Gary James' Interview With Wayne Pittman Of
The O'Kaysions

It was back in 1968 that The O'Kaysions scored a Top Ten hit with the song "Girl Watcher". That song was recognized by the R.I.A.A. for a million sales and awarded The O'Kaysions with a Gold Record. Guitarist Wayne Pittman spoke with us about The O'Kaysions.

Q - Wayne, is it true that you're the only original member left in The O'Kaysions today?

A - That's performing?

Q - That's performing.

A - Yes.

Q - What happened to the other guys? Are they still involved in music?

A - Probably a little. Just individually. Everyone is living except one. The drummer died. His name was Steve Watson. He died last July (2016). He had kind of a long illness, I think with his heart. The others live in North Carolina.

Q - This group was originally known as The Kays. How did The Kays become The O'Kaysions?

A - Jimmy (Hinnart - bassist) and myself and two other high school classmates started a four piece group. They were two years ahead of me. I was either a Freshman or in the eighth grade. I forget. We started in a small town called Kenly, North Carolina. It's right in the middle of of the state, on the eastern tobacco belt on Interstate 95. We originally named ourselves The Ks. Our first gig was a local junior/senior prom, and the newspaper got our name wrong and spelled it Kays. So, we decided well, we got a little bit of publicity, and kept the name that they used. Eventually we got a gig in Wilson, North Carolina, a place called Silver Lake. That was a nightclub that needed a new breed, some fresh people. And we were pretty fresh! (laughs) And we stayed there eight years, playing every Saturday night, sometimes playing on special occasions and holidays, New Years. We just grew up in that club. We filled it every weekend.

Q - With how many people?

A - Anywhere from three hundred to five hundred people. They loved us and I guess they grew with us. It was amazing that we kept that job that long. We played in other locations as we got more popular, colleges, country clubs, weddings and a lot of fraternities and sororities. We were pretty popular in eastern North Carolina. We were The Kays for eight years, until we recorded "Girl Watcher". We found the song is gonna make it and we would have to start traveling and playing up north. Back then the union was kind of strong and people told us you're going to have to join the union. So, we tried to register our name, The Kays with the musicians union. I think at the time it was out of New York. The lady said, "You can't use that name," because of the popularity of Murray The K, the d.j. in New York. He was pretty popular. He was on WABC, that big AM station. So, we had to re-coin our name. We wanted to keep our local regional identity 'cause we didn't want to lose that. So we coined the name The O'Kaysions. That's how we came up with that. (laughs)

Q - During that time you were at Silver Lake, could you have worked more than just one night a week if you had wanted to? Or maybe you did. I don't know.

A - We played as much as we wanted to. (laughs) We didn't take a lot of mid-week gigs because we were going to high school and college and some people were holding down jobs. But, we played like Friday nights. Wednesday nights we played at the air force base to the officers. We played at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. We played the Marine base. I saw many a fight with the Marines. When the night is over they start fighting with each other. They would beat each other up and we'd be trying to load our equipment out of the front door and they would be bleeding all over the front steps. When they heard the MPs coming they would all hug each other. (laughs) It was funny.

Q - How'd you get around the 21-year-old drinking law?

A - The places we played didn't serve drinks because in North Carolina you couldn't serve liquor. They had mini bottles. People could bring their own liquor, but then the set-ups for their chasers and ice would be as expensive as if they were buying liquor. That's how the club made its money along with the door fee. We were too young the first half of those eight years to drink, so we didn't. I was never a drinker. The first singer was a little heavy on drinking. I think that's one of the reasons he left. He got other interests. But then we got the second singer, Donnie Weaver, who also played keyboards and he was the person who sang lead on "Girl Watcher", and he was with us the whole time.

Q - Some people have described your music as "Beach Music." Is that how you see it?

A - Even now we're not totally Beach Music. The heavy Beach Music is more Blues oriented, and I say Soul Music even now. Back then nobody described any of that music as Beach Music. There was a certain type of music that people related to in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia. I would call it Heavy Soul; 60% Soul, 20% a little bit of Pop. It had a feel to it. It had emotion to it. A good, crisp beat in the bass drum and the snare. And the horns were always kind of raw. People liked the raw sound of the horns rather than the classic, jazzy sound. It lived on to this day. Actually in the '70s is when they started describing it as Beach Music. We were a Pop group. We hit the Pop charts first and then the R&B charts and then it went higher faster in R&B than it did Pop. It actually went both ways. I think we were classified tongue in cheek in that genre that really made a big hit. None of the other Beach Music groups per se ever had a hit that big. So, people in Beach Music wanted to claim the title from North Carolina.

Q - When I think of Beach Music, I think of The Beach Boys or Jan And Dean.

