FRANK BIRDSONG

Atlanta, Ga.
April 2012

Frank Birdsong
I would like to be able to say that all of us in the band were born with a guitar in one hand and a woman in the other. But, although they are both similar in shape and size (the first of many lies and exaggerations that will permeate this writing), I can only say that I first laid eyes and hands on a guitar when I was about 14 years old and it was love at first sight (the women came a little later).

The guitar was a beat up old Gibson, round top acoustic with a black finish and white pearl inlays that had yellowed with age. The body and neck were scratched and beaten to the point that the original wood shone through and the frets were worn almost smooth. Most of the strings were broken or missing and the ivory tuning pegs were cracked and beginning to crumble. It belonged to my Mother's uncle and it was sitting in the corner near the fireplace of their modest old farm house near Kissimmee, Florida in 1955. This was long before Walt Disney ever conceived of the sprawling megalopolis known as Disney World. My great uncle owned several acres most of which lay right in the middle of what is now Lake Buena Vista when it was mostly an alligator-filled, mosquito infested swamp. If they had held out long enough when the Disney folks started clandestinely buying up the land from which the unimaginably huge and technically sophisticated resort would eventually spring, they, and perhaps I, as a favorite nephew, may have become multi-millionaires. But, sadly, no one could conceive of that being in this part of the world back then and my great uncle eventually was seduced by the realtors and sold out to what they thought was a trailer park developer for pennies less than what the eventual value would be. But, that's another story for another day.

Leave that lost fortune behind and let's go back to the object of my affection, that dilapidated old Gibson. The old guitar had a lot of mileage on it and, if it could talk, would probably tell many tales of good times provided in smoke-filled honky-tonks on Saturday nights at the hands of old, crusty country musicians who played for beer, smokes, and a few quarters in tips. But to me, it was a work of art and it wasn't lost on me that it was shaped like the seductive figure of some sloe-eyed, faded dance hall queen, with streaked make-up and missing a few teeth, or strings in this case. There was no doubt in my young mind, already surging with pubescent hormones, that there was something very Freudian (although I had no idea who Freud was) about that seductive form. Its' body was curved like the shape of a female torso and the sound hole was placed in the exact center of this armless Venus-like object making it even more provocative. Later, when Fender came out with their uniquely shaped electric guitars, the transsexual operation was completed and the soft, curvaceous lady was transformed into the overtly obvious, thrusting, proudly erect phallic symbol strapped across the body of every budding young musician whose dreams and aspirations for rock stardom were rampant in the mid-1950's.

My great Uncle Plez watched as I eyed the battered old Gibson hungrily and he finally said that if my Dad would take me into town to the local music shop and buy a new set of "cat gut" strings for it, he would string it up, tune it for me and teach me how to play a few chords, with no small assist from someone named Mel Bay.

My boyish eagerness to bring this new love to life was too overwhelming for my father to resist so we crawled into his company-owned pickup truck and drove into lovely, downtown Kissimmee to the local piano shop and purchased a new set of strings. I squeezed the waxy envelopes containing each string in my sweaty hands and could scarcely contain myself during the dusty, bumpy ride back down the dirt road to Uncle Plez's farm.

Uncle Plez was behind the house in Aunt Bertha's garden hoeing a long row of fresh collard greens under the sweltering, hot Florida sun. I showed him the new strings and he smiled through tobacco stained teeth and said he would put them on as soon as he finished hoeing. That was probably the longest two hours of my entire life. He finally came in, washed his hands under the old pitcher pump mounted to a steel wash tub, dried them on the sides of his dirty bib overalls, sat down on the fireplace hearth and proceeded to slowly, meticulously apply the new set of strings in place of the old and missing ones. A chill crawled up my spine each time he turned the tuning knobs and tuned the strings to the correct pitch using only his ears and his brain to place them at the proper frequency to produce the desired notes.

When he had at last tuned the guitar to his satisfaction, he glanced at me merrily and placed his gnarled, arthritic fingers on the strings in a contorted and painful looking position and deftly strummed a few, tinny-sounding chords while he sang a few verses of "Froggie Went-a-Courtin'" in his gravelly, thickly accented Southern baritone. I was delighted and couldn't wait for him to finish and give me a shot at reproducing that sound.

Frank Birdsong
Sears Ad - Silvertone Guitars
Seeing my impatience at getting my hands on the guitar, he finished his song and then handed me the guitar. I held it clumsily balanced on my skinny little legs while he placed my fingers on the strings in the classic "E" chord position and told me to push down hard against the fret board and strum the strings with my thumb. I was horrified to hear the muffled, buzzing sound that sprang from that beautiful instrument which had only moments before produced such clear, melodic tones. I was immediately dismayed by not only the quality of the sound, but the pain caused by the wound strings and the thin-wire tenor strings cutting into the tips of my unconditioned fingers.

