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HISTORY

in San Antonio '67The Sweetarts were born in 1965 in Austin, Texas. Two members of a productive frat band, the Chevelles, struck out on their own after playing "Hot Nuts", a particularly raunchy frat favorite, one too many times. Drummer Dwight Dow (from Wink, Texas, home of Roy Orbison) and then-bassist, Ernie Gammage from Houston recruited two more players to round out the Sweetarts, Version 1. Different in more ways than one, the initial Sweetarts included two African-American musicians, a guitarist whose name is lost and Erbie Bowser on keyboards. "The Sweetarts -- Half Black, Half White. You Gotta Hear 'Em, They're Outta Site"!

While all-Black bands were a staple of the University of Texas frat party scene ("Cookie and the Cupcakes", Freddie King, etc.), a racially mixed band was a rarity. Within a short time, the demands of the fraternity circuit and the disparity between the musical styles of the two halves of the group brought the Sweetarts, Version 1 to an end. The new Sweetarts recruited two new musicians, and Gammage switched from bass to guitar. Tom Van Zandt (no, not "Townes Van Zandt", but a distant cousin) stepped in on keyboard (Wurlitzer piano initially, then Farfisa organ), and Pat Whitefield from Dallas became the band's bass player. Mike Galbraith, a high school friend of Gammage's rounded out the group on vocals and percussion. Everyone sang.

With a bag of Gammage-penned original tunes, the band landed a record deal with Dallas-based Vandan Records. Vandan had had a national hit with the Nightcaps' "Wine, Wine, Wine", ("you get a nickel -- I'll get a dime") which quickly became a fraternity classic. The Sweetarts single single for the label was "So Many Times" b/w "You Don't Have To Hurt Me" released in 1966. A hundred dollars in payola got the record rated on American Bandstand in December of that year. It got a 70, but they "liked the beat!"

Radio airplay in Austin and a fortuitous win of the AquaFestival Battle of the Bands brought the Sweetarts to the attention of Sonobeat Records' Bill Josey, station manager of radio station KAZZ-FM, a freeform FM alternative to the Top 40 AM stations of the day. Josey and son Bill Jr. (DJ "Rim Kelly") released "Picture of Me" b/w "Without You" in 1967. Purportedly, this was the world's first "Compatible Stereo 45", meaning it could be played on both monaural and the new stereo hi-fi equipment.

Josey and Sonobeat went on to "discover" albino Beaumont bluesman Johnny Winter. Winter's only Sonobeat recording, "Progressive Blues Experiment" was released in 1967.

The Sweetarts enjoyed regional success, steady club dates (a year of Wednesdays at the New Orleans Club in Austin, later home to the Elevators), and frat gigs and private parties galore. The band went through several personnel changes, including adding a new guitarist, moving Gammage to vocals only, and beefing up its sound with the addition of Tom's Hammond organ. The Sweetarts finally morphed in to "Fast Cotton" in 1969 adding or changing more personnel, and by 1970, members had scattered to points as diverse as London and Adis Ababa.

Today, three of the original members still perform and four of them live in Austin.

Band bios: Ernie Gammage | Dwight Dow | Pat Whitefield | Tom Van Zandt | Mike Galbraith


Ernie Gammage

I grew up in Houston, listening to the tail end of the crooners of the 40s and 50s on the radio. I still have a soft spot for great voices like Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Jo Stafford. My real musical passion, however, became rock and roll and rhythm and blues. I remember riding in a car in West Texas with a cousin -- I must have been about 12 -- and hearing Little Richard sing "Tutti Fruiti". My cousin pulled over and stopped so we could listen more closely. The same thing happened the first time I heard Otis Reading's "Pain In My Heart". This was in high school. I immediately headed over to Houston's 5th Ward to the King Bee Record and Barbershop and bought a copy. Otis is my all-time favorite. Got to see him live in Austin around 1966.

In junior high school I started playing the guitar and writing songs and poetry. In high school I listened to Jimmy Reed, Bobby "Blue" Band, and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, My senior year I took a crack at starting a band, but graduated before anything came of it. I'd sung in the church choir from the time I was 10 or so and the chorus in school and loved to sing. Still do!

When I came to Austin to go to college at the University of Texas in 1963, I met a guy at a Phi Gam frat party who heard me play and sing. He called me up and said he wanted to start a band and wanted me to play bass, which I had never done. Charlie Hatchett was about 4 years older and had had a successful band in Lubbock, the Raiders. Anyway, we started the Fabulous Chevelles and took off from there, raising our price every couple of months because we could. We learned every Beatle song as soon as it came out and were the top band on campus. Not long after settling in, I started writing songs that the band learned. Sometimes I created them on the spot and the band would just follow as best they could.

