Along with The Birdwatchers, The Montells, and The Echoes, The Gents Five were one of the more popular South Florida bands in the 1960's. After leaving The Gents Five, keyboardist Ron Chassner and bassist Jerry Cohn formed the equally as popular Leaves of Grass.
The Gents Five and The Leaves of Grass: Our Story
By Ron Chassner
We have always had an interest in music. My earliest memories are of me singing as a little kid. The Gents Five was my second band. I cannot remember the name of my first band.
It was early 1960 and lasted the summer vacation. The Gents were formed in 1962. When I joined we had a drummer - Steve Haas; bass guitarist - Jerry Cohn; rhythm guitarist - Dave Tubin; lead guitarist - Chris Morris; and me - Ron Chassner - on the Farfisa organ. Chris, Jerry, Dave and I sang and soon we were playing songs from The Beach Boys to The Beatles with two to four part harmonies. Typically, we played for big dances and private parties.
Back in the Sixties, the two South Florida rock stations were WFUN and WQAM. These stations held dances on Friday and Saturday nights at places such as the Fort Lauderdale War Memorial Auditorium, The North Miami Armory and the North Miami Beach Auditorium. We were regulars along with The Clefs of Lavender Hill, The Montells, Dr. T and The Undertakers, The Invaders, The Echoes and many other groups. We were best known for our Beach Boy numbers and harmonies. We also played at places such as the Balmoral, The Fountainbleau, and an old airplane hangar out near West Dixie Hwy in North Miami which was converted by WFUN into a concert hall and named The Place. It had 10-15 foot high stages and was a great gig. We played there with The Rascals.
We didn't have a manager, but were never short of gigs. We played almost every weekend and - during the Christmas holidays and spring break - we were the house band at the Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood. We played in the upstairs teen room, while The Canadian Legends were the house band downstairs in the adult club. We became friends with The Legends and saw them season after season while the band was together.
We opened for many national, and international acts in the '60’s. We opened for Simon and Garfunkel at the North Miami Beach Auditorium, Paul Revere and The Raiders and The Byrds at various hotels on Miami Beach, and The Yardbirds. Pete Best, the original Beatles drummer, also sat in with us at a WFUN gig at the North Miami Beach Auditorium. I think our biggest influences were The Beatles and The Beach Boys.
The Gents Five were very popular in the mid-'60’s. We were one of the featured bands at the WQAM Surfin’ Surfari on South Beach. Along with The Avalons, a Broward County surf-sound band, we played on South Beach, for thousands of beachgoers and, at one point, so many kids were up on a car dancing that the top of the car roof caved in.
Our touring territory was South Florida. We played for parties from South Dade to Boca Raton. The old Cloverleaf Bowling alley in North Dade by the Cloverleaf Expressway was a regular venue for the Battle Of The Band scene. There, we played for several "battles" and held our own. The most prominent bands I remember playing with were The Avalons and The Invaders. Our favorite songs were Wendy, I Get Around, Surfin’ USA, and Fun, Fun, Fun.
The Gents Five released two songs: Run To Me and The Lamb. Run To Me was a surfin’ sound love song. The Lamb was kind of a Byrds style adaptation of Robert Blake’s poem, The Lamb. Jerry and I wrote the tune to the poem for a high school English project. We were required to memorize the poem and couldn’t do it. The only way we could remember the poem was to put it to music. I can still recite it today. The record was recorded at Dukoff Studios on Northwest 7th Avenue in North Miami. It was recorded on four-track reel to reel, I believe. The songs were written by Jerry and me. Jerry and I left The Gents in ’66 when we left for college. Chris, Steve and Dave went to college elsewhere and we have lost touch.
We formed The Leaves of Grass at the University of Florida. We wrote a number of songs. We were roommates and lived for the music 24/7. (I do have some of the original recordings from The Leaves of Grass, but not The Gents Five. I have one picture of The Gents, and Jerry may have a scrapbook in storage. He’s looking).
The Leaves of Grass was a very popular group at the University of Florida and we also traveled to Florida State University to perform. The group consisted of Jerry Cohn - rhythm guitar and vocals; Alberto D’Almar - lead guitar and vocals; Ken Thomas - bass guitar; Rick Thomas - drums; and me - organ and vocals.
The band was formed by Jerry and me after we had started out as a duo folk singing group as freshman at the University of Florida. There, we won the freshman talent contest with a folk version of The Lamb. Soon afterwards, we added Renee, a female vocalist and were known as The Ronjee. We did a lot of folk singing for a short period of time, then formed The Leaves of Grass. We played songs from The Beatles, The Association, The Beach Boys and others. Some of our favorite songs to play were Along Comes Mary, Taxman, and Eleanor Rigby.
We rapidly got popular and played many of the fraternity house parties. Pi Kappa Alpha adopted our band as "little brothers" and we rocked at their parties regularly. The Leaves of Grass were signed by Bob Archibald to Platinum Records, a subsidiary of Capitol. We had a number of songs we recorded including: All This Is Right, You Are My Life, God and His Kingdom, and my favorite, City In The Rain. These were all recorded at Criteria Studio in North Miami. (I have copies of all but You Are My Life, which has been lost. Bob Archibald produced them and unfortunately passed away. I have no idea if the masters still exist). It has come to my attention that our song All This Is Right was released and received some significant air play without our knowledge. I recently saw a book which listed our song as being among the top 75% of songs played in the '60's and we never knew about it.
The Leaves of Grass came to an end after a couple of years, and the songs never made it - to our dismay. After a long hiatus, we all grew up, got day jobs, had kids...yadda yadda. Jerry and I have always remained best friends and ten years ago, formed our present band, Been There-Done That. It consists of Jerry - rhythm guitar and vocals; me - synthesizers and vocals; Denise Margolesky - vocals; Steve Cassel - drums; Phil Allen - lead guitar and vocals; and Rich Rose - bass guitar. We play local clubs, private parties and play everything from Grace Slick’s Somebody To Love and White Rabbit to The Beatles, Beach Boys, Eagles, Gladys Knight, Etta James, The Stones, Van Morrison and Santana. We have played for the Grand Prix, multiple gigs for corporate parties, weddings and other parties.
I also play acoustic guitar and sing in an acoustic folk duo and folk rock group with singer guitarist, Andrea Spivak. We play many venues including Homestead’s Main Street Café and Starbuck’s, the Pinecrest branch. I personally still write, and this past year have traveled numerous times to Nashville and for the recording of 19 original songs - six with my present writing partner, Harold Harms, and 13 on my own. We are pitching them to country and adult comtemporary market artists.
In summary, my experience with music has been a passion, and a set of events that I would not trade. It has been an outlet for creativity and more fun than I ever could have imagined. The memories of playing with such greats as The Byrds, The Rascals, Simon and Garfunkel, The Yardbirds, Pete Best...as well as The Invaders, The Clefs of Lavender Hill, The Avalons, Montells, Dr. T, The Canadian Legends - and the fact that I am still performing venues today - keeps a smile on my face and a song in my heart.
POSTSCRIPT (March 2004): Cosmo found Chris up near Cocoa Beach. He'll be travelling to Miami this weekend and we are planning the reunion jam session. All original members of the original Gents Five have now been located and are psyched for a reunion gig.
The word netted an invitation to the Grammy's SoBe showcase, where (we) mingled with the up and coming stars of tomorrow. Held by the Recording Academy at South Beach's old Caribe Theater, now called the Crowbar, the energy was fantastic.
The next meeting will be with instruments in hand and a full weekend session of practice. Then, the next step will be to book a gig - we will do it! You only live once. Live it to the max.
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