|'It's A Cry'n Shame' Crimson Acetate
The Gentlemen, a 1960’s Dallas, Texas Combo
By Tim Justice, Drummer
Jimmy Randall who went on to play with L.A. based Jo Jo Gunn, quickly replaced Lonnie Taylor at bass. This unit played through 1965 with the addition of fellow Oak Cliff musician Jimmy Vaughn, later of The Fabulous Thunderbirds, creating a powerful duet with Meador during a several month stint. Meador and Vaughn 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 1966, The Gentlemen opened for James Brown at the Dallas Convention Center. A family friend of Mike Kelly was involved with the bookings there, and said he was looking for a band to open and play four or five songs. We were offered $500 and eagerly accepted. We then started the arduous task of figuring out which songs to play. A Rolling Stones’ song was a certainty, and as we drove to grab some smokes at the corner store, the local AM station KLIF was playing the latest Stone release, ‘19th Nervous Breakdown.’ We liked the song and decided to learn it for the show. Problem was, the disc jockey informed us that the song was an advance copy and the actual record was not available to the public for several days. Undeterred, we headed for KLIF in downtown Dallas. We explained to everyone our dilemma and came away with a tape recording of ‘Breakdown’, what seemed a coup to us at the time. We rehearsed for two days. Of course on the night of the show we would open with our newly acquired song. Wait ‘til the audience gets a load of us! We dropped off our equipment at the loading dock and made our way down a corridor where we met Mike's contact. He instructed us to set up behind the stage curtains and be ready to begin in short time. This was probably the largest venue we ever played, so our hearts were pretty much racing like rabbits. We could hear the crowd get louder as show time approached. Suddenly, someone shouted "Five minutes" and we got ready to rock. Then, the curtains glided back, someone else said, "Please welcome, The Gentlemen,” the lights went up on stage, and five white kids from Oak Cliff were confronted with a completely black audience; I mean…no white people! This fact settled in rather quickly as Seab belted out, "You're the kind of person you meet at certain dismal dull affairs" and the reverse realization was taking place in the audience. Five white boys? It was a sad truth, but Dallas was very segregated at the time. Despite this mismatch, ‘Nervous Breakdown’ was going along pretty famously, and finally one older black gentleman stood up on the front row and started to dance. Then someone else did, then more and finally the race barrier was toppled by something so universal that nothing could stop it: good old rock and roll. We finished up, got a fairly warm round of applause, cleared our equipment out and went backstage to the dressing room. This is where things really got interesting. James Brown's band was getting ready to play and let me tell you that there was some wild things going on, the kind of stuff that one would expect from a bunch of seasoned musicians. We got a few stares and a few hand slaps and then somebody offered us whiskey. How could we turn down an invitation like that? We then retreated to watch the show from the back row. I particularly liked the song ‘Please, Please, Please’, where the two guys came out with a cape to cover a love struck Brown, down on one knee, to help him up off the stage. After the show, we headed back to see if we could get Brown's autograph. He was escorted in and out of the Convention Center quickly so no luck. We did, however, open for James Brown and sip whiskey with his band. It was pretty hot stuff.
We also opened for Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels and The Beau Brummels at Louann’s in 1966. We learned The Beatles' 'Paperback Writer' for that show. We also played alongside Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison at Panther A’Go-Go. During one of these shows, Tom Brown of Vandan Records heard us and wondered if we would do some recording with him and his arranger, Gene Garretson. He offered us a chance to record some of our original material and 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’, 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 arrange and record ‘You Can't Be True’, and as a complete after-thought, two takes and probably our hour to slam down ‘It's A Cry'n Shame’. Therein lays the genuine spontaneity that makes it a pure straight ahead rock song, I suppose. Brown then pressed one or two thousand copies and sent them for airplay to his Deejay cronies in Detroit, Philly and Boston. A few weeks later when we were having the photograph (printed above) at the Studio Club in Dallas, a triumphant Brown walked in with a copy of Record World Magazine (January 1967). In the Four-Star Rating column of hits to watch were three 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 its own merit. And to think, it was suppose to be the B-Side. Ha!
Shortly after Brown showed us the magazine, we showed up at his home to find a for sale sign and no furniture. We surmised that he was down to his last cash. We never saw him again, but he did try hard and used all of his resources to promote us. He was a good guy. I read online in Billboard that he moved to Los Angeles to start over. He died there not long after.
As for the Vandan recording session, it took place at Boyd's Recording Service in Dallas. Bruce Bland has been applauded for his swooping and thumping bass. He was in fact playing a bass guitar that was brandless but had a full and fuzzy sound, perfect for ‘It's A Cry'n Shame’. Seab Meador had a gapping 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 the record. He was a big Yardbirds follower and wanted to sound just like Jeff Beck. Mike Kelley, our singer and guitarist, somehow 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 as was.
I remember when that 45 came out, it was sent to KLIF and KNOK radio stations in 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 two 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 two 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, stove pipe 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.
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 (‘Treat Her Right’), 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. 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. Sadly,both 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 (in 2008). We may be a lot older, but at heart, we’re still kids from Oak Cliff and we can still rock.
During the ensuing 40 years, ‘It’s A Cry’n Shame’ has landed on six compilations including Pebbles Volume 1, Pebbles Volume 5, The Essential Pebbles, The Trash Box and Ft. Worth Teen Scene, Volume 3. ‘It’s A Cry’n Shame’ has topped all “best of” lists, been played regularly on FM Radio all around the world for the past 15 years including as of late Little Steven’s Underground Garage (Steven Van Zandt of the E Street Band) on Sirius Satellite Radio and on Bill Kelly’s Black Hole of Rock and Roll on New York’s WFMU. It 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.”
World renowned vinyl collector Mark Taylor of Sydney Australia (aka Boss Hoss) said this: “I have stated truthfully on a number of occasions that it's my favorite record ever, and the most exciting record I've ever heard. I first heard it over 25 years ago, and it took me a long time to find an original copy. I paid $1,000 for a perfect mint copy of the Vandan record. I just couldn't let the chance go by. The record is rare, but mint copies are super rare! A few years later, I was offered the Crimson test pressing by a U.S. collector who was selling his entire collection. The promise of hearing ‘It's A Cry'n Shame’ in superb sound as originally intended by the band was very tempting. Even though the record cost me $2,500 to buy, I have no regrets. It is twice as clear and powerful as the Vandan (version)."
Peace, love and rock 'n roll...
Drummer for The Gentlemen