|Dallas’ Penthouse 5 recorded the classic ‘Bad Girl’ / ‘In His Shadow’ 45 on Solar Records in 1966. The father of Bill Looney, whom was the Penthouse 5’s bassist/vocalist, started Solar Records. Although it was the group’s only recording on the label, they did release one additional single and have had many unreleased songs posthumously released on a CD by Cicadelic Records.
|An Interview With Bill Looney
60garagebands.com (60s): How did you first get interested in music?
Bill Looney (BL): I was fond of the Beach Boys' music in the early '60s, you know, the cars and the surfing stuff, etc. A friend of mine played guitar and I decided I wanted to play drums. My dad found out drums were suddenly too expensive due to the Beatles' new found popularity. I never thought I'd be able to play guitar, so I decided to try bass, but that was too expensive also, so dad told me if I could learn guitar, we'd think about bass later. So I bought a $65 Harmony guitar and learned to bang out a few tunes with my best friend Steve Wood.
60s: Was The Penthouse 5 your first band?
BL: I'm embarrassed to even mention it, but we had a little four-piece group (no bass, remember?) from high school called The Four Barrels, named after the carburetor. Yes, we sucked, too! Right after that, we formed The Penthouse 4 (no bass).
60s: Where and when The Penthouse 5 formed?
BL: In 1964 or 1965 (I can't remember exactly) I was talking to the drummer/founder of the group, Mark Porter, on the phone and I thought it would be cool (and classy) to call ourselves something reflective of the "top of the heap." Believe it or not, there was never any attempt to identify us with the magazine.
Mark Porter was the drummer, lead guitar was Justin Brown, I was on rhythm guitar and Walter Buchanan was the original singer. Later, Mark found new singer Rob Graham. When Steve Wood (guitar/keyboard) returned from California (from a summer vacation), we had our fifth member and I bought a bass rig at Rocky's Pawn Shop on Deep Ellum. Later configurations had singer Jon Williams, guitarist Richard Keathley and drummer Mike Echart. After that other members included Tommy Loama (guitar); Gary Ivy (guitar); Mike Evans (guitar); Herb Fair (guitar); Tommy DeSalvo (keyboards); Larry Hullett (trumpet); Scott Sanford (sax); Rodney Vinyard (guitar); and Jimmy Allen (vocals). You noticed the horns, right? Those were in the soul band version of the group we called Dr. William's Soul Emporium.
60s: Dr. William’s Soul Emporium?
BL: Soul Emporium was a morph from rock & roll into soul music. We had horns, etc. and were a seven-piece group, so we couldn't use "5" anymore; somehow "The Penthouse 7" seemed a little much. This would have been either very late '67 but more likely '68, if I remember correctly.
60s: How familiar with you the WordD before Williams and Keathley joined you?
BL: We had heard some of their acetates and were impressed with the creativity and musicianship, and we were having internal problems with a few members, so when producer Tom (Darryl) Brown introduced them to us, we knew we had our next group incarnation.
60s: How would you describe the band's sound? What bands influenced you?
BL: You know, it's hard for me to say exactly, but I guess we were influenced most by The Beatles, The Animals, The Byrds, The Kinks and The Yardbirds.
60s: Where did the band typically play?
BL: Our steadiest gig was the Rocket Roller Rink. We also played out of town a lot, and after we'd finish playing at the Rocket (at midnight), we'd load up and go down to Grand Prairie and play the Uptown Theatre until about 3:00 a.m. We did our share of parties and battle of the bands gigs as well. We won our very first battle at Broadway Skateland. We were up against The Untouchables and The Gentlemen. We also participated in a citywide battle at Casa Linda shopping center. We won an appearance on the TV show Hi-Ho-Shebang on Channel 11 in November 1965. We won our share of battles, but sometimes when we traveled to other bands' turfs, their built-in fan bases could make it tough to win. We never were on Sump'n Else because for some unknown reason, host Ron Chapman didn't like us...so we returned the favor.
60s: What about the local teen clubs?
BL: Sure. We played the Pit, the Studio Club, The 3 Thieves, The Panther Club, The Fantasmagoria, Louann's and many others I can't remember. You have to remember there were approximately 16,000 (that's right!) rock & roll groups in Dallas at this time, so there were many venues all over town.
60s: How far was the band's "touring" territory?
BL: We played mainly Texas, but we did play a number of times in Louisiana.
60s: Did The Penthouse 5 have a manager?
BL: My dad was our manager. As a lawyer, it was very convenient to have him involved. He was very hands-on with our group. He loved music very much.
60s: In addition to managing the Penthouse 5, your father also started Solar Records. Did he release 45s by other local groups as well? Were there additional singles released on the label?
BL: He entertained the idea of recording other local groups like Kempy & The Guardians (and others), but strangely enough, the only recordings on Solar were ‘Bad Girl’ and ‘In His Shadow.’
60s: How popular locally did The Penthouse 5 become?
BL: We had a couple of radio releases locally, which made us very popular with our girls when we got airtime on our dates.
60s: What were the circumstances leading to the ‘Bad Girl’ / ‘In His Shadow’ 45?
BL: Rob Graham wrote ‘Bad Girl’ as a tribute to his wife. I wrote the music to ‘Shadow’ and Rob supplied the lyrics. ‘Shadow’ was targeted to be the A-side, but promoter/KBOX DJ Franke Jolley was more fond of ‘Bad Girl’ so it won out.
