After six years as a weekday afternoon TV phenomenon, American Bandstand was moved in September 1963 to a once-a-week Saturday schedule by its network, ABC. Host Dick Clark, setting his sites on regaining an everyday presence, developed a concept for a new youth-oriented series; instead of Bandstand's live-from-a-studio format (in Philadelphia and, later, Los Angeles), the show's episodes would be filmed at dozens if not hundreds of locations across the U.S., with performances by the hottest hitmakers of the day and many stars from rock and roll's recent past as well as his own cast of up-and-coming solo singers and groups. He pitched the idea to competing networks, though ABC ultimately greenlit the series; Where the Action Is premiered June 28, 1965 at 2 P.M. eastern and pacific, with guests typically lip-syncing songs from beaches, ski resorts, zoos, theme parks and national monuments, near geysers, on mountaintops, from canoes on lakes, you name it. Singers Steve Alaimo and Linda Scott served as hosts while Clark's voice-over introductions kept his supervisional image in viewers' minds. Of the show's regularly featured acts, Paul Revere and the Raiders (who'd been paying their dues for a half-dozen years) became the most successful; several other would-be stars appeared often, though few were able to augment the exposure with any hit singles. New Jersey-based quartet The Knickerbockers were one notable exception.

The band formed in 1962 in Bergenfield, a city about ten miles from the Hudson River and New York City via the New Jersey Turnpike. Guitarist Beau Charles (birth name Robert Cecchino) and his one-year-younger brother, bassist John, had made previous attempts at getting a band going when they met saxophonist Buddy Randell. Drummer Jimmy Walker completed the lineup; all four sang in addition to playing their instruments, but Buddy's confident vocal ability established him as the frontman. They got the name for the group from Knickerbocker Road, a nearby north-to-south street a couple of miles east of the Hudson. The four clicked as a unit and were soon scoring local gigs, expanding over the next year into neighboring cities. While appearing at a club in N.Y. state capital Albany, about a two-hour drive north of Bergenfield, they were spotted by Jerry Fuller, a singer with several minor chart entires ("Betty My Angel," "Shy Away") and songwriter best known for composing many of Rick Nelson's hits (including the chart-topping "Travelin' Man"). Fuller got them signed to Challenge, the L.A.-based record company he'd recorded for since 1959.

Early singles recorded in New York included Fuller's "All I Need is You," a doo wop-style ballad credited to Buddy Randell and the Knickerbockers that became a top ten hit in December '64 and January '65 at WTRY in Troy, part of the Albany market where the nightclub gig had gained them fans. Before long they were booked for two shows at Albany's Palace Theatre as an opening act for The Rolling Stones during the Brit band's first U.S. tour; on April 24, 1965, they found themselves in front of more than four thousand screaming Stones fans who paid a whopping two dollars and ten cents each for the experience. Within weeks, the Knickerbockers (without Randell's lead billing) had another top ten hit on the Troy airwaves with "Jerk Town," a midtempo tie-in to the dance craze of the moment, popularized by The Larks' hit "The Jerk."

A decision was made to relocate to Los Angeles; Fuller arranged for them to perform at the Red Velvet Club on the Sunset Strip (a sort-of "poor man's" equivalent to hotter spots like Gazzarri's and the Whisky a Go Go); Bobby Hatfield was a regular and became friends with drummer Jimmy during this time. The band's first batch of Hollywood recordings were produced by Fuller with seasoned engineers Bruce Botnick and Dave Hassinger, giving the tracks a tight, radio-ready sound. "Lies" was structured on the three opening chords of The Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand," Buddy's idea being to shout a word on the third note; 'Lies!' felt right and the song's lyrics (''re tellin' me that that you'll be true...'), penned by Buddy and Beau, expanded from there. Right off the bat, people mistook their sound for the Beatles and the local disc jockeys started playing up the angle. The song was an immediate smash in Southern Cal just after Thanksgiving '65; the following week they appeared on two locally-produced, nationally-syndicated dance shows, Hollywood a Go Go and The Lloyd Thaxton Show, and hit number one on top 40 powerhouse KFWB before the end of the year. Nationally, the single took a little longer to develop.

