Rediscovering Toby Beau and "My Angel Baby" While Cruising the Hawaiian Islands

Toby Beau — On and off stage they are Balde Silva and Rennetta Dennett Silva

By Dave Price

In 1978, I was playing in a South Jersey band called Time Peace. We were performing classic rock songs, as well as some radio hits of the time. One song that was always well received was “My Angel Baby,” a No. 1 hit by a band called Toby Beau.

Now I hadn’t thought about “My Angel Baby” or Toby Beau for 40 years. But that changed earlier this month when my wife and I boarded The Pride of America for a cruise around the Hawaiian Islands and discovered that Toby Beau was going to be performing two shows on the ship. 

In its original format, Toby Beau was a five-piece band out of southern Texas. Today, it’s a duo consisting of Balde Silva, the original singer and co-writer of “My Angel Baby,” and his wife Rennetta Dennet Silva, who has been with Silva since the ‘70s.

During about five hours of informal chatting and formal interviewing over three days, Balde, sometimes joined by the striking and incredibly friendly Rennetta, told me the 40-year story of Toby Beau.

Like so many music lovers who later became musicians, Balde vividly recalls the moment when he realized music could be more than his passion; he wanted it to be his life’s work. “It was seeing the Doors on Ed Sullivan”, Balde says. “You could hear that Vox organ and that guitar. And then there was Jim Morrison.”

Around that time, a couple of Balde’s older cousins formed a rock band and young Balde was given an important job. One of the guitar chords could short out when it was put in an amp, so as the band rehearsed, Balde would hold the chord steady so it wouldn’t wiggle. As the band played, he would sing along. Soon, he found himself fronting the band as lead vocalist.

“The singer they had wasn’t very good and I could sing pretty well. So we switched positions. He started holding the chord and I became the lead singer,” Balde says, chuckling as he recalled his inauspicious introduction to the rock band world.

After playing with several configurations of South Texas musicians, Balde found himself with the four other musicians who would become the first version of Toby Beau. The band was named after one of the last shrimp boats docked in the Gulf Coast community of Port Isabel, Texas.

The group started out performing covers in clubs all over Texas, but eventually began writing songs of their own. One of those songs was “My Angel Baby,” co-written by Balde and now-deceased guitarist and band member Danny McKenna. Soon, the group signed a major three-record deal with RCA and found they were going to be produced by KISS producer Sean Delaney.

Balde said the band’s rise was rapid and eye-opening. “One day we were playing in these greasy bars in San Antonio and the next day we were recording in New York with all these big bands,” Balde noted.

Propelled by the band’s first single “My Angel Baby,” Toby Beau was soon getting airplay all over the country and Canada. The single, with its updated 1950s feel and harmonica solo reminiscent of something like the Rascals might have recorded in their heyday, spent 13 weeks climbing the Billboard charts. It reached No. 1 on the Easy Listening charts, while rising to No. 13 on the pop charts. “My Angel Baby” quickly earned gold for receiving more than a million radio plays.

Suddenly, the band found itself touring with many of the biggest acts of the ‘70s such as the Doobie Brothers, Bob Seger, the Steve Miller Band, Steely Dan, and ZZ Top, all of whom are now enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

“That was a wild time,” Rennetta says. “Wild, but fun while you were young”.

But when the band began recording its second album, problems developed. They tried recording in New York City, Miami, and Nashville, but were unable to recapture the magic of “My Angel Baby”. When finally released, the second album did include a cover of “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye,” written by John D. Loudermilk, who also composed the classic “Tobacco Road”. “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” had previously been the number 6 pop hit for the Casinos in 1967 and a No. 1 on the country charts for Eddy Arnold in 1968. The 1979 version by Toby Beau only reached 57 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and 7 on the Adult Contemporary List.

By the completion of that album, all four of Balde’s fellow band members had left the group. However, he decided to record the third album for RCA on his own, a move which allowed him to retain the rights to use the name Toby Beau.

After that album, Balde and Renetta, accompanied by various musicians, toured as Toby Beau, playing smaller music venues and festivals, clubs, and bars. As the 21 Century dawned, the two – now just a duo – found themselves also working on cruise ships. After 7 years, Balde and Rennetta wanted to forego cruise performance. However, their agent said they should do one more cruise.

