By Harold Ott
on Fri, May 1, 2015 at 10:00 AM
Harold Ott is the founder and primary researcher of Psych of the South, a record label dedicated to unearthing rare Arkansas pop history.
Usually my work involves a quest for long-forgotten information about Arkansas’ garage bands of yore. In this case, Jim Finch, the drummer of Robin and the Hoods, contacted me. He wanted to share a demo that his group recorded circa 1966, including this take on the Young Rascals' version of the Larry Williams tune "Slow Down."
Finch grew up in North Little Rock and went to college at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville in 1960. In the summer of 1962, he went to Houston and filled in on drums with the Triumphs, BJ Thomas’ group. There he met Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs, who had a hit with “Sugar Shack," and Jimmy Clanton of "Just a Dream" fame.
When he returned to Fayetteville he formed his own group, the Morticians, with Rick Dykman on guitar, Bill Kennamer on bass and Larry Collard on keyboards. They were one of school's top frat bands and regularly played at the student union. During the Razorback’s undefeated national championship football season in '64, the group played outdoors to celebrate while class was let out. They filled the area around Old Main with thousands of kids and were featured in Scene Magazine.
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Around this time, Finch’s roommate burned down their house while cleaning his MG carburetor, so he moved into the Iris Motel for $18 a week. He noticed his next door neighbors were weird characters, so he introduced himself. They were Garth Hudson, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel of Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks, who later became the Band. The Hawks would regularly stay in Fayetteville and would make the Iris Motel their home base while touring the area, including Oklahoma and Texas, in the earliest days of the Band. When Finch met them, they didn't have a car and were stuck there. Finch had a tri-power 1957 Pontiac and so they became fast friends and regularly went to the Rockwood Club, a legendary rock ‘n’ roll joint in Fayetteville that was owned by Hawkins.
After the club closed for the night, Finch would drive them there and open a keg. He sat in on drums with Danko, Manuel, and Hudson and jammed until the wee hours. Finch's late nights at the Rockwood with the Hawks happened a handful of times and he became a gopher for group as they emerged into the Band, regularly running errands and hanging out when they were in town. A short time later, of course, they became Bob Dylan's backing band on his first electric tour.
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Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks in El Dorado, Ark.
In 1966 Finch moved back to North Little Rock to form Robin and the Hoods with Phil Schlenker and Kenneth “Brown” Williams on guitar, Larry Shelton on bass, Mike Scallion on vocals and Kelly Duke on keyboards. They needed a gimmick to stand out, so they decided to wear wrestling masks, or hoods, styled after the Great Bolo, which one of their mothers custom made for the group. The first gig with the hoods was suffocating and miserably hot. Scallion couldn't sing in his and the other guys tried to endure, but only played one more gig before dropping the costume.
They were setting up at the Tiki Club on the old Conway highway in North Little Rock when a friend of the group came by with a reel to reel recorder and wanted to make a demo for them. Finch liked what he heard and took it to Jaggars Recording Studio, where Steve Jaggars had an acetate cutter that could make some one-off demo records from the tape.
A memorable gig for the Hoods came with a trip back to Fayetteville for Finch, where Dayton Stratton operated the Rink nightclub. He remembered Finch from his groupie days with the Hawks and booked them sight unseen. As they were unloading their gear, Stratton insisted that they use the house PA, a state of the art $20,000 sound system. A little while into the set, the band blew the sound system and had to bring in their own gear to finish the show. That was their only Fayetteville performance.
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Robin and the Hoods
Jim Porter ran a booking agency in Little Rock and represented Robin and the Hoods. He set them up in a warehouse on 7th and Scott St., which housed an artist’s loft and a practice space. Sometimes a small crowd would gather outside and dance in the streets. They would shut the windows and sweat it out, but the cops would dependably show up to tell them to turn it down.
