A Fascinating History of Dale Smith and His ‘60s Garage Band Roots
[Lance Monthly staff writer, Mike Dugo, writes: During the 1960s in Oklahoma and Texas, Dale Smith was a member of numerous bands, most notably the Allusions and Cast of Thousands. The Lance Monthly asked Dale to provide an overview of his lengthy and notable career and, in the process, attempted to clear up some common misconceptions about Cast of Thousands (of "My Jenny Wears A Mini" fame): a group that has been erroneously linked to Stevie Ray Vaughn for quite some time. During the course of our communication in reference to the group’s recordings, we were able to jog Dale’s memory so that he recalled things that he had initially forgotten. These recollections are printed as "Follow-Up." Dale is still active in the music scene, and has plans to record a concept album that will document (in song) ten years of his life.]
I started singing in church at age three. Then mom started me in piano at age five. She died [when I was] seven, and I quit piano. I sang in choir until seventh grade, when I was asked to sing a solo in assembly. I sang "Alley Oop" by the Hollywood Argyles. After the assembly, every cool girl in school knew my name. I was hooked!
The first group I had was a folk trio called The Buccaneers. I was in the eighth grade, and [band members’] Robert Payne and Tommy Tucker were in [the] seventh. We sang all over southern Oklahoma and North Texas for three years. We even had our own radio show on KVSO in Ardmore, Oklahoma on Friday afternoons after school. Our principal would even let us out of school to play different gigs.
In 1962, my sophomore year, Royce Hignight, a college freshman from Ardmore, approached Robert Payne about playing keyboards with a band he was forming. Robert asked if he had a singer, and Royce said no, so I was asked to sing. The original band, The Allusions, consisted of Dale Smith (vocals and rhythm guitar), Robert Payne (vocals and keyboards), Gary Lawson (vocals and lead guitar), Royce Hignight (drums), and Jay Gabbard (vocals and bass). Jay quit after about six months, and Royce wanted to play bass, so we added Garland Scarberry on drums. We played [throughout] southern Oklahoma and North Texas: high school proms, frat parties, etc., but the most money we made was throwing our own dances at the Hardy Murphy Coliseum in Ardmore.
In May of 1965, we played a gig at Lou Ann's Club in Dallas. We played on the big stage with The Five Americans, friends of ours from Durant, Oklahoma. They had just recorded "I See the Light," with Dale Hawkins producing. On the little stage there was a band called The Chessman, playing with a 15-year-old guitar player named Jimmy Vaughn. They were splitting sets with a band called Lady Wild, and the Warlocks, who had a bassist named Dusty Hill. Dusty's brother Rocky played lead guitar, and they had a drummer named Little Richard Harris who twirled his sticks. Our drummer Garland was fascinated by this and studied him all night. All the way back to Ardmore, Garland practiced twirling his sticks. He turned into a great showman, as well as a great drummer.
In the summer of ‘65, we returned to Dallas and played at the Pirates Nook. That was where Jon Abner Jr. discovered the Five Americans. [Editor’s note: Lance Records was the designated distributor for the Five Americans’ releases in New Mexico during the mid -‘60s.] He wanted to play in a band, and talked his father into backing them, so he could sing with them. His father also hired Dale Hawkins to produce them. When The Five Americans refused to let Jon sing with them, Dale put together a band for him called Jon and Robin and the In Crowd.
We built a very good following at the Pirates Nook, and every week we had to threaten to leave until Bill Ware would give us a raise. The farthest he ever let us go was [our] equipment on the sidewalk, about to load it in the trailer. The band that would play Monday nights (our night off) was Mouse and The Traps. The first night I saw Bugs Henderson I thought he was crazy. He had a Bowie knife that he kept sticking his Les Paul with. They ended the night by playing "For Your Love" by The Yardbirds. Each player would take a solo, then exit the stage. The last [musician] standing was Bugs. He played this screaming solo and ended by cutting all the strings from his guitar with the Bowie knife except for the low E. He dropped the guitar on the floor with the low E feeding back, stuck the Bowie knife in the guitar, and walked off the stage with it feeding back. I thought he was nuts!
