The Escapades


l-r: Tom Minga, Dale Roark, Ronny Williamson, Ron Gorden and Bennie Kisner.

The Escapades were among the dozens of working teen bands in Memphis in the mid-’60s. Vocalist Tommy Minga had been part of the Jesters, who cut “Cadillac Man” for Sun Records. Though Minga was the primary songwriter for the Jesters and is given songwriting credit for “Cadillac Man”, the song was actually written by Jesters guitarist Teddy Paige. Paige disliked Minga’s vocal arrangement on an early take of the song and forced Minga out of the band soon after the session. Jim Dickinson was brought in to play piano and sing on the released version.

Within a couple months of leaving the Jesters in late 1965, Minga formed a new version of the Escapades with Bennie Kisner guitar, Ron Gorden keyboards, Dale Roark (not Rourke as has been listed before) bass and Ronny Williamson drums.

They released their first 45, “I Tell No Lies”, on the local Arbet label in January of 1966. The band moves seamlessly from verse to chorus, with swirling organ playing from Gorden and solid bass playing from Roark propelling the rhythm for Tom Minga’s strong vocal. Bennie Kisner provides a neat sitar-like solo on his Rickenbacker.

“She’s the Kind” is a little slower in tempo, and reminds me of the Zombies, Minga at times sounding very much like Colin Blunstone. Ronnie Gorden and Ron Williamson wrote “I Tell No Lies”, while Minga, Gorden and Roark wrote “She’s the Kind”.

This record was picked up by the XL label, but it’s unfortunate that Verve didn’t re-release it when they signed the band soon after its release, as “I Tell No Lies” should have had some chance at chart action.

Despite Kisner’s hard riffing fuzz sound, their second 45 doesn’t quite capture the magic of the first. Released on Verve in May of 1966, it failed to ignite the charts and the band was dropped.

The flip, “I Try So Hard” may be the band’s most ordinary composition, but Bennie Kisner’s interesting guitar picking is a highlight, and sounds great with headphones. Both sides are credited to the entire band, and produced by Stan Kesler.

The draft broke up the group in 1967. Ron Gorden joined the Bar-Kays and later worked as an artist for Stax.

Keyboard player Ron Gorden contacted me with the photos you see here and his story about the band:

Our first release “I Tell No Lies” was on a small independent label in Memphis. As it had success regionally, we were signed by Verve Records, a subsidiary of MGM Records, through Phillips Recording Studio (Sam Phillips of Sun Records/Elvis, Jerry Lee, etc. fame) with Stan Kessler producing us. For some reason the decision was made to not release I Tell No Lies nationally on Verve, but to record another song. So “Mad, Mad, Mad” was the result. I agree with you that it is unfortunate that “I Tell No Lies” did not have a chance to go further. I see it sell on E-Bay these days for as much as $350 for a 45rpm. I wish I had stashed a case of them!

The band wasn’t actually dropped by the label. We split up due to the draft, as you said on your site. Williamson, Roark, and Minga all entered the service. I continued in music for several years, ending with the Bar-Kays (1968-1970) before going to work for Stax Records where I eventually became Advertising Manager. During my tenure there, I was directly responsible for coordinating the development of more than 130 album covers and the trade and consumer advertising that accompanied those products. We did great work and won numerous awards including a “Grammy Award” nomination for package design (“Isaac Hayes Live at Sahara Tahoe”).

Benny Kisner died sometime in the late Seventies. Tom Minga died in approximately 2000. Williamson now lives in North Mississippi and does not play drums anymore. I am in Northwest Arkansas, where I own an insurance agency. I do not play professionally any more, but sometimes play in church.

Thank you to Ron Gorden for the photos and story on the band. The Ace/Big Beat CD Cadillac Men: the Sun Masters includes Minga’s vocal take of the Jesters’ “Cadillac Man” along with some great Minga originals and an unreleased Escapades track, “What You Know About Love”. I highly recommended it.


l-r: Minga, Williamson, Roark, Kisner and Gorden

30 thoughts on “The Escapades”

  1. Nichole,

    I’m sorry kiddo. I don’t remember working with your uncle . . . but it’s been over 40 years! 🙂

    Good luck with your musical career. Stick with it as long as it’s fun!

    Dale

  2. Thank you so much!!! I have been carrying around our records for 40 years and have never digitized them. Hearing, ‘I Tell No Lies’ after all these years brought a huge treasure chest of fond memories. We had a good run for about 18 months. You are correct about the draft breaking up the group as Tom and I were both drafted around the same time. I started souring on the music business as a result of a southern tour we had as lead-off band for Sam the Sham plus The Swinging Medallions (Double Shot of My Baby’s Love). We were driving our converted hearse everywhere while the headliners flew. We were totally exhausted when we reached Columbia South Carolina after driving all night. This was the fourth or fifth stop in the same amount of days.I hadn’t slept in about 36 hours and all of us were pretty punch drunk from lack of sleep. There was a local lead-off band that was basically booed off the stage and right before we went on the promoter said something like ‘Knock ’em dead guys’. Well . . . we did and the crowd went nuts! The Medallions had to work their butts off to keep the crowds attention and Sam and his crew succeeded in putting on a pretty good show. But . . . . the promoter was pissed! We learned, the hard way, that you absolutely do not put down the headliners!!!!!!!!! We left the tour at that point and I received my draft notice a couple of months later. I lost track of most of the guys but Ron lives in Rogers, Arkansas and I live in Salt Lake City, Utah. BTW – The record label is correct in the spelling of my last name.

