The Zakary Thaks
of the best garage bands of the 60s, and one of the best teenage rock
groups of all time, the
Zakary Thaks released a half-dozen
regionally distributed singles in 1966 and 1967; some were hits in their
hometown of Corpus Christi, TX, but none were heard elsewhere until they
achieved renown among '60s collectors. Heavily indebted (as were so many
bands) to R&B-influenced British heavyweights like
the Kinks, and
the Yardbirds, the group added a thick
dollop of Texas raunch to their fuzzy, distorted guitars and hell-bent
energy. Most importantly, they were first-rate songwriters, with
the breakneck "Bad Girl" (later compiled on
Pebbles, Vol. 2), "Won't Come Back,"
smoking "Face to Face," "Can't You Hear Your Daddy's Footsteps," and the
folk-rock/Merseybeat hybrid "Please" ranking among the top echelon of
American '60s garage rock. Their 1967 singles found the group
moving into psychedelic territory; some songs betrayed a
Moby Grape influence, and some good
melodic numbers were diluted by poppy arrangements that recalled
the Buckinghams and
Grass Roots. Lead singer
Chris Gerniottis, only 15 when
Zakary Thaks began making records,
joined another interesting Corpus Christi garage/psychedelic group,
the Liberty Bell.
Below is an interview with the Singer of the Zakary Thaks, Chris Gerniottis. Chris recalls the entire history of the Zakary Thaks and along the way, takes you on a journey of the 60's music scene in Corpus Christi, TX that will surely bring back some cherished memories for those who witnessed their success. Conducted by Peter Buesnel of Corpus Christi, TX the interview was supposed to have been used as liner notes for a limited edition release of a Thaks compilation package issued by an Italian record company. Peter however, took over six months to complete the project and by the time it was ready, there was another record label that released a Thaks album. Consequently, the Italian label balked on the whole deal and disappeared.
begin with your evolution into the music scene.
Who were the band members?
CG: We started out with Pete Stinson on lead guitar, Glenn Jower on rhythm guitar, Wayne Harrison on bass, and David Fore on drums. ( Stinson became the rhythm player for the Zakary Thaks, Harrison went on to the Liberty Bell and Fore later played drums in the original Bubble Puppy).
And you were the lead vocalist.
CG: Part-time lead vocalist, as the band mainly played surf music. I didn’t play an instrument at that time.
I’m not familiar with Glenn Jower.
CG: He was an old childhood friend of mine. And now that you’ve got my old brain flow going, let me retract one thing. The first drummer was actually Rex Gregory (Rex eventually became the bass player for the Zakary Thaks).
CG: Yes, Rex was the original drummer for the Marauder’s. We were a neighborhood group.
Where did you guys live? What part of town?
CG: Sherwood Park, you know, around Redwood and Little John Streets. Pete lived on Little John, I lived on Redwood, and Rex lived on Nottingham.: One of my old girlfriends lived on Nottingham. (naughty comments and laughter, none of which will be repeated here.)
CG: All right, and that neighborhood is just like a walk back in time. It hasn’t changed a bit. Anyway, Rex was the first drummer, and what happened was, he got sent to live with his father in Houston because of problems at school. So we had to find a drummer and I forgot how we found David. David was playing in a group and we talked him into joining us. So David was with us for awhile.
Okay, and that was the line-up for a while?
CG: Well yes, but then Rex moved back and he wanted to join the group again. Well, we were fairly happy with David as a drummer, so Rex said, “You know, I could play bass”, and Wayne was like,… (shrugs shoulders) Wayne was a good bass player, but he had a paper route, he had different things outside the group, he was under the pressure of his parents, etc. He was my paperboy, even when he was in the Liberty Bell. I nearly shit when my Dad told me to take the payment out to the newspaper kid one day and there was Wayne collecting for the paper while driving around in a GTO. Yeah, if you had ever met Wayne’s parents, you could tell they were very controlling people, and we just felt like Wayne was just being so more directed by them than what we wanted. For example, he could only come to practice at certain times. So it kind of actually got to where we said, “You know what Wayne? We’re going to try Rex.” So, we gave Rex a deal. We said teach yourself to play the bass and we said how long do you think you’re going to need? He said give me a couple of months and he came over and was a wail, but that is typical for Rex. He’s a pretty intense guy. Both of his parents are musicians, so there you go. It’s in the genes.
He’s got a big ego too?
CG: Oh, yeah. In fact it surpasses the musical aptitude. (Laughter)
So once he told you he would like to play bass, he had to learn, no matter what?
CG: He knew he had no choice because his ego was too big. Well, anyway, we got rid of Wayne and took on Rex as the bass player. So it was Rex, Pete, David and I for awhile, but there was a gap because Glenn had left. I think his parents sent him up to Maine. So, we were looking for another player. In the meantime, we heard there was a job to play at a Carroll High School dance. We came up to the cafeteria at Carroll and auditioned. We were still the Riptide’s and… oh no, we were the Marauder’s still, I think. Well, anyway, there was another group there and John ( John Lopez, who became the Zakary Thaks lead guitarist) was playing lead for this group and he just blew us away.
What band was that?
CG: Uh, the Eddie Roacha Four, I think, but I’m not sure. I just remember Eddie Roacha was the drummer. So after we heard John play, we begged him to come play for us. “This is just so cool, you’re just awesome!” John immediately took over the lead guitar spot and Pete, who was lead, readily went over to rhythm. He just said you’re so good, let me take rhythm and Pete was a superior rhythm player. Pete was like two players in one. He had the lead talent, yet he could play rhythm. So, anyway we ran with that line up for just short of a year.
Still the Riptide’s?
CG: Riptide’s, yeah, that was our bookable name and we were getting a few more gigs.
I remember back in the early 80’s, you once showed me a picture of the Marauders or the Riptides, I don’t which, and you had a three-cornered hat on. Just like Mark Lindsay and Paul Revere and the Raiders.
CG: Yes! I haven’t been able to find that picture for ages. I have no idea what happened to it.
Back to the band. Was David Fore still the drummer?
CG: David Fore was still drumming
So he was with you guys for quite awhile?
CG: Yeah he was with us for like a year, or a little over a year and a half, I think. Then we played on a local TV show here called “Teen Time”.
Yes, I remember it well. It was like a Corpus version of “American Bandstand”. It was on Channel 3, the local ABC affiliate. We would watch that every week!
CG: That’s right, it was on every Saturday morning. Charlie Bright, the top Corpus radio DJ in the 60’s, was the host. He used to live next door to me, in the house I’m in now. I freaked when I saw him outside one day. He’s now a sales director for Channel 10. Well, we went there one Saturday to play and there was a group there, The Last Five. Stan Moore was in that band and as soon as we heard him play, we looked at David Fore and kind of went, “Why aren’t you this good?” You know? So anyway, Stan was so totally unique, that we just kind of asked him on the side, “You think you might want to come play with us?” and he said, yeah, sure. So anyway, we gave David Fore his walking papers and so that was the group right there.
And then he went on to a band that actually made an album. (much laughter, as David went on to Bubble Puppy.)
CG: Yes! He went on to much greater things. He floundered for a little while. Actually I think when the Bad Seeds broke up, they reformed as the Seeds. Not to be confused with the California group.
The band expanded to five?
CG: Yeah, they expanded to five.
Was Mike Taylor still in the group?
CG: No. Michael was long gone. It was Rod Prince and Roy Cox. Roy came down from San Antonio. For the first year that he lived here; he spoke with an English accent. He figured nobody knew him and he’d be cool
Do you know who else used to do that? David Odem. (David sang lead in a short-lived Corpus band, The Clockwork Orange, He was running around with long, long hair back in ‘65-’66 and getting his ass kicked on a regular basis, as a result.) Do you remember David?
CG: Yes! Oh God, do I remember him!
He and I used to work together at a couple of different record companies in Houston in the early 70’s and he would speak with an English accent.
CG: Okay. All right.
He would get chicks for us all the time.
CG: Yeah, yeah. Oh how weird!
He’d speak in that English accent and he’d say that he was in an English band and that I was his manager, and make up all this bullshit and we would get more chicks that way, it was unbelievable.
CG: Oh, yeah. David goes back to like the Carousel Club days. He was quite a fixture on the scene. (Along with Ashley Johnson, David had an incredible record collection. Both of them had hundreds of English imports, which is where The Stereo Shoestring got the idea to do The Pretty Things “Deflecting Grey” as “On the Road South”.)
Yeah, he was quite a character.
CG: Well, back to David Fore. He was drummer for the Seeds and they had another guy. Whenever the Seeds formed, there were two people that came down from San Antonio, Roy Cox as I already mentioned and David Frasier, and David caused great ripples in Corpus, because he had hair down to here. That was unheard of, I mean just like, oh my God! It was down to his ass. So anyway, they played awhile here in Corpus and they were basically unmarketable just because they were just too different.
Eventually, they moved up to Houston and shortly thereafter the group disbanded and reformed and the Bubble Puppy was born. David Fore was playing with them when they were the Seeds in Corpus. Actually Bobby Donaho started out drumming for the Seeds and then something happened and they had a falling out and they asked David Fore to step in. (Bobby was the original drummer for the Bad Seeds, the first real Corpus Christi garage band and the first group on J-Beck. He later played in Ginger Valley, who were on International Artists.)
What happened to Bobby Donaho?
CG: He’s still here in town. He lived up in Dallas for a number of years and got busted for cocaine and spent a little time in prison. Now he’s back down here and he lives in his old original neighborhood house. His mother passed away and left him the house. His sister is actually a musician. I don’t know if she still is, but she used to play in a group in Houston called The Dishes. (The Dishes were a 70’s pop-punk band.) I went out and visited Bobby several times. He’s still the same old Bobby. Has hair down to here and definitely kind of just old hippie stuff, you know. He’s just a house painter. So, that’s cool. I mean whatever.
Doing a job where he can smoke dope all day and paint houses and have hair long.
CG: Exactly! He still fucking smokes, still drinks and parties.
Just typical of how everybody in Corpus ends up if they didn’t escape.
CG: Right. So, basically the group, the Zakary Thaks started out, I can’t pinpoint a month, but I would say earlier ’66 is the right time reference. Early ’66, because it wasn’t long after that when we first played at the Carousel Club and got approached by Carl Becker. (Carl and his brother-in-law, Jack Salyers had started the J-Beck label and recorded and managed the Bad Seeds and Tony Joe White.) We had already heard about Carl Becker and Jack Salyers because they were handling the Bad Seeds.
How did you guys come up with the name, Zakary Thaks?
CG: We had seen it somewhere in some teen magazine, where somebody had written in asking about this group, and it was spelled differently, like the name Zachary and Thacks, ending in a c-k-s. So, anyway, it was English sounding and the magazine said “Who?”. They hadn’t heard of them, so we thought, let’s go ahead and take that name.
So it’s possible there had been another band somewhere with that name.
