Sunday, August 15, 2021

Tommy Clark & The Shadows

Tommy Clark was born in 1945 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin but moved to San Antonio by the time he was one year old.
By the mid 50's, Tommy was bit by the Elvis bug after watching him perform on TV while legions of young girls screamed in the audience. Tom would soon get a chance to briefly meet Elvis in person one day when his mother called him over to the Cadillac dealership she worked at. After catching a bus and enduring a rainy walk to Goad Motor Company, there he was indeed. Tom and Elvis quickly shook hands before the king left the building.

At age 12, Tom suggested that he wanted to learn to play guitar. His parents decided to take him to Caldwell Music on Main St to enroll him in music lessons. Ed Fest was the manager at the store and greeted them as they entered. He turned his back to Tom's father and looked down at Tom and said: "son, are YOU interested in taking these guitar lessons or do your PARENTS want you take them?"
Once Tommy clarified that he was the one that genuinely had the interest, they let him start.
He was to take lessons from the excellent and versatile guitarist Spud Goodall, who played with many music stars in his time. At the time he was a member of the house band on the Tommy Reynolds Show on local TV.
The store would loan Tommy a Stella acoustic guitar for six weeks while he was learning. The initial task of learning an F bar chord on the guitar proved to be a challenge, however, McMahon excelled at sheet music reading and melody recognition tests. The Caldwell music program was a great program for developing the natural talent in its students.

Tom quickly found that he had a penchant for performing live. He began performing at events such as army bases, ladies organizations around town, and at the burn and psych wards of the local hospital.
Those experiences, especially at the latter two venues would help forever temper his perspective as a performer.
Although Tom's last name is actually McMahon, he would later take the stage name of Clark to continue to honor his aunt's stage name (Gladys Clark), who was in a highly successful Vaudeville song and dance team along with her husband Henry Bergman. They duo were major stars performing under the name Clark & Bergman.
Tom's father Joseph happened to be a member of the same bowling league as record producer and pressing plant mogul Bob Tanner. Bob would record bands at his studio and often released them on his prolific TNT records label. Joseph happened to tell Bob that his son had just written a song about Elvis, who had just been drafted into military service.

Soon after, Tom was in the studio recording his original song with just his voice and guitar. He recalls seeing soon-to-be country music star but then local KMAC radio DJ Charlie Walker at the session. A 78 RPM acetate disc complete with TNT labels was produced featuring two songs: an original song called "Poor Elvis" and an impromptu cover of Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti". The last song had to be quickly dug out of his repertoire since Tommy was so new to recording that he hadn't thought to consider the fact that he would need two songs to fill out both sides of a record.
Tom humorously still refers to his then unchanged voice version of "Tutti Frutti" as the worst ever in recorded history.

The first serious band that Tom would join was mostly a studio project which went by the controversial name of The Wetbacks. This group featured friend Dan Green on lead guitar, his sister Jimmie on bass, and another girl named Kay Armstrong on rhythm guitar. A mystery saxophone player named Shake Snyder was hired for the session.

The group produced one 45 record at Jeff Smith's Texas Sound Studios and released it on Lonnie Fairbanks' Wildcat Records label. The record featured two versions of a song entitled "Jose Jimenez", inspired by a character of the same name played by Bill Dana who appeared on the NBC television series: The Steve Allen Show. East coast jazz drummer Cozy Cole's unstoppable 1958 radio hit "Topsy" (parts 1 & 2) had also been a major inspiration on the Wetbacks record. Two-part songs were all the rage at the time.
"Jose Jimenez" was co produced by a radio disc jockey named George Lester who Dan had called out to the bands practice space to help them arrange their original song. George did the spoken intro on each side of the record.

George Lester had moved down to San Antonio from Omaha to work at KTSA in December of 1959. During the early to mid 60's he helped produce 45's by Harley Davis (on the Wildcat label), a solo recording of the song "Old Shep" (also on Wildcat), The Wetbacks, and an un-seen 45 by an R&B artist simply named DeJean on his own Lessie Records label.