But Uncle Plez just flashed his best Will Rogers, "aw shucks" grin and told me to push down harder and keep strumming until the sound got better. I endured the pain and continued and after a few minutes was actually able to reproduce something vaguely resembling a musical chord on the guitar. He spent the next few hours with me learning a few rudimentary chords from his Mel Bay Chord Book while my fingers turned into raw meat on the tips and my left hand began to cramp from the pressure of holding down the strings until I could no longer bear the pain. But Uncle Plez could see that I was determined to learn to play that accursed instrument so he gave me both the book and the guitar, telling me to take good care of both of them. That was the beginning of my musical career and I will always be thankful to my great Uncle Plez for introducing me to that faded old beauty of a guitar and heading me down the road to having more fun and enjoyment than I ever dreamed. I would almost be tempted to say that playing music is better than sex, but , out of respect for all the women I've ever made love to, I can't quite stretch the analogy that far. I can state truthfully, however, that it's the most fun I've ever had with my clothes on.

Frank with his Silvertone Guitar
Frank with his Silvertone Guitar
I practiced on that old guitar until the strings broke and the tuning knobs crumbled off their gear shaft until, one Christmas in 1957, a new guitar appeared under the Christmas tree with my name on it. Actually, my name was on the gift tag but Roy Rogers' name was written on the guitar. It was a blonde finish, flat-top acoustic guitar with a dark maple fret board and the strings set at least 2" off the fret board. I think it was made by Montgomery Ward or Sears and I was all excited until I tried to play it. Gone was the smooth action of the Gibson and it was replaced by the hardest guitar I have ever tried to play in my life (that is until I got a Martin 12-string). There was no way to adjust the bridge to lower the strings so once again I had to go through a painful period of re-establishing the calluses I had developed on my fingertips. Old Roy's namesake guitar was a real cheapie but I didn't have the heart to tell my parents that since I knew they really couldn't afford to buy me much of anything for Christmas, much less something as frivolous as a guitar.

Mel Bay and I worked hard that year and after a while I had built up the strength in my left hand and hardened the calluses on my fingers to the point that I could play with a minimum of pain and string buzz. But I soon tired of playing simple "three fingered" chords and longed to be able to play something that sounded more like the chords I heard being played by the country musicians at the local Saturday night barn dances that my parents frequented. My little sister and I went with them regularly and while my parents danced, we sat at the edge of the stage, drank Cokes, and listened to the musicians. I was fascinated by the "licks" being played by both the standard guitarists and the pedal steel guitarist. They both had "electric" guitars with amplifiers and, for me, it was the most beautiful sound I ever heard.

 

So now I had a new goal in music. I wanted an electric guitar and an amplifier and I wanted to learn how to play those beautiful, full, rich chords and notes that I heard coming from those amplifier cabinets. I started mowing lawns, washing cars and helping my neighbor tend his chickens and finally saved up enough money to buy an absolutely gorgeous Sears Silvertone, solid body electric guitar and twin, 12" speaker amp with that magic sound called "tremolo". It had a black, metal flake finish with white plastic trim and was about 10 times easier to play than my R.R. acoustic. So now I was ready to hit the big time and I started going to every teen dance I could get to and listening to the bands and music that was played during that era. But, try as I might, I could never go home and reproduce the sounds and music I had heard that night. I could do a passable job on a little tune called "Honky Tonk" and by turning my tremolo control up full on my little amp, I could play a few bars of a Duane Eddy classic called "Forty Miles of Bad Road". But that was about it and my frustration level set in once again.

The Galaxies

The Galaxies - 1960
The Galaxies - 1960
It was about this same time that I was introduced to a little skinny kid named Buddy Decker who had a country twang in his voice, a cowlick in his straw-like blonde hair, and a big nose adorning his friendly face. Now Buddy could flat play the guitar, which he had learned from his older brother, Teddy Decker, who was away in the army at the time. Not only could Buddy play all those great instrumental rock songs I had been struggling with, but he knew the secret to playing all the rock songs ever made. He knew how to play "barre" chords (French for "bar") which allowed him to move all over the fret board and play from different positions in any key. Once he taught me how to use my index finger as a movable "capo bar" to form major, minor, major 7ths and just about any other chord imaginable, there was no stopping me. Over that summer, I must have practiced with Buddy at least four hours every day and on my own for the other 20 hours a day. By the time school rolled around that Fall, Buddy and I were playing for little parties and at the local teen club. We added a teenage drummer named Bill Helwig to the group and became known as "The Galaxies" (back then it was popular to name bands after makes and models of cars.). After playing in bars on Sundays, when they could serve food, but no alcoholic beverages, allowing us to perform as underage musicians, we started to get tight and expanded our song base to about 20 tunes that we played. I sang lead in my often cracking, adolescent voice. We did songs like "Alley Oop", "Searchin'" by the Coasters, and several Elvis tunes including "Hound Dog". Soon we became popular at a couple of the local teen clubs and added a bass player to the group named Terry Renick. Terry and I were long time good friends and he started out learning to play bass on a regular guitar with only the lower four strings on it. But we soon realized that didn't get it in the world of rock, so he picked up a used Danelectro 4-string bass and a little bass amp and we started sounding like a full, real band.

