An Interview with Bill Lynn of Sunset Strip's, The Ringers
A Hot SoCal '60s Rock Band That Had All the Ingredients of Making it Big
"We ended up in the studio with a band and, after recording "Train to Nowhere," needed a B-side for the record. The piano player, Danny Flores--A.K.A. Chuck Rio--started playing a rhythm on the piano, and we followed along and then shouted 'Tequila.' A Deejay in Massachusetts played the B-side, and the rest is history." . . . "When I asked the band its name, they said The Champs, after our manager's (Gene Autry) horse's name, Champion."
"In '64 I began work as a musician with Elvis Presley, performing in several movies, recording and being 'just one of the guys!'"
"In Los Angeles, I did studio work with artists Bobby Vee, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Danny Hutton (Three Dog Night), Joe Frank of Hamilton Joe Frank & Reynolds and others. There were many more but the list is too long (to name them all)!"
[Interviewer's Note: The Sunset Strip, to this day, still evokes images of a time when row after row of incredibly hip clubs featured the best bands that the '60's had to offer musically, including the Byrds, Love, the Doors, Sons of Adam, the East Side Kids, the Enemies, and Buffalo Springfield. The scene has been immortalized in the classic exploitation film RIOT ON SUNSET STRIP, in countless magazine and fanzine articles, and will be completely scrutinized in an upcoming book by Domenic Priore. That's why it was such a surprise when Break-A-Way Records of Germany announced a vinyl and CD retrospective of a completely forgotten '60's Sunset Strip band, the Ringers. Bill Lynn, drummer for the band, graciously shared his recollections of those times with The Lance Monthly. While the Ringers were only a minor part of the Sunset Strip scene, the Sunset Strip scene was only a minor part of Bill's lengthy and noteworthy musical career.]
[Lance Monthly] How did you first get interested in music? Why did you choose the drums?
[Bill Lynn] I was about six or seven, liked rock 'n' roll, and just started playing on my mom's pots & pans. When I couldn't play them anymore, I decided to save my money from selling newspapers and odd jobs to buy a drum book, sticks and a drum pad. I would also listen to Jimmy Reed, Duane Eddy, Little Richard and some music from my (native) country, Colombia. When I was ten, I bought my first $20 drum set and would listen to the radio and practice in the garage. I guess I just liked the sound and boom that drums have.
[Lance Monthly] What were some of the bands that you were in prior to the Ringers? You were a member of the Champs, correct? Is that you drumming on "Tequila?"
[Bill Lynn] Mainly club bands and a couple of bands that I formed. A friend of mine invited me to go with him to Los Angeles to play with a band that needed a drummer. We ended up in the studio with a band and, after recording "Train to Nowhere," needed a B-side for the record. The piano player, Danny Flores--A.K.A. Chuck Rio--started playing a rhythm on the piano, and we followed along and then shouted "Tequila." A Deejay in Massachusetts played the B-side, and the rest is history.
[Lance Monthly] How long were you a member of the Champs?
[Bill Lynn] When I asked the band its name, they said The Champs, after our manager's (Gene Autry) horse's name, Champion. After the bass player got killed in an auto accident, only about six months after "Tequila" became a hit, we disbanded. There were many other, now well known musicians, who carried the name The Champs until the late '70's: Glenn Campbell, Jimmy Seals and others.
[Lance Monthly] Eddie Garcia, who was with the Lance Records roster as a band member of the Fe-Fi-Four Plus Two, was also with The Champs at one time. Did your association with the band crossover with Eddie's at all? Do you recall an Eddie Garcia?
[Bill Lynn] The name sounds familiar. I kind of remember a piano or guitar player with that name. Other than not seeing his face, I don't remember.
[Lance Monthly] Your career is interesting in that you were very involved in music (as a studio drummer) prior to joining the Ringers, while most of our interviewees typically didn't become more actively involved musically until after "hitting it big" with their band. Where and when were you a studio drummer?
[Bill Lynn] I did a lot of studio work as staff drummer with ABC Paramount Records in Nashville in the early '60's. In '64 I began work as a musician with Elvis Presley, performing in several movies, recording and being "just one of the guys!" In the '70's, when I was living in Los Angeles, I did a lot of studio work with producer Dallas Smith of Liberty Records.
[Lance Monthly] Who were some of the bigger name artists you worked with, and what were some of the better-known recordings you played on prior to the Ringers?
[Bill Lynn] Ray Charles, Tommy Roe, Brian Hyland, Jimmy Velvet, The Impressions, and others. In Los Angeles, I did studio work with artists Bobby Vee, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Danny Hutton (Three Dog Night), Joe Frank of Hamilton Joe Frank & Reynolds and others. There were many more but the list is too long (to name them all)!
[Lance Monthly] What can you tell me about Richard & The Bowmen? You were with that band just prior to the Ringers, correct?
