Category Archives: Alabama

The Swingin’ Lamp Liters

One of the finest records on the Vaughn Ltd. label is the Swingin’ Lamp Liters’ “Get Away”. Members at the time of recording were Al Lovoy on vocals, Tommy Calton guitar, Jesse Warth bass and Gary Swatzell on organ. Charles Carbonie was band leader and drummer.

The record was cut in 1967, featuring Tommy Calton’s original Get Away backed with a cover of “Little Latin Lupe Lu”.

Other members of the band at one time or another included Frankie Parrish rhythm guitar, Greg Sheffield bass (actually bass lines on a 6-string guitar!), Steve Burkes on organ and three lead vocalists: Jimmy Whitt, George Tobias and Larry McMeekin.

Charles Carbonie formed the Lamp Liters in January of ’64 and continued playing live shows until early 1969.

After cutting the single, Tommy Calton, Al Lovoy and Gary Swatzell left the band to form the Royal Carousel with Jimmy Whitt on bass and Al Pettinato on drums. The Royal Carousel played current sunny pop songs like the Merry Go Round’s “Live”, but only lasted a few months, when Tommy and Gary returned to the Lamp Liters.

Al Lovoy went into the Wild Vybrashons, who cut a good fuzz version of the Knickerbockers’ “One Track Mind”, produced by two WSGN DJs, Steve Norris and Glen Powers.

Tommy Calton formed bands including the Brass Button, Wooden Music and Hotel, and still plays music professionally. The photo and much of the information here is from his website

The Bassmen and the Candy Store Prophets

The Church Keys (Bassmen) playing live in Birmingham 1963

The Bassmen have the very first 45 released on the Vaughn-Ltd label, the excellent original song “I Need You”.

The Bassmen originally formed as the Church Keys in 1962 while in the ninth grade in Birmingham. Original members were Rob Hackney guitar, Chuck Butterworth keyboards, Mike Easter on bass and Tom Allison on drums. Over the next year they added Charlie Feldman as lead singer and Vaughn Rives on rhythm guitar, and Steve Gilmer replaced Butterworth on keyboards.

By 1965 they had changed their name to the Bassmen, and they went into Ed Boutwell’s studio in English Village to record their 45, “I Need You” / “Leigh Anne”. Both are credited to B. Van Santte, perhaps a fictitious name as it doesn’t match any of the band members.

The single garnered the Bassmen appearances at shows produced by local DJs Papa Don Schroeder and Duke Rumore, and the band toured colleges in the area as well.

At the start of college in 1966, singer Charlie Feldman, bassist Mike Easter and drummer Tom Allison found new members Jamie Grant and Tommy Johnson. They renamed the band the Candystore Prophets and released one very fine Beatles-esque 45 on Andy Anderson’s Cougar label of Jackson, Mississippi, “The Time of Day” b/w “You’re a Teaser” (both written by Jamie Grant).

Note, this is not the same Candy Store Prophets led by Boyce and Hart who wrote and recorded the backing tracks for all the early songs of the Monkees.

Source: Info for this story and the photo at top are taken from the Bassmen’s site. Check it to see more photos and updates on the band.

The Distortions

The Distortions: Ned Bibb, Bobby Marlin, Zac Zachery and Robert Alexander
From left: Ned Bibb, Bobby Marlin, Zac Zachery and Robert Alexander
(thanks to Dale Aston for the correction)

Distortions Sea 45 Can You TellFrom the Ensley Highlands section of Birmingham, Robert Alexander (bass), Ned Bibb (vocals and guitar), and Bobby Marlin (drums) started playing in high school in 1962, rehearsing in Robert Alexander’s basement.

In 1965-66 they backed Travis Wammack, then took the name The Distortions from his record “Distortion pt. 1”. They added Zack Zackery on keyboards, and recorded their first three 45s on Sea Records. These included an interesting Ned Bibb original, “Can You Tell”, which was backed by a slow, loopy take on “Hound Dog”; and a raging version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning”.

Distortions Malcolm Z. Dirge 45 Thank You JohnThe band added Eddie Rice on guitar in 1966 and switched to the Malcolm Z. Dirge label for their next release, “Thank You John”, which reached the charts on WSGN in town. On the flip they recorded a fine version of the Rascals’ oft-covered “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore”.

