Frank Gutch Jr: The Sixties’ TEEN SCENES— When Teens Ruled the Music World…..

No love songs for me!  Hell, no!  Give me Rock & Roll and Metal and Hard Rock!  Give me something with a beat, and I ain’t talkin’ heartbeat.  Give me pulse-pounding vibrations strong enough to revive the dead!  Give me… Garage!  Garage?  Where the hell did that term come from?  When I played it it was just plain old Rock & Roll and it came in a variety of shapes and sizes from attempts at Surf (two guitars and a bass plugged into one Sears Silvertone amp whose speakers screamed for mercy) to attempts at Rock (vocals so over-amped you could not tell there were vocals which was fine because most singers screamed instead of sang anyway) to attempts at whatever the instruments and amps and PA system allowed.  You know what it was like?  Nine out of ten bands had a member who was only in the band because he owned the PA.  Hell, nine out of ten members of bands joined before they even knew how to play an instrument!  Those were the days and I’ve been reliving them a lot lately thanks to a video about Fort Worth’s teen scene, aptly titled Teen A-Go-Go.

Oh, I’m always ready for a go at the old days.  In the Pac Northwest, we had our own teen scene full of packed out National Guard Armories and the few teen clubs which existed in the day.  I remember being fascinated and regaled by the likes of Paul Revere & the Raiders and The Wailers and The Sonics and Don & the Goodtimes (not to be confused with the East Coast group of the same name— these guys were originally from Portland, Oregon).  I also remember the dark underside of the music scene, inhabited by the likes of Paul Bearer & The Hearsemen and The Live Five and Mr. Lucky & The Gamblers and so many more lesser knowns, which is who turned up at the armories in my part of the world (Mid-Willamette Valley, Oregon).  I remember cracking my window open to hear The Moguls as they played a gig at the American Legion Hall, or was it the VFW, in my Sweet Home, my home town.  I got a listen to every band who played there because it got very hot inside the club in the summer and they were forced to open windows and, man, the sounds that carried from window to window!

Of course, where I was, it was mostly guard armories and high schools.  I thought it was that way everywhere, so imagine my surprise when I found out that every little and big burg in the States had their own scene which didn’t revolve around armories, even if most did revolve around high schools.  Wayne Proctor (We The People) played mostly at youth centers and community centers, evidently the Central Florida equivalent of armories.  The L.A. Scene, according to Steve Young, revolved around actual clubs, most serving alcohol.  And Fort Worth— Fort Worth had A-Go-Go‘s, complete with dancers and music to blow the teen mind.  Dancers!  If they’d have tried that in Oregon, every conservative and church organization in the state would have been yelling for heads to roll because, really, who knew what could go on in such establishments?  What the hell is an A-Go-Go anyway?  (Us teens didn’t know, but had we known, we would have been lobbying like crazy for A-Go-Go’s— call it a learning opportunity)

Look, I am not new to Fort Worth.  I spent three years putting together a story of a shining example of success unrealized (Lost In Space:  The Story of Fort Worth’s Space Opera).  I heard about the A-Go-Go‘s.  I heard about the scene.  I heard about and heard much of the music.  I thought I understood, but hearing and knowing are two completely different things.  After watching the trailer for Teen A-Go-Go, I realize that I will never really quite know, but I’m having the time of my life learning.

In my limited existence, go-go was tacky New York clubs and Goldie Hawn between jokes on Laugh In.  It was, thanks to Hollywood, tinny canned music from would-be musicians who wished they could be in bands but were stuck cranking out generic instrumental licks for supposedly wild and cool parties which may have existed but to which no self-respecting teen would have gone (unless their hormones made them, because there were always beautiful model-types shagging (don’t laugh, kids, it was a dance) and frugging and even twisting their way through and around the swimming pool or beach or club).  But a go-go girl at a teen dance?  Only in our dreams.

Elaine McAfee Bender, an honest-to-God go-go dancer from the teen scene in Fort Worth, lived that dream.  She danced at the A-Go-Go‘s and danced in the A-Go-Go‘s.  She saw the bands, danced alongside them and was a fan.  She got the job through a Beatles fan club she had started with three of her girlfriends and that somehow got her a weekly stint at reporting the latest Beatles news on radio station KFJZ and that somehow got her the job as a go-go dancer.  She became a hostess for the station which was by then sponsoring dances and concerts in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.  She met many rock stars of the time— Jim Morrison and Paul McCartney and Peter Noone (Herman’s Hermits) and the members of bands like The Dave Clark Five and The Byrds.  Oh, she didn’t dance with any of the stars, but she did dance with their opening bands like The Elites and The Barons and her personal favorites (she was going with the band’s guitarist, Bill Ham) The Nomads.

