Backstage with the Best of Friends

Local Band Makes Its Final Appearance on July 11, 2010
l to r: Alan Towle, Sandy Towle, Sam Miller, Marylin Dwyer, David Towle, Kurt Dwyer and Skip Gray
By Sharon Lakey
The evening was lovely on Danville Green, a blessing after the recent high heat and humidity. Alan Towle and his young helpers arrived at 5:00 to set up for the 7:00 final concert of The Best of Friends, a country band that has been entertaining crowds for the past 26 years. He moved nimbly between an assortment of amps and speakers and wires that literally filled the bandstand.
The rest of the band members arrived around 6:00.  White shirts, embroidered with black eagles, were handed around on hangers. After changing into them, members hovered over Sandy Towle, who had multiple black scarves draped around her neck. Alan produced an old check-box wrapped with a Velcro strip that contained small gold, silver and turquoise clasps. When threaded through the clasps, the ties completed the neat country look. Hats and instruments were donned and tuned and after a final group portrait, the band was introduced by Susan Tallman of the Pope Memorial Library.
And the music began for one last concert: Alan Towle on rhythm and vocals; Sandy Towle on sound; Sam Miller sharing lead guitar and vocals; Marylin Dwyer on vocals and tambourine; David Towle on drums and vocals; Kurt Dwyer on bass; and Skip Gray sharing lead guitar and vocals. Their final program reflected the tastes and spotlight sharing that has been a hallmark of the group.
D              It’s Good to be Back Home Again (Marylin and Alan)
A              Auctioneer Song (Alan)
A              Stand by Your Man (Marylin)
E              Lovesick Blues (Sam)
A              Trashy Women (David)
A              Fugitive (Skip)
D-E          Good-hearted Woman (Alan)
D              Jambalaya (Skip)
G              Down That Lost Highway (Sam)
A              Mamma’s Hungry Eyes (Marylin)
A              455 Rocket (David)
D              If My Nose Was Running Money (Alan)
A              Down at the Twist &Shout (Alan and Marylin)
F              Whispering Hope (Marylin)
D              Ever-changing Woman (Skip and Sam)
A              Big Boss Man (David)
E              Chantilly Lace (Sam)
E               I Don’t Look Good Naked Anymore (Alan)
D              Mama Tried (Skip)
C              What’s Your Mama’s Name (Marylin)
C              On the Road Again (the band’s theme song)
It was an appreciative audience and over too soon–bittersweet, for many shall miss them.
All this started way back in ‘73 on a snow machine trail. On the way to Jimmy Roy’s cookout in South Danville, Kurt and Marylin Dwyer met up with Ron and Barb Hill and their friends Alan and Sandy Towle.  On the way back through Danville, Kurt and Marylin stopped at the Towle’s. “We just hit it off,” said Marylin. That budding friendship took on a public persona in the form of a band that, according to Alan, played 44 gigs a year in its heyday. Through the years the four core band members stayed together, soliciting other musicians to join where more voices and instrumentals were needed.
The idea of creating a band sprouted during hunting season. “Oh, deer huntin’ is big doin’s around here,” said Alan. A buddy and his sons would bring their guitars up every year and they would jam, reminiscent of the way Alan used  to play and sing in high school when he and his friend sang 50’s style music. “We did all the Everly brothers,” said Alan.
Soon, his new friend Marylin joined in the singing, and besides being a lot of fun, the sessions started to sound pretty good. They drafted Kurt into the mix on bass as things progressed. And, because every band needs a sound engineer, Sandy agreed to take on the job. As she puts it, “I was painting the back side of the barn while they were painting the front.” Their first live performance was Kurt’s parents 50th wedding celebration ; they have a copy of the check for their first paying job–$100–a wedding reception for the Belknap’s held at the Lincoln Inn in 1988. “The band really started cookin’ in 1990, when Sandy and I bought a one-ton truck to travel in,” said Alan.
To keep a band together for that long  is no small feat, almost unheard of. “Every band has to have a leader,” said Alan, “and for us it was Marylin and me. If someone didn’t like the way things were going or how we performed, we took the hit.” The two of them would meet together two or three times a week to plan performances and take care of the business side of the band.
In planning performances, the two would make an effort to share the spotlight. “If one of the guys liked a certain song, we would let them carry it,” said Alan. Marylin would type up the planned program, so, when the band showed up once a week to practice in the Towle’s basement studio, they knew which music was to be played and in what key. In this way, practice was productive as well as performances smoothed with no lag between songs.
The business side of Best of Friends included purchasing equipment with the band’s funds. Alan remembers the $2400 they spent on a drum set that had been played by Kris Kristofferson. “We bought it from a music store  in Burlington. Kristofferson’s equipment didn’t arrive and they had to rent it for a concert they were playing there.” The band owns all the performance equipment like amps, mics, sound mixing board, headsets and uniforms. “We’re toughest on dress,” said Alan. All uniforms are purchased, laundered, pressed and put on just before performances. After performance, off they come before loading them back in the truck with all the other equipment.
They each bought their own personal instruments, though. Alan loves his left-handed Peavey Milestone 12-string. “It was handcrafted for me at the research and development department at Peavey electronics. It’s one of a kind.” Kurt plays an unusual one-piece Peavey DataBass.
A common performance included a first set of an hour, a ten minute break, then three more sets of 50 minutes apiece. They would usually play from 9:00 to 1:00, load up and head for home. “Sometimes, we’d get home as late as 3:00 in the morning,” said Alan. Mind you, they did this with full time jobs on the side. Kurt remembers coming home at 3:00 a.m. one morning and getting an “on call” job call from EHV. “I was home about 15 minutes that night,” he said, shaking his head.
They most enjoyed playing for dances. “When the dance floor is full and everyone is sweatin’ and hootin’ and hollerin’–then we know we are doing our job,” said Alan.
“There was strange one, though,” reminded Kurt about the time they played and were paid for driving through miserable weather to play a dance in Jefferson, New Hampshire. There, they performed for a single family and a cat. “We found out later the town was boycotting that man for hiring some male strippers the week before,” said Alan.
Alan lit up remembering the his best gig ever, a wedding reception held at the Canaan Fairground.. “You know, everything was right that night. When I backed the truck up to the stage, it was the perfect height. Equipment off, easy. For the barbecue, the father of the bride had ordered real mesquite wood from out west…” Marylin and Sandy smiled and chimed  in, “But Alan mostly liked the barmaids dressed in fishnet stockings!” He didn’t deny it.
But their most favorite performance of the year was always the Danville Fair. “The biggest audience of the year,” said Alan. “And we like to play for people we know.”
“I’ve had a wonderful time,” said Marylin, speaking for the band as well as herself. “I’ve loved the places we’ve gone and the people we’ve met.

To link to a video, featuring photos from the evening’s performance accompanied by Alan’s original song, click here.

To link to a video, featuring photos from the band’s past performances accompanied by Marylin’s original song, click here

This article was first published in the August, 2010, issue of the North Star Monthly.


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