Abbey Roadkill

The Aerovons were this close to becoming America's Beatles. What happened?

On a tour of EMI Studios at Abbey Road, the St. Louis teens interrupted Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd in Studio Three ("They were nice, but you could see it in their faces: Get the hell out") before moving on to the almighty Studio Two. For these Beatles-besotted youth, the moment was as inexpressibly transcendent as you might expect. And then it got better: George Harrison popped in. Frank and Hartman barraged him with questions about guitar minutiae.

"He didn't know any of the answers," Frank recalls. "We're at home buying our albums trying to figure out what guitar, what settings he's using, and he's like, 'I don't know, I just picked one up and used it.'"

A contract was signed with EMI/Parlophone, and the Aerovons were sent home to write more songs before returning to Abbey Road in March of 1969. "Buzz" wasn't a music-industry term yet, but the Aerovons had it; EMI execs were trembling with anticipation of the band's limitless future. But Frank wouldn't be around to see it. True to Maurine's warnings, he was led astray by "a girl" and his youthful impulses, and he quit the band. Further details are neither forthcoming nor necessary. The Aerovons marched onward, finishing Resurrection at Abbey Road in June 1969.

Resurrection reveals that Tom Hartman had a melodic facility and confidence far beyond his seventeen years. "World of You" is a haunting pop-psychedelic masterpiece, heavy with Gothic atmosphere and sophisticated harmonies. "Words from a Song" is a sweeter, almost traditional ballad, whereas "She's Not Dead" gets tricky with some jazzy chords and rhythmic changes on the chorus. Throughout, Hartman speaks with the Beatles' vocabulary, recycling guitar sounds and arrangement tricks from every era of the Fab Four's career. It might have gone the other way, too: A persistent rumor has it that "Say Georgia" and "Resurrection" were swiped by the Beatles for "Oh, Darling" and "Across the Universe," respectively. Frank insists that the rumor is true.

After the sessions, it all started falling apart. Phil Edholm, Frank's replacement on rhythm guitar, had already quit the band, complaining that his songs weren't given a chance. Upon returning to St. Louis, drummer Mike Lombardo discovered that his wife had been cheating on him and went into shock, disappearing for long stretches at a time. EMI, balking at the dicey line-up situation, dropped the Aerovons and canned the album. "World of You" was released as a single in September 1969 -- a melancholy postscript, not the herald of a new sensation.

If Frank ever agonized over his missed opportunity, he doesn't show it anymore. Later in life, he just missed another shot at rock stardom: After playing bass for Johnny Cougar (Mellencamp) for five years, Frank cut his hand in a fall in 1981, quitting right before the breakthrough American Fool. He's played a little music here and there since then but not as a career. (Tom Hartman, on the other hand, lives in Miami and composes incidental music for television commercials; the two remain friends to this day.)

Frank is married now and devotes most of his time and energy to his business, repairing dents in cars. He gives the impression of someone who's too busy to muse about what should have been. As is his right, though, Frank is also proud, summoning Venice Café pals over to see the Resurrection jacket photos. "Hey, take a look at this," he says. "This is that band of mine I was telling you about." The kid who went from Bayless Road to Abbey Road orders another beer and laughs gently at his own unbelievable past.

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