The group was regularly booked at the Royal Knights Supper Club on 65th and the Raven Club off of 12th St. among others, and wound up playing seven nights a week. When the band parted ways in the late 1960s, Schlenker and Williams joined the Chaps, a group from Pine Bluff that had recorded for Shreveport’s Paula Records in the mid '60s and which later included local legend Mike "Burger" Scoggins on vocals.
After Robin and the Hoods, Finch formed the Holidaze, a popular club act featuring Paul Truett and Johnny Quattlebaum of the local garage band the Reknown, who recorded for MY records in Little Rock. The Holidaze had two female singers and were regulars at the Pink Pussycat club on Highway 10.
Finch followed the career of his old friends from the Hawks as they rose to fame with Bob Dylan and the Band. In the early 70s, Finch got backstage to visit them in Houston and was later invited to the Last Waltz, the Band’s grand exit immortalized by the Martin Scorcese film. When the Band reformed in the '80s without Robbie Robertson, they had a gig planned for Little Rock, but had to cancel when Richard Manuel committed suicide in 1986. They rescheduled and played at the SOB club, where Finch was invited to the show and mourned the loss of his old buddy.
The Paragons were a group from Searcy, Ark., that in 1965 traveled to Sun Studio in Memphis to record a British Invasion-flavored rendition of “Black and Blue,” a song dating back to the 1920s. It had been famously adapted by Louis Armstrong to reflect the era's racial discrimination, and had also previously been recorded by Frankie Laine, who had a Top 40 hit with it in 1947. I spoke recently with Paragons guitarist Bill Benz, along with Doris James, who recalled Zay-Dee Records, her ex-husband George Whitaker's label, which had released the Paragons record in early 1966. /more/
The Playboys were a rockabilly-influenced garage band from Pine Bluff who recorded as Magnificent Seven for Vee-Eight Records in 1962. Jackie Hendrix was playing piano in a group with Happy Caldwell, who later became a famous pastor and founder of the VTN TV network. When most of the group moved away after graduation, Hendrix was left to put together a new band. /more/
“The Expectation” by the Dutch Masters has long been hailed as an amazing example of garage rock among record collectors, but the story behind the song has been elusive. I spoke to three original band members including Earl Denton, Buz Johnson and John Walthall, to shed some light on this Arkansas mystery. /more/
The Fourmations were a young garage band from Osceola, Ark., that formed in 1965. The star of the group was Tommy Jones, a natural on the drums at the age of 11. Chessie Jones, the owner of an auto repair shop in Osceola, was the stage dad behind the group as well as their manager. /more/
This week marks the 20th anniversary of an minor but nevertheless significant event in the history of Central Arkansas music: the (relatively small-scale) release of a compilation called "The Dogtown Chronicles," by Food Chain Records. The tape, available via the Bandcamp page for Harlan Records (a now-defunct label started in 1994 by Soophie Nun Squad member Nate Powell) is a time capsule of a punk scene that turns out to have been much weirder and more diverse than we've sometimes come to believe. Songs like Sacred Cow's "Hawaiian Apocalypse" or Hug's "Dead Roach, Motherfucker" or Pete's "In The End" don't have much in common with each other, except for a certain haunting tape-hiss quality (that makes it all sound a little like the strangest Guided By Voices concert ever) and the fact that they were all made by kids. /more/
You think you know something, that you've been around and heard what there is to hear, and then you hear Doug Hream Blunt. Born in Arkansas, of course, Blunt is among our state's least appreciated musical exports. He was a collector of vinyl records — he particularly admired The Whispers and Jimi Hendrix. He was a frustrated musician, not in the sense that he couldn't produce, but in the sense that the results were frustrating to him. /more/
The Rock Candy mix of the week is a partial list of songs that mention the 1994 HBO documentary "Gang Wars: Bangin' In Little Rock." I've omitted local songs, because I'm more interested in the way the movie defined the city for outsiders in a strange, metonymic way. I'm sure I'm still leaving out plenty, feel free to suggest more in the comments. /more/