The Galaxies kept with the teen club circuit for a while until Buddy's older brother, Teddy, came back from the army and started playing with us. He had a new Fender Telecaster and a Fender reverb amp and he could play even better than Buddy. So now we really started to sound good and were beginning to get gigs at the local casino and other larger teen dance venues along with some gigs at local high schools. This went on for a few months but then we started getting some bookings in some night clubs but Bill Helwig's parents wouldn't let him play where alcohol was being served so he had to drop out of the band.

We merged with a start-up group that was called the Accents, who had a dynamic lead singer named Tommy Stadthagen. We played together for a short while but Tommy had bigger aspirations and so the Accents left us behind and became Tommy Strand and the Upper Hand and eventually recorded songs and appeared on the old Tonight Show on NBC.

The Bel Aires

During this musical hiatus, Terry Renick and I had graduated from High School and he decided to join the Air Force. I started my college education and enrolled in Palm Beach Jr. College in the Fall of 1958. So I was left on my own to try and find another band. I went back to practicing on my own and listening to other local bands, trying to learn something from them. There were two very popular bands in the West Palm Beach area about then. One group was the R-Dells, who later became known as The American Beatles and had a huge following in South America. The other very popular group was known as the Bel Aires (remember the car thing?) and the first time I ever heard them was at a dance at Palm Beach Jr. College, where I was in my first year of college. The Bel Aires blew me away because they all dressed alike, had these really cool dance steps that they did while playing (which they stole from the R-Dells, but that's ok), and they had this really fantastic guitarist named Bill Carter, who was one of the fastest and most accomplished guitarists I had ever seen at the time.

Buddy Decker knew Bill and introduced me to him one day at his house, where they hung out together and played songs. Shortly after the Galaxies broke up, the rhythm guitarist for the Bel Aires, Richard Lewis, joined the service (Air Force, I think) and Bill knew I was available. He asked me if I would like to join their band. Well, of course there was no way I was going to turn down the opportunity to join one of the most popular bands in the area, so I jumped on the invitation like the proverbial duck on a June bug. This began a relationship between two friends that extends even through today and Bill and I played music together, dated girls together and generally just spent a lot of time together getting into or avoiding trouble. We had a great time learning difficult songs with Bill playing a lot of instrumentals by Chet Atkins (his personal hero), Barney Kessel, The Ventures, Duane Eddy, and many, many others. We also did a lot of vocals with the band in which I sang lead and Bill added a high, sometimes falsetto, harmony.

It would take a novel to hold all of the interesting stories and fun times that we had with the Bel Aires. But one of our more interesting experiences came while we were playing several gigs at a place in West Palm called The Candy Bar. It was basically a strip club, but the owner wanted to start attracting a younger crowd who liked to drink and dance and so we were hired to play on weekends. They still kept the strippers, but they would come on and do their routine during our breaks. One night a stripper named Bambi Lynn came out and she had a damned boa constrictor as part of her act. Now anyone who knows me knows that I have an uncontrollable fear of snakes… of any kind, size, make or model.

During Bambi's act, her snake got out of control and she let it get away from her. I was already over by the bar far, far away from the stage, but when that snake starting slithering across the stage, Elvis left the building. I was out on the street and could not be convinced to come back on the stage and play until I was absolutely assured that the snake was back in its cage. Even at that, Bill and the other guys in the band tormented me the rest of the night by acting like the snake had reappeared or by coming up behind me while I was singing and tickling my neck with something to make me jump.

I played with the Bel Aires until I was accepted to the University of Florida where I transferred from PBJC and, sadly, had to leave the group. Bill said that he was going to try to get into Florida as soon as he could, so in the meanwhile, in anticipation of his arrival, I got a band started up almost as soon as I got to the University of Florida.

