|Originally published in the Orlando Weekly 10/2/03
Garage Days Revisited
By J.M. Dobies
|WE THE PEOPLE AND THE DECLINE AND FALL OF ROCK ’N ROLL:
A Brief Oral History
Summer 1966. At places like the Orlando Youth Center, Leesburg Armory, or the Coconut Teen Club, the scene is the same.
Hundreds upon hundreds of teens dancing to the beat stomped out by one or more of the top local bands maybe the Rockin’ Roadrunners, maybe Nation Rocking Shadows or Daytona’s Allman Joys but for our purposes, it’s We The People, a group of long-haired high schoolers whose latest single, “You Burn Me Up and Down,” is at that time getting mucho airplay on the city’s biggest rock station, WLOF-AM. A fan favorite, the song contains all the classic garage rock ingredients: wild drums, buzzing fuzztone guitars, swirling electric organ, wailing harmonica, and a hormonally-charged lead vocal by 16-year-old Tommy Talton that’s a cocky hybrid of Jagger and Dylan.
On Monday morning, the band members will be back in class, subject to being hassled by teachers about the length of their hair, but on the weekends, they are rock ‘n roll stars. They rule.
Although they enjoyed only regional chart success in their time, We The People has come to be regarded as one of the finest “lost” bands of the ’60s, thanks to the recordings they left behind on a handful of singles, mostly for small Florida labels, and a couple of EPs released only in France. A while back, Sundazed Records released Mirror of Our Minds, which collects all of the band’s recorded output on two CDs.
Jeff Lemlich (collector/historian): “We The People's The Mirror of Our Minds is quite simply the finest ’60s reissue, ever.”
David Duff (guitarist/vocalist for We The People, the Nonchalants, and the Offbeets,): “They sent me a copy of the Mirror CD, but I haven’t listened to it. I should put it on sometime.”
Jeff Lemlich: “Some of the greatest bands in history had one genius songwriter to guide them. We The People had two! Tommy Talton and Wayne Proctor were amazing. One moment the band could snarl and distort and create sonic anarchy, and then the next moment they could harmonize and play a minor chord ballad that could bring tears to my eyes.”
David Duff: “Everybody in We The People was a nice guy. You couldn’t say that about all the other musicians that were around at the time. There were always some creeps or guys that were so stuck on themselves that the other guys in their group didn’t like ’em. We The People were always just a bunch of nice guys…Nobody was trying to be Mr. Star.”
A “supergroup” of sorts, We The People was created by manager Ron Dillman, a local rock ’n roll heavyweight (in more ways than one at the time, he weighed over 350 pounds) who disbanded two groups to create a third, a new and improved model.
David Duff: “We The People was put together out of the parts of two bands, the Offbeets [from Winter Park] and the Trademarks, who were from Leesburg. We used to practice at an auto parts store owned by [organist] Randy [Boyte]’s dad.”
While the two forms of dance on display at modern-day rock shows are either the “stand-and-nod” or the general mayhem of moshing, back in the day, people actually danced to bands.
David Duff: “On the weekends, everybody would go the youth centers to dance. The better the band was, the more kids there’d be, and the more fun it would be. In ’66, We The People set the attendance record at the Orlando Youth Center with 15 or 16 hundred kids.”
Wayne Proctor (guitarist/vocalist, We The People, The Trademarks): “If you knew what the Orlando Youth Center looked like, you’d think it was pretty impressive. The acoustics were great and it had a big, huge dance floor.”
Eric T. Schabacker: “When I was with the Starfires and Little Willie & the Adolescents, the places to play were WLOF Funtown at the American Legion Hall, and of course the Orlando Youth Center, which had two different rooms. The main ballroom was for the younger teens, while the Witch’s Hut was for the older ones. They didn’t want the older kids corrupting the younger kids.”
Ray Ehmen (Rock ’n Roll Heaven): “In addition to the Youth Center and Armory shows, there was a lot of action at the Brittany Room and the Coconut Club.”
David Duff: “There’s hardly anything recognizable left. The building where the Orlando Youth Center used to be is still there, and I think the Winter Park Youth Center is now a women’s shelter. All the Youth Centers here in town disappeared in the early ’70s. I felt bad for the bands coming up after us, because they didn’t have the same places to play.”
