Sunday, March 23, 2008

That Little ol' Fake Band From Texas

L to R: Seab Meador, Dusty Hill, Frank Beard, Mark Ramsey

Just let me know, if you want to go 

To that home out on the range.

In the summer of '69 that home turned out to be a used van that we affectionately called the Sty. I was the last person to join the band, but when I agreed, the thought of driving three hundred miles a day was the last thing on my mind. When you're nineteen and the chance to play rock n' roll on the road with some talented young musicians presents itself, you just go. At least that's what I did. I packed some guitars, had a friend sew some stage clothes, said goodbye to my girlfriend and jumped in the van. Summer tour here we go!

If apologies are required then let me offer them here at the beginning. The business arrangements for the band were not part of my job description. I was just out of high school, and the chance to play music and get paid for it was exactly what I wanted to do at the time. When I found out that we were going to tour as the Zombies from England, well I lifted an eyebrow, but I remember someone telling me that the manager had the legal rights to form a band to tour off of the Zombies great hit songs, as the original band had broken up. I never gave too much thought to the legal issues, but let me offer the original Zombies my first apology. Your songs were beautiful, and at the time I didn't know that several Fake Zombies bands had been formed. Next, I offer an apology to anyone who paid money to come see us play thinking that we were the great band from England. We played some pretty nasty delta blues with slide guitar gumbo, but the sweet sounds of the Zombies were never part of our set.

In addition, there may be apprehension about the revelations here. The rumors are already out there, but I don't want those in high places to lose any sleep. For sure, some things are just better kept secret. There is a story to tell here, however, and some pictures to show. In '69 we were ready for the experience, young and eager. For some reason, I became the custodian of the Texas Fake Zombies pictures. They are published here for the enjoyment of all. Out of my personal friend group, no one else has ever seen them. Apologies stated; let's begin the story.

High School Bands and New Friendships

During the psychedelic ‘60’s, playing in a rock band became a cultural requirement. My high school band, Jukunda’s Prism, drew inspiration from the sounds coming out of California. The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and Jefferson Airplane were making hit records and describing a genre. Jukunda’s Prism presented a hot female singer and an excellent guitarist. Our best song was “Somebody to Love” by Jefferson Airplane. With that sweet teenage body, our singer looked great, but she wasn’t shy when it came to belting out that signature Grace Slick attitude.

Posing in the Backyard with Fender Palomino

We entered a Battle of the Bands in Fort Worth at Will Rogers Auditorium. It was open to bands from all over Texas. The winner of the battle got to play as the opening act before the Doors concert that night at the Auditorium. With our strong performances of “Tobacco Road” and “Somebody to Love,” we won! The Doors wore black leather and swaggered with a style way above hanging out with amateur high school bands, but we were there, and we won the battle. Jukunda’s Prism had recorded its short moment in rock history.

Tena Rice and Brad Lloyd of Jukunda's Prism

Of the Fake Zombies, I met Seab Meador first. His high school band played for a senior party at Grand Prairie High School. What a look he had: Jeff Beck hair, red Flying V guitar, and a double-stack Marshall amplifier; moreover, his live sound was strong with premium slide guitar. I got to speak to him during one of their breaks. Seab was surprisingly friendly, and we shared comments more than I would have thought possible for a brief encounter.

Frank Beard and Mark Ramsey

Frank Beard went to Irving High School. We met at the Pizza Inn. I remember looking over to him and feeling an instant connection. We started talking and a new friendship was born. I found Frank to be one of those people whom you could talk to easily. Besides his handsome good looks, he was a cool guy, and he was an accomplished drummer with a double set: a full kit with two base drums.

High School Friendship

In my opinion, Jimmie Vaughan and his bands always were the best in Dallas, and Bugs Henderson played the best blues in Fort Worth. Bugs played at the Cellar night club, a nasty, low-rent club downtown. It was every adventuresome teenager’s goal to sneak into the Cellar and experience the nightlife and live music presented there. Rumors circulated that once the young girls had a few drinks, then table dances and lewd stripteases often resulted in a visit from local law enforcement. Despite all the distractions, the music at the Cellar inspired me as a youngster. I dreamed of playing in juke-box-smoke-filled dives for some reason. I’m sure Bugs Henderson’s great guitar work inspired me.

Learning a New Song at My Cousin Rene's House

Once we started hanging out together, I was surprised to discover how many musicians Frank Beard knew in Dallas. He seemed to know all the best players. We started visiting nightclubs, listening to the live music. It was through Frank that I first met Jimmie Vaughan. At this time, Jimmie Vaughan started changing his live performance to playing more bluesy tunes. He had a great guitar sound, and his lead singer had a strong voice. I must admit Jimmie was one of my first guitar heroes. The first time I heard him play was at the Yellow Belly Drag Strip in West Dallas. I might have been fifteen. Jimmie Vaughan was good back then but even better after he started playing blues. One night in Dallas, Frank and I went to hear Jimmie Vaughan’s band Texas. From that night, I remember one song in particular: “Beautician Blues.” Doyle Bramhall sang lead vocal. I’ve never heard that song again, but it’s been stuck in my mind, a tribute to a special night in Dallas.