Dick Clark was impressed by what he saw and filmed them for an episode of Where the Action Is (which had been moved to an afterschool timeslot, 4:30 P.M.) broadcast nationally on December 28; Marvin Gaye, who appeared on the same episode, called them "One of the grooviest groups I've ever seen or heard" (the quote was used on the back cover of the band's first album, The Fabulous Knickerbockers). "Lies" reached the top ten in many cities while peaking in the national top 20 in mid-January. With the Raiders causing a buzz on early episodes of Where the Action Is, Clark felt the Knickerbockers would generate the same kind of excitement and signed them as regulars on the series, where they appeared at least once a week (mainly lip-syncing pre-recorded covers of current hits) for several months starting in February.

John Charles, Beau Charles, Buddy Randell, Jimmy Walker

Buddy, Beau, John and Jimmy stayed busy throughout the year. An appearance in the spy-spoof/bomb-threat comedy Out of Sight (its screenplay written by Hogan's Heroes seventh-banana Larry Hovis) beside current stars Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Freddie and the Dreamers, The Turtles, The Astronauts and Dobie Gray gave them a chance to perform one song, but it wasn't their hit; instead they did a cover of Tom Jones' signature tune "It's Not Unusual"...go figure! They also recorded the theme for Ross Hunter's romantic drama The Pad (And How to Use It), for which its star, James Farentino, won a Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer, Male. With several Action segments filmed for the show, the Knicks embarked on the "Where the Action Is Spring Tour," starting April 5, 1966 with Revere's Raiders, Lewis's Playboys, Billy Joe Royal, The Viceroys and series regulars Alaimo, Scott, Keith Allison and dance group The Action Kids.

The label nixed the Knickerbockers' plan to release "Just One Girl" (penned by Beau) as the follow-up to "Lies," opting instead for "One Track Mind," a song by husband-and-wife songwriting team Keith and Linda Colley; a tad more rocking than its predecessor, the track landed just outside the top 40 in April '66, about the same time it was featured on an episode of Action. Meanwhile, the tour continued through May 15 and covered parts of the eastern seaboard, midwest, southwest and southern U.S., followed by a six-week break. Hopefully the guys were able to attend a screening of Out of Sight when it hit theaters in June, though they were kept busy doing recordings and preparing for the next round of TV appearances and tour dates. The "Where the Action Is Summer Tour" monopolized the entire month of July, taking them mainly through east coast cities; The Young Rascals headlined with support from hitmaking acts The Critters, B.J. Thomas and the Triumphs and Shades of Blue, along with Action regulars Alaimo, Allison, the Action Kids and singer Tina Mason.

Timing wasn't great for the next single, the even-more-rocking Colley-Colley-Annette Tucker tune "High on Love," which had already fallen off the charts before the quartet's performance of the song on Action aired in mid-August. Late summer single "Chapel in the Fields," a ballad penned by Edward Fournier of surf band The Challengers, had its moment on the show but ran its course quickly. The group's Where the Action Is stint came to an end in mid-September; Buddy Randell bailed on the 'bockers in 1967 for personal reasons while Challenge continued issuing singles by the three remaining members. The final disc was the theme for the spring '68 movie "They Ran For Their Lives," an independently-produced crime drama starring John Payne; the lead vocal was by Beau Charles. The single's other side, "As a Matter of Fact," had a credited vocal by Jimmy Walker, after which he left to join pal Bobby Hatfield as Bill Medley's replacement in the just-split Righteous Brothers, a concept destined for failure. Beau and John Charles kept The Knickerbockers going - or tried to - before throwing in the towel in 1970.

- Michael Jack Kirby