Epics Combo

Seeds Of Doubt


Epics Combo
David Martin joined The Epics after they had already formed, but played with the band until their eventual break up and name change to Hamilton Fish.  Though a very popular group throughout North Carolina, the combo preferred spending their earnings on equipment and unfortunately never recorded.  They are still well remembered to this day, however; in addition to reuniting to perform at various school reunions, the band is considering to perform once again at their 40th reunion coming up in 2008.
An Interview with David Martin
60sgaragebands.com: How did you first get interested in music?
David Martin (DM): I was always interested in music. My mother would sing around the house when doing her work and 'stuff.' The TV always seemed to have local country music shows. In Garner we could pick up the Raleigh and the Durham TV stations. Both featured local music shows, like Jim Thornton's Saturday Night Country Style and the Homer Briarhopper Show. Both of those musicians also had local clubs. I remember Elvis being on Ed Sullivan. That affected me a lot.

I had an older teen-aged brother and sister who listened to Elvis, Buddy Holly, Rick Nelson, Fats Domino, Little Richard all the early rockers. My older brother had an acoustic guitar. When he was at work, I would sneak into his room and pretend to play the guitar while playing his records, especially Elvis. If he caught me, there were fireworks, but I couldn't help myself. My sister had a piano briefly, and early on I had an ear to pick out tunes there. The Folk music wave of the early ‘60s blew me away. When The Beatles came over, that pushed me further. I got my own six-string guitar eventually. I never had lessons; I just plucked what I could from hearing it.

60s: Was The Epic Combos your first band?
DM: No, the first band was pretty much a no-name. One of my classmates and best friends, Johnny Jay, and I went to a dance after a basketball game where The Epics were playing. We decided to form our own band. John decided on drums and I decided on bass. Somehow I talked my Dad into letting me try. He brought me home a Cortez bass. I swear the strings stood an inch out from the frets! But it was an electric bass.

We got together with two other fellows who played guitar, Wray Sheets and Rodney Barbour. I had no luck with talking my Dad into an amp, too, at this time, so had to plug in with Wray or Danny. At some point Harold Till started playing guitar with us. Harold was one of the guys we considered 'toughs' in those days, with the long, combed-back Elvis-style hair, wearing the black jacket with the collar turned up. When John suggested he come over, he came in with a Gretsch or Gibson double cut-away hollow-body. Hoo-ee a beaut! And he could play better than we could. And a great guy on top of that!
Our first job, and the only one I can recall, was at Raleigh's Devereaux Meadows, the ball field for the Raleigh Cardinals (No more local ball team. Devereaux Meadows is now an equipment and salt repository for the county road crews). We played two or three instrumentals, plus “House of the Rising Sun”. The instrumentals were probably “Walk, Don't Run”, “Perfidia” and maybe “Apache”. This would have been early 1965, and probably was a spring training game. They booked us as Johnny and The Blue Jays.

60s: Where and when was The Epic Combos formed?
DM: To start with, The Epics were two of my freshman classmates at Garner High School: David Collins (lead guitar) and Richard Royall (rhythm guitar) - plus two upper classmen, Bill Rosser (vocals) and John Griffis (drums). They formed some time in 1964, I believe. They were my big inspiration to get into a band.

At some point The Epics came out to see the band I was in with Johnny. Richard later called me and asked if I'd like to come over and practice with them (it wasn't called jamming yet), no strings attached, just having some fun. I called John to run it by him. He said, "You know they don't have a bassist, this is a try-out." I argued that it wasn't, but I was just kidding myself. When I got there they immediately taught me “The Game of Love” by Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders. They had been playing it already, but that little bass walkup at the end of the chorus sounded tinny on the guitar. That night, Richard called me again, offering me the bassist spot. I hated to call Johnny and was all apologetic but he said he couldn't blame me. He also told me to remember him, if we ever needed a new drummer.

With a spot in a working band, with a list of bookings, I talked to my Dad again about the amp. It didn't hurt that David went to our church, and I had been a friend with Richard since the fifth grade. A couple of days later he brought home a Sears Silvertone dual-12 amp. I was in heaven; it was just like the one Richard had. After a few months of regular jobs, and a promise to mow lawns if that's what it took to pay for it, Dad co-signed for me to buy a Gibson EB-2 bass. It was pretty much like the Epiphone hollow-body bass Chas Chandler of the Animals was using.

Sure enough, a few months later, we needed a new drummer. We called Johnny Jay, and he joined up.
60s: Was the band known as The Epics or The Epics Combo?
DM: The name was originally The Epics Combo, and that's the way it appeared on our business cards. But everyone shortened it to The Epics, so that was usually how we were referred to.

60s: Who all comprised the band?
DM: The original members: David Collins, lead guitar and harmonica; Richard Royall, rhythm guitar, sound, and the band's manager; Bill Rosser, lead vocal (had a voice like Stevie Winwood, if you can believe it, and a range you wouldn't believe); and Johnny Griffis, drums.