[Bill Lynn] Actually Richard (Dick Gabriel) was a good musician (sax & piano) and I learned a lot from him. The main three Ringers--Rex, Keith and me--were in his band. We were a four-piece band and, had he not turned down the offer from Sonny & Cher to be their band, we would have stayed with him. We played one club for eight months straight, pretending to be a band from England. We even disguised our voices and talked with an English accent, mainly to pick up on the girls, who at that time were fascinated with the Beatles.
[Lance Monthly] What were Richard's reasons for refusing the Sonny & Cher offer?
[Bill Lynn] He didn't want to be a back up band and he was a little selfish. We didn't learn about it until after a couple of months.
[Lance Monthly] How did the band become the (Dead) Ringers?
[Bill Lynn] As mentioned, when we found out Richard turned down the Sonny & Cher offer, we were upset and decided to go out on our own as the Dead Ringers. We then changed it to just The Ringers as a trio. Not too much later, we added another guitar player to play lead and sing.
[Lance Monthly] So who comprised the Ringers at this time?
[Bill Lynn] The first Ringers were a Trio: Stan "Rex" Paris (Bonaccorso), bass & vocals; Keith H. Johnson, guitar, harmonica, and vocals; and Bill Lynn, drums and vocals. We later added Tommy Crockett, who played lead guitar and vocals. Paul Indelicato, who also played lead guitar and vocals, replaced him. For later performances and the Latin American tour and recordings, it was just David C. Turner, who played guitar, bass, piano, harmonica and vocals, and myself, although Keith, David and I recorded some songs before the tour--most [of the material was] written by David.
[Lance Monthly] How did the Ringers come to be managed by Tommy Rettig, who played Jeff on the LASSIE TV series?
[Bill Lynn] Joe Viera (who played as Jeff's buddy "Porky" on Lassie) was a friend of Keith's and he introduced us to Tommy and many other TV kid stars and singers.
[Lance Monthly] Did Rettig actively manage the band?
[Bill Lynn] Yes, Tommy was a good manager and was involved in our activities. He always invited various TV, movie actors & singers to our shows.
[Lance Monthly] How popular locally did the Ringers become?
[Bill Lynn] We were pretty well known in the Los Angeles area--even south to San Diego and north to San Francisco. We had a good following and a large amount of fans were always at our shows.
[Lance Monthly] The band was fortunate to be performing during the height of the Sunset Strip's popularity. What clubs did you perform at regularly?
[Bill Lynn] Gazzari's, PJ's, Whiskey A Go-Go, Red Velvet, Ciro's, Coconut Grove, Hollywood Palladium, Stratford On Sunset, It's Boss, the Galaxy, Rag Doll, and at least a dozen more that I can't remember.
[Lance Monthly] Do you recall any of the other great Sunset Strip bands of the era such as Love, the Byrds, the Enemies, the Sinners - or any others?
[Bill Lynn] Some of the following either played opposite of us or we backed up: Johnny Rivers, Roy Head, the Knickerbockers, Sonny & Cher, Dick Dale & the Deltones, the Ventures, Skip Battam, Steve Winwood and Traffic, Eric Burdon & the Animals, Troy Walker, Nino Tempo, Marvin & Johnny, the Byrds, the Crickets, Bobby Fuller 4, Dick & DeeDee, the Doors, Grassroots, Linda Ronstadt, Donny Brooks, Dobie Gray, Sam the Soul, the Checkmates Ltd., Teddy Neely, and Willie Nelson (cousin of Ricky Nelson). The Beach Boys were good friends of ours.
[Lance Monthly] Did anything separate the Ringers from those other Sunset Strip bands?
[Bill Lynn] One factor was that we dressed similar to the Beatles: jackets, shirt & ties. We had a "clean sound" in all the music we did. We were professional on and off stage, and our own songs were well received.
[Lance Monthly] How would you describe the band's sound?
[Bill Lynn] Very together. Keith, Rex & Paul and Tommy had a very good niche for harmony. We had our own sound, yet followed a lot of the Beatles songs.
[Lance Monthly] So the Beatles were a primary influence?
[Bill Lynn] Mainly the Beatles and Rolling Stones.
[Lance Monthly] The Ringers released "Mersey Bounce" b/w "Graduation Doll" on the Bil-Lou Records label in 1965? Where was the 45 recorded? What do you remember about the recording session?
[Bill Lynn] It was recorded in Los Angeles. I think it was Sunset Recorders. Football player Rosie Grier was there. Everyone was excited about the songs and we debuted them at the famous Coconut Grove to a very large audience.
[Lance Monthly] You also recorded a single in 1966, "Let It Be Known" b/w "Never Too Young" on the Velvet Tone label. What do you recall about this session?
[Bill Lynn] Rex suggested that I sing "Let It Be Known," even though the other members didn't think I could do it. I drank half a pint of whiskey and sang my guts out! By the insistence of Tommy Rettig, "Never Too Young" was written over night by Rex and recorded the next day for submission to the TV show producers.
