A lyric in The Cyrkle’s #2 hit, 1966’s “Red Rubber Ball,” goes, “The story’s in the past with nothin’ to recall,” but there is actually quite a bit to recall. And, remarkably, it’s an ongoing story with a brand-new chapter unfolding more than 50 years later.
But let’s start with that question at the top: Who was The Cyrkle?
The Cyrkle was, originally called the Rhondells and were formed circa 1962 by singers Don Dannemann and Tom Dawes while the two were students at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. The group also included drummer Jim Maiella (quickly replaced by Marty Fried) and keyboardist Earle Pickens.
The quartet played frat parties and gigs in nearby Atlantic City, N.J., where they were heard by music business lawyer Nat Weiss, who was duly impressed with their vocal harmonies and ability to grab an audience’s attention. In the fall of 1965, Weiss brought the group to the attention of Beatles manager Brian Epstein, with whom he had a business relationship. It was John Lennon who suggested that the group change its name, taking a cue from The Byrds, Lennon suggested, they call themselves, “The Cyrkle”.
By early ’66, things were starting to happen for the newly dubbed Cyrkle. While on the road, Dawes heard a song Paul Simon had co-written with Bruce Woodley of the Australian folk-rock group, The Seekers. Simon said he had no plan to record “Red Rubber Ball” with his partner, Art Garfunkel, so The Cyrkle worked up an appropriately bouncy arrangement of the song and cut it for Columbia Records, the label that had agreed to sign them. The single was produced by John Simon (no relation to Paul), a man who would, in time, become a giant in the business, producing such heavyweights as The Band, Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen and Blood, Sweat and Tears.
“Red Rubber Ball” was, by any measure, not only a very catchy tune in the red-hot folk-rock mode, but more sophisticated lyrically than the majority of the era’s top 40 hits. At its core, it’s a basic breakup/brushoff tune, but its chorus ensures that better times are ahead: “And I think it’s gonna be all right / Yeah, the worst is over now. / The mornin’ sun is shinin’ like a red rubber ball.”
“Red Rubber Ball,” entered the Billboard chart on May 21, 1966, and peaked at #2 during the week of July 9, kept from the top spot by their manager’s main clients, whose “Paperback Writer” was their latest smash. The Cyrkle, were able to capitalize on their association with Epstein, and landed an opening-act slot on The Beatles’ final North American tour in the summer of 1966. They played before the Fab Four on several historic dates, including the Beatles’ final full-scale live show in front of an audience, at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park.
Soon after Red Rubber Ball, the Cyrkle once again landed in the upper echelon of the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song “Turn-Down Day,” with its cool vibe bolstered by the inclusion of a sitar—offered little more than the suggestion that blowing off responsibilities and heading for the beach was a perfectly sweet way to spend one’s time:
“It’s much too groovy a summer’s day to waste running ’round in the city. / But here on the sand I can dream away, or look at the girls if they’re pretty,” went the opening lines.
Following the Beatles tour, keyboardist Pickens left the band to attend medical school. His spot was filled by Michael Losekamp, who was on board long enough to enjoy the ascent of “Turn-Down Day” to #16 on the Billboard singles chart. He performed on the band’s second critically acclaimed album, titled Neon. Neon not only raised the bar for its far-reaching content, but it also produced thee more Billboard singles In 1967.
But an unfortunate event stopped the band’s advancement when manager Epstein died unexpectantly in August of 1967. They were disbanded by the beginning of the next year.
Dawes and Dannemann both moved into the commercial side of things, writing advertising jingles—Dawes was behind the famous Alka-Seltzer “Plop-plop-fizz-fizz” campaign, while Dannemann’s creations included the 7-Up “Uncola” theme.
And so the Cyrkle was completed—until now. Dawes had passed away in 2007 and the other original members were wrapped up for decades in their lucrative post-rock careers. But sometime after the 50th anniversary of “Red Rubber Ball,” Losekamp and the newly retired Dannemann were able to get together and, with other musicians, performing again as the Cyrkle---even releasing a live album in 2018 (Full Cyrkle). Additionally, the band has completed its first studio album, featuring new content, for the first time since 1967. Signed to Big Stir Records in Los Angeles, the new album will be released in April of 2024.
Filling in for the original members are Pat McLoughlin, Don White, Scott Langley, and Dean Kastran, (a former founding member of The Ohio Express).