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1967 Lincoln Park Be-In

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Rockin' Robin Recalls...

Robin Brown has had a long and successful career in music.  In addition to his 45 rockabilly release, ‘Barefoot and Pregnant,’ Brown has also had his songs recorded by other artists, most notably ‘A Sleepless Nite With You’ by Carley Dyson.  In the ‘60’s he was a member of Texas teen band The Gimini Five, but he also played with or saw many of the top acts – both local and national – of the era.  As Robin informed 60sgaragebands.com, "I didn't realize it at the time (when I was chasing my musical dreams) that even though I didn't succeed in big-time music, I did meet some very important people in the biz and inadvertently was building a library of personal experiences and information which someone else might find interesting. I look forward to writing about those experiences!"  And we're proud to be able to share them with our readers.  


John Holcombe and Robin Brown
The Amarillo-Canyon Music Scene of the Sixties
Part I:  Ray Ruff’s Checkmates and The Sparkles

When I first came to Amarillo in 1964 I heard various stories about a local singer named Ray Ruff. The word going among musicians was that he wasn’t too talented musically but he had a real business head. In late 1965 (I think it was), I finally had a chance to meet him when Mike and Eddie Poole (of Canyon) enlisted me to record with them at Ruff’s new Checkmate Studio (on east 24th street in Amarillo). The Poole brothers were guitar-singers and they had played around Canyon in the earlier sixties (before I came into town). Their bass player was Roady Rhodes and their drummer was Reggie somebody (I can’t recall his last name). Their band had been somewhat inactive for about a year and when we got set-up and started to record their two original songs Ruff kept interrupting and saying, “The drummer is not keeping a good beat” or “the rhythm guitar playing is missing chords!” After this went on for a while, the Poole brothers (who were paying for the session) pulled Reggie off the drums and Ruff substituted the Checkmates’ drummer into the band. At the same time the Pooles’ both decided to let me play rhythm and lead guitar on the recordings. They recognized the fact that they weren’t up to the task at hand. Furthermore, they wanted the best recording possible so they forgot about their egos (which many musicians can’t). 

With Roady (Mike) Rhodes on bass and the other drummer we finished the initial part of the backup track as a trio. Then, at Ruff’s suggestion, I dubbed in the lead parts on a 12-string guitar! When I left the studio, the Poole brothers were still working on the vocal tracks and I don’t recall ever hearing the final mix, but I may have. At the time I recorded with Ruff at the controls, I had a distinct impression that he thought he was something special. He wore fancy clothes, glasses and expensive jewelry and seemed rather arrogant, like “Why am I here wasting my time with these no talents?  Ain’t it a shame what a man has to do to earn a dollar?”   

Although Checkmate Studios only operated for two-three years (first under Ray Ruff and later under Larry Cox) I should also mention that some famous musicians did actually record at the little studio in North East Amarillo during this time. Glen Frey (of The Eagles) mentioned that he once recorded here and J. Frank Wilson (of The Cavaliers) was also stated to have recorded there. However, Wilson’s smash hit ‘Last Kiss’ was not recorded there as it was recorded in San Angelo, Texas. 

Ray Ruff had formed The Checkmates after one of the original Fireballs, Chuck Tharp, had asked him to tour with him in 1960. I think Ruff had done some recordings at Clovis at about this same time, trying to imitate Buddy Holly. After they returned from the trip Ruff put together his first band with Larry Marcum (lead), Jerry Hodges (bass), Chuck Tharp (rhythm) and Gary Swafford (drums). 

Sometime, perhaps not long after, a Texas label that had some repute released one of Ruff’s recordings. Although the record didn’t sell well, it gave Ruff enough confidence to try and set up a tour in the northern states. As stated earlier, he was a shrewd businessman and he began advertising (on KOMA, in Oklahoma City) as if he was an important rock star. He seems to have rented numerous old ballrooms, dancehalls and Legion halls in little towns across Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota and Kansas to setup these Checkmate tour extravaganzas! On the strong KOMA station when the ads ran, it sounded really big-time when the announcer would say, “Ray Ruff & The Checkmates will be appearing at the American Legion in Minot on Friday night, the Candle Club in Lawrence, Kansas on Saturday night and the VFW in Clinton, Nebraska on Sunday night, this weekend!” No teenager listening would have imagined that Ray Ruff was not a successful recording artist, just like Elvis Presley! Nevertheless, even though Ruff wasn’t a legitimate rock star, he was a successful touring act during this period of time! Later Ruff also went on to be a successful producer and when he died a couple of years ago, his obituary appeared in the London newspaper. He had become associated with Pat and Debbie Boone in his later life and had produced one of Pat’s comeback albums. He also had other credits in the Nashville area of music. Today, some of his early Clovis recordings have been issued as a rockabilly CD so perhaps Mr. Ray Ruffin will posthumously become as important of a recording artist as many people were once led to believe.

