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An Interview with Johnny "J.P." Strawn
A Key Contributor To the ‘60s Garage Band Days in Dallas, Texas
By Mike Dugo, 60sGarageBands
(more articles from this author)
2003-11-25
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From the Dolphins, to the Orphans and then ATNT, Johnny Strawn was a key player to the Dallas music scene in the 1960s. Though still currently performing, Johnny looks back at the time spent in his early bands as "absolutely the best time of my life." Here are his recollections.

[Mike Dugo] How did you first get interested in music?

Johnny Strawn My father played with the Light Crust Doughboys and Bob Wills in the late forties and through the fifties. I grew up with western swing, jazz and country music, as well as a good dose of the musicians that played it. My father tried his best to discourage me from playing an instrument, but when he realized I just wanted to have fun, and it was engrained in me, he taught me a few chords on my Gibson J45, and I was hooked.

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[Mike Dugo] Was the Orphans your first band?

Johnny Strawn My first band was The Dolphins, formed around '64 in Plano. We were together in different forms until we morphed into The Orphans in late '65.

[Mike Dugo] How did that come about?

Johnny Strawn Jarry Davis, Barry Corbett and myself formed the original band with a bass player and keyboard player from McKinney Texas - Ronny and Johnny; I can't recall their last names. We were pretty good, did mainly the top 40 stuff you heard on KLIF and KBOX.

[Mike Dugo] What about the later line-up?

Johnny Strawn The final version of the 1967 Orphans was Johnny Strawn, vocals and lead guitar - Gibson 335 and Rickenbacker 12-string with a Fender Dual Showman amp; Jarry Davis, vocals and rhythm guitar - Gibson 335 with Vox Viscount amp; Danny Goode, lead vocals and bass - Epiphone 335 bass with a big Standell amp; Marshall Sartain, vocals and keyboards, Farfisa organ, Harmony electric piano and Vox Viscount amp; Barry Corbett, vocals, Slingerland and Ludwig drums with everything known to man on them. Our PA was four custom roll and pleat columns and brain with an echo-plex for the voices. We wish we could still find one of those units. There is nothing like the old tape loop for voice effects.

[Mike Dugo] I've been in contact with James Goode, whose brother, Danny, was in The Excels with him. I assume this is the same Danny?

Johnny Strawn One and the same. Danny did play with the Excels in the early sixties. There was a whole group of musicians from Mckinney that played in quite a few bands. Danny and James of course, Billy and Donny Cave, Don McCutchin, Gary Crawford, Joe Copeland and others I can't name. Plano and Mckinney fed off of each other for talent. Whenever someone left a band in one town, the phones started ringing in the other looking for a replacement. We all played together at one time or another.

[Mike Dugo] Where did the band typically practice?

Johnny Strawn We started out in a vacant storefront in old downtown Plano. Jarry's mother was a real estate agent and had good connections with the city fathers. She got us a building where we could leave all of our gear and practice anytime we needed. Plano closed the sidewalks at dusk in those days, so evening practice sessions were undisturbed. Most nights in the summer when we did practice, the main street would fill up with kids, parked and listening or sometimes dancing. It was a lot of fun - kind of like a country beach party movie. The only thing missing was the beach. After a while, we turned Jarry's garage into a studio with soundproofing and carpet.

[Mike Dugo] What type of gigs did you initially land?

Johnny Strawn We started out playing parties, then school functions, then skating rinks, sock hops, teen dances and then clubs ... pretty much in that order.

[Mike Dugo] How would you describe the band's sound?

Johnny Strawn Our sound was all over the place. Remember back then, you played a lot of dances, so everything you did was meant to keep them on the dance floor: Soul music, Beatles, Bee Gees, Rascals, Hendrix, Doors, Steppenwolf, Cream, Stones, Vanilla Fudge, Jefferson Airplane. We did a pretty good mix of tunes. We used to change costumes in between sets to go with the music. Jeans and such, then Nehru shirts and beads, then whatever…it got a little complicated after a while, and we had to have as much room for wardrobe as equipment.

[Mike Dugo] Did you play any of the local teen clubs?

Johnny Strawn Oh yeah, we played them all on a regular basis. The Studio Club, LuAnn's, Strawberry Fields, Phantasmagoria, The Cellar, The Box and some more I can't remember in Dallas and other cities. We used to do a lot of double bills at The Studio Club and LuAnn's; that was a big thing back then. I remember playing a lot of them with Southwest F.O.B. We were playing at LuAnn's one weekend when during the Jimi Hendrix song Fire, our drummer put lighter fluid on his cymbals, lit his drum sticks, then hit the cymbals and ignited them. It got a little out of hand and it burned up his drums. That kind of stuff wouldn't fly now days, but back then, we didn't think of the repercussions. The crowd loved it, sorta like The Who, only with real fire and smoke. Miss Lou Ann was not pleased and banned us from the club for about six months. We eventually worked our way back into her good graces. Ron Chapman remembered us as the band that nearly burned down LuAnn's. Some legacy.

[Mike Dugo] How far was the band's touring territory?

Johnny Strawn All of Texas, some of Oklahoma. We didn't go too far from home in those days.

[Mike Dugo] Did the Orphans participate in any Battle of the Bands?

Johnny Strawn We did a few that I remember. One (was) at McCord's Music, and one at the Arnold and Morgan music store. I remember The Dancing Bear, Us Four and maybe the Redwood Page (also competing). We won one of them but placed second at the other.

