Count & The Colony

Saginaw, Michigan's Count & The Colony shared many tours - and the same management - with ? & The Mysterians, but never reached the heights that The Mysterians achieved after the success of their nugget, 96 Tears. Though they never had a national hit like The Mysterians' signature tune, The Colony's own Can't You See has since been immortalized thanks to its appearance on several garage compilation albums. Count & The Colony performed this past June for a "Dick Wagner & Friends" reunion concert, and Lead Guitarist Larry Wheatley filled in on that event, as well as the band's historical legacy during the '60s.

An Interview With Larry Wheatley (60s): How did you first get interested in music?

Larry Wheatley (LW): I took piano lessons at 12, in 1962, and guitar lessons at 14, in 1964. I really got interested in music when I saw the Beatles on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW in 1964. I also couldn't seem to get a conventional job. So that's how it all started for me. I peddled papers, shoveled snow, and cut lawns to save up for my first electric guitar and amp.

60s: Was Count & The Colony your first band? LW: Count & The Colony was not my first band. I started playing for money or free drinks when I was 14 with band mates. We didn't even have a name - we were just three kids trying to make some money. Next was The Dimensions, a garage band that wasn't that good. The band I was in just before Count & The Colony was the Bushmen. Don Hales and I were in the band before hooking up with Butch, Dick, and Fred. Then it was Count & The Colony in 1965. We were all in between bands. We all met through friends and it clicked. We were all from Saginaw, Michigan: three from the East side of town and two from the West.

60s: Do you recall the names of the bands that the other guys were from?

LW: Yes. I was originally from the band the Dimemsions - that was the last formal group I was in before we formed Count & The Colony. Fred B. and Dick B. came from a band that actually played polka music along with rock 'n' roll. I don't recall the name of the band. Butch B. went to high school with Fred B. and Dick B. and was known as a good singer. Previously he was in choirs in school but no formal band.

60s: You've referred to them, but who comprised Count & The Colony, as what instruments did each member play?

LW: Butch Burden (The Count) - lead singer and songwriter; Larry Wheatley (The Colony) - lead guitar and songwriter; Dick Brown (The Colony) - keyboard, sax, songwriter; Don Hales (The Colony) - bass guitar; Fred Bingham (The Colony) - drums.

60s: How did Butch obtain the name "The Count"?

LW: That's a good question. As you know from your research, bands usually dressed in some type of theme costuming. Well, when we came up with our band name it was originally The Colony. We went on a search for colonial type costumes but they were very hard to find. However, we found great outfits in a costume shop in Detroit. Problem was we found four colonial costumes and one outfit that had sparkle stuff all over it and it looked like a prince or a count's outfit. Butch, being the lead singer and the front man, became the Count. Thus Count & The Colony was developed. By the way, we wore lace layered ascots, white collarless shirts, and tight white pants along with knee-high black boots. We later had several other outfits custom made with the colonial theme. (It was) sort of a Paul Revere & The Raiders theme - except I liked our outfits better.

60s: Where did the band typically practice?

LW: We practiced in Butch Burden's parents garage. We became like family. I was there more than I was at home.

60s: Where did the band typically play?

LW: We played everywhere - all over Michigan. We played TV shows in Chicago, Texas, Detroit, Cleveland.

60s: Do you remember the names of any of these shows - perhaps UPBEAT in Cleveland, or the LARRY KANE SHOW in Texas?

LW: I don't remember...the names of the TV shows we were on. (As I mentioned), I recall several in Texas, Cleveland and Chicago (Downtown). Several were on location and live.

60s: It sounds as if you were on the road a lot. How frequently did you actually play in Michigan?

LW: All the time. We played throughout Michigan when we weren't touring. We went literally thousands of miles. We went though several cars and two vans. We played alot. That was my job - to make money.

60s: Didn't you have the same manager as ? & The Mysterians?

LW: We acquired the same managers as ? and The Mysterians. They promised us great success. (They told us to) just work hard, play a lot, travel a lot and they (then) filtered the money.

60s: Who were they?

