The Briks of Denton and Dallas TX

The Briks, left-right: Mike Meroney, Cecil Cotten, Richard Borgens, Lee Hardesty and Steve Martin
The Briks, left-right: Mike Meroney, Cecil Cotten, Richard Borgens, Lee Hardesty and Steve Martin

The Briks came from a band called the Embers who formed at Texas Tech in Lubbock in 1965, with Richard Borgens on vocals and lead guitar, Lee Hardesty on guitar, Bobby Daniels, and Steve Martin on drums. The band relocated to Denton, outside Dallas, and Gainesville, TX, where some of them attended Cooke County Junior College, a “home for the academically ill” as one teacher put it. There they met Cecil Cotten, who became their lead singer, and bassist Mike Meroney and changed their name to the Briks.

An early photo of the Briks
An early photo of the Briks, l-r: Lee Hardesty, Richard Borgens, Cecil Cotten, Steve Martin on drums, and Mike Meroney

The Briks
Lee Hardesty wrote on the BigD60s site:

Some of the Briks lived at the Stella St. apartments for a while. Cecil, Steve, Reggie Lang (mgr) and I had a place there and Tommy Carter was just down a few doors. Across the courtyard is where Bob Story and Johnny Hale lived and they were some wild and crazy guys! Just around the corner at the next complex is where “The Four Speeds” lived (later they became “Felicity”). That was a fun time for the most part but I think our apt. was a mess. Some of us were driving back and forth to CCJC in Gainesville at the time.

The Briks signed with the Bismark agency, run by George Rickrich, who also managed the Chessmen. Whit Snell of the Beefeaters remembers Rickrich this way:

George was the Godfather of the music scene in Denton. He and Charlie Hatchet from Austin controlled everything north of San Antonio all the way to the Oklahoma border. His so-called real job was Manager of the Campus Theater on the Denton square. Here, at the back and above the large dimly lit balcony, was George’s office, Bismark Agency, filled with movie posters, black and white photos of bands, food wrappers and heaps of clutter, scribbled phone numbers, scratched out and circled dollar figures. There, on his desk, were two or three black telephones, their rotary dials worn shinny silver from thousands of calls made by George’s stubby fingers.

Cecil Cotten at CCJC in 1966.
Cecil Cotten at CCJC in 1966.
Lee Hardesty adds: “George Rickrich started that laser light show in Forth Worth at the planetarium in the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. At one point I helped him with some of the electronics and got a bunch of free passes to the movie theater as payment.”

Their first recordings were distributed on acetates only. Both “I’m Losing” and “It’s Your Choice” are classic garage numbers and it’s a shame these weren’t released on 45.

There are two versions of “It’s Your Choice”. One features a twelve-string guitar, and the band takes the song at a fast pace. The other has an altogether tougher sound. On this version Cecil’s vocals are nothing less than menacing. The band generates an ominous, intense sound with Mike Meroney’s repetitive bass line, the jangling guitar, drum fills and occasional harmonies. There’s a good, trebly guitar solo and a neat break with just bass, drums and handclaps.

The Briks – It’s Your Choice
The Briks – It’s Your Choice (12-string version)

Steve Martin slams out the beat on “I’m Losing,” which also features their first use of a distortion pedal on the guitar. The band’s harmonies add to Cecil’s lead vocal but his voice still cuts through. It’s a great sound.

The Briks – I’m Losing

The Briks at Cook County Junior College
The Briks at Cook County Junior College, clockwise from bottom left: Mike Meroney, Reggie Lang (manager), Cecil Cotten, Richard Borgens, Lee Hardesty and Steve Martin

The Briks, 1966

Lee Hardesty: I can’t speak for the differing versions. I remember recording them only once at Sellers (downtown Dallas). It was our first trip to the studio and I remember the engineer running out of the control room saying “There’s something wrong here! I’m hearing horrible distortion!!” We laughed because he had never heard a fuzztone before and didn’t know it was intentional. Actually he was probably right about the sound though. That was my original (homemade) fuzz box, built into a wooden English Leather box, and I imagine it probably did sound pretty horrible.