“I heard Rennetta holler in the background, ‘See if we can do something in Hawaii. We’ve never been there’. Well that was 12 years ago and since then we have been right here performing on the ship,” Balde explained.

The Pride of America cruises around Hawaii all 52 weeks of the year, so the Toby Beau duo can book work as much as they want. Currently, their contract specifies that they perform two shows, one on Saturday night and one on Sunday night. That means they have the rest of the cruise to do what they want, which often involves exploring the islands. It also means they can have an almost-regular scheduled. For example, Rennetta apologized for cutting our chat short on Sunday night because she and her husband always make that movie date night while the ship is docked overnight in Kawai.

As for the two shows, one a tribute to the Beatles and the other to the Eagles, are unique. Balde and Rennetta play the performance live, but the drums and other backing instruments have been pre-recorded by Balde for live playback.

Actually, the pre-recordings have a live feel, not like many such accompaniments that sound artificial and machine-like. Balde explained there is a simple reason for that fact. “I guess you heard a few mistakes,” he said. “I was going to take them out, but when I listened to them I thought such things occur in live performances so I left them in,” he said.

To enhance the accuracy of the show, Balde employs some the same guitars that George Harrison, John Lennon, and Paul McCartney used for the Beatles and Glen Fry, Bernie Leadon, Don Felder, and Joe Walsh played for specific Eagles songs.

The show itself is unique for such tribute concerts. Balde has chosen one song from each album of the Beatles and the Eagles that truly captures the sound of the band at the time the LP was released. Balde and Rennetta alternate telling the story of the groups, meaning that their show is not only musically interesting, but a lesson in rock music history and popular culture as well.

From the reaction and applause both nights, the duo’s talents and the shows’ formats are being enthusiastically received by the cruise showroom audiences. One highlight of the Beatles’ night was a show-closing rendition of the classic “Hey Jude,” complete with an audience singalong and in-time, above-the-head hand waving. My personal favorite from the two nights was a spirited “Life in Fast Lane,” while the audience appeared awed at Toby Beau’s close cover version of the Eagles “Hotel California” from the band’s best-selling album by the same name.

The positive reception was demonstrated quite a few times during our interview-chat sessions as cruisers would stop by our table to tell Balde and Rennetta how much they enjoyed the shows and talk music with the pair.

I will be writing much more about Toby Beau in the future (they will play a major role in my third book in what I am calling my Rock of Agers series which looks at how rock & roll evolved into rock, which today continues its popularity as classic rock), but here are the answers to two questions I asked: 

The first – are you disappointed that your hits came early and because of changing conditions in the music industry you haven’t been able to replicate that success?

“No,” Balde answers emphatically. “I’ve always enjoyed live performing more than studio work. I love seeing the fans, watching their reactions, and getting a chance to talk to them. And getting to do it with Rennetta makes it that much better”. 

And the final – Balde, do you have regrets about spending 40 years in the music businesses with all its inherent ups and downs?

“When I was young, all I wanted to do was sing. And that’s all I’ve ever done. I dreamed of being a rock-and-roller and that’s what I became. My advice now to young people is never give up on your dream and always be ready when the dream comes – for it can come out of nowhere so you have to be ready”. 

Encore

            As an author who writes articles and books about classic rock I have the great opportunity to meet many people in the music business. Some are nice. Some are not. Some are normal. Some are not. But few I have are as engaging and friendly as Balde and Rennetta. I think the fact that they have been together for 40+ years in a business where 40 months in the more the average speaks strongly to their dedication and character. In fact, I’m certain that if they lived next door, you would want them for friends. Plus, the three of us could probably talk for years about the highs and lows of the music business, along with stories of all the fascinating people you run into. 

            If you do or don’t recall Toby Beau or “My Angel Baby,”, make yourself a note to check them out if you get a chance. You won’t be disappointed. And, if you want, you can tell them Dave sent you.

I Read the News Today, Oh Boy (12.21.2019)

Each Saturday, Talking ‘Bout My Generation posts links to articles of interest to Baby Boomers which appeared in various news sources earlier in the week.

