by Rockin' Robin Brown
Singer, songwriter and guitarist Robin Brown was part of the Amarillo-Canyon scene in the mid to late sixties. When not playing onstage he hawked the best bands of the area and heard (and knew) some of the better musicians. Late in life he now enjoys kicking back in his garden furniture, reliving those memories through his personal articles which appear in print often.
Back in the mid-sixties the Student Union Building (SUB) in Canyon, Texas was a great place to hear a lot of local Rock bands and even some famous ones too! And even better, if you were in such a band it was a big honor to play in the SUB, as it was often called. Like most colleges and universities the SUB was a place where college students met and socialized during their off-hours. Dances, parties and banquets were often held here and I still remember the first time I played here in a 4-piece band called 'The Westwinds'. It was with big John Holcombe, Ronnie Hester and Gene Hefner. This was in late '64 or '65 while I was a freshman at West Texas State University (WTSU). We set up along the east wall in the main room and played a dance in the same spot where Lucky Floyd and the Sparkles often played, what a blast!! However my first neat experience at the SUB had occurred while I was still in high school. Older musician Ted Barnhill had invited me to ride up to Canyon and attend a Jerry Lee Lewis Show. This was in 1962 I think it was and Ol' Jerry Lee really rocked the joint, but the applause was about as sparse as the crowd. This was not long after Lewis had married his teenage cousin Myra Brown and his popularity was in the doldrums at the time. Anyway, here is a review of area Rock, Blues and Soul Bands that did play in the SUB in Canyon during the mid and later sixties.
The Sparkles of Levelland, Texas
The first really good rock band I heard in the SUB was the Sparkles of the Levelland area. I think it was in late sixty four or early sixty five when I first attended a dance in the SUB. The lead singer, Harold 'Lucky' Floyd was a master of copying famous singers of the day. He could pickup on almost any style and had a perfect imitation of Elvis, Orbison and even the English singers of the era. I remember the group did the Orbison hit "Pretty Woman" very well and then followed it with the Beatle song "Eight Days a Week" without skipping a beat. Then to top it all Lucky could even do James Brown songs with a lot of soul. The Sparkles of 1965 included: Lucky Floyd on drums and vocals, Stan Smith on lead guitar, Bobby Smith on Bass and Donnie Roberts on rhythm guitar. In early '64 three of the Sparkles had played 'The Hong Kong Lounge' in Amarillo. My trio had just auditioned there when the Sparkles came onstage and they simply blew us away! Floyd had joined the band in around 1960 after it had been in existence a couple of years.
By the mid-sixties they had evolved into the most popular rock band of the Panhandle and South Plains region and elsewhere. They even booked jobs for frat parties at University of Texas in Ausin during this time. After playing for into the mid-sixties and with a few personal changes they signed with Hickory Records of Nashville and had at least four singles on that reputable label. Although they never had a national hit in the USA one of their songs became a hit in Denmark (according to a fan that contacted me some years ago). My favorite song from their Hickory releases is "First Forget what has made you Blue". I recall hearing them perform this very song in the SUB at Canyon around 1967 just after it's release.
The Illusions of Amarillo
Amarillo rockers Mark Creamer (guitar) and Johnny Stark (drums) started a small band and did some recording in Clovis in 1964. At this same time a couple of young Amarillo singers Dale Gardner and Carrol Reams had also booked a session at Petty's studio there. These two male singers had enlisted bassist Ted Barnhill and drummer Gary Swafford to furnish the backup band which also included Nelson Wertman on lead-guitar and Robin Brown on rhythm-guitar for their 4-song session.
Not long after this Clovis encounter Gardner and Reams united with Creamer's group into a bigger band. With another guitartist (Jim Parker) these five musicians began booking under the name DC and the Gents and soon were playing at a teenage niteclub off Duniven Circle in Amarillo and elsewhere. These cats played a lot of the early Beatle stuff, songs like 'Twist and Shout' as I recall. Incidently, the DC in the name stood for Dale and Carrol. As it now appears James Carrol Reams played guitar and sang in the group for awhile but was eventually replaced by Dallas Smith. By 1965 the band had changed it's name to The Illusions and had about 5 members including the front man, Troy Dale Gardner. One of their favorite places to play was the Student Union Building in Canyon and this band was the 'most english' sounding group playing around Amarillo and Canyon at the time! The college students loved them and there was always a big crowd to hear them play at the SUB.
Around1967 the Illusions had moved to Los Angeles and had signed with Lee Hazelwood on his international label "LHI".
I suppose it was Hazelwood that decided to put their records out under the funky name of Kitchen Cinq. I don't think Creamer and the rest of the group liked the name nevertheless a number of the Illusions records are today listed in collectible guides as by the 'Kitchen Cinq'. They also had at least one single release on the Amarillo label Ruff Records which is probably hard to find today but it is not credited to the Illusions either (credited to the Y'all). My assessment of this band is this: They were a top-notch group of talented rockers that could play most anything they wished. By the mid-sixties they were probably Amarillo's finest Mercy copy band and had many die-hard fans.
