An Interview with Doug Porter of the Mark V
One of Dayton, Ohio's Top '60s Rock Bands
In January 2001, Dionysus Records released a CD and LP by Sonny Flaharty and the Mark V. The band is best known for it's fantastic single "Hey Conductor," which has been reissued on one of the "Pebbles" volumes. Doug Porter, drummer for the band, was gracious enough to provide The Lance Monthly with all the historical facts behind the Mark V. And what a story it is!
[Lance Monthly] How did you first get interested in music?
[Doug Porter] As a very young fellow, I loved rock & roll. I remember hearing Elvis sing "Blue Suede Shoes" & "Hound Dog" on the radio. I remember my Dad had a brand new 1952 Ford Ranchwagon and we would take long trips in it. I drove my Parents nuts drumming on cans, etc. in the car. I started taking drum lessons at Hauer Music in Dayton, Ohio from Mr. Frank Buck. In 1958 I got my first drum set for Christmas.
[Lance Monthly] Was the Mark V your first band?
[Doug Porter] In about 1959, one of my best school friends, Mike Flaharty, played bass in his older brother's band. I would ride my bicycle down to his house and listen to them practice in their garage. His brother, Sonny, had, at that time, [released] several records and the band would tour on weekend in the Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois area. Sonny's record, "My Baby's Casual" on Spangle records, is in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. He also had "Heartbreak Station" on Epic Records, "Mystery of Love" on Huron Records, "Please Don't Wear That Bikini" and others. Sometimes Sonny would let me play drums for them at practice. Eventually they asked me to sub for them when their drummer couldn't make a gig.
By 1960, I was Sonny Flaharty and the Young Americans' full time drummer. I was still in Junior High School. I stayed with the Young Americans for about 5 years, until we broke up. We traveled every weekend. We backed up many of the early stars. We all were card-toting musicians and I could site read. We worked with Lou Christie, Bobby Vinton, The Shirelles, The Four Seasons, Bobby Darin, Chuck Berry, The Four Tops (we backed the Tops up several times and they offered me a road job but I was still in high school). The list goes on and on but one sticks out with me.
The Rolling Stones came to Dayton, Ohio just about the time the Young Americans were at their peak and we were the opening band for them. We shared the dressing room with the Stones. That is a story all to itself. Soon after that, the group broke up. It consisted of Sonny on lead vocals and sometimes rhythm guitar,Terry Nieus on lead guitar, Mike Flaharty on bass, me on drums, Ray Bushbam on piano/organ, and Bobby Brain on tenor sax. (Note: the songs "Whole Lotta Shakin" and "Coconut Stomp" on the new Dionysus CD are by the Young Americans).
We never played nightclubs - just road gigs, proms and private parties. Bobby Brain came to us from Teddy & The Rough Riders. They were also a hot group in the area. We both played things for WING radio. Check out: www.thecoolgroove.com. That's Jim Colegrove's site out of Texas. You'll see Sonny and I both mentioned. I played in Jim's band, the Knights, when the Young Americans parted ways.
The guitar player, the organ player, and I formed a group that had a Kingsmen sound. We had a tenor player that was out of this world. We did things like "Shot Gun" and "Don't Cry No More." We played a teenage nightclub in Springfield, Ohio called the Coconut Lounge (where the "Coconut Stomp" by the Young Americans came from). We only lasted about a month and Ray, the organist, [who] was older, needed [a] steady income. He left and joined a Lounge Band, the Excelents, that played five nights a week at the Leisure Time Club.
I didn't play for about four months. I was out of high school by then and going to college in Dayton. I used to go to downtown Dayton on 5th street to a little club called Little Mickey's. There was a band playing there called The Mark V. I knew the drummer, N.D. Smart, but not the other members. They knew me though! The Mark V consisted of Susan Darby (lead vocal), Jason Starbuck (Jason Hollingsworth - guitar) Farnsworth Wyatt (Jim Wyatt - bass); and Mike Lovelace (Mike Losecamp - piano and vox organ). Jason and Jim were brother-in-laws and they started the Mark V. They were all from Dayton but billed themselves as coming from Canada in the English Tradition.