When their next 45, “Behind My Wall” was picked up for national distribution by Smash, they had their biggest hit, selling 10-15,000 copies according to their producer Ed Boutwell. Their penultimate 45 was a good Bill Haney original, “I Found a Girl”, with a version of “I Don’t Really Like You”, originally done by Baton-Rouge’s Canebreak Singers on Montel and written by Mike Crespo. It was produced by Haney and Richie Becker and released on Casino, a subsidiary of the Dover Records company of New Orleans.

In ’67 the Distortions added Roy Alexander on saxophone.

Distortions Rally with Torquays, Hard Times, the Vikings, the Rockin' Rebellions, This Side Up at Birmingham City Auditorium

Distortions, Capitol promo shot, 1968: Roy Alexander, Roy Zachary, Bobby Marlin, Steve Salord, Dale Aston and George Landman
Capitol promo shot, 1968, from left: Roy Alexander, Roy Zachary, Bobby Marlin, Steve Salord, Dale Aston and George Landman

Dale Aston of the Torquays sent in the photo above and writes about his time with the band:
Distortions Casino 45 I Found a Girl

I played guitar with the band. Steve Salord and I had just left The Torquays and joined with The Distortions for a brief period. We recorded “Let’s Spend Some Time Together” at Boutwell Studios in Mountain Brook, AL.

As I recall Ed Boutwell had a hand in getting Capital Records to pick up “Let’s Spend Some Time Together”. The other labels were homegrown and produced by the band for local distribution only.

Their last release was a cleaned-up version of the Stone’s “Let’s Spend the Night Together”, retitled “Let’s Spend Some Time Together”. This was picked up by Capitol but didn’t sell particularly well.

Henry Lavoy took over on drums during the late 1960’s.

The band split up in 1969, but Zack Zachery and Roy Alexander played college and club shows as the Distortions into the ’70s, with Clif Payne on drums and Ed Finn.

Clif Payne sent in the photo of the group from the 1970’s as well as four unreleased songs from 1975 in a polished, commercial sound the band developed later on, something akin to the Average White Band. See Clif’s comment below for more information about that band at this time.

Roy Alexander and Bobby Marlin are now deceased.

Distortions Magna Club Booking photo

45 releases:

Hound Dog / Can You Tell – Sea 100
Take This Ring / You Know I’m On My Way – Sea 101
Smokestack Lightning / Hot Cha – Sea 102
I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore / Thank You John – Malcolm Z. Dirge 45000
Smokestack Lightning / Behind My Wall – Malcolm Z. Dirge 45002
A Love That Loves You / Behind My Wall – Smash S-2068
I Don’t Really Like You / I Found A Girl – Casino 501
Let’s Spend Some Time Together / Gimme Some Lovin’ – Malcolm Z. Dirge 45008 and Capitol 2223

Sources: Reunion of the Sons and Daughters of the Sixties program, May 8th, 1987; Birmingham News. April 30, 1987, Birmingham Weekly, vol. 10.

Thank you to Mike Pair for loaning me the Birmingham News article, “Hair” Rally notice and Reunion program.

The Preachers

The Preachers were from Tuscaloosa, but other than David Keller, I don’t know who the members were. Keller seems to have been running the show along with producer and co-writer Steve Norris.

“Inspiration” shows a heavy Dylan influence, but though I’ve listened to it a dozen times in the last two days, I still can’t make out what he’s saying.

It was released twice on the Righteous Enterprises label out of Birmingham. The second time, backed the eerie “Hallowed Ground”, it made it all the way to #7 on WGNE in Panama City, Florida on Sept. 9, ’66, where Keller had a club called the Head Shop.

There was a long-standing rumor that this label was run by the Righteous Brothers, but this seems to be completely wrong, and I can’t confirm any connection. It seems unlikely – the “Brothers” were from California, not Alabama anyway.

“Who’s That Hiding in the Closet” is a good horn-driven instrumental, the kind that you could have heard in any town in the U.S. on a Saturday night in the early ’60s.Preachers RE 45, Girls, Girls, Girls

The Preachers had a third 45, a cover of the Everly Brothers “Girls, Girls, Girls” b/w “Dedicated”, from April 1966.

Keller managed groups including the Outer Mongolian Herd and the Omen and Their Luv, releasing one single for each of these groups on his Daisy label.

Prior to the Preachers, David was a member of the Knights Band out of Birmingham.

