A retrospective on our band in the California Fifties, Sixties and Seventies


It’s easy for me to remember the day that music became a force in my life. I had just turned 16 in the winter of 1957 in Indianapolis, Indiana. An underage junior at a huge high school, Shortridge, I was an uninterested student obsessed with basketball, science fiction, and games and Jessie Fisher was just giving me a glimpse of the yawning pit of hormones that would drown me in the years to come. I was a loner, believing I wasn't connected to the society of my high school, sullenly struggling with some inner demon unknown to me or anyone else. In other words, I was probably the average teenager of my time, wearing Levis, white buck shoes, madras pattern shirts and trying desperately to grow a proper flat-top hair cut.

I was in my bedroom working on my homework, or more likely daydreaming. I had taken to turning on the radio just to distract me from noises in the rest of the house. I knew in some peripheral way that people around me were getting interested in the songs of the day but I was a lot more interested in Oscar Robertson, Bobby Plump and the miracle of Milan, and trying to get good enough to play on the SHS team. Suddenly a song came on the radio,

ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah, hut-hut
ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah, hut-hut

Took a walk and passed your house (late last night)
All the shades were pulled and drawn (way down tight)
From within, a dim light cast two silhouettes on the shade
Oh, what a lovely couple they ma-ade.

Have scientists figured what magic there is in a song or what part of the brain that it affects? It caught my attention immediately and I was entranced. Then the harmony parts started …

Silhouettes (silhouettes) silhouettes (silhouettes) silhouettes (silhouettes)
ty-oh, oh-oh
Silhouettes (silhouettes) silhouettes (silhouettes) silhouettes (silhouettes),
ty-oh, oh-oh

Two silhouettes on the shade ….

It was like a thunderbolt and it began an obsession that would drive the first half of my life from then on and indelibly shape the rest of it, as even now decisions from the past resonate down through my life line. I could barely sleep with that song running like a stuck recording in my head and by the morning I knew I had to do something about it. Two brothers lived just north of me on my block, Virgil and Pat Baldwin; Virgil was a year behind me and Pat was a year or so younger. I looked for them walking to school and told them my plan – we would get together after school and sing this song. For some odd reason they were up for it but they had a couple of suggestions. One, maybe I should buy the record so that they had some idea what I was talking about and two, maybe we should try to get someone else interested in coming to this event who knew something about singing.

Pat was in the same class with Hastings Smith, who was in the school choir and the Acapella singers and knew a lot about singing. He neglected to mention that Hasty Smith was also one of the freshman classes really “cool” guys, maybe even as cool as the basketball players. He played on the golf team, had a perfect flat-top and every freshman girl and several of the upper class girls thought he was the handsomest guy in school. Still, the Baldwin brothers would ask him to come over at the weekend and sing with us. Getting the record (I should have thought of that) wasn’t a problem since my Mom had taken to working part time at the local record shop on 34th street. We were practically set and I was impatient to get started.

I have to tell you that looking back on all this, it is still not clear to me what I had in mind. I didn’t have any desire to be a singer or to get interested in music at that point. I didn’t want to learn and sing this song for anybody. I didn’t even care if I sang the lead or the harmony, would probably have preferred to sing the harmony. It was the pure action of reproducing these sounds together with other people that drove me and nothing else at all. I also look back and think, well, that was a nice little tune, of course, but what was there about it that drove me in this way? I can’t put my finger on that but making music for most of the years to come was simply the joyous event of making music with other people for our own pleasure.

Hastings might have been the luckiest thing that ever happened to me in music. He was Shortridge’s Mr. Cool Guy but he was by nature a kind and generous guy that never changed in his all too short life. He immediately assessed the situation when we pitifully attempted to sing this song that ended up in embarrassed laughter. He had another reasonable suggestion. Maybe we, meaning Virgil, Pat and I, should learn how to sing before thinking we could. This was troubling to me since I wanted to just get right to it. While Pat was willing, Virgil had rather decided that almost anything was more fun than trying to sing. Pat didn’t follow through but I nagged Hasty about his promise to get me into the school choir and our church choir, when it turned out we attended the same church on 38th street. Don Nelson, the choir director accepted me into choir in the last half of the final semester of 1957 on Hasty’s word and I began looking forward to church for the first time in my whole life so that I could sign with another choir.

The next several months brought many changes in my life, almost all of them amazing. While basketball was still a major obsession in my young life, I was still unable to get anyone on the SHS coaching staff to look at me no matter how hard I tried. I got in every pickup team, was captain of my team in the church league and was being coached by my dad to be a playmaker guard and a student of the game. Despite all my hard work, even running cross-country track (ugh) in the spring semester to build up my conditioning, I wasn’t making any headway. Singing on the other hand had transformed my attitude and I had a lot less time to be sulky about being a social misfit. Hasty introduced me to an ex-girl friend that he had remained friends with and was also in both choirs. Pat Hill was a petite blonde angel, way out of my league but thanks to Hasty's propaganda, she agreed to go with me to my junior prom. Pat was socially Hasty’s opposite number, Miss Cool Girl in the freshman class at Shortridge, a cheerleader and president of the only freshman social club. I was astonished that she accepted my invitation, where we doubled with Hasty and his new girlfriend. I was too insensitive to realize how uncomfortable that situation was for Pat so it was one of the more adventurous and strange dates that I ever had. I was astonished all over again when she agreed to go out with me the second time.

Nevertheless, she and I continued to go out. Pat and I fell deeply in love, with the passion and depth that comes from first loves for both of us and we were inseparable, except of course, when I was playing basketball or singing with our little vocal group. The group had finally learned enough to sort of sing Silhouettes but it wasn’t a group favorite because we really couldn't handle the vocal crescendo after the second chorus. But we had expanded out to the Diamonds and the Del Vikings and other singing groups. We sang in our living rooms, in fully tiled bathroom at church or school, wherever we could get good acoustics and be by ourselves, since this music was never meant for anyone other then ourselves. Chuck Tunnah, another friend from choir who could sing bass, had since replaced Virgil, who had realized his inadequacy as a singer couldn't even be made up by learning.

But we had to have a name for our group. And we figured maybe we should try to sing for other people since many of our friends and parents wondered just what we were doing. So the first of many challenges in naming a group took place. We decided upon the Aristo-Cats and I had business cards printed up with all of our names with our vocal positions on them. I sent away for the cards and waited impatiently for two weeks for them to come. They did, and I could hardly wait to rip off the brown paper and see them. They were beautiful, the Aristo-Cats logo printed in red in the center and in each corner each guy’s name: Chuck Tunnah, bass, Hastings Smith, Jr., baritone, Pat Baldwin with his breathy tenor on top and ..., Omigod! I’m singing Second Floor!

Aristo-Cats 1958

 !    Hastings Smith, Jr.

Hastings went on to become the Nuclear Physicist that he expected to be. He became the government's leading authority on nuclear proliferation, in charge of de-arming all of the Soviets nuclear missiles after the disarmament treaty and even after the fall of the wall.

Hastings died suddenly and unexpectedly of a Heart Attack at his home in Los Alamos, New Mexico in the fall of 2003. Here is a picture of him at the SHS reunion in the summer of 2002.

Hastings A. Smith, jr, SHS Reunion 2002

Hasty Smith, jr.

2011 Stark Naked & the Car Thieves
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