They sounded like no other band in the area. They all used those huge Vox Amps like the Beatles used and the organ was that chincy Vox Continental. I was more into the rhythm & blues scene but I respected what they were doing. Dayton--being a college town--on Friday and Saturday night had people lined up around the block to get into Little Mickey's. It wasn't long until Susan left the Mark V to pursue a career in Vegas, and Sonny started singing with them.
Jim Colegrove called me one day and asked me to join his group The Knights. They were to start playing at Little Mickey's and the lead singer was going to be Susan. The owner, Mickey Freedman, was promoting Susan and she was going to sing with the Knights for a while after she left the Mark V. We packed the place on weekends but not like the Mark V did. After a few months, Sonny called me and wanted me to play in the Mark V. I left the Knights. N.D. Smart started playing with Jim Colegrove and the Knights. N.D. Smart and Jim went to New York together and ended up playing in many groups together.
[Lance Monthly] Where did the band typically play?
[Doug Porter] The Mark V's home base was the Diamond Club, where we played five nights a week. We learned new material during the day at the club. It would seat about 700 people and we packed it every weekend. We backed and played with many name groups at the Diamond Club, such as Little Richard, Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry (again), and Bobby Head. We only left the Club to record or [for] special tour dates.
[Lance Monthly] It sounds like Mark V were quite popular at that time.
[Doug Porter] I would say we were the top band in the Dayton area. We didn't travel like the Young Americans but we had a large following. To give you a little feeling for how well the Diamond Club did with us there: In 1967 I was clearing $500.00 per week. Equate that to today's money.
[Lance Monthly] "Hey Conductor" & "You Bring These Tears to Me" was released on the Philips label. Where was the single recorded?
[Doug Porter] Sonny wrote "Hey Conductor" and Jim Wyatt, the bass player, wrote "Tears to Me." We recorded both late one night in a small recording studio, Sambo, in Louisville, KY. It was noted for its sound and Ray Allen, the producer for Shad'O Shea, took us there. A friend of Sonny's, Arvey Webster, mortgaged his home for us to do that record. I'll tell you one thing I do remember: the reverb for the studio was a garage out back with a large speaker cabinet at one end and a microphone at the other. For less reverb, the engineer moved the microphone closer to the speaker. Unlike today's recording sessions, we only made about three tracks of each song and then we were out of there. The record was not released due to lack of funds, and Shad O'Shea finally released it after about nine months on his Counterpart label. After about two weeks, Philips picked it up! You couldn't purchase fuzz tones at that time, and the bass player's Dad was a TV repairman and made the fuzz tone from an old radio preamp.
[Lance Monthly] "Hey Conductor" was eventually banned from radio airplay due to it's obvious drug overtones. What do you recall about the furor over the record?
[Doug Porter] I'll answer this the best I can because I didn't realize what exactly happened until last April - after 30 years. To be perfectly honest, I forgot all about "Hey Conductor" because a gentleman by the name of Carl Maduri came to the Diamond Club one day while we were rehearsing and wanted to sign us on Warner Bros. Records. Carl also managed The Outsiders ("Time Won't Let Me"). Although we had signed a deal for "Hey Conductor," it was dormant, [and] we did a deal with Carl for "When I Close My Eyes" and "Can't Buy My Soul." We had to change the name on that record to the "Marque V." By the time we were ready to go into the studio for Carl at CRC in Cleveland, Ohio (also where "Time Won't Let Me" was recorded - using the same Hammond), Mike the piano/organ player got an offer to join a group out of New York that already had two big hits and was managed by Brian Epstein, the Beatle's Manager. Mike left us to join the Cyrkle ("Red Rubber Ball," "Turn Down Day").
