In fall 2016 The Gems made what was planned to be their final tour to Walla Walla, playing the hits of the late 1950s and early 1960s.
But, when the Walla Walla High School Class of 1959 asked if they would play for their 60th reunion, they couldn’t resist a comeback.
Several other Wa-Hi reunions are coming up this year in September.
The first performance will be at the Dayton Eagles from 8-11 p.m. Sept. 7, members and guests.
The Wa-Hi Class of ’62 will celebrate their 75th birthdays with a party with The Gems at Three Rivers Winery, 5641 Old Highway 12, from 6:30-9 p.m. Sept. 13. Tickets at $5 are available at Three Rivers Winery. This is open to the public.
The Gems will also perform at a sock hop and dance contest from 8:30-11:30 p.m. Sept. 14 for members and guests at Walla Walla Eagles Aerie, 350 S. Second Ave. For $10 tickets call 509-386-2477.
The Gems started back in the late 1950s as a high school band. They got serious about their music in 1960 and developed into one of the leading bands in the Northwest said member and lead guitarist Jim Reid, Wa-Hi Class of ’59.
He played with other original members since 1960, Paul Wheeler, vocals and bass; Ron Overman, vocals and rhythm guitar; and Larry Loney, vocals and drums, Wa-Hi Class of 1962. Larry was in the Wa-Hi band and played drums and sang.
Duane Gusse, keyboard and vocals, died in 2012.
All members will be here this fall, except for Loney who has other commitments.
Mike Campanelli will fill in on drums.
The Gems recorded several songs in the 1960s and rereleased them recently, Reid said.
Ten songs are available for download on Amazon, Spotify, I-Tunes and other internet locations when “Walla Walla Wipeout” is typed in to link to The Gems music.
By 1961 The Gems were playing their music for Wa-Hi dances.
During this time the Gems developed their skills by learning “The Ventures” music playing a lot of instrumentals, Reid said.
Ironically, when they signed up with a booking agent the first major act The Gems booked was with The Ventures.
The Gems performed with Don Wilson and Nokie Edwards of “The Ventures” and they used Ron Overman on bass and Larry Loney on drums during their performances in 1962-63.
In 1963 The Gems were booked for a Canadian tour with singers and brothers Johnny and Dorsey Burnette and Donnie Brooks.
Johnny Burnette wrote some of Ricky Neslon’s hit songs and was going to loan his band for the tour, Reid said.
When Nelson’s band couldn’t make it, The Gems replaced them. They performed in Victoria, Ladysmith and Nanaimo, British Columbia.
The Gems were promoted as, “Ricky Nelson’s Band.” It was hard for The Gems to answer the question, “what’s Ricky like” since they never met him, Reid said.
The Gems were regulars at the Natatorium on Wilber St. in Walla Walla. Their booking agent, Pat Mason, booked Jan and Dean to perform with The Gems at the Natatorium on July 2, 1963. By the time that date came around, “Surf City” by Jan and Dean reached No. 1 in the nation. The Natatorium was filled to capacity.
The Gems also toured and backed up Johnny Tillotson and Bobby Bare and opened for Jerry Lee Lewis. The Gems were regulars each Saturday night at the Division Street Corral in Portland in 1962-63.
The Gems broke up in 1965. Their final gig was at the Nagle’s Big Apple, The Worm Hole club in Portland. Overman went on to fame with “Don and The Goodtimes” and the hit song, “I Could Be So Good To You.” They appeared often on Dick Clark’s, “Where The Action Is” in the mid-1960s.
The Gems met in Walla Walla for a reunion in 2007 and decided to bring their instruments and play music in 2008 and returned to Walla Walla and the Northwest for engagements annually through 2016.
“This is great opportunity to see an original band from the 1960s play the early rock and roll exactly like it was performed back then,” Reid said.