LW: Lilly Gonzales from Gonzales & Gonzales Management was our manager. She also owned Pa Go Go Records in Saginaw and Texas. She had heard of our band from several radio stations and signed us up with a lot of promises of fame and fortune. Actually, she was trying to duplicate the 96 Tears financial success with our group.

60s: Why do you think she couldn't do it? Is there any resentment on the band's part?

LW: As you know, in the music business, the chances of achieving national fame are extremely slim even for the most talented. Looking back, I can understand the big picture much better now than when I was a cocky, self-centered teen, with zero business savvy, so I'm going to answer your question with a wiser perspective. Lilly Gonzales & ? & The Mysterians were in the right place at the right time with the right song. This is not intended to downplay their success. They worked their asses off to make 96 Tears the success it was.
I have a lot of respect for Lilly Gonzales and The Mysterians. She promoted the song and the band by going door to door, to radio stations, to disc jockeys, to recording executives, to recording companies, and to anybody who would listen - and that's what it takes. Persistance, persistance and more persistance! I think she figured she could rely on the contacts she had established with 96 Tears to duplicate that success. Promoters and managers, in order to survive in the music business, always put a positive spin on how success is close at hand. However, they are business savvy and have a timetable for success, but also a limit to what they'll invest; after that they cut you loose and cut their loses. And why not? That's how they make a living. I understand that.
I think we were a talented band with good chemistry. We had a unique sound and needed a unique song. Lilly Gonzales didn't have a staff of writers, like Motown did. We tried our best, worked hard, traveled a lot, met a lot of interesting people and -most of all - I learned a lot about life in the music business. I have no resentment toward Lilly Gonzalez or any of the other characters, crooks or acqaintences that I met in the music business. Yes - I wish we could have been more successful. Yes - I wish I could have made a lot of money. It didn't work out that way. It's an experience that I'll never forget. Occasionally, I think of how it would have been with success and fame.
Let's face it - unless you're a Beatle, a Rolling Stone, Madonna or part of the Motown success machine, fame really doesn't last long and eventually you have to get a real job with real responsibilities.
The people that couldn't handle that are either dead, in jail, burnt out zombies or drugged out. It's extremely hard on the ego and that's a powerful thing. God bless those that had fame, lost it and can still financially survive in the music business.

60s: Were you close at all with The Mysterians?

LW: Yes we toured a lot with ? and The Mysterians. We were all pretty good friends.

60s: What about Question Mark (Rudy Martinez)? Was he as bizarre back then as he's made out to be?

LW: Yes. Question Mark was pretty strange. He was very meticulous about his clothes and appearance. He didn't drink much and I never saw him intimate with a woman or man.

60s: How popular locally did Count & The Colony become?

LW: We became very popular locally and regionally.

60s: Your group released Can't You See b/w That's The Way on the Pa Go Go label? Where was the 45 recorded?

LW: Can't You See and That's The Way It's Gotta Be were recorded at United Artists Studios in Detroit, Michigan in 1966. (That's) the same studio Motown recorded at. It was a lot of fun. We were kids having a great time.

60s: What about Say What You Think b/w Symptons Of Love. What do you recall about this session?

LW: Say What You Think and Symptoms Of Love were recorded in Cleveland, Ohio in 1967. That was fun too - partying every night.

60s: Why was the second single recorded in Ohio?

LW: Dick Wagner, the writer of our second record, preferred the Cleveland studio to record in. It gave him more creative control over the production, and he lined up several playing dates for our band as well. Other recording studios, like United Artists in Detroit, required that they be involved in the production of recordings.

60s: Dick Wagner's name invariably comes up whenever I interview a band from Michigan. How did you get involved with him?

LW: Dick Wagner is very well-known throughout Michigan. He had his own successful regional bands (The Bossmen, The Frost) and he also played and co-wrote songs with Alice Cooper (Only Women Bleed and others) as well as too many others to mention. He also did studio work in Nashville. I met Dick Wagner when I was 14. I saw his band play at an event and thought he was an awesome guitar player. I asked him if I could get guitar lessons from him and I'd pay whatever his going rate was. Well, I went home and begged my parents for the front money and transportation because I was too young to get a job or drive. I've known him ever since and followed his ups and downs in the business. I knew him in his early years when he was married and had two kids. He was a helluva guy. I respected him greatly. However, the music business can change lives significantly. He's not the same person now I knew back then. We all change in some ways.

