Herschell Gordon Lewis’ ‘60’s exploitation flick Just For The Hell Of It includes an early scene of a rough and tumble rock group ripping the roof off of Miami’s Ale House in a performance that must rank as one of the greatest ever filmed of an authentic ‘60’s garage band. The band that delivered the fantastic performance was Brooks Reid’s New York Square Library. Reid has been a veteran of numerous rock bands, but counts his days spent with The Library as among the best in his life.
An Interview With Brooks Reid
60sgaragebands.com (60s): How did you first get interested in music?
Brooks Reid (BR): Well, first off I appreciate the opportunity to tell you about some of the best times in my life. I have always loved music. My mom loved Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Jack Jones, the crooners and the Big Bands of the 40's like Harry James, Benny Goodman, Kai Kyser, Louis Armstrong, etc. Mom Reid had my dad buy her a big Zenith stereo system when stereo first came out. She would blast that stuff all night long. My dad on the other hand didn't share her passion for music so when she wasn't looking he would frisbee those vinyls out the back yard into the woods behind our house. My mom bought me a ukulele and I learned to sing bible songs at Sunday school. I would flail away on out of tune plastic strings singing Jesus Loves Me at the top of my little voice.
Cut to the mid ‘50's when my older brother Rocky played me the first Elvis Presley record. When I heard You Ain't Nothing But A Houndog I was hooked. The emotion and energy of Elvis was absolutely captivating. And of course seeing all those girls go crazy for him didn't hurt either. I started collecting 45's and listening to every rock tune I could find on the radio (WFUN and WQAM on my little transistor radio with the mono ear piece). I listened to my older brothers’ records first like Bill Haley and The Comets. I loved that sound! I still remember the first 45 I ever purchased at Woolworth's on Lincoln Rd. in Miami Beach with my grandmother. She must have wondered why in the world would I want to listen to Quarter To Three by Gary U.S. Bonds…but I loved it. Everything then was so fresh and great sounds were coming from everywhere. I loved The Everly Brothers and I'd watch Ricky Nelson on Ozzie and Harriet. I loved the Davy Crockett Theme and Johnny Horton. I loved Dion and the DooWop stuff and the Motown - oh yeah the Motown! My mom always encouraged me, and my brother Rocky bought me my first Silvertone amp from Sears.
60s: What about your brother Craig. Wasn’t he also in some local bands?
BR: Well, I got him into most of the bands I was in at one time or another. He mostly played more in the ‘70's since he was younger than I was. He was in a band called Peach with Ray Harris and Sandy Toranto. Ray is one of the best bass players I know and has never stopped. He's still playing somewhere. Sandy was originally in The Squiremen with Jerry Molina and went on to have some major success in music. I know he's still involved but I lost track of him. Craig was also in a band called Wildlife which I started and he continued with. We played the Inner Circle room upstairs at The Castaways on N. Miami Beach. Craig changed the format around to later include guitarist Jim Hilley from one of my other bands, Cottonwood.
60s: The Victims was your first band.
BR: I have a picture from The Miami News that was a story done on The Victims. It's pretty funny now. Hell…it was pretty funny then, too. We lied about our age. We were about 15 or 16 but we said we were 17 or 18. Hell…now I lie that I'm younger. The Victims started in ‘64 or ‘65. The band lasted about two years…I think. We had a great place to rehearse at Greg Foot's house. His mom had a two-car garage converted to a studio just for us. We actually didn't do as much rehearsing as we did arguing. We had music disputes and it would always end in all us dog-piling. We got Greg Foot in the band because he had a Fender Bandmaster amp. Before that the only amp we had was a Silvertone that Rocky bought for me. We had a bunch of "Y" jacks that we rigged to get everyone in the band through that one amp. My mom made some arrangement with a friend in New York to buy us a couple of Vox amps and we were on our way. The band changed the name after a few band jobs when the running comment was. "Hey. Who are the ‘victims’? You guys or the audience?" At that time we somehow got this guy interested in the band who wanted to manage us. He was older (18) and it seemed like he knew what he was doing so we agreed. He wanted us to change the name of the band to Nowhere. We had a thing against any band name with "The" in the front of the name so it was just "Nowhere." Well, you can imagine the comments that door left open. So that name didn't last that long either.
60s: How soon after The Victims/Nowhere was New York Square Library formed?
BR: I was always looking for better players so every time we played a sock hop at Palmetto or Columbus I would try to meet the best players and strike up a conversation. When I saw Gary Walker from a group called The Agents play at a Palmetto sock hop I knew I found the right guy. I always knew the best guitar player around was Kenny Wynn but he was in a very successful band called The Novas. After I started talking to Gary, Kenny got on board.
60s: Who formed New York Square Library?