Later that year, we signed a recording contract with Major Bill Smith out of Ft. Worth. He produced "Hey Baby" by Bruce Channel, "Hey Paula" by Paul and Paula, and "Last Kiss" by [the late] J. Frank Wilson (and the Cavaliers). We recorded a number of our original tunes [which were] written by Gary Lawson, Robert Payne, and myself. We were in school at Central State College in Edmond, Oklahoma, and going to Ft. Worth on weekends to record. Major Bill sent us a song that he claimed he wanted us just to record the music tracks for, so that he could put another group’s vocals on it. We went into the studio, and did a demo of the song. When we finished and walked back into the booth, Major Bill was on the phone with Tower Records yelling, "I have a hit by the Cast of Thousands called ‘My Jenny Wears A Mini’!" It was one of the biggest bubble gum songs you've ever heard. We had just changed our name to The Cast of Thousands, and had to bear the embarrassment of seeing the new name in Billboard, Cashbox, and Record World, along with that song. We didn't last another year after that. Gary graduated from college, and joined the Air Force. Royce graduated from college, and joined the FBI. Garland was married, and just wanted to settle down.
Robert Payne and I decided that we were not ready to quit. We were sure we were going to be stars. We picked up three players from a local band in Ardmore, that I managed: Mike England (lead guitar and vocals), Sam Elmore (bass guitar and vocals), and Robert McDowell (drums). We came back to Dallas in the summer of ‘67 as (again) The Cast of Thousands. We built a great following here, met Dale Hawkins, and started recording with him. By this time, Dale had left Abnak Records, Jon Abner's label, and was a staff producer with Bell Records. Our first session was at Robin Hood Brian's studio in Tyler, Texas. We recorded a song written by Don Nix (a songwriter from Memphis) called "You've Got A Long Way To Go."
Bell Records did not promote the record, but Dale did. He got us airplay on every major station in the U.S. This was in 1967-68. Bell Records didn't even know it was [spinning] until four weeks after it was already out. By the time they got the records distributed, the stations had to pull it from the play list, because there were no sales. Six months later, a club we were playing at called Soul City, burned down [along] with $36,000 in equipment. I got the band outfitted with all new equipment and started looking for a gig. To that point we had been working every week for close to three years. Drugs had become very prevalent in that group and they were being very picky about where they wanted to play, so I left.
By the way (as has often been reported), Bugs and Stevie Ray Vaughn never played with this band. Stevie's biography mentions that he played with The Cast of Thousands. That band, evidently, was one started by Steve Tobolowsky a few years after we broke up. I had never heard of this Cast of Thousands until I read the biography.
After I left [the band], I had helped some other musician friends put together a group, and they had rehearsed on our equipment. I also got them their first gig at the Fog club. Their name was Surely Goodness & Mercy. The band consisted of Danny Sanchez (lead guitar), Eddie Patterson (vocals and organ), John Hoff (drums), and Curly Benton (bass). When I left the Cast, I went to the Fog the next night and told Chuck Long, the owner of the Fog, that I had left the band. He told the guys in Surely Goodness & Mercy that he would pay them an extra $25 a week if they would add me to the band. They agreed, and about six weeks later we were asked to play the Texas International Pop Festival. Even though we would be playing to 250,000 people, Chuck refused to let us off because we were packing his club every night.
A couple of months later, Eddie's roommate got busted for selling acid to a kid. The narcs thought Eddie was in on it also, and were trying to bust him, too. Surely Goodness & Mercy got a gig in Tulsa and the night they left town, there were twelve cops in the parking lots around the club waiting to arrest Eddie. We packed up the organ, and put the organ covers over it. Eddie crawled under the covers, and we snuck him out . . . right under their noses.
I stayed in Dallas, because they were not really my band. Eddie was one of the most soulful singers, and players, I had ever heard. There wasn't room enough for both our egos. I had also been in touch with Shane Keister, Rusty Pruitt, and Bill Williams (NOTE: Pruitt and Williams were members earlier in the Bare Facts of "Bad Part of Town" fame. They were already on their way down from Ohio and we joined together to form a new band, The Audience). It was really amazing playing with these guys. All the musicians I had played with before were great players, but they weren't as schooled technically as the guys in The Audience. Shane was awesome. He had perfect pitch, a photographic memory, was ambidextrous, and had been taking classical lessons for thirteen years. Bill had been playing lead guitar before he switched to bass, and Rusty had been playing a lot of Jazz and Funk. The biggest problem I had was getting them to play simple enough so the common man could understand what they were doing. I remember [when] Shane wrote a seven-movement rock symphony. The main thing I enjoyed about that group was that we would take popular songs apart (that the club owners expected us to play) and we would rebuild them into our own signature songs.
