th century waltz “Chopsticks.”

“Like, Long Hair” (1961)
Following on from their first single, The Raiders continued with another instrumental, one that would also provide the title to the band’s debut long player. Riffing on a Sergei Rachmaninoff piece from 1892, “Like, Long Hair” showcases Revere playing in a style reminiscent of New Orleans barrelhouse piano, trading licks with guitarist Wright. Unlike “Beatnick Sticks,” The Raiders’ second single found its way into the national Top 40 on both the Billboard and Cashbox charts.

“Louie Louie” (1963)
Fellow Pacific Northwesterners The Kingsmen would have the mega-hit with their immortal reading of this 1955 Richard Berry tune, but in fact The Raiders cut their version the same week in April 1963 (and in the same Portland, Oregon recording studio). Compared to the proto-punk version of The Kingsmen, The Raiders’ recording puts more emphasis on the r&b feel of the song. It’s often forgotten now, but The Raiders’ “Louie Louie” soared to #1 in select markets, and likely would have done better nationally had Columbia Records head Mitch Miller not been so antagonistic and dismissive toward rock and roll.

“So Fine” (1963)
Written by legendary r&b band leader Johnny Otis, “So Fine” was a hit for The Fiestas in 1958 (#3 R&B, #11 pop). Other artists who would cover the tune included Ike & Tina Turner, Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs, The Ventures and The Everly Brothers. The Raiders’ version appeared on their 1963 self-titled LP, made when two of the band’s core “power trio” members (guitarist Drake “The Kid” Levin and drummer Mike “Smitty” Smith) were on board.

“Steppin’ Out” (1966)
When songwriter Richard Berry passed on the opportunity to write a song in the “Louie Louie” style for The Raiders, Revere and Lindsay decided to whip one up themselves. The result was “Steppin’ Out,” a sneering punk song in the garage rock tradition. Released as a single, the song nearly cracked the Top 40, but its influence would outpace its initial chart performance. With Lindsay’s forceful vocal, Revere’s rhythm work on Vox organ and super-tight playing from the power trio (Drake, Smitty and spirited new bassist Phil “Fang” Volk), “Steppin’ Out” would inspire a generation of rockers. And each and every one of the eight Raiders singles to follow would hit the Top 40.

* It is true, however, that by the time of “Steppin’ Out” and other Raiders smash hits, Revere’s songwriting co-credit was little more than a polite fiction; in later years Lindsay would – in his words – get “all the publishing back as well as [Revere’s] ‘writer’s’ share.”