The record became somewhat of a local hit and got a lot of airtime on KMAC and KTSA. It didn't hurt having a prominent DJ having a hand in creating the record!
The group went on to headline a well attended performance at the Mission Drive In performing alongside local legends Doug Sahm and Freddy Fender. The Wetbacks were joined by Danny Segovia playing the saxophone parts featured on the recording.

The next major band that Tom played with was a band called The Royal Fairlanes. The group was led  by Rodney Enlow, whose parent's house the gang would practice at. Rodney's dad could often be heard from the other room between songs exclaiming: "That's a good one! Add that to your set!"
The constant involvement of papa Enlow in the bands rehearsals ruffled a few of the members feathers enough to where they decided to split off and form a new band with Tommy.

Tommy Clark & The Shadows formed in 1963 while Tom was still in high school. The group comprised of two of Tom's former Royal Fairlanes members: Frank Flores Jr. on drums, Bill Beeson on lead guitar, and was joined by John Miller on bass, and Tom on rhythm guitar and vocals. Steve Heather was later added on keyboards.

The group was augmented on backing vocals by two siblings named Shirley and Louise Montgomery who were originally from Abilene and went by the name of the Montgomery Sisters. The two west TX girls had moved to San Antonio recently and were classmates of Tom's at Jefferson High School.
Tom's dad managed the band and booked them at their many local engagements. When it came time to record, several sessions were produced at Texas Sound Studios and released on Joseph's own label Shamrock Records, named so due to the McMahon's Irish heritage. Several of their records sold quite well and went into second or third pressings.

Tommy Clark and the Montgomery Sisters.

There were four Tommy Clark 45's released on Shamrock records:
Shamrock 101: That's When You're Alone / I Want To Love You
Shamrock 102: That's Suzanne / Loneliness & Me
Shamrock 103: Lovesick Boy / Syrian Lullaby
Shamrock 104: If You Know What I Mean / Eileen

Tommy was classmates with Harvey Kagan, another working musician who would have most likely been playing with Denny Ezba & The Goldens during this time. The two had a friendly rapport and were encouraging of each others endeavors despite being in competing bands.

When Frank Flores joined the Navy, Mickey Drumm, the drummer from popular local band The Rel Yea's was brought in to take his place. When Bill Beeson joined the Marines, Ron Baker joined the group, though both were kept in the band once Bill returned from his duty.

In January of 1966, Tommy went into military service himself. He had wanted to get into Armed Forces Radio after attending military tech school in Amarillo. After yearly stints at Randolph AFB and Korat Royal AFB in Thailand, Tom was assigned the job of "fuel specialist" at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, NM. The very last option he would have chosen for himself. He was honorably discharged on May 12th 1969.
While still in active service in New Mexico, Tom would drive up and down along Central Ave (the old Route 66) looking for clubs to get solo bookings at. The first club he was booked at was the Daily Double, where he would alternate sets with a topless go-go girl. He gradually upgraded to working at a place called the Circus Room before he auditioned for a venue called the Wine Cellar where he performed for seven years as Young Tom Clark.

At the Wine Cellar, he started out on Monday and Tuesday nights as a singing Troubador going table to table. Eventually, he became very popular and the club ended up buying the store next door in order to accommodate the crowd he was attracting. By then he was performing five nights a week.

McMahon eventually moved to Los Angeles where he continued his nightly residencies. Wine Cellar club owner Earl had financed a studio demo that Tom recorded in California, under the agreement that Earl would become a part of the management team if he was picked up by a major label. During his time in California, Tom started performing under the stage name of Lewison Clark, which was suggested by a Columbia Records rep.
Although there was a few promising record label meetings on the studio demos, nothing serious was to take hold from these recordings.

Tom was disappointed in the and the prospect of continuing on as just a saloon singer in the Los Angeles area.  After a year and a half shopping his music to agents and record label A&R men, he decided to move back to Albuquerque where he continued to compose his original music. In 1983, he moved back to San Antonio to manage El Tropicano hotel bar. Though he kept writing songs on his own time, nightly entertaining was no longer fun enough to continue.