Skip Shaman, a great organ player (but he played a Hammond) joined us. That changed the sound and that's why the Warner Bros. record sounds so much different from the others. We stayed together only a few months after that, until about late '67. "Hey Conductor" was released about the time the band broke up. What a damn shame! After about two weeks, Philips Records picked up "Hey Conductor" from Shad's Counterpart label and Billboard Magazine gave it a fantastic review. It sold 140,000 copies in two weeks.
Somehow, some sleazy underground film used "Hey Conductor"--might I say without permission--for background music for a pot smoking scene. Either the owner or a member of his management team for a very large chain of radio stations saw the film and banned our record from his stations. The trade magazines were asked to re-assess the song and that killed the record. I found out later that the record was played on Armed Forces Radio in Viet Nam as well. It was the first record banned as a result of psychedelic lyrics, and I guess that's why it is a collectors' item. I didn't realize it was that until my son, a musician in Athens, Georgia, found it on a "Pebbles" CD last year.
[Lance Monthly] The Fuzz, Acid & Flowers web site indicates that the backing band on "Hey Conductor" was originally credited to the Grey Imprint. Was this another different name for the Mark V?
[Doug Porter] NO! NO! NO! Sonny wrote and we recorded "Hey Conductor" while he was with the Mark V. After the Mark V broke up, Sonny formed a group called the Grey Imprint. No one from the Mark V was in that group except Sonny. The Grey Imprint recorded "Hey Conductor," but it wasn't very good and didn't sound anything like the Mark V and the record you know.
[Lance Monthly] "Hey Conductor" is somewhat psychedelic, but how would you describe the band's sound?
[Doug Porter] I don't think we sounded like other bands. Most of our material was original. Check out our new CD (available via http://www.dionysusrecords.com).
[Lance Monthly] Did the Mark V make any TV appearances?
[Doug Porter] I can only remember one TV appearance that the Mark V did. It was for the Warner Brothers record on a Cleveland record hop show. If you'll look at some of the graphics on the CD--not the new vinyl--you'll see a picture of Sonny and me on the drums in the background. That shot was from that show.
[Lance Monthly] Did the Mark V tour at all?
[Doug Porter] This is unusual, but unlike my days with the Young Americans, we really didn't travel much. We made a pile of money at the Diamond Club and really only took off occasionally to record or for promo stuff like we did in Cleveland. We did fly to New York occasionally and did some recording for RCA at Gramercy Park but I don't remember what became of that.
[Lance Monthly] You've had a very active career, both with and without Sonny.
[Doug Porter] As I mentioned earlier, I was in Sonny's first band when I was in Junior High School. I was kicked out of the Fairmont West High School Band. The reason? I was a professional Union Musician and the Orchestra was going to have their big spring concert. I was the first chair percussionist. I told the band director months before the concert that I could not play that Saturday night because we had a contract to play near Chicago. He threatened me [by] saying that I'd better be there. When I didn't play for the Orchestra, he kicked me out of the band and told me I would lose my credits towards my graduation. My Mother went to the school board and I was reinstated but they would only let me file music (The band director was envious because I most likely made more money in one night than he did in a week). After the Young Americans, we formed the group, The Isopods, that only lasted about two months. Then I played with the Knights at Little Mickey's and then joined the Mark V. After the Mark V, I played in a Jazz trio for about a year (Hammond B-3, guitar & me). The Hammond player, Skip Shamen, kicked pedals for the bass line.
[Lance Monthly] Why did the Mark V break up?
[Doug Porter] Sonny put it well: When Mike Losecamp (Heywood) left, the sound changed. We were burned out! As I said earlier, the records we recorded earlier started to click after we broke up.
[Lance Monthly] And after the Mark V?