In late 1966, We The People released what many consider to be the band’s finest recording, the two-sided local hit “In the Past” backed with “St. John’s Shop.” Local rock station WLOF-AM chose to feature the softer B-side over the more psychedelic A-side, pushing it all the way to number two on the charts.
Ray Ehmen: “Bill Vermillion the ‘Weird Beard’ was the program director at WLOF. He picked the hits for the ‘Funderful 40,’ and a lot of local bands charted. That could never happen now.”
Terry Cox (drummer, We The People): “‘St. John’s Shop’ is huge. That is one beautiful song. Wayne wrote some beautiful songs.”
Kurt Curtis (collector/historian/King of the Oldies): “We The People's recording of ‘In The Past’ is a masterpiece.”
Mal Thursday (host, “Florida Rocks Again!”): “My favorite We The People track is ‘When I Arrive,’ from ’68. It was a b-side on RCA. It’s in a category by itself. Florida Freakbeat.”
David Duff: “Florida was musically way ahead of its time. We’d go up to Nashville and they’d never seen guys with long hair and mod clothes. We blew their minds.”
After putting out four killer singles in 1966, and getting some chart action elsewhere in the South, We The People became a road machine, traveling hundreds of miles every weekend in support of their singles, playing teen centers, high school gyms, and the occasional larger venue.
David Duff: “We played to 40,000 kids in Louisville, on a bill with the Royal Guardsmen [also from Florida, a one-hit wonder with ‘Snoopy vs. the Red Baron’], the Lemon Pipers, and the Buckinghams…Some nights, we’d be playing, I’d look at Tommy and we’d be connecting, and it would give you goose-bumps. We knew when we were on, that it sounded good.”
Ray Ehmen: “We The People were not the best musicians in town, nor did they have the best show. Noah’s Ark smoked everyone live. But history has been rewritten because We The People made those great recordings with [Nashville-based producer] Tony Moon.”
Jeff Lemlich: “I know some locals insist there were other bands that were much better live, but more than 35 years later, it's the recordings that are left behind, and judging from those recordings, I truly believe We The People to be on par with bands such as Love or the Left Banke.”
David Duff: “It was an adventure, I’ll say that. You’re young, on the road, what could be more fun?”
In early ’67, with graduation and the draft looming, Proctor quit the band, while continuing to write songs for producer Tony Moon. His composition ‘Follow the Yellow Brick Road’ was a minor hit for the Lemonade Charade in 1968.
Wayne Proctor: “It seemed to have gotten nowhere. I was getting tired of playing and practicing for what seemed like nothing.”
Ray Ehmen: “Wayne quit the band, and for a while he played tag with the military. But his back ended up getting him out of [the draft]. Tommy Talton left a year or so later, and went on to form the band Cowboy.”
The line-up was not the only thing that was changing. The summer of ’67 brought with it the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album, as well as the heavy psychedelia of Jimi Hendrix and the San Francisco groups. The new music was at odds with We The People’s pop-soul sound. The band soldiered on, with Carl Chambers taking Tommy’s place in the line-up, but the magic was gone.
Terry Cox: “I can almost pinpoint the day where everybody who was dancing around, jumping around, raising hell, packing the place, instead sat down on the floor and expected to hear ‘In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida.’”
David Duff: “The mood changed. And it was a change for the worse. I can remember playing in Gainesville at the University of Florida. We go set up in one of the frat basements and play all night, and there’d be nobody in the room. Everybody was upstairs in their rooms, smoking dope and having sex. I liked it better when everybody danced.”
After five years, Manager Ron Dillman decided to break up the band, left the music business, and, according to David Duff, proceeded to lose 180 pounds. We The People’s last job was a show on Halloween night 1970 that was a far cry from their legendary Halloween ’66 rave-up at the Leesburg Armory.
David Duff: “After We The People split up [fall 1970], it was hard. I got a gig backing up strippers at Club One in Fern Park. Finally, I had to walk away from it. Music’s like a drug. When the music was over for me, I had to stop listening to it. For years and years. I figured, if I can’t do it, I don’t want to hear it. Now I can listen, but for a long time, I couldn’t. Sometimes I’ll be listening to the oldies station, and a song we used to play will come on, and I go right back there, 35 years. I can almost taste the music.”
Thanks to Sundazed and Gear Fab for additional interviews.