Later changes in membership: I joined as bassist in spring of 1965.  Johnny Jay, my friend from the first band, became drummer later in 1965. Bill Rosser left and joined the Army in 1966. Most of the singing went to David Collins and Johnny Jay.  Billy Watkins became organist in '66.  Maurice Privette from The Rogues became organist late in '66 or early '67. Prior to that he was in The Weekenders.  Kay Cathey joined as female vocalist in early '67, I believe.
60s: What's with that wild hair in the '66 photos!?
DM: Ah, the blonde wig. Here are the names as we appear in the photo with two of us holding instruments and all arranged around the bass drum:
L to R, Front: David Collins, John Jay. Rear: Richard Royall, Maurice Privette, and Dave Martin.  Keep in mind we were very influenced by The Beatles and British Invasion. John's hair is real and natural. David and I prior to the photo shoot had fairly long hair as well, but had just been "urged" by our Dads to get haircuts. David got the wig to try to put it back. You can see by the other photo that we decided to have some fun with it during the session.
60s: Where did the band typically play?
DM: Because four of us were from the same class at Garner High School, we played a ton of times there (at) school dances, monthly class meetings and sock hops. Kay was one grade behind us.

We played for high school dances all over eastern North Carolina, including a number of Junior-Senior Proms. We probably averaged working at least four-five nights a month all through the school years 1966/1967 and 1967/1968.

We played frat parties at NCSU, Duke, UNC, Virginia, ECU, University of Georgia at Athens, and at dances at quite a few small colleges and tech schools.

We also played street dances in Garner and Lillington.  We played two years at the North Carolina State Fair Pavilion.  We played most of the summer of 1966 at a club in Carolina Beach. The band got real tight from playing every day for almost three months. We barely made enough to pay rent and eat, but man, we were living at the beach.
We mainly handled our own bookings. Richard, the rhythm guitarist, did most of the work, but we all brought in a few jobs. There was a booking agency in Raleigh, Curtis Agency, or something like that, and we got some work from them, and there was an independent old guy who got us into a couple of NCO Clubs at Fort Bragg and Camp LeJeune. He also got us some kind of military organization gig in Winston-Salem, I believe, for recruiters. We eventually auditioned for and got some bookings from Ted Hall of Hit Attractions in Charlotte.

60s: How would you describe the band's sound? What bands influenced you?
DM: We were essentially a cover band, playing Top 40, Rock and R&B (Soul, really). We played songs by The Beatles, Stones, Animals and other British Invaders, Paul Revere and The Raiders, The Monkees, Dylan (the electric stuff), Drifters, Sam and Dave, Wilson Pickett, James Brown, Ronettes, Linda Ronstadt, Mary Wells, Grace Slick and other female vocalists. We did a little psychedelic, too. We focused on danceable numbers. We had figured out that we had the most fun when the audience did! (Sadly, many bands back then never seemed to figure that one out).
In terms of total success and fame, it seemed that up (until The Beatles) there always had to be a front man. The earlier idols were single acts - Elvis, Rick Nelson, Chuck Berry - and working back to Frank Sinatra. A driving singer-personality led to the most success.  With The Beatles, there was room for the rest of the musicians in a band. Then came The Stones. Every kid who loved Rock and Roll could name all the members of both groups. All of a sudden, all the musicians in a band could be known. It showed there was a chance for everyone to get to the top. Myself, I was painfully shy, and could not imagine being out front of a crowd by myself. But as part of a group, well, that I could handle, and The Beatles, Stones and others showed it was okay to be a "quiet one."

Now, I'm not saying I or anyone else made a conscious note of this at the time, but in hindsight, I believe it had a strong influence.
60s: Did you play any of the local teen clubs?
DM: We regularly played at the Raleigh YWCA. They had a dance most every Friday night, and we rotated in about every six weeks or so.

Local radio station WKIX sponsored a dance most every Saturday night at the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium (in the basement). Most of the time they had two bands going, sometimes three. We rotated there about every two months. On at least two occasions we were asked to back up incoming acts. We played with Tony Orlando (prior to the era with Dawn), and Don Gant. Don was a singer/song-writer, and I believe eventually became a record producer. One of the Chapel Hill bands that played the circuit with us at the Memorial Auditorium basement had a guitar-playing singer known as James Taylor who was the son of Dr. Taylor and also had siblings Alex Livingston Taylor and a sister Kate Taylor that also sang and released musical albums. I can't remember which band he was performing with.

We played quite a few clubs in eastern North Carolina, including the Embers Club, the Experience and others in Raleigh, and clubs in Garner, Wilson, Rocky Mount, Clayton, Carolina Beach, Atlantic Beach, Cary, Henderson and more.

