By Ed Karvoski Jr., Culture Editor
IPSWICH – The Fools’ lead singer Mike Girard got the party started when the rock band debuted New Year’s Eve 1976. Now, he’s also crooning with Mike Girard’s Big Swinging Thing.
He performs alongside some of his fellow Ipswich natives.
“Ipswich is the home of the fried clam and the entertainment capital of the world,” he declared.
Self-described as “a painfully shy kid,” the 14-year-old Girard began braving stages with a cover band at Ipswich teen dances.
“Singing was my therapy – and a way to meet girls,” he shared.
After graduating from Ipswich High in 1966, he dug clams by day and sang with lots of bands at night.
Takes a cue from The Tubes
Girard moved to California in 1974. Hearing KSAN-FM play The Tubes’ song “White Punks on Dope” prompted him to see their live show.
“I saw that you can create a stage persona and it doesn’t have to follow rules,” he relayed. “The Tubes took that to a whole other place.”
Determined to work again with a former bandmate, guitarist Rich Bartlett, Girard moved back to Ipswich in 1976.
“You occasionally meet people in life who you feel like you’ve known before,” he noted. “Rich is one of those people for me.”
They formed The Fools with three Ipswich natives: bassist Doug Forman and the Pederick brothers, drummer Chris and guitarist Stacey.
The Fools immediately gigged at North Shore clubs and progressively expanded geographically. They became well-known for tongue-in-check original and cover songs.
Hatching hit songs
Their song parody “Psycho Chicken” was added to the repertoire after Girard and a buddy heard The Talking Heads’ song “Psycho Killer.”
“When they sang ‘fa-fa-fa-fa-fa,’ we started clucking to it,” Girard recounted. “It was so stupid that we couldn’t stop laughing.”
The Fools recorded “Psycho Chicken” and sent a tape to Boston’s now-closed progressive rock station WBCN-FM. Legendary deejay Charles Laquidara played it on his morning show, “The Big Mattress.”
“Like us, Charles was childish and petulant – and didn’t care whether you liked it or not,” Girard explained. “’Psycho Chicken’ was his ‘Big Mattress’ song of the week, which guaranteed one or two airplays a day.”
It also got airplay in several regions nationwide as did their second single “It’s a Night for Beautiful Girls.”
Signs record deal
An impressed exec from EMI America Records attended the 1979 concert with The Fools opening for Blondie at Boston’s Orpheum Theatre. The then-major label signed The Fools to a record deal and a national tour with The Knack.
Their hometown celebrated the accomplishments with an elaborate party at an Ipswich landmark, Crane Estate.
Now residing in Southern New Hampshire, Girard recalled, “Ipswich was really proud of us when we got signed.”
EMI released The Fools’ debut album “Sold Out” in 1980, followed by 1981’s “Heavy Mental” and 1985’s “World Dance Party.”
Their third album featured a remake of Manfred Mann’s “Doo Wah Diddy.” MTV frequently aired its music video.
This was The Fools final EMI album.
“EMI told us that novelty acts don’t last,” Girard acknowledged. “The Fools lasted longer than EMI!”
Among iconic musical artists who The Fools have shared stages with are The Doobie Brothers, J. Geils Band, Rush and Van Halen.
After part-time gigging for several years, The Fools’ fulltime schedule steadily resumed in the late-1990s with some personnel changes. Current Fools bandmates are founders Girard, Bartlett and Stacey Pedrick with bassist Eric Adamson and drummer Leo Black.
Rock ‘n’ roll with horns
Not a typical big band, Mike Girard’s Big Swinging Thing formed in 2015. Girard, Bartlett and former Fools’ bassist Joe Holaday and drummer Jim Taft are joining forces with saxophonist Steve LeClaire, horn players, a keyboardist and backup singers.
They perform Fools’ classics along with diverse covers.
“We’re doing tunes that I’d always dreamed about doing,” Girard noted. “It’s a magical feeling to play with so many talented people all going in the same direction. I couldn’t be happier.”
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