The then-up-and-coming '60s band played Woodstock, then disappeared. Now VH1 is telling the band's story.
The year is 1967: The Age of Aquarius is in full swing. A funky, photogenic, multiracial band forms in L.A. At a coffeehouse gig, a beautiful 17-year-old from Glendale, Calif., Nansi Nevins, gets up from the audience and starts singing with the band. She joins the group and becomes the band's star.
They give free concerts in the park and begin to attract a following. They open for such legendary acts as the Doors and the Grateful Dead; they're the first band to play at Woodstock in 1969. Then, just as they're breaking into the national spotlight on television shows, including The Red Skelton Hour and American Bandstand, tragedy strikes: Nevins is nearly killed in a car crash.
Slowly, miraculously, she recovers, but one of her vocal cords has been badly damaged by the tracheotomy that saved her life. The band soon disappears into the netherworld of "whatever happened to " trivia questions.
If Sweetwater had never existed, someone would have had to make up a movie about them _ create a bittersweet tale like The Commitments or Still Crazy about a fictional band on the verge of superstardom that loses it all. But they did exist. Now, they're back together, performing, laying plans for a new album and as the subject of the TV movie Sweetwater: A True Rock Story, which debuts tonight on VH1.
"It's really fun. Who could have imagined this?" said songwriter/keyboardist Alex Del Zoppo, who has reunited with Nevins and bassist Fred Herrera. "We don't even have a press agent. But you turn on MTV these days, and it's like the all-Sweetwater channel. It's almost embarrassing."
This is the first original movie produced by VH1, sister channel to MTV, and they are, in fact, promoting the heck out of it. Frequent messages pop up on-screen reminding you that "Sweetwater" is just days away; ads on the channel link the band to virtually every significant event of the '60s. Nevins is played by "Felicity's" Amy Jo Johnson in her youth and by singer/actor Michelle Phillips in the present day.
The band's path back from obscurity actually began about four years ago. Del Zoppo and Herrera had stayed in touch over the years but had lost contact with the others. One is still around but has moved on and declined to rejoin the band. Three died, either in accidents or, in flutist Albert Moore's case, of cancer.
Nevins was the missing piece of the puzzle. After her accident, she'd had a rough time finding her place in the world. After a long, painful recovery that left her voice much-changed from the early days, she recorded a solo album. It bombed.
Though Nevins had taken a new path in life, she admits, "This thing would not die inside of me. I always felt like (Sweetwater) had unfinished business."
So when she saw a newspaper article about the 25th anniversary of Woodstock that said Sweetwater was "missing," she felt compelled to respond. "I'm not missing," she wrote, signing her name and city to the letter that ran in the paper a week later.
That's how Herrera tracked her down. "We got together in a coffee shop and talked for four hours," Nevins recalls. Soon, the two got together with Del Zoppo and started doing some informal jamming. Around the same time, Nevins started writing the story of the band and her own journey. These notes would eventually turn into the basis for the VH1 movie.
The band has high hopes for the future. After years of being out of print, its music is set to hit stores again: Rhino is releasing Cycles: The Reprise Collection on Monday. The band is working on an album and is fielding offers to tour based on the movie's publicity.