Another great thing was [when] other musicians in town got finished with their gigs, they would come over to hear us. There would be five or six keyboard players sitting at a table together right at Shane's feet, and all the bass players [were] beneath Bill. It was a great time but, alas, just as we were being offered a contract by Atlantic Records, Bill talked Shane into leaving and joining a band called Southwest F.O.B. After a short while, Bill got Southwest F.O.B. to kick out their singer and keyboard player because Bill sang, and Shane could play two keyboards at the same time. That singer and keyboard player went to L.A., and became England Dan and John Ford Colley. Dan later on had a couple of Country hits as Dan Sills. Shane got him the record deal in Nashville. Shane also played on a number of Dan and John's hits.
After The Audience, I formed a band called the Care Package. It was Dale on vocals, Jay Gabbard on lead guitar and vocals, Garland Scarberry, our drummer from the Allusions on drums, and Gene Huddleston on bass and vocals. Gene was the lead guitar player in The Audience. The Care Package played together for a couple of months, and one night at the Fog Club, I walked outside on break and [saw] Bugs Henderson walking down the street. He freaked when he saw me. He had been out of town for an extended stay and had just got back. He said I was the first person he saw that he knew. I invited him into the club and asked if he wanted to set in. He told me he had been without his guitar for six months, and his chops were down. He did ask if he could go home and practice, and come back the next night. I said sure. He came back the next night, and played most of the gig. All the guys wanted to add him to the band, so he played with us for six months until that band broke up. I don't even know what the reason was for that breakup. It gets to be all a blur about here, because the drugs were starting to play a heavy part in all we were doing then.
After the Care Package breakup, I put together a band called Smith & Jones. I had to play lead guitar, and I'm no lead player. Plus, I always considered myself a singer (that was my instrument, and I hated to play guitar while I was singing. In that band, David Frame played bass, Glen Struble played drums, and Damon Seale played piano. I called a guitar player I knew named Robert Farris. He had played with David Frame in a popular Dallas band called the Mystics. Robert told me he had a gig, but that Jimmie Vaughn's little brother, Little Stevie, was looking for a gig. I asked, "How old is Little Stevie?" Robert said he thought he was fourteen. I told him I would pass. Two weeks later I called Robert back. He said he still had a gig, but that Little Stevie was still looking. I was desperate, so I got his number. I called Stevie, and asked if he wanted to audition. He said he would love to. While I was talking to him, I heard this amazing guitar playing in the background. I asked what guitar player he was listening to, and he told me [that] he had the phone on his shoulder, and that it was he [who was jamming].
Stevie came in the next day to audition, and brought [along] another guitar player named Kim Davis. They both blew me away, but I could only hire Stevie. A short time later the band told me they wanted to move to Austin. I asked Stevie why he would want to do that because his brother Jimmie [who was living there] had to work as a garbage collector since there were 40 bands trying to get three jobs in Austin, and we could work 52 weeks out of the year in Dallas making top money. He said they didn't care . . . they were going. When they left town, their band was called Blackbird.
From that point, it all gets real blurry. I had a band called the Fat Band, one [named] Other Voices, and a final band, Red River Connection. That group was Gene Huddleston (bass guitar and vocals), Mike England (guitar and vocals), a couple of different steel guitar players and drummers, and me.
On August 3,1975, I was really strung out. I gave my life to Jesus. He delivered me from the drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, and all the other things I didn't need to be doing. He led me to Nashville, and got me the big record contract I had always wanted (through Shane). I turned down the contract, and have been preaching the Gospel ever since.
The Allusions got back together to play a 20-year high school reunion in Ardmore in 1986. It was the first time that Gary and Royce had played in 20 years. We had so much fun that we decided to do it again in ‘87. We were invited back in ‘96, and in ‘97. That's when we did the latest CD. [We offered the CD for sale at the] ‘97 reunion, [and] between the reunion, and other sources, we’ve sold 1500 CDs. Pretty good for a bunch of old men. I did a live recording of the ‘97 reunion, too, and as soon as I get it edited, we will release it on CD and sell it on CDbaby.com.
Recording Sessions and Discography:
The first recording we did as The Allusions was at KVOO radio station, in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1962 or 1963. We recorded "On Broadway," and two songs that Robert Payne and I wrote called, "You Better Think Twice" and "It'll Never Be The Same." These were never pressed, and all we had were the acetate copies.
The next session that we did was about six months [later] at Sumet Burnet Studios in Dallas with the legendary Bob Sullivan engineering. We rerecorded "You Better Think Twice" and "It'll Never Be The Same." We did get these pressed, and I think we sold about 1500 copies over the next few years. We gave away a bunch also.