KEEPER OF A GROOVY FLAME
Local Label Digs Up Lost ’60s Bands, Unearths Some Great Music
By JM Dobies
In the mid-1960s, Orlando was a different world from the city we live in today. Eric T. Schabacker, who ran BeeJay Booking and Recording, as well as the Tener record label, remembers, “The streets were dead at 8 o’clock. In the spring, there was the wonderful scent of orange blossoms. It was a different Florida. The environment hadn’t been raped.”
While the landscape of Orlando has since been altered forever, somehow the music of that era has survived. Thanks to people like Roger Maglio and his Orlando-based Gear Fab Records, old recordings by such long-forgotten local bands as the Barons and the Rockin’ Roadrunners are available on shiny, digitally remastered CD (and vinyl, too!). Started in 1997, Gear Fab is now widely regarded as one of the best reissue labels in the world, thanks in large part to Roger’s policy of finding and working with the original members of the bands he reissues.
Of course, Gear Fab wouldn’t be reissuing songs like the Rockin’ Roadrunners’ “Down” were it not for the efforts of people like Schabacker, who recorded these bands, and got their singles pressed. “There weren’t many local studios at the time,” he recalls. “There was one that was run by a guy named Don Gore, who recorded bands at his brake shop, and he had Pine Hill Records. He recorded the Malemen and the Undertakers. Tener Records was an effort by some college kids to make records and distribute them nationally. We had a dozen releases as a legitimate label, and many more as a custom imprint. I started Bee Jay Booking with Bob Johnson, then Bob went to Viet Nam. Then I started my own studio, to record the bands I was trying to book.”
Maglio, a manager for contracts and procurements at Lockheed-Martin a fitting day job for someone running an indie label is currently overseeing the release of his latest project, a reissue of the ultra-obscure 1972 Grey Wizard Am I album by Gandalf the Grey, while also preparing for full-length CDs from the Hustlers (mid-’60s Miami garage) and Blue Max (Canadian prog rock from ’75) later this fall. Through his garage rock compilation series Psychedelic Crown Jewels and Psychedelic States (which takes a more regional approach), he has unearthed many a buried 45 from some of the thousands of bands who were active in the original garage era of 1965-68. The music ranges from the obligatory fuzzed-out stompers, to Byrdsian folk-rock, Beatlesque power pop, and post-Hendrix heaviness.
“The compilations are a lot of work,” Maglio says, “But they’re popular.”
When the time comes to assemble another collection of garage nuggets, Maglio gets a little help from his friends. Collector/historian Jeff Lemlich has lent his time and his vinyl to many a Gear Fab project. “Roger got in touch with me [and] decided to get me involved. Besides, no one else had the Blues Messengers, Neighborhood of Love, or Echo 45s.”
Super-sleuth Mike Markesich, Max Waller, Kurt “King of the Oldies” Kurtis, and Ray Ehmen from Rock ’n Roll Heaven also contribute information and potential tracks for the various anthologies. “You listen to hundreds of songs, trying to find the best of the best,” Ehmen says. Marathon listening sessions involving beer and pizza engender lively debate over which tracks merit inclusion. Ultimately, it’s Maglio’s call. “We all make suggestions,” Lemlich says. “But in the end it’s Roger who decides which records are included.”
Judging by the three volumes of Psychedelic States: Florida in the ’60s , Roger has chosen well. The uniformly high quality is uncommon in garage rock compilations. Featured are a few regional radio hits, some well-known “classics” (among garage-o-philes, that is), and many long-unheard nuggets given their first commercial release in over 30 years. Among the Orlando bands that make appearances in the series are the Mysteries, the Shy Guys, and Plant Life (“Flower Girl”).
Although Gear Fab is known for its garage rock anthologies, the label’s bread and butter continues to be full-length reissues of rare LPs from obscure ’60s and ’70s bands. Bands with names like Lumbee. Stack. Froggie Beaver. Shadrack Chameleon.
Which begs the question, where does he finds these guys?
“Sometimes I find them, sometimes they find me,” says Maglio “Some of them you can’t find, because the fact is a lot of them are dead,” he explains. “Musicians can be temperamental, a little on the unbalanced side. A lot of these guys did not die of natural causes, let me put it that way…Some of them died in Viet Nam. A lot of them go on to be very successful doctors, lawyers. One guy is a brain surgeon.”
