Category Archives: Memphis

The Red Coats

The Red Coats of Memphis photo
The Red Coats. Photo from The Memphis Garage Rock Yearbook by Ron Hall.

Red Coats Orchid of Memphis 45 You Told a Lie
The Red Coats came from Ripley, Tennessee, about 50 miles northeast of Memphis.

Members were:

Bill Gurley – guitar and vocals
Tommy Bearid – organ and vocals
Johnny Shands – bass and vocals
Chris Tucker – drums

Guitarist and vocalist Bill Gurley moved to the Raleigh section of Memphis, but continued in the band despite having to travel to meet them at gigs around the West Tennessee area.

Their debut single for the Orchid of Memphis label in late 1966 featured Bill Gurley’s original song, “You Told a Lie”, which has a guitar intro akin to “Paint It Black”. There’s an effective gloominess throughout, helped by the echo on the vocal harmonies.

The flip was another Gurley original, “I’m Going to Tell You About My Baby”, both songs published by Black Orchid Music BMI.

In early ’67 the Red Coats went to the Stax Studio to record a second single, “Poison Ivy” / “Just Send Her To Me”, which was released as by the Sunday Funnies, a name the band did not use in live performances. I haven’t heard either song but the sound has been described as soul. “Just Send Her To Me” was recorded by another Orchid of Memphis act, The Tight Little Unit, who made it the title track of their album in 1967. The cover of that LP lists Terry Rose from Orchid Records and engineer Allen Worley.

Orchid of Memphis also released a rare Christian LP by Steve Engelhardt, Is It True, recorded at Cardinal Sound in Lexington, Kentucky.

Information from The Memphis Garage Rock Yearbook 1960-1975 by Ron Hall. Thanks to Kip Brown for the single!

Red Coats Orchid of Memphis 45 I'm Going to Tell You About My Baby

The Volcanoes

Here’s an unknown group with a great rocking b-side “Someone Like You”, featuring swirling organ, a couple good shouts, decent guitar solo and a solid rhythm section.The top side “Two of a Kind” is an odd choice – a long dramatic introduction leads to a slow weeper sung by (I think) a different vocalist than the flip.

Frederick Prue wrote both songs, and the labels credit Johnny Baylor Production. I don’t know where this band came from, but some publishing info points to Memphis, Tennessee as a possibility.

There were most certainly not the Volcanoes who do “Sympathize” / “Listen to the Clouds” on Sound Inc (and picked up by Sparton in Canada), two songs written by Ron Allan Neilson & Harry Olsen and produced by Getz-Powers. I believe that group was from Michigan, but would like to know more about either one of these ‘Volcanoes’.

James sent links to his copy, a red-label stock copy with a different logo at top, and oddly, a second vocal track on “Someone Like You”. I’ve added his label scan below.

The Escapades

l-r: Tom Minga, Dale Roark, Ronny Williamson, Ron Gorden and Bennie Kisner.

The Escapades were among the dozens of working teen bands in Memphis in the mid-’60s. Vocalist Tommy Minga had been part of the Jesters, who cut “Cadillac Man” for Sun Records. Though Minga was the primary songwriter for the Jesters and is given songwriting credit for “Cadillac Man”, the song was actually written by Jesters guitarist Teddy Paige. Paige disliked Minga’s vocal arrangement on an early take of the song and forced Minga out of the band soon after the session. Jim Dickinson was brought in to play piano and sing on the released version.

Within a couple months of leaving the Jesters in late 1965, Minga formed a new version of the Escapades with Bennie Kisner guitar, Ron Gorden keyboards, Dale Roark (not Rourke as has been listed before) bass and Ronny Williamson drums.

They released their first 45, “I Tell No Lies”, on the local Arbet label in January of 1966. The band moves seamlessly from verse to chorus, with swirling organ playing from Gorden and solid bass playing from Roark propelling the rhythm for Tom Minga’s strong vocal. Bennie Kisner provides a neat sitar-like solo on his Rickenbacker.