That’s heady stuff, looking back.  That is equivalent to dancing with The Dynamics or The Viceroys or even The Kingsmen in the Northwest.  The bands?  Line ’em up.  Along with the aforementioned Elites, Barons, and Nomads, she shared the stage with Space Opera‘s predecessor The Mods and Larry & The Blue Notes and The Jades and a slew of other bands, all cut from the same cloth— Sixties’ rock.  Who did she like best (besides The Nomads, of course)?

The Elite were probably the most popular band in The Fort Worth area,” she said.  “I use the word ‘popular’ because that was truly what they were.  They had an advantage over many of the other bands because they had backing, possibly through their families.  Their startup seemed to be effortless whereas some of the guys were totally on their own.  Those guys were always begging and borrowing to go to Sears to pick up that little piece of equipment that The Elite already had.  Keep in mind that this is just my impression from being around the bands in their early days.

“But they also had girl appeal and I think they really worked at that, trying to sell themselves to the fans.  By this I mean they made a point of visiting and mingling with their fans.  They had printed photos and PR material.  They seemed to have mature guidance in marketing themselves.

“Because of this initial popularity, they had a real edge over the other bands.  As far as the other bands were concerned, it seemed that it wasn’t so much about gaining fans as it was playing the music that they loved.  Or getting gigs or a record deal.”

Still, playing dances was what made the bands and The Elite were much in demand.  They were early and they were extremely popular, packing in sometimes upwards of 1500 kids on a good night.

There was recording going on, as well.  The Elite recorded as did The Barons and The Jades and most of the bands playing the circuit of the time.  Radio was the key.  If you got on radio, you had a chance.  Otherwise, you either had to have connections or— there was always the Battle of the Bands.  At some point, promoters realized that putting four or five bands on a bill and making it a contest was a moneymaker, so they would throw the occasional rock ‘n roll gala.

“The Battle of the Bands was a neat way to do things,” Elaine said.  “As a fan, you got to sample a number of bands while it gave the guys a venue in which they could play to more people.  For the guys struggling to get known, the Battle of the Bands was about the only place they could go.  You had to be good to play an A-Go-Go.  You had to be a star because there were so many good bands that the A-Go-Go‘s didn’t have to just dredge up whoever was available.  They took the cream of the crop.

“Of course, The Elite always won every Battle of the Bands they played.  The voting was based  upon purchased tickets and they had the largest fan base.  I mean, when you have the fans there who are going to vote for you no matter what, you didn’t even have to get up and play.  The fans would have voted them in anyway.  I’m not saying they weren’t among the best.  I’m just explaining the way things worked.”

Indeed.  Had Paul Revere & The Raiders played a Battle in the Northwest, the results would also have been a foregone conclusion.

As for the A-Go-Go‘s, there were evidently two major players— KFJZ and The Beard Brothers.  According to Elaine, KFJZ was first out of the box, opening what became Holiday Hop (later named Holiday A-Go-Go) at the Holiday Roller Rink.  The Beard Brothers stepped in shortly thereafter and opened Teen A-Go-Go in an upscale area and after that, the race was on.  A-Go-Go‘s started opening everywhere.  There was Action A-Go-Go and  Irving A-Go-Go and, later, Panther A-Go-Go and a handful of others.  I have no idea how many are covered in the rockumentary.  I have only seen this trailer, but I have a copy coming and can’t wait to plow my way through it.

Was Fort Worth one of a kind?  May-be.  I know the Pac Northwest lived in a rock ‘n roll bubble, to a large degree.  I can tell you this much:  For a town that size, Fort Worth had more than its share of music and bands and, hey, go-go girls.  Makes me wonder why we didn’t get some of that go-go action up here.  Check out the trailer (click on “this trailer” in the preceding paragraph— you do know this, do you not?  Links are color-coded?).  If you’re as much a fan of the Sixties as I am, you’ll end up ordering it.

Oh, yeah.  I almost forgot.  Mark Noble, one of the main men behind the video, has written a book titled Fort Worth’s Rock and Roll Roots (Images of America) which is available at Amazon.  I’ll be checking that out as well.

