The first clue to the nature of a club called Kicks in downtown Reno is the parking attendant’s garb. He’s decked out like a Revolutionary War soldier. The second clue is the club’s façade—a 24-foot-high neon jukebox with giant song-selection buttons for such long-gone hits as “Louie Louie,” “Kicks,” “Hungry,” “Good Thing” and “Indian Reservation.” And that should be enough clues for those who remember the 1960s—the mid-’60s, that is, pre-Beatles and just barely postadolescent. Yes, Kicks is a newly raised temple to Paul Revere and the Raiders, that quintessential party band, and if you want to have a real good time, check any post-Beatles alienation at the door and set your watch back about 25 years.
Venerable rock star Paul Revere (his real name) has turned, believe it or not, 50, and his club is intended to be a place where the graying vanguard of the Baby Boom can get down as far as its creaky knees and aching backs will let it. Revere borrowed the concept for Kicks from his longtime buddy Bill Medley, the former Righteous Brother, who had opened a pair of clubs, each called the Hop, in Orange County, Calif. For Revere, the eye-opener came two years ago, when his group was booked into one of Medley’s clubs. “We just terrorized the place,” says Revere. “You couldn’t get in, it was so packed. Our show and all the things we do reflect all the fun you remember of the better times of the ’50s and ’60s, when being mindless and having fun was where it was at.”
With Medley as his partner, Revere launched Kicks last March. And what two months of intensive construction and $400,000 have wrought is a decor that includes the rear end of a ’59 Edsel jutting out of a wall, a guitar signed by Chuck Berry hanging from the ceiling, 200 framed photographs of the Raiders in action and tabletops that are enlarged replicas of the group’s hit albums. There is also a black-tiled bar lined with gold singles (“the singles bar,” says Revere), flanked by large TV monitors that show vintage taped snippets of The Ed Sullivan Show, Where the Action Is, Happening ’68 and American Bandstand. In the back is the Junk Rock Cafe, which doubles as a dance floor and boasts a menu rivaling those offered by the finest drive-ins. The only dessert available is Revere’s personal favorite—Hostess Twinkies—at 25 cents á la carte or $1.25 with milk.
The biggest nights at Kicks are those featuring the proprietor, who bills himself as “the last madman of rock and roll.” Though the Raiders tour some 300 days each year, Revere makes sure that there is at least one stopover in Reno every month. Nowadays he doesn’t work the keyboards much and rarely takes on vocal duties. Instead, he says, he “energizes” the six-member group and convulses his audience by being “fun and nutsy” (his words). His antics run from donning silly masks and tooting horns and whistles to shooting a toy pistol and tossing miniature versions of his trademark tricorn hats into the crowds.
An expanding paunch notwithstanding, some things haven’t changed that much for the Idaho-born Revere. Despite his itinerant habits, he and his third wife, Sydney, 32, still regard Boise as their base camp, and his two grown children from a previous marriage live there. It was in Boise that Revere, once a dispenser of fast foods, formed a band dubbed the Downbeats to play for the Moose halls and Elks lodges in a then rock music-starved state. The group cut its first record, an instrumental called “Beatnik Sticks,” in 1958 and followed that with “Like, Long Hair,” which was played on American Bandstand. By 1962 the band, renamed the Raiders, had moved to Portland, Ore., where it scored a regional smash with “Louie Louie” (the Kingsmen’s version became the national hit). Signed to the Columbia label, Paul Revere and the Raiders eventually racked up sales of more than 50 million LPs and singles.
Through the years the boys in the band changed continually, but their leader remained constant. “I only tried to quit one time, in 1976,” Revere says. “I went back to Boise and started baby-sitting the real estate I had collected. But I just couldn’t sit still.” In 1978, Revere and his reorganized group went back on the road. “All along I thought I might get two or three years out of it before I got too old,” he says. “I never would have dreamed I’d still be at it.”
Revere has a simple explanation for the revived appeal of his hits from another era: nostalgia for “a used rock band. There are millions of us who grew up in the ’50s and ’60’s, and we are at a point where we can afford to spend some money,” he says. “But if we go to a dance club where all the hard bodies go, we are made to feel twice as old as we are. Clubs like Kicks bring us back to our youth. We all want to go back, and this is the closest thing to it.”
Judging from the full-house crowds to date, Revere, as his old song says, seems to be onto a good thing. “I think there are more Kicks like this one in my future; there are a number of other cities I’d like to tackle,” he says, though he won’t specify which ones. “After this start, I don’t see how we can go wrong.” He grins. “It’s like we rediscovered candy.”
—By Michael Neill, with Michael Alexander in Reno