The Sparkles played regularly in Canyon and Amarillo at this time. Their lead guitarist, Stan Smith, had attended West Texas State in c.1965 and some of the other Sparkles may also have attended college in Canyon or Amarillo at that same time. Lucky Floyd went on to become a successful band director so he did graduate from some college. Bill Griggs of Lubbock did some research into this fabulous rock band (from the Levelland, Seagraves, and Brownfield areas of Texas). The original band seemed to date back to about 1957-1958 and it had about three different generations of musicians, meaning that the members kept changing at time passed. Possibly one of the first appearances of the band occurred in 1958 when The Sparkles played at the Rock ‘n Roll Jubilee behind Brunswick recording artist Terry Noland. This was held in Levelland, and Waylon Jennings also appeared on the program.

The greatest of The Sparkles was Harold (Lucky) Floyd, the drummer from Seagraves. He said that he had joined the band when he was 16-years old. This would have been in circa 1960. Bob Smith (bass) was from the same town and he was also playing in the band when I first went to Canyon in 1964, if not sooner. I read somewhere that Stan Smith (lead guitarist from Levelland) had either joined the group in c.1958 or had been a founder. I have no clue when Don Roberts (rhythm guitar) joined. Nevertheless by 1965, this foursome was the hottest thing around the Amarillo-Lubbock area and even journeyed to Austin to play frat parties at the University of Texas. These jobs paid $700-$800 per weekend and though the trips were long, gasoline was only 25 cents a gallon. The Sparkles were making “heavy paper” while the rest of us local bands were waiting in the welfare line! 

(Note: In January 2013, we received an update from Linda Roberts, Don Robert's wife: You did not know when Don Roberts joined the band so I thought I could update that info. I can remember just like it was yesterday. We were 18 years old, living in a duplex in Levelland, Texas. Two members of the band came to our house and asked Don if he would be interested in playing rhythm guitar for The Sparkles. They said he could make $25 that week. Wow. Sounded great to us. Howard Ragland was their manager at that time. Don stayed with The Sparkles till they went to California. He decided not to go. He was married with two children. He started a band called The Branded Four, which Lucky played in after he returned from California. We still see Lucky.  He is playing his guitar and singing for certain venues. Sounds just like he did in the '60s. Don lost his battle with cancer January, 2012.  We all miss him so much.)

The Sparkles appear to have began recording in the early sixties, if not sooner. Floyd states that their first record was recorded in a garage studio in Clovis, New Mexico and released on Caron Records. It was about a dance step, called ‘The UT.’ During this same period they seemed to have several other small-label releases that also went nowhere. In about 1965 Larry Parks, a Nashville producer with Texas connections, offered to record The Sparkles if they would sign with Hickory Records. They appeared to have agreed and recorded four singles for this national label.  I was told that these recording sessions were held at the Acuff-Rose Studio in Nashville or possibly a studio that was affiliated with Acuff-Rose Publishing. This would have been in c.1965-1966. Out of these sessions came ‘No Friend of Mine,’ ‘Hipsville 29 BC’ and ‘First Forget (What Has Made You Blue’). (The last one is a beautiful slow song that I play onstage today!)

At the time these records were being recorded (and before they were released in 1967) The Sparkles had evolved into a third generation group. Brownfield native Gary Nunn was now on keyboard and a new drummer, Jimmy Marriot, was soon to be added. Stan and Don left the group possibly during the Nashville era of The Sparkles. I am unsure if Don was on the Nashville recordings, but I think Stan played on some of them. Nevertheless, Jimmy Marriot made the group more versatile as their great, lead-singer Lucky Floyd could now take the stage in front of the group at various times and leave the drumming to Marriot. When this occurred Floyd would do his remarkable James Brown impersonation! Since none of the four releases on Hickory became hits in the United States this new Sparkles group was soon to be without their star, namely Lucky Floyd. He and one or more of the old Sparkles seems to have traveled out to California and put together a new band. I read somewhere that they were playing at the same hotel where/when Robert Kennedy was assassinated there. In regards to the Sparkles’ records, I received a letter from a fan in Denmark that claimed one of the records had been a smash in Denmark and today the Sparkles’ songs appear on several, popular compilations! I am proud to say that I knew Stan, Bobby and Lucky and heard The Sparkles play many times onstage in their heyday! My only regret is that I never got to play with these extraordinary cats from the South Plains of Texas—the fabulous Sparkles!

