Up Close with the Gang
A Detroit, Garage Band Standout During the '60s
"I used to go to their rehearsals and watch mostly Ted Nugent. I never thought I would be as wild and crazy as him (and I was right). . . . The other bands that were around were MC5, the Lourds with Ted Nugent, Iggy and the Stooges, SRC, the Thyme, Rationals, Mitch Ryder, Bob Seger, Glen Frey and the Mushrooms and others. I stopped hanging around with all of them because I thought they would never make it."
Though the band had never recorded a single, the Gang still managed to be one of the most influential of groups from the '60's Detroit area. It's name can be spotted on many of the concert posters from that era, and today, the Gang is still fondly remembered by those lucky enough to have seen this group perform. Guitarist Don Henderson graciously provided THE LANCE MONTHLY with an absorbing, in-depth history of the Gang. Lance Monthly (LM): How did you first get interested in music?
Don Henderson (DH): When I first saw the Beatles I wanted to be one of them. I wanted a guitar for my birthday and got one. I think it was a Silvertone, which are pretty popular now, but the action on the fret board was probably 2 inches. It wasn't the easiest guitar to learn on, but I managed. I also had a friend who got a guitar so it was constructive competition. I played all day every day for about a year before it started to come together. I moved on and my friend didn't.
[Lance Monthly] Was the Gang your first band? If not, which one was?
[Don Henderson] My first band was called The Medeiros. I have no idea how we developed that name but we did. It was started in 8th grade and we played for school only. We had fun practicing though. We were together for about a year. Then my sister was dating Tom Noel, the drummer from The Lourds, and everything changed from that point on. I used to go to their rehearsals and watch mostly Ted Nugent. I never thought I would be as wild and crazy as him (and I was right).
[Lance Monthly] So the Gang was formed from the Medeiros?
[Don Henderson] Ted fixed me up with Jim Butler, a drummer - and he brought Dave O'Brien, a vocalist - but we still needed a rhythm and bass. I knew Steve Farmer played guitar so I invited him over and he fit right in. We didn't know what to do for a bass so we invited Greg Arama over and strapped a bass on his neck. He didn't know how to make a sound so I taught him some basics and before long the Gang (1) was formed. The Gang (1) lasted from 1964-1966. After that Ken Bash from Farmington called and wanted to get together. We had been dissolved for a little while. He brought Over Lenny Mintz and Doug Gunch from Glen Frey's band, the Mushrooms, and we started The Gang (2). We had the best electrical technology thanks to Ken's father. He happened to be an electrical engineer. It was great! I happened to be filling in for a band to open the ALSAC show at Cobo Hall and to back up Del Shannon. He showed up in our dressing room to show us his song progression. Well, we didn't need that. At that time tough musicians wouldn't be caught dead playing wimpy songs like that, so we half-listened. In those days monitors where not around and you couldn't hear anything but yourself. Wouldn't you know it . . . I lost my place. I couldn't figure out where we were. I didn't know what to do so I walked out in front of Dell to see his fingers on his guitar. Boy, did I get the dirtiest look from him! He was not happy. Sorry!
At the end of the show I was walking around backstage and was pushed out the back door by security. I didn't care because I was leaving anyway. Bad idea. Outside was a thousand screaming girls waiting for a star to come out. OK--I wasn't anyone--no one would remember. Wrong! They didn't care. I had a guitar in hand and I was a body. I was jumped and pulled and my clothes where ripped off. I was trying to jump into the Detroit River but couldn't make it. I was lying on the ground with my hair getting pulled out until I heard a van driving through the crowd toward me. The side door opened and a big arm reached out and grabbed my collar, which was the only thing left on my back, and pulled me in and locked the doors. That man was Jeep Holland, the biggest manager in the state. From that point on the Gang was really discovered.
[Lance Monthly] Holland managed many bands of the era including the Rationals. What do you recall about him?
[Don Henderson] Jeep Holland was the biggest manager around. He lived in Ann Arbor, and his company was A2 or A Square productions. He turned us into professional business partners. We had bank ledgers, press releases, new vans, roadies . . . even our roadies had roadies. It seemed weird being in high school. It was fun just showing up and jumping on stage with an already tuned guitar and start jamming. After we broke up I never saw Jeep again. I heard he moved to Boston, opened a record store and passed away. I don't know for sure.
[Lance Monthly] You've referenced different versions of the band. Could you please detail the members of each line-up?
[Don Henderson] Gang 1 was: Don Henderson, lead guitar; Jim Butler, drums; Dave O'Brien, vocals; Greg Arama, bass; and Steve Farmer, rhythm guitar. Gang 2 was: Don Henderson, lead guitar; Ken Bash, bass and vocals; Doug Gunch, rhythm guitar and vocals; and Lenny Mintz, drums.
[Lance Monthly] For Gang 2, where did you locate Doug Gunch and Lenny Mintz? They were both from the Mushrooms, right?
[Don Henderson] For the birth of Gang 2, my sister met Ken Bash at the Walled Lake Casino where Mitch Ryder was king and told him about me. He called me the next day and wanted to jam with me. When I went over there, Doug Gunch and Lenny Mintz were already there. I plugged in and WOW - we clicked. When I found out Doug and Lenny were from the Mushrooms, it was even a better feeling. Glenn Frey trained them, so we ended up with great harmonies to our vocals.
[Lance Monthly] Could you compare the bands? How would you describe the differences between Gang 1 and Gang 2?