Tom is still recording and he does so at the Ellie Mae Studio in Port Aransas owned and operated by Tom's good friend (the aforementioned) Ron Baker. He currently lives in San Antonio and has since produced three CD's worth of original material, with a fourth on the way.

Many thanks to Tom McMahon, Carol Meyer, Harvey Kagan, and George Lester for all their help!

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The Raiders

kenny and the kasuals

Our story starts in Lake Jackson, Texas, where the small record label Van was once based. Charles and Bobby Vanmeter, two brothers from Longview, TX, started the label out of the back of their music store in Lake Jackson. Both men ran the small studio where they used a Roberts 4 track recorder to record local acts from Angleton, Clute, West Colombia and Freeport. The two brothers took on an accountant to help with the business side of the label named Lonnie Roberts, who was also an accountant for Dow Chemical at the time. Lonnie’s address was used occasionally, which is why you see Angleton on the labels and not Lake Jackson. Lonnie once recorded a single for the label with The Raiders titled, “Rugged But Right/ Room Full of Roses.” 
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The two groups I would like to spot light on this specific label are the Raiders and The Originals.

The Raiders were a three piece consisting of Jessie Castor on bass, Bill Pitcock on drums and Terry Simpson on guitar. I had the pleasure of speaking with Terry Simpson on the phone to get the down low on this mysterious label and his group along with some information on The Originals.

Terry told me that the group started in 1961, but did not actually record until 1962. The group’s first recording was the hit, “Stick Shift.” It was outside of a club in Angleton that Terry just started playing around on the guitar and ended up writing the guitar section of the song on spot. The group went to the Vanmeters with the song where Terry and Jessie Castor then wrote the rest of the song and recorded the tune. “Stick Shift” sold 10,000 copies in Houston alone after being picked up by the Vee Jay label, giving the record worldwide distribution.

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When the group started playing Terry was a fifteen year old and a freshman in High School, Jesse Caster was twenty-two, and Bill Pitcock was twenty-six years old. Another single the group wrote, which was not a chart topper, was a track titled “Raisin’ Cane/Repetition.” This disc is my personal favorite and was recorded in about 1963 with two different members, Clyde Kirkpatrick on bass and Larry Cox on Drums.

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It was around this time The Raiders went through multiple lineup changes and finally became the backing band for Walter Crane, who was a popular vocalist in the area.

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The second group I would like to highlight is The Originals. Gary King on guitar, Ronnie Ellis on VOX, Gary’s brother Tommy King on bass, and George Shelton on drums made up the group. They started out with a sound similar to that of The Raiders, but later recorded a few slower ballads and a few moody garage numbers. The Originals went on to record Terry’s “Stick Shift,” with a slight title change, “Stick Shift 65.” Terry Simpson was a huge influence for Gary King and many other guitar players in Texas at the time. Billy Gibbons will even drop Terry Simpson’s name when asked of his early influences.

The Originals eventually recorded four singles for the Van Label. The first one, “Scatter Shot/Lucille,” was the topside written by Garry King and the flipside was a moody version of Little Richard’s “Lucille”.

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The group then recorded “Honey Blonde/ One Little Raindrop,” both tunes written by Monte Angell. Their third single contains the Terry Simpson and Jessie Castor cover of “Stick Shift 65/Blast Off”, with the “Blast Off portion written by Gary King. Their fourth single contains my favorite of the four singles “How Much of Your Heart/Searching For Your Love.” The song features Ronnie Ellis belting out the vocals and was written by Monte Angell. For more information on The Originals please refer to Garage Hangover’s interview, which features some additional tunes as well.

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I would like to thank Terry Simpson for giving me his time, and Doug Hanners for providing the photos of the band on stage and the publicity poster.

