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The band was formed in 1962 in Bergenfield, New Jersey, by brothers Beau Charles (guitar and vocals) and John Charles (bass and vocals) (birth names: Robert and John Carlos Cecchino respectively) with fluctuating personnel until 1964, when they met Buddy Randell (vocals and sax) (birth name: William Crandall). Randell was previously of the Rockin' Saints and the Royal Teens, who had a hit with "Short Shorts" in 1958. They took their name from Knickerbocker Road, which ran through the town next to their hometown.
The classic line-up consisted of Randell, the Charles brothers and drummer Jimmy Walker (previously the drummer with the Massena, New York-based Atco Records act The Castle Kings). They were spotted by producer and singer-songwriter Jerry Fuller playing the University Twist Palace in Albany, New York, and he subsequently signed them to Los Angeles-based Challenge Records.
Throughout The Knickerbockers' three years of recordings, the group tirelessly pursued current trends; the vocals on "Jerk Town", for example, are heavily derivative of the Four Seasons. (Furthermore, the song's lyrics refer to "hot rods", like so many other popular songs of the day). The Knickerbockers had top-20 hits in early 1964 and 1965 with "All I Need Is You" and "Lies".
The follow-up to "Lies" was "One Track Mind", and it was nearly a hit as well. The band's label, Challenge Records, couldn't handle the distribution, and the single only reached number 45. The Knickerbockers soldiered on, appearing in the movie Out of Sight (1966) and as regulars on Dick Clark's ABC-TV program, Where the Action Is (1965-1967).
Though the band had a strong songwriter in Beau Charles, the group was hampered by their label's ineptness, and drummer Walker left in late 1967 to replace Bobby Hatfield in The Righteous Brothers. Walker also recorded three solo singles for Columbia Records in 1968-1969, before retiring to Wyoming for much of the 1970s. Buddy Randell was the next to depart. The Charles brothers kept the band going by adding new members Richie Walker (vocals), Eric Swanson (drums) and Barry McCoy (keyboards). Randell rejoined The Knickerbockers on drums in 1968, leaving again in 1970 (McCoy departed to join Gary Puckett and The Union Gap). Buddy later recorded singles for Uni Records ("Randi, Randi"/"Be My Baby" 1970) and under aliases such as Steel Wool ("No Sugar Tonight", White Whale 1969) and Blowtorch ("I Want Sugar all the Time" Paramount Records 1971). Beau Charles was also active outside of the group, recording "Sharon Stay in Birmingham" for White Whale Records under the alias of Columbus Jones in 1969. (Both of the White Whale and Uni Records singles were produced or co-produced by George Tobin, who later went on to produce and manage 1980s teenage singer Tiffany).
Beau and John Charles, along with singer Ritchie Costanza and drummer Eric Swanson, were signed to Motown records in 1971, where their name was subsequently changed to Lodi. They recorded an album (released in 1972) and one single ("Happiness" / "I Hope I See it In My Lifetime") on the Mowest subsidiary, before splitting up.
The Charles brothers, Randell, and Swanson then briefly backed up Playboy Records artist Brenda Patterson in 1973-1974, most notably appearing on an episode of The Midnight Special. Beau Charles remained the most visible member of the band throughout the 1970s, appearing in an episode of Harry-O as a lounge singer, and performing on various film and television soundtracks.
Since then, The Knickerbockers have reformed twice. The first time was in 1983 in Los Angeles, with everyone except Buddy Randell (he was singing with the faith-based band Jerusalem Rivers at the time). They recorded demos with producer Jerry Fuller, but split up soon afterward. The band reformed one more time, performing for a month in Delray Beach, Florida, in 1990, before disbanding again.
The band's two most popular singles are on the box set Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From the First Psychedelic Era, and there are numerous re-issues and rarity sets. A compilation album by the band is The Fabulous Knickerbockers, released on Sundazed Records.