l-r: Tommy Turner on keyboards, Tim Justice (kneeling) on drums, Mike Kelley on guitar and vocals on “Cry’n Shame”, Bruce Bland on bass, and Seab Meador on lead guitar and vocals.
|Tim Justice, drummer for the Gentlemen, gives the history of the band behind one of the most essential 45s of the 1960’s, “It’s a Cry’n Shame”:”The Gentlemen played in and around Dallas, Texas from 1964 until 1968, always enjoying a booked in advance schedule and putting on energy packed shows. Originally started by guitarist Seab Meador and drummer Tim Justice, they were joined by bassist Lonnie Taylor and guitarist and singer Mike Kelley in early 1965. The band’s early musical direction was crafted by Meador whose guitar genius was recognized by all who came in contact with the group. Seab loved early Rolling Stones, Animals, Kinks and Yardbirds, concentrating heavily on the stylings of Jeff Beck.|
“The band took on more of the rhythm and blues swagger of the Stones and Animals than the pop ballads of the Beatles and Dave Clark Five. Our original bass player was Lonnie Taylor, who lived in South Dallas and had a hard time making all the gigs. We found Jimmie Randall, or he found us, and slowly the transition took place. I do remember a few nights when he AND Lonnie showed up and we played with 2 bass players. Heavy.
“Jimmie also remembers something that I didn’t, that he played bass on our first and earliest recordings, ‘Beg Borrow and Steal’, and ‘Here I Cannot Stay’, both written by Seab Meador. Boy, were we young. Must have been 15 at the time. In the session, Seab was on guitar and singing, I was drumming, Jimmie Randall was on bass and Mike Kelly was on guitar. The later three sang backup. Seab penned both songs and as far as I know, there are only 2 copies of the acetate, one owned by me and the other by Jimmie Randall. Jimmie reminds me that these AND the later ‘It’s a Cry’n Shame’ sessions were recorded at Summit [Sumet] Studio, and the master acetates where made upstairs at Boyd Recording Service. [This first session] cost $150 that we split 4 ways. We just wanted to see what we sounded like and never tried to find a label.
“This unit played through 1965 with the addition of fellow Oak Cliff musician Jimmy Vaughan, later of the ‘Fabulous Thunderbirds’, creating a powerful duet with Meador during a several month stint. Meador and Vaughan forged a solid friendship during this time.
“In early 1966, the nucleus that would come to represent the band formed, including Meador, Kelley, Justice and new members Bruce Bland on bass and Tommy Turner on keyboards. This incarnation solidified into a driving rock band that always brought down the house. They played venues such as Louann’s Club and the Studio Club in Dallas and Panther A’ Go-Go and The Box in Ft. Worth. During ’66, The Gentlemen opened for James Brown at the Dallas Convention Center, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, and The Beau Brummels at Louann’s. They played along side Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison at Panther A’ Go-Go.
“Tom Brown, president of Vandan Records heard us play at LouAnn’s Club in Dallas, and wondered if we would do some writing with him and Gene Garretson, his arranger. After several weeks, we came up with a song called ‘You Can’t Be True’ and what was considered the B side, ‘It’s a Cry’n Shame’. We liked ‘Cry’n Shame’ better, but Gene spent a lot of time arranging violins and multiple tracks for ‘You Can’t Be True’ so that was the track they pushed. It took us nearly two weeks to record ‘You Can’t Be True’, and as a complete after-thought, 2 takes and probably 1 hour to slam down ‘It’s a Cry’n Shame’. Therein lies the genuine spontaneity that makes it pure straight ahead punk rock, I suppose.
“The result was what has now become a garage rock classic. ‘It’s a Cry’n Shame’ has been referred to by the G45 LEGENDS listings as: ‘One of the top 10 tracks to play to anyone you need to convert to 60s garageism. Absolute perfection in every respect, including barnstorming drumming, scorching fuzz guitar complete with ripping break, bass alternately swooping and thumping. Add to this the distinctive vocals which combine the best pop sensibilities with the classic Texas punk sneer, and simple yet effective backing vocals. Everything’s just perfect.’
“Bruce Bland, our bass player, was playing a no brand bass guitar that he picked up at a thrift shop for $50. He had a Fender for gigs but this thing was so funky-butt ugly and had a fuzzy thumping sound, perfect for Cry’n Shame.
Seab with Vox Super Beatle amp
Seab Meador, 1965
|“Seab Meador had a gaping hole in the center of his Vox Super Beatle so that he could stick his guitar neck inside to get the Fuzz tone that is prevalent on ‘Cry’n Shame’. He was a big Yardbirds follower.”Mike Kelley, our singer and guitarist, stuck his finger in the master tape spool by accident when it was rewinding, causing the strange modulation during the final cord at the end of the record. Since the mix had been finalized, it stayed in….|
“Brown then pressed 1 or 2 thousand of the dreadfully flat Vandan copies and sent them to his DJay cronies in Detroit, Philly and Boston for airplay.
