The Ramrods

Jon Adair of the Ramrods and Mike from the Alabama Record Collectors Association wrote this history of the band, reprinted with permission. If anyone has a good scan of the Queen 45 or transfers of missing songs, please contact us.

The year was 1959. Five guys from Woodlawn High School in Birmingham, Joe Lackey (lead guitar and vocals) Butch Fadely (piano), Jim McCulla (drums) and Larry Wooten (rhythm guitar) had gotten together and decided to form a band of their own. Jon Adair, who was a friend of Joe’s, had already been in two bands, ‘The Teen Beats’ and the ‘The Ray Royster Combo.’ None of the other guys had ever played in bands. Of course, all of them were in their mid-teens, 13 to 15 years old.

Joe asked Jon to come and sit in with them at a practice, which he did, playing rhythm guitar. Later, Joe and the other guys went to Jon’s house and asked him to join the band. When Jon joined, the rhythm guitar player, Wooten, was sick and couldn’t make the first gig, so Jon played rhythm alone. When Wooten returned, both he and Jon played rhythm, which the band really didn’t need two of, but the band had no bass player, which it did need, so they asked Jon to play the bass. He knew nothing about the bass and told them he definitely could not afford to buy another guitar, but wanting to be in the band, Jon compromised. He removed the two high strings from his 6-string electric and tuned the remaining four strings down one octave. It worked well enough to get by. In fact, this is what was used later on their first record, “Fire Tower.” This is how they played until Wooten left the band and Jon moved permanently to rhythm. It was also about this time that Butch Fadely left the band to join the Army.

The band took the name, the Ramrods, from the Duane Eddy tune and even adopted that song as their opening number on every show.

There were not many local bands around at this time. The Roulettes, the Premiers, The Epics and now the Ramrods were just a very few. That, of course, would soon change, especially after the Beatles hit America in 1964. Bands began to pop up everywhere, but, for now, the Ramrods and these other few had a corner on the market.

Many member changes would soon take place in the Ramrods, including adding Paul Newman on vocals. The Ramrods also decided to add a saxophone player, so Ronnie Eades joined the band. Ronnie would later move to Muscle Shoals and become a prominent member of the Muscle Shoals Sound as a session musician.

In 1961, a friend of a friend of a friend, met the Ramrods and wanted to record them. He, Wayne Bright, owned a recording studio in Muscle Shoals, “Bright Records.” The band agreed and laid down two tracks, “Fire Tower,” written by Paul Newman and “Sittin’ Alone,” written by Jon Adair. When the record was pressed, it had mistakenly listed the band as ‘Paul Newman and the Ramrod Combo’ instead of ‘The Ramrods.’

They soon followed with their second record, “Slee-zee,” b/w “Slouch-ee,” both written by Joe Lackey. These were recorded at Homer Milan’s studio at 1st Avenue and 20th Street in Birmingham in 1962. It was released on Queen Records, which was a subsidiary of King Records.

Member changes continued with the addition of Fred Guarino on drums, Johnny Mulkey on lead guitar, Frank Bethea on bass, Bubba Lathem on piano, Durwood Bright on sax and Dwight Anderson on sax. Bright would later play with the Townsmen and Anderson with the Tikis.

In 1963, the Ramrods went into Baldwin Recording Studio in Woodlawn, which they did quite often after shows to record various tunes. On this trip, they recorded two original songs, written by John Mulkey, “Night Ride” and “Moonlight Surf,” both surf sounding instrumentals. They took the tracks to Rick Hall, who ran Fame Recording Studio in Muscle Shoals. He liked them and agreed to press the songs. The band had thought that their songs would be on the Fame label, which, although still a local label, was fairly well known. However, Rick was starting a new label, R and H, and released the Ramrods on it. Theirs was the first record on this label, the label number being RH-1001. This was an obvious disappointment to the band not to have been on Fame, but Hall had done a good job of mixing and producing the record and the band was happy with the result.

“Night Ride” started as a ‘Pick Hit’ on WSGN in Birmingham in 1963, but soon made it to WSGN’s Top 40 where it remained for thirteen weeks, reaching as high as #5.

During the band’s tenure, they toured all over the southeast, playing the college circuit and other venues and either opened for or backed up major national artists. A short list includes Del Shannon, the Four Seasons, Arthur Alexander, Tommy Roe, Chris Montez, Roy Orbison and Charlie Rich, but there were many, many more.

Also during this time, they had played shows with another Alabama band, the Webs, from Dothan. One member of the Webs was a guy named Bobby Goldsboro. By 1963, the Webs were traveling with Roy Orbison as his backing band, which had been arranged by another Dothan guy, Buddy Buie. Of course, Buddy was becoming a well-known songwriter and record producer. He had also become Orbison’s tour manager as a bonus for getting the Webs with Roy.

Jon Adair remembers fondly one concert both groups played together at the Cloud Room (Cascade Plunge) in Birmingham. After the show was over and the band was putting their instruments in the car, Bobby took out his acoustic guitar, sat on the hood of a car and told the guys that he was working on a song which he hoped to record as a solo.

