“I did it ass-backwards,” the 66-year-old, now known as Carol Young, told me by phone from Rhode Island. Rather than learn an instrument and form a band, she formed a band, then learned an instrument: rhythm guitar at first and then, when it was proving impossible to find a decent female drummer, the drums.
The name of the band: the Playgirls. “It was a little risque, because Playboy magazine was considered very risque,” Carol said. “My parents weren’t really thrilled with the name, but we went with it anyway.”
The Playgirls practiced and practiced until they had a solid four sets’ worth of music.
“We did a lot of Beatles tunes,” Carol said. “We did Beatles tunes for the same reason a lot of people did: They were easy, fun tunes to play. Everybody loves easy, and it’s better when they’re fun.”
The Playgirls played at officer and NCO clubs. They played dances. On Oct. 10, 1964, they had their biggest gig: a date at the Washington Coliseum, the same venue the Beatles had played eight months earlier.
The event was a battle of the bands sponsored by WEAM radio and called the “Search for America’s Answer to the Beatles.” It showed a somewhat schizophrenic reaction to the Fab Four. The idea, wrote producer Bill Parker, was “to make America know that England has no exclusive on music groups leading the Hit Parade and record chart.”
There was a defensive tone to Parker’s comments: Beatles? We don’t need no stinking Beatles. Yet the dozen bands that competed — including the Ascots, the Checkmates, the Infernos, the Starliners — probably wouldn’t have been in such demand, may not have even existed, without the Beatles and their long coattails.
“We probably got the slot in a part because we were different,” Carol said. The all-girl angle was novel. But they had practiced, and they were good.
“I remember we had a dressing room with all the light bulbs around the mirrors and our name on the door. I thought, ‘Oh my God, we’ve arrived.’ ”
There was a matinee and an evening show. (Among the judges was comedian Mark Russell. He doesn’t remember it but told me, “It sounds like the kind of tacky thing I would do.”) There was also a screening of a 20-minute film called “The Beatles Conquer America.”
Carol said the Playgirls occasionally felt condescended to when they played around town, derided as a bunch of chicks, but that day at the coliseum, all the bands were in it together.
“I just remember this feeling — I think the guys felt it, too — that this was a taste of the big time.”
Each band did only a handful of songs. The Playgirls did a mini-Beatles set: “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and the signature tune of their act, “Boys,” reclaiming from the Beatles a cover originally sung by a girl band, the Shirelles.
In the end, the Aristocrats were declared the winners. They did not become America’s answer to the Beatles. Nor did the Playgirls. Still, it was a life-changing experience for Carol.
“This was like a launching pad for me for a whole career in music,” she said. When the Playgirls split, she joined a group called the D.C. Riders, which performed six nights a week at a club called the Devonshire. She played in other bands, too, but soon put the sticks down to became a booking agent, overseeing acts that played weddings, bar mitzvahs and other events.
“You had to learn stuff you weren’t doing in high school: dealing with people older than yourself, dealing with contracts and management, making sure everybody is going to show up on time and know their material.”
Four years ago, Carol moved to Rhode Island to be closer to her adult son. She also cares for her mentally challenged brother, Tom, who was a fixture at Playgirls rehearsals and shows.
She can’t believe she’s 66. “I don’t feel it,” she said. “I don’t know what people that age are supposed to look like and feel like.”
She still has a drum set, but it’s too big for her little beach house. She’s thinking of getting a smaller electronic kit.
“I love to play,” said the leader of the Playgirls, a lover of the Beatles, a rock-and-roll chick. “I need to get my chops back again. It’s never too late.”
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.