Better Than The Beatles: Kenny & The Kasuals
An interview with Kenny Daniel of Kenny and The Kasuals.
It's unusual for a band from the '60's to add to its legend without the benefit of a domestic reissue of their material. That, however, is exactly what has happened to Dallas' Kenny & The Kasuals. Fronted by Kenny Daniel, the band reached the height of local and regional success in the '60's, but was never able to obtain a larger, nationwide following. In the years since the group's initial break-up, the popularity of the band has grown to such expansive proportions that their music has been widely released overseas, prompting a reformation of the band. While the U.S. hasn't been as fortunate in seeing a domestic reissue of the band's '60's catalog, the mere mention of the group's name brings immediate approval from '60's rock collectors - and fine music connoisseurs - from coast to coast. Hopefully, the near future will witness a release of the Texas' rockers' material here in the States, no doubt further assuring the legacy of Kenny & The Kasuals.
60sgaragebands.com (60s): How did you first get interested in music?
Kenny Daniel (KD): My Dad and his brother had a big band called the Ed Daniel Orchestra. They played the Century Room at the Adolphus Hotel in downtown Dallas in the '30's. My Dad wanted me to be a drummer and I started out that way listening to Big Band music, Glenn Miller, Dorsey Brothers, Artie Shaw, and all the rest. (It) was part of my bringing up, but guitar players got more girls - and being the singer was my dream. I watched the OZZIE & HARRIET show and Ricky Nelson always sang a song at the end of the show. For that moment (while on stage), I was Ricky Nelson.
60s: Was your first band - The Illusions Combo - essentially the same line-up as The Kasuals?
KD: The Illusions was formed in my room at my parent's house in Dallas, in 1964 by Tommy Nichols and me. The band was a neighbor, Blaine Young, on drums; Charles Beverly on bass; Tommy Nichols on lead guitar, and me. I played rhythm guitar and was not the lead singer. Tommy was the lead singer. I sang harmony backup. Charles played bass on a 6-string guitar because he couldn't afford a real bass. Blaine died at 18 of a weird disease and we restructured the band at that time.
60s: Is this when the group changed names to the Ken Daniel Combo and, later, Kenny & The Kasuals?
KD: When we let Charles go and Blaine had died, we found two guys from a rival band, The Vibrations. Lee Lightfoot on (was) bass, Jerry Smith (was) on lead guitar, and Paul Roach played in the High School marching band and was a good organ player, too. We got him to come to a few rehearsals and he added so much that we hired him. The song that got him in was when he played "Money" by Barret Strong. The marching band drummer, David Blachley ("Bird" to all his friends), was added with the new guys. The Kenny and The Kasuals name came later.
60s: Why did you let Charles go?
KD: Charles was not interested in touring and he wasn't the rock and roll type.
60s: Where you familiar at all with The Vibrations prior to getting Lee and Jerry to join?
KD: Oh yeah. We all went to the same high school and were a part of the band scene at the time. Lee was such a better bass player then Charles and Jerry was such a creative and good songwriter. It was a must to get them both.
60s: Your Manager, Mark Lee, has been credited with really helping the band get noticed. How did you hook up with Mark?
KD: We had been playing at the Lamplighter, a motel / club / swimming pool on the highway. Jerry and I were lifeguards during the summer there. They had a dance on Friday nights and we always played the dances. It was outside by the pool. Mark Lee's mother had attended one Friday night and was very impressed by the band. The very next night, on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW The Beatles were performing and - as Mrs. Lee and Mark had watched the show, she commented that she had seen a better band at the dance the night before. Mark was intrigued and came to see us at the Fontona Apartment Club in a not so nice part of town. Mark was always the business type, even though he was 16 or 17 like we were, and saw an opportunity to start a business and to become a Bryan Epstein. He walked in, liked what he heard and told me that I was now the leader of the new band, "Kenny and The Kasuals". Tommy Nichols was let go, and I was now the leader, lead vocalist and front man.
60s: The Kasuals became hugely successful in the Dallas Fort Worth area. Did you ever play in Houston? Or Austin?
KD: We played all over the State of Texas and into Oklahoma and Louisiana.
60s: What were some of the area clubs that The Kasuals played at?
KD: In Dallas, we played all the teen clubs and some adult clubs. Some of the teen clubs included The Three Thieves Club on Lover's Lane. This was an adult nightclub where the teen bands would go on Sunday to jam. Don Henley's band, Felicity, was a regular. The Briks, The Sensations, Mouse and The Traps, Marc Benno and The Outcasts, Kit and The Outlaws, The Chessman with Jimmy Vaughn and Doyle Bramhall (all played there). I can't think of all of them but we were all pals and had great fun together. Other clubs (that we played) were the Studio Club, Louann's, Hullabaloo, Longhorn Ball Room, and many more that I no longer remember.
