From 1964 to 1975, the Cherry People were all over town. As high-schoolers, the group worked as many as four WPGC-sponsored teen dances a night. Later, the band’s name on a marquee guaranteed crowded Georgetown clubs. By 1968, a grinding work ethic put the Cherry People on the charts and on American Bandstand.
And yet the Cherry People are best known today for spawning ’70s glam idols Angel—and for the fact that Cherry Person Chris Grimes guested on cowbell on Jimi Hendrix’s “Stone Free.” History, alas, is told by the victors, and though to some Washingtonians, the Cherry People story, to quote Mark Opsasnick’s exhaustive D.C. rock tome Capitol Rock, is “one of the most important sagas in Washington, D.C., rock ’n’ roll history,” the People haven’t garnered widespread respect in the 31 years since their last gig. On Sunday, March 26, a newly re-formed Cherry People will perform two shows at Jammin’ Java. Today, the bandmembers have gathered at their favorite restaurant, Peking Gourmet Inn in Falls Church, to share war stories and duck sauce beneath pictures of Barbara Bush and Norman Schwarzkopf.
Actually, two of the new People are already on that wall: local guitar god Michael Fath (Wizzard, Orphan, Peaches & Herb) and his longtime drummer Corey Holland. They and bass player Tom McCarthy have joined founding members Chris Grimes and his younger brother Doug. (Fath replaces the infamous Punky Meadows, who left the People to form Angel before leaving music for the tanning business and now retirement in North Carolina.) Eighteen musicians have been Cherry People over the years, but the Grimes brothers were and are the driving force. Though the two played intermittently since the People split, they deemed no group until this lineup worthy of carrying the Cherry People name.
It was McCarthy who jump-started the process in 2003 by suggesting a recording project. His production company has made DVDs for artists such as the Beach Boys (Pet Sounds) and Ray Charles (Genius Loves Company)—and he wanted to tell the People’s story. “This really is a full, working group,” he says. “And it’s not going to be an oldies show.”
“It’s about the art,” says Holland, the “baby” of the group at 48. “Because the cash won’t pay the mortgage.”
“We love the past,” says 58-year-old Doug Grimes, who adds that he’s been running two miles a day to get in stage shape. Most of his bandmates do resemble the limousine company owners and electronic technicians they have become more than the rock stars they were—all except Fath, who maintains an authentic Bon Jovi arena-rocker aura.
“It’s what’s ahead that’s cool,” says Doug Grimes. “I can see this band doing something national.” Fath eagerly concurs, envisioning the group’s unique niche. “What bands have been signed—that are not established bands, that are not Aerosmith—that are baby-boomer demographic? Name me one. One band.”
“Blind Boys of Alabama,” offers McCarthy.
“I mean, as far as guys who can sing and play—an actual band,” counters Fath. “Nobody has any false—everybody has their careers, but it would be kinda nice….Nobody’s more cynical than I am, but I still believe in fairy tales.”
“A lot of the people who are going to come to this show never really heard the Cherry People,” says Doug Grimes. “It’s a lot of our clients, [Fath’s] people.”
“It’s kinda like you have to prove yourself again,” says Holland. “I told a friend of mine I’m playing with the Cherry People now. He said, ‘Which one are you, the Indian or the construction guy?’ I’m gonna wear a headdress on Sunday.” —Dave Nuttycombe