The Playboys - 1961 to 1964

Early Playboys - Article in Fla. Alligator - February
15, 1963
Early Playboys - Article in Fla.
Alligator - February 15, 1963

It was weird the way The Playboys got started. I had only been on campus for about three weeks and was living in East Hall men's dorm. One night I was sitting in my dorm room playing my guitar and had the door to the room open. I started playing and humming a song and then, down the hall, I heard a saxophone start echoing what I was playing. This went on for a while until a crowd started collecting in the hall listening to us. I finally went down the hall to see who was playing and that's when I met Jerry White, who was to become our sax player. There was also a guy living on the same floor named Lin Thomes, who played the drums. It didn't take long for us to put together a little combo and start playing around at some of the dorm rec rooms just for fun. We had no name, just a combo. Another dorm resident, Mike Hollifield, could play a little bass guitar and so we added him to the group. Other musicians came and went and we stayed that way until summer came and we all went back to our homes.

During that time, Bill Carter and I got back together and talked about his pending acceptance to the Univ. of Florida and the opportunity to join our band when he got up to Gainesville. In late summer of 1962, Bill got accepted and made plans to move to Gainesville and to play in our band. I drove him up to Gainesville in my old 1951 Ford and we sang and practiced harmonies all the way up. The band got back together, rehearsed and got tight, and started playing for campus gigs. At that time, the band members consisted of myself, Bill, Randy McDaniels on rhythm guitar, Lin Thoms on drums, and a fantastic saxophonist named Bill Flannery. Flan, as we called him, was a great jazz saxophonist that we basically converted into a hard playing rock and roll saxophonist. I had been playing lead but with Bill's inclusion as the lead guitarist, I dropped back to rhythm guitar. Randy didn't have a bass guitar so we all chipped in and bought him one and taught him how to play bass. Thus did The Playboys start to grow and become popular at U of F and surrounding areas.

The Playboys, as a band, was actually the brainchild of the fertile imagination of Lin Thoms. In the middle '60's, the most popular subject of conversation around the campus was the rising popularity of Hugh Hefner's controversial magazine, "Playboy". The centerfolds (called Playmates) of these magazines decorated the dorm rooms and inhabited the wet dreams of every young man in America, and the popular Playboy Clubs were springing up in every major city. Lin thought it would be really "cool" ( a very key word in the collegiate vernacular of that time) to dress in black pants, white long sleeved shirts with the sleeves stylishly rolled up one fold, and our necks adorned with different colored ascots emulating Hef's image of the playboy, millionaire bachelor. We made a huge Playboy style rabbits' head cut out of plywood and covered with a blue satin cloth over mattress stuffing. We let one ear of the rabbit flop down rakishly to make sure we didn't have any copyright problems with Playboy magazine's icon, and we named the rabbit "Nasty". Nasty became our backdrop at our gigs and traveled with us wherever we played.

One day, the entertainment committee at one of the girl's dorms on campus, Broward Hall, decided to have a "Playboy Party" with co-eds dressed up in the famous breast-revealing, short skirted outfits complete with little bow ties and bunny ears to serve as hostesses for the party.

The Playboys and the Bunnies - Early 1960s
The Playboys and the Bunnies
Early 1960s

Lin Thoms, being the creative marketing genius that he was, jumped all over the opportunity and sold the idea of our band playing for the dance and, since our name was "The Playboys", it was an easy sell to the dance committee. Nasty was created especially for this dance and become another, non-playing member of the band. The party was a huge success and received a ton of publicity, primarily through an article written in the school newspaper, "The Alligator". After that, our bookings soared and we were playing somewhere on campus every weekend. We were getting top dollars for our bookings. Little did our clients know, but we were having so much darned fun doing what we were doing, that we probably would have played for little or nothing in those days.

The Playboys thrived during our college years, but the personnel changed frequently except for the main core members of the band, Bill, Randy and myself. Lin Thoms graduated and went into the Army to take up Physical Therapy and rehabilitate wounded soldiers returning from Vietnam and further his career. Bill Flannery graduated and, being a math genius, went on to further his studies elsewhere. Lin was replaced by our old drummer from The Bel Aires, Terry Torgo, whom we had lured up to Gainesville to play with us. It was during this time that some of us met and married our first wives. Lin was dating a weird coed named Shirley and her roommate was Coye Kay Nutt (whom we immediately dubbed coconut or "Nutsy") who eventually became my first wife. I think Randy met his first wife around that time, as well. So the remainder of that year was spent playing, partying, falling in and out of love and generally just having a helluva good time.

