Crowd Pleasers: The Yellow Payges
Having actually landed a gig before he had himself a band, Dan Hortter watched the Yellow Payges evolve from their beginnings as a house band of a Los Angeles nightclub to their becoming major concert attractions throughout the United States. Along with being named “Best/Most Promising New Artist” by two different associations, the Yellow Payges toured or performed with some of the biggest rock acts of the 1960′s. They made numerous TV appearances, were featured in the teen magazines of their day, recorded ten singles and an LP and were successful enough to warrant being tied to a major ad campaign. Largely – but undeservedly – forgotten today, it’s very likely that the band could have reached greater heights had it not been for some questionable decisions on the part of their management.
By Mike Dugo
The Yellow Payges evolved from an earlier surf incarnation known as the Driftones. Formed by Dave Travis in September 1965 prior to Hortter’s joining, the Driftones regularly appeared in Southern California’s Torrance, Redondo Beach, and Hermosa Beach areas. Primarily playing South Bay gigs, they did manage to land a few higher profile appearances – by which time Hortter was a member – including Countdown ’65, a series of Battle of the Bands that featured the best groups in the area. However, when Travis decided to leave the Driftones seven months after their formation (he eventually reappeared in The Dave Travis Extreme), the rest of the group was forced to disband.
Shortly thereafter, in around April 1966, Dan Hortter started frequenting the Hullabaloo Club in Hollywood. While enjoying a performance by the Palace Guard – at the time the house band for the Hullabaloo – Dan was urged by friend and Palace Guard bass player Rick Moser to play harmonica on “I’m A Man”. Dan recalls, “They would not let me up on stage so they tossed me a microphone out in the audience to play along. One thing led to another and before I knew it I was up on stage not only playing but singing the song as well.” Hortter’s performance caught the attention of Hullabaloo owner Gary Bookasta, who asked him if he had a group that could back the Newbeats for an upcoming gig at the club. Not wanting the opportunity to slip by, Hortter rapidly indicated that he did. The next day, he called drummer Terry Rae, whom had been in the Driftones with him, informed him of the possible Newbeats gig, and asked him if he wanted to reform the Driftones. Rae agreed, and together they recruited Larry Tyre on rhythm guitar, John Knox on lead guitar, and Herby Ratzloff on bass. In a strange twist of fate, Rae would leave the Driftones only after a few short weeks, and replace Emmitt Rhodes in the Palace Guard. Hortter subsequently decided to change the name of the band to the Yellow Payges.
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The new line-up, with Danny Gorman playing drums, started regular appearances at the Hullabaloo. With Bookasta now acting as their manager, the Yellow Payges would eventually succeed the Palace Guard and become the Hullabaloo’s new house band. “I believe that had they (Palace Guard) stayed together they would still have been the main act at the Hullabaloo Club,” Hortter recalls. “It just turned out that we were in the right place at the right time.”
While landing the regular gig at the Hullabaloo was an obvious perk of having hooked up with Bookasta, there was also a downside. According to Hortter, Bookasta “was pretty bright and had many connections. However, he was successful in getting us (only) so far. His major drawback was that he really didn’t understand musical creativity.”
One thing Bookasta understood very well, however, was how to land high profile gigs. The Driftones typically played at high school dances, weddings, and other similar locales. Under Bookasta’s guidance, the Yellow Payges played primarily clubs and concerts. One early gig in ’66 found the group joining the Palace Guard and the Wild Ones – bands also managed by Bookasta – in Operation – Cool It, a series of performances aboard the aircraft carrier USS Bennington. “Louis Lomax, an LA TV and radio personality, put the whole operation together to keep things from boiling over again following the ’65 Watts riots. The goal was to give the inner city kids things to do during the summer weeks. It was a very interesting gig to say the least.” Bookasta was also later instrumental in making the arrangements for getting the band on the roster of Dick Clark’s Happening ’67, a forty-five city tour in forty-five days.
