Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Trackers

The Trackers core line up at the time of making their record was:

Jimmy Brietzke - Rhythm Guitar
Mike Byrne - Drums
Johnny Williams - Bass, Lead Vocals
Jack Williams - Lead Guitar

Trackers live at the Elks Club! Left to right: Johnny Williams, Mike Byrne, Jack Williams, Jimmy Brietzke

The Trackers were formed in 1965 at New Braunfels High School.
Originally formed with Butch Wullschleger on drums, he was soon replaced when guitarist Jack Williams overheard Mike Byrne tapping out the rhythm to "Wipe Out" on the back of a chair during a class at school...

The outfit was quickly making decent money from their gigs and Mike was able to buy a brand new '65 Gretsch drum kit.
The bands frequent live venue was the pavilion at Landa Park in New Braunfels. Mike's dad would tie a ski rope around the perimeter of the pavilion and charge admission to enter the area inside the rope. Most kids would gladly pay the price and not sneak under the rope or stand just outside it to watch!

In the summer of 1966, the band went down to Texas Sound Studios to record their lone wax outing, two fine original songs entitled "You Are My World" and "Why Do I Cry". The TSS code in the dead wax indicates that the record was mastered on June 1st, 1966.
When deciding on a name for their record label, they used the name of their regular performing spot, Landa Sounds.
San Antonio's KTSA gave the record a fair amount of airplay and the band even took a trip down to do a live interview promoting the new release with famed DJ Bruce Hathaway.

"You Are My World"

"Why Do I Cry"

Other venues the band performed included the ever popular Holiday Inn (no, not related to THAT Holiday Inn) at Lake McQueeney, TX, an obscure teen club called the Cyclops-A-Go-Go in Kenedy, the Elks Lodge in New Braunfels that Mike's parents were members of, and a private party all the way down in Laredo.
The need for a proper venue in NB spawned the idea that the town needed its own teen club, so the members of the Trackers and the Williams boys parents decided to open a club called The Freak Out. Although this venue was mostly an outlet for the Trackers to perform, they also ended up bringing in groups from the surrounding areas including The Bourbons from San Antonio, who made an excellent 45 of their own on the Royal Family label. 
The venue was partially cared for by friend and occasional stand-in lead guitarist Paul McLaughlin, who recalls having long late night jam sessions with the Bourbons after hours.
Another band Paul recalls playing at the venue is the legendary Zakary Thaks, who they brought in for New Years Eve of 1967 at a great expense.
Even the Playboys of Edinburg performed at the short lived club!
With growing complaints from the city, and the overhead cost looming too large for them to handle, the crew decided to close down the venue within only a year of it being open.

1967 Line-up. Left to right: Mike Byrne, Johnny Williams, Bill Stowe, David Poehlman. 
What a photo!
1967 was also a year that saw several changes to the bands lineup, as Jimmy Brietzke went off to college at A&M and older brother Jack Williams joined the Navy, and later the Coast Guard.
David Poehlman from La Vernia, TX took on the role of lead guitarist for Jack.
Bill Stowe was a college aged kid who came in on rhythm and lead guitar to replace Jimmy. He was noted by Mike as being an incredible lead player who was the only person Mike knew who could play "Jeff's Boogie" by the Yardbirds.

Mike Byrne decided that he could probably get the interest of more girls if he moved out from behind the drum kit to playing keys, so he went out and bought a Farfisa combo organ.
Tommy Smith was brought in to fill in the missing drummer role.

In 1968 as the Trackers came to a fold, Mike joined The Mad Mods from San Marcos on keys, a band which old friend and guitarist Paul McLaughlin had already had a stint with.
Mike was in the band at the time that they did their second session for Abe Epstein, recording a 45 which would land on Abe's Jox record label. Mike's girlfriend at the time (and future wife) Deborah Smith even made an appearance on the record, playing flute on one side.
Gaining some traction with the single, the band got to appear three weeks in a row on KSAT's weekly TV teen dance show: Swingtime.

Shortly after beginning schooling at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, Mike quit playing with the Mad Mods and joined a band called Jacob's Well on the Hammond B3 organ. This band also included notable Texas guitar virtuoso Van Wilks.

Thanks to Mike Byrne and Paul McLaughlin for their help!