Full Cyrkle: The ‘Red Rubber Ball’ Band Bounces Back

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If there was such a thing as Rock and Roll Jeopardy, “Who was The Cyrkle?” would be the correct response to this answer: “This American group’s biggest hit, co-written by a rising superstar, was kept from the #1 spot by a British band with which they shared a manager.”

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’s 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?

Well, Alex, the Cyrkle was, as we said, an American band. They were originally called the Rhondells and were formed circa 1962 by singers Don Dannemann and Tom Dawes (who also played bass guitar) while the two were students at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa. 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, which was a little too close to the Hondells of “Little Honda” fame anyway. Why not take a cue from the Byrds, Lennon suggested, and call themselves the Cyrkle?

Don Dannemann (l.) and Tom Dawes of the Cyrkle recording “Red Rubber Ball” in 1966

By late 1965-early ’66, things were starting to happen for the newly redubbed Cyrkle. They played a handful of successful gigs in Greenwich Village, but it seemed that Uncle Sam had other ideas, requesting that Dannemann finish his commitment  to the U.S. Coast Guard. With the Cyrkle on temporary hiatus so that one of their key members could fulfill his duties, Dawes accepted an offer to tour as the bassist for the hot new duo Simon and Garfunkel, who were coming off a #1 single with the Simon-penned “The Sound of Silence.”

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 as soon as the Cyrkle started up again in early 1966, they 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.

Related: 1966 in 40 classic rock albums

The Cyrkle holds a news conference (l. to r.): Producer John Simon, Marty Fried, Don Dannemann, Tom Dawes, attorney Nat Weiss, manager Brian Epstein

“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,” backed by a Dannemann-Dawes original, “How Can I Leave Her,” 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. Fortunately for the Cyrkle, however, they 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 Brits on several historic dates, including the Beatles’ final full-scale live show in front of an audience, at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park.

An album, also titled Red Rubber Ball, was quickly recorded, including a handful of Dannemann-Dawes original compositions, another Paul Simon-Bruce Woodley composition, “Cloudy” (which Simon and Garfunkel would also record), and, leading off side two, “Turn-Down Day,” written by Jerry Keller and David Blume. Performed in a manner similar to “Red Rubber Ball,” and also produced by John Simon, the song—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.

Before the Red Rubber Ball album’s front cover photo could even be shot, keyboardist Pickens had left the band to attend medical school, resulting in the LP jacket showing only the remaining trio. Pickens’ spot in the group was filled by Michael Losekamp, who was was on board long enough to enjoy the ascent of “Turn-Down Day” to #16 on the Billboard singles chart, and to work on the band’s second album, titled Neon. In 1967, the Cyrkle also recorded the soundtrack for a film called The Minx, but the movie, and therefore the album, were delayed for two years.

Listen to “The Visit,” a track from the Cyrkle’s second album, Neon

By that time, the Cyrkle was long gone. A handful of singles released into late 1967 made it to the lower rungs of the chart but essentially, with manager Epstein having died suddenly in 1967, they were through after “Turn-Down Day,” a two-hit wonder. Dawes and Dannemann both moved into the commercial side of things, writing advertising jingles—Dawes was reportedly behind the famous Alka-Seltzer “Plop-plop-fizz-fizz” campaign while Dannemann’s creations included the 7-Up “Uncola” theme. Dawes also later produced two albums for the hard-rock band Foghat. Fried left the music business and became an attorney.

The original Wes Wilson poster advertising the Cyrkle as one of the opening acts on the Beatles’ final concert

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 some time after the 50th anniversary of “Red Rubber Ball,” Losekamp and the newly retired Dannemann were able to get together and, with other musicians, perform again as the Cyrkle—and even to release a live album.

As this article is being written in late 2020, the re-formed and reactivated Cyrkle, led by Losekamp and Dannemann, has announced a re-recording of their biggest hits, with the new “Red Rubber Ball” released on Oct. 2. Filling in for the MIA original members are Pat McLoughlin, Mike Shoaf, Don White and Scott Langley.

Watch the video for the new re-recording of “Red Rubber Ball”

As for “Red Rubber Ball,” the original Cyrkle hit now has a lot of company: The song has since been covered by everyone from Neil Diamond to Mel Tormé to, yes, Simon and Garfunkel, who finally got around to releasing their own take, a live recording from 1967, issued three decades after the fact on their 1997 boxed set Old Friends.

Bonus Video: Watch the Cyrkle lip-sync “Red Rubber Ball” in 1966

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Jeff Tamarkin
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  1. clevelandrox
    #1 clevelandrox 3 October, 2020, 03:13

    “If there were such a thing as Rock and Roll Jeopardy”…ah, but there WAS such a game show, hosted by Jeff Probst, shortly before he hit big with Survivor. I believe VH-1 aired the show. For the record, it was one of several attempts to do spinoffs of the iconic Jeopardy, including Sports Jeopardy and a kids’ version, Jep.

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  2. Catmando
    #2 Catmando 3 October, 2020, 04:26

    The Seekers also recorded a version which is how I first came to know the song

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6kNisVmNj1Q

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  3. Randy
    #3 Randy 3 October, 2020, 04:59

    THE CYRKLE did record music for a movie Sound around 1970. Can’t remember the name, but I’ve seen it.

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  4. Bigbad
    #4 Bigbad 6 October, 2020, 09:19

    Dannemann and Dawes both went on to lucrative Madison Avenue careers writing ad jingles: among other notable and catchy tunes, Dannemann wrote the Continental Airlines “Move Our Tail” and the 7-Up “Uncola” jingles. Dawes wrote the “Plop Plop” Alka-Seltzer, “Nothing Beats a Great Pair of L’Eggs,” and “We’re American Airlines” jingles.

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