We have previously interviewed Tom Guernsey regarding his stint with The Reekers, the band that first recorded the classic ‘What A Girl Can’t Do.’  While we were aware of Tom’s involvement with The Hangmen, we thought it was better to address his involvement with that group in a separate interview.  In addition to producing other “garage” groups 45s, Tom is still either actively recording or reissuing his earlier work.  Although it is out of his hands, hopefully a reissue of the Hangmen’s Bittersweet LP will one day become a reality.

The Hangmen prior to opening for The Lovin' Spoonful and Dave Clark Five. Top-Bottom: Tom, Dave, George, Bob and Paul.
An Interview With Tom Guernsey

60sgaragebands.com (60s): You formed The Hangmen when members of your previous band, The Reekers, were attending college.  Where did you locate the members who would eventually become The Hangmen?
Tom Guernsey (TG): I met George Daly at Montgomery Jr. College in 1965.  The other Reekers were away at other colleges, so George and I decided to put a band together really just as away to help pay for our expenses at school.   We found all the band members just by asking around the campus and finding players—with the exception of the lead singer, Dave Ottley.  George called the British embassy in Washington, D.C. and asked if anyone there knew of a British singer looking for a band.  A good move, as it was how we hooked up with Dave.

60s: What happened to The Reekers while you segued into The Hangmen?  Did they continue on before reforming in 1972?
TG: The Reekers all went on to other bands as The Hangmen took off, but we all stayed in touch as we were all high school friends.  In 1972, we were all between bands and decided to give it another try.  

60s: Who comprised The Hangmen?
TG: Dave Ottley - Lead vocals; Tom Guernsey - Lead guitar and backup vocals; George Daly - Rhythm guitar; Mike West - Bass and backup vocals; and Bob Berberich - Drums.  Bass player Mike west was replaced by Paul Dowell, who went on with Bob and George to form Paul Dowell and Dolphin with Nils Lofgren after the group completely dissolved. Lead vocalist Dave Ottley was soon thereafter replaced by Tony Taylor. Then rhythm guitarist George Daly was replaced by George Strunz. Shortly thereafter, I quit the group.  The remaining members formed a group called The Button and then became a group named Graffiti.

The Hangmen, or what was left of them, became The Button after I left the band, because the only member left was singer Tony Taylor.  Later on that band moved from Washington, D.C. to New York and became Graffiti. Graffiti lasted less than a year.

After leaving The Hangmen, I produced some sides for United Artists and a few other labels and then drifted into a career writing and scoring for advertising and television, and did some work for TK Records (K.C. and The Sunshine Band) in Florida, and a few R&B groups...

60s: The Reekers' 'What A Girl Can't Do' and 'The Girl Who Faded Away' recordings were released as “The Hangmen” for the group's first single.  Do you recall how the rest of the Reekers felt about this, especially since the single became a hit under the Hangmen name?
TG: ‘What A Girl Can’t Do’ was released under the name of The Hangmen because, after The Reekers recorded the song and it was picked up by Monument Records in Nashville, we (The Reekers) were all in different places, and Monument needed a working band to support the song.  Since I was in both bands, Monument made the easy decision to put it out under The Hangmen name. 

Although they understood the logic of the move, it obviously was not very pleasant for the other Reekers.  Lead singer Joe Triplet (of The Reekers) tells a great story of how he was picked up while hitchhiking once while he was home from college.  ‘What A Girl Can’t Do’ was #1 at the time and came booming onto the car radio.  Joe told the guys giving him a ride, “Hey, that’s me singing that song!”  They obviously did not believe him, much to his chagrin.

60s: The Hangmen became incredibly popular in the Washington, D.C. area and even performed for the Kennedys.  How did the band land that very high profile gig?
TG: We got some high-powered management after the record took off.  A Washington lawyer, a television producer and a prominent businessman formed a corporation to manage us.  They were all very well connected in Washington, D.C. and got us a number of high visibility gigs playing at embassies in town.  There was a lot of press about us in The Washington Post and eventually Ethel Kennedy asked us to play at a charity event at the Kennedy home in McLean, Virginia.  I remember sitting around in the kitchen with Ethel Kennedy and the rest of the band casually drinking beer and talking before the show…and then I helped myself to a bottle of their scotch and the band got smashed.  Our managers were not very happy about that!

60s: The band was so popular that you reportedly caused a riot when appearing at the Giant Record Shop in Falls Church, Virginia. 
TG: Wow! That was right out of A Hard Day’s Night. ‘What A Girl Can’t Do’ was the #1 record in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia and we were asked to do an “in-store” in a very large and well known record store that had sold some 2,500 copies of the record in that store alone.  Well, when we showed up to play, there were 500 people jammed in the store, and another 3,000 or so outside completely blocking traffic on the streets outside the store.

We had just started playing when the store started to get trashed because it was so packed and out of control. The cops came in and whisked us out a back door and down an alley; unfortunately (or fortunately?) the crowd on the street spotted us and came screaming after us.  Now we were inclined to stay.  I mean there were a lot of pretty girls coming down that alley, but the police had other ideas.  They shoved us into police cars and sped away.  It really was right out of a Beatles’ movie.  It’s hard to believe now; it was such a different time.

