An Interview with Roger Barnes of The Paragons
A Principal Contributor to the San Antonio Garage Band Sixties
The Paragons of San Antonio had dreams of bigger and better things, but unfortunately never really made much of an impact beyond their neighborhood. Rhythm guitarist Roger Barnes recounts tales of life in the '60s as a member of a small-time garage band.
[Lance Monthly] How did you first get interested in music?
Roger Barnes I've always liked music. My family was always playing something--everything from Harry Belafonte to Bing Crosby to the Kingston Trio. When I heard Elvis, I started buying his records, and then was crazy about the Beach Boys and Roy Orbison; and later the Beatles and the entire British Invasion. About that time (1964) we started our band and were inspired primarily by the entire British thing.
[Lance Monthly] Was The Paragons your first band?
Roger Barnes The Paragons was the first band for all of us, and it was a joint effort by the four founding members: Roger Barnes, rhythm guitar and vocals; Court Thielman, lead guitar and vocals; Tony Degges, bass guitar and vocals; and Rusty Degges, drums. We played together for about three years. In our last few months we added another guitar player, Bobby Gladwin, and changed our name to The Filthy Few.
[Lance Monthly] What year would this have been in?
Roger Barnes I believe it was late '65 or early '66 when we changed the name and added the fifth member. We called it quits in '66.
[Lance Monthly] Who named the band? Why was The Paragons chosen?
Roger Barnes I believe Court Theilman proposed the name. It sounded cool and meant "perfection" - something we aspired to with our coolness . . . if not our musical talent! My sister, an artist, painted the name on our bass drum.
[Lance Monthly] Where did the band typically practice?
Roger Barnes We rotated practicing in each other's garage. We all lived on the same street: Lantana, which was right next to McArthur High School where we all ended up. We started the band in juinor high when we were about 14-years old.
[Lance Monthly] Where did the band typically play?
Roger Barnes Other than the garage, where we always drew a large, fawning neighborhood crowd (ha!), we played a few parties. We aspired for more, but fell short, I'm afraid.
[Lance Monthly] How would you describe the band's sound? What bands influenced you?
Roger Barnes Rock and roll, with all electric instruments. Our main influences were The Beatles, Stones, and Yardbirds. We also had some Beach Boys influence.
[Lance Monthly] Did you play any of the local San Antonio teen clubs?
Roger Barnes We dreamed of playing at the Teen Canteen on San Pedro and later Wonderland Shopping Mall, but we never made it.
[Lance Monthly] How far was the band's "touring" territory?
Roger Barnes Local parties in San Antonio.
[Lance Monthly] Did The Paragons have a manager?
Roger Barnes No. We just fought amongst ourselves.
[Lance Monthly] How popular locally did The Paragons become?
Roger Barnes We were an item in our neighborhood, Northeast Village, and everyone in our 8th and 9th grade class at Garner Junior High thought we were cool.
[Lance Monthly] What other local groups of the era do you especially recall?
Roger Barnes Another group from our school that was much more successful. The Invaders was an amazing group led by Terry Laughlin on lead guitar. They were a tight band and all good musicians. They played a lot of local gigs and Battle of the Bands, etc. We were friends with all of them. Another good friend and classmate of mine, Bill Ash, played lead with The Stoics and they were in a whole other league--playing concerts and making recordings. Another group in the San Antonio area that usually won the Teen Canteen Battle of the Bands was The Chains. Everyone thought they were good . . . and they were.
[Lance Monthly] Did The Paragons ever cross paths with these bands?
Roger Barnes The Invaders were close friends of ours and I was [a] good friend with their leader, Terry Laughlin. Terry was very talented and was also a highly respected street fighter; he was a force of nature not to be trifled with. I watched The Invaders practice in his garage many times and also saw them perform at the Teen Canteen Battle of the Bands and other parties around town. We learned a lot by watching them and can say they mentored us musically. Although I was close friends with Bill Ash, due to our music interests and Air Force backgrounds, I only saw The Stoics perform a couple of times at the Teen Canteen. They were in a whole other league. Bill's lead guitar work complemented the overall professionalism and musical expertise of his partners. They did original songs and covers and also dressed and looked like the British groups of the day. The Chains had a more raw, primitive appeal and really rocked. The chicks loved them and they always seemed to win the Battle of Bands, although I think The Stoics far surpassed them musically and with their songwriting.
[Lance Monthly] What was The San Antonio scene like?
Roger Barnes We did not get around much at our age, but the San Antonio scene was very alive with British Invasion rock and roll. Everybody wanted to play guitar and have a band. Not everyone did. But we did, and we had a gas.
[Lance Monthly] Did The Paragons ever record?
Roger Barnes No.
[Lance Monthly] Why not?
Roger Barnes We were not that good.
[Lance Monthly] Did The Paragons write original music, or did you perform mainly cover versions?
Roger Barnes We played covers mostly of The Beatles, Stones, Kinks, and Yardbirds. I was proud of singing lead on "Mister You're A Better Man Than I," "Well Respected Man," "Hang On Sloopy," and our token folk song "Eve of Destruction."
[Lance Monthly] Why did the band break up in the '60s?
Roger Barnes Court and Tony could not get along.
[Lance Monthly] Did you join or form any bands after The Paragons/Filthy Few?
Roger Barnes No.
[Lance Monthly] What about today? Do you perform at all?
Roger Barnes I am a retired Air Force Lt. Colonel. I did 28 years in uniform. I play an acoustic Taylor guitar purchased for me by the great, unappreciated John Stewart, a friend, formerly of The Kingston Trio.
[Lance Monthly] How did you become acquainted with John?
Roger Barnes I had always loved John's music, but could never find his work anywhere. He had a small mailgroup site on AOL about ten years ago and only a handful of people posted on it, along with John. He became interested in me due to my knowledge of his work and also because of my career in the Air Force. He was very interested in aviation, space, and UFOs and we became close over those discussions. Later, we met in Phoenix and had dinner. We were very close for a while, as he saw me as the "man on the street" music-wise, and he would send me demo tapes to get my feedback. I made him an "Honorary Air Force Lt. Colonel" and for years he wore a silver Lt. Colonel oak leaf on his guitar strap that I gave him. He's an incredibly talented and prolific songwriter who has yet to get his due.
[Lance Monthly] How do you best summarize your experiences with The Paragons?
Roger Barnes Back when I thought I would live forever, it gave me hours of fun playing with my pals and a few minutes of sheer ecstasy when I got to sing for the girls. God Bless those good-looking girls.
The Paragons - Where Are They Now?
Roger Barnes, rhythm guitar: Retired as an Air Force Lt. Colonel after 28 years on the road. Is playing a John Stewart-purchased-Taylor guitar and getting published as a poet on occasion. Still dreams about the dream.
Tony Degges, bass guitar: Served a couple of prison tours early on. Now serving 20 years plus at the Federal Pen in Tucson for Assault and drug charges. Has a sterling record as Prison Barber. Never one to turn down a good time or a fight . . . he also gave a good trim.
Rusty Degges, ace drummer: Was shot to death in a burglary attempt gone wrong [more than] twenty years ago. The baby of the group and a sweet guy everybody loved. Deserved a better deal.
Court Thielman, lead guitar: Tried dental school. Now works in a government job in the Austin/New Braunfels, Texas area. Lays low.