A - Most people in the North and the mid-West and mid-East, that's how they term Beach Music. I remember when their songs first came out. I equated that with Beach Music. Al Caiola was one of the musicians that played on some of their sets. He was playing a lot of West Coast beach movies, playing his guitar. He was really good.

Q - And then of course there's this term Surf Music used to describe the music of people like Duane Eddy.

A - That's right. He did a lot of Surf Music. I'd say Beach Music is a regional culture and I don't know if it'll ever move in any direction. (laughs) It's confined mainly to the Southwest.

Q - If you were visiting a club in Virginia or the Carolinas today, could you hear the music you guys used to play?

A - Oh, yeah. Some people don't play "Girl Watcher" too much I think because of the chore progression on it. It's real complicated.

Q - You wrote "Girl Watcher", correct?

A - Yes, I did.

Q - Were you sitting on a beach watching girls go by in their bikinis and you decided to write a song about that?

A - Almost that way. It was November of 1977 or early December and I was in Columbia, South Carolina. I was working during the week and I'd go back to North Carolina and meet the rest of the guys for the gigs or wherever we were. Sometimes we were out of state on the weekends. I was working close to a lake. I was single at the time, as was my brother. We shared a room and I'd have my acoustic guitar with me. I came back from the field or the office, wherever it was at the time, and I was fooling around with that progression of "Girl Watcher". He came in and said, "That sounds good, man. You oughta write that down and make a song out of it." I said, "You like that?" He said, "Yeah." I said, "Okay. I value your opinion. I'll keep this tune." I'd already written the music within two or three nights, playing and fiddling around with that chord progression and I got all the music. And it went on through Christmas and New Years. And then Jimmy, the bass player, said there were some people interested in recording it. They'd seen us and heard us at Silver Lake. I said, "Cool. Cool." Of course I didn't spend a lot of time in North Carolina 'cause I had to come back to Columbia, South Carolina, which is four hours away, after we did the gigs. We'd rehearse and I'd go back up there early sometimes on Saturday night. In January we were rehearsing on Saturday afternoon and some of the guys did start talking about the beach this year and talking about the girls they met, particularly the last gig we did in the summer when we stayed down there three or four days. The drummer asked me, "Wayne, how many girls did you meet?" I said, "I didn't meet any of them. I just laid back and watched 'em." Of course I was the scrawniest guy. I was 120 pounds dripping wet. I guess I was the nerd of the group, so the girls weren't attracted to me all that much. They were kind of making fun of it. They said, "If that's all you did, why don't you write a song and say I'm a girl watcher?" When he made that phrase, girl watcher, that song, that vision that I had written just fit like the hook of that song. I said, "Okay, I owe you. Just for making fun of me I'll come back with that song." I didn't tell 'em it just lit up a light bulb in my mind. So, the next week I came back to Columbia, South Carolina and I was living with my boss. I was running the office and he was the president of the company. We were living in a mobile home in a suburb of Columbia called West Columbia. When I'd come home in the afternoon I'd sit at the kitchen table, drinking some ice tea or whatever, and just hanging out a little bit, relaxing from all that paperwork I had to do. (laughs) This girl started jogging by there every day at a certain time, about 5:30. Damn, she was pretty! Prettiest thing I'd ever seen. She had on shorts. I said to myself this is the exact scene I need to finish writing this song. And so, I made up the lyrics just from watching her. And I never got to meet her! (laughs) I tried to find her. (laughs) I tried to find her. I don't know where she came from.

Q - Somewhere out there, there's a girl who inspired the lyrics of "Girl Watcher" and she doesn't know who she is.

A - No, she doesn't. I figured she might know by now, but she probably never knew somebody was watching her. (laughs) I wasn't stalking her. I'd just see her when she'd come by.

Q - So, the total time it took you to write that song would be how much?

A - November to the end of January. I wrote the music in two nights in November and I wrote the lyrics in two nights in January. Then I called Jimmy and said, "I've got that song that I told Steve I was gonna write. I've got it ready." I wrote it down. Then I worked up the horn parts and wrote it down. I actually worked with him the next week or so before the gig. I would give 'em the notes on guitar and they would write it out. They were good horn players. They had that sound. Donnie just picked it up real easy 'cause he was a great keyboard player. Then about two weeks later, February 4th, 1968, we went to the people who wanted to record us and they set up a recording session in Goldsboro, North Carolina called Pit Sound Studios and we recorded it on a Sunday after the gig when everybody was tired. They were so relaxed, there was no tension. It was like if we really have to do this, we'll do it. (laughs) So, nobody went in with any expectations except me. I knew what it was going to do.

Q - How many takes did you need?

A - Two takes for "Girl Watcher" and one take for the flip side.

Q - After "Girl Watcher" became a hit, did someone say let's go into the studio and make an album?