CG: Possibly so, although…
Nobody’s ever heard of them.
CG: No one’s ever dredged them up. They must have been very short-lived if they even existed, but that’s basically how we got the name and it was English sounding, which was where the direction of the group was headed. I mean we were like the Stones, who were our big idols. The Stones and the Beatles. We didn’t know which way to go. It’s like we dressed like the Stones and played Beatles songs, you know?
After we signed on with J-Beck, the thing just kind of catapulted, because J-Beck was the only professional music business in town. Carl was our manager and felt we needed to record. I mean the ink wasn’t even dry on the contracts and we were heading down to the Valley to record. So the first time we went down to the Valley was with the Bad Seeds and I forget what they recorded. (It was probably J-Beck #1005 “Sick and Tired” b/w “All Night Long” their re-write of the 13th Floor Elevators song “Tried to Hide.”) We recorded “Bad Girl” and “I Need You”:
What was the studio?
CG: Nicholl’s Studio. It was owned by Jimmy Nicholls. (The studio was in McAllen, Texas in the Rio Grande Valley, near Mexico. Nicholls also owned the Pharaoh label, recording such greats as the Headstones, the Cruisers and Christopher and the Souls.) It was just a two track studio, so you did everything at one time and then you had a limited second track where you could put some vocals, but it’s like what you got on the first tape that was it. So in order to loosen up we played four songs from our play set and Stan Moore had brought that up to me. I had completely forgotten about that. So we did the Beatle’s “I’m Down”. You know, stuff we were really good at. I had written Nicholls asking him, if by any chance did he still have those masters. Supposedly the studio got flooded. The Valley flooded in ’73 or something and he lost all his shit, so that’s that, but yeah, that was the original session.
Besides “I’m Down”, do you remember any of the other numbers you recorded that day?
CG: Nope, that’s the only one that I remember. We played the crap out of it. There were certain songs, that was the weird thing about the Thaks, is that the one that came up with most of the songs we’d wind up doing was Stan. Because you know, we’d all say, well let’s do this song. All of the ones that Rex, John or I would come up with were pretty late. They were off of the radio, you know, and we tried to do Hollies stuff and just butchered it. We just couldn’t do it, but Stan had a knack for picking the good ones. He’d pull some obscure song off, “Well let’s do this one” and we’d play it and like after the second time, son of a bitch, just like it was made for us, you know. Of course, Stan was the unofficial leader of the group.
Oh, was he?
I would have thought you were.
CG: Nope. I was just the lead singer. No, Stan was in control as far as the direction of the group. He was the slave driver as far as we had to rehearse every day, we had to rehearse from this time to this time, let’s play it again, let’s play it again, you know he was a slave driver. After awhile Rex, became like that too. I think that’s why they clashed later in life because they were similar in that way. (At the 1982 Reunion gig, Stan and Rex had such a falling out that Stan refused to play that night.) They were real taskmasters. Stan was always saying “It is really not good enough yet.”
But we practiced at Stan’s house and Stan’s father was the silent partner on a lot of the J-Beck stuff. Carl will never admit that. Lester Moore was quite wealthy and since Stan was the baby of the kids, we practiced at his house. Stan’s mother, I still remember her coming up the stairs with a plate of cookies and drinks, “Here you go boys!”
Where did he live?
CG: He lived in Country Club Estates, across the street from the golf course. So, we were upstairs in a little nook there and everything was covered in posters and pictures and photo albums and stuff.
Then everybody when to Carroll High School?
CG: Well, no. Everybody tried to go to Carroll, but Stan was living in the King High School District, so he had to go to King.
CG: But, none of the Thaks finished high school except me. They all dropped out, because of hair codes and behavioral problems.
(At that point in time, the Corpus Christi Independent School District, as well as most others around the country, had strict hair length codes. None of that Beatle haircut nonsense was going to happen in our town. Even when I graduated from Carroll in ’71, I was still being sent home with a note to my parents, for having long hair and I had nothing more than a blond surfer’s Hoodad thing going on.
How did you get away with having long hair?
CG: The first year I went to Carroll High was in ’66. Charles Gray was still the principal. He was a laid back guy and didn’t care and it was an open campus. So anyway, the first year there wasn’t a dress code policy, so we had our shirttails out and I could wear my hair as long as I wanted to. Then he retired and it was a dual principalship in effect for my junior and senior year and they were real strict. What I’d do was, I’d go to the only barber in town that would cut hippies hair, and he’s still in business, he still cuts hair.
CG: Tracy Herrin.
Yeah! To this day, he still has a record store in the back of his barbershop.
CG: Yeah. Tracy was the only barber in town that we trusted. All of the Corpus musicians with long hair went there. He would cut my hair short enough to where I could put VO-5 on it and slick it down so I could go through the school day without getting hassled and then I would go home and I would wash it and kind of Beatle it out. Then during the summer, of course, you could let it grow a little bit, but they were very strict. So that was that deal.
Stan’s father, as I mentioned was a silent partner, and as time went on, he started putting more money into the group. At one point I remember we got a station wagon and Mr. Moore bought it. There were some unpaid studio bills and I think Mr. Moore paid them. It’s just one of those things like he was really cool, money wasn’t a big thing for him, you know, it was just Stan. He wanted to make sure Stan’s group was taken care of. We ran from early ’66 through December 31, 1967. The last gig we did was on New Year’s Eve of ’67. That was the line-up of the first Zakary Thaks.
How many records had you done by then?
CG: We had done four, “Bad Girl”, “Face To Face”, “Please”, and “Mirror of Yesterday”. Each one got worse as far as I was concerned. For instance “Please” because we had not written it, it wasn’t really what I felt was a true reflection of what I felt we were as a band. (“Please” was written by Mike Taylor, former Bad Seeds member and the unofficial “sixth” Zakary Thak.)
It’s a good song.
CG: Yeah, it is, but it’s Mike Taylor’s song. It’s not, you know, the Thaks. When we’d write songs it would be as a group. For all practical purposes, “Face To Face” was written by the group.
I think that’s the group’s greatest record. What’s your favorite?
CG: Probably “Bad Girl”, because it was, I want to say it was like the one true picture of what the Zakary Thaks were as a group. That literally was written by all five of us in one afternoon.
It’s a shame it wasn’t a big hit because I think it’s probably in the top 10 of the greatest punk garage band records from the 60s.
CG: There’s a Rhino Records box set that it’s on. (“Nuggets”)
So “Bad Girl” was your favorite, but how about “Face to Face”.
CB: Although “Bad Girl” remains my favorite Thak’s song, for many reasons “Face to Face” was what really raised us to a higher level, both gig-wise and in the studio. We recorded it at Jones Studio in Houston in early ’67. This was the first 8-track studio we had been in, so we were able to experiment since we didn’t have to play at the same time, like we did on our first record. It took us all day to get what we wanted, but it was a valuable session because of several discoveries.
Stan removed the front bass drum cover and put several pillows in, which really gave it a good bottom. Rex plugged his bass straight into the control panel board instead of the amp, so the sound was much cleaner. He and Stan were able to lay down a great rhythm track to add on to.
John found out that playing at a loud volume out of a small amp, gave a better quality fuzz and feedback, than the two gadgets he used on stage. I realized that if I sang with myself on two tracks, the vocals sounded fuller and smoother.
It’s too bad we got persuaded to start doing songs that other people wrote and produced. We never got the chance to develop these new studio techniques on our songs.
Yes, it’s a shame that the Thaks didn’t stay on the track they started out on.
Have you seen any royalties over the years?
CG: I remember one time getting a check from BMI for $90. That was the biggest check I’d ever gotten from any kind of royalties. But total, I can guarantee you I didn’t get to see $125 because the typical BMI check was for $2.75 and they have all kind of payment schedules, all kind of weird schedules and so on. I think that’s why John Lopez still carries a lot of baggage from the old days. He feels like we should have gotten a lot more money from performance rights or royalties if nothing else, but we never saw it. Never saw it.
The way they had it set up was real sucky too, because we actually had this Zakary Thaks checking account. In fact Stan still had some Zakary Thaks checks. It was really cool. It was kind of like, oh man! The money was taken and put into this account and then it was figured out what our weekly pay was, and we would be given a check every Monday morning as we were going to school. It was kind of like “Okay here you go”. Our typical check earnings for that time was about $150 a week, which I guess for 1967, is that good or not? I don’t know
I would think so, being a teenager.
CG: It was enough so that it only took me about six months to save up for a 1965 Pontiac Le Mans that was gently used.
Man, you should have gotten a GTO. My parents had a ’64 model. (My parents were not hip, the Pontiac salesman talked them into it, but I was the envy of all the cool guys for a while.)
CG: I know. In hindsight I probably would have gotten that. That was basically it. It was just the way it was set up, it begged for manipulation, you know, so we never really knew what we made and like I said, that was down the priority list. It was like, money, oh cool! When are we going to play next?
Let’s talk about some of the clubs.
How about The Carousel Club? Tell me what you remember.
CG: The Carousel was the ultimate club for Corpus! That was it. That was the best. The Sunday afternoons we spent there were just unbelievable. The acoustics were great. The crowds would be so close to you that literally they’d be this far from you. I remember singing on that little small stage. The crowd would be about a foot away. It just had a certain essence to it. I never saw another club in Corpus that equaled it. The Elks Club was also early. We’d pack them in, but it wasn’t the same feeling.
The Elks is still there, isn’t it?
CG: It still is. In fact the office that I had for 10 years was right across the street from the Elks Club. The “Satisfaction Dances” were held there. They were short-lived. That was a J-Beck thing. They would actually put it on the patio. Remember where they used to have the little theater melodramas during the summer? Okay, that’s where they would have the “Satisfaction Dances” on Tuesday night
And who would play there?
CG: Just the usual groups, The Thaks, The Liberty Bell, whoever else was around.
The Bad Seeds were gone by then?
CG: The Bad Seeds were in the transition stage, I think, at that time. The Bad Seeds were very early. You have to remember that. They were post-Barry Kaye and the Viscounts and George Jay and the Rockin’ Ravens, but they were ’64-’65. The “Satisfaction Dances” were so short-lived and it wasn’t really a club, but we’d pack ‘em in, but as far as any other clubs that were even worth mentioning, I don’t know.
The Beach Club?
CG: The Beach Club, that was my uncle’s club. We never played there except for like some kind of deal, I don’t know if it was a party.
It was a private, members-only club, but then they would have teen dances on Saturday nights. All the walls were painted black inside and there were day-glo paintings all over the place. There was a swimming pool outside and then you kind of walked down those stairs to get to it.
CG: Yeah, and it still looks that way as far as what’s left, but as far as comparing it to the Carousel Club, there really is no comparison. The Carousel was the club-of-clubs for Corpus at that time.
The Dunes Club. We have to talk about the Dunes Club.
CG: Ah, they’ve been sure talking about the Dunes Club on that little internet circle.
The Thaks played there a lot, didn’t they?