“She’s the Kind” is a little slower in tempo, and reminds me of the Zombies, Minga at times sounding very much like Colin Blunstone. Ronnie Gorden and Ron Williamson wrote “I Tell No Lies”, while Minga, Gorden and Roark wrote “She’s the Kind”.

This record was picked up by the XL label, but it’s unfortunate that Verve didn’t re-release it when they signed the band soon after its release, as “I Tell No Lies” should have had some chance at chart action.

Despite Kisner’s hard riffing fuzz sound, their second 45 doesn’t quite capture the magic of the first. Released on Verve in May of 1966, it failed to ignite the charts and the band was dropped.

The flip, “I Try So Hard” may be the band’s most ordinary composition, but Bennie Kisner’s interesting guitar picking is a highlight, and sounds great with headphones. Both sides are credited to the entire band, and produced by Stan Kesler.

The draft broke up the group in 1967. Ron Gorden joined the Bar-Kays and later worked as an artist for Stax.

Keyboard player Ron Gorden contacted me with the photos you see here and his story about the band:

Our first release “I Tell No Lies” was on a small independent label in Memphis. As it had success regionally, we were signed by Verve Records, a subsidiary of MGM Records, through Phillips Recording Studio (Sam Phillips of Sun Records/Elvis, Jerry Lee, etc. fame) with Stan Kessler producing us. For some reason the decision was made to not release I Tell No Lies nationally on Verve, but to record another song. So “Mad, Mad, Mad” was the result. I agree with you that it is unfortunate that “I Tell No Lies” did not have a chance to go further. I see it sell on E-Bay these days for as much as $350 for a 45rpm. I wish I had stashed a case of them!

The band wasn’t actually dropped by the label. We split up due to the draft, as you said on your site. Williamson, Roark, and Minga all entered the service. I continued in music for several years, ending with the Bar-Kays (1968-1970) before going to work for Stax Records where I eventually became Advertising Manager. During my tenure there, I was directly responsible for coordinating the development of more than 130 album covers and the trade and consumer advertising that accompanied those products. We did great work and won numerous awards including a “Grammy Award” nomination for package design (“Isaac Hayes Live at Sahara Tahoe”).

Benny Kisner died sometime in the late Seventies. Tom Minga died in approximately 2000. Williamson now lives in North Mississippi and does not play drums anymore. I am in Northwest Arkansas, where I own an insurance agency. I do not play professionally any more, but sometimes play in church.

Thank you to Ron Gorden for the photos and story on the band. The Ace/Big Beat CD Cadillac Men: the Sun Masters includes Minga’s vocal take of the Jesters’ “Cadillac Man” along with some great Minga originals and an unreleased Escapades track, “What You Know About Love”. I highly recommended it.

l-r: Minga, Williamson, Roark, Kisner and Gorden

The Ravin’ Blue

The Ravin’ Blue recorded two 45s in Nashville for producer Jack Clement and the Monument label.

Lead guitarist Bob Bernard wrote their best side, “It’s Not Real” and co-wrote “Love” with band members Art Christopher and Larry Nix. Art Christopher Jr. wrote the top side of their second record, the more pop-flavored “Colors” which was backed with “In My Sorrow”.

Neither record seems to have done very well, though their first received a release in Germany, France and Italy, and “Colors” also had a German release with a rare picture sleeve of the band.

I hadn’t been able to find out much about the group until I heard from Charlie Davis, drummer of the Cavaliers of Mississippi, who wrote to me:

I played drums on the session with The Ravin’ Blue…. “Love” and “It’s Not Real”. They were all attending Mississippi State University in Starkville, MS and were called The Knights from Starkville. We also had Jo Frank and the Knights from Leland, MS: “Can’t Find a Way”.

