Barry Saunders

Saunders: Confused – again – about the Navy Commodores and the ‘Brick House’ Commodores

Senior Chief Musician Bill Mulligan, of Columbus, Ohio, performs a clarinet solo at a Commodores concert at Eleanor Roosevelt Middle School in Dubuque, Iowa in November.
Senior Chief Musician Bill Mulligan, of Columbus, Ohio, performs a clarinet solo at a Commodores concert at Eleanor Roosevelt Middle School in Dubuque, Iowa in November. U.S. Navy

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice – 38 years later with the same trick – then I reckon I’m a fool.

What else would you call someone to whom this happens?

Several months ago I told you about how word spread through our Washington, D.C., neighborhood that the Commodores were giving a free bicentennial concert on the Mall.

My buddies and I rushed downtown to see it, but imagine our dismay upon discovering that the performers were not the funky Commodores, who in 1976 were just about the hottest band in the world, but the U.S. Navy Band Commodores.

We stayed and dug the show – did I mention it was free? – but my pals were skeptical of any other information I shared with them.

When the TV ad appeared last week trumpeting that the Commodores were performing in Pinehurst, I, like The Who, vowed “Won’t get fooled again.” Nah, homes, you won’t get me with that again, I smirked with much self-satisfaction.

Makes sense, right? Tradition-bound, deep-pocketed Pinehurst. Which Commodores would you expect?

The television ad even featured a military band.

Turns out, it was the funky Commodores this time, the “Brick House” Commodores, and once again I’d been fooled and missed them.

They performed Saturday at the Pinehurst Concours d’Elegance vintage car showcase at the Pinehurst Resort.

U.S. Navy Band public affairs spokeswoman Melissa Bishop was unfamiliar with the “Just To Be Close To You” Commodores when I called to find out if I was the only person who couldn’t tell the Commodores from the Commodores.

“I don’t know about the funk band that you’re talking about. Is that a local North Carolina band?” asked Bishop, who for 17 years was a clarinetist in the Navy’s concert band.

“Local” is subjective, of course, but considering that the Motown band sold more than 70 million records and had seven No. 1s, I answered “No.”

I suggested she go listen to them, but cautioned that she start off with some of their lighter fare – something easy like “Easy Like Sunday Morning” or “Three Times a Lady” – before jumping on “Slippery When Wet” or “Machine Gun.”

The Navy band, Bishop said, has been known as the Commodores since 1969. “In our advertising,” she said, “we always put ‘United States Navy Band, Commodores.”

Makes sense, but heck, the show could be over by the time you stood in line and asked for two tickets for that.

The funky Commodores, according to their website, formed in 1968 while members were all students at Tuskegee University, nee Institute. They signed with Motown four years later.

Dave Droschak, a spokesman for the Pinehurst event, said this was the fourth year for the vintage car show – a fundraiser for the USO of North Carolina – and the second year that it has featured a vintage band.

“We had Three Dog Night last year,” he said. It was one of the last shows by lead singer Cory Wells. He died six months later, but his version of “Try a Little Tenderness” would be considered phenomenal if Otis had never done it.

“We try to hit the demographics of the folks who are coming to our events,” Droschak said, “bands from the ’70s and early ’80s with songs people can sing along to.”

Good God. Who – and I ask this non-facetiously – wouldn’t want to hear the moneyed owner of a mint condition 1919 Pierce-Arrow or a 1931 Cadillac 452-A singing “Slippery When Wet,” “Brick House” or “Mama Told Me Not To Come”?

In my defense, members of the party-band Commodores do sometimes wear gold epaulets on their shoulders, and the televised public service announcement for the Pinehurst event showed a military band while announcing that the Commodores would be there.

“That was the 82nd Airborne chorus, and they perform at our event,” Droschak said. “We have a huge military connection. We have the USO show troop come down from New York City and the 82nd Airborne chorus sings, so that’s probably what you saw on television.”

Kevin McDonald, a drummer for the Navy Commodores from Greensboro, told me he suspects that the two groups being confused “has happened with some frequency. We’ve had to explain it sometimes.”

See? I may not be as dumb as I look. Then again, it’s happened twice.