BR: I think I have formed every band I've ever been in but one - Wolfgang. When Wolfgang broke up in the Disco days I reformed it and we became a heavy metal band. As far as New York Square Library forming it had to be late ‘67 or early ‘68. The newspaper article had pictures from the Stage and that is dated March ‘68. New York Square Library was Brooks Reid - bass guitar; Kenny Wynn – guitar; Gary Walker – drums; and Chris Martin - Vox organ. Chris was in and out of most all my early bands including The Victims, Nowhere and New York Square Library. He was even in Cottonwood for a while.
60s: Who named the band? The credits to JUST FOR THE HELL OF IT actually read something like “New York Square Library (the band, not the building)”!
BR: Our drummer in The Victims/Nowhere was John Monroe. John told us a story that he went to Hullabaloo in Perrine and saw The Turtles show (this was around ‘67). He said that after the show he found out where the The Turtles were staying, which I believe was a Holiday Inn in South Miami, and he hung out and got to talk with the drummer. At the time, The Turtles’ drummer was one of the best. I think his name was John something (Note: Barbata)? At any rate, The Turtles’ drummer told him that he wanted to start a band and call it New York Square Library. John asked him if he minded if we used the name and he said, “Sure”! That's the story that John told us and even though at times he would stretch the truth I'm sure that one is true. Maybe.
60s: Where did New York Square Library typically play? What type of gigs did you typically land?
BR: We played bandstands like the Stage, Cloverleaf, Sheller's Folly, the Scene/PAL, the Place, and Code 1 in Ft. Lauderdale. We played a show at Code 1 with The Who. We played sock hops at high schools like Palmetto, Columbus, Ransom in the Grove, Lords, Epifany, and Cutler Ridge. One of our best shows was a battle of the bands at Palmetto. Although the conservative judges deemed us second place we were clear winners with the audience. We put on a show that day that I will never forget. We played lots of parties and events at the hotels on Miami Beach like the Deuville and the Americana. We played with The Supremes there one night. We played the Youth Fair Battle of The Bands, and, of course, the Ale House. I'm sure there were more. I have a great story of The Youth Fair and how we almost set our drummer on fire.
60s: Care to share it?
BR: Yeah. I guess I'll have to tell The Youth Fair Story. It's worth hearing. We were playing on a Friday night and the competition was fierce. I think The Squiremen were our main concern and they had won previously. We wanted to knock every one's socks off like we had done at The Battle of The Bands at Palmetto. We had seen The Who using explosion when we played with them at Code 1 in their show and we had something rigged to give us a similar effect. It was a hot plate coil…the kind of makeshift burner you have in an apartment that doesn't have a kitchen. We would just pour some black powder that we bought at Tamiami Gun Shop in a pile on the burner and plug it in. The problem was that it was hard to time because it didn't of off until the burner heated up enough to ignite the powder. Well...we were setting up on The Youth Fair stage in the tent as people were waiting for the show to start. We had the hot plate set up next to our drummer Gary because he was supposed to plug it in just before the big moment that we’d need the explosion. We had some guys helping us out that night and they weren't that familiar with our setup. So...the hot plate got plugged in by mistake while we were setting up. (Yes we had already piled on an overly heaping charge of powder ready to go!) As we were all busy plugging in and getting ready Gary did a few fills on the kit and dropped his stick right by the hot plate by his hi-hat. He leaned over and BOOM! I looked around and saw Gary fanning his black-charred face and his long hair was on fire. We threw a towel around him and managed to extinguish him. He looked like Wile E. Coyote and we started laughing uncontrollably. I couldn't stop. Gary was so pissed. He had to play in burned clothes and hair and black-faced. We were a bit distracted and I don't think we played that well; I know we didn't win that one.
60s: The New York Square Library did win the Palmetto High School Battle of the Bands. Do you recall any of the groups you competed against?
BR: Although we were the clear winners, I don't think we won that day. Where did you get that info? Now I can't remember. Our main competition was a group called The Poo Group (believe or not). They were the school faculty's favorite son. We were the bad boys. This is how I remember it:
The whole school was invited to the event which was held in the school auditorium. It was packed with psyched kids. There had been several bands that performed before us but everyone was waiting for us to hit the stage. I don't want to sound pompous about this but there was this underground thing building and we were at the forefront of the change. We had the jump on the sound because we had introduced bands like Hendrix and The Cream to kids that only listened to mainstream radio. We knew we had a sound that knocked people out and we knew we had the edge. We also dressed in outrageous clothes and I had a huge ‘fro that I sported after seeing The Experience. Gary the drummer was a tall lanky guy (we use to call him snorkel) and clothes just looked great on him. He looked like a model and his hair was half way down his back. We were freaks - and the freakier we could get, the better we liked it. We had planned our entrance as carefully as we planned the music. We had borrowed every Fender Bassman and Bandmaster we could find to create a wall of amps. Gary’s drum set was huge at that time and he sat so low that he had to reach up to hit the cymbals. The stage set up alone was impressive. After we got all our equipment in place behind the curtain we took our guitars and snuck around the back of the building to the entrance in the back of the auditorium. We waited as the crowd became impatient and started chanting, "Library…Library...!" Then - when the curtain opened - there was no one on stage. Everyone in the room went silent. We then came running from the back of the auditorium down both sides of the aisles. The kids jumped up and the crowd went nuts. It was one of the best experiences of my life. I could have died at that moment with a smile on my face. As we walked down those aisles we shook hands and high-fived everyone. We plugged in and started into Purple Haze. After our three songs the curtain closed and we ran off the stage as the crowd was still going nuts. I really don't remember who won that day but I will remember that was one of the best days in my whole life. It still is!
