Gary James' Interview With Tom Garrett Of
The Classics IV
You talk about a Classic Band, The Classics IV are sure to come to mind. They enjoyed considerable success with records like "Spooky", "Stormy" and "Traces". There is no mistaking the lead vocals of Dennis Yost. On December 7th, 2008, Dennis Yost died. Before he passed, he hand picked singer Tom Garrett to carry on the songs and style of The Classics IV. Tom Garrett spoke with us about Dennis Yost, The Classics IV and the tradition he's carrying on.
Q - Tom, I don't know how old of a guy you are, but, growing up did you ever turn on the radio and hear one of The Classics IV songs come on the radio?
A - Oh, absolutely. I'm 63. I grew up in St. Louis. So we had KXOK, was the big Rock 'n' Roll station at the time.
Q - Tom, how did you come to the attention of Dennis Yost?
A - Well, it actually happened through a mutual friend. Dennis had fallen and gotten hurt in 2006. The goal was for the band to continue. Dennis realized I think that his performance days were limited if not completely over. He reached out through a mutual friend of ours, Tony Butala, from The Lettermen. Tony got a hold of me and I spoke initially with Mrs. Yost. There was an audition if you will. We got together and I laid down some tracks for Dennis to listen to. He said, "You're my guy," paraphrasing a little bit. At the time, the thought process was I would front the band and Dennis would do what he could. Come to shows as he could. Do whatever that might be, whether it was come on stage or maybe at some point in time be able to sing some. We didn't really know what the future held. Then, on the morning of December 7th, 2008, he passed away, pretty suddenly really. Nobody expected that.
Q - Were you a fan of the Classics IV?
A - Oh, yeah. Great stuff. When I started out I was a horn player as a kid, all going through school. The sax leads at that time were something different. The songs at that time didn't have that. They were using Farfisa organs. To have records out in the late '60s that still made sense 'cause there was a lot of other music that was what I called the screaming Rock 'n' Roll. The Doors, Cream, groups like that. And so here is this guy with this really soulful voice, great music behind him, making hit records with love songs.
Q - What a great time in radio history to be able to hear The Classics IV and The Doors on the same radio station.
A - Oh, it was crazy. The radio is kind of like a window to your soul I guess, you know? Back then a lot of stations were playing the Top 40 stuff at the time. So, there'd be a song come on you didn't like, you'd turn to the other station. "Oh, yeah. I like that one." You'd flip back to your favorite station and see what they're playing now.
Q - After you do a show, what type of questions do people ask you?
A - Initially, when we first started working, people would come up and ask what happened to Dennis. So, I've very cautious. Since Day One I've been very cautious. I never put myself in the position of making people think I did something I didn't do. We do a tribute to Dennis during the show. We do a video slide show during "Traces". We talk about Dennis and a brief synopsis of how I ended up standing on the stage. I tell people that the place I stand on, on that stage, belongs to Dennis Yost. He earned it and he asked me to take care of it for him. So, I'm the caretaker of that place on stage. That's how I see my role.
Q - Where do you perform these days and how often?
A - Well, we don't perform a lot. I'm sorry to say that. We've taken the Summer (2016) off on purpose. Our next show will be in Las Vegas on September 10th at the Cannery Hotel Casino. We'll be out in Ohio in November. Then I'm going to the Philippines for a couple, three shows over there. So it's been a very slow-building process to try and get rolling. I don't think we're ever going to be back where we were working 50, 60, 70 dates a year. I think those days are gone. I'd love for them not to be, but I believe they are. But at the same time we certainly accomplished some things under my time with the group that hadn't been done for a while.
Q - How many original guys in the Classics IV today?
A - There are none. I could have this year wrong, but from 1973 there was nobody but Dennis. Everyone had moved on. Dennis was the Classics IV for his life. There hasn't been an original member since. Wally Eaton is in Florida. He's a professor I think down there. J.R. Cobb, who co-wrote all the hits, he left to start The Atlantic Rhythm Section. He did very well with that. Other people from '72, '73 on, the group was really kind of a revolving door of musicians around Dennis.
Q - When you found out Dennis passed away, did you realize that it was now up to you to carry on the legacy of those Classics IV songs?
A - Oh, absolutely. Mrs. Yost called my house about ten o'clock I believe it was on a Saturday night. I was probably half dozing in front of the TV, my wife and I. She said, "Tom, Dennis is passing right now. I'll call you back," and she hung up. I could hear the alarms going off in the background that you hear in a hospital room. She called me back at about two o'clock in the morning and said that he had passed. It stunned me to say the least. It made me cry. Dennis was trying so hard to get stronger, to get better and was doing really well based on the fall and his injuries, but apparently there were things going on inside his body that people didn't realize were happening. It was definitely a life changing experience.
Q - I imagine in the time you got to know Dennis, he had no doubt told you stories about the history of the Classics IV, didn't he?
A - To some extent, yeah. He was not exactly an open book kind of guy, but he talked about some stuff. He talked about being on Johnny Carson, which was very cool, but he was really just kind of intense. When I first met Dennis he was sitting in a room at a little re-hab center, all alone. It occurred to me that here's a man that had sold millions of records, had millions of fans, and for a lack of a better way to put it, no one cared. Here he sat in this room by himself. I cared. There's no other way to put it.
Q - After he suffered injuries from a fall, I don't believe the public heard about it.
A - He was very private when it came to that. It's a funny thing. I believe in the music business you can, and I don't suggest any of these things just because of people I know and have heard stories about, you can be an alcoholic, you can be a drug addict, you can beat your wife, and they'll still hire you. But let them find out for one second you're sick, they don't want anything to do with you. He went through a lot of struggles. He chose to keep that private and to this day I still honor that. I don't talk about that period of time very much at all. Let me expand, expound on a couple of things that I think are pertinent to now, if you will. Since my tenure started in late 2006, early 2007 I guess it was, we released two new albums, released a new song, the first brand new material since probably '73 or '74 and released the first 'live' album. So, I'm not just trying to sit back on what Dennis did. We're trying to be creative and show that we're still out there, we're still working as Dennis wanted. A portion of every show that we do goes to the Dennis Yost Brain Trauma Foundation. I just want to make sure that people are aware of it. The Classics IV trademark, the Classics IV name, however you want to put it, is still active and there's still a benefit to Dennis and his legacy.