60s: Where did The Penthouse 5 record?
BL: Our first session was at Sellers Studio. We recorded there a couple of times, as Bob Sellers was a neighbor. I remember the sessions as being long and tiresome. We always recorded at night and we'd finish with the sun coming up.
60s: What are your recollections of producer Edwin Greines?
BL: We liked Edwin. He was a very energetic producer with many grandiose, good intentions. We did a lot of work with him at Delta Studios, including the ‘Bizarre Dream,’ ‘Vertigo Blue,’ ‘You're Always Around’ and ‘La, La, La’ sessions. Edwin is a straight shooter; an honest gentleman.
60s: The “Don’t Mess Around With My Dream’ / ‘You’re Gonna Make Me’ 45 was released as by "Penthouse." Why?
BL: If you listen closely to that disc, the song "Don't Mess Around With My Dream" was recorded at Summit Studios by the original group, and has that "Beatles" flavor. The flip side "You're Gonna Make Me" was recorded by the second incarnation including Richard Keathley, Jon Williams and Mike Echart. Jon had just returned from Haight-Ashbury and was taken by this new sound called Psychedelic and he wanted us to be the first band in Dallas to go this route. The "5" was dropped to give it a more timely feel, without losing our fan base.
60s: Did The Penthouse 5 write many original songs? Who was the band's primary songwriter?
BL: We had a pretty good catalog of originals, but unfortunately, we didn't record all of them. Rob was the main songwriter (our John Lennon).
60s: How did the Penthouse 5 end up recording one of Ron Price's songs? Price at the time was with the New Breed, correct?
BL: Strangely enough, I believe it was Dale Hawkins who turned us on to Ron Price via a demo tape, which had three songs on it (‘8 to 5 Man,’ ‘Promises, Promises’ and ‘Don't Mess Around With My Dream’). Ron had recently left The Mystics (another Oak Cliff group we knew) right after he had written and recorded their hit record ‘Didn't We Have A Good Time, Baby?’ and was in the process of forming The New Breed when I met him at the Fantasmagoria Club in 1967. By this time, the original Penthouse 5 was "kaput", and "The Penthouse" was playing gigs (Steve Wood had moved back to California as well). We shared the stage with The New Breed on a number of occasions. I remember Ron as looking (physically) very much like Ginger Baker (Cream), plus he had the nicest gravelly quality to his voice, which made people compare his sound (not to mention his lyrics) to Dylan.
60s: In what way was Dale Hawkins involved with the Penthouse 5?
BL: Dale was an established musician (‘Susie-Q’ author), so we had respect for his opinions and input. It was his direction during practice sessions for ‘Don't Mess Around’ that brought about the nice harmony lines we used on the bridge. He was the A&R man at that recording session and we were so impressed with his results, dad honored him by naming the record company “Hawk.” He was also involved with another (never released) recording we made at IRI Studios in Dallas, entitled "I Need A Woman" which was written by Rob Graham as well. Dale only worked with the original group. We all liked Dale very much; in fact I can remember sharing dinner at our family table with him on a few occasions. The only disappointing thing I remember about the relationship was, we found out he was working with our competition the whole time he was working with our group, and he never told us this. Imagine our shock to see a picture of him in the Dallas Morning News, signing a contract with John Abner (ABNAK Records)! This virtually ended our working relationship.
60s: Many previously unreleased Penthouse 5 songs have been released on various '60's compilations. Do any (other) Penthouse 5 recordings exist? Are there still any vintage live recordings, or unreleased tracks, that have not been compiled yet?
BL: Yes, there are a couple of unreleased tunes that are out there somewhere, plus some live recordings that have gone the way of the Dodo.
60s: The Cicadelic Records CD includes many unreleased songs. Were these recorded by one primary incarnation of the group, or by a variation?
BL: There were many different incarnations on this compilation. Ironically, ‘Vertigo Blue Sometimes’ and ‘My Own Bizarre Dream’ were recorded shortly after the original five broke up. Rob Graham wrote these songs and had original members Justin Brown (guitar) and Mark Porter (Drums) join him to cut a demo at Summit Studios (with no bass). Dad footed the bill to record the fully produced version that was recorded at Delta Studios in Ft. Worth. We brought in "Lurch" Keathley to play lead-over tracks, like the Rickenbacker 12 string lead on ‘Vertigo,’ and yours truly on bass on both cuts. I found a 1953 Fender slab-body Precision in a closet of the studio, and liked the direct-wired sound, so we used it. I also used this same bass on ‘La, La, La’ during a later session.
60s: What year and why did the band break up?
BL: That's not easy to say... we reformed for the second group in 1966 when my dad fired singer Rob Graham. Mark Porter and Justin Brown left with him out of misplaced loyalty, but that was okay with Steve and me; we got better musicians (Richard, Jon and Mike E.) in the exchange. The "revolving door" was in vigor until around 1969. At that point I went on the night club circuit, then hooked up with people like Russell Stonecypher, Randy Kounas, and George Minton just to name a few.
60s: What keeps you busy today?
BL: I am a commercial illustrator. I don't play professionally any more, but I sit in with some bands on occasion.
60s: How do you best summarize your experiences with The Penthouse 5?
BL: Well, it changes like an ebb and flow; it depends on where I am (mentally) at the time. Mostly I guess I am grateful I was able to experience the"scene" during the '60s. If you have ever seen the movie That Thing You Do you will get a very close approximation of how it was for us back then.