Ray Ruff

My Recollections of The Sparkles

It was in the spring of 1964 when I first heard The Sparkles and Lucky Floyd play. This was at the old Hong Kong Lounge in Amarillo where my trio (Robin Brown, Ronnie Hester and Roy Morrison) had just auditioned. We had earlier played some Ventures and Fireballs instrumentals but failed to impress the manager. He had invited us to hang around and hear the 'house band'.  With nowhere else to go, we did just that. 

When Stan, Bobby and Lucky opened up with some Elvis and Orbison songs it was apparent to all of us why we didn't get the job! Roy, our drummer, said in amazement, "That drummer can not only play but he can also sing just like Elvis.  She-it!" I had to agree and I also had to admit that Stan and Bobby knew what them Fender guitars were made for. Soon The Sparkles broke into something like 'Stormy Monday' and showed us what good club music was all about! We left the Hong Kong that evening feeling like a trio of has-beens that never were. But I wasn't yet ready to give-up my rock 'n roll ambitions.  I shore wasn't.

Later in the summer I got a job at the Bo-Ra Club and heard some of Amarillo's finest rock bands including The Cinders and Sammy and The Emeralds. Both these groups had records out and The Cinders also got to do an album. Ted Barnhill also had a trio working at the downtown Embers Club at this time and he liked my guitar playing. I was invited to do a session at Norman Petty's studio in Clovis with him and Gary Swafford at this same time. I however was relegated to playing rhythm because Ted's lead man (Nelson somebody?) also came along. I should also mention that while at the Bo-Ra Club, Roy Orbison played a show with Bobby Goldsboro fronting the band. This predated 'Pretty Woman' but I got to hear ‘Blue Angel’ and ‘Running Scared.’ At the time Orbison was about 28, but he looked 40 to me! 

The next time I ran across The Sparkles was in the spring of 1965. Stan Smith was going to school at West Texas at the time (as I was). The bass player of my first college band, The West Winds, was a big friend of Stan’s and John Holcombe took us over to Stan's off-campus apartment and introduced us to his wife. Anytime I got near another musician I always wanted to jam around, but Stan's equipment was in a trailer outside so all we could do was talk music. Holcombe was convinced that Stan was one of the world's greater rockers, but I wanted to challenge that notion! Anyway, during my freshman and sophomore years at Canyon, Texas, The Sparkles performed in the SUB on several occasions. These were exciting dances! Lucky Floyd did his James Brown imitations and they also played some early Beatles music at these events. By 1965 I was playing in a rock group, The Gimini Five, and we also played numerous dances at the SUB. I should also mention that Jerry Lee Lewis played there circa 1963 and I saw him do his famous act of throwing his right-foot on the keyboard and hanging his hair down in his face! What a showman!

The Sparkles added a second drummer in about 1966 and Gary Nunn played keyboard with them. They became a five-piece group, as I recall. The keyboard added a lot of depth to the group. I also saw them play during the time when they released their first record on Hickory (‘First Forget What Has Made You Blue’). I loved the chord progression in D and went directly home and learned the song. I still play it onstage today! The last time I saw the evolving group was at the Music Box, in Lubbock circa.1967-1968. By then Lucky and Stan had left the group and in my estimation The Sparkles “golden age” had ended. In their heyday, The Sparkles were one of the best. 
Joe Ely calls them the best regional rock band of his youth!


Lucky Floyd of The Sparkles

The Amarillo-Canyon Music Scene of the Sixties
Part II: Ted Barnhill’s Trio, The West Winds, Larry Trider & The Nomads

I first went to Amarillo and became part of the music scene in the summer of 1964. With my Fender Jaguar and Gibson amp in my ol’ ‘57 Ford I drove into town and attended a jam session at Gary Swafford’s home on S. Washington, my first day there. My old friend (from Turkey, Texas), Ted Barnhill, had invited me up to jam with several other Amarillo musicians. Ted had gotten married and he and his wife Nancy were living there at the time. By this time Ted had left The Fayros and was teaming with another guitarist (Nelson somebody?) and his new lead-man was also present that day. I can’t recall if Mark Cramer was at the jam but I did jam with Cramer on several occasions. 