CG: Yes. Early, early. That was like almost one of the first Zakary Thaks gigs.
Do you remember the Lingsmen?
CG: Yes, Max and the Lingsmen
They used to play out there. Some of the future Elevator guys were in the Lingsmen..
CG: Yep. That was kind of the source. John Ike Walton, Benny Thurman and Stacy Sutherland. Stacy’s brother was a coach at King High for a number of years. Roky was not part of that group.
No, he was in the Spades in Austin.
CG: Yeah. The name of the guy, Max Range, it’s not Range, but it’s spelt Range, it’s a German name, and he was kind of like the first cool guy as far as music members go. I mean he wore the shades at night and had kind of the bleach blonde hair. They were kind of an odd mixed bag. Part surf, part English influence and not a great group, but certainly not a bad group. One great thing about the Dunes was the people. Packed! There were some of the biggest crowds I remember in this area. Just because the place was just huge, but everybody I talk to about the Dunes, they all talk about the being gassed or some kind of crap about it. The constables, something about they would come in and tear gas the audience, but I don’t remember that happening the times we were there. I remember we only played there maybe twice, but that’s been so long ago, I couldn’t tell you who else played with us. I know one night Max and the Laffing Kind, which was the group…
From San Antonio?
(Range also had a band Max and the Penetrators, which included Ronnie Leatherman, who took Bennie Thurman’s place when he left the Elevators.)
CG: No. They became the house band. I think it was the Laffing Kind that replaced the Lingsmen, but Max stayed. I think that’s how it goes because Max stayed there for years and years. They were a staple, you know, it was like would go to Port Aransas, go to the Dunes, see Max and whoever the group is and let the good times roll. I remember that Jim West was actually the Thaks manager before Carl Becker.
This was before you guys ever recorded
CG: Yeah. It was in the odd, little Riptides/Thaks transition period. He was our manager from when the Riptides changed their name to the Zakary Thaks. He was a disc jockey from KEYS radio and he took us under his wing as his group to manage. Somebody gave him some money and he wound up opening up this competitive club for the Dunes called the Sugar Shack. Do you remember the Sugar Shack?
CG: It went over like a turd in a punch bowl. The Thaks were the house band there, but it didn’t last long. Maybe about a month and then it fizzled right out. That’s my tendency. If the memory isn’t real good, I tend to kind of filter it out, so I don’t really remember much about the Sugar Shack except it was much more vulnerable to the elements than the Dunes was. At least with the Dunes you had some screens and stuff like that, but the Sugar Shack was open to air. It was closer to Corpus. I think that was Jim West’s point was try to get something closer to town. The Dunes was just too popular and proved too much for him. Crumpled it. We had a good grand opening the first couple of weeks and then it went splat.
It was shortly thereafter that Carl approached us. I remember he first approached us at the Carousel Club. I remember him coming up to the stage with the J-Beck card. “You guys are tough.” That was his big saying. I remember looking at that card “Oh man, this is our ticket”. It didn’t take much arm twisting to drop Jim West and come on board with Carl.
Well that was pretty cool because Carl must have been about 35 at the time. He was into that and liked rock music and stuff. I mean he seemed to genuinely like the music.
CG: Right. Actually, Carl was pretty much ahead of his time. I remember one summer he went to England. I don’t what the circumstances were, but he went to England.
He probably got to fly for free. (Carl worked for several airlines through the years.)
CG: Yeah. He came back with all this cutting edge English stuff like Spooky Tooth. That was the first time I had heard Spooky Tooth and Jethro Tull and he brought them all back. “You gotta check these cats out, man.” It’s like he’s a rock-a-billy guy and he’s gone over to England, “check these cats out”. That was his big word, “Cat.”
He still talks that way.
CG: Oh, yeah. “That cat could blow, man.”
It’s too bad Carl’s not here right now.
CG: I know, he and Michael Taylor.
How about Frenchie’s Beachcomber?
CG: That was early, early on. Frenchie’s was like ’63-’65. (Frenchie’s was out on Padre Island and had the world’s first topless wedding, which was featured in Playboy.)
The only other one that could really be qualified as a Corpus landmark would be the Stardust Ballroom. By the time that The Stardust was in its format that we’re talking about, The Thaks were in one of their last phases. I think The Stardust started like the summer of ’67, so I think we played there just a handful of times and that was it.
So then the second incarnation of Zakary Thaks played there?
CG: After The Thaks broke up, they reformed with Pete Stenson, John Lopez, Stan Moore, and a guy by the name of John Kenney. (John and Bobby Donaho later went on to form Ginger Valley and they released a single on IA records, in fact, the last 45 on the label.) There was also a female member, whose name I simply can’t remember. She played the flute. Not the skin flute, but the real flute. They lasted maybe three months tops. Just got nowhere.
What kind of music were they playing? Like Jefferson Airplane?
CG: Jefferson Airplane and more psychedelic stuff, yeah, but it wasn’t working because people would show up to see The Thaks and people would think “Who are these people?” So that lasted three months tops and that’s when they reformed again. Pete was scared about getting drafted, so he joined the Navy, and it was Rex, Stan and John, as a trio. The poster from the Vulcan Gas Company, that’s the Zakary Thak trio line-up.
That’s when they did the “Green Crystal Ties.”
CG: Yeah, and they lasted maybe six months tops and then I forget what the circumstances were, but they broke up. Then there might have been more Zakary Thaks now that I think about it. The next line up was Stan, John, Rex and me working under the name of the Zakary Thaks from January of ’69 through about April of ’69.
Had you been in the Liberty Bell yet?
CG: Yes, I had already come and gone with the Liberty Bell.
Let’s fit that one into this whole story.
CG: Okay. The Liberty Bell, well I actually started with them in February of ’68.
So, you left the first incarnation of the Zakary Thaks?
CG: Well, actually Rex and I were asked to leave.
They let you guys go?
CG: Yeah. Our musical direction was different from where they wanted to go and so we decided, or they decided the group needed to take a new turn.
When they kicked you out, were they getting more into psychedelics?
CG: Oh, yeah. That was definitely a factor, and although that probably wasn’t the cause of it, it certainly didn’t help.
But they were getting bent that way, more psychedelic.
CG: Oh yeah. They were playing a Jefferson Airplaneish type bill. They were into Traffic too, and that was partly becauseof John Kenney. Pete Stinson was kind of the bearer of bad news and said “We’re kind of thinking about changing the members of the group and you’re not going to be in the new line-up” and I said “Fine”, and Rex was the same way. We were kind of “Ah fuck it.” So it was only a month that went by before I got a call from Carl Becker one night saying Ronnie Tanner is getting drafted and we need a singer to replace him, so I was an easy fit. Just fit right in there.
What time period was that?
CG: About February ’68 through the end of ’68.
I saw the Liberty Bell several times during that incarnation.
CG: It was maybe short a year, maybe nine months, but we did “Thoughts & Visions” and “Reality Is The Only Answer” and the Back Beat label stuff. The Back Beat record “Na, Na, Na” has Stan Moore on drums and Rex Gregory on bass.
Almost a Thaks record.
CG: Yeah, because the Liberty Bell were going their separate ways. Carl Abbey was getting ready to go off to medical school and Wayne Harrison was going off to college. It was Al Hunt on lead. Stan and Rex were solicited by Carl Becker to come on play on it.
So, now we’ve been through the original line-up, the five-piece group, the trio that did the Thak label record and now were on to the fourth personnel change.
CG: The fourth group was the original line-up without Pete. I was playing rhythm and singing.
Is that when you did the Cee-Bee record?
CG: Yes, and both of those are literally the four of us sitting in the practice room and writing them from scratch, “Everybody Wants To Be Somebody” and “Outprint”.
Both of which are great songs.
CG: Yeah. We rented a warehouse in a used store on Lexington Boulevard (now South Padre Island Drive or SPID as it’s now known.) and that’s where we’d go and rehearse.
Now the Cee-Bee record was after you were in The Liberty Bell and went back to the Thaks.
CG: Yes, that was after. Yeah, yeah. What’s this one? (Chris picks up a white label promo copy of “Bad Girl” on Mercury Records)
That’s the one that should have been a big hit.
CG: Yep. I’ll tell you what, this is the one that really gripes everybody as far as what could have been.
Let’s talk about that a little bit. What happened?
CG: I don’t know.
How did you guys get on Mercury to begin with?
CG: I have no idea. They approached Carl. So Mercury sought him out and struck a deal.
(Part of the problem may have been the legalities of getting all the band members signed. Chris was only 15 at the time. It took almost 6 months of legal work. By the time the record was released, it had run its course in Texas. Carl Becker always felt they should have promoted “I Need You” over “Bad Girl”.)
I remember going up to Carl’s house and he showed me a Billboard Magazine. He opened it up and there was a white page with a Mercury Record logo, and a little hole right there in the middle of the page and the set-up was, “Guess who we just signed to Mercury Records?” And there was a picture of me in the little hole. It looked like they had signed Paul McCartney. And you open it up and there’s the Zakary Thaks from Corpus Christi, Texas.
And that was in Billboard Magazine?
CG: In Billboard!
I’ve got to find that issue.
CG: I remember Carl showing me that and it kind of threw me, like if we’ve got ads like that, then why aren’t we stars?
Let’s talk briefly about Carl Becker. He was and still is such a great guy. From talking to you and him over the years, it seems he took good care of the band. I’m sure he had a lot of expenses.
CG: Well he did. Carl was the guy that got things done. Carl was the one who would drive us to the gigs. Carl was the one that would come over to our practices. Carl was the one who supervised the studio section. I don’t think I remember Jack Salyers ever coming to one of our sessions.
So what was he? Just a business partner for Carl?
CG: A business partner and he probably provided some money backing. They were brother-in-laws. Jack had a slew of kids. He must have had eight of them. I forget what Jack did for a living. I think he worked for the airlines like Carl did at that time. Carl was really the guy that got things done. When we would go out on the town, or whenever we would go out on the road, everything was always paid for. Whenever we would go into the studio, I never saw money exchange hands, and we never felt pressure. It was like, just take your time. I remember us spending a few long days in Doyle Jones Studio in Houston. We also recorded at International Artists Studio. I remember just literally spending the entire day there.
Speaking of recording, do you think there is anything that you guys did that hasn’t been released yet?
CG: No. As far as that goes, no. The only thing that has not been recovered was that little warm up session at Nicholls Studio. I can guarantee you as far as the original stuff goes, there is nothing unreleased. Because The Thaks, as original as we tried to be, were not real prolific. There’s not a real big lost episode thing with this. Basically what is released is essentially all that we had.
If you guys had tried to, despite the fact that you guys were in high school and had a lot of other distractions, if you had tried to sit down and write more songs, do you think you would have done it?