Photo from the WTBC 1230 history site. Thanks to Bård Hodneland for the clip of Hallowed Ground.

The Shambrels

The Vaughn-Ltd label released at least eight garage 45s that I know of, including good records by the Bassmen and the Rockin’ Rebellions. Most bands on that label were from Birmingham, but I don’t have any background on the Shambrels.

The Shambrels were one of the last released on Vaughn-Ltd. “Summer Girl” is the flip of the more pop-oriented “Girl, I’m Glad”. Both songs were written by B. Gordon.

The Vikings

The Vikings: Charles Nettles standing in the back and below, l-r: Gary Smith, Phil Whitley, Lee Lowery, Randy Carmichael, and Steve Vainrib
The Vikings: Charles Nettles standing in the back and below, l-r: Gary Smith, Phil Whitley, Lee Lowery, Randy Carmichael, and Steve Vainrib

The Vikings of Birmingham, Alabama recorded two quite different 45s. The first was produced by Ed Boutwell, at whose studio the Hard Times recorded their 45. Band members were Gary Smith, Phil Whitley, Lee Lowery, Randy Carmichael, Steve Vainrib and Charles Nettles.Vikings Viking 45 Come On and Love Me

“Come On and Love Me” is fantastic, an upbeat song with double-tracked vocals and a nice balance between Phil Whitley’s lead guitar and the strummed rhythm. As exciting a single as any released during the summer of 1966.

“I Will Never Go” is a ballad, and while not exceptional, it builds to a strong ending. Both sides were co-written by Charles Nettles and C. Putnam.

Over a year later they made a second record on the Lowery label, but the change in their sound is enormous. The a-side is another Charles Nettles original, “Cherish the Love You Feel”, with lavish orchestration and an arrangement influenced by English pop from the time. The flip is a cover of Tommy Roe’s “Golden Girl” – chosen probably because the Lowery booking agency was handling both bands.

Randy Carmichael became a studio musician for Neil Hemphill’s Sound of Birmingham studio in the Midfield section of the city, playing for Fredrick Knight and Bobby Womack among others. Phil Whitely went on to play with the Hard Times after their guitarist Ron Parr died in Vietnam.

Wayne Perkins joined as guitarist after the 45s were recorded. He wrote an extensive remembrance of his days in music. Of his time with the Vikings, he says this:

When I hit sixteen, I had enough of school and a string of teachers that didn’t like my long hair. They said I would “never get anywhere playing’ that guitar.” So I said, “Oh yeah? Well you just watch me!” At that point, I left school, left home and moved in with a fellow band member of the Vikings named Charles Nettles and his Mom. I sort of “kept house” to pay rent, ya know, cut the yard and that sort of thing.

In this time period Charlie was learning to, and teaching me how to write songs. He said his Mom was on a diet and was taking these little pills called “obadrine” or something, and if he took one it made him concentrate better and the songs turned out better. And I’ll be damned if he wasn’t right. It also made me sing and play better…at least I thought I could. So I stayed with Charlie and his Mom, Dot (short for Dorothy) for about a year and a half until one of Charlie’s girlfriends took an interest in me and I just couldn’t help myself…

The last time I played with Charlie and the Vikings was in the Fall of ‘68 and when the gig was over, we came off stage only to run headlong into Stephanie Brown, Charlie’s future ex-girlfriend. She looked at Charlie and then looked at me. I looked at Charlie and said, “I can’t do this anymore.” Then I looked at Stephanie and said, “What’s it gonna be? You going with him or coming with me?”

She said, “I’m coming with you Baby.” As we walked off, Charlie looked at me and said, “You’ll never do anything without me in the business!” I said, “Oh yeah? Just watch me!” So we walked around the side of the stage and ran right into a drummer friend of mine by the name of Jasper Guarino, and he said, “Man, you are playing your ass off, I saw what just went down with Charlie…what the hell you gonna do?! I said, “Man, I don’t know.” And he said, “Well, if you’re interested, there’s an opening for a guitar player in a studio called “Quinvy’s” in Muscle Shoals. He said, “That’s where I’m working. The hours are easy, it’s from 10 a.m. to four or five depending on what’s going on and it pays $100.00 a week.” I said, “When are you going back?” He said, “Tonight, you got anything better to do?” I said, “Hell no. That’s the best idea I heard in a long time.” So I said to Stephanie, “I’ll see you later, I’m going to Muscle Shoals.” So Jasper and I swung by Charlie’s house, dumped all of my shit into a garbage bag, and got the hell out of Birmingham.