You might ask how we had enough time to play, rehearse, party with women, join a fraternity (me) and keep up with our studies, too. Well, the truth is that we didn't and all of this idyllic lifestyle began to affect our studies so that, eventually, we all were placed on academic probation for one term. None of us, Randy, Bill or myself, were able to make good enough grades to stay in school and so we were place on academic suspension for one year. Put simply, we FLUNKED OUT of school due to the HAFGOT effect (Having A F….n' Good Time). So the band split up, Coye and I got married, had our baby daughter, and moved back to West Palm Beach to find a job so I could support my new family.

The Rare Breed

Randy and Bill stayed in Gainesville where they both took on jobs and worked while still playing in the band and keeping The Playboys together. With my departure, they added Jimmy García and Brian Grigsby to the group and changed the name to The Rare Breed.

Back in West Palm Beach, I found a job as an apprentice architect and I searched around for a while for other musicians. I eventually got together with Chris Chiado, the bass player from the old Bel Aires, and Larry Figaro, an insane dude but a decent guitarist, and Bill Helwig, older now and a bit better drummer. We played around the club and dance hall scene in WPB and called ourselves "The London Shades". We wore sunglasses, Beatle style jackets and I even wore a Beatle wig to complete the image. Of course the Beatles were at the peak of their popularity then and every band was trying to cash in on that look and style of music.

I spent a year interning, playing in a band and raising a family and was re-admitted back into U of F in the Fall of 1965. My wife had entered school at the newly opened FAU in Boca Raton so she and the baby stayed behind to live with my parents (big mistake!) so she could finish school. I packed up my clothes, band gear, and a few supplies and went back to Gainesville to finish my last year in school. I stayed in a boarding house owned by a little old lady who could be heard talking to her dead husband at night until I could get settled back in my classes and get a part time job. It was a crazy, hectic time and I think I might have gone nuts if I hadn't had my music as a release.

The Rare Breed. Photo taken at Dub’s after
a gig.
The Rare Breed. Photo taken at Dub’s
after a gig.

The Rare Breed Playing at the Bernadette Castro’s party. Frank in dark coat behind Randy’s bass.
The Rare Breed Playing at the Bernadette
Castro’s party. Frank in dark coat behind
Randy’s bass.

Back in Gainesville, Bill, Randy, Brian, Jimmy and their new drummer, Paul McArthur, were playing at Dub's Steer Room and other clubs around town and making some decent money. Since I had to pay for my own way through my final year in school, I needed money pretty badly. When Bill found out that I was going to come back to Gainesville, he asked me if I wanted to be in the band with them as a lead singer. I had never been a "front man" in a group but felt I could do the job. I have to admit that I felt a little naked at first, singing in front of a crowd without a guitar and with nothing but a spindly little microphone between me and the drunken revelers for whom we so often performed.

I spent a lot of time when I got back to Gainesville studying for my courses and cramming a lot of tunes and lyrics in my head in preparation for singing in the band. We learned a LOT of Beatle's music along with other popular songs of the day including "Hang on Sloopy" (The McCoys), and "Little Red Riding Hood"(Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs) among a few. The hardest song I had to learn was "Like a Rolling Stone" by Bob Dylan. The lyrics were highly satirical and came like a waterfall. But, after a lot of hard work, I even developed Bob's nasally twang and eventually rolled each lyric line all out in one breath.

Between spending long days and evenings in the design studio at the College of Architecture working on my thesis project and then playing at Dub's until 1 or 2 in the morning, I looked like a walking skeleton back then and I was skinny to begin with. I remember being pretty grouchy with the guys in the band at that time, but it was because I was just running on empty most of the time. Thank God Dub fed us those big, juicy steak dinners after we played each night, or I probably would have starved to death. And thank God for the support I got from the guys in the band, also, or I probably wouldn't have made it. But our band had gotten so damned good and we were so popular that it made the effort worth the while, and we were probably closer then, as a group, than at any time before.

We played tons of fraternity parties, school dances and clubs and we were tight as a tick, musically. We witnessed a lot of funny and weird things during that time including watching a famous and slightly inebriated college quarterback and his pals do a thing called "The Gator" on Dub's dance floor; seeing the first topless dancers at a nightclub in Alachua County; observing the outraged reaction of the local PTA's and women's groups over the introduction of topless dancers at the club; watching drunken fraternity brothers "drop trow" in front of their dates at a Toga Party on frat row, and watching the amazing Bill Carter play Malagueña on a guitar with his toes before an astounded crowd of drunken red-necks at Dub's. (more on that, later). We also played a big pool party for a rich, little coed named Bernadette Castro whose father was the inventor and maker of Castro Convertible sofas, which were big sellers around Florida back then. Bernadette had aspirations of being a singer, but lacked one important ingredient…pitch. She was a Freshman at U of F and had this big party to which the entire Gator football team had been invited, including the aforementioned famous quarterback, now the head football coach at an big SEC college and former football coach at Florida. We were hired to play at that party and were privy to a lot of antics and odd behavior by a group of jocks that I don't have time (along with the fear of exposure to liability) to chronicle here. Suffice it to say that, as usual, it was just a lot of big, overgrown boys having a good time at being pampered athletes