CG: It probably would have happened, but we were so torn between concentrating on original stuff and playing gigs because that is where we got our rush. Off of playing the gigs and we really were constantly changing our play sets. Stan would come every month, okay, “I’ve got 10 songs here and we gotta get rid of this one, get rid of that one, we gotta replace it with this one”, and so you know, that was one thing that kept us busy. We were constantly revamping our live set because the real strength of our group was the live sound
Why do you think the Thaks were so hot live?
CB: PRACTICE: That’s something we never let up on. Stan was not only our musical director and insisted on playing everyday, but he also had a gift for picking songs he knew we could play live very well. Above this there was something harder to explain. Although we were all good musicians, when we played together as a single unit, everyone’s abilities increased tremendously.
It was pure energy at its most basic level. It was like making a formula in a lab, take five unique ingredients and swirl them together and BAM!! This is why we built up a following so quickly. We sounded better than our records and 90% of the time, better than the big acts we would open for. The film doesn’t show our power at all.
You can tell from that movie that you guys were extremely tight. I saw the band millions of times and you were tight and very ferocious for that time period. But you’re right, the movie doesn’t do you justice. It’s still cool though.
CG: There’s a guy who played in the Second Story (another unrecorded local band) and he had an interesting little memory thing of the Zakary Thaks on the internet the other day. It was about the first time he saw The Thaks. He remembered Rex for his hair. He said, in the hierarchy of hair there was Brian Jones and then Rex Gregory. He then said he never knew he needed Apache boots until he saw John Lopez. (laughter). So that’s kind of weird.
We knew our live sound was hot and that’s why we captured the big market that we did in San Antonio, because for all practical purposes we were bigger than San Antonio in the Valley than we were in Corpus. Our records went to number one in San Antonio on KTSA. They never made it to number one here, they made it to number two, but never made it to one.
It’s that damn Charlie Bright’s fault. (laughter)
CG: I don’t know what it was. I think it’s because the Corpus audience is weird and we just could not buck out. The one song we could not get past was Sunny and the Sunlighters, “Put Me In Jail”. That’s what kept “Face To Face” from going to number one.
Well, you know there’s such a big Hispanic population in Corpus also. And Sunny was basically a Tex-Mex group, albeit a very great group.
CG: Right, right. So, anyway that’s basically, that was our main driving thing. How good could we get live? And Stan really was the main reason. I remember doing songs over and over until I was sick of them. You’d be sweating and panting and Stan’s like “Let’s do it again”.
I know you opened for the Yardbirds in ’66.
CG: The Yardbirds were on Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars tour as the headliners, along with Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Sam the Sham, Bobby Hebb and Brian Hyland. They played Corpus on October 30, 1966. The Thaks were booked as the opening act at the last minute, so that night was particularly memorable because the Yardbirds were the ultimate group for us at the time. We had no idea that this would be the last time that Beck and Page would play together. The tour’s pace of 600 miles a day had worn Beck down to the point where he was smashing his Les Pauls on stage. He was simply exhausted and wanted out. Contrary to “folklore”, he didn’t stay over in Corpus for several days after the gig, but flew back out to California to meet his girlfriend.
Here’s an interesting Corpus/Yardbirds side story. They made an appearance at Woolco, the big discount store at the time, and they all autographed the “Having a Rave Up” LP. It sat in the glass case by the register in the record department for years. Nobody really cared. Then one day, David Odem sweet talks the young female clerk into giving it to him!
You know, I remember seeing you guys when they opened up Autotown in Corpus.
CG: That’s an often brought up memory by people that I run across.
And The Thaks were playing, I can’t remember if there was a stage set up or a flat bed truck.
CG: A rather high stage.
I remember my buddy, Bobby Zink and I were 13-14 at the time, and we’re right next to the stage and you guys did “I Had Too Much To Dream” by the Electric Prunes. You were playing autoharp and after the song was over, you threw your thumb pick down and I grabbed it. My buddy was bigger than me and we were fighting over it. That’s how rabid of fans we were.
In fact, his sister Judy was 2-3 years ahead of us in school and one day she came home at the beginning of the school year and was going crazy, because she had one your school books from the year before. You had signed your name on the inside front jacket. You would have thought you were one of the Beatles. (laughter.)
CG: Yeah. For some reason that gig stuck in a lot of people’s minds. There were actually more memorable experiences for us in San Antonio and the Valley. We played a lot at the Mission Community Center. That was probably the happening in our lives. The Mission Community Center was a big place. The McAllen Convention Center was another big place we’d play.
In San Antonio it was, and this is where a lot of gray areas as far as money being tossed around happens. Ricky Ware, one of the KTSA disc jockeys, used to have a dance for the Air Force cadets fresh out of boot camp every Sunday morning and we’d go over there and play a gig for him and it was free. Plus we would play at the local teen show there called “Swing Time” and I don’t remember the call letters for the TV station, but it was next door to Joskey’s in downtown San Antonio and you could see the Alamo when you came out. We never got money for that. Those were two things we’d do for free and in turn, they would give us radio play. What happened, I don’t know, but we would play, the only place in San Antonio we would play would be opening for the big bands like Jefferson Airplane, “Where the Action Is” Tour, plus various other gigs.
We would also play Sam Kinsey’s Teen Canteen, which was somewhere in San Antonio, what part of town I couldn’t tell you, but it was like San Antonio’s Carousel Club. Not as cool as the Carousel Club, but that was The Canteen, where the teens went. Packed them in, just packed them. Our big circle was actually on the outlying areas like The Shaft in Divine. I can’t think of the name of the place in Casterville, and The Pub in Hondo, Texas. Those three places, who knew how many kids were in there. It would be so packed, they’d be hanging off the rafters. 800 teenagers, 1,000 teenagers, 1,200? I don’t know.
Tell me about the infamous motorcycle gang story.
CG: Well, we had a gig in Victoria, Texas at an old country club that had been converted into a dance hall. A couple of Bandidos kept coming up all night asking us to play “St. James Infimary”.
(The Bandidos were a very bad-ass biker group from Texas with a large membership. They were damn intimidating and just as mean and violent as the Hell’s Angels ever thought of being. They wore gang colors, rode Harley choppers, the whole gamut of the biker lifestyle. Definitely not to be fucked with.)
After turning down their requests, one of them threw a beer bottle at us on stage. I grabbed the bottle and threw it back at him with the warning that the next one would find its way up his ass. They took off and we thought that was it, “Yeah, I wish they’d come back. Pussies!” As we were driving back up the long, caliche road to the main highway, all of a sudden there were 50 individual motorcycle headlights heading our way.
After making it to the main road, we sped about 80 mph to the Holiday Inn, hauled ass inside the two adjoining rooms and turned out all the lights. We heard the cycles assembling outside and then there was dead silence, except for the heavy footsteps of a couple of the bikers. “BAM, BAM” went the knock on the door, followed by a shout, “Send out the lead singer!”. Fortunately, the cops arrived a minute or two later and we were given a police escort out of town at 2:00 AM.
I can’t believe you couldn’t handle the Bandidos on your own.
CG: Ha Ha. Then there was another time at this dance hall in Rockdale. We’d play there occasionally when we’d do the Austin frat circuit. One night after the gig, we decided to catch a bite at the town’s only café that was open late. When we first walked in, there was one cowboy seated at the counter that nonchalantly strolled over to the pay phone, made a call and sat back down. By the time we had finished eating, the place was full of cowboy rednecks making such classic statements as, “Boy Joe, with all that “hippified” hair, I wonder if they gotta squat when they take a pee?”. Pete had that look in his eyes, so Michael and Manfred walked out first and got the station wagon started up, with the doors open. Pete was the last one to exit, turned and flipped everyone the “bird” with both hands, which had them all bolting for the door after us. Pete was able to dive in through the window as we sped off with Stan, Rex and me all giving the same salute. They chased us almost all the way to Austin before turning around. I think that was the last time we played Rockdale.
There was plenty of intolerance for long hair and hippies all over the country at that time, but I think Texas definitely had a large edge on that type of behavior. Probably around ’75 it started to abate, but I remember being hassled many times.
CG: Yeah, the good old days.
How was the groupie scene back then?
CG: Very interesting.
Back then you were just kids, and girls weren’t as loose in the 60s, like they were in the 70s. You could get laid that easy (snapping fingers) in the 70’s.
CG: Right. We had groupies, but it was real weird because here in town, I had a girlfriend. In San Antonio they would find you and there was a couple that I messed around with. In the valley, you’d think there would be more down there, but there weren’t. We had some chicks because we were at that awkward age. It’s like you were sexually active, but if it didn’t happen, okay. It wasn’t like later in life when you’re in your early 20s. Then it was expected. The convenience of having the border right across the lake was too much of a temptation. We spent many a night there. (i.e. Boy’s Town, a staple of growing up in Texas. Please refer to “The Last Picture Show”.)
Austin is where I remember going more than any other city because of the frat parties. They paid the best money, the sweetest gigs, and kegs of beer. You could drink unlimited amounts of beer. Austin, which was the cool city and still is to a lesser extent. The groupies were not around much because we were younger than the crowd we were playing for so, it didn’t happen as often, although Rex had a way of finding them
Rex must have been quite the ladies man.
CG: Oh yeah. I remember one afternoon at the Carousel. He got three dates in different parts of the club and would spend a little time there, and then some over there. It was amazing.
Austin was pivotal for us because that’s where we had our first big break so to speak. We went there the same weekend that the shootings occurred, Charles Whitman in the Texas Tower? (The tragic Charles Whitman sniper incident occurred August 1, 1966.)
Yeah. Kinky Friedman immortalized him in song.
CG: We played at a Battle of the Bands there (during the Aqua Festival) and we didn’t win, I think we came in second, but something happened there, a spark!
Do you remember who won?
CG: A group from Austin, called The Mustangs. They were a soul group. The Mustangs and then there was a group called The Wig. (The Mustangs came in first place, the Wig came in second, the Thaks were third and the Reasons Why came in fourth.)
That was Rusty Weir’s group. We released an album by them on Texas Archive Recordings also.
CG: And there was another group that played, The Baby Cakes.
The Baby Cakes, an Austin legend and they never recorded, a real shame.
CG: They were all older than we were
So, how were the Baby Cakes live?
CG: Pretty good. The Mustangs were also pretty good. The Wigs, I didn’t think were quite as good, and I don’t remember why, but the Baby Cakes were kind of like The 13th Floor Elevators. Nobody’s like The Elevators, but Austin, like I say, was pivotal because I remember one of the first big gigs we played was there in Austin. One of the last big gigs was in Austin because we played with The 13th Floor Elevators in the same place in that round green building in Austin, right near the lake.
That would be Palmer Auditorium.
(The Thaks played a gig on April 14, 1967 at the Austin City Coliseum, right across from Palmer Auditorium. This may be the show that Chris is thinking of. It started at 7:30 PM and ended at 5:00 AM. The line-up was the Elevators, the Thaks, the Playboys of Edinburg, the Baby Cakes,
the Chevelle V and the Chandells. Wish I had seen that one!)