This story was originally written by Michael Selman and published on the now defunct I'm Shakin' blog.Thanks to Michael and the rest of the Shakin' crew for letting this be the new home of this post!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Max & The Penetraters

Max Range & The Penetrators released one 45 on their own "Trater" label in May of 1965. The band was based in Kerrville, TX and featured a young Ronnie Leatherman who would later play with the 13th Floor Elevators. 
The band was also later joined by one Carlton White, a young guitarist influenced by folk and bluegrass.
I recently located one of the two Morrison brothers who played in the band and conducted a short email interview with him. Below is the results...

From left to right in the back row:

Danny Klein - lead guitar
Max Range - vocals
Carlton White - guitar
Pat Morrison - rhythm 

From left to right in the front row:

Danny Klein - lead guitar
Ronnie Leatherman - bass guitar
Bob Morrison - drums

How did you start playing music and what got you interested?

My younger brother Bob and I moved to Kerrville around 1960. I played freshman football, was injured, and needed something to do. The real catalyst was a guy named Danny Klein that lived down the street from us.  Danny's uncle played steel guitar in a western band and taught Danny how to play. Bob, Danny, and I became good friends and started practicing. Bob and I had moved to a place out in the country so we had a good place to practice. Not many people around which was good as we were pretty bad at first. Danny taught me how to play rhythm guitar and Bob taught himself to play drums by listening to Ventures records. Ronnie Leatherman showed up saying he would learn to play bass and he did. Max didn't show up until the very end of the band.  

Did you play in any bands before the Penetrators?


When and how did the Penetrators band form? 

I guess it must have been 1961 or 1962 we learned to play well enough and had learned enough songs to actually perform. We played anywhere they would let us play and gradually improved. The four of us had wanted to create a band from the first time we played our instruments.

Where did the bands name come from?

We played a lot of instrumentals at first and Penetration by the Pyramids was one of the first songs we learned.  Only name  we could agree on.   

Who were the band members and what instruments did they play in the group?

My younger brother Bob Morrison played the drums, Danny Klein played lead guitar and sang a few songs. I played rhythm guitar and Ronnie Leatherman played bass and backed up Danny with some of the singing. Max was brought on just to record the record as I recall.

What were some of the regular venues the band would perform at?  Did the band play outside of Kerrville much?

One of our regular jobs was to play on weekends at a teen canteen called the Auld Youth Center... Played at quite a few birthday parties in Kerrville. Danny learned to play steel guitar from his uncle as well as some basic polkas so we were able to play at places other than rock venues.

Criders was a country and western hangout on the river past Ingram Texas and we played there several times.  Big dance floor and lots of beer. We would play some country and a few polkas and then slow songs they could dance to. We were a little nervous the first time we played there since we didn't usually play country and western for an adult audience but it went well.  

One of the best places we  played was at a girls camps located around Hunt Texas. A couple of times during the summer the girls camp would invite one of the boys camps in the area to a dance and we would provide the music.  We did that a couple of summers. We played a couple of German wedding receptions in Fredericksburg. Lots of country as well as polkas. There was always a lot of beer for the crowd so we were usually pretty popular.  

We played in a couple of "Battle of the Bands" in San Antonio that were sponsored by KTSA (the AM rock station in San Antonio). "Big Bearded Bruce Hathaway" would DJ the whole thing. Hathaway was and still is somewhat of a celebrity in San Antonio. We met Doug Sahm as well as Augie Pruneda. Doug Sahm went on to record "She's About a Mover" and had some national success. Pruneda was a member of Sahm's band I think.

How did you come to make that record you guys made?  

I think Max put us up to it. We paid and he sang. When it was finished it was not the Penetrators it was Max and the Penetrators. I think there were about 200 copies pressed. There was no formal distribution but we got some airplay with KTSA in San Antonio and the radio station in Kerrville.  

Did you guys have much of a connection to the guys from the 13th Floor Elevators? I know Ronnie Leatherman played with them later on.

