An Interview with Mike Neal of The Jackals
A Major Player in the Texas Garage Band Era of the ‘60s
Interviewer's Note: Originally unreleased at the time, "Love Times Eight" by The Jackals has since garnered a cult following due to a reissue more than twenty years after its recording. The song was recorded while original guitarist, Mike Neal was a member, but unfortunately, due to a stint in the Air Force, Neal had to leave the group in 1966 before the band's most popular period.
[Lance Monthly] How did you first get interested in music?
Mike Neal I first got interested in music when I was around six years old. My grandparents bought me a ukulele and I learned some chords. I drifted away from it until I was about 14, when a friend, Wayne Rossee -- who lived down the street from me -- got me interested because his dad was teaching him and they were playing together. I got my first guitar that year. It was a Harmony, f-hole, and acoustic. I bought it at a pawnshop in Pleasant Grove, a suburb of Dallas, for $14 bucks. For the next few years, I stayed awake until three or four in the morning learning Jimmy Reed and Ventures songs. This was in 1959.
[Lance Monthly] What was the first band you joined?
Mike Neal My first band was Frank Davis and the Yellowjackets. I was one of the Yellowjackets. There were three of us in the band: Frank Davis - guitar and vocals; Roger Mullikin - drums; and me - second guitar. I got booted from the band -- I don't remember why -- by Frank's mom. I had to turn in my yellow shirt. We played in Seagoville at an opry affair where a great albino lap steel guitar player appeared quite a few times. It just about had to be Johnny or Edgar Winter. We also played the Cowtown Opry in Ft. Worth, where Country Johnny Mathis was the headliner.
[Lance Monthly] When was The Jackals formed?
Mike Neal The Jackals was formed in 1964. I was playing with a band called Tom Thumb and the Fingers. Billy Lawson had started a band with musicians whose names skip my mind at the moment (I would probably have to undergo hypnosis to remember them). All I can remember is that I wanted to play with them in a bad way, so I auditioned for some reason and after they heard me play the lead to You Really Got Me, by the Kinks, I got the job. For the first few months, both guitars, bass, and vocals were pushed through an old silvertone amp with six tens in it. It sounded great. We opened the back up after playing through it for several gigs and three of the speakers weren't hooked up. I'll never figure that one out. We all went and bought brand new Fender bassmen rigs after that, plus a Custom PA system. We were big dogging it then.
[Lance Monthly] Please outline the band's line-up at this time.
Mike Neal The members of The Jackals were: Billy Lawson - vocals and harp; J.B. Wyrick - drums; Jay Kidwell (he was in the Navy, so he wore a long wig) - guitar; John Boware - bass; and Mike Neal - guitar. Later, when Kidwell went to the Navy, J.B. couldn't get the double bass drumbeat that we thought we just had to have, and John was old. So when The Pendulums broke up, because Jimmy Vaughan was joining The Chessmen, we absconded with their bass player, Ronny Sterling; drummer, Phil Campbell; and organist, John Talley. That is when the real Jackals started to blossom.
[Lance Monthly] Where did the band typically practice?
Mike Neal We would practice in our apartment, the Stella Street Apartments, in Denton, Texas. The Chessmen and Briks were also living in the apartments at that time, so a good time was being had all the time and not much schoolwork was getting done. We were all going to college at the time, some at Cooke County Jr. College and some at North Texas State University, as it was called at the time.
[Lance Monthly] Where did the band typically play?
Mike Neal We played a lot of frat parties. We also played Lou Ann's, the Dunes and the Pirates Nook in Dallas. After I left the band in '66 to join the Air Force, the band played at quite a few of the hot spots.
[Lance Monthly] How would you describe the band's sound? What band's influenced you?
Mike Neal We played a lot of soul: Wilson Pickett, James Brown, Percy Sledge, and a plethora of Engish bands like the Yardbirds, Stones, Animals, and Beatles. I would describe the band's sound as more soul oriented than mod, however.
[Lance Monthly] Did The Jackals have a manager?
Mike Neal Yes, the infamous George Rickrich, from Denton, Texas.
[Lance Monthly] George was pretty prolific back then.