From that point in time, I've always been in a band -- can't imagine life without making music. Following the Fabulous Chevelles were the Sweetarts, then Fast Cotton, then Mota, then Plum Nelly, then Mother of Pearl, then Ernie Sky and the K-Tels, then the Ernie Sky Orquestra, then the NewMatics, my current band. I've got recordings of every band I've every played in and tons of material of one kind or another in the can.

Along the way I've written, produced, and performed on many jingles, started a boutique record label, toured Europe and worked with many of my heroes including James Brown, Sam (and Dave) Moore, BB King, Albert King, and more. I worked steadily at Austin's Armadillo World Headquarters in the '70s and figured out once about ten years ago that I'd performed for over 1,000,000 people in my career. If I only had a nickel...

I love music, especially the music of other cultures, in languages I can't understand played on instruments the names of which I can't pronounce. I prefer music that moves the heart and hind rather than head.

Except for a stint in England in the early '70s (Rod Stewart came close to cutting a song I'd written) I've lived in Austin, Texas since I was 18. As of today, that's 38 years ago!


Dwight Dow

I grew up in the small West Texas town of Wink. I learned most of my music and drum skills in the high school band, and played drums in a trio, The Madcaps, my senior year, for several hometown teen dances. However, most influential to eventually leading me to playing in bands in the '60's were the area groups that played at the youth centers in neighboring West Texas and New Mexico towns. Bands such as The Sparkles, The Regals and especially Roy Orbison who began with The Wink Westerners, then The Teen Kings and thereafter just Roy Orbison.

st business card
Sweetarts business card
Although I was four years younger than Roy and his band members, we were in school and the school band together and we were all neighbors. So, my exposure to these guys in their practice sessions, school events and the many, many Saturday night dances with The Teen Kings planted the seed, and after a couple of years of college at North Texas, with even more exposure to the music scene, I finally bought my first set of drums and committed to at least a part time musical career.

Upon transferring to the University of Texas, I played in some small club bands, Ronny Cells and the Continentals, The Nutones and others I can't remember until I met Ernie Gammage and Charlie Hatchett and joined them to form The Chevelles, then went with Ernie with Sweetarts and later a mix of Sweetarts and others started Fast Cotton.

Fast Cotton was the beginning of the end for me. I think that this group, although short lived, was, musically, moving exactly in the direction I had dreamed of, with a bigger sound, with horns, with a bent towards the blues along with some serious effort towards some original music. By this time, Austin was becoming saturated with bands and it seemed, in order to compete and to have any success, one needed to be committed full time to the effort.

Too many good things were happening for me all at once. The band was cooking, I had gotten married and had a baby boy, I was within one semester of graduating form UT with a Bachelor's degree in Architecture and had a position waiting for me in the firm where I was working part time. It was obvious, at least to me, that I couldn't do it all and choose to eventually give up music, Fast Cotton being my last stand. It was an experience similar to quitting smoking, the first few years were tough but I don't think much about playing anymore, although the memories are as strong as ever.

My wife and I are still living in Austin, I am in the residential construction business and a proud Grandpa of three and one more on the way.


Pat Whitefield

My first memory of meeting Ernie Gammage was at a Delta Tau Delta fraternity party at the University of Texas. I had pledged early during "Rush" week and they had me sitting around in the frat house just strumming on an electric guitar. One afternoon I was introduced to Ernie who proceeded to sit down and play guitar along with me. Later in the week at one of the "Rush" parties I heard what I now suppose was the original Sweetarts. Ernie was playing with Dwight Dow and two black guys and as they were starting on their break I heard Ernie say as he was leaving the stage, "Sweetarts, half black, half white. You gotta hear em, they're outa sight."

About two weeks later Ernie called and asked if I wanted to play a party at the Pi Kappa Alpha house on the coming weekend. I immediately agreed and then he told me that I would have to play bass, something I had never done before, but that I could also play a few songs on guitar. Ernie had an hollow body Kay bass that he loaned me and showed me his gray stiff Herco pick with which he said I would get the best tone. All I remember about that night was how unbelievably difficult playing bass was physically. I think Tom Van Zandt also played that first night on Wurlitzer piano, but I was so caught up in playing a totally new instrument that I remember little else about the first gig. Beer consumption might have played a part in my memory loss.