The Twelfth Night, who make a couple of appearances on Gear Fab’s Psychedelic States series, are living proof that playing in a rock band does not always lead to a life of degradation and depravity. In 1965, Orlando teen combo the Emotions decides to change their name to the Twelfth Night, “influenced by Shakespeare and Bob Dylan.” Financed by guitarist Don Hall’s dad, the band record a single, “Grim Reaper”/“I Don’t Believe You,” and put it out on their own label. After the 45 gets a couple of spins on WLOF, the band gets “sternly reprimanded, because our friends and family were calling the station hundreds of times a day,” says Hall. After a name change to Covington Tower, the band would break up in 1969, when “life sort of sent us off on our own ways.” One former member went on to become head of the Seminole High School music department, another a Special Ed teacher at Sanford Middle School, while two went on to work together in an Orlando construction firm. One member, however, stayed in the music business, and spent 20 years as “Weird Al” Yankovic’s bass player.
In a February 2000 interview with Billboard Magazine, he laid out the three essential ingredients required for any Gear Fab reissue: “First and foremost, it’s gotta be a real obscure album or band, and the original LPs and 45s go for big thousands of dollars real rare…They have to have been out on an independent label that’s not affiliated with a conglomerate. [Major labels] don’t have the time of day for licensing. Third is that I have to work with the guys in the band…If I can’t do all three of those, I can’t put out the reissue I want to do.”
“However,” Roger qualifies, “If it’s rare and it stinks, I’m not going to put it out.”
While one might expect the audience for groups like Yancy Derringer or Sky Farmer to be the graying refugees of the love generation it actually skews twenty-something. “Half our customers are 30 or younger,” he claims. While acknowledging that the current garage revival has helped somewhat, he also contends that “a lot of it has to do with what’s not happening today in music.”
Gear Fab is a refreshing change from other reissue labels, many of whom are essentially bootleggers, making no effort to compensate the groups on their compilation albums. “Labels such as Gear Fab reflect a new reality,” says Lemlich. “In the early days of compilations, the [labels] didn't give a shit. They knew their product had a very limited market, and would not get any mainstream press or radio attention, so they felt there was little risk in putting out whatever they pleased. Now just about everybody is on the internet, and let's face it everybody Googles their own name! What's to stop a guy from Googling his old band's name, and finding out the material has been reissued and someone is getting money off of it?”
Maglio speaks out against labels who “continue to release material illegally and unethically” in the liner notes to the second volume of the Crown Jewels series. “Too many labels, some clandestine, some well-known…make no attempt to locate, solicit, and involve the people who made this music. This is truly a travesty of justice,” he writes. “Once again, the almighty dollar triumphs over a generation’s music that spoke out so loudly against the establishment.”
One form of piracy Roger doesn’t have to worry about is internet file-sharing. Searches for Gear Fab artists such as “Majic Ship,” “Merkin,” and “Pugsley Munion” yielded no results on KaZaa. There were 67 matches for “Cannabis,” but they were either hip-hop or comedy-related, not the early-’70s hippie band from Rhode Island.
Having already re-released the work of so many long-forgotten bands, Roger Maglio is confident that there are still more lost classics waiting to be discovered. “As much as all this stuff has been researched, I still think that for every one we’ve found, there could be five or ten we haven’t found.”
The Gear Fab catalogue is available online at www.swiftsite/gearfab.
OTHER KEEPERS OF THE FLAME:
RAY EHMEN/ROCK & ROLL HEAVEN:
Every weekend, you can find collector extraordinaire Ray Ehmen behind the counter at Rock & Roll Heaven in Northwest Orlando, presiding over a vast selection of CDs, vintage LPs, 45s, and other musical artifacts. For over a quarter-century, Rock & Roll Heaven has been an oasis of old-school in an increasingly homogeneous retail landscape. “In ’87, I took over the store from a friend of mine, who’d started the business in ’77,” Ehmen recalls. “It went from being a hobby to being a full-time job. But I wouldn’t be doing it if I wasn’t having fun.”
Rock& Roll Heaven, 1814 N. Orange Street, Orlando, (407) 896-1952.
