Review: Teen a Go Go (DVD)

In the mid-’60s, Fort Worth, Texas had an almost ideal teen band scene. The city was large enough to support dozens of semi-professional bands, it had several clubs that catered specifically to teens and even a few small studios and record labels. Most of all, it had a lot of musical talent, aware of the city’s own rhythm and blues heritage but soaking up the edgy sound of the English bands on the charts in ’64-’65.

Fort Worth bands cut incredible covers of British Invasion bands: the Cynic’s take on the Yardbirds’ version of “Train Kept a Rollin'”, the Mods’ version of “Evil Hearted You”, the Jades take on Van Morrison and Them’s “Little Girl”. They recorded great original songs as well. As a guitarist I can tell you how much fun it is to play Larry & the Blue Notes’ “In and Out”, with its bent-string breaks between every line of lyric. Other classics that come to mind: “Alibis” by the Bards, “My Confusion” by the Elite, “Don’t Burn It” by the Barons, “Be Nice” by the Nomads.

The records these bands cut were sold to the local teens and played on local radio. Few of the bands made it out of Fort Worth, and only a handful of Fort Worth records broke out to limited national exposure, such as “One Potato” by the Elite or “Night of the Phantom” by Larry & the Blue Notes.

Despite the lack of national recognition at the time, these records have made the Fort Worth Teen Scene legendary among garage fans in the years since. Now there is a DVD release to document it in detail, Teen a Go Go, a film by Melissa Kirkendall, Mark Nobles and James Sterling Johnson.

The filmmakers have done a spectacular job of interviewing many participants in the scene, including members of most of the important bands along with DJ Mark E. Baby (Mark Stevens), studio engineer Phil York, and Sump’n’Else producer/director Bud Buschardt. The interviews are casual and in-depth, with high quality audio and video. With so many interviews, it helps that the editing breaks them up so we return to the participants throughout the film, making the faces familiar to viewers who might not know the different bands.

Teen a Go Go starts with a general overview of the mid-60’s band phenomena, which surprised me by featuring a number of interviews with members of non-Fort Worth bands like the Novas from Dallas, the Excels of McKinney, the Vipers from Henderson, Arkansas and Eric & the Norsemen of Lawrence, Kansas. However, these interviews do a good job of showing the similarities between the teen band scenes throughout the United States.

After this introduction, the movie focuses on Fort Worth, briskly moving through discussions of the teen clubs, go-go girls, TV appearances by the bands and more. There’s a good segment on Major Bill Smith with footage of him in the studio from the ’70s. It’s fun to watch the Elite describe the making of their “One Potato” / “Two Potato” single – I could only wish there was more on about the making of records, the studios and the labels. There is a short discussion of the rivalries between different sections of Fort Worth which I’m sure is enough for most viewers, but I would like to have seen explored in more depth.

The film brings up the complicated shadow of Dallas, a larger city with more resources and commercial possibilities than Fort Worth. Ron Chapman’s Sump’n’Else TV show was influential throughout the region, and since footage of any Fort Worth bands on the show is lost, the film shows clips of the Five Americans (an Oklahoma band signed to the Abnak label of Dallas) lip-synching to “Western Union Man” and “I See the Light” and the Kingsmen doing “Louie, Louie”.

Returning the focus to Fort Worth, the film gives good background on some important Fort Worth acts that influenced the teen bands, notably Ray Sharpe and Bruce Channel, who cut “Hey Baby” with Delbert McClinton for Maj. Bill Smith.

Although the filmmakers have gathered a huge collection of photos and clippings, I found there to be too much panning across photos and not enough use of the little surviving film footage from the time. We see all-too-brief glimpses of the Cynics, the Elite and The Bluecoats. There are a few seconds of the Jades and the Sundown Collection from the Panther Hall, but I would like to have seen more of the fragmentary footage that survives – such as a ferocious half minute of the Phaze V performing “7 and 7 Is”. This is a minor quibble and after all, we can turn to the internet for that kind of video.

I highly recommend Teen a Go Go. For more information on the film, or to order a DVD, check out Teen-a-Go-Go.com.


Above: The Phaze V from Fort Worth: Steve Lamb (lead vocals and guitar), Mike Kersh (guitar), Monte Kersh (bass), Rick Eubanks (keyboard) and Jim Cardwell (drums).

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2 thoughts on “Review: Teen a Go Go (DVD)”

  1. Enjoyed your commentary/critique of the film. Most are similar to those i and the filmakers have discussed amonst ourselves.
    I provided a large proportion of film and photos for this project, including those of the 1964 Beatles concert in Dallas at the beginning of the film.
    All in all Melissa and Mark have done a great job telling the story and meeting certain requirements and selecting from the amount of material available.
    My particuylar criticisms are: (1) any and all references for bands in this era being referred to as “garage bands”; different time, different places, different circumstances. (2) The necessity of and inclusion of people and music that were not pertinent to this particular story. I understand why they had to do it, but it skews the historical facts somewhat.
    One thing the documentary did for me is to spur me to write the story of my experiences from this time, to hopefully fill in some blanks and and address some questions left unanswered by the film.
    Regards
    Rodger W. Brownlee – “ThElite” 1965/66

  2. I enjoyed this documentary and was surprised to see that some of the members of these bands went on to be in Bloodrock in the early 70s–their single “DOA” was one of the more macabre singles to hit the charts. John Nitzinger wrote some of the lyrics, too.

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