Dusty Hill played with his brother, Rocky, in a band called the American Blues. Their drummer was Little Richard Harris. He was the most impressive local drummer I had seen perform. His double drum set was an emerald green sparkle. Frank Beard and I went to hear the American Blues play one night, and after the performance we were all sitting around talking. Little Richard surprised everyone when he stated his desire to move to San Francisco, and that he would soon be quitting the band. I noticed a gleam in Frank’s eye and a little smile on his face as well. Frank also played a double drum set, and his skills were right up there with Little Richard, maybe ever better. The timing was right, and Frank joined the band.

Rocky and Dusty lived on Vandella Dallas, near Lemon Ave. I started hanging out there, partying and enjoying life without parental supervision. Let’s just say we weren’t afraid of having some fun, not quite realizing how a rock ‘n roll lifestyle brings out the beast in everyone. The ‘60’s were consumed with the fascination of experimentation.

In the '60's vintage guitars just fell from the trees. From left to right: I'm holding my early '60's SG Les Paul; my friend Bill Mazur holds my '59 Les Paul Standard; my brother Brent poses with my '67 Fender Telecaster. I bought the '59 Les Paul at Bill's Pawn Shop for $150.00.

Head Out on the Highway; Looking for Adventure!

The job offer came through Frank and Dusty. They hired Seab first, and I was the last to join the band. I wasn’t told many details about whether this assignment was legal or not, but the impression I got was that a business manager had obtained the legal rights to the Zombies name and, therefore, could legally perform the Zombies hit songs on tour. Considering the real Zombies’ unique sound, I wonder what thought process went into the recruitment of the Texas Fake Zombies touring band. Our set would feature hard-rock blues tunes that sounded as natural in Dallas as the Texas wind blowing hard from Mexico, but had little in common with the Liverpool sounds of the British Invasion. Moreover, our sound would substitute The Zombies’ melodic keyboard with Seab Meador’s raunchy slide guitar.

We would cover a couple of Zombies tunes thrown in out of necessity, but our sound was Texas blues, straight out of the suburbs of the Metroplex with enough volume to rock the darkest nightclubs of Dallas and Fort Worth. I guess Dusty and Seab chose the songs since Frank could accompany any style with his instinctive percussions, but I had to learn the set. All the songs were new to me.

The Real Zombies

Most of the songs in our set were Seab Meador arrangements. Some of my favorites were “Rock Me Baby” with a strong double guitar riff in the key of E, a chiming harmony guitar version of “Georgia On My Mind” sang by Dusty with soulful emotion, and the Peter Green version of “Black Magic Woman.”

With all the enthusiasm of a van full of teenagers, we headed out on the road; however, this first tour was as the Rose Garden. Their song “Next Plane to London” had been a hit, but their exposure had been limited, creating an opportunity for the fake-band-crazy managers to cash in. After all of two practices we traveled eastward, playing in small nightclubs in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. My memory is a little hazy here, but I remember this trip lasting about two weeks.

View From the Rear of the Sty

This was my first experience to the grind of driving all day to reach a distant nightclub, playing late into the night, and then getting up to do it all over again the next day. I wonder what the people of the South thought about our blues set? The folk-rock sweetness of the Rose Garden was definitely not our style. When we played “Next Plane to London,” as the sound drifted out into the magnolia-scented night, southern possums in the trees must have experienced some serious gastro-intestinal trouble. I can still hear Seab’s slide guitar embellishment of the melody ringing through my ears. I’m surprised that we weren’t tied up, tarred and feathered, and run out of town.

I’m not sure that it ranks as a significant moment in rock history, but Dusty Hill singing “Next Plane to London” must have sobered up the drunks, and that’s a bad thing at a southern bar. If we wanted to fake it right, a female lead singer might have made sense. I guess this tour was for practice. It probably would have been difficult to take a teenage girl along with us, but Tina Rice, the lead singer of Jukunda’s Prism would have worked. This was a missed opportunity because the Prism played more like a folk-rock band. Who would have guessed the prophetic meaning when Dusty sang that melody?

Told 'im I was gonna be a star
but to do it I would have to go far away
But I'd come back someday
And take her away
I'm on the

Next plane to London
Leavin' on runway number five
Next plane to London
And I'm missin' her,
That baby
Of mine.

After resting up, the time finally came to pack the trailer, load the van, and head north for the Fake Zombies Tour. Since management was located in Michigan, that was our first destination, but I remember many stops in Wisconsin, Illinois, and New York State. Most of our gigs were in small rock clubs where live music was a common draw; however, several were larger venues. Most of our time was spent riding in the van. We averaged about three hundred miles a day driving from city to city, performing almost seven days a week.

The Notorious Business Managers

From England?

