Although their Pop music career was brief, the group known as Spanky and Our Gang secured their place in Rock 'n' Roll history by placing five songs in the Billboard Top 40.
Elaine McFarlane was a fan of blues and jazz and her first professional appearance was with a jazz-based group called the Jamie Lyn Trio in 1962. The following year, as the Folk music scene grew in popularity, she joined an ensemble called The New Wine Singers, who mixed Folk with Dixieland. It was here that she met multi-instrumentalist Malcolm Hale and came by the nickname "Spanky", because of her resemblance to George "Spanky" McFarland of the Little Rascals / Our Gang comedy series.
By the Winter of 1965, the New Wine Singers had split and McFarlane headed to Florida where she met Oz Bach and Nigel Pickering. While stranded during a hurricane, the trio jammed for three straight days, resulting in her inviting the boys to come to Chicago with her. Later that year, McFarlane was working as a singing waitress at a club called Mother Blues, when owner Curly Tait offered her a chance to form a group to open for his featured acts. She quickly recruited Pickering and Bach.
With McFarlane playing washboard and kazoo, Pickering on guitar and Bach on bass, the trio jokingly began calling themselves Spanky and Our Gang, playing on their singer's nickname. Somewhat surprisingly, things went rather well and after receiving favorable reviews in a local newspaper, they decided to keep the name. As the group progressed, guitarist Malcolm Hale was brought in and they moved up to bigger and better venues, with Curly Tait acting as their manager.
By late 1966, representatives of Mercury Records took notice and signed the band to a contract. Producer Jerry Ross spent a year polishing their sound before taking them to New York to record. Here they were given a song which had already been turned down by the Mamas and Papas as well as The Left Banke, called "Sunday Will Never Be The Same". The tune was a perfect vehicle to showcase McFarlane's powerful voice and a month after the single was released in May, 1967, it peaked at number 9 on the Billboard Hot 100.
When the demand for personal appearances started to grow, drummer John Seiter was added to the mix. A second release called "Making Every Minute Count" reached number 31 in the Fall of '67 and a third, "Lazy Day" made it to number 14 by the end of the year. A self-titled debut album was put together which included the three singles as well as a handful of quickly rehearsed new tracks, some of which the group were not happy with.
In early 1968, guitarist and vocalist Lefty Baker (real name Eustace Britchforth) was added to the band and his friend Kenny Hodges replaced Oz Bach on bass. Unhappy with the squeaky clean, polished sound that Jerry Ross had provided, the group turned to Stuart Scharf and Bob Dorough, a pair of producers / songwriters who'd worked with the Chad Mitchell Trio on Mercury. The new combination of band members and studio staff produced "Sunday Morning", which climbed to number 30 in the Spring of '68. Included in the recording sessions of their second album was a song called "Like To Get To Know You", which lent its name to the LP. The single brought Spanky and Our Gang back into the Billboard Top 20 when it peaked at number 17 in the Summer of 1968. The grittier sounding album also included "Give a Damn", which despite a widespread radio ban because of its title, still managed to reach number 43. It was also performed live on an episode of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, which resulted in CBS Standards and Practices division receiving numerous complaints about the song's title being used during so-called 'family viewing hours', one of which was reportedly from Richard Milhous Nixon.
Their group's third album, "Anything You Choose / Without Rhyme or Reason", was mostly recorded by studio musicians, with very little input from the band itself. The LP was devised as a continuous stream of music, with blues, jazz, folk and pop influences. It was such a radical departure from their earlier sound that longtime fans could not relate to it, and none of the singles issued, aside from "Give a Damn" could get past number 90.
A devastating blow for the group came on October 31st, 1968 when 37 year old Malcolm Hale died suddenly of pneumonia. In the wake of his death, the group played out its concert commitments and then took a break to reassess its future. The now 26 year old McFarlane was pregnant and decided to quit performing and drummer John Seiter had been offered a chance to play with the Turtles. Rather than reorganize around such key membership changes, the group decided to call it quits. McFarlane and her husband Charly Galvin (who had been the group's road manager) prepared an album called "Spanky's Greatest Hits", a somewhat disappointing release because of its inclusion of remixed versions of several of the key songs.
Still wanting to milk everything they could from the band's recording days, Mercury Records released "Spanky and Our Gang Live" in 1970. The album used an amateur quality recording from one of the group's earliest shows and the members were less than pleased to say the least.
On August 11th, 1971, Lefty Baker died of cirrhosis of the liver, about a year after he left the band. He was 29.
By 1975, Nigel Pickering and Elaine "Spanky" McFarlane reformed the group and cut a Country and Western sounding album called "Change" for Epic Records. Despite the new sound, nostalgic fans still came to see the band in concert, which also included original member Oz Bach, who rejoined after the album was released.
By 1982, Spanky McFarlane joined up with John Phillips and Denny Doherty in a re-formed version of The Mamas and Papas and toured the world with them for over ten years with various lineups. She also remained true to her folk and blues roots, participating in events such as a benefit concert for the terminally ill singer-songwriter Bob Gibson in 1996.
Oz Bach succumbed to a lengthy battle with cancer in September of 1998.
Spanky along with Nigel Pickering, and Kenny Hodges put on a reunion concert at the Trade Winds Lounge in St. Augustine, Florida, March 14, 1999. Also present was their former manager, Curley Tait.
In 2003, Spanky, with co-producers Bobby and Leslie Sahlen, put together a Limited Edition CD compilation of unreleased live and demo tunes from several groups Spanky has shared the stage with since the early 1960s. She also teamed up with sixties rocker Chris Montez, performing at the San Carlos 60's Music Festival. A new album called "Back Home Americana, Volume 1" was released on Eclipse Records in 2009. The reviews from that effort are mixed, with some fans saying they were disappointed with the quality of the vocals.