To see if he proved Charlie wrong, read more here.

Thanks to David Hill for the photos, and Mike Pair for his help on this story.

 Wayne Perkins and Eddie Hinton
Wayne Perkins (left) and Eddie Hinton

The Hard Times / The Rites of Spring

The Hard Times photo, l-r.: Daily Vandergrif drums, Mike Melton bass, Ronnie Melton keyboards, Mike Pair guitar, Ron Parr guitar, and Mike Gunnels vocals
The Hard Times, l-r.: Daily Vandergrif drums, Mike Melton bass, Ronnie Melton keyboards, Mike Pair guitar, Ron Parr guitar, and Mike Gunnels vocals

Hard Times Ultimate 45 You Couldn't Love MeI wrote about the Rites of Spring a few months ago, but now I can bring you the whole story of this Birmingham, Alabama group. As the Hard Times they recorded one 45 on the Ultimate label, “Losing You” backed with the excellent “You Couldn’t Love Me”.

By winning a WVOK battle-of-the-bands, the band attracted the attention of Cameo-Parkway Records, which had just hired Michigan singer Terry Knight as a staff producer after his 45 “I (Who Have Nothing)” on Lucky Eleven (distributed nationally by Cameo-Parkway) had become a sizeable hit. The Hard Times would be his first project for the label, but first they had to change their name to the Rites of Spring to avoid conflict with the San Diego/LA group of the same name who had records out on World Pacific.

The folky “Why (?)” was released in October, 1966, with the much harder edged “Comin’ On Back To Me” on the flip. Both songs were written by Michael Gunnels and Ronald Parr. The band promoted the record on the national TV show, Where the Action Is.

I recently spoke to Mike Pair, guitarist with the Hard Times and the Rites of Spring, and he gave me the full story about the band.

WVOK Talent Search

Q. How did the Hard Times form? Were you friends in school or in other bands?

Mike Pair: I played with Mike Gunnels in another band which lasted about 3 months. He then met the rest of the group who were trying to form a band, and when they needed another guitar, he suggested me. They all went to Woodlawn High School together – except me.

WSGN Birmingham QSL cardThe Hard Times’ “Losing You” was produced and recorded here in Birmingham at Boutwell Studies. Ed Boutwell shot all the civil rights footage from Birmingham with the fire hoses and dogs that you still see on the TV. Steve Norris, a local DJ, produced it. “You Couldn’t Love Me” was a one take song just to fill the other side of the record. “Losing You” got to #1 on the top local charts in Birmingham. We also did a lot of work for the WSGN DJs. WSGN was a great radio station.

We were busy every weekend throughout the south. We booked from Lowery Talent in Atlanta. They also had Tommy Roe, Joe South, Bobby Goldsboro, and the Tams. They picked us up because we won a 300 band “Battle of the Bands” There were so many bands, it lasted 2 days and we won.

The Hard Times at WSGN event, Eastwood Mall, 1967

Rites of Spring Parkway 45 Comin' On Back to MeRites of Spring Parkway Promo 45 Comin' On Back to MeQ. How did the Hard Times come to the attention of Cameo Parkway?

Mike: The Cameo Parkway record and Where the Action Is came through Lowery Talent. We were still the Hard Times, [but the California group] the Hard Times band was a regular on that show, so that was the reason for the name change to the Rites of Spring. If we had turned down the Action deal, we could have kept the name.

Q. Tell me about recording the Rites of Spring record.

Mike: We recorded both sides in Philly. Chubby Checker was there too.

Q. One website says that Terry Knight took your demo and re-recorded the vocals and some tracks, and improved it. Is that how you see it?

Mike: No, that part is not correct. The cut for the record company was the first one and we had not recorded that song before. Terry was a little weird even in those days. After we would do a cut, he would just sit there and stare into space not saying anything for long periods of time. We would just stand in the studio and wait until he came out of his “zone”. When Chubby Checker came in and sat in on some of the session, things were a little better and he acted more normal.

