By Harold Ott
on Fri, Aug 21, 2015 at 1:46 PM
Harold Ott is the founder and primary researcher of Psych of the South, a record label dedicated to unearthing rare Arkansas pop history.
“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.
The group began as The Breakaways at Forest Heights Junior High in Little Rock circa 1964. After several lineup changes, the group evolved into the Dutch Masters, a name inspired by groups like Paul Revere and the Raiders. Like that group, the Dutch Masters' front man Earl Denton wanted them to dress up like the guys on the famous cigar box as a gimmick to get attention.
Earl Fox was the owner of E&M Recording Studio on Markham and took the band under his wing, letting them rehearse in the studio. He had a booking agency in the front office and kept the band busy playing all over the state. Fox wanted the group to make a record on his MY label, so they found a song on a compilation tape of Nashville songwriters called “Burnin' Up the Wires.” Blake Schaefer, rhythm guitar, and Denton wrote the flip side “Way-Down Feelin'." Fox released the single in February of 1967 and it was a hit at Henderson College in Arkadelphia.
Denton got married and had a kid shortly before heading to Vietnam in the Marines. The rest of the group left shortly after the record was released. This left John Walthall, lead guitar, and Schaefer to completely reform the band. They recruited Reagan Perry on organ and pitched in to buy a Hammond B3. They saw a group at Lake Nixon, a popular summer teen hangout in Little Rock, featuring Lemmie Ogles on vocals and his brother Terry on bass and asked them to try out for the band. Lemmie had previously recorded at E&M with the Mercenaries. Buz Johnson was in his early twenties and regularly worked as a drummer from the musicians wanted board at Boyd’s Music. Fox called him in to try out for the Dutch Masters with the Ogles brothers and they got the gig.
For the new group, Walthall and Schaefer wanted to follow through on the costume idea and Perry’s mother made the outfits. Johnson said the idea of wearing black panty hose, funny looking shorts, and a frilly shirt didn't strike him as being too masculine, but reluctantly agreed. He remembers one time when Schaefer forgot his costume shoes and the guys insisted that Johnson give up his and wear Schaefer’s boots, which were goofy looking high heel black swede. Johnson said that he almost quit the band right then over the absurdity of the outfits.
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To supplement the group, Fox added two black singers named Preston and Cheryl. When Fox booked the band, the client might ask for a R&B group, and he would augment the band with Preston, who did James Brown, and Cheryl, who did Aretha Franklin, making the Dutch Masters an early integrated group in Little Rock. Mike Boston, who was first chair trumpet at North Little Rock High, was added to the group as they played more R&B. He was accompanied by Walthall, who was first chair saxophone at Hall High, to form a small horn section. They also adopted a more conservative V neck sweater look depending on the gig.
However, Fox encouraged the band to do wild things to stand out and he loved the costumes. They dressed up and walked around downtown near Moses Melody Shop, the top record store in Little Rock. They were promoting an appearance on Moses Bandstand, a program on local megawatt AM rock station KAAY that featured live performances. They played on a flatbed trailer in front of Moses and had a whipped cream pie fight on stage. Schaefer threw a pie at Boston, but he ducked and it hit a girl in the front row and messed up her hair, which she had just gotten done. The band had to pay $35 to get her hair redone.
Another promotional gimmick that Fox suggested was to get a box and cover it in pink paper and put a big pink bow on it and set the box on top of the keyboard or somewhere on stage. The idea was that people would come up and ask what was in the box, and they’d say they didn't know. When people would ask if it would be opened during the show, they replied that it may be opened tonight or at the next show. In other words come back next time to see if we open the empty box. It was an effort to add some mystery and suspense to the group.
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A session was booked at E&M to record two of Schaefer’s songs for a second 45. Schaefer had a collection of original material that he hoped to record in the studio to farm out to other groups. Johnson remembers the drum enclosure was made of old bed mattresses. The explosion sound effects in “The Expectation” were made by Perry shaking his organ’s spring reverb unit. Terry started playing a pattern that sounded like a backwards record so they added it to the end of the recording. There were no outside sound effects added, just the band.
Fox didn’t make a request for a psychedelic record, Johnson remembers that it just evolved that way. “You’re Nearby Me” featured a zither to produce an other worldly vibe. Fox released the Dutch Masters’ second 45 in September of 1967 and they played a big show at Henderson College to promote it.
The band evolved once again into the Cyrkus when Johnson, Schaefer, and Boston left the band. They were replaced by Donnie Brooks and Chris Nolan and adopted a hard rock sound. This band evolved into Blackfoot, who recorded “Bummed Out” at San American studio in 1970, housed in the same studio space once occupied by the defunct E&M studio.
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 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/
Usually my work involves a quest to find information on 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." /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.