60s: Did The Hangmen tour? 
TG: We played gigs up and down the East Coast from New York to Florida, but the “Tri-State” area was where we were really big. It was like a microcosm of rock stardom.  Now, I’m no psychiatrist, but I think that everyone assumed that we were national if not worldwide (attention) because of all the press and television and radio play we were getting locally.  I mean, we had unlisted phone numbers!

60s: A good indication of The Hangmen’s popularity is that the band was signed to promote Mosrite guitars and amps. 
TG: Mosrite came to us and offered us unlimited free equipment for the endorsement of their guitars and amps.  Now, we never really cared for their stuff, but it was totally free and all we ever had to do was use them and do a few publicity shots for them; we just couldn’t turn it down.

Publicity shot for the Hangmen's Mosrite campaign, L-R: Tom, Paul, Tony and George.
60s: What were the circumstances leading to the recording of the Bittersweet LP? 
TG: We recorded our album Bittersweet in Nashville for Monument after doing our second single ‘Faces’ there.  In the ‘Faces’ sessions, we also re-recorded ‘What A Girl Can’t Do’ with our first singer, Dave Ottley.  I recall that it was not very inspiring and Monument never saw fit to release it even on the album when it came out.  When we came back to Nashville six months later to do the album, we had replaced Ottley with Tony Taylor.  In retrospect, this was probably a big mistake.  Dave’s voice, while in some ways inferior to Tony’s, was much more interesting to me (as was Dave himself).  In any case, Monument hooked us up with producer Buzz Cason, who was part of Buddy Holly’s band The Crickets way back when, and I believe is still producing in Nashville.  That was our first extended experience with a “real” producer.  (Fred Foster, the owner of Monument produced ‘Faces’ and ‘Bad Goodbye,’ and he also produced all of the Roy Orbison records as well as other Monument artists—but he was really more of an executive producer.)  

Buzz was very methodical and hands on.  He had us demo up all the possible songs for the album in a smaller studio in Nashville with him and we experimented with various things—chords, bridges, harmonies, different instruments, etc.  Then we took the best songs in to Monuments mains studios and recorded them.  It still amazes me that we did the album on a three-track  machine!  At any rate, we cranked the tunes out in a couple of weeks and that was it.  Now I think there is some really nice stuff on the album, but it was so poorly mastered, the levels so low, that it did not have any punch, and really did not sound that good.  Since then, rhythm guitar player George Daly has re-mastered it from the LP thru his company About Records in California and it sounds much better, but it has not been re-issued due to legal problems at Sony Records.  I still enjoy hearing certain tunes on the album; ‘I Want To Get To Know You’ and ‘Crazy Man’ come to mind.  By the way, we really wanted to release ‘I Want To Get To Know You’ as our third single, but Monument went with the Roy Orbison tune, ‘Dream Baby’ that they had us cover largely because they had the publishing on the song.  I do have to say the album could have been better if we had taken Nashville more seriously at the time.  I had produced the single ‘What A Girl Can’t Do,’ and was just 19 at the time and naively thought that I should be producing the album.  Also, we all thought of Nashville as a foreign land of country music where people didn’t have a clue what we were trying to do.  We didn’t realize until much later that we should have taken the whole project more seriously.  I think we spent more time in Nashville bars than the studio.  Oh well, it was fun.

60s: Why did the band re-record 'What A Girl Can't Do' and 'Faces' for the LP - especially since the versions truthfully paled in comparison to the 45 versions?
TG: That’s a good question.  I wish I had a good answer.  I always preferred the single version of ‘Faces’ with Dave singing the lead. And The Reekers version of ‘What A Girl Can’t Do’ is far superior to the album version of the song with Tony Taylor singing lead.  I have never heard a version of that song (and there are about ten different covers of it out there) that compared to the Reekers’ version.  No one could match Joe Triplet’s voice, and there is so much energy in that version!  I think Monument felt The Hangmen should actually do a version of the song, but why I don’t know.  It was a pretty well kept secret that The Reekers actually made the single version that became the hit record.

60s: Did The Hangmen make any TV appearances? 
TG: We did a number of television appearances.  The most notable one was on The Jerry Blavat Show out of Philadelphia.  We did a number of songs and closed the one-hour dance show with a version of ‘Money.’   The Impressions and Jerry Butler were both on the same show and they just came on the set while we were doing the song and started singing, so we of course were only too happy to be their backup band.
The Hangmen on the set of The Jerry Blavatt Show, L-R: Tom, George, Tony, Paul and Bob.
60s: You recently issued a Reekers CD.  Is there any chance that you'd consider reissuing the Bittersweet LP along with the Hangmen’s 45s as well?
TG: I’d love to see both The Hangmen LP and the 45s re-issued.  But Sony Music bought Monument Records and has the rights to all the master tapes.  Sundazed Records, a really good company that specializes in this market, has been trying for years to get Sony to make a deal with them, but Sony is apparently not very interested. Why this is, no one knows as Sony would be taking no risk at all and could only benefit from it. So I’m not holding my breath on that one.  However, I do have a couple of other CDs on CDBaby.  One is an acoustic instrumental album I did in the ‘70s titled Same Place, Different Time and the other was done about 2000 with my son Ben Guernsey, entitled Everybody Knows.