60s: What was the Raleigh rock and roll scene like in the '60's?
DM: The Raleigh area had a ton of local bands. Keep in mind the Raleigh area included Durham and Chapel Hill, three university cities. In 1964-1967 there must have been hundreds of bands and many bands in all the surrounding towns, too. We had four-five in Garner alone, a community of about 3,000 then, and Cary (the same size at the time) had more. There were multiple bands in Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Durham, Wendell, Zebulon, Fuquay-Varina, Apex, and Wake Forest.
60s: Which of those groups do you especially recall?
DM: The Counts Four, The Vigilantes, The Gustos, The Vogues (from Cary, North Carolina - not the nationally known ones), The Rogues, Huckleberry Mudflap, and The Weekenders. All these bands were pretty much rock and roll, and then there were the R&B and Soul bands: The GoldTones, The Nomads of Chapel Hill, and Frankie and The Damons.

60s: Did The Epic Combos participate in any battle of the bands?
DM: We played a couple or three battle of the bands.  We won one, and almost made the finals in the North Carolina State Battle of the Bands, but we went over our time allotment by more than a minute. We had the crowd all worked up, and kept going and going...

60s: How popular locally did The Epics Combo become?
DM: We played locally a lot, regionally a fair amount.

60s: How far was the band's "touring" territory?
DM: North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia (but) mostly North Carolina.

60s: Why didn't The Epic Combos ever record?
DM: We talked about it a lot, but it just never happened. I think we preferred to invest any group money in P.A. and other equipment, than a record. I also think since we didn't have much in originals, we didn't want to have a cover that simply didn't sound like the original. One local band recorded and released a Yardbirds song (they must have gotten a British copy of it somehow, for I don't think it was released in the states until a couple of months later) and it turned out to be an embarrassment when everyone found out it wasn't theirs. It had even gotten some local airplay.

60s: That discouraged you from writing any originals?
DM: We just had an original instrumental that we used for our intro, and as a break song.

60s: Did the band make any local TV appearances?
DM: No TV that I am aware of. We did have someone record us at a local rock club in Raleigh, but I don't know whatever happened to it. There is a video recording of some stuff we did at a class and band reunion in 1988.

60s: The Epics Combo broke up in '69 and reformed shortly thereafter as Hamilton Fish. Which members of The Epic Combos were also in Hamilton Fish? And who and where did you locate the new members?
DM: The draft lottery took place in 1969 and was to be effective in 1970, if I remember correctly. Johnny had decided to join the Navy, and had a chance to tour with Huckleberry Mudflap for a spell before going in. The Epics hired Mike Edwards to drum for a while, and then he took Johnny's spot with The Mudflap when John joined the Navy. David Collins got drafted and Kay got married. Since the band was half gone, we decided to rename ourselves. We found a drummer from Wilmington named Tim Clark. He was 14, but played like a pro. Mike Deep was the new lead guitarist. I don't think he played in a band of any depth before joining us, but he was awesome. He could play with a pick in his teeth like Hendrix, and had a style something like Stephen Stills, something like Jeff Beck, with some Jimmy Page rolled in. We (played) hard rock only. At some point Tim left and we got Dan Dixon to play drums.

60s: Did you join or form any bands after Hamilton Fish disbanded in 1970?
DM: I joined the Air Force in 1970, the band went on for a while, but I lost touch with the guys for some years.

60s: Please tell me about your career today. How often, and where, do you perform (if at all)? If not, what keeps you busy?
DM: I don't play music today except for occasional personal picking. In 1980 I went back to college, and got back in a band with Maurice, the keyboard player from The Epics and Hamilton Fish, Dan Dixon from Hamilton Fish, Maurice's wife, Gwen, Eddy Strickland and George Coghill. Eddy sang and played keyboards in several bands in the Wendell/Zebulon, North Carolina area in the ‘60s and ‘70s. We named that band Sleepy Leo.

The Epics' original drummer, Johnny Griffis, made his way to Nashville and then Memphis and ended up being the touring drummer for Elvis Presley for quite a while.
Mike Edwards, who in 1969 replaced John Jay as the drummer when John joined The Mudflap, later on played Austin City Limits with Delbert McKlinton, and he drove the tour bus for The Pretenders.

The Epics re-formed for the Garner Class of '68 Reunions in 1988 and 1993. We have the 1988 one on video tape. I have been talking up our re-uniting one last time in 2008, which would be our 40-year class reunion.

Richard Royall operated a professional 24-track recording studio, Mega Sound Studios, for 18 years along with our old friend and fellow musician, Dan Dixon as a partner in the studio and music publishing business. They also had a friend, Bob Watson from a Wilson, North Carolina band known as Temper that played numerous studio sessions over the years for multiple recording acts at Mega. We will send Bob some of this info, he may want to contact your site and discuss his band from those days. Temper was on the bleeding edge of breaking into a major act in the ‘70s.

60s: How do you best summarize your experiences with The Epic Combo?
DM: The way a listener put it: That must be the most fun a guy can have standing up.
In 1968, with Kay Cathey
Hamilton Fish
Hamilton Fish