Ernie and Dwight had played the previous two or three years with Charlie Hatchett in a band called the Chevelles. Charlie played guitar in that band while Ernie played bass and sang. All three of them sang, but Ernie did most of the lead vocals. I couldn't believe the quality of Ernie's voice. I came to Austin from Dallas where we listened to more blues than any other type of music. I grew up on Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker, Lightning' Hopkins, Little Walter, The Nightcaps, Muddy Waters, Freddie King, T-bone Walker, Ray Charles, Ike and Tina Turner, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and all the artists who played on New Orleans, Home of the Blues. We all tried learning the guitar parts to the songs by those artists, but no one I knew in Dallas could sing anything like the black blues vocalists. Ernie could and did. He had grown up in Houston, Texas and had listened to a slightly different style of blues and rhythm and blues than we had in Dallas.

Most of our jobs were fraternity parties. There were, I think, thirty-two fraternities at the University of Texas back then and they all threw two or three parties each weekend. We played as many as we could and still attend classes. The clubs that I remember playing were Swingers A GoGo, the Jade Room, the New Orleans Club and the Saracen Club. When we would finish playing our gigs we would go to Jack's Shine Parlor (to buy after hours whiskey and listen to jazz on the jukebox) while our favorite black band, the Jets, tore down at Charlie's Playhouse and proceeded over to Ernie's Chicken Shack where they played the 1:00 AM until 5:00 AM set. Many a dawn was seen from the parking lot of Ernie's Chicken Shack.

We listened to the bands on the frat circuit simply because we could take our breaks and walk down the street and hear five or six different bands. We heard the Sparkles and the Chevelle Five (from Lubbock), the Chessmen and the Bricks (from Dallas), the Felicity (from east Texas), Cookie and the Cupcakes (from Louisiana), the Chevelles, the Strawberry Shoemaker, the Wig, the Baby Cakes, Shiva's Headband, the Jets, T.D. Bell, the Mustangs, Georgetown Medical Band, Roky and the Thirteenth Floor Elevators (all local Austin bands) and any national touring acts that came our way such as Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Bobby Blue Bland, Mother Earth, the Beach Boys, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Head, Freddy King, Albert Collins, and anyone else who graced our little town with their presence.

Bands in Austin mostly fell into one of two categories: frat or freak. And, though the freak bands embraced the times and the attendant chemical mind enhancers, most of the best musicians were in the frat bands since that was where the money was during the mid to late sixties. We were a frat band and Roky's Thirteenth Floor Elevators were the freak band and I don't think that either of us influenced the other in the least.


Tom Van Zandt

I was born in Lima, Peru, where my dad was stationed in the waning days of WWII. Shortly after the war ended, we moved back to Fort Worth, where my father's family was from, and where I grew up. Music was always a big part of life in our house. As a teenager, my mother had been a featured singer with some of the influential big bands of the 30's -- Paul Whiteman, Eddie Duchin, Al Donahue. In Fort Worth, she had a live musical variety show on WBAP-TV, and she prevailed on her accompanist to give piano lessons to me and my sister. When I got to where I could play the current "Hit Parade" hits from the sheet music, I was hooked. My dad convinced me to press on into classical music, and I continued to study off and on through high school.

At the University of Texas, everybody's favorite frat party band in 1963 was The Fabulous Chevelles, led by Charlie Hatchett but fronted by Ernie Gammage, a freshman, like me. After a few months of going to fraternity parties, it struck me that the guys in the band -- like Ernie and Dwight and Charlie in the Chevelles, or Bobby Smith and Lucky Floyd in the Sparkles -- were having more fun than the party-goers. I scrounged up some money and bought a Wurlitzer electric piano, of the famous Ray Charles "What'd I Say" sound. With a couple of my pledge brothers as a rhythm section, we found a guy from Dallas who had actually played in a combo in high school and could sing and play guitar at the same time. The Four Skins (I came up with the name) weren't very good, so we compensated by being dirty. We played "Hot Nuts", "Cherry Pie", and most of the rest of the Doug Clark oeuvre. Inexplicably, we gained something of a following among certain fraternities. I think it was toward the end of the Spring semester of 1964 that Ernie told me that he and Dwight were thinking of jumping ship from the Chevelles, and asked me to join the new venture. It was a big step up, musically, and I jumped at it.

For the next six years, the Sweetarts-Fast Cotton juggernaut was an integral part of my life, probably more so than my classes at U.T. Whenever I began to get that burned out feeling, some new development on the local or national music scene would come along to keep things interesting. As a keyboard player, there was a lot to keep up with, as the prevailing musical tastes progressed from three chord guitar specials to the richer, more complex arrangements of groups like Procol Harum, Deep Purple, the Rascals, and yes, Vanilla Fudge. Instrumentally, I followed a similar progression, from the Wurlitzer to a Farfisa (with the famous knee bar squealer), to my ultimate rig -- a Hammond M-3 with amplified Leslie cabinet, paired with an RMI electric piano. Although I never succeeded in amplifying the M-3 enough to keep up with a seriously loud lead guitar player, like Steve Weisberg and his double stack Marshalls, the set up was plenty loud.

