Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Epics/Grass Menagerie

Jack Flanders recently wrote to me and asked if he could contribute a story on his 60's rock band from Waco. Of course! Below is the tale, in his own words…

Quiet Riots in old Waco, courtesy of The Grass Menagerie

Another ‘60s Waco band with a particularly notable member was a group first called The Epics, and later The Grass Menagerie. The idea for the band came when the families of friends Jack Flanders and Paul Quick met up for a weekend of camping at Doheny Beach in Southern California during the summer of 63. Enraptured by the golden surfer girls and soulful sounds of The Beach Boys, the two decided to form a band once they returned home.

Together from 1965 to 1968, the band had two distinctions – a particularly gifted lead singer and a knack for starting small-scale riots. The gifted singer was Ronny Raines, an original band member along with Flanders on rhythm guitar, Quick on lead guitar, Bill Howard on bass, and Roy Nash on drums. When the band began, its members were in junior high school. Later half the band attended Waco High School and the other half Richfield High School.

Impressively fashionable, Raines was a member of the choir at Waco High. The other band members always figured his involvement was too good to be true, which soon turned out to be the case. After only two gigs, Raines moved to Houston. In a few years he was Ron Raines, performing for many years in a leading role on the TV soap opera "Guiding Light.'' He also starred in numerous performances of the New York City Opera, distinguished himself in numerous stage and movie musicals, and has recorded more than 25 albums. He’s still a great dresser.

After Raines left the band there were line-up changes, with Roy Walker becoming the lead singer, Tommy Waggener the drummer, and Scott Vaughn the bass player. When Paul Quick moved to Louisiana in 1968, Woody Money took over the role of lead guitarist. The band played regularly at YWCA dances, high school proms, Saturday night dances, bars, Waco Parks and Recreation dances and private parties.

Nothing if not ambitious, the band regularly branched out from its Top 40 rock and performed some of the period’s more avant-garde songs, including “Seven Plus Seven Is’’ by Love, “Riot on Sunset Strip’’ by The Standells, and “You’re Going To Miss Me’’ by the 13th Floor Elevators.

Without fail, “Riot on Sunset Strip’’ would always incite mayhem of some order, according to band members. On a spring night in 1966, the fighting spilled from Waco High School’s gymnasium onto the parking lot where a truly impressive brawl ensued. Among those arrested were two particularly athletic thugs who were hammering away at each other on the roof of a car Flanders had borrowed from his mother.

Today Scott Vaughn and Roy Walker remain active in the Central Texas music scene. Walker played most recently in Time Machine and Vaughn plays in The Lost Tomorrows. Paul Quick lives in Asheville, N.C., where he writes songs and performs with the band QuickChester. Bill Howard is a businessman in the Fort Worth area, and Waggener continues his long-time dental practice in Waco. After living a time in California, Jack Flanders now lives in San Marcos and plays regularly with any and all comers.

Amazingly, although they are in their early 60s, all members of the Epics/Menagerie are still alive and picking. The band members agree that some of their longevity is probably due to never again playing the song “Riot on Sunset Strip.’’

A final bit of irony: Propelled into rock music by a desire to start a Beach Boys-like band, Flanders and Quick have played music of all types for half a century, but are yet to perform a Beach Boys song.