A Kennedy family Christmas in the White House

Music Monday (12.2.19) – Woodstock

How much do you know about Woodstock, that most-famous of rock festivals held 50 years ago in 1969 on farmland in upstate New York? Well, you could learn even more if you were to pick up and read my latest book, Come Together: How Baby Boomers, the Beatles, and a Youth Counterculture Combined to Create the Music of the Woodstock Generation.

Come Together is now available exclusively at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, DC or it can be purchased here through the Politics and Prose website.

Beatles Tunes Power Pepperland

By Dave Price

1967 was a year filled with psychedelic sights and mind-expanding sounds. 

On London’s Carnaby Street, fashion boutiques were offering hip, wild, colorful clothing for with-it British men and women. Meanwhile, young Americans from San Francisco to New York City were letting their hair grow long, while simultaneously tuning in and turning on to marijuana, LSD, and the sounds of Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, and the Vanilla Fudge. And reflective of all that was swirling around them, the Beatles produced their pot and acid-drenched masterpiece Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

To say that the album was revolutionary in its time is understatement. But earlier this month, the Mark Morris Dance Group proved that more than 50 years later, there still is innovation to be found in the musical masterpiece.

For three sold-out nights at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, the New York City-based dance company, directed by noted ballet and opera choreographer Mark Morris, presented the group’s reworking of Sgt. Pepper’s titled Pepperland, a stunning visual dance performance set to six much-altered Beatles songs and seven original pieces composed by pianist Ethan Iverson. 

Here is a summation of the one-hour performance from score notes by Iverson, who led the seven-member live pit band which included a single vocalist, two keyboardists, a trumpeter, a trombonist, a percussionist, and, most interestingly, a theramin player. (For those not familiar with the theramin, and many in the performance hall were not, the one-of-a-kind electronic instrument is a single oscillator with two metal rods used to change pitch and amplitude controlled by a single performer using hand gestures above the rods):

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

  • The original album ended with an unprecedented effect, a very long chord. Fifty years later, perhaps a similar chord is a good place to begin …

Magna Carta

  • A formal invocation of personalities from the LP cover

With a Little Help from My Friends

  • When Ringo sang it, he was on top of the world. Our version is more vulnerable.

Adagio

  • In an age of Tinder, a Lonely Heart advertisement might seem hopelessly quaint. But everyone has always needed to find a match.

When I’m Sixty-Four

  • In between 6 and 4 is 5. All three counts (to the bar are heard) are heard beneath the music-hall scuffle.

Allegro

  • A single offhand line from “Sgt. Pepper” germinates into a full-fledged sonata.

Within You Without You

  • George Harrison’s sincere study of Indian music aligns easily with another Harrison interested in bringing the East to the West: the great composer Lou Harrison, one of Mark Morris’s most significant collaborators. The hippie-era sentiment of the lyric remains startlingly fresh and relevant today.

Scherzo

  • Glenn Gould said he preferred Petula Clark to the Beatles. Apparently, Gould, Clark, and a chord progression from “Sgt. Pepper” all seemed to have inspired this mod number.

Wilbur Scoville

  • The first thing we hear on the LP is a blues guitar lick, here transformed into a real blues for the horns to blow on. Wilbur Scoville invented the scale to measure hot sauce: The original Sgt. Pepper?

Cadenza

  • After seeing Bach’s Brandenburg on the telly, Paul McCartney came into the studio and told George Martin to add piccolo trumpet to “Penny Lane”. Indeed, detailed references to European classical music are one reason so many Beatles’ songs still stump the average cover band.

Penny Lane

  • Not on “Sgt. Pepper,” but nonetheless originally planned to be, and, of course, especially relevant to the city of Liverpool.

A Day in the Life

  • Theremin nocturne, vocal descant, apotheosis.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

  • Another unprecedented effect on the original LP was a reprise of the first theme, which is part of why it is called the first concept album. Our later vantage point enables us to project into the next decade, the ‘70s, and conjure a disco ball. Thank you, Beatles. Thank you, Sgt. Pepper.

Dave Price to Tour To Promote His Classic Rock Book Come Together

If you consider 1965’s “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones as the first two great classic rock singles and the Beatles’ Rubber Soul as the initial classic rock album (which most musicologists do), then that makes the genre 55 years old next year. 