Though the band was becoming more and more in demand, they were not exempt from the frequent personnel changes that affected many groups of the era. Bob Norsoph had replaced John Knox on lead guitar and Mike Rummans (from The Sloths) had replaced Herby Ratzloff on bass in 1966. Rummans would later switch to lead guitar and replace Norsoph, with Jim Lanham taking over the bass slot. Randy Carlisle then replaced Larry Tyre on rhythm guitar. When Carlisle departed, the Yellow Payges continued on as a four-piece ensemble. After Teddy Rooney, the son of actor Mickey Rooney, replaced Lanham, Bob Barnes would replace him. (Randy Carlisle recalls, however, that Rooney had been in the band prior to his joining: “Ted and I started a band in junior high school called The Convoys. I was the drummer and Ted played bass. After a short time, Ted and I left and started The Offspring and played at Pandora’s Box for a month. I believe we had a gig at the Hullabaloo where Gary Bookasta saw us and shortly after Ted left and joined the Yellow Payges. A short time after Ted left Gary asked me into the Payges to play rhythm guitar.” Carlisle would later join The Sons Of Adam and The Other Half.) When Rummans bailed, it was Barnes that would suggest Bill Ham as his replacement. Finally, Donnie Dacus replaced Ham for the last two or three months of the band’s existence. The core of the group, however – and the line-up that recorded their sole LP – consisted of Gorman on drums, Barnes on bass, Ham on lead guitar, with Hortter handling lead vocals and, when needed, harmonica.
Barnes and Ham had both been in a couple of previous bands in the Fort Worth, Texas area – Barnes with the Elite and Those Guys, and Ham with the Rocks and Nomads. “Bob Barnes was a friend of one of our friends. When Teddy Rooney left the group we needed a bass player and we knew Bob played bass so we gave him an audition and he passed the test. Shortly after, Teddy left and Mike Rummans left as well. Bob knew Bill Ham from back in his hometown of Fort Worth. Bob told us about this incredible guitar player he knew and he thought it would be great if we could get him. This all took place in late July of 1968. Now mind you we had a gig on August 16th and we were in desperate need of a lead guitar player. We had Bill flown out for an audition. Bob was absolutely right; Bill was unbelievable.” Within two weeks, the Yellow Payges played the Hollywood Bowl with Eric Burdon and the Animals, the Rascals and Tommy James and the Shondells, an appearance that Hortter refers to as “the highlight of our career…It was awesome!”
After knocking them dead at the Hollywood Bowl, the Yellow Payges were in constant demand for personal appearances. Some of their other noteworthy performances from around this time included appearances at the Mexican Pop Festival in October 1968; a Youth Foundation banquet, also in October, where they received the “Best New Group” award; and a Danny Thomas St. Jude Hospital Benefit in Los Angeles in November. Along with these group appearances, they were also fortunate enough to play with some of the biggest and best bands of the latter part of the decade. As Hortter runs down the list, it’s readily apparent that the band played with a virtual ‘who’s who’ of 1960′s rock and roll: “We toured for a year with Eric Burdon and the Animals. We also did a six-month tour with the Beach Boys. There were several big names we either opened for or were on the same bill with – groups like Buffalo Springfield, Doors, Iron Butterfly, Pink Floyd, Turtles, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Byrds, Standells, Canned Heat, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Love, Leaves, Grass Roots, and Nazz before they changed their name to Alice Cooper. We pretty much had the opportunity to perform with some of the greatest names of the time.”
Along with their many live performances, the Yellow Payges were also in demand for TV appearances – both locally and throughout the country. Hortter believes that “locally we achieved quite a bit of notoriety. Nationally was kind of spread out. We were very popular in the Southern States as well as in the Midwest. We also had some success on the East Coast.” Some of the television programs that the band performed on included THE ART ROBERTS SHOW in Chicago; WHAT’S HAPPENING in Corpus Christi; NEW SOUND, GROOVY, BOSS CITY and THE MICHAEL BLODGETT SHOW in Los Angeles; THE JOE FRANKLIN SHOW in New York; THE RON KAY SHOW in Oklahoma; SWINGTIME in San Antonio; THE LARRY KANE SHOW in Houston; DANCETIME in San Diego; THE PETER MAY SHOW in Tucson; UPBEAT in Cleveland; and George Klein’s TALENT PARTY in Memphis.
Perhaps the true measuring stick of the band’s burgeoning popularity, however, was their appearance on Dick Clark’s icon of rock television, AMERICAN BANDSTAND. “I was fairly nervous because one of my idols, Jackie Deshannon, was also on the show,” recalls Hortter. “I remember sitting in the makeup chair right next to her. She introduced herself to me and we talked up until the time we went on. God she was beautiful! Everything else was pretty much a blur from that point on. I couldn’t even tell what song we did” – though research reveals it to have been “Never Put Away My Love For You.” The Yellow Payges also managed a cameo appearance on the largely obscure television program THE NAME OF THE GAME. They appeared in one episode of the Gene Barry/Anthony Franciosa/Susan St. James drama by performing “Follow The Bouncing Ball” on stage.