Dead on Arrival’s story starts in the San Francisco psychedelic scene and ends in Ashdown, Arkansas. Mike Hubrel was a pre-teen in the golden era of the West Coast sound and was born in South San Francisco. By age 11, he was soaking up the city's burgeoning music culture, frequenting the stores in the Haight-Ashbury district, and formed his own group, The Daytonas. They played a battle of the bands and won the chance to perform at the Cow Palace, an indoor arena on the Daly City border. He felt he was becoming a part of the legendary music scene that he adored. However, his father feared for his son amid the city's emergent drug culture, and in a bold decision to 'save' him from this path before it was too late, he moved the family back to his hometown of Ashdown in Southwest Arkansas in 1968, when Hubrel was 13 years old. /more/
Because I couldn't find one anywhere else, here is a mix highlighting the best (or so) of the Arkansas funk legend Monk Higgins, born Milton Bland in Menifree in October of 1936. He worked as a social worker, a music teacher, and making his way to Chicago and later L.A., he arranged and produced records for labels like Chess, Onderful, St. Lawrence, MCA, United Artists and, eventually, his own label, Almon. He produced singles by Etta James, Muddy Waters, Bobby 'Blue' Bland (no relation) and hundreds of others, including several albums by Blood, Sweat and Tears. As a solo artist, he released records with titles like "Extra Soul Perception," "Little Mama," "Heavyweight" and "Dance to the Disco Sax of Monk Higgins." /more/
The Paragons were a group from Searcy, Ark., that in 1965 traveled to Sun Studio in Memphis to record a British Invasion-flavored rendition of “Black and Blue,” a song dating back to the 1920s. It had been famously adapted by Louis Armstrong to reflect the era's racial discrimination, and had also previously been recorded by Frankie Laine, who had a Top 40 hit with it in 1947. I spoke recently with Paragons guitarist Bill Benz, along with Doris James, who recalled Zay-Dee Records, her ex-husband George Whitaker's label, which had released the Paragons record in early 1966.
The Playboys were a rockabilly-influenced garage band from Pine Bluff who recorded as Magnificent Seven for Vee-Eight Records in 1962. Jackie Hendrix was playing piano in a group with Happy Caldwell, who later became a famous pastor and founder of the VTN TV network. When most of the group moved away after graduation, Hendrix was left to put together a new band.
World wide weird duo Rural War Room (Donavan Suitt & Byron Werner) is celebrating 10 years of broadcasting and production here in Little Rock and abroad. RWR Radio on KABF 88.3 FM (10 p.m. Tuesdays or anytime on their website), features the duo alternating records in an effort to surprise one another.
BRASHER: Hello Arkansans, this is the first piece from us, Brasher and Rowe and we are some dudes who work in downtown Little Rock and we eat lunch and just talk about all the exciting things around here.
Ernest Dumas reaches into history, some personal, for moments in Arkansas's view of refugees. It was brought to mind by the current crisis in Europe and the political divisions over whether the U.S. should respond to the needs of the displaced.
Appearances count. I was struck by a single sentence over the weekend in a full page of coverage in The New York Times devoted to the killing spree in Arkansas, beginning with a front-page account of the recent flurry of legal filings on pending executions and continuing inside with an interview with Damien Echols, the former death row inmate.
The strongest, most enduring calls for the death penalty come from those who feel deeply the moral righteousness of "eye-for-an-eye" justice, or retribution. From the depths of pain and the heights of moral offense comes the cry, "The suffering you cause is the suffering you shall receive!" From the true moral insight that punishment should fit the crime, cool logic concludes, "Killers should be killed." Yet I say: retribution yes; death penalty no.
Arkansas Times contributor Jacob Rosenberg is at the Cummins Unit in Grady filing dispatches tonight in advance of the expected execution of Ledell Lee, who was sentenced to death for the Feb. 9, 1993, murder of Debra Reese, 26, who was beaten to death in the bedroom of her home in Jacksonville.