And the list goes on and on. Being in a band gave us young, impressionable, wide-eyed musicians a special insight into the world of sex, drugs and rock-and-roll from the inside, although, as a group, we were a pretty sober bunch of guys. We drank a little beer (hell, who am I kidding, we drank a LOT of beer) but, to my knowledge, no one ever took more than one hit from those skinny little brown cigarettes and never did any hard drugs. We didn't have to- we were high on the music and the party atmosphere. It was the '60's and the free-love revolution was in full swing aided by the invention of the birth control pill, the rock revelation held at a place called Woodstock, and the rise of the self-indulgent, drug addled youth who were part of the hippy movement. LSD and designer drugs were the fashion, free love was the passion, and we used our music to cash in (how's that for poetry, my friends?). The abortion clinics were in high gear for those who forgot to take their pills, and many a sleezy entrepreneur made a fortune off those unfortunate high school girls and college co-eds who didn't have a clue of what having safe sex was back then. And, back then, it meant not getting pregnant or, at worse, getting a slight case of the clap. STD's were very uncommon in those days, which just made the fire burn higher for loose morals.

But sadly, all good things come to an end. I finished school in the Summer of 1966 and moved back to West Palm Beach where an impatient wife and a good job in an architect's office awaited me. I think we played our last gig together at Dub's on a Saturday night, had a farewell dinner and drink together and, after being propositioned by one of the cocktail waitresses who wanted to run away with me, I said my goodbyes to my old friends and left Gainesville for good.

(Side note: Interestingly enough, for all of us, flunking out of college was a maturing and somewhat sobering experience and made us realize that, no matter how much we loved and were devoted to our music, it was one tough way to earn a living. We were all pretty intelligent guys and flunking out just made us even more determined to work hard to get back into school, get a degree and find gainful employment in the "real world". Each of us did that and today, we are all recognized as being at the top of our chosen professions: Bill as a math teacher and educational consultant, Jimmy as a senior partner in his own law firm, Randy got a doctorate and was the head of his department at Auburn University for years and is a respected lecturer, Brian, after doing a stint in Viet Nam in the army, eventually ended up as a highly respected photo journalist with the Philadelphia Enquirer, Paul McCarthur became a successful home building contractor in Gainesville where he still lives, and I became an architect and have had my own design firm in the Atlanta area for many years. However, we all still love our music and the memories of those times long ago when we were one of the top bands in the Gainesville area and even today we still get together on occasion to play and share those wonderful memories of those not-so-innocent days at the University of Florida.)

(Second side note: Oh, about the Malagueña thing. Bill would actually remove his shoes and socks - a natural thing for Bill since he grew up not wearing any - and would lay his guitar on the floor at the bottom of the stage and, while sitting down on the lip of the stage, would then run his feet and toes over the strings with such dexterity and timing that it really gave the illusion that he was actually playing the guitar with his toes. Meanwhile, in a far corner of the stage, Jimmy was standing with his back to the audience actually playing Malaguena on his guitar. Those old drunken fools at Dub's never knew the difference and it only further magnified Bill Carter's legendary prowess as a guitar player. We have often wondered whether or not those drunks passed down the story to their kids and grandkids through the years of the night they saw the Legendary Barefoot Guitarist perform as they watched, mouths agape, through an alcohol induced haze at Dub's Steer Room in Gainesville, Florida back in 1966)

The Eighth Day and Beyond

Frank with “The 8th Day”
Frank with “The 8th Day”

Joanita Toramina of The 8th Day
Joanita Toramina of The 8th Day

I had not been back in West Palm Beach long when my sister, who was living at home and going to Boca U (later to become Fla. Atlantic University), introduced me to a guy she was dating named Tom Reilly. He and his brother, Ron, were aspiring musicians and had formed a little group called "The Barking Spiders" (even today, the name still makes me laugh because it was a slang term for farting). Tom was a good drummer and Ron was a passable lead guitarist. I got together with them and a couple of their pals, Bob Sariti, a vocalist, and Brad Bond, who played bass left-handed and had to learn to play a standard bass upside down. We rehearsed a few times and it soon became evident to me that this group had a certain "chemistry" and blend of voices that was hard to find. Much to my wife's chagrin, we formed a new band and named ourselves "The Eighth Day", a somewhat Biblical reference to the fact that, after God created the universe, he rested on the 7th day and on the 8th day, things began to rock.