Successful appearances, of course, lead to recording contracts, and the Yellow Payges did their fair share of recording. Over the course of their existence, the band was to release a staggering 10 singles (not counting a promotional single for an ill-advised AT&T campaign; more on that later) and a full LP. The Yellow Payges did almost all their recording at Paramount Recording Studios on Santa Monica Boulevard, yet found themselves frequently at other studios – both in and out of town. Among these were Gold Recording Studios in Hollywood, where they recorded “Our Time Is Running Out”; CBS Recording Studios, also in Hollywood, were they recorded “Judge Carter”, “Childhood Friends”, and “You’re Just What I Was Looking For Today”; American Recording Studios in Memphis, where “Vanilla On My Mind” and “Would You Mind If I Loved You” were recorded; and a studio in Texas that Hortter has since long forgotten the name of, where the track for “Never Put Away My Love For You” was laid before it was finished back at Paramount.
The band was also under the guidance of various producers, including Vic Grace, Norm Ratner (with arrangements by Vic Briggs of the Animals), Tommy Cogbil (American Recording Studios), and Gary Bookasta, via his World Showplace Music. Though each producer achieved largely successful results, Hortter believes that the group was ultimately hindered when Bookasta was in control. “He wanted to do it all: produce, engineer, and approve our writing and arrangements. Unfortunately, this took a toll on us all and it just didn’t work.” Indeed many of the group’s finest singles were those without Bookasta’s involvement, including “Our Time Is Running Out” and “Sweet Sunrise”, both featuring a warm helping of pop sensibility, and the Turtle-ish “Vanilla On My Mind”. The group’s first two singles under Bookasta’s control – “Never See The Good In Me” and “Jezebel”, however – in all fairness to Bookasta, are garage rockers definitely worthy of a listen.
Somewhat prolific songwriters in their own right, the Yellow Payges were still often provided outside assistance for many of their singles. Dick Torst wrote “Childhood Friends”, also recorded by the Foremost Authority and by Teddy and the Pandas on their Basic Magnetism album, though Hortter has no recollection of how the Payges ended up with the song. “You’re Just What I Was Looking For Today” – recorded by Them and Status Quo, among others – came from the very able pen of Gerry Goffin and Carole King and – as a favor to his mother – Bookasta had the group record a song written by her, the syrupy ballad “Never Put Away My Love For You”. Bernie Swartz, soon to be of the Comfortable Chair, provided “Never See The Good In Me”, “Sleeping Minds”, and “We Got A Love In The Making”, and English and Hammond provided the bubblegummy “Frisco Annie” and the pop psych classic “Follow The Bouncing Ball”, also recorded by the Hondells. While the Payges had a minor hit, ironically, with Bo Diddley’s oft-covered “I’m A Man” – the same song that had led to the group’s formation several years earlier, and the song that they chose to end all their concerts with – their best selling single was “Vanilla On My Mind”, written by David and Jones, which reached the Top Five in several markets and the very top spot in a couple of others.
Hortter himself contributed “Would You Mind If I Loved You” and collaborated with Bill Ham on the hard rockers “Crowd Pleaser” and “The Two Of Us”, and with Donnie Dacus on the much gentler “Home Again”. “I…wrote but not to the extent that Bill and Bob did. They were very prolific. Our influences were definitely the Rolling Stones, Yardbirds, Cream, and the Beatles, with a significant R&B influence as well. We did a lot of stuff by the Stones – like ‘Honky Tonk Woman’, ‘Paint It Black’, and ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’ as well as the Yardbirds’ ‘Train Kept A’ Rollin” and ‘Over Under Sideways Down’. (I also enjoyed) some of the stuff we wrote – ‘Devil Woman’, ‘Crowd Pleaser’, and ‘Boogie Woogie Baby’. But the one that I have always enjoyed…the most was ‘I’m A Man’. We just kicked ass with that one! We were absolutely a rock ‘n’ roll band.”