When we had finished recording we asked for a 45 and they cut us one right there on the spot (cutting lathe). We drove out to KBOX on flagpole hill (about midnight) and went around to the back of the building. I think the DJ was the only one there so we knocked on the window and he opened it to talk to us. We gave him the 45 and went back to our car and listened to it on the radio! What a thrill! Seems a little more difficult to get things on the radio these days.

The Briks at the Studio Club, 1966
At the Studio Club, 1966

The Briks Bismark 45 Foolish BabyThe Briks released their first 45, the poppy “Can You See Me?” on Bismark in ’66, though garage fans love the flip side, “Foolish Baby”. Both sides are originals by Richard Borgens and Cecil Cotten. Dot label picked it up for national distribution and to promote the record the Briks traveled to Houston for shows at the Catacombs, around November of 1966.

Lee Hardesty: It was a big thrill the first time we played there. We were given some real star treatment, ads on the radio stations, radio station interviews, a dinner I believe. I think they might have been a little underwhelmed though because that stuff ended after our first night. It was a cool place (glad we didn’t use pyrotechnics back then!!) but I liked the parties and other dance halls better where it wasn’t so much of a show thing. I liked playing when people were dancing more.

Mike Meroney: I also recall that the Dot record rep showed up and threw records to the audience. I also recall that we changed outfits between each set and broke a guitar or two. How nutty was that? We appeared on the Larry Kane show during one of those trips to Houston. I remember listening to the Catacombs promos on the radio as we approached Houston – that would pump us up.

 Lyrics to Foolish Baby
Lyrics to Foolish Baby
On one trip to the Catacombs they were overshadowed by the professionalism of Baton Rouge’s Greek Fountains.

Mike Meroney: We went back there several times with various versions of the band. The last gig there that I remember was a bit humbling. We were the headliners but they had another band that played during our breaks. All I remember was they were awesome, kind’a kicked our butts, and it was hard to get back up there and do a second set. They were some band from Louisiana and had real good players, PA, etc.

As I recall their name was the Greek Fountains or something like that. They were good. It seems like the most common technical challenges in those days were with PA systems. They never could seem to catch up with the rest of the stuff. As a bass player I felt techno disadvantaged as well. It was hard to keep up with the Hardesty. It was never loud enough or clear enough or punchy enough. The first set up that I felt even reasonably satisfied with was dual Kustom towers. This Louisiana band did have a good equipment setup including an awesome PA.

Another venue for the Briks was the legendary Louanns.

Cecil Cotten: We had to audition in order to play. The audition was done while Mrs. Bovis and her family were eating dinner. This was in 1966. There were two stages one on each end and another completely different room on the other side and yes a beer garden.

The Briks also played Sump N Else [local TV show hosted by Ron Chapman] and played two songs. “I’m A Man” (Yardbirds) and “Baby Let Me Take You Home” (Animals). I remember the window that allowed people to look in on the show while they were at the North Park Mall. It was like being in Hollywood for us. We were still in our late teens or early 20’s and felt invincible.

In a comment below which I’ll repeat here, Bud Buschardt writes:

The Briks appeared on the Sump’n Else show on October 10, 1966. The music log lists them playing a song called “Keep Down.” When a group appeared on the show, they also performed live for the pre-show warm up. Perhaps that is when they played the cover songs mentioned in the bio. Our music lists were often made out in a hurry before the show, so there could have possibly been a misunderstanding of the song title, especially if no one in the group remembers “Keep Down.”

What sounds like a studio version of “Baby Let Me Take You Home” exists, and it’s a great version with an intro that’s reminiscent of the riff to the Gentlemen’s “It’s a Cry’n’ Shame”, fine drumming, 12-string guitar and a rave-up ending. It’s likely the Briks recording came first – could it have influenced the Gentlemen’s legendary guitarist Seab Meador? In any case, I believe it was Animals’ guitarist Hilton Valentine who came up with that riff for “Baby Let Me Take You Home” in 1964.