“A few weeks later when we were having the photograph [above] made at the Studio Club in Dallas, a triumphant Brown walked in with a copy, (Jan. 1967) of Record World Magazine. In the 4 Star Rating column of hits to watch were 3 songs, ‘For What It’s Worth’, by the Buffalo Springfield, ‘Somebody to Love’, by the Jefferson Airplane, and ‘It’s a Cry’n Shame’ by the Gentlemen. We wondered how that could be at the time, whether Tom Brown paid someone for that privilege, but now I think maybe that song got there on it’s own merit. After all, it was suppose to be the B side. Ha.
“I remember when that 45 came out, it was sent to KLIF and KNOK radio stations is Dallas and they began to play it. We, of course, were completely beside ourselves. We had accepted a job playing at a large auditorium ‘go-go’ show in south Dallas with several other bands, but our new song established us as the band to beat. The promoters arranged to have 2 off duty Dallas police cars intercept us a few blocks from the gig. Girls were lined up several deep wanting autographs and such, so we had to run through them to get to our room back stage. Once there, a guard was stationed by our door and we could see girls jumping up to look in the little opera window, yelling and screaming.
“Bands were rotating equipment so that there were always 2 setups on stage. A band called Mike and the Midnighters played before us, and then it was our turn. We typically dressed in collarless jackets (Nehru Jackets they were called at the time) with gold ascots, stovepipe black slacks and Beatle boots, of course. What a crowd reaction! Several hundred wild kids whooping it up! When we finished and started off stage, several girls ran through the equipment to get to us, knocking over the Midnighter’s drum kit. The bass drum rolled over and fell off stage. They were very mad, but we were very happy, as this was about as close to ‘That 60’s British Rock Star Magic’ as a bunch of 16 year old kids from Dallas would ever get.
“It was 2 takes for Cry’n Shame because Tom Brown was out of money. Shortly after he showed up with the magazine, we showed up at his home to find a for sale sign and no furniture. We would find our later that he was down to his last cash and skipped town to avoid creditors. We never saw him again, but read that he moved to Los Angeles to start over. He died there not long after.
“In 1967, Seab Meador left the Gentlemen to pursue his quest for guitar immortality, including stints with Dallas bands The Bridge and The Werewolves. Guitarist Danny Sanchez who later played with the Roy Head band took over lead duties, but the magic that surrounded the core group was partially lost with Seab’s departure. The Gentlemen disbanded in early 1968 as other goals became important. Like so many bands of this era, we had an incredible time playing music that we loved during a time when 16 to 18 year old high school kids were able to live lives far more mature than their ages implied. It was a unique time that will never be repeated. Texas is known for braggin’ rights, and I realize that this bio contains some strong bragging, but I was and still am so proud to have played with such a great bunch of guys. You can’t buy that kind of friendship and strong ties. Seab and Mike have passed away, but I am still in touch with Tommy and Bruce and since we all still play our given instruments, a Gentlemen musical reunion is being discussed down in Dallas later this year. We may be a lot older, but at heart, we’re still kids from Oak Cliff and we can still rock.”
|I asked Tim a few questions regarding the band:|
Q. Didn’t the band start in Ft. Worth?
Tim: The Gentlemen were always from Dallas. Yes, we did play gigs in Ft. Worth, which as you know, had a thriving music scene of it’s own in the 60’s, but the guys from Norton Records who put the “Ft. Worth Teen Scene” compilations together either assumed or were told that we lived there. Not so.
Q. A band from Florida, the Invaders also performed at a movie theatre showing the Beatles movie Help! Strange coincidence, or maybe it wasn’t uncommon to have bands at movie theaters then?
Tim: I noticed that the Invaders had a similar newspaper clipping regarding HELP! That is a coincidence. I know that they must have had as much fun as we did. We played in the foyer of the theater and got paid PLUS great seats to watch the show. Big stuff for 16 year old kids.
Q. That set list is incredible, I can’t believe a band could play that many songs in one evening.
Tim: The playlist was pretty normal for a 4 hour gig back in those days. We would start around 7:30 and end up around 11:30 with 15 minute breaks in between sets. Each set was tweaked as we learned new songs. There were always a few requests, too.
Jimmie Randall on the Gentlemen:
“My connection was my friendship with Seab Meador. He introduced me to Tim and the other guitar player was Mike Kelley. They all went to Kimball High School in Dallas, I was at Sunset til we moved to Duncanville. They seemed to like my playing and let me be a sort of honorary member.