KURT “K.O.T.O.” CURTIS
Kurt “K.O.T.O.” Curtis, the “King of the Oldies,” started out in the ’60s spinning records at Big Daddy’s in Daytona Beach. Now living in Clearwater, Curtis has combined exhaustive research with over 1,000 items of memorabilia from his personal collection to produce a labor of love entitled Florida’s Famous and Forgotten: Florida’s Rock, Dance, and Soul Music 1955-1985: the First 30 Years, a massive, 1500-page illustrated encyclopedia.
Curtis’s comprehensive study, which he refers to as “the Bible,” has been in the works for 22 years (and counting), with pre-orders dating back several years. Like a rock & roll Sisyphus, K.O.T.O. has relentlessly pursued his dream, despite many setbacks. By the time a series of graphic designers had come and gone one absconded with $10,000 and a stack of rare 45s he’d already sunk $30,000 of his own money into the project. In June of this year, Curtis found a publisher, Florida Media Incorporated, who promise to publish the book by January 2004.
For more information, go to www.kingoftheoldies.com.
FLORIDA ROCKS AGAIN!
Every week, Mal Thursday hosts “Florida Rocks Again!,” a syndicated radio hour chronicling the state’s musical history. The time frame is similar to Curtis’s book: from mid-’50s R&B and rockabilly to a little past Skynyrd’s plane crash, with a bold mix of the famous and the obscure. Thursday describes the show as being “sort of like ‘Little Steven’s Underground Garage,’ but even hipper, because it’s more obscure.” Currently heard in St. Augustine and Jacksonville, Thursday hopes to get the show on the air in Orlando, Tampa, South Florida, and the Panhandle by the beginning of next year. It’s been a long time since the “Funderful 40,” but this could be the next best thing.
For more information, go to www.floridarocksagain.com
JEFF LEMLICH’S TOP FIVE ORLANDO 45s:
(1) WE THE PEOPLE “In the Past’ and “The Day She Dies”
“The former for its unique octachord [a sort of 8-stringed electric mandolin] and great moody vibe. The latter for the amazing vocal bridge that outdoes any of the major harmony groups of the era.”
Available on the genius double-disc retrospective The Mirror of Our Minds (www.sundazed.com). The high water mark of Orlando rock.
(2) NATION ROCKING SHADOWS “Anesthesia”
“Surf music in the surgery room I think the ‘scalpel, sponge, suture’ part is very psychedelic for its time from the pen of the tormented Ronnie Skinner.” In the mid-’60s, Skinner played shredding lead guitar while fronting local boss hosses Nation Rocking Shadows; in the ’80s, he was sentenced to life in prison for attempting to take out two Florida state troopers with a hand grenade.
(3) WRONG NUMBERS “The Way I Feel”
“Mt. Dora teens digging the West Coast sound, and bringing jangly guitars to the armory stages.”
Their garage punk classic “I Gotta Go Now” is available on Teenage Shutdown: The World Ain’t Round, It’s Square (www.cryptrecords.com).
(4) TWELFTH NIGHT “Grim Reaper”
“Just a cool overall sound, both lyrically and musically.”
Available on Gear Fab’s Psychedelic States: Florida in the ’60s, Volume One (www.swiftsite.com/gearfab).
(5) ROCKIN' ROADRUNNERS “Go Away”
“Sanford teens with a really haunting sound. ‘Down’ was a good one, too.”
“Go Away” available on Gear Fab’s Psychedelic Crown Jewels, Volume 2. “Down” available on Gear Fab’s Psychedelic States, Florida in the ’60s, Volume 2.
HATE BOMBS: "Safe Harbour" / “Peckinpah Man”
“The original band, with Mick Crowley, had a terrific mix of bombast and dynamics. ‘Safe Harbour’ tops my list of favorite 7-inch singles released in the ’90s.”
Originally released in 1994 on Speed-o-Meter Records. The reigning kings of Orlando garage are currently on “permanent hiatus,” but don’t despair: their savage fury is captured in The Last Days of the Hate Bombs, released earlier this year on DVD, and on their classic long-player Hunt You Down.
Jeff Lemlich is the author of Savage Lost: Florida Garage Bands: The’60s and Beyond, which is available at www.limestonerecords.com. He is well-known for his encyclopedic knowledge of Florida rock and R&B, as well as his mind-boggling record collection. He has contributed many of his rare 45s and acetates for several Gear Fab projects, and is a producer for the “Florida Rocks Again!” radio program.