The Viet Nam war was raging about this time and The Knights drummer was drafted. We [the Cavaliers] were playing a gig which [Knights bassist] Jimmy Johnson had heard about and was looking for talent (for the manager of The Gentrys out of Memphis). He phoned me afterwards and asked if I would do the session. I had just completed my sophomore year of high school.

We laid down the instrumental tracks at a studio in Memphis, TN named Sonic Studios owned by Roland Janes, where Travis Womack cut the instrumental “Scratchy”. And yes it was produced by Jack Clement from Nashville. They also changed their name to The Ravin’ Blue. The vocals were added at Sun/Phillips studio the following Monday but I had returned to school. So, later on Jimmy Johnson mailed me one copy which I lost and never heard the songs again until I made contact through a friend that knew Bob Bernard about six years ago.

That was the only session or time that I was hired but Jimmy Johnson did phone me a few months later to join the group and to be on the TV show Hullabaloo but I was already in a rock ‘n’ roll group and still in high school. I don’t know if they were ever on that TV show..

sleeve for ’60s Italian release

sleeve for ’60s French release

Rare German sleeve for “Colors” that shows the only photo of the band I’ve ever seen
Does anyone have this sleeve or the photo in better quality?

Tommy Burk and the Counts

Tommy Burk and the Counts were a big local act in Memphis, every kid in the city would have seen them live or have known about them.

They had a career that spanned early ’60s vocal pop to garage. Members included Tommy Burk on vocals, Wayne Thompson guitar, Mike Stoker bass, Thomas Boggs on drums, John Greer, Steve O’Keefe and Dan Morelock.

They had about ten 45s on various labels, including a local hit with a garage-styled version of “Stormy Weather” and “Without Me” backed with a version of “Maggie’s Farm” on Southern Artists 2026. They are also supposed to be the group behind A. Jacks & The Cleansers “Stronger Than Dirt” on Clean 110. I hope to feature more of these eventually, but right now here’s “Counted Out”, a rocking instrumental from ’62, and the b-side to their very first 45, the doo-wop styled “You’ll Feel It Too”.

Lawson and Four More

Lawson And Four More Ardent PS

Out of Memphis, Tennessee came Bobby Lawson with his group Bobby and the Originals, consisting of Joe Lee lead guitar, Joe Gaston bass, Bill Donati drums, a guy named Bernie on keyboards and Bobby playing rhythm guitar and singing.

They initially played r&b and soul, but by 1965 they added the Zombies “You Make Me Feel Good” for an appearance on the local TV show, Talent Party. Around this time, Terry Manning replaced Bernie on keyboards. Terry had played with Bobby Fuller in their hometown of El Paso. Terry wrote to me in 2007 about his early career in Texas:

The Wild Ones was a band I started with a couple of guys from my school, Austin High in El Paso. We played around at a few small parties and stuff, nothing very big or very good. Our big hero, as with all other local bands, was Buddy Holly. (Besides Bobby Fuller, the other best local guy was Rod Crosby.) I was on rhythm guitar and some vocals, but the best player was a guy named Jay Nye. Roy Moore was our resident tech genius and sort of a “manager,” meaning he had a back house and a tape recorder!

I did record an album as The Wild Ones there, but it was just me on acoustic gtr and singing, with Roy beating on a can or box in the background, and maybe one other guy on maracas or something. It was about 15 songs, all covers. I had it out the other day transferring it to digital for archiving, and considering whether or not I might release it. An album I recorded completely by myself of all originals in ’65-66, before the Home Sweet Home farce, is going to come out soon on Runt/DBK…no one else has ever even heard it before. But the Wild Ones, I don’t know…pretty raw and young!

When I left El Paso in ’63, The Wild Ones got a couple of new members, everyone everywhere matured a bit, and they started playing much more serious gigs there, as I did in Memphis. In fact, they got pretty good (without me, ha ha!) I have some recordings they sent me later on, some surf type instrumentals…pretty cool sounding! They then decided to try to make it in LA, and went out there, hooking up with Bobby Fuller and the other El Paso guys already there. In fact, they went to Bobby’s apartment house on the very day he was found dead, and actually saw the death scene, with police, etc. I was in Memphis by that time though.