But as 2019’s evidence shows, you can rightfully claim classic rock is barely showing its age for a type of music that, if it were a person, would be eligible for membership in AARP in 2020.

Times for older classic rock artists continue to be productive. For example, three of the top five grossing concert acts this year – Elton John, Metallica, and Fleetwood Mac – perform classic rock. Bruce Springsteen offered 236 solo shows over two years on Broadway, with ticket prices averaging $500 a seat from the box office and more than $1,000 from re-sale. Aerosmith, John Fogerty, Santana, Sting, Rod Stewart, Def Leopard, and Journey all played sold-out residency shows at Las Vegas’ top casinos. The Rolling Stones wrapped up their three-leg, three-year No Filter tour, a series of stadium concerts that attracted 2,290,871 fans and grossed $415.6 million for the band. And the Beatles’ re-release of Abbey Road climbed to #1 on the charts, exactly 50 years after the album first accomplished that feat 50 years ago.

These eye-opening facts evoke two big questions – how did the rock music now deemed classic, which evolved from 1950s rock & roll, become so popular with the Woodstock Generation and why does it continue to thrive despite the fact that most of its first listeners are now in their 50s, 60s, or 70s? 

In a three-book series he jokingly refers to as his Rock of Agers trilogy, Washington DC author and former journalist, educator, and classic rock keyboard player Dave Price explores the history of the music of the generation who came of age in the turbulent 1960s and ‘70s and attempts to explain the music’s popularity then and now.

The first book in the series, Come Together: How the Baby Boomers, the Beatles, and a Young Counterculture Combined to Create the Music of the Woodstock Generation was released in November. 

Come Together begins with the dropping of the first atomic bomb in 1945 and ends with the final notes Jimi Hendrix played on the last day of the historic Woodstock Festival in 1969. The saga is told in six chronological chapters. In the first, you’ll see how a connected series of innovations, influences, and influencers in the late 1940s and early 1950s paved the way for the rise of rock & roll. The second introduces you to some of the most important early performers of this new music. The third allows you to see how the Beatles reshaped rock & roll both on stage and in the studio. The fourth places you in San Francisco in the summer of 1967, where a new youth “hippie” counterculture was being formed around revolutionary ideas about the role of drugs, sex, and rock & roll in American society. The fifth demonstrates how two of the most significant artists of the late 60s – Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones – crafted some additional touches to the type of music that would be encountered at Woodstock. In the 6th chapter, we’ll end our musical journey and join a crowd of 400,000 to vicariously experience the most-noted music festival of all-time at the historic upper New York state farmland where rock & roll emerged as something which now would soon be known simply as rock.

The second volume in the series, What’s That Sound?  80+ Artists Who Defined the Music of the Woodstock Generation, will pick up with Hendrix’s fading final notes and conclude 50 years later at the 50th anniversary commemoration of that 1969 festival, held at the original site. It is scheduled to be published in late 2020.

The third and final “Rock of Agers” book is tentatively titled Long Live Rock: Why Do the Classic Sounds of the Woodstock Generation Continue to Resonate So Loudly Today. It will delineate two connected stories – the various ways the sounds of classic rock are being preserved and passed on to new listeners and how you can experience the entire history of classic rock by sailing on four Woodstock-like music themed cruises. Long Live Rock is planned for a late 2021 released.

Price will begin a four-month tour to promote his new book with an appearance in his former hometown of Bridgeton, New Jersey, where he lived for 59 years. On Saturday, Dec. 7th, he will stage a meet and greet and a book signing at the Bridgeton Free Public Library from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. He will be donating $1 from the sale of each book to the library.

“The Bridgeton Library is a very special place to me so it’s fitting that I begin there,” Price says. “Libraries in general, and the Bridgton Library in particular, have always served as my secular cathedrals. They truly are amazing places. You can learn just about anything you need to know if you take advantage of all the resources a local library offers”. 

“I’m sure I wouldn’t have been in position to write any book without the enjoyment, elucidation, and enlightenment that I found in all the libraries I have visited over the years,” Price added. “To me, my library card is just as important as my credit card or my driver’s license. I never leave home without it.”