[Doug Porter] As I mentioned, we had a jazz trio for about a year and I started working for my Father in late 1967. What a shock. I was single and went from $500 a week to $50. I had to play somewhere to get along. In 1970, I was relocated here in Mount Airy, North Carolina from a business move. In about 1973, a disco band heard about me and asked me to join them. I did! I had a ball! We played every weekend in the Winston-Salem and Greensboro, North Carolina area and were pretty good! We called our selves Stormy. The leader of the group was Dewight Coleman. He played a Hammond B-3 and I loaned him my Rhodes piano. Dewight went back to school and studied Opera in Chicago. He has sung at Carnegi Hall and now is the Opera Professor at Georgia University in Atlanta.
[Lance Monthly] Do you still play professionally?
[Doug Porter] I started working for my Dad in late 1967. Then the L.S. Starrett Tool Company bought out my Dad's business in 1970. I was moved to North Carolina where I became General Manager. That lasted for 23 years. I left them in 1990 to become an Officer of a very large 4000 employee Electrical Contractor here in North Carolina. I resigned from that job last August and am semi-retired but looking to get back to work. I'm now 54 years old and have two great children. My stepdaughter is a Head & Neck Surgeon and my son is a very accomplished musician in Athens, and has a fantastic group called the Modfathers. They have a pending record deal going on right now. Since the Stormy days in the mid-'70s, I haven't played with a group. Since I can site read and still have my old Ludwig drums that I had since the Mark V, I have played in a 15 piece "Big Band" playing mostly '40s swing. I played in several stage productions such as "1940 Radio Hour" and "Joseph And His Technicolor Dream Coat." I play timpani locally and that's about it. I do still "play" the radio a lot!
[Lance Monthly] What is Sonny up to?
[Doug Porter] Sonny is a producer at WTVR, a CBS affiliate in Richmond, Virginia.
[Lance Monthly] So is there any chance for a Mark V reunion?
[Doug Porter] The only plans right now are that I am to play timpani for a chorus in a few months. I am anxious about my son's recordings, and as far as the Mark V, I would love to get us together but the guitar player lives in Florida, the bass player lives in Arizona, I live in North Carolina, and Sonny lives in Virginia. Mike, the original keyboard man for "Hey Conductor" lives in Columbus, Ohio and Skip, the last organ player, still lives in Dayton. I suppose if the new CD did something unexpected we could do it!
[Lance Monthly] How did the Dionysus Records CD and LP come about?
[Doug Porter] You ask me what time it is and I'll build you a watch: I had lost track of Sonny and the rest of the guys in about 1969! I moved to North Carolina in this small town at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains called Mount Airy (Andy Grifith's home town. Yes, this is Mayberry with snappy lunch, Floyd's Barber Shop, etc.). There is a great locally owned men's clothing store downtown. The owner, Mr. F. Rees, has a son who is a studio musician in Nashville. About two years ago, I was in his clothing store and Mr. Rees told me that he had just spent the weekend in Nashville with his son, John. John had asked him that Saturday to go to the studio with him since he had a session for a commercial. As Mr. Rees sat in the control room, he said a very soft-spoken and polite gentleman approached him and asked where he was from. Mr. Rees replied "Mount Airy, North Carolina." The man, who was the producer of the session, said "well, do you know Doug Porter?" Mr. Rees said "yes" and gave me Sonny's phone number.
I called Sonny and after 30 year we renewed our friendship. I lost touch with Sonny for about nine months so I called his mother in Dayton. She gave me Sonny's unlisted number and said that he had moved to Richmond. I called and since my daughter lived in Lynchburg, we arranged for me to visit him in Richmond (about five hours from Mt. Airy). At that time I had just finished taking all of our old records, about six of them, and a very old tape I had and converted them to digital and burned a CD to archive them. All of the music made about two 70 minute CDs, and when I visited Sonny on April 1, 2000 I took the CD with [me]. I'll never forget. I drove up to his home last spring on a beautiful Saturday and out came this "old rocker!" Wow! We hadn't seen each other in 31 years!
