Rock & roll has rarely seen a year better than 1965. It was a time when Bob Dylan plugged in and released his masterpiece “Like a Rolling Stone,” the Who exploded onto the scene with “My Generation” and new groups like the Velvet Underground, the Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd began stretching the boundaries of rock in every possible direction. Kids all over America were picking up guitars and starting their own bands – whether they had any natural talent or not. This included a gawky sixth grader in Roosevelt, Long Island named Howard Stern whose two songs “The Psychedelic Bee” and “Silver Nickels and Golden Dimes” had an afterlife he never could have imagined when they were laid down over 50 years ago.
Stern and his buddies Jerry Dikowitz (drums) and Robert Karger (guitar) initially called their trio the Plumber’s Union before settling on a far hipper name: the Electric Comic Book. Howard played a cheap organ his father bought him, and they practiced in his basement, sometimes with girls from their class dancing on chairs like it was the Whiskey a Go Go. As Howard always points out, he wrote “The Psychedelic Bee” (which you can hear right here) by himself, but “Silver Nickels and Golden Dimes” was a collaboration with Karger. That’s not to diminish the key contributions of Dikowitz. He was the only one with any formal training, so they made sure to give him a lengthy solo in each song.
Dikowitz also had a bar mitzvah during the group’s brief lifespan, giving them their one and only gig. “We played ‘Satisfaction,’ which was great,” Dikowitz recalled in the History of Howard Stern audio documentary. “We probably played two or three songs. It was the best time of my life. When I get senile and get Alzheimer’s, that’s the time I want to go back to, that time and those people.”
The group never really got beyond their two original songs. “Instead of practicing, we were into all the trappings,” Stern said. “We used to go down to the junior high and pretend that 16 Magazine was coming to do a shoot with us. We’d say we’d have to let us get our moms grow our hair longer for the pictures since we were going to be like Dino, Desi and Billy. There pictures were always in the magazines, but I never heard them on the radio.” Stern even sent 16 tapes of the two tunes, but they never heard back, let alone send a photographer to the schoolyard of Roosevelt Middle School.
Most of Stern’s friends moved out of Roosevelt shortly after the band’s brief run when the demographics of the neighborhood quickly changed. (In other words, it was a textbook case of white flight.) Stern stuck around, friendless and miserable, and the last thing on his mind was the Electric Comic Book. Thankfully, he held onto the tapes and they re-emerged in the 1990s whenever Howard reminisced about his childhood. There was a partial reunion on Howard’s old Channel Nine television show, but in 1994 all three originals finally came back together on the radio. They were a little rusty and Howard had to even walk Jerry through the drum solo. It wasn’t exactly the Eagles Hell Freezes Over tour (which launched that same year), but it was still a major moment in the group’s history.
The next year, the Electric Comic Book story got even crazier when Sugar Ray covered “The Psychedelic Bee” live on the show. It appeared on their 2005 Best Of album, meaning Howard actually got royalties for the thing. In recent years, “Silver Nickels and Golden Dimes” (a song Howard always felt was the superior one) has been covered by everyone from Jewel to William Shatner. None of them have officially released it, meaning that Karger’s royalty checks have yet to arrive. The 50th anniversary went uncelebrated in 2015, but hopefully sometime before Howard goes off the air they’ll have a Last Waltz-style farewell gig.