CG: Maybe it was. I remember it was green and round. But, I remember playing there in the fall of ’67 with The Elevators and it real happening, but then again, I always felt The Elevators had such a short window of perfection. We played with them four times, and the one time that I saw them where they were on top of their game was at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Kingsville. We opened for them that night and that was our first exposure to The Elevators and they just blew us away. Just blew us away.
Were they great?
CG: Greatness. I don’t know what it was, it was just something about Stacey Sutherland’s guitar playing and Roky Erickson, and just “Whoa Man!” We couldn’t wait to get home and learn their songs.
Which ones did you learn?
CG: Oh, we did a bunch of them. We did “You’re Gonna Miss Me”. We did a lot off of the “Easter Everywhere” album.
CG: “Levitation” was one of our stock songs. We always played that.
Do you remember the Corpus group, Albatross with the brothers Thraikill, Marshall and Paul?
CG: Oh, yeah!
Originally, they had another band called The Knee Knockers.
CG: Yes, I was talking about that with a guy that remembered the old Naval Air Station Days Festival.
I saw them at the NAS playing the Festival one year and they did “Levitation.” Marshall and I were in the same class together in high school, but he was probably 13 at the time and wearing shorts so you could see his knees. That was his trademark and he’d knock his knees together, and he’s singing “I Got Levitation” up there and he was young, young, young. It was incredible.
CG: He didn’t ignite himself that night but, I remember him having a thing for taking lighter fluid and blowing it out of his mouth while he lit it.
You’re right, he set himself on fire in high school doing that once.
CG: That’s basically the main points as far as memories of the group’s live gigs. The only other time, this was the last Zakary Thaks line-up, and fast forward to summer of ’72. I came back to Corpus for the summer and it just so happens I ran into John and Stan, and I forget if they were playing in the same group or not. They said why don’t we get a group together because there was a club here called the Rogues Club. The Rogues Club was a pretty sweet little gig. So they said if we can get a group together, Sam Harold will hire us as the house band. So we got Mike Gregory and Tom Ingle from Kubla Khan. We were a five piece house band for the Rogue Club, oh not for very long, June through August maybe, but we booked ourselves as the Zakary Thaks, and pretty damned good group because of Mike Gregory on the organ. He was just a phenomenal organist.
Did you guys do any of the old Thaks songs?
CG: No. It was all just kind of playlist, Top 40. We were limited. Sam wanted us to do mostly what was on the radio and the all mighty dollar. Okay Sam, we’ll do it. So that was the last Zakary Thaks group. One night I remember it was in August, and I’m thinking should I go back to school in Houston? And I was trying to get a long-term decision that was good and so I thought I’m just going to move back to Houston. You know, I was missing Houston. So I came in that night to tell them that I was leaving the group, and that’s when Stan was saying, “Oh, weird. I was going to quit too.” So the group split apart after that. That was the last Zakary Thaks. If you were to put timeline on the Facts it was from February ’66 hit and miss through August of 71, but with some big gaps in there
And then the reunion show in ’82.
CG: Yeah, but…you know how that goes.
I think you guys only did two or three songs that night.
CG: Well, we did 2-3 songs and then I got off the stage and it turned into the Rex Gregory-John Lopez show because if you remember, it was just Rex and John and Michael Gersmann, the drummer for the house band there, and they played the rest of the hour. (As mentioned earlier, Stan Moore didn’t show up because of disagreements with Rex.)
Pete Stinson was there wasn’t he?
CG: Pete was there, but he didn’t play. Pete was kind of like, “I’m retired and so I just want to spend all my time getting fucked up”.
Rex had just moved back from Hawaii and he found John and they started working on stuff. That’s what chapped Stan Moore. Stan was a real principled sort of guy. If something was not the way it was intended to be, then he didn’t like it. He thought it was all a farce, this whole Zakary type of reunion was just a farce, which it was kind of, because it was basically to see if John and Rex could get a little extra promo for their little project. Anyway, that’s why Stan took off to the right that night instead of the left with us. And it never was the same between Stan and Rex. That was it. Just kind of clashed.
That’s a shame that things turned out that way.
CG: Yeah, it was.
How about some other 13th Floor Elevators memories? You said they were great on stage.
CG: Fantastic on stage. The only things I can tell you about Roky Erickson are two things that stand out in my mind. One of them had to do with the Stardust Ballroom gig that they came here for and I want to say some time in ’68, maybe ’67—that’s a little blurry, but I remember him. They were late for the show. That’s what killed them. They started getting late for gigs and stuff. I remember Roky coming in late and he had an Echo Plex. If you remember the Echo Plexes, they were a lead guitarist’s toy for awhile. It was a tape driven thing.
Al Hunt had one that he used on the Liberty Bell song “Eveline Kaye. It was like little spaceships shooting around.
CG: Exactly. Roky had it wrapped up in a coat, like he was protecting it, and he was walking around and he would sit down in a chair and he had that thing wrapped up in a coat. That was the night that he had the Band-Aid on his forehead because he wanted to protect this third eye.
Did you ever have a conversation with him?
CG: The only time I had a conversation with him was in Houston. What had happened was The Seeds (the old Bad Seeds/future Bubble Puppy )had moved up to Houston, rechanged and came out as the Bubble Puppy and they were living in a house on Rosemeade Street in Houston, right off of the University of Houston campus. An old mansion. So Michael Taylor and I went up there one summer, the summer of ’69 and stayed with them for nearly a month. Just kind of hanging out with the big group, right, and there was another group from here called Ginger Valley that was staying there. Roky Erickson stayed at their house one weekend when we were there. It was a real hippie environment. We slept on something, I don’t know if it was a mattress thrown out on the floor and we ate in this huge, old mansion kitchen. We were in there one morning, I think we were drinking coffee or something, and Roky came down and went “hey, hey”. He went over there to the cabinets and pulled out this jar of Tang and was looking at it and turned to me and said, “How do you, how do you make this?” And I said, “There’s directions on the rear of the jar”. He just said “Oh cool.”
Very groovy, so you had a very cerebral exchange with Roky.
CG: Yeah, that’s my Roky Erickson story
Did you have another memory of him?
CG: Well, the Elevators were just so huge, it was like looking down the mountain valley up to them. We were in awe of them and that kind of prohibited me really getting to know any of the members. In fact, the only one I even half way got to know was John Ike.
He’s a pretty nice guy.
CG: Yeah he is.:
It was probably better that you didn’t get to know them real well. There’s no telling what might have happened to you.
CG: Stacy called me one time, I forget when, and he actually asked me join the Elevators as lead vocalist, because Roky had been sent to the hospital for a little rest, but he was probably just too freaked out. But I said no. I just kind of said I’m not worthy of that type of deal.
How old were you then?
CG: Post Thaks, Post-Bell. Pre-Kubla Khan.
About 18 or 19?
CG: Yeah, about late ’68, early ’69, something like that.
It was kind of towards the end of the Elevators. Probably when they did the “Bull of the Woods” album. What a great bit of Zakary Thaks info you just gave me. I don’t think anybody knows that.
CG: Stacy called me one day, it was like, I want to say a Sunday and asked me. “Roky was sent away. Do you feel like joining the group?” and I’m like, “I don’t really think I can.” Because I knew, you know, there is no way. Roky was not a great rhythm player, but he was the Elevator’s rhythm player. And I’ve always liked his voice. I always wanted to sound like Roky Erickson, you know, but really could never quite get that sound. It’s like, it’s kind of high pitched. He just had a certain kind of sound.
He had a wail to him.
CG: Yeah, right.
A banshee wail.
CG: Yeah, just, I mean just weird. When I look at the video tape, that one little segment of Roky Erickson when he was into the horror rock, that little montage of different things and opens up with him singing “You’re Gonna Miss Me” with that house band? I can still get the chills, just because, you know he was not sounding really great for that little segment, but he just has a certain sound that you really can’t imitate Roky Erickson, you know? Couldn’t really imitate any of the Elevators.
There was one guy here in town that wound up playing the jug. He learned how to play the jug real well. Real well! In fact he actually got on stage with us when we were doing the Elevator stuff.
Who was that?
CG: Gordon Nost. He lives in Houston. He owns an audio-visual business and still has some dealings with Rex.
He played jug with you guys?
CG: He played the jug with us. Whenever we said, “Now we’d like to bring up a special friend of ours, Gordon Nost” people would get excited. He played jug with us on “I’ve Got Levitation”. PB:
Did you guys do “Slip Inside This House“ by any chance?
CG: Yeah, that was a favorite of ours.
You know, that’s a long song. That’s a lot of lyrics to remember.
CG: (Chris starts singing) “Four and twenty birds of Maya slipped into an atom and you polarized into existence”. Yep, I mean, they really shifted us, just like, change gears, this is where we need to go.
From a Kinks/Stones kind of thing to a more mystic, psych groove.
CG: Yeah. Summer of ’67 was really, cause right after that film was made, was when we started doing the transition thing.
Let’s talk about the film. You know I have to say it’s absolutely amazing that Carl had the foresight to make that damned thing because that’s got to be one of the few movies of any local 60’s band that even exists.
CG: Let me tell you about that film. This is something I know has never been covered Because you know he told me he made it to promote you guys to get club gigs.
CG: Well, yes he did, but the real brain child of that, I believe was Lofton Klein. (Lofton Klein was in the Pozo Seco Singers, along with Don Williams and Susan Taylor, who was Mike Taylor’s sister.) Lofton Klein kind of took over Carl’s partnership when Jack and Carl had their split. So it was actually Lofton Klein that really came up with that concept. I think he knew the guy out in Calallen, a little town outside of Corpus, because we went out there to film it. I don’t remember Carl being too involved in it. It was more Lofton Klein, but Lofton was an idiot. Lofton Klein’s involvement was adding the background harmony to “Please.” That was the first one where Lofton started having his influence and it was just about that time, I don’t remember when Carl and Jack split up, but it was right around that time. Lofton was the producer of “Please”, although it probably doesn’t mention him the record. Who does it credit? Michael?
CG: Okay. That was Lofton Klein. Jack wasn’t even in the damned studio. So, if the truth be known, Carl Becker was probably not even involved in that film making. I would not be surprised because it was during that time that Jack and Carl split. That wasn’t Carl’s solo branch out. There were other people involved, but the main purpose of making the film was actually Lofton Klein’s, because he was going to take that film and he was going to peddle it. He was going to go up the coast because he felt like we needed to get into the Houston market more. So he was going to hit the towns like El Campo and Wharton because the teen halls were still pretty big then. He would go and approach these club owners and say, “Listen, I got this group from Corpus, and here’s a film of them doing a set”. Lofton is really the main catalyst behind the film.
Okay. Well, whether Carl or Lofton was responsible, that was very innovative for that period in the 60’s.
