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Pounding a Beat : Beverly Hills Officers Make Music as 'Unlawful Assembly'

January 18, 1987|JOHN L. MITCHELL | Times Staff Writer

It was a routine arrest, but one that Beverly Hills police officers Kieron Foley and Rick Banks will not easily forget.

A distraught vagrant who had been loitering on a street was picked up, and the officers decided to take him to a psychiatric hospital for evaluation. Getting him there wouldn't be easy.

The veteran officers decided something different was needed to calm the troubled man. So they put him in the back seat of their patrol car and started to sing.

"I met him on a Sunday and my heart stood still . . . ."

The 1963 song by the Crystals was familiar. The vagrant cheered up and instantly piped in with the chorus: "Da Do Ron Ron Ron Da Do Ron Ron."

The officers continued: "Somebody told me that his name was Bill."

"Da Do Ron Ron Ron Da Do Ron Ron."

The incident, in a way, was Foley's and Banks' first real break. Shortly afterward, they decided to join a rock band, with Foley on lead vocals and Banks on bass guitar.

The other members, all Beverly Hills police officers, are Lt. Russell Olson on lead guitar, Detective Bill Pritchard on keyboard, rhythm guitarist Hector Alatorre, drummer Roger Reiner and trumpeter Dan Dicesare.

They call themselves the "Unlawful Assembly."

Their repertoire includes country, jazz and rhythm and blues. Once a week, they meet at Olson's Woodland Hills home to practice, and the hillside neighborhood rocks for hours.

"So far, we haven't received any complaints," Olson said. "Some of the neighbors told us that when we start playing, they like to relax on their lawn chairs and enjoy the music."

Olson said the group started "as a weekly therapy session." The band performed publicly for the first time at a police association dance last month. "They asked us to come as a joke and I think even they were surprised at how good we were," said Foley, a self-described "Irish tenor."

They say they're ready for more challenging work and have some weddings lined up.

In the five months since the group's founding, the Unlawful Assembly has been building enough of a repertoire to carry them through four 45-minute sets.

The officers, all with musical backgrounds, say they're reliving childhood dreams. "I have wanted to be in a rock 'n' roll band ever since I was a little kid; either that or a policeman," Banks said. "This way I get the best of both worlds, but at least I don't have to live with the stress of making a living playing music."

Keyboard player Pritchard, trained as a classical pianist, said music has become an obsession. He practices four nights a week on keyboards.

Pritchard, who prefers the jazz of Miles Davis, jokes about a recent opportunity he had to play piano in the grand ballroom of the Beverly Hilton, where he was working overtime to guard thousands of fur coats that J.W. Robinson's department store was putting on sale the next day. He spent the night playing Billy Joel songs in the empty ballroom.

Olson is the only member of the group who was seriously preparing for a musical career before taking up law enforcement.

During the 1960s, he was the lead guitarist for the Sacramento-based Johnny and the Dominions. The group's recognition grew, and they once were backup musicians for the Animals and Chuck Berry.

Olson's dreams of fame were dashed when Johnny Williams, the group's lead singer and Olson's nephew, died in a car crash in 1968 in Cherry Point, N.C.

"His death had a monumental impact on my life," Olson said. "I didn't know what to do. My goal was 100% to be a rock 'n' roll singer. I had to rethink my life and later I joined law enforcement and music became a hobby. I'm glad I chose law enforcement."

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