The Briks – Baby Let Me Take You Home

The Briks at Taylor Ranch
At Taylor Ranch
from left: Mike Meroney, Lee Hardesty, Cecil Cotten
In August ’66 Cecil Cotten, Steve Martin, the band’s manager Reggie Lang, and Mike Neal of the Jackals all joined the Air Force together. Chris Vanderkolk replaced Steve Martin on drums. Paul Ray replaced Cecil on vocals, singing on a version of “Keep Down” recorded at IRL. It’s an interesting original with organ and descending bass line, and appeared years later with other Briks material on the old vinyl compilation Texas Punk vol. 7.

The Briks – Keep Down

Paul Ray soon left to join the Cobras. Cecil was back in the band by January, 1967, and Jamie Herndon came in on lead guitar, replacing Richard Borgens, who wanted to try production work and folk-oriented music.

Later that year the Briks released a second 45, a cover of Cream’s “NSU” b/w “From a Small Room”, an original by Borgens. Part of a show at the Northwood Country Club was recorded, the set list full of songs made famous by British bands: “Til the End of the Day”, “NSU”, “The Nazz Are Blue”, “Heart Full of Soul”, and “I’m a Man”. There’s also a live version of “Everybody Needs Someone to Love” that, to my ears, comes from an earlier live performance show. All of these are collected on Texas Punk vol. 8.

Lee Hardesty: I think that one of those unissued songs was actually recorded at Mike Meroney’s house using his father’s tape deck. The song “Over You” was an original by Jamie Herndon and the real title was “Green Green” if I’m thinking of the same thing here.

“Over You” has a lot of potential as a song, with moody, churning verses going into a brief ooh-ing “over you” and a short fast break. On the version I heard, the sounds of a guitar and bass doing some practice runs intrudes on the recording briefly about 35 seconds in.

The lyrics are hard to make out, but I can hear some snippets like “the sky is blue the night is black the sea is green …” The song finishes with an intense 12-string guitar solo that lasts a full minute over a bass line reminiscent of Cream’s “”Tales of Brave Ulysses”.

The Briks – Over You

I’ve read they also cut a version of “It Won’t Be Wrong” but if so, I haven’t heard it.

The Briks after Cecil Cotten returned to the band
The Briks after Cecil Cotten returned to the band
Rear l-r: Mike Meroney, Chris Vanderkolk, Cecil Cotten. Front l-r: Lee Hardesty and Jamie Herndon

Briks Bismark 45 Can You See MeThe Briks broke up by 1968 and Cecil joined a band with some members of the Chessmen, who had also just split. Cecil told me “Jimmy Rabbit managed a band called Texas which included Jimmy Vaughn guitar, Cecil Cotten vocalist, Tommy Carter bass, Billy Etheridge keyboards and on drums Sammy Piazza. We did some recording at Robin Hood Brians studio in Tyler (I would really like to have a copy of those tapes). We played only a few times and one of those times was opening for The Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart at Louanns in Dallas.”

In 1969, Cotten moved out to San Francisco with Benny Rowe of the Wig and the Jackals, Steve Carnavas of the Chaparrels, and Keith Ferguson, where they gigged as the Benny, Cecil and the Snakes, playing house parties for the publishers of Zap Comix, the Rip Off Press. Richard Borgens sang on The Truth’s 45, Chimes on 42nd Street/When Was Then.

The Briks reunited once, in 1996 at White Rock Lake.

Lee Hardesty: It was really a pretty short run for the original Briks, just a year and a half or so, then another year or so with Paul and Chris and Jamie I would guess. A lot happened in a fairly short time and it was quite a while ago. If we’d only had a clue we should have been writing and recording a lot more. Richard had more talent in that area than we realized at the time, and so did Mike for that matter. Somehow I just don’t think I had any idea what we were doing or what the potential was. It was mostly just fun and a way to make some money. And it was a lot of fun sometimes.

I’m very sad to report that Cecil Cotten passed away on Friday, April 4, 2008 in Winnsboro, TX, at the age of 62. In recent years Cecil and former Briks bandmate Mike Neal recorded a CD of blues-inspired songs as The Pickin’ Cotten Band. I greatly regret I never met Cecil in person, and his music will always mean a great deal to me.

