King Harvest Unplugged is taking to the Olcott Beach Carousel Park stage this week to raise money for the blast-from-the-past amusement park.
The band, co-founded by Newfane native Ron Altbach, produced the rock ‘n roll standard “Dancing In The Moonlight” in the early 1970s.
Forty years after that single surged on the U.S. Billboard chart, King Harvest’s founding members reunited in Olcott last summer and put on a free show in conjunction with a Newfane High School all-class reunion.
Now, Altbach, Eddie Tuleja and Rod Novak are getting gack together again, this time to pay tribute to King Harvest lead vocalist Dave “Doc” Robinson, who died late last year at age 67.
When the bandmates were in Olcott a year ago, rehearsing in Dan Dy’s garage on West Bluff, close to Altbach’s family home, Robinson apparently wasn’t feeling well.
“We thought Doc was being dramatic; he was a good story teller. And then he ended up dying last fall,” Altbach said. “Dan Dy proposed a tribute to Doc. That’s what unplugged is about.”
King Harvest’s founders were all Cornell University classmates and budding musicians between 1964 and 1969. Altbach, a pre-med major, played keyboard. Tuleja, an art history major, sang and played guitar. Novak, a nuclear science major, sang and played saxophone. With Robinson, they were in and out of bands that rocked Cornell’s 50-some fraternity houses nearly every day of the week.
By the time they left Cornell, all of their career plans had changed dramatically. Altbach elected not to follow in his dad Dr. Walter Altbach’s footsteps and took off for Paris to study classical piano instead. His old bandmates soon followed and King Harvest was formed.
“Rock ‘n roll was an undeniable force. We all loved it,” Altbach said. “In Paris, we lived as outlaws in a strange land: Riding motorcycles, playing croquet and traveling Europe. We sang country tunes on the streets ... . We didn’t make any money at it, of course. We’re all very well educated, but we weren’t smart enough to make money at what we were doing.”
King Harvest recorded “Dancing In The Moonlight” in 1971, in Paris. The single didn’t do so well there, and the band broke up. Altbach moved back to the United States in 1972. He was back-and-forth between New York and California, where he worked, when “Dancing” got U.S. airplay and became a hit.
“It was popular. It’s just a song that people love,” Altbach said.
Tuleja, Novak and Robinson soon followed Altbach again, this time to Olcott, to reform King Harvest. Post-”Dancing” singles and an album followed but none achieved hit status. One by one, starting with Altbach, band members all made the move to California, where the work and industry contacts were; and disbanded King Harvest for good in 1975, after a second album failed to produce any hit singles.
All of the founders ended up recording with other bands. Altbach played keyboard with the Beach Boys for a few years, then started climbing the corporate ladder in multimedia production, marketing and investment banking.
Today, at age 66, he’s the president of Regeneration Capital Group LLC, a merchant bank. He lives in New York City and still vacations at the family home on the West Bluff.
King Harvest Unplugged is a benefit for the Olcott Beach Carousel Park. Altbach says his bandmates were really fond of Olcott when they lived there and like being boosters for it now.
“It’s a sad town, really, but we all love it. We want to make it un-sad if we can help it,” Altbach said. “If we can raise a few dollars to help improve kids’ lives a little bit, that’s what we want to do.”
Altbach, Tuleja and Novak will be joined on the Carousel Park stage by drummer Richie Pidannick, who played in post-Paris King Harvest, and Dave Stoll and Chris Peacock from the Stoll Brothers band. The set list consists mostly of songs that the co-founders wrote over the years, including a few country tunes by Novak, and did not perform at their 40th anniversary reunion show last year.
Also included is an Altbach-penned piece remembering Doc Robinson.
“He was a much larger character than anyone else we know,” Altbach said. “He was a rock star, a singin’ fool.”
Along with the music, a history of King Harvest will be presented in photos, film/video footage and comments by the band mates.
The show will begin at 8:30 p.m. Friday. Tickets cost $25 each; a King Harvest T-shirt and DVD containing 2012 Olcott concert footage and the band’s interview with WLVL’s Paul Oates, come with each purchase. All of the proceeds are going to the Carousel Park, Altbach said.
Tickets are being sold at the Carousel Park, Lighthouse Grill-n-Spirits, Mariner’s Landing, Images of the Past and Park Place Restaurant in Olcott, Wilson’s Pizza and the town supervisor’s office in Newfane, Schulze Wine in Burt and Cammarata’s restaurant and WLVL in Lockport.
For the kids ... • What: King Harvest Unplugged, a concert • When: 8:30 p.m. Friday • Where: Olcott Beach Carousel Park • Admission: By pre-sale tickets, $25 each, available now at the Carousel Park, Lighthouse Grill-n-Spirits, Mariner's Landing, Images of the Past and Park Place Restaurant in Olcott, Wilson's Pizza and the town supervisor's office in Newfane, Schulze Wine in Burt and Cammarata's restaurant and WLVL in Lockport.