1967 fan club card
Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods hit it big in the 1970s with the huge hit "Billy Don't Be a Hero" and a couple follow ups, "Who Do You Think You Are" and "Heartbreak Kid". Not many people are aware that they have roots in the 1960s Cincinnati garage band scene and released several local 45s before their first national releases on the Republic and Family Productions labels, leading to their smash hits.
The story of the Heywoods formation turns the tables on the usual 'rock musicians defying their parents' cliche. Bo Donaldson's mother, Bea Donaldson, was the driving force behind the band from inception until their breakthrough. Her eagerness to get Bo, a keyboard player, into the band scene led her to contact Johnny Schott, who had been in the Radicals and had performed in several area musical theatre productions. Bea had known Johnny from MCing dances with the Radicals. Johnny was reluctant to get involved, but agreed to spend six months in the band as the lead singer. The band was recruited from other local bands, and included Sonny James (drums), David Flitner (bass), Randy Jester (sax), Phil Beard (guitar). With Bea's very agressive promotion, the band started to get attention. The Heywoods even employed a borrowed Monkees theme song, sung as "Hey Hey We're the Heywoods"
Toward the end of the six month period, Bea got the band to record a couple songs at the King records recording studio, just to have a record as a promotional item. The Heywoods recorded "Hey Joe" with Sonny James on vocals and "Midnight Hour" with Johnny Schott on vocals. Bea decided to release the record on their own Queen Bea label, name suggested by Johnny Schott.
Johnny left the band, as agreed, and the band recorded three more 45s on their own label. "Season of the Witch" got a lot of local action. Meanwhile, Bea Donaldson had secured a job working for Dick Clark's operation. In 1968 she got the band booked on a Dick Clark Caravan of Stars tour, headlined by the Young Rascals. Bea invited Johnny Schott to peform a short set backed by the Heywoods, about 5 songs which included covers of songs from Gene Pitney to the Doors, which closed the opening set before the headliners. The tour peformed about 16 dates down south.
The band continued to get a lot of local and regional exposure, thanks to Bea and her connections. In 1970 they issued a single on the Republic label (credited as the Heywoods B.R. Co). The label was a short lived operation that had Gene Autry as president. The 45 went nowhere, but the breakthrough was just around the corner. In 1971 the band opened in Cincy for the then red-hot Osmonds. The Osmonds booked the band for other tour dates, and they got a contract with the Family Productions (a relatively short-lived operation best known for releasing the first solo LP by Billy Joel) record label. The band's 1st 45, Special Someone, was a low-charting hit, but it got the band tied into the teeny-bopper scene and the band was featured numerous times in mags like Tiger Beat, etc. An LP was also issued
Finally in 1973 the band got signed by ABC, a major label that was able to connect them with top producers and material. The band relocated to southern California and their run of hits began. After their ABC contract ran its course, they cut an LP for Capitol in 1976. One of the ABC records includes the song "The Watcher", which was written by Johnny Schott and John Gilsinger when they were in the Black Watch. Johnny had recorded a version in 1973 which was issued on the first of the long running samplers sponsored by Cincy radio station WEBN.
Over the years the Heywoods had many different members, with Bo the only constant. References have been made to a girl drummer, and several other unconfirmed members before they released the "Special Someone" LP. Mike Gibbons, the singer on the band's hits, had joined the band in the late 1960s. Other details about the Heywoods family tree is most welcome.
Thanks to Johnny Schott.