Thank you to the BigD60’s site for the history and photos of the band, and to Andrew B. for contributing the transfer of the incredible acetate of It’s Your Choice.

 Later photo of the Briks
Later photo of the Briks
Cecil Cotten of the Briks performing live on the train to Waco Denton Record Chronicle, December 8, 1965
Cecil Cotten of the Briks performing live on the train to Waco Denton Record Chronicle, December 8, 1965

25 thoughts on “The Briks of Denton and Dallas TX”

  1. Thanks for the great site! Cecil is my dad and has just recently passed;we already miss him greatly. It is so neat to really be able to see what his life was like before we came around. He had such a wonderful voice and talent for creating music. As talented as he was with a guitar or microphone he was even better as a dad. Many years ago he put his first passion of music on hold to dedicate his life to his family. I know that now he is jammin’ upstairs and looking down on us proudly knowing that he did a great job. We love you and miss you.

  2. CECIL WAS A VERY SWEET,KIND, AND FUNNY PERSON.
    I DID NOT KNOW HIM LONG BUT, I DID GROW TO CARE FOR HIM AND HIS WIFE.
    HIS MUSIC WAS BEFORE MY TIME ON THIS EARTH BUT, I DO LIKE IT.
    HE WILL BE MISSED.
    HATS OFF TO YOU IN ROCK AND ROLL HEAVEN C.C.
    I’LL MISS YOU!!!!

  3. The Briks appeared on the Sump’n Else show on October 10, 1966. The music log lists them playing
    a song called “Keep Down.” When a group appeared on the show, they also performed live for the pre-show warm up. Perhaps that is when they played the cover songs mentioned in the bio. Our music lists were often made out in a hurry before the show, so there could have possibly been a misunderstanding of the song title, especially if no one in the group remembers “Keep Down.”

  4. I am Richard Borgens sister, Jayne Farmer, and I had the younger Cecil Cotten in my 7th grade English class at Coyle Middle School in Rowlett Texas (my last name at that time was Frazier). Not much was mentioned about Richard on the homepage, probably because he has lived out of state for years,(I’m forwarding this site to him), and his is a very interesting story. Richard is now an Endowed Chair at Purdue University. He has received world wide acclaim with his research in spinal cord regeneration(forgive me Rich as I know I’m buthering this, but I’m a layman!) He is a Distinguished Alumni at the University of North Texas, has an honorary Doctorate from Oxford University (England); I could go on and on. The letterhead on his “official” stationary takes up half a page. BUT, guess what? His love for music is alive and strong! He has played in little neighborhood bars in Layfette, Ind. (home of Purdue) with his wife singing vocals with him, taught himself to play several more instruments (the banjo among them) and still is entertaining all of us with his playing. I have a great photograph of him surrounded by his many guitars. In short, I guess I can sum up my brother by saying that if you were to talk with him now, the subject of the conversation will be music, not Science. To whoever put this together, you’ve honored a great band where the individual members are still making great music.

  5. I just want to say I wish The Briks had made much more music. Songs like It’s Your Choice really mean a lot to me, and the style and sound is just incredible, it’s really something I want more and more of, it’s excellent. Also please feel free to email me with any recommendations, I’m just getting into this era of music, and it’s mainly that sound I’m looking for, it’s deep, it’s melodic, the vocals are perfect, it’s just outstanding what these guys did.

    EXCELLENT WORK! And I’m glad someone else recognizes it and did this site. Better than Wikipedia which had nothing at all. Two thumbs down for them. 5 thumbs up for the Briks!

    Thank you again, and if any of them are still making music, just for bragging rights, I’d like to have some kind of collaboration or just use a sample of something you wrote or never released, and make it into something new. I’ve been making music since I was 5 years old and I like to incorporate other artists into my style and it would mean a lot to me.

    -N

  6. Chris Vanderkolk is my father and drummer of the Briks. I was just sent this link today when I posted a band picture of the “Styx and Stonz” I am currently looking for the master 45 of NSU, which I know we have around here somewhere. How would I go about getting that posted?