[Mike Dugo] How did you hook up with Mark Lee? I know he also managed Kenny and The Kasuals….

Johnny Strawn Mark Lee heard us at the Studio Club and approached us. We signed a contract with him and, after that, we really started getting busy. We played every weekend and some weeknights I recall. He booked us to open for the Iron Butterfly at Strawberry Fields when they did their first tour. We were so stoked; we did one of their songs off the album. The song was Procession, I believe, and we really nailed it. They didn't appreciate that, and to show us just how much (they didn't), promptly stole my Vox Wha Wha peddle and our drummer's velvet Nehru suit. A hard lesson learned by all. Mark put us up to it knowing it would torque the Iron Butterfly, and afterwards, he just howled at the whole scene it created. He tried to see us perform as much as possible, usually at Studio Club or LuAnn's. I'm not sure where Mark is these days or what he's up to, but it would be nice to talk to him again. He wasn't much older than we were - maybe mid-twenties or so.

[Mike Dugo] How popular locally did the Orphans become?

Johnny Strawn Pretty popular. After signing with Mark Lee, we really took off. We were well known in Texas and Oklahoma.

[Mike Dugo] There was reportedly another local band named The Orphans. Did you ever come into contact with them?

Johnny Strawn No, we didn't. I didn't know there was a second band of Orphans until I visited (the Big D) website and saw the photos. William (Williams) emailed me and filled me in a little. Dallas was a small rock community back then and I'm really surprised we didn't meet each other.

[Mike Dugo] Did the Orphans ever record any singles?

Johnny Strawn We recorded a single in 1966 at Summit Sounds on Greenville Ave. The title was "Leader of My Mind." I wrote the tune - kind of a Byrds' folk rock thing with harmonica. It got a little airplay locally and was on the Fashion label. We recorded another single in 1968 after we had changed our names to The ATNT. The title was "No One Told Me About Her" with flipside of "Cobblestone Street." Danny Goode, Barry Corbett and I wrote the tunes. The second disk got good airplay locally and in south Texas, but never made much money. It was also on the Fashion label. Artie Glenn and Smokey Montgomery produced both records. They also produced Paul and Paula and Bruce Chanel at the time.

[Mike Dugo] Why did you change your name to The ATNT? What did it stand for?

Johnny Strawn Jerry Deaton, a guy our drummer knew, wanted to manage us. We were happy with Mark Lee and turned him down numerous times. I guess he was a little sour about the deal and had the name "The Orphans" copyrighted, and then threatened to sue us if we used it. We liked ATNT {Alice talks "n" talks} and Jarry's mother was the inspiration for that name.

[Mike Dugo] Are there any vintage live recordings or unreleased songs?

Johnny Strawn I still have a few copies of our second record, "Cobblestone Street"; the first one I assume is lost forever. Barry Corbett, our late drummer, had some 8mm films and some live tape recordings, but now that he's gone, they may be lost forever.

[Mike Dugo] Did the band make any local TV appearances?

Johnny Strawn We did the "Mark (Marky Baby) Stevens TV Show" a couple of times over at the WBAP studios. All the film went with Barry. There may be some of that program in a vault somewhere. It was all lip sync to your record.

[Mike Dugo] Why did the band breakup in the '60s?

Johnny Strawn I was forced to leave the band over a disagreement with our rhythm guitar player. It was either study to pass my final exams my senior year or practice. I had to make a choice, so I did. Pretty petty stuff really, but what do you expect from teenagers? The band stayed together a few more months after that, and then broke up. Some of the guys continued to play with other groups.

[Mike Dugo] What about you? Did you join or form any bands after ATNT?

Johnny Strawn I didn't play too much until about '74, when I became involved with the progressive country music scene in Austin and Dallas. I played with various people around town and some in south Texas, and did some pick up and studio work. I joined the Trinity River Band in late '79 and played with them until '85. I also played with The Light Crust Doughboys from time to time and did some studio work on the five-string banjo.

[Mike Dugo] What about today? How often, and where, do you perform?

Johnny Strawn I am a project manager in commercial construction, and do a lot of painting and artwork - mostly Texas art. After 35 years, Danny Goode, who I played with in ATNT and the Orphans, called me and asked me to be part of their group, The American Classics. I joined them about two years ago and that's what we do now days. The band consists of Danny Goode, bass and lead vocals; John Payne, lead guitar and keyboards; Jordan Welch, drums; and me on rhythm guitar and vocals. We play about once a month or so around Dallas Fort Worth, mostly private parties. We recently played in Deep Elum, and will probably be back down there soon. We stick to mostly '60s music - it's what we know well. It's good to still be playing rock music at this age. You really never outgrow it.

[Mike Dugo] How do you best summarize your experience with The Orphans?

Johnny Strawn It was absolutely the best time of my life. How could you not enjoy being a teenager in the '60s and playing in a popular rock band? The people we met and played with, the experience that we will all carry with us the rest of our lives. It was just a part of life that helped shape us into what we are now - being part of that change in our country, that decade. It was a time of turmoil, but it was also the last years of the innocence we grew up with. Teenagers these days are so hardened. The music then was happy, and said a lot. It would move you, whether you played it or danced to it. The music now has a meaner, harder edge, and reflects the times we live in.

Lance Monthly Editor's Note: Mike Dugo, who has been passionately contributing articles to The Lance Monthly for more than four years, owns www.60sgaragebands.com, which specializes in U.S. '60s garage band events and happenings. Please visit this excellent site as often as you can as his updates are frequent.


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