This is clearly in evidence on Volume One, the Yellow Payges’ 1969 album. The LP – released by Universal but recorded at Paramount Studios and engineered by Brian Bruderlin, who was also the owner – contained the aforementioned “Devil Woman”, “Crowd Pleaser”, and “Boogie Woogie Baby”, all straight on rockers. Add “The Two Of Us”, and the good ol’ standby “I’m A Man” coupled with “Here ‘Tis”, an extended jam, and the result is a hard rocking album with just the right mixture of slower paced ballads. Hortter agrees about the quality of the album’s songs, but is more critical of its production: “The songs were pretty darn good. However, this is where our downfall occurred. Gary Bookasta insisted on producing and at times literally engineering. The outcome was a mediocre album that had the potential of being something very special had he just let Brian and us do our thing.” Regardless, the album does include several strong songs, with Ham and Barnes providing the majority of them. Though Hortter is not all together pleased with the outcome of the Yellow Payges’ sole LP release, the album sold nearly 200,000 copies. And it didn’t drastically affect their standing in the music world, as the band received 16 Magazine’s Gold Star Award for “Most Promising Group of 1969.” The group, with the newly joined Teddy Rooney, accepted the award on live TV.
Trying to capitalize on their appeal, Bookasta landed some endorsement opportunities for the band. Unfortunately, instead of raising the band’s popularity to greater heights, one of these deals led to their collapse. While Bookasta was able to arrange a promotion for Marshall Amps and Hagstrom Guitars through a Sales Representative friend of his (the band appeared on posters endorsing the instruments), he was also responsible for an AT&T campaign that, for all intents and purposes, ruined the band. “Looking back on it now, I believe the signing of the campaign for AT&T was our demise. Gary Bookasta sold us out plain and simple. Cunningham and Walsh, a big time Wall Street advertising agency, was contracted by AT&T to put together a national ad campaign to show the youth of America that they weren’t the bad guys everyone made them out to be. They initially approached Gary to buy the “Yellow Payges” name so that they could put together their own version of a group to market for AT&T. Gary talked them into signing us. It was a huge deal – lots of money. We were put in these hideous yellow satin ruffled shirts with black velvet pants, and did these ridiculous commercials. It pretty much destroyed everything we worked so hard to accomplish.”
Lest one think that this might be a bit of an exaggeration, Hortter continues to elaborate: “There were two separate commercials (both filmed in December 1968) each thirty seconds in length. We spent an entire week shooting them. We had to be on the set at six in the morning and we usually finished around three or four in the afternoon…the theme was a ‘Yellow Payges Party Pak.’ One (commercial) had a box – a party pack – appear on the screen shaking until it exploded revealing a party going on with people dancing and jumping. (There was) confetti, streamers, and balloons flying all around with the Yellow Payges right in the middle of all the action – all set against a white back drop. The second was along the same theme but once the box exploded the party was taking place in an old house. There were no speaking parts at all. The intent was to offer a party pack to young viewers for $2.00. An address appeared on the screen where they could send for their Yellow Payges Party Pak. Included in the party pack was confetti, balloons, streamers, Peter Max-like rendition posters of each band member, a diagram of how to do the Yellow Payges party dance steps, and a 45 with ‘Finger Poppin’ Party’ on one side and one of our original songs, ‘Moonfire’, on the other side. Now I think you will have a better understanding of why this was our demise.”
The “Finger Poppin’ Party” single was recorded in New York, and featured three female background vocalists – including a young Melba Moore. While Hortter acknowledges that the background singers were all incredible vocalists, the single is not among the band’s finest. Disappointed in the way the promotion turned out, the Yellow Payges still toured quite extensively in order to support the AT&T campaign. In January of 1969 they performed at various AT&T Directory Conventions in locales such as Los Angeles, Jacksonville, and Dallas. Other gigs followed, including the KRIO “Miss 16″ show in Harlingen, Texas in June, and a performance at the Nashville Music Festival in front of a crowd of 130,000 during the weekend of August 22nd – 24th.