The Vicounts of Amarillo
When Charlie Knight left the 'Gemini Five' of Canyon he fell in love with the new 'soul music' that was making the charts. Such artist as Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin and others were hot on the top forty about then. At this same time a new group arrived on the Amarillo-Canyon music scene. They were the 'Vicounts' from Minnesota and he soon had opportunity to join this fine band (on bass). Like many local groups of the time, they played for college dances at the SUB in Canyon and at various venues in nearby Amarillo.
The Vicounts were a large group of about 7-8 players which included trumpet and saxophones, along with drums, bass, keyboard and guitar. Their leader Deryl Moon played trumpet while Charlie Knight was on bass and Danny Darling was on drums. I've forgotten the rest of their names but I know some of them (including Moon) were originally from Minnesota. Danny Darling was from Pampa, Texas and seems to have joined the group after their original drummer named Scott quit. We met up with these same cats again (onstage) in Ruidosa, New Mexico at the end of 1966 but that's another story...
The circumstance of their arrival in this area is unknown to me but I do know that Deryl Moon was attending West Texas State in the fall of 1968. The Viscounts were a fine band that played around Amarillo and Lubbock during the mid and late sixties. They were more equipped to play more advanced music than most of the bands that were active in Amarillo at the time. They could cover songs by James Brown's fabulous Flames and also play Smokey Robinson songs, too. The last information I have on the Vicounts is that after they had played Friday's Lounge (West Tenth Street in Amarillo) in 1968 they moved to the Candlelight Club in Lubbock for an extended booking. In 1969 I received my last message from my old friend Charlie Knight while I was living in Lubbock. Ironically, he was back in Amarillo and was wanting to start a new band! Some thirty years later I must say, "Hats off to you Charlie Knight... I knew you when you were a 'beginner and an amateur' but you went on to become the finest bass player I ever played with!"
The Cords of Amarillo
Another good group that I recall playing the SUB was the 'Cords' of Amarillo. This rock band was unique because they had two guitarist that could play top-notch leads. This was Billy Stull and Glen Wilbanks. Other members were Danny Meadows on bass and David Handley on drums. It seems that Stull was one of the first area guitarist to copy B.B. King and other blues guitarist. Wilbanks could also do some impressive riffs. I didn't know it at the time but the Cords were doing some sessions in Clovis and trying for a hit also during this time. At the SUB they covered many of the latest groups ont he top forty. They also did some really good and original rock songs but by the time Petty had placed their master, I think the group might have already disbanded. Some of their released songs include 'Sin Crazed Woman' and 'Too late to Kiss You Now' . Atlantic records did release at least one single for the Cords in the later sixties on the ATCO label. The above songs are now on a compilation CD that features rock songs from Petty's vaults.
Jeckle and the Hydes, Plainview,Texas
A strange, rock band came to Canyon and played at the SUB during the mid-sixties. This group had been formed by two brothers, Dennis and Lloyd Watts of Plainview, Texas. (A town some 75 miles south of Amarillo). Both played guitar and Lloyd also sang, while Dennis played lead. These were a couple of youngsters that had first taken guitar lessons at the Mary L. Spence music store there and they showed some unusual abilities. By age16 they were copying the Fireballs and String-a-longs really well and playing teenage dances at the American Legion building in Plainview. They seemed to have been so enamored with Fireball music that they had named their first band after one of Tomsco's songs, 'Torquay'. Under this tag they played all around the Plainview area and were popular for a couple years while still in High School. About the time they graduated they reorganized their band and attempted to become a show-band under the strange label, 'Jeckle and the Hydes'. By then the band included Lonnie Dale Brown on drums, Terry Warren on bass and Donald Ramsey on keyboard with the Watts brothers still on guitars.
The lead singer 'Lloyd Watts' would come onstage in a cape and put-on a wild show to highlight each performance. I still recall seeing 'Jeckle and the Hydes' in the Ballroom of the SUB (c.1967) and they were playing some good, english sounding music at the time. I don't know if they made any rock recordings but Lloyd Watts went on to write and record a couple of original country songs in Lubbock in the early seventies which were released on a single. He later traveled to Nashville and recorded a pop-country album ('Leaving Caroline' in 1976) which Joe Bob Barnhill promoted. The title song reached the charts in Reno, Nevada but otherwise the album was unsuccessful. About this same time brother Dennis was playing bass in Lonnie Brown's blues band (Flick) at the El Toro club in Plainview when I returned there. After Lloyd moved to Padre Island later in life he began to write again and he placed some original songs on the internet which had some credibility. A mutual friend, Wallace Shackelford told me not long ago that Lloyd Watts had met his fate and was no longer living. I must say, "We didn't know you well Lloyd, ol' fellow musician but you have won a vote from us for your efforts and perserverence. You chased your music dream to the end and never gave up!"