I know we had a pretty good crowd at the Swafford home that day and Gary did one of his vintage solos, which wowed everyone present. At the time I was basically a Ventures and Fireballs instrumentalist and the Amarillo musicians wanted to play songs I weren’t familiar with, such as ‘Walkin The Dog’ and  ‘Twist & Shout’. So, I was sorta relegated to playing rhythm until Ted finally asked me to play ‘Torquay’ and ‘Panic Button.’ Then this young country boy tried to show them Amarillo rockers that some new competition had arrived in town, for shore!

After this initial jam, Ted invited me over to his house and I sorta moved-in with him and Nancy for a while. During this time Ted’s trio had a job to play at Amarillo Air Base and he invited me along as an observer. It sorta irked me that he didn’t invite me to play with them, but since I was a greenhorn I guess he was afraid I would screw them up! I was further disappointed when we got to the Officers Club and they wouldn’t let me hang around inside since I was a minor. I had to spend two hours sitting in the car on that Sunday afternoon, while Ted’s band rocked on! In retrospect, I think Ted was trying to make me pay some dues and not invite me onstage too quickly. In other words, he thought I should earn the right to play with the pros, by first warming the bench and observing. Nevertheless, during this same period of time I was invited to travel with Ted, Nelson and Swafford to Clovis for a session at Norman Petty’s studio. That was truly an experience I will never forget…but that’s another story!

Not long after the gig at the base, Ted’s trio became a fixture at the Embers Club in downtown Amarillo. I don’t know how many years they played there, but several. They did songs such as Jimmy Reed’s ‘Got Me Running’ and later they did ‘Elvira’, as I recall. I used to go up on weekends and sit-in when I didn’t have a gig to play.

In the fall of 1964 I enrolled at the nearby West Texas State College in Canyon, Texas and moved into Jarrett Hall there. Starting college sure didn’t mean that I had put my rock ‘n roll ambitions on hold. No sir…quite the contrary! As soon as Ronnie Hester and I had gotten situated we started looking for a good drummer and bass player.  Soon we had a four-piece band together and were playing fraternity and sorority parties with John Holcombe on bass and Gene Hefner on drums. Since Holcombe was a senior and wanted to also play some country songs, he insisted that we call our group The Westwinds.  But we essentially were a rock band and only played a couple of country songs to appease him. We played everything from early Beatles songs to Johnny Rivers but we were hung with this crazy moniker...The Westwinds. We just did it to please Big John. 

John Holcombe was a native of Denver City, Texas and he claimed to have toured with Ray Ruff and The Checkmates prior to joining our group but we never knew for sure. He was something of a BS’er. One thing was certain, John was a rebel and he liked to do crazy things. For example, one night we were playing a private party in Tulia and he got wild, stood on top of his bassman amp and went into a bump and grind routine. This occurred right in the middle of a song and if it had been a public dance, we would have probably been evicted! As it was, the wild crowd thought it was cool and Holcombe made a hit with some of the ladies!

About this same time I ran across a talented guitarist named Jimmy Pritchett (formerly of the Moon Disc of Floydada, Texas). In fact, he and I were soon to become rivals around campus since there was some argument as to who the best guitarist was! Truth of the matter is, he was a better copyist of the blues players of the day. He could imitate pickers like Freddy King and Travis Womack, while I was more attuned to the surf guitarists of the early sixties. But I did have some chord skills that he didn’t appear to have.  I guess I got those from playing behind my brother Bennie D. Brown, a Chet Atkins copyist. 

It was not long after I met Jimmy Pritchett that he joined Larry Trider’s group, The Nomads. They began playing in a nightclub (The Cottonwood Club) on the outskirts of Amarillo with Jerry Hodges on bass and a good drummer. I used to go up and listen to them for hours, and I was a real fan until Pritchett refused to let me sit-in one night. I decided then that his big talent was matched by a big ego. From that little club in Amarillo, Trider and The Nomads eventually made it out to Las Vegas where they played the Golden Nugget for 18 months, beginning in 1973! They returned to Lubbock and became the house band at the Red Raider Inn for a number of years thereafter. Before establishing The Nomads Larry Trider (Lazbuddie, Texas) had performed as a member of The Crickets (c.1965). Later, in the early-mid seventies he had two singles on Roulette, I believe, and these appear to have been with the Nomads. These four songs were recorded at Petty’s studio in Clovis, New Mexico. I guess these recordings could have been called country rock as one song was the Willie Nelson classic ‘Me and Paul.’ I once owned a demo tape of these same four songs by Trider (which had been fished out of a dumpster on Music Row in Nashville) and recently I found them listed in a 45-rpm collectible guide. I sure wish I still owned that little demo tape…not to mention the Mac Davis demo tape I also once owned!

