The Only Ones, best known for their garage anthem Can't Trust A Woman, proudly counted a female organ player among its ranks.
The band released only one single in the '60's, but it's a two-sided winner. Hailing from East Texas, the foundation of the group -
the Axberg Brothers - are still alive and well and rocking the Texas borders. Thanks to drummer John Axberg for graciously recounting
for 60sgaragebands.com what he called an "Axberg Brothers Lite" version of his musical legacy.
An Interview With John Axberg
60sgaragebands.com (60s): How did you first get interested in music?
John Axberg (JA): Music has always been a big part of our family. Both of our grandmas played piano - one for the silent movie houses in Chicago - and our Dad grew-up playing in speakeasies. After World War II, our Dad relocated to East Texas and raised our family here (he's 86 years old and still playing). Our two older brothers listened to Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis, then the Ventures, and Beach Boys, and then the Beatles came along, and everything changed!
60s: Was The Only Ones your first band? If not, which band was? How long was it together?
JA: Jim and I put our first band together at Forest Park Jr. High. It was called The Dimensions in 1965. Then the vocal group The 5th Dimension came out, so we changed our name and guitar pickers.
60s: And you became The Only Ones…
JA: We were formed in Longview, Texas in 1966. My brother Jim and I knew Steve Thornton from Jr. High, and Brenda Seale played organ at the school assembly programs, as students would enter the auditorium.
60s: So the band consisted of …
JA: Steve Thorton on guitar, Brenda Seale on organ, Jim Axberg on bass, and John Axberg on drums.
60s: Do you think it was any different having Brenda as an organ player? Did you receive any different reactions, or was it well known ahead of time that the band featured a woman organist?
JA: Brenda was my brother Jim's girlfriend, and a real asset to the band. It was well known that we had a girl in our band.
60s: Where did the band typically practice?
JA: We'd practice at each others living rooms...whosever parents could stand it the longest.
60s: What type of gigs did the band typically land?
JA: After we had played many high school programs, (we were) sent…around to the three Jr. High Schools as ambassadors of the High School to play 30-minute concerts. After the football games there was always a Reception Dance at the Round-Up Club. In 1968 we played every reception, the Christmas Dance, the Sweetheart Dance, and local area proms for other schools.
60s: Did the Only Ones ever play at Reo Palm Isle? If so, did you associate at all with the Heard (of Exit 9 fame)?
JA: We never played the Reo Palm Isle. It was one of East Texas' oldest and biggest Honky Tonks. They had a teen night on Thursday nights for a while. The Heard was the Clendenen Twin's band, and Randy Clendenen played guitar with us before he and his brother started that band. The Only Ones used to rehearse at the Clendenen's all the time.
60s: Did you have any type of management at this time?
JA: I was always the spokesman for the band, and learned about booking bands from Mrs. O. T "Mama" Crawford. She ran The Round-Up Club.
60s: How popular locally did The Only Ones become?
JA: Our popularity was at an all-time high when our 45 came out. We were playing regularly and two local radio stations were giving us lots of airtime. KLUE Radio station sponsored a dance at the community center (that we played at).
60s: Speaking of the 45, The Only Ones released Another Place b/w Can't Trust A Woman. Where was this recorded?
JA: We recorded our songs in Tyler, Texas at Steve Wright Studio. Steve Wright had a band called The Censors with Bugs Henderson (Bugs later played with Mouse and the Traps). The recording session now all seems like a blur, but what I do remember is how Steve Wright produced the session. He helped us with background vocals parts, and tambourine punches; it was recording 101 for us!
60s: What do you recall about The Censors?
JA: The Censors were East Texas' premier band. They had a drummer, Levi Garrett that had a double bass drum set-up - way before Ginger Baker, and way cool! And (they had) Bugs Henderson - who is today still one of the best guitarist on this planet.
60s: Did your single get much airplay?
JA: We did get airplay. It reached about #52, I think, on KLUE Radio, and was #1 on the request line for KFRO. It was #1 in Center, Texas also! When our record order came in we drove to the KLUE radio station on Signal Hill. When we got there, there wasn't a receptionist so we went straight back to the DJ's booth. He was ON THE AIR so between songs we showed him our 45 and we said we just got them in! Then he said, "Let's see what it sounds like" and he put in on the turntable and said, "You're on the air, boys". We couldn't believe it! We ran out and sat in our car and cranked up the radio and - Holy Shit! - we we're on the radio. Not just that day but also all summer!
60s: Who was the primary songwriter(s) in the group?
JA: Jim and I wrote some and we collaborated with Steve on another.
60s: Who received writing credit for the two sides of the 45?
JA: Another Place was credited to Jim and John Axberg, and Can't Trust A Woman was credited to Jim Axberg, Steve Thorton, and John Axberg.
60s: How would you describe the band's sound? What bands influenced you?
JA: We thought we had a commercial sound for the '60's. We wanted to be Top 40 material. The Beatles, The Association, The Doors, The Five Americans, The Ventures, and others influenced us.
60s: Do any (other) '60's Only Ones recordings exist? Are there any vintage live recordings?
JA: Sad to say...there aren't any more recordings. When Steve Thornton's family moved 500 miles away to Odessa, Texas, we still wrote and performed original tunes but didn't get back into a studio with them.
60s: Did The Only Ones participate in any Battle Of The Bands?
JA: It seemed like we were in Battle of the Bands all the time. We'd win some and lose some. One time we won playing the theme from the TV show BATMAN. It was a hit! So were we!
60s: Do you recall any of the bands that you competed against?
