Gary James' Interview With Sid Herring Of
The Gants were a band out of Greenwood, Mississippi that had a hit record called "Road Runner". These guys shared the stage with groups like The Animals, The Dave Clark Five, The Yardbirds, Sam The Sham and The Swingin' Medallions. Gants member Sid Herring talked to us about his band.
Q - Sid, The Gants are often referred to as a garage band. What does a garage band mean to you? Would you say that's an accurate description?
A - That's interesting that you say that because the other day I put a picture on Facebook that had a picture of us say in 2000 at an older age still in the garage. Underneath the picture I had it saying we could practice anywhere, but we still chose to practice in the garage because it sounds better and you get this camaraderie. At one point, Little Steven Van Zandt branded us The Kings of Garage Bands, (laughs) which we took very proudly. I would say our reason is we didn't have any other place to practice, but one of the reasons is it also sounded better in a garage when I think back on it as far as the acoustics and everything.
Q - And if you talk to a group from the 1950s, they'll tell you the best acoustics to be found were in the bathroom or the locker room.
A - Exactly. That's very interesting, those two points. I never really thought about it like that, but I think you've got a point there.
Q - When radio started playing "I Want To Hold Your Hand" you'd never have known the singers were British. They almost sounded American. When you heard them (The Beatles) talk, you picked up on the British accent. When you listen to "Road Runner", your song, it sounds like John Lennon singing. But when you talk, you have a Southern accent. How did you lose that accent for that record? How did The Beatles lose their accent for their records? I don't believe anyone has asked that question to you before.
A - Well, that's another interesting question. You get some good ones. I loved their sound so much that I'd been singing like Little Richard, that power kind of singing. I'd been trying to do that at a younger age, but when The Beatles came out, John Lennon had an edge to his voice that I also seemed to have 'cause it was not hard for me to shape my voice to his. Then, what little bit of British accent he had on a song, I would take full advantage of, maybe even exaggerate it a little bit because they were so unique with what they were doing. It was just fantastic. I think that might have been the influence. I thought it was so cool that they came and they got the music I was living right in dead center of the land where the music came from. A lot of these Blues artists like Robert Johnson and Little Richard, and they (The Beatles) re-packaged it with a slight accent on it with brilliant voices and genius in the music and sent it back to us and the whole world changed.
Q - It wasn't just the music. It was also the look. It was the collarless jackets and the Cuban high-heel boots and those haircuts. I often wonder why American groups didn't beat 'em to the punch.
A - We took off on that. Johnny Sanders and I been knowing each other ever since we were nine years old. We always took a fancy to wearing a suit if we got a chance here and there. When we saw The Beatles, it just kind of confirmed it and so we had our own style too, but we loved everything about 'em. I was telling somebody the other day, you find geniuses like Lennon and McCartney, then you find somebody like Ringo and George to just mix in and make it all come together. You got Brian Epstein. Then you got George Martin, who was a genius in himself and all of this came together at a perfect time. These two guys were completely different but just alike when they sang. Everything was magical and not only that, they had the mind to do it and do it again until it was right at such a young age. They didn't just take anything. They kept doing it 'til they got it right. That's why I love 'em so much.
Q - And don't forget, Ringo played the drums like a left-handed drummer. He helped give The Beatles their unique sound. That wasn't pointed out to Ringo until many years later. The public certainly didn't pick up on that.
A - It made 'em keep him. My understanding, the story I heard is that Ringo was in for a session. George Martin said, "I'm sorry fellas. I don't think Ringo is gonna make it." I think the guys liked Ringo and somebody did what you just said, mentioned something to him about changing and so they gave Ringo one more chance.
Q - I don't believe Ringo ever did change his style of playing.
A - And then you take George Harrison with his Chet Atkins Rock 'n' Roll influence and he was magical to me. People used to say, "George is good, but he's not..." Bull! This guy was a genius. He just did it in a simple way.
Q - And then you have Brian Epstein and Joe Flannery. There were quite a few people behind The Beatles.
A - Yeah, that's right. They all seemed to know the magic it was all about. They all jumped on the wagon, wholeheartedly. The music is what made that happen I believe.
Q - And no one had any idea where it would all lead. It was probably the simplest of goods. Let's make a record, let's get a record on the charts, let's have a number one record.
A - That's right. I agree. And from that point on, four long-haired kids changed the world. They changed the way the world dressed. They changed the way they wore their hair. That was a wonderful time to be young because it seems to be one of the hot topics of today because of how much fun all of us had during that time. Even the kids of today get off on hearing these stories of the time because it's different today.
Q - You guys wanted to tour more, but the principal of your school wouldn't hear of it. Why didn't you guys just change schools, or was it something you couldn't do?
A - Well, in Greenwood there was just one school. We would had to have moved out of the county and really it was a major deal and we weren't that far from getting out of school. We just wanted some time to do this tour on a record called "Greener Days", done with David Gates. He wrote it. He was with Bread. The timing just didn't work with the school and the Vietnam War and the record kind of climbing the charts in our time. If John Kennedy had done what he wanted to do, he would've stayed out of it. That would've changed my musical career. I could've continued on pursuing it full-time like I was for a period of time. This is all based on ifs. It's just interesting to think about what might have happened if that had been that way.