By 1970, as I neared the end of law school and my draft deferment, I knew it was time to move on. I joined the Peace Corps and for the next few years served as Legal Adviser to the Ministry of Public Works and Water Resources in Ethiopia. During my tour in Addis Ababa I met a very attractive girl volunteer from Southern California who became a good friend and tennis partner. This June, Sandy and I will celebrate our 26th anniversary, along with our sons Nicholas and Peter.

After getting another degree from U.W -- Madison, I had some interesting jobs in the environmental field in Washington, D.C.and then back in Madison. The work was good, but those Wisconsin winters were brutal, and on frequent trips back south I noticed that the always interesting Austin music scene was becoming even more interesting. Sandy and I returned to Austin in 1979, just in time for the Cosmic Cowboy phenomenon, Armadillo World Headquarters, and beginnings of Sixth Street.

For the next ten years, I worked for an environmental engineering firm, writing Environmental Impact Statements and learning the consulting business. In 1988, Sandy and I started our own business -- Hicks & Company -- which today has 35 employees and does impact assessment, archeological, wetlands, and endangered species projects in Texas and several other Southwestern states. I have occasionally worked on minor musical projects, usually recruited by Pat Whitefield, the only original member of the Sweetarts still working as a full time musician. We worked in a progressive cocktail ensemble called the Savoy Quartet for several years. I love playing those great old songs, which I heard around the house as a kid. If I ever get rich enough to retire, I plan to start a second (third?) career as a cocktail pianist for middle-aged alcoholics. I am busy working on the repertoire now.


Mike Galbraith

I grew up in Houston singing in church and school choirs. I have always loved the kind of songs that were on the Lucky Strike Hit Parade with Snooky Lanson: "Wanted", "You Belong to Me", "Tell Me Why", even "How Much is That Doggie in the Window"? So I love to harmonize. My first blush with professional music came when, as a member of the Blue Notes, a junior high sextet, I auditioned for TV's Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour at Houston's old Shamrock Hotel. We did not win, but a co-contestant was none other than Roy Head who later had the mega hit "Treat Her Right." He won! I believe he actually went on to be on the national TV program.

Ernie and I had been the best of friends in high school in Houston. Ernie always had his guitar in his hands and he would play we would harmonize for hours on end at his house. I also enjoyed school choir and some musical drama work.

I had gone to Texas Tech as a freshman, but I spent almost every weekend in Austin at The University of Texas with Ernie and other old high-school chums. After transferring to UT in 1964, Ernie and I roomed together. Often times I'd go to the frat parties that the Chevelles were playing and eventually I'd come to the stage and do some back up singing. After Ernie formed the Sweetarts sometime in 1965, I would come to the gigs and sing frequently. Soon I was an official member of the Sweetarts as a back up singer and roadie. We had some memorable experiences as a band and as friends.

There is a wealth of information in the other guys' bios, but I just remembered something we did regularly that was actually quite commendable. We played regularly at the Brown School for exceptional children in Austin. They had regular dances and we were the band for many gigs. There were two guys that stick in my mind. Henry Mooth who constantly waved his hand in front of his face. When asked what he was doing he said, "Wavin' at the sun, what else?" Then there was another huge guy, I can't think of his name. He wore coveralls and was from Mississippi or somewhere in the southeast I think. He would come up to Dwight and say, "You know, I played in a band too!" We would say, "Is that right what kind of band?" He would say, "It's a band of only drummers." "How unique", was the reply, "How many drummers?" His answer "500!" Same story every time. The Brown School dance was something we all looked forward to.

Some of the characters of the Austin band scene in those days included Mike Hinton, (who became a DA in Houston)and Dave McNeely (now writer for the Austin paper) both were in frat bands. Gary Nunn (now Gary P. Nunn) was a singer for one of the regular lounge bands. Longhorn gridders, Pete Lammons (later of the NY Jets) and Bill Bradley (later of the Philadelphia Eagles) were regulars at many 'Tart gigs.

Houston has been my home for 30 years. I work for a large land developer, managing contractors in their construction work. I'm have been married to a great gal, Sally for 32 years this December. Together, we have produced 3 girls and a boy; ages ranging from 27 to 20 years old -- no grandkids yet.

Musically, the only child to try their hand is my 20-year-old son, Ryan who is a drummer. He has played in several bands and is currently with Reborn Pulse of San Marcos. Ironically, 2002 San Marcos reminds me a lot of the Austin of the 60's.

I still sing in church, in choir, solos and duets. If the Sweetarts have a reunion concert, I'll zip up my Beatle boots, button my Beatle Jacket , tune my tambourine and take the stage with 'em.