"The Eight Day" Recordings

Happy 'Coz You've Come Home: http://youtu.be/HED6IAo24gA

Laughed Until I Cried: http://youtu.be/-G8bvm9wjPk

I was the "old man" of the group with the most experience and musical knowledge so I became the unofficial leader of the band. I taught the guys how to sing harmonies and some showmanship for the stage. These guys were fresh out of high school, going to Palm Beach Jr. College and were clean-cut, good looking kids with a lot of energy and sex appeal.

It wasn't long before we were playing gigs at high schools, street dances (which used to be big in South Florida before drinking and drugs got out of control), and special events for the Palm Beach society matrons and were getting a lot of attention around the area. But it wasn't until we started playing the night club circuit and getting really tight as a group by playing 5 or 6 nights a week that our reputation began to spread. Not too long after our formation, we added a cute little female vocalist of Italian decent named Joanita Toramina to front our group along with Bob Sariti. The combination was dynamite because Joanita sounded and looked a lot like Cher, but a lot cuter. We were invited to enter a huge Battle of the Bands contest in Miami and beat out about 64 other top bands in the area for first place. We later won another Battle of the Bands at the South Florida County Fair after which our bookings began to really take off. During a photo shoot for our brochures, we met a local society photographer named Roger Kern who soon became our manager because of all the contacts he had with show biz types. Roger was good at getting bookings and we soon started being hired to be the openers for big shows that came into town playing at the West Palm Beach Auditorium. We opened for such acts as Joe Tex, The Buckinghams, The Turtles, Steve Alaimo (who had a disastrous appearance at Gator Growl one year), and several others.

Our wholesome look and tight, danceable music attracted a lot of attention and it wasn't long before we were approached by a couple named Jack and Judy Valind who offered to front the money for us to produce a recording. Judy Valind was a long time jazz vocalist and had sung with the Spike Jones Orchestra back in the days of big band music. The only drawback was that Judy had written some songs with a swing tempo that she had recorded back in the early '50's and she insisted that we use those songs on the recordings. She said that we could update them to fit our style of music so I took the tunes and completely rearranged everything except the lyrics. Since we didn't have any decent original music of our own (we were primarily a cover band) we didn't have any choice if we wanted these folks to pay for our recording sessions.

So off we went down to Ft. Lauderdale to Shadow Studios who had recently recorded Brook Benton's "Rainy Night in Georgia" and had some degree of respectability as a studio. But since we were on a thin budget, the recording engineers assigned to us were members of a popular Ft. Lauderdale group called the Maxima Show Band. The guys were really nice and were great musicians. But they had very little experience as recording engineers.

When we first arrived at the studio, we took about a ½ hour to rehearse the songs we were going to record and to get a sound and level check. For the instrumental recordings we had all of the drums, percussion instruments, guitars and amps "miked" and we sat out on the floor of the studio and played. No problem, and we got the instrumental tracks down in just a few run-throughs.

However, recording the vocals was a near-disaster. For some reason, the engineers wanted us each in a separate sound booth with a microphone and headphones. I guess they felt that they could control the mix better this way. However, the mix was so bad in the phones with our own voices being prominent in the mix that we could not "feel" the music and the other vocals with which to harmonize. The result was that the vocals were horrible, nothing blended, all the tightness of our live performances was gone, and the pitch was all over the place.

After about an hour of that, and watching our producers get real discouraging looks on their faces behind the control room glass, I finally called a halt and suggested that they move all the mikes out onto the floor with the lead singer having his own mike and the rest of us singing back up harmony around a second mike so that we could hear each other and work on a blend. What a difference that made and we did the takes for all four songs with only one take for each song. They over-dubbed the lead singer on all four songs ( a popular technique used to give more "color" to a vocalist's voice…the Beatles used it a lot in their early recordings), which he also did on one take for each song. So everybody was happy at the playback sessions and I thought we sounded fabulous.

However, the inexperience of the semi-professional recording engineers took over again, and when we got the master mix tape back a week or so later, we were totally unhappy with the results. They liked to use a "dry" mix and add effects in post production, but it sounded like we were back singing in boxes again. The lead guitar sounded muffled and suppressed and the bass line was almost non-existent. The qualities that made our live music so dynamic was completely lost in the records.

But the producers wanted to move forward with releasing the records, so they picked to two best ones to press and release, "Happy 'Coz You've Come Home", and "Laughed Until I Cried". They wanted to hold the other two songs in abeyance in order to see the response to the first release before pressing and releasing a follow up recording.