During the next several months the band found themselves still playing regularly at the Hullabaloo, but performing concert dates only sporadically. According to Hortter, “there was a lot of turmoil which resulted in very few performances. We did some dates in Washington DC, New Orleans, and parts of Texas…but that was pretty much it.” In late 1969, and throughout 1970, the band was in and out of the studio working on their second LP, Volume Two. Somewhere near seven tracks were completed – all group originals – but the proposed album was never completed; the band broke up before it could be finished. Unfortunately, what was completed hasn’t been seen or heard by Hortter since. “Universal kept the masters as they were their property. The songs were all copyrighted to World Showplace Music, which was Bookasta’s publishing company, so we were pretty much left holding the bag.” By the time the group had realized that the album would never be completed, their momentum – like their satisfaction in the efforts of Gary Bookasta – had completely stopped.
Bookasta “tried to mold us into something we were not and wouldn’t allow (us contact with) people who had the capability to help us,” Hortter states. It’s not clear how much effect this had on the band individually, but Bill Ham was the first to leave. While Donnie Dacus was brought into the fold for a few short months as his replacement, it wasn’t before too long that Bob Barnes would also depart. Asked for an explanation as to what was happening during this period, Hortter’s response is a simple “let’s just say it wasn’t pretty.”
Bob Barnes’ recollections offer very stong support for Hortter’s personal reflection on the group’s demise: “Bill and I were fairly well out of there when second album work got going. I don’t really remember doing much in the studio after the first album; maybe a few sessions but nothing very memorable. Bill and I had been fed up for a quite a while. The management was a joke. At first Bookasta made some fairly good moves, but as momentum increased he acted as if he had rather keep ‘his boys’ his than allow success to take us from him. It was a very strange scene. We were able to over come handicaps like the name of the band and the cutesy way we were portrayed, because the band was pretty good. When we played people forgot the myth and went, ‘oh, this isn’t what we thought we were going to see’ and went with it. We were a decent band. Let’s just say that management had undermined things to the point of no return for Bill and I, and maybe the other guys, too. Bill and I (had come) into it together and we left the dance with whom we came. It may have taken me a week more than Bill to pick a direction to go but we left pretty much at the same time.”
After the Yellow Payges, Dan Hortter signed a contract with Buddha Records as a single artist but nothing ever came of it. “I was pretty much worn out by that time.” Bob Barnes changed his name to Roscoe West and played with Kinky Friedman, T-Bone Burnett, the Alpha Band, and Guam-Rolling Thunder Revue. Dacus went on to star in the musical Hair and then to play in the Steven Stills Band and eventually Chicago. Danny Gorman joined Bandit, and Bill Ham performed for several years with Sonny & Cher.
Barnes recalls that “I don’t think I ever saw Dan Gorman or Hortter after the day I walked. The band did have some moments. I don’t mean to say it was all negative. We had some fun, wrote some tunes, played some shows and made some memories, but in the end the crap just out weighed the good.”
National tours, numerous TV appearances, and quality recordings – obviously, Dan Hortter and the Yellow Payges managed to overcome some questionable management decisions. And, in so doing, left behind a musical legacy that is worthy of much greater adulation.
The AT&T campaign was two-fold: Its intention was to promote the Yellow Pages book as being more youth oriented, and to make the Yellow Payges band a household name. The campaign was the largest of its kind up to that point to ever feature a rock group. It’s components included:
A cross-promotion with Merson Musical Products Corporation, which distributed Marshall Amplifiers and Hagstrom guitars, that featured the band in merchandisers, giant color wall posters, counter cards, and other pieces of advertising material
Two TV commericals starring the band (30-second and 60-second) to air in April 1969 during STAR TREK, HERE COMES THE BRIDE, THE AVENGERS, MOD SQUAD, and the Wednesday Night Movie
Full-color print ads in 18 national magazines including American Home, Seventeen, ‘Teen, Woman’s Day, Glamour, Redbook, and Better Homes & Garden
Spring-summer mailings featuring Yellow Payges flyers stuffed inside regular AT&T bill notices
Yellow Payges Finger Poppin’ Dance
Yellow Payges Party Pak including yellow tableclothes, yellow napkins, special party matches, Yellow Payges posters, giant paper flowers, crepe paper garland, balloons, and a dance diagram to “Finger Poppin’ Party”
Tracks played on Psychedelicized…
From The Complete Yellow Payges (Unofficial Compilation)
- Crowd Pleaser
- Devil Woman
- Home Again
- I’m A Man
- Little Woman
- Never Put Away My Love For You
- Never See The Good In Me
- Slow Down
- The Two Of Us
- Vanilla On My Mind
- We Got A Love In The Makin’