[Lance Monthly] Why wasn't it selected as the show's theme?
[Bill Lynn] The producer's nephew submitted a song and he chose his (instead).
[Lance Monthly] NEVER TOO YOUNG, being a very teen-oriented soap opera, often times featured many of the top acts of the day performing on stage during the show. Did the Ringers ever make an appearance?
[Bill Lynn] No
[Lance Monthly] Did the band make any TV appearances at all?
[Bill Lynn] Yes, we made two or three TV appearances in the States. One was SHINDIG [EDITOR'S NOTE: Research has not turned up a Ringers appearance on SHINDIG. Most likely it was on NINTH STREET WEST, a local Los Angeles show].
[Lance Monthly] The new Break-A-Way Records release includes all the band's recorded songs except for a tune titled "No Doggin'." What happened to this recording?
[Bill Lynn] We didn't include it in our LP because it was written by an "outsider." Rex has a copy of it and we may try and release it later--but it would be a copy of a 45, so we don't know how the quality would be.
[Lance Monthly] In 1968, Rex left the Ringers and was replaced by David Turner (later of Poco). Where did the band locate David?
[Bill Lynn] He, too, was a friend of Keith's. He would come and "set in" with the band and that was how we developed a relationship.
[Lance Monthly] You received co-song writing credit (with Turner) on a handful of songs during this time. Did you write much prior to this?
[Bill Lynn] Very, very little.
[Lance Monthly] What inspired you then to write songs during this time?
[Bill Lynn] David asked me to help or suggest things for some of the songs. I mainly programmed the violins, back up voices and recording of the Peruvian recorded songs.
[Lance Monthly] Which leads to my next question: How did the Ringers come to tour Central America?
[Bill Lynn] With me being from Colombia--and (the band) either apart and/or just idle--I knew that we could make some good contacts, have fun, play our music and have a better chance in Latin America than what we were doing at the time in the States. So, although Rex wasn't available to travel and Keith was involved with another band, David was interested in going and had some good songs to record. I produced a few songs with Keith, David and me and headed with David to South America via Mexico. After acquiring a steady night club gig at the hotel in Lima, where we stayed for three months, I acquired a recording contract with the largest record company in Peru, where I co-produced the album "Before & After," using a few of the Ringers' previously recorded songs and new ones that David wrote while we were in Lima.
[Lance Monthly] What else can you tell me about "Before & After?" It was released as by the Ringers, correct?
[Bill Lynn] My idea for the title was to place the earlier/first Ringers songs on the A-side, thus being "Before" and almost all the songs that David wrote on the B-side, thus being "After." The B-side songs also had a different format and were more into the Led Zeppelin style with a little touch of Latin.
[Lance Monthly] Did you find that the Ringers were more popular in South America than you were in the States?
[Bill Lynn] At that time, Americans in general were well received in Latin America. It was pretty calm and the people appreciated us. [They] were more excited to see and hear an American artist. [But] we weren't more popular in South America than in the States. It was more of an experience than anything else. The ironic thing was that I took the "Before & After" LP to Liberty Records and they wanted to release it in the States but wanted the master to remix it and, of course, a different cover. And they offered to advance me $50,000.00. I called El Virrey in Lima and told them that I needed the master. She told me that it was erased so they could use it for another recording! That ended that!
[Lance Monthly] What led to the break up of the band in 1972?
[Bill Lynn] We had no management or anyone to keep inspiring us. Work started to slack off, so we basically just went our separate ways, mainly for the money aspect. We never broke up because of indifferences. Everyone has been a good friend till now. We do miss Keith, as he was an inspiration and a good friend.
[Lance Monthly] Did you play in any bands after the Ringers?
[Bill Lynn] Yes, but several and too numerous to remember.
[Lance Monthly] How active have you been musically in the past few years?
[Bill Lynn] I still continue to play and sit in with various bands. I continue to produce international shows, [and have] two shows performing in Europe again this year--"Back to the '50's" and "Country Generation." I have also been managing and signing up new female singers to my production and management company. Rex and I are forming a publishing company, mainly to list his own writings.
[Lance Monthly] How often do you perform?
[Bill Lynn] I showcased a new TCB Enterprises (my company) singer, Amy Michael, in Europe. I also have my two production music shows performing in Europe this year and I will be performing with an Elvis singer in Germany in August. I will also be assisting a German record company with their A&R from the states, in which I will be submitting "new talent" for their well-known label.
[Lance Monthly] Thanks for your recollections, Bill. Do you have any last thoughts that you'd like to share?
[Bill Lynn] I truly believe that the Ringers, if we had the right management, would have been a very well-known band. We had all the ingredients musically with the exception of a good manager/producer.
"Copyrighted and originally printed on The Lance Monthly