Norton Recordsí recent Fort Worth Teen Scene series features the best songs from the many great bands of the area in the 1960s. One of those bands, The Gnats, was together for only five months yet opened two shows for national artists and left behind a memorable single that proves to be a highlight of the Norton series. Lead singer Jay Langhammer filled us in on the band.
An Interview With Jay Langhammer
60sgaragebands.com (60s): How did you first get interested in music?
Jay Langhammer (JL): I got into music at an early age because of my mother's musical ability. During the mid 1930's to early 1940's, she was a vocalist, saxophone/clarinet player with the orchestras of Bunny Berigan and Ina Ray Hutton. In the late 1940's when our family lived in Omaha, NE, she sang on a 12 noon TV show on WOW-TV. Johnny Carson was the staff announcer at the station at that time. I first tried the saxophone around sixth or seventh grade but gave up on it. I did some singing in a church choir, and then finally took a few guitars lessons in the fall of my senior year at Fort Worth's Paschal High School.
60s: Apparently The Gnats was formed from the remnants of The Danes.
JL: The Danes started playing together around 1963 and were a very successful Fort Worth-Dallas group, reaching number five on the KFJZ-AM charts with the song To Make Me A Man. I was a Delta Tau Delta fraternity brother of Rick Bandas, Bill Huddleston and John Reagan (Danes lead guitarist) at Forth Worth's Texas Christian University. W.R. Lynch was the Danes drummer and was a pledge in our fraternity. The two Danes vocalists, Charles Jester and Jerry Jack Terrell, were both in Sigma Chi Fraternity at TCU. I played in several groups with little success while The Danes were the top campus group. In one of my groups was lead guitarist Sumter Bruton, the older brother of accomplished singer-guitarist Stephen Bruton.
60s: Where was The Gnats formed, what year, and by whom?
JL: The Danes broke up in the spring of 1965 and, in the fall of that year, Rick, Bill and W.R. asked me if if I would like to sing with their new group, The Gnats. The new group would pursue the English sound and do covers of numerous Beau Brummels, Byrds and Animals songs. Bill bought a Rickenbacker 12-string (as made famous by The Byrds' Roger McGuinn) and I would just sing and play tambourine. Even though I had been playing electrical guitar for 3-4 years, they preferred that I concentrate on singing. W.R. and I did most of the vocals. Ironically, Rick Bandas, who wrote The Girl, sings the lead on The Gnats' track on the Fort Worth Teen Scene volume I CD. That was his only song as lead vocalist.
60s: Where did the band typically play?
JL: We played some fraternity parties, two shows with nationally known groups and a couple of other gigs.
60s: The Gnats opened for The Yardbirds in Fort Worth and The Byrds in Dallas. How did you manage to land such high profile gigs?
JL: Our manager, Sam Coplin, apparently knew some concert promoters in Fort Worth and Dallas. He booked us on the Yardbirds' show for $300 and we only had eight songs nailed down by the Yardbirds show in late December of 1965. Several other groups joined the show by playing free. The Dallas show was the KBOX Spring Spectacular at Market Hall in early March of 1966. We were one of six or seven local bands who were on the bill. I think we probably did 3-4 songs. Backstage, Mitch Ryder asked to borrow my tambourine (which was already falling apart). I declined the invitation since we had one more gig to play before I had to report to the Air Force. I didn't want to have to buy a new tambourine for just one more appearance. I later saw Mitch in 1970 when I lived in Indianapolis. My date and I won a dance contest while he was performing on stage and had a quick visit with him. I told him I was the guy who wouldn't let him use my tambourine at a Dallas show four years earlier and he remembered it was at Market Hall.
60s: Did The Gnats participate in any Battle Of The Bands?
JL: We weren't in any band competitions because Sam Coplin wanted us to take an elitist approach. He didn't even let us stay to see all of the Yardbirds' performance.
60s: The band was reportedly together only 5 months, but how popular locally did The Gnats become?