Q. Did you ever see any money from Cameo for the Rites of Spring 45?

Mike: Not a dime!!! They never pushed the record, and the only reason we can figure out was “96 Tears” came out about the same time and it was more of an instant hit that our record was, so it got all the promo money. We had one more record in our contract, but if I remember correctly, Cameo Parkway went south and out of existence not too long after we recorded, and the second record never got made.

We were on ‘Where the Action Is’ about two weeks before the show ended: #444, March 16th, 1967, and the show ended with #455, March 31, 1967. We were the first Alabama band on national TV.

We went to LA to film and went to a disco (can’t remember the name). It was during the riots on Sunset strip that year. The hotel would not give us a room because with our long hair (long for those days, you wouldn’t look twice now): they thought we were there for the riots. Dick Clark Productions had to call the hotel to tell them who we were and that it was ok to give us a room. Filmed with Neil Diamond, and the Royal Guardsman from Florida who did all those Snoopy and the Red Baron songs.

Q. That’s interesting you filmed with the Royal Guardsmen and Neil Diamond, because the episode you’re on features Keith Allison and Paul Revere and the Raiders – did they use footage from different times for the show?

Mike: Yes, they filmed all over the country and then picked which date they would show what. There might be 5 bands on a show filmed in 5 different places. We actually filmed the show several months before it aired. Keith Allison introduced us as a band from one of his favorite towns, Birmingham, Alabama. The Action crew had actually filmed some in Birmingham, and our keyboard player had a date with one of the Action dancers. That was pretty cool at that time.

[If anyone has a copy of the Rites of Spring on Where the Action Is, please get in touch, as Mike would like to see the performance after all these years.]

KRLA Beat, Nov. 5, 1966 Terry Knight producing the Hard Times, mistakenly listed as from Atlanta!
Los Angeles’ KRLA Beat magazine, Nov. 5, 1966 Terry Knight producing the Hard Times, mistakenly listed as from Atlanta!
Mike: The band broke up about 9 months after the Action appearance as Uncle Sam was calling most of us. It was great fun for a few years and we did shows with the Animals, Herman’s Hermits, Tommy James, the Byrds and Tommy Roe. Lots of great memories and good times. Mike Melton found some tapes we made at Fame studios with Rick Hall producing (Muscle Shoals, Alabama). I have listened to the tapes and there is some good stuff on them. Its funny that all the songs on there we wrote and they are all “death songs”, which is far from our stage act. All stuff on stage was up beat!!Mike Melton, the bass player, and Ronnie Melton, the keyboard player are still here in Birmingham and I see them often. Ron Parr who co-wrote most of our songs was killed in ‘Nam. Mike Gunnels, our lead singer made a small hit in Nashville on his own, but then fell out of sight. Daily Vandergriff our drummer is in West Virginia and is in the National Guard.

p.s. The shirts were in the early days. We got pretty grungy at the last!!

The Hard Times photo
The Hard Times

Mike Pair sent me a tape of the demo sessions at Fame. Some of the songs are downers, but they’re not all death songs! Many are very accomplished and some have contemporary country influences. The demos include later versions of “Losing You” and “You Couldn’t Love Me”, plus the following songs: “Don’t Love You Anymore”, “Memories of You”, “Rain Song”, “She’s Gone”, “If You Want Me to Go”, “Time for Me to Go”, “Suzie Q”, “Caretaker”, “Lotta Livin’ to Do”. George Wiggin provides harmony on some tracks.

Thank you to Mike Pair for sharing his photo of the Hard Times and for all his help in getting their story told. The WGSN card is from a great site on Birmingham Mike told me about, Birmingham Rewound.

Thanks also to Jeff Lemlich for the scans of the Frankford Wayne acetate.

Update, September 2011

The demo record pictured here was from Frankford Wayne Recording Labs, the leading mastering studio in Philadelphia, but not the recording studio for these songs. The band is still known as “The Hardtimes” (sic), though this would be released under the Rites of Spring name.

Hardtimes Frankford-Wayne demo, "Why" is the same as the released version.
The Hardtimes Frankford-Wayne demo, “Why” is the same as the released version.
Hardtimes Frankford Wayne Recording demo
“No Name” is actually an instrumental version of “Comin’ On Back to Me” without vocals or keyboard or guitar overdubs. Mike Pair told me “That is Ron [Parr on lead guitar], but my guitar answer is not on the [demo] record”. This bare-bones version sounds great to my ears.

The Hard Times Jones-Lawless ad