  7. Hello, my name is Alton Cheek. Cecil Wayne Cotten is my first cousin (we just called him Jack). I practically worshiped him growing up. I had my very own rock-n-roll star in the family (it was very exciting). I miss him very much and still check in on his Mom (Aunt Joyce) from time to time. I unfortunately, did not inherit his talent, but my son Blake did. He has been writing songs and playing music since he could stand and speak. He is the front man for a very successful teen band in Dallas (kinda sounds familiar, huh?). Jack really wanted to get out and see them play, but, he was taken from us before he had the chance. Blake reminds me so much of Jack.
    I heard from Aunt Joyce that one of his old band mates is a music professor at UNT in denton. We have two gigd in Denton coming up very soon. March 31st at Andy’s and April 8th at Hailey’s. If anyone can help me locate this former Brik, we would love to have him as our special guest.

    Here’s hoping we kind find him
    Alton R. Cheek
    altoncheek@sbcglobal.net

  8. my years with the briks were very memorable. jamie herndon was an incredible guitar player with the sweetest tremelo you ever heard. thanks for remembering our band….. we always tried to please!!!!!!!

  9. There is a possibility that Jaimie Herndon,Chris Vanderkolk, Lee Hardesty, and Mike Maroney will be reuniting for a yet to be announced reunion in October 2011. This is not yet confirmed, but all will be in Dallas for sure!

  10. Just checking to make sure that this is the same Jamie Herndon that I worshiped from afar for his work with Nick Gilder in the group The Pop and who wrote the luscious Down on the Boulevard.

  11. I own two 45’s by the Briks – “Can You See Me” and “NSU”. I also watched them (on tv) perform on “Sump’n Else” that day. Until I read this today I had no idea Paul Ray was once in The Briks. They had a very unique sound and just wish I had seem them play live, especially at Louann’s when they opened for The Jeff Beck Group. This is a great site and so glad I found it.

  12. Michael Neal here. In the past fifteen years I have lost so many folks who meant the world to me. Cecil Cotten and Lee Hardesty, of the Briks, Johnny Willett, drummer of the Fort Worth Cats, and Phil Campbell drummer of the Jackals. Why I am still kicking is beyond my understanding. No one will ever know how it felt to play music in that era unless you were there to taste it yourself. It was magic. It was more fun than a man should be allowed to have. It was habit forming. Not the drugs, but the intensity and the excitement of that fantastic music that mushroomed from little four and five piece bands coming out of north central Texas. There were bonds made that cannot be broken, even by death, because I still love these guys like it was yesterday, just as I love the guys who I played with who are still fogging mirrors. Cecil and Lee were so talented. The briks shown like a diamond in a goats ass wherever and whenever the gigged. During Cecil’s and Lee’s last years I got to record and play with them on songs Cecil wrote, for the most part and one song of mine, ‘You’re Going This Way, I’m Going That’ , on which I was lucky to have Cecil sing. It was on the CD, PICKIN’ COTTEN, which was mentioned in the article. Cecil was the best Texas Rock singer I ever heard. Even when he was sick and his health issues were plaguing him, he could belt out a song with more soul than even those, considered the best, could strive for on a good day. Lee Hardesty was one of the most professional craftsmen at his trade I ever heard. His rhythm guitar playing was impeccable and he could play lead guitar with the best of them. He was also an electronics genius. Wish you all could have been there for the whole shebang. It was quite a party.

    1. I was fortunate to live and play thru that era with The Jackals. Lee Hardesty and I shared several apartments including the aforementioned Stella St. Apts. Lee was a genius. I can recall coming to Gainesville to see us at the youth center in the spring of 65. They set in on our break and a great friendship began. Like Mike Neal said we that can still fog a mirror love the memories of those days. It’s great when we occasionally get to see one another. You would’nt think over 50 yrs had passed. I still get a smile recalling the great times we all had.
      The Jackals only had a short run of 3 years but I would not trade those memories. Having The Who, Hermam’s Hermits, Standells, Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Monkees, all come into the Three Thieves after their concerts and listen to us play was over the top. That was was just in a six month period. The Briks were about the top of the heap of local bands in those days. Easily as good as many of the touring bands of the day.

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