Zakary Thaks interview with Chris Gerniottis
Thanks for taking your time to talk about your music. Let’s start at the beginning. Where did you grow up and what are some memories from your childhood?
I was born and raised in Corpus Christi, Texas. I had a fairly unique upbringing due to the fact my father managed a restaurant as well as a night club and my mother was involved with a lot of activities e.g. lifeguard instructor, water ballet, etc., so I had more “freedom” than most kids my age. However, that didn’t stop me from playing Little League baseball or being in the Cub Scouts. The most enduring memory I have when I was a child is that I stuttered and was made fun of at school. The way I dealt with this was by being the class comic. That worked for the most part but the taunting still continued a little. Then I discovered that I didn’t stutter when I sang; so by the time I was 8-years-old, I was singing in front of the entire school for several talent shows. I had found my calling!
It all started in 1964, when you were just a teenager and began playing instruments. You picked the name The Marauders and later you were called the Riptides. Tell me, how did line-up changed in this period and where all did you play?
I didn’t pick either of those names – it was the main guitarist, Pete Stinson, who chose those. The Marauders had basically the same members as the Riptides, except Rex Gregory played drums for the Marauders and then switched to bass for the Riptides. We played in Corpus and the surrounding areas at teen clubs, church youth group parties, and a few private parties.
You never recorded anything, right?
Neither of those two groups ever recorded anything for release; however, the Riptides did get to play once on live television – a local music variety show called “Panorama Latino”.
“The Last Five” joined you and you started as Zakary Thaks. How did you choose the name?
The Thaks’ drummer, Stan Moore, was drumming for The Last Five when we convinced him to leave that group and start playing with us. We had just changed our name to The Zakary Thaks (a name I had spotted in a Teen magazine’s “Letters to the Editor”) in order to reflect our evolving sound which was away from surf music and more towards the British Invasion sound & American groups like The Young Rascals and Mitch Ryder & Detroit Wheels.
Soon you got signed up for J-Beck Records. Tell me more about it…
J-Beck Records was interested in signing us soon after we had changed our name to the Thaks. However, it was the night we had won a “Battle of the Bands” against several other bands, including The Bad Seeds, where Carl Becker walked up to me while we were on stage and handed me one of his business cards. Less than a month after that, we were heading down to the Texas valley to record our first record.
You went down to McAllen to record your first single. What are some memories from recording and producing this two tracks?
It was a somewhat “primitive” set up but the owner/engineer (Jimmy Nichols) really knew how to get a great sound. Naturally, we were excited – and nervous – because we had to record everything at the same time. After a few flubs on “Bad Girl”, Nichols suggested that we run through a few covers to loosen ourselves up a bit. The only song (of 3 or 4) I remember us playing was the Beatles’ “I’m Down”, but it worked. By the 5th try, we nailed “Bad Girl”. We got “I Need You” on take #2. Nichols actually recorded us playing through those other songs but the masters were lost in a Valley flood back in 1973.
What gear did you guys use?
We had a hodge-podge assortment of equipment back then. Stan had the nicest gear – a Ludwig drum set. John Lopez was using a Fender Twin-Reverb and was playing a Gibson 335. Rex was playing a Kalamazoo bass initially, but soon switched over to a Gibson semi-hollow body. I believe his amp of choice was a Fender Bassman. Pete also played a Gibson semi-hollow body but he changed amps quite frequently. Pete was the “experimenter” of the group constantly looking for the best sound. We didn’t have a band PA for awhile but eventually got a Bogen 120 with two 18 inch bottoms and a couple of bull horns. We always used Shure microphones.
First single was successful. What happened next?
Following the success of “Bad Girl”, we were working on several songs which we thought would be the followup single. Then we had the fortune of opening up for a show that had the Yardbirds on the playbill. After that great experience, we shifted gears and focused all of our efforts on coming up with a song that had most of the Yardbirds attributes we were wanting. John Lopez came up with a great riff and showed it to us at rehearsal one day – we flipped out and immediately started arranging it that afternoon. By the end of practice, the song was basically finished. I went home that night inspired by the song and wrote the lyrics and melody. The next day, we went through the song a couple of times and knew we had a winner. J-Beck flew us to Houston where we recorded at Goldstar Studios and rushed it to the pressing plant. Within 6 weeks time, the song (“Face To Face”) topped the radio charts in San Antonio, Austin, and the Valley. The gigs started poring in and we were soon signed to ABC Dunhill Records. It’s amazing how one song can open so many doors for a band!