Larry Trider’s career had begun in the mid-fifties when he played with early Amarillo bassist Rick Tucker. The last time I heard him play was around.1978 at the Red Raider Inn in Lubbock but by then Pritchett had left the group and the new Nomads were not as good. The rock influences of the early group had long disappeared and Trider had returned to his country roots. I was told in 2000 that the great Larry Trider had finally met his fate and had passed on. In retrospect one might say this about Larry Trider: He had a rich commercial voice, he played adequate rhythm guitar and he had an extraordinary ability to manage a band. Even though he never succeeded in the recording end of it, he certainly succeeded on the nightclub entertainment circuit. After Jimmy Pritchett left The Nomads, he settled in Dallas and became a studio musician. I saw his name listed on a gospel album that went gold a number of years ago. Hats off to you, old rival!


Buddy Knox

The Amarillo-Canyon Music Scene of the Sixties
Part III:  Bod and Butch’s Band, Lloyd Bartlett, The Tiaras, Sammy & The Emeralds, The Cinders and The Nighthawks

In the mid-sixties Canyon, Texas was a great place to be if you were a music enthusiast and/or musician. At the Student Union Building (aka the SUB) there were numerous happenings in which many rock bands came to town and played. The list of celebrities that played here would be very long, but to mention a few: Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Knox, Sam The Sham and John Fred and The Playboys. Many Amarillo-area bands also performed here, such as Billy Stull & The Cords, Earl Whitt & The Tiaras and The Dueces Wild! Bod and his band and Mark Cramer’s band The Illusions played also there. 

I can’t recall the name of Bod’s group but Butch Kelly (organ) and Tommy Pogue (guitar) were members. Nor can I recall the name of Mark Kramar’s six-piece rock band, but they were both really fantastic! Bod’s group played a lot of James Brown-type stuff while Kramar’s band specialized in the English sound of the day. In my estimation, these two groups could hold their own with The Sparkles in their own area of expertise. 

By 1968, after Bod got drafted, Tommy Pogue and Butch Kelley were playing at the Hong Kong Lounge in Amarillo, and doing Cream and Hendrix songs well, with their drummer (James somebody)! Bod’s original band was not limited to just the blues music, which he preferred to perform. I don’t think I ever knew Bod’s real name but he came from the Pampa-Borger area of the Texas panhandle, as did Pogue. After I left Amarillo for the last time in 1974 I lost track of these musicians but recently I learned that Butch Kelly (the Canyon, Texas native) had died in a parasailing accident on Lake Meredith at about age 35. Kelly was more than a local rock musician. He was more like the typical rocker that one might have encountered in San Francisco in 1969. He let his hair grow long and shaggy, he wore scrubby Levis, lived in an ice-cream truck and was busted for marijuana (probably on more than one occasion)! Finally, I must admit that Butch Kelly was a very, good musician because he could play the revolutionary music that was created during the late sixties!   

Sometime around 1966 a novice guitarist by the name of Lloyd Bartlett approached me on campus in Canyon and stated that he and his keyboard man would like to join my band. My first college band (Holcombe & The Westwinds) were far in the past and The Gimini Five were in the process of dissolving, too, at the time. I agreed to a jam session/audition and it was held in the Ballroom of the SUB one afternoon. Well, as it turned out, Bartlett was a good singer but he wasn’t very advanced on the guitar so I didn’t hook-up with them. (I was rather demanding on backup guitarist, because I wanted to play a lot of hard, English rock songs). His keyboard man was pretty good, however, but they were a team so nothing came of the audition. About a year later an old friend of mine, Ronnie Crabtree, came by and invited me to go with him to a club on east Amarillo Boulevard. The place was called the Tap Room and he said there was a trio playing there that he knew. As it turned out, the trio was Lloyd Bartlett and his keyboard man plus a drummer (whose name I don’t recall)! Bartlett was a really nice guy and as soon as we entered the small club he saw me and nodded in a friendly manner. 