Preparing to become Kenny and The Kasuals
60s: Did you ever cross paths or perform with The 13th Floor Elevators?
KD: Roky (Erickson) was a nut and way far out there for the times. We really liked him and his music. I don't think we ever shared the same stage but we would go see them when we could and we were big fans. "You're Gonna Miss Me" is still one of my favorites.
60s: The Yardbirds reportedly opened for The Kasuals at the Studio Club.
KD: The Yardbirds were on their first national tour and were in Dallas looking for something to do and came to the Studio Club. They had heard about it when they got to Dallas. The owner of the studio came into the kitchen, where we always hung out until show time, and told us some group from England was in the place and wanted to start off the show for us. We said, "Okay…how good could they be?" They were fantastic! Jimmy Page was playing bass and I'm not sure if Jeff Beck was the lead player or not. I think he was but I was blown away. We still play the first song they did that night in our show, "The Nazz Are Blue."
60s: Speaking of the Studio Club, what can you tell me about the "Live At The Studio Club" album? Who decided what cover songs you should record?
KD: Probably Mark. This was always very funny to me because all the crowd noise was so tame - no applause and no screaming girls. The crowd noise was recorded at the Studio Club before a show began. The recording was done at Robin Hood's Studio in Tyler, Texas. We added the two and that was it. So the only live part was the crowd noise. In reality, if we had done it live you would not be able to hear the band. We were like The Beatles there.
60s: Weren't The Kasuals asked to open for the Beatles at Shea Stadium? Why didn't it ever materialize?
KD: This is a very touchy subject. We were asked to perform with The Beatles along with The Bill Black Combo, The Ronettes and others. There were posters and advertising of us playing at Shea. Then suddenly we were dropped from the bill. It took until 1983 before we found out what really happened. United Artists was talking with Mark about a contract (later Mark had signed Kenny & The Kasuals to a record contract). "Journey To Thyme" (note: this is how Kenny spelled it. Since it's his song, that is how I refer to it) was on United Artists for a short time when UA had asked Mark for exclusive rights to the band. Mark, wanting to be Bryan Epstein, said "No." We were (afterwards) blackballed from the industry. We were kicked off the show and banned from future contracts with any record company. Mark thought he could do this by himself and he sacrificed our future. United Artists still put out the record for a while - probably to recoup some money they had invested in us - then dropped it all together. We weren't aware of any of this until 1983 when Paul Roach became successful in the production business and had become friends with UA Executives. He found this out.
60s: Do you think things might have been different had Mark agreed to the UA contract?
KD: Yes! Kenny & The Kasuals would have been one of the greatest (bands) in the world.
60s: No doubt! In fact, one sign of the band's increasing popularity at this time was that you had saddle oxford shoes named after the band ("Kenny's Kasuals"). Did the band endorse them in radio or TV commercials?
KD: No. The Kenny's Kasuals saddle oxfords were displayed in front of the Kenny's Shoes stores throughout Texas. We received nothing for it and never thought to pursue any compensation for such advertising. We just thought it was KOOL.
60s: The band's popularity also led to The Kasuals' becoming regulars on the local SUMPIN' ELSE TV show. How did that come about?
KD: We were the biggest, baddest band in Texas at the time and it was easy getting on SUMPIN' ELSE. Ron Chapman, the host, was a friend of ours who introduced us at concerts that we opened for in Dallas: The Beach Boys, Sonny and Cher, Buckinghams, Rolling Stones, and the beat goes on....
60s: So the band was obviously making strides. Which Kasuals songs were local hits, or your most successful?
KD: "Journey To Thyme" was the biggest hit. It reached number six in Dallas. "Raindrops To Teardrops" was big, and "See Saw Ride," too.
60s: "Journey To Thyme" reportedly was the first song to feature fuzz bass. What was the inspiration behind the fuzz?
KD: Jerry had just bought the fuzz tone and Lee wanted to use it on a song. That's it...
60s: Which of your songs is your favorite?
KD: At the time, "Raindrops To Teardrops" was my favorite.
60s: The Kasuals recorded the song "Down In Mexico" with M.K. Lipscomb (aka Scotty McKay) as the "Gator Shades Blues Band". Why the change in names?
KD: "Gator Shades" was Paul's stage name. He would wear dark sunglasses and act black on stage. Scotty didn't want The Kasuals to be the band even though we were. So he chose to have the name Gator Shades Blues Band (instead).
60s: Sometime, in 1967, The Kasuals traveled to New York. What did the band attempt to accomplish there?
KD: That's an interesting story. We had a very good friend who hung out with the band named Vinney Albano. He was our Stu Sutcliff. He was from New York and his father was very wealthy and sent him to school in Dallas to keep him away from his hoodlum friends. And I say that literally. He hung out in New York with Joe Gallo's son. Joe was big in the mob and his son was next in line to take over when his dad was either killed or incarcerated. It was Vinney's idea to have us go to New York to play some neighborhood places. The goal was to try and get another label interested in Kenny & The Kasuals.
