The Left Banke
July 7, 8 p.m., $40, $55, Infinity Music Hall & Bistro. Route 44, 20 Greenwoods Road, Norfolk, (866) 666-6306, infinityhall.com
It is one of those songs you have probably heard hundreds of times. Along with "Like A Rolling Stone," "Good Vibrations," "A Whiter Shade Of Pale" and "Satisfaction," it was released in the '60s and helped to define the era. It has transcended the period. It is called "Walk Away Renee." And with its stately, lacy harpsichord, its melancholy flute and stoically anguished lyric about a boy reminiscing about a girl he will never get over, it has comforted legions of lovelorn teens (and adults) since 1966. It was recorded by the Left Banke. And it is among the indelible, exquisite pop songs you'll hear them play, should you go to Infinity Hall on July 7.
"Aside from it being a Top Ten hit for us, you can't believe how many people have recorded the song," said guitarist Tom Finn, an original and current member of the Banke. "Everyone has done it. From the Four Tops to the Four Seasons. And, I constantly hear about incredibly hip bands who love all our stuff. People like Oasis and the Stone Roses. It's a great feeling, being so fondly remembered."
This music, once labeled "Baroque Pop," due to its use of classical instruments and elements, seemed, back in the '60s, like it was going to propel the Left Banke into the commercial stratosphere. That along with songs like (the Top Twenty gem) "Pretty Ballerina" and "She May Call You Up Tonight," this group of New Yorkers would get rich and become as big as the Beatles. But things didn't quite turn out that way.
"'Walk Away Renee' was cowritten by Michael Brown, whose last name is really Lookofsky," said the intense-sounding Finn. "The thing is though, Michael's father, Harry, managed us, produced us and owned our publishing. He had us sewn up and was mostly looking after his son's interests. We were selling records, man. But we'd go on tour and play to good-sized audiences, come back home and be broke. So almost right away we knew something was wrong with our business setup."
Not terribly long after the Left Banke released their now-legendary debut, Finn says that manager and son contrived some rather nefarious plans.
"Since Michael cowrote most of the material, his father decided [Michael] was the Left Banke. So they tried to fire all of us and just use a bunch of other guys to back Michael."
The rest of the Left Banke went to court and gained the right to use the famous name. But with the momentum interrupted, their great moment was gone.
Still, the Left Banke's music stayed on the air and in the public consciousness. In 2011, Finn and another founding member, George Cameron, decided to reform the group. Michael Brown and singer Steve Martin have sat in from time to time as well. Like their occasional touring partners, the Zombies, there's a cool, untrendy aspect to the band's music that has made them extremely hip to subsequent generations.
Some of the shadow members of the Left Banke, people who were in the group or simply backed them up, make for an interesting side story. "For a little while, Michael McKean [of This Is Spinal Tap fame] was a member of the group. As was [original Hair cast member] Bert Sommer, who went onto a brief but successful solo career," said Finn. "But the guy most people ask about is Steven Tyler [of Aerosmith]. He used to hang out with me in the '60s. And wanted so much to be in the group that we let him do background vocals on that first album. He was Steven Tallarico then, from Yonkers. Who knew?"
Finn has a theory about why subsequent generations have remained interested in the Left Banke. "We were only hot for a short period of time," he said. "So people never really got a chance to get sick of us."
Now that the group is back out playing, what's the future look like for this band of innovators?
"The good news is, Michael Brown is writing songs again. So in addition to playing gigs, we're hoping to release some new music in the future. We'll be doing some dates with the Zombies in August and then do some recording."
Finn and the other, uh, Bankers, can't believe how their smart '60s pop has reached across generational lines.
"Of course, we have our original fans, older people who come to the shows," said Finn. "But I can't get over how young some of the other ones are. Kids, teenagers. They find this music through their parents or on YouTube and it sounds genuine to them. When we made those records, we weren't pandering to anyone. We just did what felt authentic. And now that the audiences are showing up in droves? I think it says something really encouraging. I think it means that, way back when, we really must have done something right."