I have read that Max Range was an early member of the Elevators and helped to start the band. I think he had a connection with one of the early members of the Elevators.  Stacie Sutherland was a classmate of mine and a good friend.  He was a good guy and very talented. Stacie liked drugs a LOT.  As he moved more and more into drugs we grew farther apart as the  Penetrators were more into beer and cigarettes. And yes Ronnie played with the Elevators.  I looked on You Tube for the Elevators and Stacie and Ronnie were right there in one of the videos.  That was the infamous interview when one of the band members was asked who the head guy was and he responded "We're all heads." Perfect. 

Were there any other local rock bands from Kerrville during that time that you recall?

No. There were several country and western bands in the area. Bob Schmerbeck had a dance band that he started and played piano for. 

How did the band break up?

The band broke up when we started to leave for college. I think that they played for a while after I left, but not for long. Bob and I went to college. Ronnie played bass for the Elevators and I think Danny joined his uncles band.

Thanks to Pat Morrison and John Thomason! 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Little Bits

This post is the first of hopefully many posts on bands from Louisiana. Got a few great entries on the way, so keep checking! 
The Little Bits released one of my favorite pre-teenaged proto punk records from the 1960's on their own Tiger Eye records label. Featuring two brothers and being from the tiny town of Jennings gives them even more cool points!
I was recently in touch with original band member Kim Roy.
Below is an interview we conducted over email regarding those early days in his first band.

The band members were:

Marty Bonin - Keyboards, Vocals
Keith Roy - Drums, Vocals
Kim Roy - Guitar
Tommy Biessenberger - Keyboards

How did you get started playing music?

My father, J. D. Roy was an aspiring recording artist who encouraged my brother and I to play music. 

How and when did The Little Bits come together as a band?

In 1967.  My dad gathered me, my brother Keith and Marty Bonin, the younger brother of an older local band member called Luv Creek, and had a few local musicians teach us songs to play. 

Who were the members and what instruments did they handle? What ages were you at the time?

Kim Roy (9) - guitar 
Keith Roy (12) - vocals & drums 
Marty Bonin (10) - vocals & keys 
Tommy Biessenberger (12) - keys joined approx late 1968

All members from Jennings? What was it like being in a rock band in such a tiny town at that time?
Yes all from Jennings
It was cool to have an income at that age. We drew a lot of attention because we were 4 boys with long blonde hair.  We gigged most weekends at community center dances, festivals, etc. Once at a fraternity party. 

What was your father's role in the band and did he have his own musical history?

He was the band manager/driver/producer/songwriter/booking agent. 
He recorded a few records at Muscle Shoals studio. 

What were some of the bands regular venues to perform at?

The Shadowbox  and The 4th of July Festival - Lake Arthur, LA
Oakdale Drive Inn Theater - Oakdale, LA
Others I only remember the towns, not venues. Elton, Lake Charles, Lacassine, Lafayette

How did the "Girl Give Me Love" 45 come about and what do you recall about recording it?

We recorded it in our home studio, Velvet Ear Productions, which was also used by other recording artists from various towns.  I have little memory of recording it, at 9 years old i would have preferred being outside playing with my friends. Donald Hanks of Luv Creek played lead guitar on Side B, Spoofin 

Who wrote the songs on the record?

J.D. Roy
JD Roy, the brothers' dad strumming his guitar

How was the record received locally? Did it get any airplay or sell well?

I don't remember but we did have a local radio station KJEF that probably played it.

           When and why did the group split up?
We grew up and changed the name to Featherstone and stayed together for a couple of years with that name and fast forward to the 70s my brother and I formed a band called Kingdom. We moved to Houston in 1975 and played locally and toured around the United States for 10 years. I left the band to form a Christian rock band called Wisdom who scored a record deal in California and also toured around the United States for about 5 years. After realizing we could not make a real living playing music we went our separate ways, got real jobs and started families. Kingdom reunited a few years ago with 2 original members and recorded a cd and a video. The video can be seen on youtube. Kingdom Silent Witness.

Many thanks to Kim & Erin Roy for taking the time to answer my questions and sending over some of the photographs I have included....