He played “See the Funny Little Clown,” written by Bobby. A short time later, it became Bobby’s break-out solo hit and reached #9 on Billboard in early 1964. Bobby was now a solo artist with many hits to follow.

By the time 1964 rolled around, the Ramrods had been together for almost five years. Only Jon Adair and Joe Lackey remained as the nucleus of the original band from 1959. Jon had joined the Navy on a deferred enlistment program as a senor in high school and when he graduated in 1963 had to go straight to boot camp. However, when he completed it, he returned home where he rejoined the band. In April of 1964, the Navy called him to active duty. It was only a few months later that the Ramrods decided to disband.

What had actually happened was that the Webs, minus Bobby Goldsboro, were now touring with Roy Orbison as his backing band. Roy renamed them the Candymen, after his song title, “Candy Man.” The Candymen would later form the nucleus of the Classics IV and then the Atlanta Rhythm Section. In late 1964, Buddy Buie, who was Roy’s tour manager, was itching to form a new band, one to help showcase his songs. He took three members of the Ramrods (Guarino, Mulkey and Latham) and members of the Webs, including Wilbur Walton and Jimmy Dean and formed the James Gang. They made several records, mostly written by Buddy, but their biggest song was “Georgia Pines,” co-written by Buie. This song was also recorded by the Candymen. Their version peaked at #81 on Billboard, but the James Gang version received more regional airplay.

As for the remaining members of the Ramrods, after finishing his stint in the Navy, Jon went into the business world, as did Joe Lackey and Frank Bethea. Other members, as already mentioned, played in various local bands for a while.

Sadly, we have lost a few of these guys over the years, Joe Lackey, Harry Looney and Fred Guarino. Who knows, maybe one day there will be a reunion of the remaining members.

The Ramrods can really be considered one of the pioneer bands in the Birmingham area, one who inspired many other young musicians who also began to form bands and become prominent artists in their own right.

21 thoughts on “The Ramrods”

  1. Is it true there is a live CD named “A Blast from the Past” by The Ramrods on the CARGO MINING CO. label? A friend told me it was for sale at Charlomane record store in Birmingham.He said it had some songs recorded at Fame that no one has ever heard before that are great.

  2. This is Ray Edwards. Recently I started Cargo Mining Company Records to try to bring together the music of some of the great garage bands of the 60′s. The first project was “A Blast From The Past – The Ramrods.” Jon Adair of the Ramrods was looking to put together a collection of their music. From studio tapes, records and even cassettes of live performances I was able to clean and enhance the songs for the CD. It is available at the store in 5 points south in Birmingham. Soon we will also have a web site up to promote new releases. We are working on several projects and talking with a distributor in Europe.

  3. On the new FAME Recording Studio web page you can pull up “recording studio then download then Ramrods” . There both sides of the R&H record Night Ride and Moonlight Surf” can be downloaded to your computer.
    And I want to say “Yes Dave Roddy had a lot to do with the success of our record. We will always be grateful for what he did for The Ramrods.

  4. Frank Bethea, I don’t know if you remember selling me your Fender Bassman amp around 1963. Wished I still had it. I used to sit in and listen to you guys practice. A couple of us Woodlawn guys along with a girl singer from Berry High started a group called Vicki and the Townsmen.

  5. Terry, can you give me some more information on Vicki and the Townsmen. I have the record, “Man About Town,” but know nothing about the group.

  6. Three guys from Woodlawn, Eddie Stovall (Guitar), Terry Grill (Guitar) and Daley Vandergrif (Drums) started a garage band and thru Joe Lackey of the ‘Ramrods’ met Vicki Roberts and Phil Hill (Key Board) formerly with ‘Vicki and The Spades’ and started Vicki and the Townsmen. Vicki was from Berry and Phil from Shades Valley. We played a few sock-hops and cut the record ‘Man About Town’ and flip side ‘Beach Blues’ at Boutwell Studio in Homewood. Phil left the group early on and Eddie soon after went to the UofA and Daley continued and soon a group called Rooster and the Townsmen came on and Daley was their drummer.

  7. Thanks, Terry. If possible, could you email me at burn4580@bellsouth.net. I have been gathering as much information as possible on local bands. I helped write the article on the Ramrods and the Torquays. I’d like to pick you brain a little.

  8. Mike, do you have any information on Vicki and the Spades. Someone put their recording of ‘Tell Me No Lies’ on you tube. That tune was No. 1 in Birmingham for several weeks during 1962.

  9. I joined Rooster and the Townsman while attending Banks High as Bassist.I was very young (14or15).I have vivid memories of Rooster Gallagher.We were a Horn Group performing Soul and the Hits of the day.We played the Huffman Rec.Center,Frat Parties and the usual Bama Circuit.I don’t recall much of that period.I do remember,”Tony”(Drummer)who shows up on other pages in the Birmingham Thread.I later joined Ross Gaglianos’Rebellion.Any addition ,correction or information regarding “Rooster and the Townsmen”would be appreciated.