JL: I really never thought of us as one of Fort Worth's top groups. Many of the other groups on the Teen Scene CD set were better known.
60s: What other local groups of the era do you especially recall?
JL: I was very familiar with The Cynics since my sister, Cynthia, was married to lead singer Bob Rodriguez for 25 years until his death in 2002. Because The Gnats were older guys and in college, we didn't cross paths with the groups still in high school. My sister knew some of musicians in The Elite, The Jades and Larry and The Blue Notes, to name a few. She also knew T-Bone Burnett back then and also the guys who later became Space Opera were in her class at Paschal.
60s: Did you play any of the local Fort Worth teen clubs?
JL: We played one Teen-A-Go Go show for KFJZ night time DJ Mark "Markie Baby" Stevens and had the flip side of The Girl played on his show a few times. The flip side was a cover of the Beau Brummels' That's All Right, which we thought was one of our better numbers. That's All Right was the song I thought should be on the CD. But the engineers at Norton did a great job on The Girl, speeding it up a bit and bringing up the bass run.
60s: How far was the band's "touring" territory?
JL: Going from Fort Worth to Dallas was as far as we traveled (about 90 miles roundtrip).
60s: The Gnats released that one single. Where was the 45 recorded? What do you remember about the recording session?
JL: In talking with Rick and Bill, none of us could remember a lot of specifics. We only recorded the two songs and I remember our manager, Sam Coplin, was at the session. We don't have a clue on the session producer. Several years earlier, I was at a Danes recording session, which had Ray Hildebrand (Paul of Paul & Paula fame) as the producer and TV/Broadway star Betty Buckley as one of the female backup singers. My role was shooting photos for a story about the group in the TCU newspaper.
60s: Who wrote the The Girl?
JL: The song was written by bass player Rick Bandas and was originally called The Train.
60s: Do any (other) '60's Gnats recordings exist? Are there any vintage live recordings, or unreleased songs?
JL: Nothing else exists. I have a few photos taken during the Yardbirds show and the Teen A-Go-Go appearance.
60s: What about TV? Did the band make any local TV appearances - or does any 8mm or 16mm film footage exist?
JL: We didn't do any local appearances and no film exists.
60s: Why did the band break up in the '60's?
JL: I was in Air Force ROTC at TCU and received an Air Force commission as a second lieutenant in January of 1966. I kept hoping I wouldn't have to report for duty at weapons controller school in Florida for awhile but had to fly down there on April 1st. The band pretty much dissolved after that. Rick and W.R. graduated in 1966 and Bill was in school until 1968.
60s: Did you join or form any bands after The Gnats?
JL: After I joined the Air Force and was in Panama City, Florida, I heard a high school group playing at a club on the base. I met the father of one of the musicians (who was their manager) and told him I had played with a pretty good group in Fort Worth. One of their guys (who was in the Air Force) had been sick and they needed a replacement for a month or so. Their group name was The Pagans and they had released a song called Straw Man that was climbing up local radio station charts. I joined them as a singer for about a month and a half. During this time, The Pagans were one of 5-6 local bands who were on the bill in with The Swingin' Medallions, who had Double Shot of My Baby's Love out. After I left Panama City, I was assigned to a small radar station in Sweetwater, Texas for a year. While there, I bought Bill Huddleston's Rickenbacker 12-string and was with a band of Air Force guys. We played 5-6 times at the non-commissioned officers club on base and at the 1967 Sweetwater High School graduation party. I then went to Japan for a year and, as luck would have it, was stationed in the same quarters with several other good musicians. During the year there, we played at an outdoor Japanese festival on the adjoining Japanese Air Force base. I somehow learned the words to the world wide Japanese hit song Sukiyaki and sang it to a Japanese audience of 500 people. Fortunately, nobody threw anything at us or booed us off the stage. While in Japan, I bought a bunch of musical equipment but decided not to get tied into a band after I got out of the Air Force and returned to Fort Worth.