Mike Neal George booked a lot of bands of the era--The Briks and Chessmen among them, I believe. He was a very nice man who managed a theater in Denton, Texas. He always did right by us, and later managed theaters in Dallas and ran a national laser light show. He died some time in the late '70s, I believe, and his legend lives to this day.
[Lance Monthly] How popular locally did The Jackals become?
Mike Neal We were fairly popular. The band's real popularity came after my leaving in '66.
[Lance Monthly] Whom did the band get to replace you?
Mike Neal William Williams, who started the Dallas' ‘60s band site, replaced me. I haven't seen William in more than 35 years.
[Lance Monthly] What other local groups of the era do you especially recall?
Mike Neal The Briks, Just Us Five, The Chessmen, The Beefeaters.
[Lance Monthly] Your best-known song is "Love Times Eight." Where was it recorded?
Mike Neal It was recorded at a studio in North Dallas or Irving. I do remember that Jimmy Vaughan loaned me his Gibson Fuzztone for the session and was present during the recording.
[Lance Monthly] Why didn't "Love Times Eight" ever make it past the acetate stage?
Mike Neal The song did not make it past the acetate stage until six or seven years ago when a guy named Dallas Ellis called me as he heard from someone that I had the acetate. He then worked in conjunction with Caped Crusader Records from Kansas City, Missouri to press and package it. I don't know how or who they distributed it to. I did get several copies of it to divide with the other band members. I also still have the acetate. I guess lack of interest was the reason it was never released soon after we recorded it.
[Lance Monthly] Who wrote "Love Times Eight?"
Mike Neal Oops, we don't know who penned it. We have wracked our brains to remember, but to no avail. I really don't remember. No one can remember who wrote the song. He was a schoolteacher.
[Lance Monthly] Do any '60s Jackals' recordings exist? Are there any vintage live recordings?
Mike Neal There are no more original recordings that I know of.
[Lance Monthly] Did The Jackals participate in any Battle of The Bands?
Mike Neal Not that I recall.
[Lance Monthly] What about local TV appearances? Did you make any?
Mike Neal None that I know of.
[Lance Monthly] How far was the band's "touring" territory?
Mike Neal While I was a member, from Oklahoma City to San Antonio.
[Lance Monthly] Why did the band break up?
Mike Neal I think it was because Bill Lawson joined the army or was drafted.
[Lance Monthly] Have you joined or formed any bands since your days as a Jackal?
Mike Neal John Siebman and I started the Fort Worth Cats in 1978. We are still a viable band, although our last gig was four years ago. If given the opportunity, we could be ready to gig in a couple of days, and we keep the door open for such an opportunity. We were considered a punk or new-wave band and recorded two albums and an EP. We got pretty popular in the local punk scene and in Austin. We were the headliners for the opening of Zeros, the famous punk club in Ft. Worth. I hope this doesn't sound too conceited, but Richard Fenner, the owner of Zeros, told me that he opened the club just so the Ft. Worth Cats could have a good venue to play in Ft. Worth.
[Lance Monthly] What about today? How often, and where, do you perform (if at all)?
Mike Neal Well, stammer . . . stutter; right now, I'm running a karaoke show. Yep, I went to Key West for four years, doing a single act. The owner of the club [at which] I was playing wanted me to do six nights a week. In Key West, you don't take a break or you will lose your crowd. After a few months of six nights [of] ruptured vocal chords, I asked him if he would consider doing karaoke for a couple of nights a week. Pretty soon, as fate would have it, karaoke had taken over and now I have a wonderful contingent of good singers who perform at my karaoke show. I do miss the artistic outlet of performing, but enjoy the monetary benefits of karaoke. Such is life. I still play the guitar at the shows and sing a few songs each night. You can check out my website at:
[Lance Monthly] How do you best summarize your experiences with The Jackals?
Mike Neal Playing with The Jackals was a growing-up experience musically and literally. I met my first wife while playing with The Jackals, with whom I [have] two beautiful girls, Molly and Rachel, from whom I [have] received two beautiful grandchildren, Josey and Simon. I met some lifelong friends, who, no matter how long it has been between visits, remain valuable and cherished friends. When we see each other, it is like we had never parted and were right back there in the mid-sixties. We've had good times and lots of laughs. I learned so much musically from those times, and continue to play a lot of the songs we were doing then.