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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Kenny and the Kasuals

Kenny and the Kasuals

Springing up from the potent East Dallas psych scene that birthed bands such as Jimmy Vaughan’s Chessmen and younger brother Stevie Ray’s The Cast Of Thousands—not to mention the Briks, the Novas, the Five Americans and so many more—Kenny and the Kasuals started out playing for tips under the name The Illusions Combo in 1964 and were quickly breaking attendance records at Dallas’s premiere teen spot, the Studio Club.

From 1964 to 1967, Kenny and the Kasuals were the top teen band in North Texas. To earn the distinction of being #1 was no easy task in those days as the competition was fierce. The hot R&B band, The Nightcaps, were still rockin' Dallas and younger rock bands were also filling local clubs and dances.Jimmie Vaughan was leading The Chessmen while his younger brother Stevie Ray was just starting to be noticed in a band called The Cast of Thousands.

With competition from The Novas, The Briks, The Sensations, The Chaparrals, The Outcasts, The Five Americans and so many other talented groups in town, it meant that the choices when booking a band were huge. But the top choice was always Kenny and the Kasuals. They were the kings of the proms, frat parties and dances, drawing full houses and demanding top dollar.

"We would drive around in a 1941 Plymouth with our sign in the back that obstructed the drivers' vision so much that we ran into everything when we backed up," recalls Kenny. "Our bassist was actually playing the low strings of a regular guitar, and members came and went. It was a rough start, but we were getting better and better."

Kenny remembers: "We were the opening act for most of the big name bands that came to town - Sonny and Cher, The Buckinghams and The Beach Boys, just to name a few. Sonny and Cher even came to see us perform at The Studio Club. Our band caught on and our style of dressing caught on too, especially the black-and-white saddle oxfords. One store at Northpark Mall had a display of the shoes in the window with a sign that read 'Kenny's Kasuals'. By 1966 we were regulars on Ron Chapman's TV show "Sump'n Else" which aired every Friday all across North Texas."

They were too accomplished to be called a garage band in the usual sense of the term – and were very popular in their hometown in the mid-'60s, but never made any impact on the national level. It's ironic that much of their reputation rests on a live album of covers, Impact, that ranks among the most collectable LPs of the Sixties, as the group actually wrote a lot of their own material.

After several 45’s they made a daring move when they decided to go all the way and issue an independently produced album, Impact, which would be recorded live at the Studio Club. Fellow Dallas favorites the Nightcaps had successfully done it with their Wine, Wine, Wine LP so why not the Kasuals? The album was an immediate success.

Like the Wailers’ Live At The Castle, "Impact" has been cited by Rolling Stone as one of the most collectible American albums ever, and original copies still sell for over $400. The LP was reissued on vinyl in the seventies and is now available on CD. Impact is both a high water mark for the band that produced it—perfectly capturing, as it does, their high energy mixture of punked-up R&B delivered with British Invasion attitude and Lone Star musical chops—but is also the ultimate musical snap shot of a specific time and place.

As the band's success and local legend grew, they realized that with a little luck they had what it took to break through on the national recording scene. After a couple of additional single record releases, in 1966 they hit on the song that would be picked up for national release. It was called "Journey To Tyme" and has been labeled as the very first "psychedelic style" recording. Co-written by Kenny Daniel and new lead guitarist Jerry Smith, the song is a wild, uptempo screamer inspired by a town in England named "Tyme".

Dallas' number one radio personality at the time was Jimmy Rabbit and he sensed that the band had a hit on their hands. Local airplay and positive sales caught the attention of the successful national record label United Artists who negotiated with Mark Lee for the American rights.The song received good radio station play around the country, making the top ten in its hometown and reaching number one in Buffalo and Pittsburgh.

Kenny has stated that the band's unwillingness to sign exclusively with the United Artists label kept the song from breaking into the national hit charts. Nevertheless, the song and the band were doing very well and it seemed like a good time for going "big time" and that meant a move to New York.

"In New York, we played The Rolling Stone Club after The Young Rascals and stayed in a hotel in Greenwich Village," Kenny remembers. "The New York bands we saw were terrific - Jimi Hendrix at the Nite Owl, The Seeds and The Lovin' Spoonful. We were asked to open for The Beatles at Shea Stadium. It was a great adventure."After returning from a successful month in the Big Apple, Kenny and the Kasuals went back to their lucrative frat-party and nightclub circuit, becoming the most popular live band in Texas. They were still playing their hot mix of The Byrds, Stones, Zombies, Yardbirds, Animals and U.S. R & B songs, and now were mixing in their original recorded songs as well.

But by late 1967 and early 1968, during the Vietnam buildup, the draft was cutting into band line-ups around the country. Kenny and the Kasuals were not an exception. With two members facing armed forces duty, the band and Mark Lee decided to go out with a bang. In early 1968 Mark put together one of the first music festivals, calling it The Flower Fair. The several stages were packed with local and national talent for the multi-day fest.

In addition to the farewell performance of Kenny and the Kasuals, attendees got the chance to see such stars and soon-to-be-stars as The Doors, The Box Tops, Keith, The Association, The Turtles, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels and Jimmy Reed at the festival. The best of the local bands rounded out the roster of talent.

In April of 1968, the day after The Flower Fair ended, Kenny Daniel left for boot camp and soon after lead guitarist Jerry Smith joined the Air Force. Kenny and The Kasuals were suddenly history. At least for a while.Record collectors rediscovered the "Impact" album in the early seventies, and eventually all of Kenny and The Kasuals recordings were re-released. Along with newly recorded albums, the band has several LPs in issue, two available in CD format. Among the album titles: "Nothin' Better To Do", "Things Getting Better" (both available on CD from the Eva Label in Paris, France), "Teen Dreams", "Garage Kings", and of course "Impact" also available on CD.

Kenny and the Kasuals still perform, regularly featuring three of the original members (and on certain fun occasions, the entire original band). Two other top-quality musicians round out the current line-up. The music they play is still a high-energy experience.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jimmie Vaughan was a teenager who joined older musicians in the already-established Chessmen, he wasn't the leader of the band.