Former president Harry Truman, the most famous resident of Independence, Missouri, was a family friend of the Dimmels. Although it’s uncertain if the 33rd president ever heard their band, the Classmen, he knew the boys in it, lived down the street from their grandfather, and made personal calls to their father and manager Charles. Truman-approved or otherwise, of all the acts that explored Cavern’s dark tunnels, the Classmen came closest, and stayed longest, to the blinding stage lights of stardom.
Originally formed in the early ’60s for a Van Horn High School talent show, the band was a family affair, with a 14-year-old Drew Dimmel on bass and precocious 10-year-old Doug on drums. “As a teenager, I didn’t want my little brother trying to mess up my band,” said Drew. “Of course, he turned out to be the star.” Charles Dimmel, himself a drummer and bass player since his days in the Navy band, encouraged his boys, but a health crisis made him reassess the depth of their talent. On the verge of what he thought was his own death, Charles dove head first into managing the band. “It was Dad’s integrity as a business person and his honesty and his just dogged determination—and he loved us kids,” said Drew. “Having an adult on your side gave us a little extra clout when it came time to do business.”
Charles quit his insurance job, drove the kids hard, and turned the band into a source of family income. They played club gigs five nights a week and performed with national acts as both opening act and backing band. One of those acts, the Newbeats, purveyors of everyone’s favorite falsetto snack song “Bread and Butter,” were so knocked out by the group that they brought them to Columbia Studios in Nashville to record in 1966. “They took a liking to the group, they loved the fact that Doug was such a little kid at the time. He was only like 12 and was such a doggone good drummer," said lead guitarist Dave Cowden. That version of the Classmen, featuring Cowden and Denny Garner on rhythm guitar, cut three songs with studio musicians, including the Joe Melson-penned “Any Old Time.”
Charles, always the businessman, realized the band needed to record more, and closer to home. He took them to Independence’s own Cavern, where they cut nearly 30 songs, mostly penned by Garner. The group’s strong harmonies so impressed John Pearson that he released their 45s on his Pearce Records—including the Nashville material—and let Drew design the label graphic. Four of those records made it to the local Top 40—Charles was friendly with both former presidents and current disk jockeys—spinning regularly on WHB AM.
Their 1969 Pearce 45, “Doin’ Me Right” b/w “Graduation Goodbye,” would produce two of the Classmen’s most memorable songs. “Doin’ Me Right” came from the pen of the family matriarch, Virginia Dimmel, who’d performed it as far back as her college days in the late 1930s. Drew rearranged the maudlin lyrics, giving the song a pop-soul sensibility, replete with call-and-response backing vocals. For the flip, the boys utilized the Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ to paw out the first few bars of “Pomp And Circumstance.” Forty-five years later, “Graduation Goodbye” is still heard on Kansas City radio every May during cap and gown season.
The Classmen saw later releases on the Limelight, Classic, Impact, and Holly labels. This success propelled them to outlive even Cavern itself. By 1979, at the end of their long career, they had morphed to a five-piece show band with horns and Doug and Drew’s young wives, Elizabeth and Jane, joining the lineup to do USO tours. “We were just burned out,” said Doug. “We’d been at it 18 years. That was, for me, grade school, middle school, high school, college, and then on into our adult years.” Doug went on to drum for country legend Barbara Mandrell, while Drew’s buttery tones could be heard delivering the weekend weather for Kansas City’s ABC affiliate KMBC through the end of the century.