The Soul Seekers of Canyon, Texas
In 1966 a bass player named Bill Coleman became manager of a new, music store in Canyon. He also had aspirations to form a rock band it seems. Two local college students Ronnie Hester (guitar-vocals) and Bill Waldrop (lead guitar) soon joined this group which also included a keyboard player named Pat and a drummer named James somebody. I heard the Soul Seekers play many times around the campus and although they started-out rough they matured into a good rock band! They played some Beatle type songs mixed with some standard American rock songs. Hester was good at copying Johnny Rivers I should add. Anyway, Coleman's store outfitted the group with super-beatle amps and a quality PA and this enhanced their sound greatly.
The Soul Seekers played dances in the SUB and also frat parties and High School Proms around the Panhandle. On one occasion when they were playing at the Bat Cave in Amarillo they called on me to sit-in for the weekend. As it happened, Bill Coleman was unavailable to play so Waldrop moved over on bass and I filled in on lead. This was the last time I ever played a job with my old hometown friend, Ronnie Hester the first teenager I had ever met that could play good background guitar. We had first picked together when I was 16 and he was 17 back in Briscoe County! Can you believe it? Almost fifty years have passed since then. Although our musical association had ended when the Gemini Five disbanded in the summer of '66 we have remained friends. I would meet up with Bill Waldrop again however, not far down the road.
The Chanters, Pampa and Amarillo
One of the hotter groups to play the SUB at the time was The Chanters. This group was built around a red-headed student who wore sandals and hippy gear around the campus and was called 'The Bod'. His real name was Bill Mangum and he could really sing 'soul music' and play bass when he hit the stage. He teamed up with a drummer from his hometown of Pampa named 'Danny Darling' and two Amarilloans Butch Kelly (organ) and Tommy Pogue (lead guitar). When the played the 'SUB's Battle of the Bands' (1966) they were going against the Lamda Chi favorites the 'Gemini Five' and a couple of other local bands. The competition was fairly even until 'Bod and the Chanters' took the stage against the West wall of the main room. When Bill (the Bod) Mangum took the microphone he did a good imitation of Wolf Man Jack as he introduced the first song. This excited the crowd, then when he broke into the James Brown standard...."I feel good, just like I knew I would... so good, so good... cause I got you" from then on the contest was over! The Chanters had won the battle hands down with some really top-notch soul and blues music! I remember this vividly because my band the 'Gemini Five' lost to these new kids on the block!! From that point on the Chanters were in great demand for frat and sorority parties and they later played in Amarillo night clubs. The last time I heard them play was at the Hong Kong lounge on East Tenth Street in 1968. By then they were covering Jimi Hendrix and Cream, among other psychedelic groups but the talented Bill Mangum had left the group. I don't suppose the Chanters were too successful in terms of money as 'Butch Kelly' was living in a ice cream truck not long after this.
The Gemini Five of Canyon
When school started that fall in sixty-five, I decided to continue playing with three Canyon High students, Lynn Kelley on guitar, Charles Knight (bass) and Billy Cauthon (drums) because they did show promise. They thought of me as the old man of the group but I was barely 20, I should add. Soon we invited my old friend Ronnie Hester to join the band, as lead-singer and rhythm. I wanted to concentrate on playing good leads so I limited my singing to harmony. Soon we five were playing all around the Canyon-Amarillo region as the 'Gimini Five'. We played at the SUB in Canyon several times including the big 'Band Battle' against the Chanters. I must admit we were a striking group with our long hair, white sport coats and red turtle kneck sweaters. We took on the looks of an English group, no doubt. Since I could sing harmony (as could Lynn) we soon were singing 3-part harmony with Hester and imitating the Beatles, the Kinks, the Zombies, Beach Boys and various other rock groups at the time of the ill-fated battle, where we came in second behind the Chanters.
Aside from Canyon and Amarillo, we also played good jobs in Childress, Borger, Pampa, and Plainview during the next year and a half. We did college proms at Frank-Phillips college and the Lamda Chi's fraternity at Canyon signed us for half-a-dozen jobs also. We became their unofficial fraternity band! We loved playing all their parties for the whole year. Thanks Mike Moreland, Robert Brandon and the rest of you old frats for all the memories at WT! In retrospect, I feel the Gimini Five was a good dance band but we didn't attempt any studio recordings or have a record. The only recording that may exist of Gemini Five were made at a senior-prom in Tulia, Texas in 196566. This recording was made by the local radio station KTUE and excerpts from it were played later on the air as I recall.