If you know our state rock song or closely follow Ohio State football, you’re familiar with the tune “Hang On Sloopy” as recorded by The McCoys in 1965. Based in Union City, Indiana on the Ohio border, the group originally known as the Rick Z Trio (1962) and then Rick Z Combo had become Rick and the Raiders and performed at the May 1965 Sidney High School after prom party at Avon Lake Pavilion. Rick Zehringer (not yet 18) and company had played for his own prom before navigating 40 miles east on Route 47 to Sidney.
The band already had great regional appeal at places like Minster’s Eagle Park, and their music was appreciated by many potential attendees so the adult after prom committee set out to hire them. My dad chaired this group and handled the booking.
One Saturday morning in the winter of 1964-65 I went to our mailbox to find a large envelope with a return address of R. Zehringer Union City, Indiana 47390. The legal size envelope meant the contents need not be folded which immediately impressed my father when I handed it to him. He opened it and found contracts along with a promotional photo. “I like how this guy operates,” he told me.
The performance in Sidney went well and the months that followed catapulted these young men into a national spotlight that still shines today especially in the Buckeye State. The first stop was in Dayton where they opened for The Strangeloves who had just been on the charts with “I Want Candy.” The Strangeloves had modified a west coast rhythm and blues tune they thought would fit Rick and his band. “My Girl Sloopy” evolved into “Hang On Sloopy” and was recorded on the Bang label, going all the way to number one on September 26 before being bumped after a one week reign by The Beatles with “Yesterday.” Less than five months after playing in Sidney they were on top of pop music in America.
Before Sloopy was released The Strangeloves suggested a name change for Rick and the Raiders to avoid confusion with a nationally popular group, Paul Revere and the Raiders. Rick liked a Ventures song with the name McCoy, and The McCoys were born.
The Bang label had a Derringer gun logo so the leader decided to become Rick Derringer. The McCoys had a four year run before Rick became a solo act and also worked with Johnny and Edgar Winter along with Steely Dan. He hit the charts with “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo” in 1973 which included a reference to Minster’s Eagle Park.
Zehringer just turned 72 and lives in Sarasota, Florida. He’s still active and makes appearances according to rickderringer.com. As the song says, he was “Back Home Again In Indiana” for a show earlier this week. Sadly, two members of the McCoys died before age 50.
Over the 54 years since 1965 I’ve often heard that “Hang On Sloopy” was performed at the 1965 SHS after prom party. This timeline reveals that didn’t happen but the appearance is still a great piece of local lore.
The Ohio State Marching Band always plays the tune after the third quarter of Buckeye football games, ensuring the enduring legacy of the song and a band that played in Sidney.
Next Friday: SHS football 1969: close calls in the middle of 30 straight wins.
Sports Extra appears each Friday. Ross was named the top Div. II sports columnist for 2018 by the Ohio Associated Press and was runner-up in 2017.