Q - Would it have been better if you had been older or would the draft have interfered in your plans?
A - I think the draft came pretty strong and being a little older would've helped too because we were like riding on a wave of something that we had started that we were getting really great feedback on. We were doing the best we could to handle our part of it. If we'd have had that other George Martin, or another person involved like a leader, a management type situation, that maybe would've taken up some of the responsibility with some of the business parts of it, because we were very young, I think it might've went along more smoothly and we would've made some wiser decisions.
Q - I've heard that said by other musicians I've interviewed. If only they would've had a Brian Epstein or a Colonel Tom Parker.
A - That's right. No question. You've doing the music and you're young and you're having the time of your life, it seems you don't have time to focus on those super important parts that somebody else needs to be on your team to do. So, no question about that.
Q - Mitchell Malouf started a booking agency in Jackson, Mississippi and called to ask if The Gants would open for The Dave Clark Five. Why did he think of The Gants? Were there other groups in the area he could have asked?
A - That's an interesting question too, 'cause I asked the same question. (laughs) When I was eight, his family lived close to my family in Greenwood, about a block away and I used to go over and play with Mitchell Malouf's brothers, Mike and Tommy. When I was over there playing, I saw my first guitar that I actually picked up and tried to play. I had asked Mike about how you play it and he said, "You mash down the strings." (laughs) I've been mashing down strings ever since. But anyway, Mitchell was the older brother of these guys. He got in the record business. I had been in touch with him and knew him well as a child and we'd grown up in some way and so he knew me. He knew me well. Our lives had crossed in many ways. I'm sure that had some influence on it. He was feeling good about the attention we were getting at that time, so I would think that would have something to do with it. On top of it, he believed in us.
Q - You can't ask for anything more than to have someone believe in you.
A - That's true. That's the key deal right there.
Q - You played this club in New York called The Phone Booth and two members of The Rolling Stones were in the audience watching The Gants. Do you know which two members of The Stones were watching you guys?
A - It was the bass player and the drummer. Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts. Freddie (Garrity) of Freddie And The Dreamers was there. Barry McGuire was there. We had a weird mixture. It was very interesting. We loved it. I'll tell you, it was unreal. The time of a lifetime. I feel so fortunate when I look back 'cause I just didn't know how good it was when I was doing it, even though I was enjoying it tremendously. But I look back, it was a high point of tremendous fun. (laughs)
Q - Did The Stones ever introduce themselves to you?
A - No. We went on and The Rascals were the band the club had on a regular basis. So we had gone to the President of Cashbox the night before, well actually it was a couple of nights before. We had just gotten a bullet on the charts with "Roadrunner". He said, "The Rascals are playing The Phone Booth and you all can play after them if you like," and we said "sure." We said we'll go down tonight and listen to them, and within the next night or two we'll do that. We went to The Phone Booth and we heard Felix Cavaliere and The Rascals and boy they were so tight. They'd been playing in there for like a year. So, they knew the club. They were sounding wonderful. We thought we've gotten ourselves into trouble. We went ahead the next night and did the gig and we didn't sound as good as we normally do. They had played right before us and they were kickin' ass and we didn't feel real good. The lesson here is don't follow Felix Cavaliere. (laughs) He's a real talented fellow.
Q - You told Pat Curran of Shindig magazine that "Peter Noone seemed to be more interested in the prestige of what money could do for him rather than the music." I don't understand what you meant by that comment.
A - I meant I started music for one reason; music. I didn't think about money or anything else. I would say if you would put us musically to a personality or a pure musician, I say he would be more of a personality and not quite as much of a musician. I would be less of a personality and more of a musician. Do you follow me?
Q - I got it.
A - That's kind of the basis of that in my mind, but I'm not taking anything away from him. He was good in what he did. They did a very good job at it. I'm just a bit more raw about what I'm doing in my music. I'm a little more earthier in my music than their sound seems to be than mine. That's only my opinion.
Q - I can see why you would say that when you would listen to "Mrs. Brown You've Got A Lovely Daughter". They did what could be considered novelty songs.
A - Yeah, because we did the second album and they took us to California. It was like they wanted us to do Peter Rabbit. I did not want to do Peter Rabbit. They wouldn't let us do any of my songs. They wanted us to do "Dirty Water", which is not a bad song, but it wasn't a Gants song. I would've chose something else. They picked several songs that we just really didn't fit. It wasn't too us, but we did it anyway and it ended up being a bad mark of our career. Our career started sloping a little bit. That album didn't do nearly as well as the "Roadrunner" album or the third album. But the third album, I had four songs on. So I insisted upon doing that. My point being, they kind of forced some songs on us that we didn't want to do. I went to the hotel room after a few of those sessions and Johnny and I would sit there and hold our heads, our chins up, thinking man, what are we going to do? We were trying to figure that out. They ended up doing it the way they wanted to do it. We weren't pleased with that very much. At the time we were young and doing the best we could, and even enjoying it by the way. (laughs)