It was exciting to hear our own record being played on the local radio stations and because we had a lot of DJ friends at the stations, our record got a lot of air time. It even made the top 100 on Billboard's music list and got as high as # 64 ( I think) before it eventually faded. I don't know how many records were sold, but they were mostly in the WPB area and none of us ever received a dime for any of the records. And, to make matters worse, the promoter who took our producer friends' money to press more records, deliver demos to radio stations, and generally push the record sales, took off with the money and split to places unknown. Our producers were devastated and decided that the music industry was too corrupt for them to handle and dropped their pursuit of any further records or promotions

Home Remedy
Home Remedy

Playboy Reunion with Lin Thoms, Frank, and Randy
Playboy Reunion with Lin Thoms,
Frank, and Randy

After that, things sort of went down the tubes for The Eighth Day. My wife and I got divorced after a stormy two years of marriage, primarily over my participation in the band. The Viet Nam war escalated and President Johnson initiated the draft, which inducted two members of our band almost immediately (Ron and Brad), and Joanita met a guy, fell in love, got married and quit the band. We got Brad drunk at a party the night before he got on the bus to boot camp and he was back in a couple of days because he failed the physical. It probably saved his life. Bill Carter came back to W. Palm Beach and took Ronnie's place as the lead guitarist and we struggled along for a while until I had to quit because of the conflict between family, work and the band. I stayed on as the band's manager for a while, but that soon got old and I had to finally give it up. Bill, Brad, Tom and organist Ron Gause, who had played with Bill in the Rare Breed, kept the Eighth Day going for another year or two before finally breaking up. So another shooting star in the black night of the rock and roll music industry burned brightly for a while and then disappeared over the horizon of musical anonymity. It was great fun while it lasted.

After all that, I got remarried and got a great job offer to come to Atlanta and work for a real estate developer designing and building apartment complexes all over the U.S. during the building boom of 1972. I had three more kids by my second wife, Angie Langston, and we lived in the same place in Marietta, GA for over 25 years. I had a brief fling with a combined blue grass, country-rock, group called "Home Remedy" and a brief stint with a thrown together group called "Missing Pieces", and, although the harmony and music was tight with these two groups, it was just never the same as with The Rare Breed and The Eighth Day. With Home Remedy" we wrote and recorded enough original music to make an album on a reel to reel 8-track belonging to our lead guitarist but never found anyone willing to produce our records. Some of the guys in Home Remedy wanted to go full time with the band but I couldn't juggle a career and a family with a band playing 6 nights a week, so I finally had to drop out.

My musical career took a long sabbatical until 1999 when Bill, Randy, Lin Thoms and I got together in Atlanta for a reunion. Bill and I had stayed in contact and he even came to Atlanta a couple of times and we jammed and did some recording together on my little 4-track Fostex cassette recorder. This was not long after my second wife, Angie, died of cancer. I remarried a couple of years later to a wonderful woman named Judith and it was she who came up with the idea of having the reunion with the old band members. We contacted everyone and set up a date for the reunion. We rented the Fellowship Hall at our church and made up "reunion" T-shirts for the band along with a big cake that had "Playboys Reunion -1996" written on it. It was an emotional and wonderful time. It was as though we had never been apart and we played for our reunion in front of many friends and family for over three hours, doing all the old songs that we had done together so long ago. Lin passed away a couple of years ago, but we got together two more times as a group before he died and had a wonderful time.

Atlanta Reunion of The Playboys/Rare Breed. Jim, Frank, Bill, Randy and
Frank’s and Jim’s wife in front.
Atlanta Reunion of The Playboys /
Rare Breed. Jim, Frank, Bill, Randy and
Frank’s and Jim’s wife in front.

Frank continues to make music on his home studio to this day !
Frank continues to make music on
his home studio to this day !
Lin passed away a couple of years ago, but we got together two more times as a group before he died and had a wonderful time. We met Jimmy Garcia in Atlanta for a Tommy Emmanuel concert and have stayed in constant communication ever since. Paul McArthur and Brian Grigsby have since joined our social network and we are currently working on a web-site that Jimmy has created where we will archive these stories and a lot of our music for anyone to visit. All of these guys are like my own brothers and we will always be connected through our music and, most of all, through our everlasting friendship and will cherish these memories throughout the remainder of our lives. I've always been thankful for that day, so long ago, when that old, broken down Gibson guitar beckoned me with its faded body and worn frets into a world that would shape my life forever.

 

Frank's Album The Physics Of Love
Click here to listen to Frank's album The Physics of Love.