[Don Henderson] The first band had a bad boy look and Stones-type sound; the second band had a flashier look with more of a Who-like punchier sound. We were pretty stagey. It was wild smashing equipment, smoke bombs, the works. I remember going to another gig, I don't recall where, but we stopped in at the Clawson Hideout to see Seger and the opening band didn't show. Bob asked if we would do a few numbers. We said OK - but only if I could use my Super Beatle top. No problem, he said. Well, I plugged in and--remember Ken's Dad was an electrical engineer--I blew every speaker he had. Sorry . . . we had to go. I don't know how he sounded the rest of the night. He did come into the music store I worked at, kind of ticked off, so I replaced all of his speakers. I don't even know if he remembers that but I'm still recovering!
[Lance Monthly] What other clubs did you play?
[Don Henderson] We played all the teen clubs. I recall the BMF Club, Hideouts, Birmingham Teen Center, Grande Ballroom, Mothers in East Tawas and others.
[Lance Monthly] How did you end up the house band for the Grande Ballroom? What led to that?
[Don Henderson] Russ Gibb, the owner of the Grande, and Jeep Holland were good friends. When Russ asked Jeep to find him a steady band that was dependable and entertaining he knew the Gang was the best bet. He was right because we were workaholics. We always showed up and were able to light up the crowd. [We were] lucky, I guess!
[Lance Monthly] What were some of the other local bands that you particularly recall?
[Don Henderson] The other bands that were around were MC5, the Lourds with Ted Nugent, Iggy and the Stooges, SRC, the Thyme, Rationals, Mitch Ryder, Bob Seger, Glen Frey and the Mushrooms and others. I stopped hanging around with all of them because I thought they would never make it. Oh Boy!
[Lance Monthly] Was there anything in particular about those groups that made you believe they wouldn't make it?
[Don Henderson] It's not that I thought they wouldn't make it because they weren't good enough; I didn't think there was any more room in the music scene. And there was a lot of turmoil with every group. I guess I should have stayed in it a little longer.
[Lance Monthly] How popular locally did the Gang become?
[Don Henderson] With both bands we were pretty popular but when I was rescued by Jeep Holland, Gang 2's popularity skyrocketed. Jeep booked us everywhere. We played Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan.
[Lance Monthly] To the best of my knowledge, the Gang never recorded. Why not?
[Don Henderson] We were all graduating [from] high school and going our own way. I remember going to a recording studio but I don't remember what happened or even what we did. I'm trying to get in touch with the other players to see if any one has a live recording.
[Lance Monthly] What about Battle of the Bands? Did either version of the band participate in any?
[Don Henderson] Every Battle of the Bands we entered, we were disqualified. They all said we were too professional. What was up with that? One of the winners was the Woolies, who went off to record a single and a pretty good one at that [INTERVIEWER'S NOTE: "Who Do You Love."] One Battle was hosted by Rockin' Robin Seymour, who had a local dance show on TV. We buried the clap meter but again we were disqualified because we had dancers. I remember Steve Farmer was so mad he beat up Robin back stage. Maybe that's why we were never invited on his show. Oh Well!
[Lance Monthly] Did anything happen to Farmer after he punched Seymour out!?
[Don Henderson] Nothing happened to Steve after the incident. We just packed up and left. I guess they didn't have lawsuits back then!
[Lance Monthly] Did you cross paths with any national acts?
[Don Henderson] When we were hired as the house band for the Grande Ballroom, we opened for so many national acts I can't even remember all of them. Some were: The Cream, Joe Cocker, the Dead, the Who, the Fugs, and the Association. It was almost everyone. If you check out the book "The Art Of Rock And Roll,"you can see the flyer artwork with our name on a lot of pages under the Grande Ballroom. It's pretty cool because I have some of the originals.
[Lance Monthly] What were the circumstances surrounding Farmer's and Arama's later joining of the Amboy Dukes?
[Don Henderson] When Ted Nugent returned to Detroit with the Amboy Dukes, I guess after a while some of them returned to Chicago and that's when Greg and Steve signed up. With Steve's influence the writing started and it was all up hill from there.
[Lance Monthly] What did you think of Nugent at this time?
[Don Henderson] We all knew Ted in the Lourds. We all hung around together. We all filled in for someone who couldn't make a gig. They were solid and tight and probably the best band around.
[Lance Monthly] O'Brien and Butler joined Wilson Mower Pursuit. Were they an established band at the time, or did O'Brien and Butler form it?
[Don Henderson] Butler and O'Brien joined the already formed Wilson Mower Pursuit and that's when they pushed to the top . . . much after both Gangs were done.
[Lance Monthly] Why did the Gang call it quits in '69?
[Don Henderson] We broke up because every one was going to college and mostly away. I was moving to Rome, Italy, and we really needed to be together for the sound we had.
[Lance Monthly] Did you join any bands after the Gang dissolved?
[Don Henderson] When I returned from Rome I tried to reorganize but I couldn't recapture the sound and so I gave up. I went to school, got married, raised a family, and didn't touch music for about 20 years. At that point I put a reunion party together but I could only find Jim Butler and Dave O'Brien. I filled in with a rhythm and bass player and it went well. I really didn't do anything after that for about five years.
[Lance Monthly] And then?
[Don Henderson] After about five years I "crooked" - I mean I hooked - up with a producer in town and recorded a 10-song ballad type CD. After [spending] a ton of money, I never heard from him and the CD got tabled. I thought it was good. Oh well, so much for the music business. I still play with a group, but they only record and do originals. We have played out a few times but nothing kills a gig faster than originals no one has ever heard. We stopped that. It doesn't matter how good you are.
[Lance Monthly] According to Dan Agnott of the MY FIRST BAND website, the Gang "set the standard to which we all aspired . . . they had the look, they had the chops." Were you aware at the time that you were considered an influential band in the Detroit area?
[Don Henderson] I knew we were popular but we didn't care; we just wanted to play. I guess we were too modest. That's probably what stopped us from continuing. I guess we were as popular as every one else because we all hung out together in every thing we did . . . music stores, shopping, concerts, etc.