The band came to the attention of John Fry, who was running a fledgling Ardent Studios out of a room in his parents’ house. Jim Dickinson contributed a song “Back For More”, and after an initial take was too mellow, took over as producer on a faster version of the song.

I’ve also read that Dickinson convinced Fry to restart his then-defunct Ardent label specifically to record Lawson & Four More. In any case, the first version, supposedly sounding like the Kinks, remains unreleased. Studio musicians were used for all the instruments, including Jimmy Crosswaite playing maracas on a cardboard box, Charlie Hull on lead guitar, and Dickinson on piano. Another song by Dickinson, “If You Want Me You can Find Me”, became the A side. Before the release, Dickinson renamed the band Lawson & 4 More and in a move to make him a “southern” Mick Jagger, told Bobby to stop playing guitar on stage. Around this time, Jim told Bobby “I’m gonna make you a star.”

The top side of their second record “Relax Your Mind” was recorded in Nashville in 1966 at the Fred Foster Studio because Ardent was constructing its new studios in a building on National Ave. Bobby describes it as “an old Leadbelly song redone in a “Lovin’ Spoonful” type style.”

This copy of their second 45 signed by Terry Manning.
This time the whole band played on the record except for John Lee; Dickinson took over the lead guitar parts. It received a lot of local airplay despite a lack of promotional support from Ardent. This record also seems to be the last one released on the old Ardent label.

According to Bobby “our competition was the Guillotines, the Group, and Flash & the Casuals (the Radiants and the Counts had faded from the scene, and the Gentry’s were on the road with their hit record).”

The b-side is the psychedelic “Halfway Down the Stairs”, another Dickinson song. Bobby Lawson considers it “by far the best thing we ever cut.” the melodic guitar riff is taken from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which I find kind of weird, but the guitar sound and overall performance is excellent.

On the strength of this moderate hit, Lawson & Four More joined a Dick Clark package tour that included the Yardbirds. The band’s live performances became more psychedelic, characterized by destruction of equipment and stage lights. Bobby puts this down to Terry Manning’s growing influence within the group. Bobby states, “as we infused more psychedelic and non-commercial elements into our show, we became less marketable (danceable).”

The Avengers Ardent 45 BatarangIn between these two releases, the band cut a great 45 as the Avengers. One side is an instrumental “Batarang”, featuring Lee Baker on guitar and Terry Manning on keyboards along with Joe Gaston, Bill Donati and Bobby Lawson. The flip is “Batman” featuring the Robins on vocals with the Avengers backing, including Jim Dickinson on 12-string guitar. Production by Uncle John’s Gang, meaning John Fry’s team, including Jim Dickinson.

After a name change to the Goat Dancers, the band eventually split acrimoniously over musical direction.

Bobby Lawson was still interested in soul and r&b, but after Ardent moved from the University of Memphis area to its National Avenue studio, Fry and Dickinson shifted their focus from Lawson to Terry Manning. Manning didn’t have the voice of Lawson, but was more attuned to the new rock sound Ardent pursued when the label was relaunched again in 1970.

Terry Manning went on to a form Rock City with Chris Bell and Jody Stevens before those two formed Big Star with Alex Chilton and Andy Hummel. Manning then became a hugely successful engineer and producer for artists great and not-so-great. Part of his legacy is inscribing the Crowley maxim “Do What Thou Wilt” into the dead wax of Led Zeppelin III.

Bobby Lawson started Lawson’s Blues Bag and gigs around Memphis to this day. Much information for this post was taken from Bobby’s website – take a look for his detailed story about his career and Lawson & Four More.

Some specific info on Lawson & Four More’s recording sessions comes from an interview with Jim Dickinson at What a Nice Way to Turn 17.