60s: So the band was primarily influenced by Hendrix and Cream?
BR: At first it was all about the English Invasion: The Stones, The Yardbirds, The Animals, The Pretty Things, Them - any band that looked ugly and played raw. What really changed the direction was when we saw Hendrix open for The Monkees at the Miami Beach Convention Center.
60s: Did New York Square Library have a manager?
BR: Yes - Bob Altimas. We called him “Bob All-Time-Ass”. I think he got us a few gigs. He had a lot of big ideas. We mostly booked ourselves.
60s: How far was the band's "touring" territory?
BR: We were local. We only traveled to Ft Lauderdale.
60s: Why didn’t New York Square Library ever record?
BR: Simple…because I didn't have anything to record with. I didn't get into writing and recording until Cottonwood, which was just after New York Square Library. We never even thought about recording. We just loved to play. We did have some tunes we threw together but I don't think they we very good.
60s: Do any New York Square Library recordings exist at all? Are there any vintage live recordings, or unreleased tracks?
BR: I would love to find some. I'm sure they are around somewhere but I don't have any.
60s: How many times did New York Square Library appear on The Rick Shaw Show?
BR: How did you know about that? You guys know everything! We appeared on The Rick Shaw Show several times (Hey…I'd love to find those clips) but all of the clips were cut from a day we spent with the troupe in Key West at the Navy Sub Base. We met at the Channel 10 building at around 4:00am in the morning and loaded with all those lip-syncers into a Greyhound Scenic Cruiser bound for Key West. In those days, going over those bridges was a real scare. Especially the 7 mile and the Bahia Honda! The Key West Naval Base was fully manned and there were subs and sub tenders everywhere in the harbor. We played on one of the big sub tender ships. I have a picture of it signed by the captain as "one of your fans". Everyone treated us like rock stars. They hoisted our equipment up with big cranes to the top of the ship's heliport deck. That is where we played. The wind up there must have been blowing about 40mph and we couldn't get a sound to save our lives. They filmed several segments there and I would love to see them now.
60s: How did the band land the role in H.G. Lewis' Just For The Hell Of It?
BR: Dan Guthrey, the owner of the Ale House, asked us if we'd like to be in a movie. We said yes and he said to be here tomorrow afternoon. We showed up and since our equipment was already there for the weekend gig we were all set. I don't remember much about the shoot. It was pretty impromptu and we played through our songs a few times. That was it. I wish it were a better story. The real story for me was you guys finding it 35 years later! What a thrill; thanks again!
60s: What year and why did the band call it quits?
BR: Well, Kenny and I are still playing together! But that only started two years ago. I got hooked up with my old high school buddy, Bobby Caldwell, around 1969 and we started planning a new band which eventually turned into Cottonwood. Although Bobby was only involved in the early stages of planning, concept and choosing material he never performed with Cottonwood. Bobby was in a short lived band called Maiden America before that and we spent night after night brain storming about putting together a new sound and a band that would feature Afro Latin Rhythm, multiple drummers and percussion and wild arrangement of off the wall tunes and a crazy stage show within a jungle. We always joked about Stage owner Nat Sockolo seeing the band - our new concept band - for the first time, gulping in amazement and choking on his big cigar.
Soon after I started Cottonwood Bobby joined with Norman Harris, Bobby Jabo, and some great drummer I can't remember in Katmandu. He asked me to play bass but I had to pass because I was already rehearsing with Cottonwood and writing arrangements and songs for the new band. It was a tough call though because I went by one of their rehearsals and they floored me! Norman was a monster and everyone in that band clicked. Much later, after Bobby returned from California, I got him in Wolfgang while he was cutting his first TK album. Gary, our drummer, went on to play with Aboriginal Missionary and Kenny played with The Rhodes Brothers and then went off to Pratt in New York to study art.
60s: How often, and where, do you perform today?
BR: My band now is called The Sonickats. I am writing quite a bit and we perform about 15 originals live along with lots of covers from the decades we love. We play a lot for a bunch of old guys; two to three times a week. We might be doing four nights coming up. You can download and listen to my songs online. Check our schedule on the website
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