We spent the day sitting in his living room with his lovely wife, Kathy, and listened to the CDs. My son always told me that I needed to do something with that stuff. The tape was recorded in a small studio on the Kentucky side of Cincinnati, Ohio and was never intended for release. We simply wanted to record all of our original stuff that wasn't already on a record. We recorded it "live" with no overdubs. In the conversation about the material on the CDs, Sonny hadn't heard the tape stuff since we did it. He couldn't believe I had it! One thing was missing: "Hey Conductor" and "You Bring These Tears to Me." To be honest, I had forgotten about them!
Sonny mentioned that he had noticed "Hey Conductor" listed on a play list of a radio station in New York city a year or so earlier. That's weird. I wonder what the deal was? He mentioned that someone had told him that it was on a record called "Essential Pebbles." We really didn't know. If it was, it was pirated! When I got home I got on the Internet and started to do some searching and, low and behold, there it was on several hits. I found the play list "Barrage From The Garage" and it was on a vinyl record "Pebbles 14" (or something) and on a CD, "Essential Pebbles," released on Bomp Records in 1998. I went to CDNOW and they had the CD. They also had several "real audio" tracks and when I clicked on it . . . I'll be, that was us! I told my son and he went to a record shop in Athens and they had it.
I contacted Bomp Records, not to challenge them but to see if they were interested in the unreleased tapes. They asked me to send a sample, and I did. Greg Shaw, the owner of Bomp, said no thanks but you may want to contact Lee Joseph at Dionysus. I sent it to Lee and he wanted everything except the slow songs. He asked me if I had anything else. I sent him several Sonny Flaharty and the Young American songs I had recorded with Sonny. He wanted "Whole Lotta Shakin." He asked me about "Coconut Stomp" that some collector he knew in California recommended. I didn't originally send it to Lee because it was terrible! He wanted to use it on the record. Well, it was released Jan 21, 2001 and as Sonny said a few days ago, "This is the first money we had received for "Hey Conductor!"
Let me give you one more quick story about the song "Do It" that came from the tape: Do you remember the "Hang On Sloopy" group, The McCoys? That was the Rick Z Combo (Zeringer), a local young band from Indiana near the Ohio state line. I remember when we, The Young Americans, would play at Wampler's Ballarena in Dayton, Ohio. This was the biggest place in Dayton at the time for concerts. No seats, just wall to wall young people belly up to the stage to see the national rock stars. This is where we backed such groups as the Four Tops, Bobby Darin, etc. Rick and his group would come to see The Young Americans and the folks we backed. Just prior to my joining the Mark V, they were the feature act on a show that starred The Strangeloves ("I Want Candy"). The opening act was The Rick Z Combo. The Strangeloves, Feldman, Goldstein and Gotherer, were also producers. FGG Productions was then with a small label in New York City called Bang. They invited the Mark V to New York to go over material to record for Bang. The Mark V's manager at that time (N.D.'s father, Norman D. Smart, Sr.) considered the offer. FGG recorded the other group from the concert on Bang. The song was an old R&B piece called "Hang on Sloopy" and the group was re-named The McCoys. When the Mark V finally got to New York, FGG was hot for them. Sloopy was an unqualified hit and FGG was in love with a song Sonny wrote called "Do It." The plan was the same as for the McCoys. FGG would cut tracks with studio people and then they'd fly Jason and Sonny back to do the vocals and lead guitar parts. Almost as quickly as it began, the deal ended. It wasn't until years later that the Mark V learned that N.D. Sr. decided that if his son wasn't actually playing on the record, neither would any of the Mark V.
[Lance Monthly] Great story. Sad . . . but historical. One last question: Do you believe in Batman? Well . . . do you?
[Doug Porter] No, but I believe in God! After 31 years and our best chance at a hit record, we have the last word. Evidently someone still digs the Mark V.