CG: I’d say so, yeah. I don’t know who paid for that film. I’d hate to rob Carl of some credit where credit is due, because when they split, it was kind of all not one day and it was gone, but I think Carl was definitely pulling out at the point during that film making because I don’t remember him being there. I just remember Lofton Klein being there, so I don’t know. That’s the handicap about, you know, to really get 100% accurate information, if John were sitting here and Rex, that might be added input but, I trust my memory more than theirs. The film was like, I don’t think they really even used it. Carl and Lofton hated each other’s guts. Lofton never really peddled it and I was the keeper of the film for the first year and a half. How I lost my grasp of it was I gave two cans, there was four cans, I gave two cans to John Lopez. He was going to make some transfers of them. Never saw those. Rex was still living out in Hawaii and I sent him the other two cans and I never saw those, so that’s what happened there.
So, do you think John still has them?
CG: No. Absolutely not, no. John or Rex. Neither of them have them. That’s so typical of them. Just like me, you give away stuff, you know, so they probably, you know, gave it to Carl, or whoever. PB:
I was telling you about Greg Prevost, from the Chesterfield Kings. (The Chesterfield Kings did a cover of “Won’t Come Back” on their first album.) He had me write a couple of lines on their first 45 and we became good friends. He writes me one day and asks “Can you get me John Lopez’ fuzz box?” Yeah, right.
CG: Well, where John got his first fuzz box was from the only music store here in Corpus at the time called the Horn Shop.
Yes, it was down at 6-Points, in fact just a stone’s throw from the Carousel Club. I remember going there once to buy some guitar strings and Rod Prince and Tony Joe White were hanging out.
CG: There was a resident technician named Smitty. You would come with a concept and he would turn it into an actual reality. So anyway, I think it was Carl or John requested a fuzz box, because fuzz leads were hot. They had already been around. I’m trying to think of the first fuzz lead I heard, maybe the Yardbirds. It was known that such a sound existed, but we couldn’t figure out how to get it and the most logical way to do the fuzz tone was to turn up the amp loud, but we were blowing speakers and were going through amp speakers like change, like loose change. So, Smitty came up with a deal where when so many amps were going through the speaker it would overload the circuit and shut off to keep the speaker from blowing. It was about that time when we said well, can you do a fuzz box so we don’t have to turn up these amps so damned loud? Smitty comes up with one and it almost looks like it was made in a Russian lab. I mean it’s all funky and big and you plugged in one end to the amp and the other end to the guitar and you had a typical little toggle switch thing and turned that thing on and it fuzzed. Smitty was really a genius that way. God knows what John did with that.
He has been through so many toys. He’s like the guitar toy guy. He’s had everything. The only thing he didn’t get into was the Echo Plex. He messed around with it briefly, but he didn’t think it was much, whereas Alan Hunt, he took that thing on all kinds of turns. He knew exactly how that thing worked, and he made it do things. Al was real inventive. He’s the first guitar player I’ve seen that was able to master the Echo Plex to that extent and he also had. He figured out if he played like this and had his finger loose, he could do that volume knob and so he had a weird way of playing. I never have seen another lead player that can make that guitar do what he wanted to do and sound the way he wanted it to sound. He could really make it sound weird. Of course, that’s typical Al.
Where’s he at now?
CG: Al is working at a Wal-Mart out in California. That’s the last I heard and that comes from a pretty accurate source. Carl Abbey told me. As far as other Liberty Bell members, Richard Painter still lives here in town and he is a meat salesman for Sam King’s Meats. I don’t know if he’s a sales manager yet or not. Wayne Harrison still lives here, but he’s like the mystery man. No one knows exactly what he’s doing.
Probably still doing that damned paper route. (laughter.)
CG: Maybe he still has that paper route. Maybe he has an expanded paper route. Ronnie Tanner, last I saw him was when I moved back to Houston for good in ’85. He was coming through town with his band. He was into Country and Western music, so that’s the last I saw of him. He was basically the same person. He still had that kind of curly hair and was still kind of the front man, big on stage gestures and kind of moving the audience, but that was Ronnie.
You know one thing that I always remember about you guys is that you were very trendy and had all the latest, mod clothes.
CG: Oh, yeah, sure.
You guys were really stylin’ back then.
CG: Thanks to the Mod Shop at S & Q Clothiers. (S & Q Clothiers was a fairly conservative upscale men’s shop, but they hopped on the youth craze and opened “The Mod Shop” in the back of the store. They had all the latest Carnaby gear and Beatle boots and paisley shirts, the whole nine yards. This was where all the cool cats shopped. I was always begging my Mom to let me buy my school clothes there. Sometimes she acquiesced.)
That’s what I was going to ask you because I remember, and I think it was when you were in the Liberty Bell, you guys did commercials for them.
CG: Probably did.
You guys did a little jingle for S & Q. I think it was the Liberty Bell, but I could be wrong. It could have been the Thaks.
CG: Well, this also relates back to Lofton Klein. During part of the early Lofton Klein months, he tried to get us into making jingles, so the first one we did was for Jax Beer.
Cool. Does anybody have those tapes?
CG: I’m sure they’re on some archival shelf somewhere at the radio station. I remember that Lofton wrote the song and I’m trying to remember how it went.
(Chris starts singing.)
“It’s mellow and mild”
“It’s a new kind of drink for those who think, yeah”
“You gotta believe it, man it’s a new kind of drink, yeah”
“It’s mellow and mild”.
Then after that it was S & Q Clothiers or Litchenstein’s. I forget which one, but we all did an ad at Christmas time for them. I remember Stan. It took him forever to get it right because he kept screwing up. It kind of went,
(Chris starts reciting.)
“Hey moms and dads!”
“You know what your kids want to get?”
“To shop at the Mod Shop at S & Q Clothiers!”
“…blah, blah, blah.”
Lofton was champagne taste on a beer budget. That’s the Lofton Klein story right there. You know what I mean?
He must have been much older than you guys.
CG: Yeah. He was 10 years our senior probably. Initially, a fairly nice guy, but he became a bother after awhile, because the Thaks were getting more off the beaten path and he wanted us to go mainstream and that’s where the parting of the ways went. He kept trying to pull us back into the normal and we kept fighting it. The more he tried, the more we just went off.
So you guys went up to San Antonio. Did you guys play in Houston at all?
CG: Yes, at the Catacombs.
Cool. Did you guys play with anybody?
CG: Yes, it was the summer of ’67 and we played the local teen show. I can’t remember the name of it, but it was hosted by Larry Kane. (It was the Larry Kane Show.) The other group that was on with us at the show that day was the Gentry’s.
How were they?
CG: Well, it was all lip-synched. We did “Face to Face.” I remember it was a real cool gig and then that night, at the Catacombs, there were three groups. For the life of me I cannot remember the head billing, but the other group that was playing with us was Matchbox. I don’t know why I remember that group. It was trio, but they were good as hell. The feel of the Catacombs, if anything would be similar to the Carousel. That would because it was real black lightish, cavernesque, you know, whatever. It was really a good club, but we could not penetrate the Houston market because that was locked up by groups like The Fever Tree, The Moving Sidewalks, The Elevators and to a lesser degree the Sherwood’s. Just could not penetrate that. We’d skirt around there, but could never get into Houston, so we gave up after awhile.
The only other big gig that we did and this was Zachary Facts #4, the four of us without Pete. We opened up for Steppenwolf in Forth Worth. It was a real nasty gig. I remember the crowd was quite surly. It was almost to the point of “Get off!!” “Bring on Steppenwolf!!”
I saw them when they played here. They played at the Coliseum. “Monster” had just come out. I remember the bass player wore a dress and they played Ampeg plexiglass guitars.
CG: This was one of the last gigs we did. We knew after that gig that we better give it up boys. It was April ’69.
Did you guys play outside of Texas ever?
CG: We played a frat party in Louisiana in Lafayette. I remember that we flew on Trans Texas Airlines to the gig and I remember it was a prop plane and we were landing on the runway in Lafayette and we were looking out the window. We were kind of playing the Beatle’s part because we were like the big rock group traveling in a plane now. All right! We’re looking out the window and we’re seeing this group of people off in the distance and we’re going “I wonder who is here?” You know? Like there was probably some big shot. The frats were there for us. So they rode us through town in a convertible limo and the room already set up for us and everything. Drinking age was, I don’t know if it still is, but it was 18 years old.
So Michael Taylor and David Rasmussen, our equipment manager, went and bought the liquor for us for the gig that night and Pete got so drunk that we had to sit him up in a chair. The third and fourth set, Pete was playing seated. That was the one out of state gig that we did. That was fairly early on. I want to say fall of ’66 maybe. That is about as far as we got unfortunately.
And then you went on to the Liberty Bell. What records were you on?
CG: “Thoughts and Visions”, “Reality is the Only Answer” and “ Naw, Naw, Naw”, and by that time it was Twilight Zone time. (Chris is actually on all the Back Beat releases.) It wasn’t even the Liberty Bell really. In fact, it was produced by someone that is not a familiar name.
The label says it was produced by Carl Becker.
CG: No, no, there was another one. Or, maybe the writer. Who was the writer of “Naw, Naw, Naw?”
Andre Williams. (Andre is the same artist that recorded for Fortune Records.)
CG: Yes. He wrote “Naw, Naw, Naw”. This Williams guy, I don’t know, I was old enough to know what was going on, but I really didn’t snap at what was going on. He had some kind of drug problem and kind of bottomed out. He just kind of like, he was the guy that convinced Don Robey, the guy that owned Back Beat, to sign us up. He just kind of had some personal problems and the record was so flat it was just like (Chris sings in a bass voice) “Naw, Naw, Naw.” (much laughter.)
It wasn’t one of the band’s highlights.
I remember him passing out in the control booth. See, that’s the weird part. You know, but you’re a dumb ass at the age and it’s like, oh, okay, he passed out. I thought he was drunk or something. I think it was a medication issue, because he was definitely out cold. I remember Carl Becker and I going out to Don Robey’s office and it was really weird because Carl Becker kept playing this guy up, “Oh you know, Don Robey is like the Colonel Tom Parker of black music” or whatever and he was a pretty big guy.
Yeah, he was.
CG: I don’t know. That was almost like you blink your eyes type of feeling like it happened so fast that it’s not really in my memory banks good. I remember certain things about it, but to tell you the exact order of things that went, because it was maybe four months total from the start to end. It was the wrong concept.
Let me ask you about some the Thaks records. How about “BadGirl”?
CG: That took about six takes before we got it error free. “Face To Face” took about 18 takes before we had that right because that lead that John was playing, he had just come up with it the week prior to that so he was still playing with it.
The intro on that is just amazing. I still get “shakes in the backbone” every time I hear it.