The sessions after that were the ones we did with Major Bill, in Ft. Worth, at Sound City Studios and Phil York was the engineer on those sessions. The songs we recorded there were "This Week," "Or Maybe Next Year," "Power Vested In Me," and "Shakespeare's Shrew" (all written by Gary Lawson). [Also] we did "Have It Your Way," written by Ray Hildebrand, who was Paul, of Paul and Paula, and we [recorded] "My Jenny Wears a Mini" [which] I think Ray wrote but I’m not sure. I can't remember if we did any other songs in those sessions.
After those sessions, and what Major Bill did (tricking us into recording "My Jenny," and then getting a record deal with that bubble gum song) [was] when everything started going downhill. I believe that was what got Gary, Royce, and Garland to start pursuing life in the real world. I think it was maybe six months after that when the Allusions broke up.
The Cast of Thousands went into the studio in ‘67, and recorded "You've Got A Long Way To Go," written by Don Nix, and "Carter's Grove," written by Jay Pruitt. Those two songs were the only one's released by The Cast of Thousands. [Note: See Follow-Up below.) Dale Hawkins sent us into the studio to [rehearse] . . . Steve Wright's studio in Tyler, Texas. We recorded "Walkin’ The Dog" by Rufus Thomas. I remember [when] we flushed the toilet in the middle of the song. Those sessions were never released. If you have heard other songs by The Cast of Thousands, then it was probably Steven Tobolowsky's band, which was formed in Oak Cliff a few years after our original Cast of Thousands broke up. [NOTE: See Follow-Up below.] Steven is a character actor in "Hollyweird" now, who has appeared in such hits as Mississippi Burning, and I believe also in Forrest Gump.
The next sessions I did were with The Audience. We went to Steve Wright's studio in Tyler and recorded about four songs. I don't even know what the names of the songs were, because Dale Hawkins kept the tapes, and they were lost long ago. The one thing I do remember is that night [when] we watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon.
The next sessions were in 1970. I did a solo record, with Hawkins producing, at January Sound in Dallas. We did a song I wrote called "Have You Ever Been A Loser." The flip side was a song called "Betsy" that a keyboard player from Shreveport named Roger Barnes wrote. We had started our own indie label called Lincoln Records. We had the records pressed, and the day [we received them and got under] way to promote them, our financial backer got busted by the IRS and couldn't give us a dollar for gas.
Recordings and Discography Follow-up:
"My Jenny" and "Girl Do What You're Gonna Do" was the first release. We had recorded "Have It Your Way" and "Power Vested In Me" at the same sessions. The Allusions recorded these songs with Major Bill as the Cast of Thousands. I did not know that he had released "Have It Your Way" and "Power in ’67." The Allusions had already broken up, and the new Cast was already playing and recording. "You’ve Got A Long Way To Go" and "Carter's Grove" were recorded in ‘67. This was the new Cast.
I totally forgot about "Country Gardens" and "Cast's Blues." Dale wanted to capitalize on the airplay we got with "Long Way To Go" even though we [had] only sold 252 records [throughout] the U.S. Hawkins sent us back to the studio to do a follow up. Another interesting thing about "Cast's Blues" is that Dale brought in Bugs as a studio player to play the lead on electric sitar.
Another piece of history you might be interested in . . . Immediately after Creedence had
the hit with "Susie Q," Bell Records wanted Dale to cut a new album as "The Original ‘Susie Q’ Man." He recorded an album called "L.A., Memphis, and Tyler" using musicians from each city that he had worked with in the past: In L.A., his original players, James Burton (guitar), Joe Osborn (bass), and other top studio players in L.A; in Memphis, he used basically Booker T's group [as well as] the Memphis Horns; [and] in Tyler he used, Mouse and the Traps. Robert Payne, my keyboard player in the Allusions and Cast, also played on the Tyler sessions. Today, Dale Hawkins has a studio in Little Rock called The Hawks Nest.
James Burton and Joe Osborn have both moved back to Shreveport and go to Little Rock quite often to record with Hawk. He's doing some of the best work of his life. James and Joe were Dale's original guitar player and bass player. When Hawk quit the road, he got them a job with Ricky Nelson. James went on to play with Elvis for a number of years until his death. Joe played with Johnny Rivers for a number of years. Joe also discovered The Carpenters, and recorded their first album. While in L.A., both were first call musicians, later moving to Nashville, and becoming first call players there. Look up Dale Hawkins on Yahoo. There's greatness.
To order Dale’s Allusions’ reunion CD, swing bywww.cdbaby.com/allusions
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