Before we left I traded my ’67 Telecaster for a blond Rickenbacker twelve string. That guitar might have sounded great if we had played in a style that complemented the British sound that the Zombies played, but it was useless in a blues band. So in Wisconsin I traded the Rickenbacker for a Gibson ES-335. You can see Seab playing it in some of the pictures. I took along my ’59 Les Paul, but you also see me playing a Fender Jazzmaster that I borrowed from the band touring with us. The Jazzmaster played well and stayed in tune. I liked it very much.

The U.S. part of the tour was a grind. Drive all day; play late into the night. We spent a lot of time sleeping in the van. Since we played every night, many of the performances have become a scrambled blur of memories. I do remember that we played well in Chicago. Some of the patrons came backstage to congratulate us on the set, but I also remember a night in Wisconsin when a guy came backstage to accuse us of not being the real Zombies. That should have been obvious to everyone, but this guy wasn’t shy about making his point. He wanted to know where the keyboard player was. Someone came up with a quick answer: the keyboard player had gotten busted in Dallas and couldn’t make the trip because he was on probation. Actually, it was someone else in the band who was on probation. That’s why he used the stage name of Chris Page.

Frank Beard

Seab Meador

Dusty Hill

Mark Ramsey

This is my favorite pose. The original is missing, so this image comes from a badly damaged negative. I restored it as best I could.

The first two months were all work. Some days had been good for guitar; others had not. I remember Seab and I causing quite a stir when we visited a local music store one day. We grabbed a couple of expensive acoustics and started an impressive jam. Seab was a good teacher, and our tight riffs caused a few heads to turn as we played together. We also had the look of British rock stars, not a common sight on the streets of Ann Arbor. They must have wondered who those guys were.

Before the Chicago Performance

I had an unfortunate guitar playing accident while on the road. I was changing strings on my Les Paul. I had cut the extra length of string from the tuners, but when I reached up to tune, I accidentally stabbed my finger on one of the cut ends. I couldn’t believe how sore that made my finger. It took almost two weeks before I could play without pain. When you play every night, a sore finger can really be a problem. Now when I restring one of my guitars, I don’t cut the extra lengths off; I just tie them together.

Posing in the Park

Then we got some time off in Buffalo, New York. It was nice to get some rest without having to drive all day. It was in Buffalo that we found out that we were going to tour Canada. It was exciting news. Our journey would take us across every province with one performance way up north in the territories, but like all tourist, there would be time for some sightseeing. First on the tourist agenda was Niagara Falls, then a wonderful trip to Banff, Canada. This was the best part of the summer. We took the ski lift high into the mountains. That was a beautiful day.

Best Day of the Summer

Driving through Canada was a visual experience. You never knew when large wildlife might run across the road, so the driver had to stay alert. One day our driver almost lost control of the van when the trailer started swaying back and forth. I held on tight with one hand and crossed myself with the other. After considerable effort, he regained control. There’s nothing like a brush with danger to add a little excitement to the Canadian adventure.

Driving the Roads of Canada

Toronto was a great city for shopping. We walked the shopping district selecting gifts and cool items for ourselves. In one specialty shop I found a fringe jacket with bead work. The salesman told me the caribou-hide jacket was made by a real Native American. I bought the jacket, but one item I’ve always regretted not buying was an early Gibson Firebird I hanging on the wall of a music shop. The ember red finish almost looked lipstick pink. I thought that if I scratched it up some then it wouldn’t look like it should be played by a girl. I had the money on me, but I changed my mind at the last minute. Add another one to the list of lost guitars. I wish that I had bought it.

Seab Making it Work!
One day stands out above all others on the infamous Texas Fake Zombies Tour. We started the day off with a television show, then a radio show, and later in the day a performance at Prince Albert Royal Penitentiary. The television show was an interview format. Dusty did most of the talking, but the host spoke to each of us briefly. He noticed a little Texas twang in the air. That’s when the dreaded “are you guys from Texas?” question came up. Remember we were supposed to be from England. The Canadians didn’t seem to mind, however. They treated us like real rock stars.

Are you Boys from Liverpool or Texas?

Talk about a captive audience, playing at a prison defines the phrase. Those guys were ready for some entertainment. While we were setting up our gear, several prisoners were backstage helping. They wanted to know among other things if we had any drugs on us. Yea sure, we’re going to perform at a prison and end up staying there permanently. No drugs thank you! Basically, it was just good conversation.

We played three songs, and we played well that day. We started with “Rock Me Baby.” The loud dual guitar riffs and Dusty’s voice got them revved up. The song was well received. Next we played “Black Magic Woman.” You could tell Dusty enjoyed singing that song. For our last song we brought out our Seab Meador arrangement of “Georgia On My Mind.” The mood was set. The harmony guitars chimed, and Dusty brought them to tears with the sad thought of missing your girlfriend, the song’s basic theme. That might have been our best performance, and the applause echoed throughout the auditorium. It is that ringing applause that still to this day overshadows the many memories of the summer of ’69. There was nothing fake about their response to our music. What they felt was real.

In Memory of Seab Meador, an Excellent Teacher