CG: Yes, it took him about a week to come with that. ”Week Day Blues” and “Won’t Come Back” were recorded at International Artists Studios. (Chris is probably referring to Gold Star Studios, which was bought by IA six months later.) We did both of them the same night. “Week Day Blues” was written in a hotel room on the outskirts of Houston at a hotel near Hobby Airport. We needed a B-side for “Face To Face” and so we just wrote it in the room that night and that was it. “Won’t Come Back”, Stan and I were talking about this. Rex and I have the writer’s credit on that song, but it was really Pete’s idea, that little opening intro, that was Pete. That was Pete’s concept, but once Rex got his claws on it and they needed words, I was the lyric guy. That was it, so we sent off for the lead sheets and it was Rex and Chris. It was like “Where’s Pete?”
Yeah, because the intro is one of the best parts of the song.
CG: Yeah. Of course Stan always had his little unique signature in there and his part was that little part, near the end of the song, da, da, da, da, da…yeah that was Stan. Whenever you get into a group collaboration, you know, they should have given us all writer’s credits. You could see that politics was starting to play. “Face To Face” was written by all of us, but only John and I got the credit because John came up with the intro and the basic thread of the song and I wrote the lyrics so somehow we got credit for it, but it was a group project. In fact, I remember when we wrote “Face To Face” we did it in an afternoon. We were so excited about the song that we jumped in the car and Carl lived about a mile away. We went running over there and he had just gotten off of work. “Carl, you gotta come and hear this song, man.” So he came over there, with that cigarette dangling out of his mouth. “Tough song, man, tough!” “Fuckin’ hit! fuckin’ hit!” So he booked the studio time for us at Jones Studio and we went up there the next weekend.
I can picture Carl perfectly with a smoke hanging precariously from the corner of his mouth.
CG: Oh Yeah! With “Please”, more time was spent in the studio getting the background vocals down. And then “Mirror of Yesterday”, the only thing I remember about that is how we got it down. We almost recorded it separately. Rex and Stan came up to Houston and laid the bass and the drums down. We all went back up there the next week and laid down the vocals and John laid down his track and Pete did his, and then that was it and the next thing we knew, the finished product was there.
Did you like it?
CG: “Mirror of Yesterday”? No, not really. It was not us.
You know it almost had kind of like a Left Banke kind of feel to it. That kind of baroque rock type stuff.
CG: I felt it was trying to sound too much like “Eleanor Rigby”. Too many violins and stuff. We couldn’t come close to making it sound like that live. The other side “Can’t You Hear Your Daddy’s Footsteps?” We really spent a lot of time on that record, but that wasn’t The Thaks either, you know? As far as I’m concerned, the Thaks were represented by the first two records and the flip side of “Please”, “Won’t Come Back”. But after that they went downhill because it wasn’t the group. It was somebody else writing for the group and every time that happens, not every time, but most of the time, it just doesn’t come off well.
Sure. Let me ask you about some of the individual band members and what’s happened to them.
CG: Let’s see. Stan’s dead. (Stan Moore tragically committed suicide in 2000.)
John Lopez is in a contracting partnership and still living in Corpus.
You mentioned to me that John played with The Bubble Puppy for a while.
CG: Yes. Todd Potter had left The Bubble Puppy. It was after they had come off a pretty lengthy national tour. They went all the way up to Canada and the West Coast, but I guess they had some disagreements and so he left the group. Rod Prince called John to come up there and play with them. I don’t think John played with them long, but I remember seeing them together at Love Street in Houston. This was sometime in ’73, maybe the spring of ’73. They were good, but something was missing. I don’t know what. Then it was weird, because within a couple of years John called me again. He was passing through Houston and he was in Freddie Fender’s band. PB:
I remember seeing him play with Freddie at The Ritz, here in Corpus.
CG: Okay. I went and saw them at Liberty Hall and it was just totally weird. Didn’t Freddie spend some time in prison?
Yeah, he was a bad boy.
CG: Yeah, yeah. So that was not unusual. John liked to live life on the edge. Pete Stinson is living out in Santa Barbara, California, still working in construction. Rex is living in Houston and has some kind of audio-visual business. I have never found out exactly what his business is. I haven’t really bothered. It is of little interest to me. He likes to get hired by these big companies to go document their conventions either through video tape or audio tape or whatever and he assembles it in a final slick product and sells it to them for X amount of dollars.
CG: Yeah. I’m assuming that that is basically same thing that he has been doing and that’s what he has been doing since he moved back from Hawaii which was in ’82. I think because that’s when the reunion was, right?
CG: What can I say? Michael Taylor, I don’t know what he’s doing. I saw him at that reunion.
Did you guys ever consider him the sixth Zachary Thak?
CG: Yeah, kind of because he was writing for us
He wrote a lot of your songs.
CG: Yeah and he was a mentor as far as if we were not sounding right, he would let us know and it would be in a way that only he could hear, you know? We trusted him enough. He was like the uncle that looked out for us and he still, even though we surpassed the Bad Seeds as far as stature goes, we still in the back of our minds thought of Michael Taylor as the Bad Seeds guy and that was our first idol group. So we always listened him to him. He was a character and he was funny as hell. He always kept us laughing.
Have you seen that video of them from Teen Time?
CG: Oh, yeah. That’s kind of funny, but typical for the Bad Seeds. I know when I got the first copy, it was not so good. I don’t know what generation it was, but I made several copies from that copy and I went over and gave one to Bobby Donaho and visited with him. Yeah, that was a long afternoon. Then I gave one to John, who gave it away the next week and came looking for another one.
How about some tales about the wild things you guys did on the road. I’ll remind you of some of them if you don’t remember.
CG: The most memorable things are throwing donuts out of the eighth story floor of the Crest Hotel in Austin. We’d be on the road, usually traveling to San Antonio or Austin, and Pete would strip naked and while the car was moving at 70 miles an hour, crawl outside of the car and get on the hood and do the naked hood ornament thing. We’d pass somebody and it would usually be old people and they’d be squirming off to the side of the road.
Then we did some more grotesque things in the hotels themselves. We’d take David Rasmussen’s glasses. He had Coke bottle glasses and we’d put toothpaste on one side of the lens and shaving cream on the other and tie on a string and throw them into the toilet and everybody would pee and shit in there, you know? It was gross stuff.
Then I remember that Skippy was the brunt of a lot of our jokes. Skippy was just like, you just couldn’t resist pulling pranks on him. The more you’d do stuff to him, “Oh God damn it”, and we’d literally wait until he took a shower and then we’d grab him and throw him out into the hallways of the hotels and he’d be naked and the maids would be coming by. Just crazy stuff. A lot of red eyes, you know? Mooning and stuff. You’re 16 years old, so that’s going to be it.
Let’s hear the coat hanger story.
CG: Oh yeah, that was Stan’s doing and that was with the other brunt of our jokes, David Rasmussen. We called him Manfred because he kind of looked like Manfred Mann. I remember we were driving back from Houston and Stan was sitting in the back seat of the station wagon. We always put Pete in the back seat. Remember those little mini seats in station wagons?
CG: We’d put Pete in the back there.
Didn’t they face backwards or something?
CG: Well, sideways kind of. We put Pete back there because he had his little bar set up back there, the Robitussin and the cough syrups. He would be in his own little world. Anyway, Stan took that coat hanger and straightened it out so he had two ends and he started lighting them and getting them red hot and then just like cattle prods, slapped David Rasmussen’s neck. The car would be swerving all over the highway. It’s really a wonder we didn’t kill ourselves.
Then there was the Pubic Light Show, which probably stands out as the most memorable time. We had gone down there to Port Isabel to play spring break. It was just a madhouse. We were staying in rooms that smelled of sex. That’s the best way I can describe it. It just smelled like somebody got through screwing in there. It was just nasty. Anyway we were due to go up to Austin that next night and play so it was like, let’s go. So we got in the car, we took off. Of course David Rasmussen was not only the equipment manager, but he was the unofficial chauffeur of the group. He started getting tired and we were going in two cars. Michael Taylor was driving his car and we had the band’s station wagon. Michael was always coming up with pranks and he was in the lead. He sped up ahead and I was in the car with him. We went over this little hill and he pulls off to the side of the road and left his flashers on and stripped completely naked and went out in the middle and was like dancing that Taylor dance out there. You could hear them as the car was going by, you could hear the laughter. They were laughing so hard. So they pulled ahead and they did that to us. So that’s how we kept ourselves awake. We kept doing the light shows.
Just always something. Like I said, the 16 year old mind works in different ways to entertain yourself. We really would do some cruel things to Skippy, but Pete was usually the initiator of those. I remember he would be asleep and Pete would go into the bathroom and crap in a brown paper bag and rip it open and lay it flat right by Skippy’s head and he’d push his head to it. (insane, immature laughter at this point.)
What can I say? I was lucky that I didn’t get affected. I got to watch a lot of these pranks, but I was lucky enough not to be involved. John and I and Pete missed a lot of those pranks, mainly because we didn’t want the repercussions of Pete. John was too burly and we didn’t want to mess with him, and I was like the kid, you know, the youngest kid, so we were able to look at a lot of the pranks going on. Rex and Michael Taylor were always scamming each other and trying to come up with shit.
I remember one time, in fact this happened at the Louisiana gig. David Rasmussen had gotten so drunk, he had passed out before we even went to the gig. Michael Taylor went to the store and got a muscle magazine and came back and pulled Manfred’s pants down around his ankles so when he woke up the next morning, there’s his pants down around his ankles and he’s got this muscle magazine, with pictures of sweaty, half-naked guys. (more immature laughter.) With Taylor it was always something, man. That was the way Taylor’s mind worked.
That sounds like me. I’m kind of like that. Lots of practical jokes.
CG: Taylor also had a real good knack about getting chicks. I don’t know what it was.
Yeah, because he wasn’t a real attractive guy.
CG: No. It was just that he had a way to talk them into things. If anybody had the best batting average as far as groupies go, it was him. Most of the groupies he got were during his road manager days with the Thaks. He had that four hour gig time window and of course he’d be hanging out with the group and so we’d get the chicks coming up to the stage. He would convince one of them to come back to the room with him and then you could always tell when the mission was successful because you’d see him standing in the back of the hall with a cigar. PB:
I guess you guys were too young. There weren’t chicks in there and everybody pulling a train and all that stuff?
CG: No. It was a little early for that thing, but Corpus and you’d have to ask John about this one. There was a period in the early 70s in Corpus where a lot of those kinds of parties were going on. It all had to do with group parties, like bad group parties, but by that time I was already in Houston, so I missed all of those wild, wild times. Thank God! I probably would have wound up with more afflictions than I have already. That was basically it. Of course we all had our little meetings with different chicks, but like I said, I had a girlfriend here.
Who was your girlfriend?
CG: Cathy Rapier. She went to King. Most of the people I hung out with were at King’s for some reason.
I had lots friends over at King.
CG: I think it was partly because of Pick’s Drive-In. The closest proximity to Pick’s was King High, so that’s who you got to meet so that’s who I basically hung out with. I had dated some Carroll High girls, too. Like Debbie Lang, I remember her.
Debbie Lang? Was she a couple years younger than you?
She was in my class. A real hottie.