60s: Was this the regular line-up, or were there personnel changes at this time?
KD: Paul didn't want to go to New York and so we took Richard Borgans, a very good guitar player. The rest of the band was the same.
60s: Apparently, another label did not show enough interest in The Kasuals, and the rest of the band formed a group, Truth, without you. What can you tell me about Truth?
KD: "Bird", the drummer, and I never got along toward the end because he wanted to be the leader of the band. He is a doctor now. He got the band to fire me and they formed Truth with Doyle Bramhall's twin brother. Doyle was The Chessman's drummer and eventually wrote most of Stevie Ray Vaughn's material. Doyle was my best friend at the time. We still stay in touch.
60s: You did return to The Kasuals in 1968 and performed with them at "Flower Fair", an event described as the "first Woodstock-type happening in the whole country".
KD: We played with Mitch Ryder, Keith, Jimmy Reed, The Association, and many more. I was drafted and left for Ft. Polk, Louisiana the next morning at 6:00A.M., April 6th, 1968...
60s: Is this what to the end of The Kasuals in the '60's?
KD: The draft was getting very hot. Jerry was drafted but joined the Air Force to keep out of 'Nam. I was drafted and went to the Army. I was a Tank Gunner in Germany and was sent to Viet Nam in 1969 for the Tet Offensive.
60s: When you returned, you joined many bands, correct?
KD: I never joined any bands - I started them. When I returned from the Army it was 1970 and progressive country was the music. I formed a band called Summerfield. We traveled with Poco, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Willie Nelson, and Leon Russell. It was very popular and it was very fun. This lasted until 1975. We had a Summerfield reunion right after 9-11. It was fantastic.
60s: After Summerfield, Kenny & The Kasuals reunited. What was the catalyst for the reunion?
KD: Mark Lee approached me in 1977 and said; "Hey…we are getting lots of press overseas on Kenny & The Kasuals. Let's get the band back together." "Great!" and we did. It is the same Kasuals I use today. Lee Lightfoot is the only original I have today but Jerry Smith has his own band, The Woo Brothers, and stays in touch. He sits in with us a lot. Paul got rich in production and lives in the country with his wife and new daughter. "Bird" is a doctor of internal medicine and very successful. I never see him and don't want to. Today's Kasuals are: Kenny Daniel, guitar, harmonica, lead vocals and song writer; Lee Lightfoot, bass, and background vocal; Alan McDaniel, lead guitar (the best I have ever heard bar none) and background vocals; Chuck McDaniel (Alan's brother), keyboard and vocals; and Bruce Surovic, drums. Bruce used to play with Bloodrock.
60s: How often, and where, do The Kasuals perform today?
KD: We play all the time for corporate parties, for Microsoft, and we play in Jerry Jones' (Dallas Cowboys owner) living room. We play the '60's clubs for baby boomers and still sound fantastic and have a great time. Everyone is healthy and loving the music still. I'm happy and loving life.
60s: Thanks for sending me a copy of your "corporate gig" video. It features The Kasuals performing many strong covers of classic songs by The Beatles, Stones, Beach Boys, and others. Do you ever perform any of the classic Kasuals' songs today?
KD: We still do a lot of the old Kasuals stuff including "Journey To Thyme." When we nail down a high paying corporate gig we always remind the audience of our accomplishments in the '60's and tell stories and play our songs. This goes over very well once we get in, but to get into their world in the first place takes a video of what they want, not what we want. Most executive types are not aware of what we did and the people in charge of booking us for thousands of dollars per event are in their late 30's or early 40's and don't know who we are until we remind them at the event. It's very complicated and took years to figure out
60s: What's next for Kenny & The Kasuals?
KD: We are doing a new CD. I will play '60's rock until I can't do it anymore.
60s: What is preventing an authorized, legitimate United States CD of '60's Kenny & The Kasuals material? Rumor has it that Mark Lee holds the rights to the band's music. Is this correct? If so, why hasn't he yet agreed to license The Kasuals' songs?
KD: Mark (doesn't hold the rights) anymore. The time has run out.
60s: If Mark doesn't own the rights to the band's music anymore, have you considered licensing your songs for a CD comp?
KD: Eva Records in France has our two original full-length records (on CD) - "Things Are Getting Better" and "Nothing Better To Do." We have a red vinyl album that we only made 100 copies called "Teen Dreams" that is my favorite. We sold them in Europe for 50 bucks per album in the '60's. If I were approached with an offer I would be willing to talk about it. Mark would not want to interfere anymore.
Angela Kesteloo, Mark Lee and Hans Kesteloo in 1976