The Aces Featuring the Vondells
History and photo courtesy of Ben Wagner.
The Aces were formed around 1961 by several students at Parkville Junior High. I think the original members included Bob Lawrence on drums, Richard Nahatzki and Ron Tilghman on trumpets, and Bill Foster on trombone. Chuck Beattie played guitar and there was a fellow named Connie who played saxophone. Two years later, Connie and Chuck decided to leave the group. That’s when I joined the band and Norm Schwarz became the guitarist.
We were a dance band, playing standards for the audiences at the Boumi Temple and other locales. We played just about every weekend. People our parents’ age swirled on the floor as we played Glenn Miller and other standards.
My first appearance with the group was to fill in for Connie on the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, at Tony Grant’s theater. We played a song called Blue Monster that was composed by a local jazz musician for us.
We became more interested in rhythm and blues and rock and roll. We had a number of singers fronting the band over the years. We played the teen centers, CYOs, and battle of the bands. We added a fellow named Chuck on electric piano and a second saxophonist, Jeff Pritzker. We played a lot of James Brown as well as whatever was popular at the time.
We changed the name of the group to “The Aces Featuring the Vondells” when a five man singing group joined us. The story that Bob Lawrence our drummer told us was that he was in an elevator one day with one of the Vondells and Bob asked him if he knew of anyone who was looking for a band to sing with. The fellow said yes, the Vondells came out to Bob’s house where we practiced, we played a few numbers together, and everyone agreed to join together. We did James Brown, Temptations, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. The Vondells added choreography and tight harmonies to the group. We played a lot of cabarets at this time in Baltimore and D.C.
Around 1967 the Aces split up. By this time several of the band members were attending Peabody Institute. Rich Nahatzki taught himself the drums, Ron Tilghman was now playing bass. We added Ray Cutler, trombone, and Guy Hill, trumpet, also from Peabody. Richard Lake, I believe a composition major at Peadbody played keyboards. We called ourselves The Plymouth Rock Ensemble and worked five or six nights a week in D.C. supper clubs, notably the Black Greco and the Act IV. We had a female singer, Alana Shor, front the band. She was much more professional than we were. We liked Chicago; and Blood, Sweat and Tears; arrangements that would showcase the horn section and the group’s musicianship. Alana’s songs were more top forty; actually better suited for supper clubs, but less challenging for us.
I left the group sometime around 1970. The last time I played with the group was for a two-week stint at the Hunka Munka Lounge in Ocean City, filling in for their new saxophonist. They were now called Bum’s Honor and they had added a flute and French horn player to the group.
Rich Nahatzki went on to a successful career playing tuba for a German radio orchestra. Ron Tilghman taught insrumental music in Baltimore County for many years. Rich and he were there at the beginning and I believe together at the end when Bum’s Honor broke up upon their graduation from Peabody.
The Aces Featuring the Vondells
Front Row: The Vondells: Stanley, Blue, Skinny, Charles Smith, Stanley?