CG: But Cathy Rapier was my main girlfriend. We were steadies so to speak, but once we got out of the city limits, the partying began. It’s peer pressure. We all had girlfriends here, but out on the road…”girlfriends?” ”Who?” Oh yeah.
Let me ask you about some of the other Corpus bands and see if you have any recollections. I’ve got all the 45’s here, so let’s go through them. Stereo Shoestring? They had a very heavy 45, “On the Road South”, a hybrid of a Pretty Things song.
CG: I vaguely remember them.
They were originally the Clockwork Orange. David Odem was on vocals and Ashley Johnson on bass. They evolved into Stereo Shoestring. James Coco was in the band. Then they became Red House.
CG: I remember James Coco, but you have to remember that I was half living in Houston, by the beginning of the 70’s, so I may have missed some of these groups. Especially if they had a short life span.
I know what you mean. I lived in Corpus until the summer of ’74 and half of the records I have are from Corpus bands that I’ve never heard of. And I went to see a lot of groups.
How about Albatross?
CG: Yes, I remember them. Paul and Marshall Thrailkill on drums and vocals, Jesse Flores on lead and John Mitchell on bass.
They were hot. Really into the heavy stuff on Jethro Tull’s “Stand Up” LP and the “Mountain Climbing” album. You can tell from their 45, that Tull was a big influence. They played an assembly at Carroll High and they were tuning up on stage. John had very long, blond hair and wore “granny” glasses and all the football players were whistling at him. He turned to them and said, “As soon as all you homos get through with the whistling, we’ll start playing.” It was very nervy and cool. He got a big round of applause. At Carroll, you were either a “roper” or a “doper”. There was always a lot tension in the air between the jocks and hippies. How about the James Oliver Freedom Band?
CG: James Oliver? Oh yeah, I remember him. James Oliver Freedom Band. I could almost guess who his band members were because he’d play with the same people all the time.
That was from 1970. It was right around Kubla Khan.
CG: All right. With Kubla Khan, I felt like I was in a cocoon during that time because we had unlimited access to Studio B and we practiced a lot.
If you recorded all that, how come you guys never did an album, if you recorded that much material? If you had, now it would be one of the great, limited pressing $1000-$2000 psych albums.
CG: I don’t know why we didn’t release it. Just one of those things that never came to pass. That was why I was kind of shocked when I heard those remixes, because I had forgotten about all that. The “Bossa Nova” song and all that shit. It was just all because you don’t have to worry about the clock ticking when you have a studio. You can get in there and experiment around and everything. If you really dig deep into Kubla Khan’s music or at least to the songs that I was writing at that time, you could here the band, the influence of the band. It was kind of that country-rock type deal and it was almost like we were in a cocoon because the only thing I remember about Kubla Khan was going to rehearse and going down to the studio. I remember playing five gigs and that’s it. Maybe a dozen, but that’s it. I remember just five gigs and it was over before we even started. It was like okay, we’re gone
Let me ask you about one other band that I remember. I’ve never been able to find their record. It’s the only Corpus record I don’t have from that time period. The Four More. They recorded a song called “Don’t Give Up Hope” Remember the song?
CG: No, that one eludes me.
Well, that was one side of it and “Problem Child” was the B-side. The A-side got played on the radio, and I heard it about 2-3 times. But the B-side is a melt-your-speakers punker and it’s on everybody’s want list, yadda, yadda, yadda.
How about The Purple Haze?
CG: Purple Haze? Oh, yes. Oh, God. Weren’t they kind of a harmony group?
No, they were a hard-edged psych group.
CG: Purple Haze, huh?
You know before I got this record 20 years ago, I had never heard of them either and I lived here at the time. The other side is real fuzzed-out guitar instrumental.
Do you remember The Soul Seekers?
CG: Boy, that’s way out there. I don’t remember them at all. Was it around that time?:
Yes, R. Hammons is on the writing credits.
CG: Yeah. Rich Hammons. He’s a principal at a grade school here. He’d crap in his pants if he saw that. Unless he’s got one. He’s got a Ph.D. in education and has been a principal in Woodlawn Elementary now for quite a few years now.
And of course Sam Neely. Here’s his 45 with The Buckle.
CG: Oh, God. The Buckle. Man. I forget who was the writer for that.
That’s a Left Banke song and the other side is a Zombie’s song.
CG: Okay. I think the organ player from the Buckle died from a suicide. His name was Paul White.
Richard Beard was the producer.
CG: Richard Beard! If you get Carl Becker started on Richard Beard, he’ll never stop because Richard Beard was one of the local yokel producers who could never make it big, but wanted to act big. He was always around. I remember him coming to a lot of our gigs.
Eric Quincy Tate Group? They did “Blowing the Clouds Away.”
Oh, yeah. I didn’t realize they made this many records though.
They had three albums too. None of them did much though.
CG: Well, they always reminded me of the Allman Brothers.
Yeah, exactly. They had a ZZ Top/Allman Brothers influenced album on Capricorn.
CG: Yes, now I remember that LP.
Tony Joe White on Kicker Records. It’s actually the J-Beck record. The Mojos, the backing group on the record, is supposedly the Bad Seeds.
What’s Michael Taylor doing now? I know he was at Gilley Studio for years. Of course, all that’s gone now. I wonder if he’s still engineering up there in Houston?
CG: I heard that Gilley had sent him up to Nashville, and he is working there. He had some kind of project going out in Florida, because his sister, Susan Taylor, one of the Pozo Seco Singers…Actually, Michael was the bass player for the Pozo Seco Singers on tour for about a year. Taylor is not known for his proficiency on the guitar or the bass, but somehow he got on bass and went on tour with them. Went all over United States. Don Williams, Lofton and Susan. Michael came back for the Thaks reunion in ’91 or ’92. That was a general purpose reunion, not for any specific group, but for Corpus Christi musicians, so you had everyone there like Sam Neely. He and his group that were playing at the time came and played a set and then they had to go to the gig. John Lopez sat in for awhile. Then Michael Gersmann stayed there and Mike Gregory was on keyboards and I got to sing for awhile.
While I was up there I remember seeing Jim West walk in the back. It was held at Our Lady of Perpetual Health, or whatever it is, that Catholic building on Holly Road, it was in their hall. I remember seeing Jim West walk in and I’m going, hmm, wow. There was a long haired guy with him. I was trying to figure who that was, I couldn’t see. Then the trademark! Michael Taylor had a way of smoking cigarettes. One of his legs is about a half an inch shorter than the other so he has a tendency to favor that one foot. I remember him taking a drag off of that cigarette and I’m going “Oh, fuckin’ Taylor, man.” He was wearing a wig, a long haired wig. (extreme laughter!) So, anyway, he got up on stage and gave us an hours worth of Creedence Clearwater and Neil Diamond.
Was he bad?
CG: Oh, yeah, same as ever. The first thing he did was he put the guitar on and turned around. Carl Abbey started drumming at one point because Gersmann had to go to the gig, so it was Abbey and Mike Gregory and I forget who was playing bass—but he strapped the guitar on said, “Give me an E minor”. He was always making a joke about that E minor. He started in and was doing all the Michael Taylor stuff and “Suzie Q”, “Bad Moon Rising”. You know, typical stuff.
Then after the set sat around and talked and he was telling all these stories. You know Taylor always has a story ability that you know makes you laugh. Of course you got a few beers in you and you just laugh harder. I don’t know what he’s doing. I know he’s never really had an established job as far I can tell. He’s kind more like Gilley’s engineer, which actually he didn’t even know how to engineer until Studio B. He and Jim West were the two chief engineers. You would have thought Jim West would have been the better engineer, but actually, I think Taylor had a better ear for that. Studio B. I think they’re still in operation, but they spent a small fortune there. To this day I think Freddy Records is using it right now. It’s down on the bay front, by the Selena Auditorium.
Not by the old Memorial Coliseum?
CG: No further down, by The Selena.
I saw you in the Liberty Bell play at the Memorial Coliseum once. You opened up for somebody. It’s been so long ago. I can’t remember.
CG: The Liberty Bell gigs are kind of sketchy.
I remember you guys did “Watch Her Ride”. More Jefferson Airplane type stuff.
CG: I don’t know. Like I say, that’s blurry. We weren’t wearing the Nehru jackets were we?
CG: Okay, good.
I remember you guys were really hot.
CG: I think there was a brief period of time where we were pretty good live, but Ronnie Tanner, he was an integral part of that group too.
I remember seeing them at my church once when they were the Zulus. They were so damn wild. Just floored me. I couldn’t believe this insanity was happening at church.
CG: Oh, yeah. I used to think that the Zulus were better than the Liberty Bell. I guess because of Al Hunt, the group’s music was more controlled by Al. Al had kind of unique tastes. They were into the Beau Brummels and stuff like that. Al also had a good ear for a lot of the old standard stuff that you would never hear anyone else play, but Al. Like, what’s that one song? The mule skinner song?
“Mule Skinner Blues.”
CG: Yes. He just knew all of those old licks, it was funny. The Bell was doomed from day one as far as when I started with them because we were having problems. We would practice in Alan Hunt’s garage and the neighbor’s called the cops on us. We actually got arrested. That incident is still on my record. I have a rap sheet with one offense. A noise ordinance violation from ’68.
I can’t believe they would have arrested you.
CG: Yep. Actually what happened was the cops came and Carl Becker got a lawyer to represent us and we were formally arraigned and that was it. I never tasted the metal handcuffs or got fingerprinted. I remember actually going to Carl. I don’t know where Carl found this lawyer, but he was an idiot. We just saw his case untangle in the courtroom and the next thing you know we’re guilty as charged. A small little fine and we had to cut egg cartons inside the garage to keep the noise level to a certain decibel level.
So, no biggy.
CG: Ah, no. It was just, I don’t know. The Bell is just a faint memory. I think if you were to talk to the Bell, they would have the same memories. It’s like, oh yeah, he played with us for awhile. It really wasn’t for that long. It was February through about September ’68.
In my mind’s eye from when I was a kid back then, I thought you were good.
CG: I remember playing some pretty different gigs with them.
Well, I just remember that it seemed like the Zakary Thaks kind of faded away and the Liberty Bell kind of came in and took their spot. They came out with “That’s How It Will Be”, “For What You Lack” and “The Nazz are Blue.”
CG: Yeah. You know, Corpus has always had a tendency to pick one group as a prominent fixture.
Yeah, it’s was the Bad Seeds and then you guys and then the Bell.
CG: Then there is a little time span where nothing was happening and then the Little Ducks from Mars came along.
But you guys were kind of like single bands, you know, AM single bands.
And that kind of faded away, FM radio came into its own and psychedelic music came in, albums were the new medium of expression.
CG: Well, Corpus certainly has a musical rich history, I mean for the size of the town.
Yeah, it’s amazing the amount of music that came out of Corpus.
CG: Yeah. I don’t know what it is.
Probably the fluoride in the water.
CG: Yeah, who knows?
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