The Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire
Though widespread success alluded them, the Byzantine Empire released three singles on the Amy label (in ’68); a small body of work that has earned them a posthumous cult following among psychedelic era “soft pop” aficionados. In actuality, they were a seasoned band with three decidedly more rocking 45s under the name of the Five Bucks. These earlier records were big hits in Ann Arbor, where each group member was pursuing his undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan. Comprised of Steve Hearn (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Chris Rose (lead guitar, vocals), Bruce Kerr (bass, vocals), Jerry Daller (drums) and Bauchman Tom (keyboards, vocals), the group was formed in their freshman year at University of Michigan (fall ’65). Several members of the Five Bucks hailed from the Chicago area. Through those hometown connections, the part-time group recorded one-off singles on Afton, Omnibus and USA Records. The group also spent their summers relocating to Chicago where they hooked up with a powerful booking agent who got them on concert bills with everyone from the Hollies, Animals and Turtles to all the top local attractions (Shadows of Knight, Flock, New Colony Six, etc.). Back on campus in Ann Arbor, they even opened for the Doors at Michigan’s fall ’67 homecoming; a landmark event in rock notoriety (based on the spectacle of a drunken, belligerent Jim Morrison making a huge impression on audience member Jim Osterberg aka Iggy Pop).
In late ’67, they auditioned for producer Bill Traut who signed them to a recording production deal. According to the band, it was Traut who recommended they come up with a more fashionable name than the outmoded Five Bucks. From there, the band rechristened themselves the Byzantine Empire. At the time, Traut was winding down his Dunwich label, so his Byzantine Empire productions appeared on the New York-based Amy label; a subsidiary of Bell Records. Clearly, both Traut and Bell Records were hot on the act that was likened to a Windy City answer to the hit-making Association. Tracks like “Girl in the Courtyard” and “Whenever I’m Lonely” were perfect vehicles for the group’s increasingly lush harmony vocals. As a curiosity, the Byzantine Empire also recorded “Shadows and Reflections”; a cult item in its own right by the George Martin-production Action from England.