    Thanks again, My grandkids get a kick at listening.

    Dale Roark

  3. Hi,
    My uncle was Frank DeLorenzo. He past when I was little and I have grown up to become a musician. I alwayd knew hew could sing and play guitar, but I never knew until this past weekend that he cut a record with your group the Escapades. His sister Rose (my Aunt) told me that. Is that true? If so, it would make me so happy to find out which record that was and listen to it. If not, I am sorry to bother you –
    Hope you are well and thank you.
    Nicole Arena

  4. Hi Dale,

    It’s been a long time, hasn’t it? I don’t know why I decided to goggle the Escapades and see what would come up, but it was a very strange moment to hear Tom singing again. I have his records, but I don’t have anyting to play them on and his nephews and neice have never heard them. Now they will be able to.

    It was a very wonderful surprise to see your comment on at the bottom of the article. As I was reading what I already knew, I was wondering where you and the others are now.

    I also live in North MS. We just build a house outside of Collierville in Marshall County.

    Mom and Dad are still alive and live on Pickwick Lake outside of Iuka, MS. Tom was living with them when he died. It started with a brain bleed and then he began to have heart attacks. They couldn’t treat one without aggravating the other and we just were not going to win I still can’t really believe he’s gone. I will never get used to being an only child. Even one with almost eight (8) grandchilden.

    I’ve told the kids and my husband about that hearse that Dad bought from Tom when he was drafted and then sold back to the band when you got out of the service and now I can show my kids a picture of it.

    Do you know how to get in touch with Ron Gordon and Ronnie Williamson?

    Best regards… Charlotte

  5. Ron, I played the Escapades song ‘I Tell No Lies’ on episode # 83 of my podcast show called Jim’s Child Of The ’60s. It is a great song, plus I used the picture from this site(the one with the group on the flatbed of a truck) in the picture section on the right hand side of my blog page. Scroll down and you will see it. I will probably use another Escapades song in the future.

    Jim

  6. Jim W – Thanks for updating us about the use of ‘I Tell No Lies’ on your podcast It is amazing that people are finding and using our songs. Charlotte told me in a private email she was contacted by a Swedish group that released a cover of ‘I Tell No Lies’. I haven’t been able to find it but it’s nice to know. – Dale

  7. Thanks both to you Dale and to Ron for this great music.(also, a thank you for Chris for posting them on this great page!) I know I will use another Escapades song in a future show. I really enjoyed the pictures used for this page. I would love a better quality version of the one that has the band standing around the hearse. I would love it to add to my podcast page. Is there any way I could get a better copy? Thanks

    Jim

    Jim’s Child Of The ’60s

  8. I think it’s great that people still enjoy my father’s and band mates music after all these years. I didn’t even know my father was in a band until later in my life after I had picked up playing drums. I feel great pride knowing that my father was in a band with a great group of people who loved what they did. I only hope more people, such as yourself, find and enjoy the music they created. I’m glad I still have so much of the original material (lyrics, notes, original pressings)to cherish for the rest of my life. Keep up the good work Jim.

    Greg Williamson
    youngest son of Ron Williamson

  9. I received a surprise call from Dale on Father’s Day 2008. I had not heard from Dale since 1967 just before I shipped out with the Navy. I was shocked to learn of Tom’s passing. I had been looking for Tom and finally got a message from Ron Gorden that Tom had passed. From Ron’s information, I was able to find his resting place which I have visited several times in the pass years. I find myself thinking of Tom and wishing I could have had time to visit with him and re-live the good old days. I think I can speak for the remaining members that we share your loss. Our prayers go out to you and your family.

    Bennie’s the only one that I can not account for. He seems to have disappeared. I wish we could have had some time to re-live the old days with him too. I can only hope to be able to visit his resting place so I can pay my respects.

    Thanks again to all for the memories. They were some of the best days and a part of my life that I will always hold as special.

    I to live in North Mississippi (Olive Branch) along with my wife, my youngist son (25) and our house full of critters; Goofy, Mr B, Biscuit and Blackie.

  10. Hello Greg,
    You indeed can be very proud of your dad !
    I got my first Escapade SP last month (madmadmad), as a deejay I cherish to drop it as a bomb
    at the proper moment in each of my sets, and IT MAKES PEOPLE FRANTIC and soooooo
    happy ! This music is alive and so are we
    Kiiiiiiiind regards !
    jean

  11. feeling nostalgic and misty-eyed i googled the escapades not knowing if anything would even come up. much to my surprise the first link led me here and a few moments later i heard my fathers voice for the first time in almost ten years. it was strange to say the least. i am extremley interested in anything having to do with the life of the man who gave me mine and would greatly appreciate anything anyone could tell me or show me about that time in his life. thank you
    thomas e mingaIII

  12. Your father was the front man for the band. He had a captivating personality, quick wit, and total command of the crowd. I only knew him for about 18 months. Being drafted during the Vietnam War changed both our lives. It was very positive for me. I don’t know about Tom because we lost contact after that. I’m glad you found the site. – Dale

  13. Jean,

    Losing my brother at 53 was devastating. When he died, the nusic stopped and the silence was unbearable. Having his music republished and knowing it is “dropping” one more has worked a miracle. I hear the music again.