At break, he came over and invited me to sit in with the band, which I did. (I think he had an extra guitar backstage or else I had thrown mine in the car. I seldom went anywhere without my ax in those days.) So, after break, I got onstage and played a couple songs with the band. Then Bartlett broke into the Righteous Brother’s hit, ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ and I sang a little harmony with him on that one, too. This was a song that I knew well because my roommate, Max Barton, had worked it up and we played it often.  After I got offstage I told my friend Ronnie that although the band was somewhat unpolished, they at least had the crowd in their back pocket, because they seemed to like them a lot.  Ronnie agreed! Yet it was a surprise to me when Bartlett’s trio kept advancing in popularity and skill until finally by 1974 they had become one of the top club bands in Amarillo! Hats off to you, Lloyd Bartlett! Practice and determination does pay off in the music biz!

In September of 1968 one of Amarillo’s better rock bands, The Tiaras, played an outdoor dance at West Texas. They were equipped with A-7 theatre speakers and their music literally rocked the whole town that evening. Earl Whitt, the original lead man of The Fayros, was playing his left-hand Fender guitar to a new level of perfection, as I recall. I didn’t know any of the other musicians playing but their lead singer (last name Judd) did a credible imitation of Roy Orbison on ‘Candy Man.’ The harmonica part was perfect, too. The Tiaras actually sounded better than Orbison’s band that had appeared at the Nat Ballroom in 1964. Yes, they were a talented group and Earl Whitt’s picking is still played on California radio today, where the Fayros’ instrumental ‘Skokiaan’ has become a surf classic!  I understand that Earl Whitt, who today is in his mid-late sixties, still performs regularly at the Amarillo American Legion. However, he no longer plays rock but instead plays western swing. 

I heard Sammy and The Emeralds doing their local hit ‘Miss Tiny Tears’ when I first arrived in Amarillo in 1964. The song had been produced by Buddy Knox’s original guitarist, Donnie Lanier, and the 45 was getting substantial airplay around Amarillo at the time. So when I heard they were playing a dance at the Bo-Ra Club (in the Nat Ballroom where I had gotten a job) I was thrilled! I can’t recall if Sammy Cooper’s group was a trio or a four-piece but nevertheless they played some good dance music that night. With their record in the local top ten, they drew a good crowd and Sammie’s voice was really great! I don’t recall if I met the band that night but I did run across Sammie working in a Bar-B-Q place in Georgia a couple years later. By then he had gotten married and retired from the music biz yet at one time Sammie (and The Emeralds) competed with J.D. Souther’s hot group The Cinders for the affection and applause of the local Amarillo teenagers! Sammie, who looked a lot like Frankie Avalon, had both the voice and the looks to have been a teenage idol, I still believe! Perhaps if he had recorded his record and arrived on the scene about three or four years earlier he could have went to the top!

During the same summer I worked at the Bo-Ra Club in Amarillo, J.D. Souther and his trio The Cinders also played a dance there. As I recall, Souther played drums and sang, while Charlie Bates played rhythm on an orchestra-type guitar, such as a Guild or Gibson. The third member of the trio was guitarist Steve Dodge. The Cinders at the time were legitimate recording artists! They had a single that had reached the top-forty during the early Beatles era. It was a song titled ‘Cinnamon Cinder’ and they had recorded a follow-up album on Warner Brothers Records also. By the time Linda Ronstadt hit the big-time, Souther had moved on to California and was associated with her at one time. In the seventies he finally achieved a gold record titled, ‘When You’re Only Lonely’ to become one of Amarillo’s most successful and celebrated rock musicians!  Since 2000 he has returned home to much fanfare and has appeared at the Amarillo Little Theatre, I think. What happened to the other two Cinders, I don’t know…