  10. I played lead guitar with Rooster and the Townsmen from our mery first practice on August 20, 1964 until 1969 (except active duty Jan.1, 1966 to Apr. 18, 1966). The only drummer we ever had was Tony Ardovino who was 15 years old when he joined us. Gary Swatzell filled in for me on guitar for the 4 1/2 months I was on active duty. The other members were Gary Quattlebaum, bass, Durwood Bright, sax, Bruce Russell, trumpet, and Al Pinion, keyboards. Later, Steve Yessick replaced Durwood Bright and Billy McPherson replaced Bruce Russell. The only other time our name was used was in 1983 when Rooster and Tony got a pick-up band to play at Larry Parker’s WYDE Radio Rock n’ roll reuinon. Our band did get back together for one appearance at Lee Masters’ WCRT Radio “Reunion of the Sons and Daughters of the 60s at Boutwell Auditorium in Birmingham in 1986. Rooster could not appear at that time because he suffered a heart attack en route to the show from Huntsville and his wife took him directly to the hospital. Mike Gunnels of the Hard Times graciously filled in for Rooster with no practice at all. The Hard Times also were appearing in the reunion show that night. Tony had other commitments and could not be there so Floyd Garrett filled in on drums that night. (Note: None of our band members had any connection at all with Vickie and the Townsmen.They were an entirely separate group.)

    Rick Hester

  11. Rick, seems my memory is slipping. After Vicki and the Townsmen broke up our drummer Daley Vandergrif ended up with the Hard Times. Sorry for my mix-up.

  12. Rick: Are you sure about Gary Swatzell filling in for you on guitar when you went in the service, as I seem to remember playing guitar with the band after you left, or during your absence, or maybe sometime after that. Other members in the band at the time I was with them included Rooster, Tony, Gary and Steve, possibly among others. Also, as I recall, Gary played keyboards, and I do not remember him playing guitar (although he may very well have, just kept it to himself).

  13. Eddie, You are correct of course because you were the guitarist who filled in for me when I was on active duty. I talked to Gary Quattlebaum today and he straightened me out. I wasn’t there so I didn’t know who was filling in. I also confirmed with a fellow Alabama Record Collector member that Gary Swatzell had been come to one of our meetings 10 years or so years back and said he played with the Townsmen. I guess I assumed he played guitar since we already had a keyboard man, Al Pinion. There was never another time when he could have played with the group except at the 1983 show mentioned above. Anyway, Gary Quattlebaum told me it was you so I stand corrected. I would like to meet you sometime and talk about those old days. We have a Townsmen reunion gathering every year of two at Bruce Russell’s house in Florida. I also have our date books from 1964, 1965, and 1966 showing every job we played and how much money we made at each one. A lot of memories there. I don’t have the last few years but the songs we all remember playing didn’t exist until 1968 & 1969 so we were together that long for sure.
    Rick Hester

  14. I answered a post recently that mistakenly said Daley Vandergrif played drums with us. It turned out that Daley played with the Hard Times instead. It was an innocent mistake. Our only drummer was Tony Ardovino. Likewise, the only bass player we ever had in the Townsmen was Gary Quattlebaum except when he went on active duty. Robert Alexander of he Distortions played with us while Gary was away. I spoke to Gary and Bruce Russell, our trumpet player, today and sorry, but none of us can recall your name or any other bass player ever in our group.
    As I stated in the other post, Rooster and Tony got together a pick-up band in 1983 to play at Larry Parker & WYDE radio reunion show at Boutwell Auditorium. I don’t know who played with them that night but it was not the “Townsmen” even though they used our name. We did re-group the original band in 1986 for Lee Masters & WCRT radio “Reunion of the Sons & Daughters of the 60′s” also at Boutwell Auditorium. Oddly enough, Rooster & Tony were the only ones not there that night. They both practiced with us but Tony had other commitments and Floyd Garrett filled in on drums. Rooster had a heart attack en route to the show and Mike Gunnels of the Hard Times sang with us. Floyd had practiced with us a few times but Mike sang some songs he had never even tried to sing before. He did a great job and we owe him a large debt of gratitude.
    I haven’t asked Ross Gagliano about the Rebellions yet but I know Ronald & Donald Barbee were in that group with him. They both took guitar lessons with me at Archer Guitar school in the old Roebuck Community Center. One of them played keyboards also. I was in the Epics with Ross, Joe Ardovino, Terry Ryan, Bob Sheehan, an Jim Anderson prior to the formaiton of the Townsmen in August of 1964.
    Rick Hester

  15. Thanks for the reply, Rick. We’ve met, but it’s been a few years. I’ve seen you at the front desk of ARCA a couple of times, and will speak up the next time I see you. I have heard that you have kept all of the paperwork from back then, and that’s awesome. Most of us, including me, did not have the brains or the foresight to put stuff aside for the future, excluding you, Henry and a few others. Please say hello to Gary for me, and I’ll hopefully run into you sometime. Seems like 15 or so years ago, I passed an insurance office in Gadsden that had your name on the sign in the yard.

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