By Patricia Abbate
On any given summer Sunday, it’s a given that Boston’s original oldies band, JD, Billy & Ken, are performing in front of a capacity crowd of adoring, dancing fans. With picturesque Plymouth Harbor at their backs, their stage from 3pm until 7 pm is the expansive outside patio of the East Bay Grille, where they’ve been for the past 12 years.
For more than four decades, the trio has been delighting a loyal and growing audience with hit songs from the 50s and 60s, from Boston to the Cape and far beyond.
Just a few weeks ago, California resident Rick Vancisin found himself back in Massachusetts to attend a wedding in Duxbury. “I used to live in Boston’s North End in the late ‘70s and became a regular. I saw them every Wednesday and Sunday night. I love good music and these three guys put out better music than most I’ve experienced. Their musicality is unmatched, their enthusiasm contagious and their sound is big. I was elated to learn they still play,” he noted. Vancisin booked a hotel in Plymouth for the weekend wedding, yet had never before visited the area. “I found myself passing a sign at the East Bay Grille with the words, ‘JD, Billy & Ken this Sunday,’ and I was thrilled! I wouldn’t have missed this day for the world,” he exclaimed.
Terry and Betsy Kane, of Wayland, were also in the audience, and they’ve been following them around for the past 44 years and are now good friends.
According to the band’s founder, lead vocalist and guitar man, Jon “JD” Aldrich, their fans have followed them around for decades and a younger crowd has started to show up as well. “Back in the day we played lots of Boston and area clubs…the Olde Forge Tavern, Brandie’s, Great Scott’s, the Scotch & Sirloin, the Winery, the Pier, the Improper Bostonian, the Swampfox…and lots more.” He admits that there are fewer places to play today, but the band is still busy with private and corporate events.
JD tells the story of the band’s founding. “In 1973, Ken (bass player) and I played The Day’s End in Revere. That first night, Billy approached us with his sticks and asked to join in. We hit it off, our show caught on and the crowds grew.” Although illness forced Billy to leave the band 18 years ago, Russ has been drumming with the trio since then, never missing a beat.
“We started playing the songs we knew, about 150 oldies, and now we have a very long list to play from,” JD says.
According to JD, the band has never once had a formal rehearsal, yet when they get together and play, the magic just happens. They also don’t use a set list, but rely on requests. JD says, “I learned a long time ago that most musicians play for themselves, but we play what our customers want. If I learn a song that a person requests, I’ll play it when I see them walk in and they love it.”
When comparing the music of today to the oldies, JD reflects, “The music was richer back then, it was melodic, written in major keys. They were innocent and just plain fun. Today’s songs are darker, written in more minor keys and somewhat sad in tone, a reflection of society perhaps.”
The band members all met through their association with Berklee College of Music. JD is a graduate and is Associate Professor, in Songwriting, a major that he founded decades ago—the first one in the country.
Since his teaching career began at Berklee while still a student there himself, JD’s resume is impressive. He has extensive studio, live, and television experience, has recorded for Capitol and United Artists, has composed, arranged and performed more than 25,000 television and radio jingles, and has appeared on television shows such as Touched by an Angel, General Hospital, Beverly Hills 090210, and the Jamie Foxx Show, among others. He has also worked with the best, including Barry Manilow, Tony Orlando, Three Dog Night, Brad Paisley, and many more.
His greatest pleasure these days is seeing his students succeed in the field. The popular award-winning rock band, Imagine Dragons, boasts two of JD’s students. It was heart-warming to receive the message, “I don’t know if I would have done this without you,” from a member. JD says, “I get emails from all over the world—Australia, China, Japan, Europe. They say hello, Jon, we think of you every day. It’s nice to know you’ve touched somebody and have made a difference.”
JD says his career has been “a dream come true,” and that he and his band mates intend to keep on playing the oldies for as long as the crowds come out. The most requested songs? Build Me Up Buttercup and Brown Eyed Girl. The song they always end with? Shout by the Isley Brothers, written in 1959. The last song of the night is always accompanied by spirited dancing, jumping and exuberant fun. The last performance by JD, Billy & Ken this season will be the Sunday of Labor Day Weekend, September 3. And you can always book them for your own private party!
Listen to our conversation with Jon “JD” Aldrich by clicking the audio link below. JD was a guest on our radio show, My Generation, 95.9 WATD-FM, on August 27, 2017.
Reprinted from the September 2017 edition of the South Shore Senior News