I was too young to have the privilege of hearing Amarillo’s original rock band, The Nighthawks.  I did however jam with their drummer Mike Hinton once. By the time I got to Amarillo in 1964 they had moved on to bigger and better things. Hinton and Bob Venable, lead guitarist, had by then become lawyers and Eddie Reeves had entered the music industry where he became quite successful. This band had recorded at Petty’s studio in 1958 and had gotten a single release on Hamilton Records. The record sold only 1,500 copies but later one of the songs (written by Venable) was recorded by Waylon Jennings. Its title was ‘When Sin Stops.’ The Nighthawks (or various members of the band) continued to record at Norman Petty’s studio into the early sixties. Finally, in 1961, they received a single on Warwick Records titled ‘Talk, Talk’ and ‘Cry Baby.’ The record must have been something of a hit in Europe as Eddie Reeves and Bob Venable went on a seven-week tour there (under the management of Norman Petty). By then, Hinton and John Thompson (the original bass player) were no longer with the group probably and had been replaced. I should add that I became acquainted with Hinton through my association with the great drummer Gary Swafford. When Gary introduced me to Mike Hinton he said, “This is the man that taught me how to play. You don’t have to worry about his drumming!” When we started Hinton set a fast pace that never varied and I saw right away why Swafford had become such a legendary drummer. It is interesting to note that some of Swafford’s old Clovis recordings are now available on Ace Records. (Refer to Gary Lee Swafford / Ace Records).


The Crickets (1965)
The Fireballs
Charlie Bates of The Cinders Responds

J.D. Souther was drummer for The Cinders from early 1963 until the band disbanded in late 1966.  Souther and I worked as framing carpenters for my father, who was a builder, and we went out to California together in May of 1966.  Steve Dodge had graduated from college and had to go into the Army reserve.  I played a Gibson ES 350-T guitar and Dodge played a Fender Jazzmaster.  We released two singles in the U.S. and Britain, but we never recorded or even played a song titled, ‘Cinnamon Cinder.’  All of our recordings were done at Norman Petty Studios in Clovis and were jointly produced by Petty and Jimmy Gilmer.  Our first release, ‘Good Lovin's Hard to Find,’ was a No. 1 seller in Amarillo and Lubbock, but there was not much action elsewhere.  It was released on RIK label in the U.S. and on CBS Records in Britain.  Our second record, ‘Day Before Tomorrow,’ did almost as well in Amarillo and Lubbock, but again little action elsewhere.  Eddie Reeves wrote both of these songs.  We recorded 20 songs total at Petty's, but there was never an album release because the band broke up later in the year after we completed the recordings in early 1966.  Many of the tunes were recorded were written by Dodge, Souther, and me, in addition to a friend of ours, Louis Ridings.  Many of these songs were covered by The Fireballs, and Dodge, Ridings, and I later wrote additional songs that were recorded and released by The Fireballs.  One song Dodge wrote, ‘Come On React,’ became a Top-40 hit for The Fireballs.  I had a song, ‘Hurry Hurry,’ that was released on the Come On React album.  Many of these Fireball songs that we wrote have been released in recent years by Ace Records. Last year, Ace Records released an album of songs recorded in the mid-1960s that included five of the Cinders’ songs, in addition other cuts that included songs by The Crickets and Fireballs.

It might be of interest to you that Dodge had played bass with Gilmer's band in Amarillo before he joined The Fireballs. Earl Whitt was the lead guitar for Gilmer and Gary Swaffor played drums. Dodge, Gilmer, and I had known each other for years and were good friends.  I still keep in touch with the two of them and Souther. 

As to what happened to Dodge and myself:  Dodge got married and moved to the Albuquerque area to teach high school English; however, he later became a home builder and has continued very successfully in this line of work since.  He now lives outside Santa Fe, New Mexico.  I went back to school when I returned from California and earned a B.A. in English at the University of Texas at Arlington.  I wrote for the Amarillo Globe-News for two years after graduation and then wrote for the Dallas Morning news for three years after that until returning to music.  I played as a single around the Dallas-Fort Worth area for a while before my wife got a teaching job in Amarillo, and we returned in 1977. There, I joined with Gary Roller (he had been bass player for the Alvin Crow band in Austin) as a duo for a couple of years, and then we formed a four-piece band (The Fullmoon Band).  Gary left the band in mid-1980 to move to Taos, New Mexico, to work as an artist and to join Michael Martin Murphy's band. Gary still plays with Murphy.

I returned to the Amarillo Globe-News in 1981 and worked as a reporter and then city editor until I left in 1988.  I went back to school at Texas Tech and earned my M.A. in Mass Communications while teaching journalism courses. I went to work for the Amarillo School District and retired as the journalism adviser at Palo Duro High School in 2004.  Since then, my wife and I moved to the Hill County northwest of Austin, and live out in the country on about 5.5 acres of beautiful land that is covered with big Oak and Elm trees with a large pond that borders our property.  I don't play anywhere except my home, but I do that often.