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Posted August, 2007
By Mary Jane Ewing-Farmer
In the beginning, the six men on Cheatham Street Warehouse's stage were
cracking "over-the-hill" jokes and teasing each other about declining
hearing, receding hairlines, and expanding waistlines. However, after the
first song or two, those jokes were lost in the sounds coming from keyboard,
guitars, and drums, and it became obvious to everyone that these 60-ish men
were still talented and fun-loving musicians.
"Sixty-ish" in two ways - they are all between 57 and 62 years of age,
and their roots began in the early 50's and continued through the early 60's.
The average audience age in the "sold out" San Marcos honky-tonk was 60-ish also,
most of them also graduates of San Marcos High School and back to grab a few
past memories while definitely enjoying the new one being created that very evening,
Saturday, March 3. Even the grown grand-children at the gig were rockin' with the
oldies and apparently loving it.
Roy Head and the Traits, as these men were known in the 1950s and 60s,
were one of the most successful rock-and-roll bands to come from Texas;
and in 1965 met with success on the charts when "Treat Her Right" climbed to
#2 behind the Beatles "Yesterday" and "Hard Days Night." It held that coveted
spot for sixteen weeks, longer than any other song in history. The song sold
over a million copies (gold record status) and was featured in the movie "The
Commitments." The Traits also had chart hits with "Just a Little Bit" and "Apple
of My Eye."
But these were some several years after their beginnings in San Marcos
High School. By today's standards, that career span is considered an
overnight sensation and many would say they never "paid their dues." The guys
are still in awe of it, themselves. However, these hit songs were
accomplished by only two of the first six Traits, plus new musicians who
joined them over the years.
Originally, Roy Head and Tommy Bolton joined together. Roy's talents
included an excellent voice for rock and roll and the ability to dance and
gyrate while belting out his lyrics. Tommy was the guitar from hill country
heaven, and the duo was joined soon by Gerry Gibson on the drums. They began
as "The Treys," a moniker that was changed by a local disc jockey during a
live interview when he mistakenly called them "The Traits." They liked it
and by that time had expanded the band beyond the original trio.
In the fall of 1957, Roy learned that Dan Buie could play the piano by
ear and the trio met at Dan's piano to begin working on some new songs.
Immediately after that, Clyde Causey joined in on lead guitar (later replaced
by George Frazier when Clyde went into the military) and Bill Pennington
rounded out the sounds on the bass guitar.
These teenagers went into the studio with only talent and a dream,
recording two songs that became Texas and regional favorites, "One More Time" and
"Live It Up." Due to their own musical skills and their openness to mentor others,
the Traits were one of a very few groups who, without a
mega-company behind them, would impact the rock music industry in significant ways
in the late 50s and 60s. The elongated music approach used by the Traits was unheard
of in the early 60's and has now become common in rock-and-roll music.
By the early 60s, Roy and Gerry were the only ones who wanted to remain in
the music industry, and the others were replaced as time went by. When Buie
left the group, the Traits added a trumpet and a saxophone and the music
became closer in style to the blues sounds with a country accent, a
combination unique to the Traits.
Roy Head has remained true to his music heritage. By 1970, he was a pop music
celebrity and an extraordinary entertainer, still doing his trademark dancing,
jumps, and gyrations on stage and his audiences never experienced a dull moment.
Most of his future recordings remained regional hits, but "The Most Wanted Woman In
Town" and "Come To Me" were both Top 10 C &W hits in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Roy
still mixes R&B, R&R & C&W for a sound that no amount of initials
can ever correctly categorize.
So what were these guys doing on stage in the old warehouse by the
railroad tracks after so many years apart? A light bulb turned on inside the
head of another San Marcos high school graduate, serving on a 40th reunion
planning committee, and she called on Dan Buie to see if the group would come back
together and play for their Saturday night dance. The immediate reaction from
fellow band members was, "They want us to do what?" But the boys rallied and
began practicing via tapes, telephones, and in-person; and despite being
plagued by sound problems, the Cheatham Street Warehouse gig was a good warm-up
for the class reunion in June. Even Roy seemed a little amazed when he managed a
leap into the dance floor to the cheers of his not-so-over-the-hill classmates.
The group's honored guest at their reunion celebration was Mrs. Edra
Pennington, the first adult who took these lads seriously. Mrs. Pennington,
who now resides in a San Marcos nursing home, was brought to the event by her
daughter, Sue, and was immediately surrounded by "her boys." It's kind of
well-understood in the music world that musicians often make their own worst
business managers and Dan and Roy, immediately recognizing this need as critical
to their success, asked her early in their planning days to help
them as business manager. She made these youngsters wait a week while she
spoke with each boy's parents, making herself certain that everyone was
agreeable to the hopes and dreams of the Traits. They were and she did.
At the reunion, Mrs. Pennington, donned in a Traits Logo cap
autographed by each of the musicians, was Queen for a Day as she was
photographed with first one and then another of the band's members. Buie
said, "Without Mrs. Pennington behind us, we could never have gotten off the ground.
What a grand lady!"
The Traits have a website complete with pictures and forums, and would
welcome visitors -
About the author: Mary Jane Ewing-Farmer was a 1958 graduate of
San Marcos High School in San Marcos, TX.
Rockabilly Hall of Fame ®