    Thank you for sharing.

    1. Charlotte,
      I found an Escapades single in an Atlanta thrift store a couple weeks after moving here. Knew nothing about them, but brought it home and dropped it on the turntable.
      Loved it, and so I poked around online to see what I could learn.
      Have no doubt – your brother’s work resonates still!

  14. My Dell crashed and I lost all contact information. Dale, Ron, and Ronnie, please email me with it again.

    Thanks,

    Charlotte

  15. Jim – The MP3 I posted is from an old 45. Purchase a copy of the CD ‘The Ace/Big Beat CD Cadillac Men: the Sun Masters’. It is direct from the original Sun tape. It has all four cuts plus another, unpublished, song – ‘What you know about love’. I don’t even remember participating in the session but it sounds like me on the bass! – Dale

  16. I’ve become so attached to this thread that my 66 year old memory failed me. I believe my good friend Ron Gorden submitted the MP3s. Sorry Ron. You were the one that got this thread going. – Dale

  17. I find it very strange that although Charlotte bragged about her 8 grandchildren, she didn’t bother to tell you that Tom Minga has a wonderful son, Thomas Eldridge Minga III. He is so much like his father it is freaky. If you saw him, you would know him immediately. We call him Trey. I bought the Cadillac Men CD for him for his last birthday, and was doing a shadow box with the Verve 45 and Tom’s harmonica as the centerpiece for the shadowbox. I came back to this website to print these photos to use in it as well as a flyer for his last band Kudzu. Wonder if Charlotte ever thought of giving his son his other records? Probably not. I’m so delighted to hear that his gravesite has been visited by the people he always held close to his heart.

  18. You were so kind to respond to my son last year. And you are totally right about Tom. Put a microphone in his hand, and he came alive. The first words I ever spoke to him were, “I really enjoyed your music.” When he stopped performing and stopped riding his Harley, his life lost its joy…except for the joy he found in Trey. Its funny. I was at the battle of the bands in 1965 or so. Can’t remember. Was there to cheer for the Gentrys (I went to Treadwell), but was blown away by a band called The Escapades. Changed my alliance immediately! Imagine my shock when I heard Tom sing at an IBM meeting! We parted ways, but he will always be my favorite singer. I can close my eyes and hear him softly strumming his guitar sitting by a campfire, singing quietly to us.

  19. I just wanted to share, that, the Swedish band that covered “I Tell No Lies” was called the Shoutless. They recorded the tune in 1985 and it was released on a cassette-only compilation called “Garage Sale”..It was a great collection of current (80’s) bands taking part in the 60’s garage revival that was taking place in the U.S. between 1982-1988. You can hear the Shoutless version by going to: http://www.myspace.com/theshoutless . Theirs was the first version I heard of “I Tell No Lies”…It’s a well done 80’s sendup….But the original will always rule!!!

  20. I have an old schedule from Ruskin Park South Dakota. It shows that The Escapades played there on Thursday June 23, 1966. I am interested if it is this band. Please check out the facebook page on Ruskin Park, it is set up to preserve the history. I have posted the schedule.

    The facebook site is http://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/149994201698747/

    Thanks

    Vic Zimmerman

  21. We traveled to a prom in Eastern Arkansas and played a show in North Carolina as part of our tour but that was about the extent of our travels. It must have been a different group. – Dale

  22. Benny Kisner is my uncle, I have not seen these pictures since I was a kid. Uncle Benny past away due to unfortunate Circumstances but one thing is for sure, When he was making music he was at peace with the world. I can’t thank you enough for keeping this alive.

  23. Rocky, Your uncle Benny lived to play the guitar. He would spend all his spare time practicing and was constantly coming up with new riffs and solos. He was quiet and introverted but very entertaining during our travels. If you wouldn’t mind, would you let me know a little more about Benny in a private email. Just send it to Chris (the moderator) and ask him to forward it to me and I will get in touch with you. Thanks, Dale

    1. Dale, please share with me the information you receive from Rocky.
      Rocky, I would love to hear from you, too! Benny was a great guy we all enjoyed. I have always wanted to know about his life after the Escapades. I wish I could have seen him again.

  24. Glad to find you. I grew up in Memphis but moved away in the summer of 64. Love the music. Must ask a silly question. Are you related to Eldon Roark?

    1. Theresa, thanks for checking in. We love hearing from fans from that wonderful time in Memphis. I am not familiar with Eldon Roark but if we go back to Abraham and Issac in the bible, there will probably be a connection. :>) – Dale

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