JA: Some of the bands we played against were The Far-Fetched, The Plain Facts, The Loners, The Seventh Wonders, and The Spiders.
60s: Many times, the winners of local Battles were awarded a recording session. That wasn't the case with The Only Ones, was it?
JA: Our record deal came from a policeman named Leon Carpenter and a store manager named Henry Collins. They both pitched in $100 apiece and paid for our records.
60s: Did the band make any local TV appearances? Does any film footage exist of the band?
JA: Tommy Mullins, a friend of ours from jr. high, was a photo nut and had a 8mm movie camera. He, Jim and I went downtown and shot a movie with girls chasing us down alleys ala A HARD'S DAY NIGHT. I don't know what ever happened to Tommy or the movie.
60s: How far was the band's touring territory?
JA: We mostly worked around East Texas, but did venture to Dallas. The summer of '68, I went to California to visit our oldest brother in the Navy, while Jim took The Only Ones out for their final tour to Oklahoma, with Mike Rider (from The Loners) on drums, Joel Laws on guitar, and Ronnie Mason from Dallas on organ.
60s: Why did the band break up in the '60's?
JA: Steve Thornton's family had moved to Odessa (which was) 500 miles away. Brenda left the band, maybe because she was in the drill team or something? We added horns: Chuck Fenton - tenor sax; Larry Quinn - trumpet, and Joel Laws - guitar. The band was changing; we weren't The Only Ones anymore.
60s: What about post-Only Ones? Did you join or form any bands?
JA: Yes. The first new band was The Millard Fillmore Wild West Medicine Show in 1969-1970. The members were: Steve Beavers - guitar; Jim Axberg - bass; and John Axberg - drums. We were an outrageous Power Trio, ala Hendrix, Who, Cream, and the Beatles. It was a fun band.
60s: And after that?
JA: Jim and I were going to Kilgore Jr. College full time and we were working six nights a week at a Holiday Inn motel in Longview. When Holiday Inn offered us a contract to work for an eight-month stretch with an option for another eight, we "Tuned-In, Turned-On, and Dropped Out!" We knew we were selling out but this was serious money for 1970. Steve Beavers didn't want to travel, so we hired a pianist named Stephen Doonan. A Holiday Inn owner, Lance McFadden, re-named us The Everyday People. It was like "slick-school for young bands".
The road got to be way too much for our pianist so we hired a chic singer named Shara Reed, and a guitarist named Jimmy Daniels. Both were from Nacogdoches, Texas. When we got out of The Every Day People (that band needs to be a book, not a paragraph) we took about six months off and then began to play in different bands, and eventually back in the same band. One short-lived band (we played in) was The Jive Bombers with Jim and I and Lee Starnes, a GREAT guitarist.
I played in a house band in Lufkin, Texas four nights a week drumming with Ronnie Max Taylor and the Sound Three, and three nights a week with The Black Label Brand Band, my brother Jim's and Jimmy Daniel's band. I also tended bar there five days a week in the afternoon. It was a living HELL. I did that for eleven months in '73-'74!
I (then) moved to Galveston and worked with Bert Wills and the Country Cadillacs. Members were Bert Wills - guitar; Art Elder - bass; Fred Bright - keyboards; and John Axberg - drums. This was until 1975. While drumming for Bert, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top would come to our beach house at the west end of the island. That was another big episode.
I moved back to East Texas and began to work with Dennis Ross and brother Jim again. We concentrated on original tunes and recorded a lot! Dennis opened a club in Kilgore, Texas. We worked there until he and his wife split up. Dennis moved to South Carolina for about eight months, so Jim and I formed the Axberg Brothers Band in 1977. Members were Mark Rasberry- vocals, guitar; Daniel Elzner- lead guitar; Chesley Simmons - Harmonica; Jan Simmons - vocals; Jim Axberg - bass; and John Axberg -drums. We recorded a 45 of two originals ("Why Does It Seem" and "How Long"). This was an Ass-Kickin' R&B/Rock Road-House Band that played a real Road House called The Lazy 'H' until 4 am in the mornin' (I also met my wife there, Darlin' Darlene).
When Dennis moved back to Texas we formed Dennis Ross and the Axberg Brothers and recorded an LP at Custom Records in Tyler, Texas titled In Case Of Attack. In 1979 we added Daniel Elzner to the LP.
We moved to California for two years - still as a power trio - and lived in Burbank. We played the Palomino Club, and did a show with Billy Crystal for 3,000 people at the Bakersfield Civic Center (which could be another book!).
We came back to Texas in '84 and discovered West Texas. Bruce Riley from Midland was putting on music festivals called Boondoggles. We opened for Joe Ely, Jesse 'Guitar' Taylor, and Omar and the Howlers twice; they drew around 3,000 boondogglers.
In the early '90's we taped two TV shows called WEST TEXAS ala AUSTIN CITY LIMITS produced by the Burk Brothers, Mike and Jack, and KLBK Channel 13. They were aired eight times on the Lubbock, Texas and Monroe, Louisiana TV stations. We recorded four originals at Caldwell Studio in Lubbock, the land of Buddy Holly and a magic mecca in the West. We also had the pleasure of having Bobby Keys, (the saxman with the Rolling Stones' Brown Sugar, set in with us in Lubbock at the famous Main St. Saloon. He's from there.
60s: What about today? How often and where do you perform?
JA: Where and When. "It's like wiping your ass with a wagon wheel...there's no end to it!" We're in somebody's bar every weekend....'cause we're gonna bop 'til we drop! We do have a web site with our gig guide in it: http://www.DennisRossandtheAxbergBrothers.com
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