After leaving the Air Force, I traveled for my Fraternity, visiting college campuses, for a year. I returned to graduate school at TCU for a semester in the spring of 1971 then got a job with an AM country & western radio station (KBUY). My major was radio-TV and I wanted to be a sportscaster. While with that station, I had a five minute drive time sports show five days a week for several months and was a beginning salesman selling commercial time. After six months, I joined KXOL (Fort Worth's number two rock station to KFJZ) and was there for several years before they asked me to move to Dallas. I later was with another AM pop station, an FM easy listening station and a TV station before moving out of broadcasting. I joined Freeman Exhibit Company of Dallas on August 1st of 1977 and am still selling exhibits with the company. Two of our other salesmen (T.J. Jackson and Jim Genette) are much better guitarists than me and we have had a company rock group (The Exhibitionists) the last four years, playing at a couple of gatherings a year. In this band, I finally learned how to play and sing Laugh Laugh, The Beau Brummels' biggest hit, which we never attempted as The Gnats. I also sing lead on 3-4 Creedence or John Fogerty songs and harmony on others. I currently own three amps, two Epiphone hollow body electrics, a Rickenbacker six-string, a Gretsch Brian Setzer hollow body, a small electrical organ and a small sound system. Unfortunately, I only have time to play in my house's music room a couple of hours a week. I plan to retire from my job in a year or so and am sure I'll probably play four or five days a week. I also have a mini-career as a freelance writer, doing sports and entertainment-related features for various national fraternity magazines, the Big 12 Conference and the Texas Rangers baseball team. My son, Jeff, is nearly 25 and lives in Arlington, Texas. He taught himself to play bass in a high school group but has gotten away from playing in recent years. I still have one of his guitars in the music room if he wants to start playing again.
As far as the rest of The Gnats go, Rick Bandas has been a financial planner and insurance agent for many years in the Temple-Belton, Texas area. Bill Huddleston is a law enforcement officer (with SWAT team duties) in San Marcos, Texas. W.R. Lynch was a school principal in the San Antonio area for many years before retiring a year ago. He worked as a high school coach his first 10 years or so after graduating from TCU.
In 2002, Danes lead guitarist John Regan and I decided to pursue a reunion concert by The Danes on the TCU campus. Unfortunately, W.R. declined the invitation to join us for the reunion and said he hadn't touched a drum set in many years. John, who is a lawyer in the Oklahoma City, OK area (and now manager of Space Opera), recruited his brother Will, an accomplished drummer, to become an "honorary Dane" (like me) for the reunion. To get back in gear musically, John, Will, Rick and Bill all drove hundreds of miles to practice with us in Fort Worth four or five times before we played at the October TCU Homecoming event. We had a trial concert the week before Homecoming at a Fort Worth club and several hundred people turned out to hear The Danes (and friends).
60s: Apparently, much has been happening lately since the release of Norton's Fort Worth Teen Scene CD series...
JL: I was asked to appear at a gathering of artists on the Teen Scene CD set at a Fort Worth Borders Books & Music store on July 3rd. About 75 people showed up and the store sold 25-30 of the three CD sets. We had a question and answer session with the audience and it was a lot of fun. The four original members of The Elite were together for the first time in about 20 years. Also there were Larry Roquemore of Larry and The Blue Notes and legendary guitarist John Nitzinger, who is on the CD with The Barons, I believe. He later did three albums for Capitol in the early 1970's, then was leader guitarist for Alice Cooper from 1980 to 1983. The Fort Worth papers have also done several major features on the Teen Scene collection and the artists.
60s: How do you best summarize your experiences with The Gnats?
JL: The chance to sing on stage in front of several thousand people while with The Gnats was a great thrill for me. Rick, Bill and W.R. had done shows with national artists while with The Danes. The TCU Homecoming event was also a big thrill for me since it got me back on stage with Rick and Bill, even though we didn't do any songs from Gnats days.
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