Today we'll take a walk on the sunny side of the street. While it seems The Oxfords had three or four identities in their seven years together, these days they are mainly thought of as a classic "sunshine pop" group.
In 1964 Jay Petach, a high school student in Louisville, loved The Beatles and decided to start a band. After a few failed attempts, he came up with a brilliant strategy - steal players from the best bands in town. Petach recruited bassist Bill Turner, rhythm guitarist Danny Marshall, drummer Glen Howerton, and vocalist Bill Tullis. Petach took lead guitar duties, and they called themselves The Spectres.
Meanwhile, drummer Jim Guest founded The Oxfords. A year later, Guest was having problems with his bandmates and asked The Spectres if they'd join The Oxfords, so the bands switched drummers.
In 1966, Ray Barrickman took over on bass and Ronnie Brooks replaced Danny Marshall on guitar. Years later, Barrickman toured with Hank Williams Jr., while Brooks became a record producer as well as the voice of the middle frog in the famous Budweiser commercials. His brother Randy Brooks wrote the loved/despised Christmas song "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer."
They recorded their first single, the Bacharach/David song "(There's) Always Something There To Remind Me" - still the best version I've heard - with Barrickman on lead vocal. The record was sent to Nashville producer Buzz Cason (he wrote "Everlasting Love"), who liked it and got them a record deal at Bell Records. Naturally, that's when Ray Barrickman decided to enroll in college. That would happen today, right?
In 1968, the band evolved once again, recruiting vocalist Jill DeMarco from the all-girl band The Hearby, who along with Jay Petach, Donnie Hale on drums, Dill Asher on bass and Keith Springs doing the orchestration, became what you might call the classic version of The Oxfords, and was the group that recorded the bulk of their one and only album.
No longer a garage band, the group became a sunshiny cross between The Fifth Dimension and The Cowsills. They received two label offers, but they had to give up the rights to their songs. They declined, pressed 500 copies themselves and finally released the record under their own label in 1970, but they didn't have the means to promote it.
The album featured a handful of very strong pop songs, but none found the national charts. To this day "My World", "Lighter Than Air" and "Flying Up Through the Sky," all written by Petach and Demarco, are still held in high regard by fans of the genre.
The Oxfords toured with Frank Zappa and opened for The Grateful Dead, but by 1972 the band ended its ride.
Jay Petach still produces records in Louisville; Jill DeMarco left the music business in the 1980s for a career in Federal Aviation Administration. I guess to keep us safe when we're flying up through the sky.
(Jim Pace can usually be found directing music videos in and around NYC. He will begin production on his first feature film in 2013. He spends his spare time writing songs, screenplays and getting involved in anything that will give him an excuse to listen to more music.)