60s: You've indicated Burden and yourself as the band's primary songwriters. Who wrote the band's singles?

LW: Can't You See was written by B. Burden and D. Brown. That's The Way It's Gotta Be was written be B. Burden and L. Wheatley. Symptoms of Love was written by B. Burden and L. Wheatley. Say What You Think was written by Dick Wagner.

60s: Do any (other) '60's Count & The Colony recordings exist? Are there any vintage unreleased or live recordings?

LW: There is an unreleased record that is out there somewhere: Funky Shingaling and Words Fade Away. A friend of mine recently told me that he saw our first record for sale on eBay for $186+ each. I wish I would have kept all my old records.

60s: How would you describe the band's sound? What band's influenced you?

LW: We played a lot of Motown, some blues and rock, but primarily soul music. Motown was a big influence on our music along with Paul Revere & The Raiders and The Kingsmen.

60s: In 1966, Count & The Colony won the "Best Band Contest' at the Michigan State Fair, beating out over 100 other bands.

LW: Yes, we won the Michigan State Battle of the Bands. We competed against Motown acts and talented people from all over the state. We won money, a trophy and got to meet and open for Diana Ross and The Supremes. It was great; we brought the crowd to their feet. They cut us short because the crowd was getting too fired up.

60s: Did you participate in many Battle of the Bands?

LW: That was the only Battle of the Bands that we ever participated in. After that we were booked all the time.

60s: How far generally was the band's touring territory?

LW: We toured Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Mexico, Louisiana, Illinois, Ohio and other places I can't remember. They all started looking the same.

60s: When did the band call it quits?

LW: We broke up in the summer of 1968. I think we just burned out. We traveled and played constant together since 1965 and I took time away from school to travel. I promised my parents I would finish high school with my class (1968) if they let me travel when I was 14 and 15. I really thought we went as far as we were going to go. (It's a ) very gritty, rough and challenging business. I learned a lot about life, love and reality. We all went our separate ways.

60s: Did you join or form any bands after Count & The Colony?

LW: I played in a few bands after that but nothing serious. Butch, Dick and Fred continue to play in bands.

60s: Count & The Colony reunited in 1984. What was the catalyst for the reunion?

LW: I won a contest for a theme for an oldies radio station. They found out that I was part of Count & The Colony from the '60's and that I knew ? and The Mysterians. One thing led to another and we played. The fans were great. I was amazed at all the excitement. It was great fun playing together again. In 1994 we got together for another rock 'n' roll reunion. Again, it was great and the fans were great. We all had a lot of fun. Unfortunately, our Dick Brown passed away shortly after that concert. He was too sick to play in 1994.

60s: When was the last time Count & The Colony performed together?

LW: We all still live in Saginaw, and we recently played a reunion concert in June, 2002 with other area infamous garage bands.

60s: What other bands played?

LW: Dick Wagner initiated the reuinion and it was sponsored by the Lions Club of Freeland, Michigan. (It) was dubbed "Dick Wagner & Friends". The bands that were there were Count & The Colony, The Jim Cummins Band, The Cherry Slush, The Bossmen, The Frost, and The Dick Wagner Band.

60s: Do you perform solo at all?

LW: Today, I am a Plant Manager for a General Motors Supplier in Saginaw. I'll always love music. I own three pianos, two banjos, three dulcimore, five mandolins, two belalikas and eight guitars. I buy them and can't part with them. I'm always ready for a reunion with my musical brothers.

60s: Do you have any plans musically for 2002 and beyond?

LW: Yes. I recently returned from a job transfer in Louisville where I met some great craftspeople. I've been constructing guitars mandolins and dulcimores as a hobby since January 2002.

60s: Thanks for your time, Larry.

LW: Well, I really enjoyed answering your questions. It took me back down Memory Lane. It's good to do that once in a while. I still enjoy getting together with the band for reunions. It's like being on tour, only it's a one night stand.

"Copyrighted and originally printed on by Mike Dugo".
"Listen live, online to their music at Beyond The Beat Generation, 60's garage and psychedelia".