A - Not really.

Q - There was a follow-up?

A - We followed it up, but not with very good planning. Just pressure from stupid managers and ABC Records to get something out. We did it between gigs in two days, two nights in Chicago. I was just frustrated. We were playing four, five, six nights a week, traveling all over the country making "Girl Watcher" a hit.

Q - What venues were you performing in? Were you a headline act or supporting someone?

A - Most of the places we were playing we were headlining. They were either big Rock 'n' Roll shows with a lot of well-known acts, or a smaller club with us as the headlining act. "Girl Watcher" came right in the middle of the Acid Rock revolution. So, as far as 'live' entertainment, it was an anomaly.

Q - But see, you still had a Top 40. Acid Rock didn't sweep everything.

A - That's true, but on the road in the circus we were in, there was a lot of Southern Rock. Guys trying to make it. The Hippie generation. Sweaty, unkempt musicians with long hair. You could smell 'em a mile away. (laughs) There was a lot of that going on. Drugs and stuff. Not with us.

Q - You're talking about the Woodstock generation, 1969.

A - Right. It was all forming in '68. '68 was just a revolutionary year. There was so much going on. You had two assassinations, Vietnam.

Q - The riots at the Democratic Convention.

A - Oh, yeah. We came in at the tail end of that. We flew in there to do our album in Chicago at RCA Studios. We had to do that album in about two or three days. We weren't prepared. There was no time spent compared with what most people do with albums.

Q - ABC didn't get behind it and promote it?

A - Not really.

Q - That makes no sense.

A - And, I had another song ready called "Little Miss Flirt", but it wasn't ready musically because we were so busy performing on the road that we didn't even have time to rehearse. And, we had a lot management problems. See, that song was so big and the people we recorded for split before it even became a hit. They started fighting with each other and tried to drag us along. Tried to get us to go with one or the other. They were novices in the music business before. So, they didn't know what they were doing until we ended up getting a manager out of Atlanta who worked with a lot of what you might call Beach Music groups now. They were in that vein then, but primarily in the South. What we really needed was a good New York manager who knew what the heck he was doing, but we didn't get one. So, our career didn't really get off the ground properly.

Q - Is it true that the master tape of "Girl Watcher" is either missing or was found and MCA now has possession of it?

A - There is no mystery about any of that. I don't know how that rumor spread. The people in Goldsboro, North Carolina, they were in North State musical production, had the master tape and so did ABC Records. They sent a guy named Howard Stark down to Raleigh-Durham Airport to meet them and they actually physically gave it to him. (laughs) I don't know how much he gave them for it, an advance on it, but it was probably a good $10,000. ABC has the master tape in New York and they were purchased by MCA Records. Now they're part of EMI, so EMI owns the master and they still licence it out for different people for compilation albums all the time.

Q - Do you still get royalties on "Girl Watcher"?

A - Oh, yeah. I get artist royalties. You know, they changed the copyright law to include the performance of the artist now. I forget how long ago when that law went into effect. On air play, like satellite radio, the digital world, the artist gets royalties on it.

Q - Today, you're also the manager of The O'Kaysions?

A - Yeah. After "Girl Watcher" made its hit and initially fell off the charts, '69, '70, I stopped performing because of the culture. There were too many drugs where we had to perform. I think the group after that kept performing for about a year and then they just disbanded. I didn't perform for about ten years. I got married and raised a family. In the late '70s, early '80s, quality music started coming back and it expanded so you could play just about anything and if you were good at it there was a market out there for it. People's interest after the Disco era, the quality of music was so good that people's tastes in music expanded. So, you could play just about anything you wanted to and if you had a good, quality sound you could make money at it and get an audience. That's when I started putting a group together, in the early '80s, '81. I had planned to use the originals, but by then they were so tied up with family they couldn't consistently do it. So, I had to build it myself right here in Columbia.

Q - You perform occasionally, do you?

A - Yeah, up until 2008 when the economy went south we were playing two to three nights a week if we wanted to. We were busy all through the '90s and the 2000s until 2008. Then the money disappeared and it cut it in half, our performances. In the Fall of 2008 it started dwindling. It only started picking up the last two or three years. And that's gradual. Right now we play about two to three times a month. And most of ours are events and weddings and country clubs. We could play in clubs, but it's not worth the effort. They don't pay that much. A lot of groups will play in clubs so they can get a Friday gig that will pay two or three times as much. We don't do that. We've got a pretty good reputation. When people want good music and a show... I added two girls to the group. Since I put the group together back in '81 I arranged it so if people didn't want to dance and they just wanted to watch the show, at least they'd have somebody to look at, (laughs) as I sing. I've always had great singers. So, I have three front singers. Two girls and one guy.

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