“I played with Lonnie on guitar in The Squires maybe that’s how I met Seab who knows? Not me. Everybody was changing bands so often then. I think because we were all learning to play and searching for a style and sound. It was like you sort of ‘outgrew’ one band and went on to the next size up. I do always say that the Gentlemen was the first ‘real’ band I was in. They had a real song list and could actually play.
“My time with the Gentlemen was really never as the ‘official’ bass player. I filled in some and played on a recording and on the Panther Hall TV show on Channel 11 from Ft.Worth. We even played a gig at Oak Cliff Country Club with two bass players …with predictable results. But we were 15 and 16 years old what did we know besides it was fun.
“Anyway as far as the Gentlemen recording I don’t really remember what was up with that. I know we did it at Summit Studios [Sumet Sound Studio]. I have the original acetate. These 2 songs [‘Beg, Borrow and Steal’ & ‘Here I Cannot Stay’] really showed off Seab’s early guitar licks and writing capabilities.
“It was recorded for our appearance on the Ft. Worth TV show that was on Friday nights on channel 11 from Panther Hall … a club on Camp Bowie. My first TV appearance was there with The Gentlemen. Seab and I got my mom to drive us over in her old Ford station wagon. First ‘out of town gig.’ Lots of local bands were on that show. I remember the night we were there a group called the Warlocks played I think Dusty and Rocky Hill were in that band they had a girl singer and all dressed in black. Also Johnny Greene and the Greenmen a show band with horns. Sort of a Wayne Cochran deal except with Giant green pompadour hair, instead of giant white pompadours.
“That was the first time I played with Seab. Later we tried to form a couple of bands, one of which was called the Hurricanes in Houston with Brian Papageorge and Ron Barnett. That became the Werewolves when Ron and I left to rejoin Gary Myrick in his band Slip of the Wrist. Seab was a great friend I was at the hospital the night before he died. He taught me a lot. I miss him still.”
After the Gentlemen, Jimmie Randall went on to play with Dallas groups The Styks and Stonz and The Beefeaters before joining Jo Jo Gunne.
As an interesting sidenote, Seab Meador did a short tour as a member (along with two future members of ZZ Top) of a fake version of the Zombies, a story told with great candor and excellent photos by fellow guitarist Mark Ramsey (Ramseur) at I Was a Teenage Fake Zombie.
|The early acetate:|
Incredible rehearsal tape of It’s a Cry’n Shame:
The Vandan 45:
|I detect a similarity between the riff of “It’s a Cry’n Shame” and Hilton Valentine’s opening to the Animals’ “Baby Let Me Take You Home”. Not to take anything away from Seab Meador, his playing is incredible. The Briks also did a version of this song not long before the Gentlemen cut “It’s a Cry’n Shame”.|
The mastering of the Vandan 45 gives it a somewhat distorted, flat sound. Interestingly, a test pressing surfaced with both songs in better sound quality. It was labeled “Crimson Records”, but no one seems to know the definite origin of this copy. The master stampers are different from the Vandan release, and the markings in the dead wax are also unique.
According to Mark Taylor, the Crimson test pressing has in small handwriting “CRIMSON 1006A” and “B”, then “3 ∆ I”. The Vandan has a handwritten “TK4M 8303 1.” Mop Top Mike adds, “Dead wax details allow me to relay that the Crimson pressing is definitely 60s. The triangle and the “I” signify a Capitol custom pressing from the Scranton, Pennsylvania plant. The likely scenario – a better sounding copy was remastered for a subsequent pressing – perhaps the major label, Capitol records showed some interest, and the go ahead was made to upgrade from the original lacquer / stamper done by RCA. A second scenario – I believe the Gentlemen 45 was the last if not the second to last issued by the Caprice / Vandan label. The operators packing in the label might have had something to do with the new pressing.”
The liner notes to Ft Worth Teen Scene vol. 3 state that the band recorded the song for release on their own label (hence the Crimson Records test press), and then gave it to Vandan when they struck a deal. Tim Justice states, “There is no Crimson Record label per se. The now legendary Crimson copy is just that, a single copy which we believe to be the original master to disc recorded after the Vandan studio sessions and before the several thousand Vandan pressings were made.”
Credits: Photo of Seab in 1965 from the BigD60s yahoo group. Transfers of the Gentlemen test press 45 courtesy of Mark Taylor. Some of Tim’s recollections first appeared on the G45 Central site and are reproduced with permission. Quotes from Jimmie Randall from my correspondence with him as well as the BigD60’s group.