Oh, and before I exit, stage left, be aware that Fort Worth’s Sixties bands’ music can be purchased.  Norton Records released three volumes of songs in a series titled Fort Worth Teen Scene 1964-67.  It will complement the video nicely, I am sure.  And if you have a yearning for Pac Northwest music, Norton also has a lot of product available from the old days— music by The Wailers and The Sonics and others.  Check them out here.

ROCKIN’ IN LAKE CHARLES…..

I know.  More Research Turtles.  I told you I wasn’t going to let it go until you checked these guys out.  Right now, there are two rock bands which have a good chance to make it if only people give them a chance— Des Moines’ Bright Giant and Lake Charles’ Research Turtles.  While Bright Giant is making waves in the midwest with their crunchy and very impressive Kings & Queens of Air, Research Turtles are either waiting for the right moment to release (or are possibly fine-tuning) the second part of their latest project, Mankiller Pt. 2 of 2.  While they’re working on the new stuff, they have made their primo Mankiller Pt. 1 of 2 EP a free download, so I suggest you head on over and download that sucker.  If you haven’t even tried, you’re missing out.  If you have and are awaiting Part 2, welcome to purgatory.  Download it at www.researchturtles.com….

Notes…..    For those of you who have been reading this column (and those of you who don’t, why not?), you may have noticed that I have been raving about the moderately successful and amazingly still undiscovered in many parts of the country Winterpills.  Well, to celebrate the release of their new album, All My Lovely Goners, they are offering a free download of one of the tracks from that fine, fine album.  It will be up for only a limited time.  I suggest you take advantage.  This band is one of a handful I cannot get my fill of (Did I just end a sentence with a preposition?  Sorry, Mr. Daghlian)…..  Nothing  makes my eyes roll back in my head as far as does the realization that Audrey Martell is not a major star.  She put together an incredible album, lifeline, which never fails to floor me.  That album, as obscure as it is, is major label great.  One reason I hate the majors is that they pass on completed projects which completely blow the artists they have signed and are promoting to oblivion.  Just follow this link and click on Heaven Is Hell and be ready to be impressed.  She is amazing…..  If you want to know how to make a name as a guitarist, you need go no further than watching the latest Jon Gomm video.  The guy has skills and a whole set of ethics many musicians would toss aside  in a second for a recording contract.  Gomm does it on his own.  And can he play!…..  .  I didn’t even know who Terri Tarantula was until Gary Heffern recently went on a rant.  She plays with The Walkabouts (who just released a very good album themselves), has one album on the market (self-titled) and is working toward the next which should be coming over the horizon any minute now.  Not quite like anything I’ve heard before and yet so familiar.    Check out a video of what I really hope will be on the new album, Paraffin Man…..  Heffern, by the way, is from San Diego via Finland and has returned to Finland to rediscover his roots.  He has been working on some new tracks with his band, Beautiful People.  Check out their last album, distributed by Glitterhouse.  It is something else…..

Frank’s column appears every Wednesday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

Frank Gutch Jr. looks like Cary Grant, writes like Hemingway and smells like Pepe Le Pew. He has been thrown out of more hotels than Keith Moon, is only slightly less pompous than Garth Brooks and at one time got laid at least once a year (one year in a row). He has written for various publications, all of which have threatened to sue if mentioned in any of his columns, and takes pride in the fact that he has never been quoted. Read at your own peril.”

One Response to “Frank Gutch Jr: The Sixties’ TEEN SCENES— When Teens Ruled the Music World…..”

  1. […] In last weeks column, I mentioned the genius of John Broven in the writing of two of the best musical history tomes ever written about the modern days— Rhythm & Blues in New Orleans and South to Louisiana.  He simply set the stage and let the people involved tell the story.  Blecha has done the same.  He tells and lets the musicians and music people tell the story behind Louie Louie (and it is quite the story) and Dolton  Records and The Raiders (it is a struggle not to type out the full name of the band each time, just out of respect for their importance in bringing the Northwest national attention).  He tells the story of The Fleetwoods and The Wailers and The Sonics, but steps beyond those constraints and delves into the labels and radio and the dance scene.  The armory circuit ruled (and the scene in Seattle was a slightly altered version of the armory circuit) and very few Northwest bands were able to fill auditoriums and larger venues until later.  Heart and Albatross Productions are given due diligence and, of course, the grunge scene and all of the stops in between.  (For an alternate look at teens scenes in the 60s, check out this earlier DBAWIS column) […]

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