You had tour with “Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs” and “Gary Lewis & The Playboys” and suddenly you were opening for Yardbirds, Jefferson Airplane, Animals and Steppenwolf. How do you remember those concerts? Do you have any favourite memories or a story about it, that you want to share with my readers?
Sam the Sham and Gary Lewis were on Dick Clark’s “Caravan of Stars”, an offshoot of American Bandstand where a traveling road show would tour around the country to sold out houses. We did get to open for more than a few of these shows and most of the groups you mentioned as well as many others (Standels, The Robbs, Paul Revere and the Raiders) were on the bill. Looking back at these events, I would say the two most memorable times were when we opened for The Yardbirds and Jefferson Airplane. In the case of the Yardbirds, this was the last time that anyone got to see both Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page together. They were incredible! As for Jefferson Airplane, it was a slightly different experience – mainly because their equipment had been stolen at the San Antonio airport so they wound up using our gear that night. They were very impressive but I think if you were to ask any of us about what one thing stood out at that show, the answer would probably be the same – Grace Slick! She was more beautiful in person than you could imagine and what a voice!!
You also had a gig with Moving Sidewalks and you had one with 13th Floor Elevators at the Knights of Columbus hall in Kingsville. How do you remember that?
My memories of the Moving Sidewalks are sketchy, but I remember the first show with the 13th Floor Elevators quite clearly. I think the reason why this show was so memorable was because the Elevators were at the top of their game, so to speak. We really didn’t know too much about them prior to the gig, but after they started their set, we all got blown away! It’s funny – they were very low key and non-chalant as they were getting ready to play, but once they started, it was like they hypnotized most of the audience before they finished their first song! It’s sort of difficult to explain how this happened unless if you were there to experience it first-hand. Rocky and Stacy were the standouts but we really liked the drummer too, John Ikes. Needless to say, the Thaks direction after this show was straight to psychedlia.
What can you tell me about another band called Kubla Khan?
Kubla Khan was the group I put together following the breakup of the Thaks version 3. I knew the other four members of the band before we formed and I felt we could all gel together nicely (which we did). With free access to an 8 track studio that had just been built and my songwriting mode in full speed, we practiced and recorded an album’s worth of material in a little less than one year. One has to listen to only a few tracks to figure out where our heads were at – The Band. We dug everything about them and I guess unconsciously wound up not finding our own unique brand or sound. At the same time though, Kubla Khan explored a lot of material that other bands at the time were not. I can also say with confidence that this is the one band I’ve been in where there was no drama or disagreements. We were friends first, bandmates second. To this day, I still have the highest respect for each of them.
Corpus had a really rich scene. What can you say about the scene? Did you hear about band Corpus, that released an LP in 1971 called Creation a Child? I had been lucky enough to find them and made an interview with them.
Corpus did have a lot going on back then for its size! There were teen clubs scattered everywhere, including a couple on the beach, so there was always somewhere to go hear a live band most every day of the week. Of course, most every town or city in the U.S. had a pretty active local music scene going on as a result of the British Invasion; however, Corpus did seem to have the most robust local music scene – at least, in Texas! As for the band Corpus, I’ve never heard of them. Granted, I moved to Houston in 1971 to attend the University of Houston.
Liberty Bell was a band you were involved with in the 70’s? What else?
I joined Liberty Bell in February of 1968. Their lead singer, Ronnie Tanner, had been drafted into the army at just about the same time that The Zakary Thaks broke up (for the 1st time). I was with them for about nine months or so, but the drummer and the bass player left the group for college and the replacements were not nearly as good so the group just sort of dissolved by November of 1968. We did get to record about half a dozen songs before disbanding though.
What are you currently up to?
Today, I work for the Corpus Christi school district as an instructional adjunct for the language arts department. I still perform at shows but most of them are in Austin nowadays. I am fortunate that there are a couple of Austin-based bands that back me up whenever these shows come up – most frequently with the Ugly Beats. These guys really have the 60s garage sound dialed in!
Before we end our interview I would like to ask about song writting? What inspired you?
Well, I wish I could give a definitive answer to that. I think with the Thaks, we always composed the music first, then I would let the song itself pull the words out of me. I don’t think we were particularly “inspired” by any one group, but you’d definitely have to give a nod to the Yardbirds and their influence on us. When I was in the Liberty Bell, it was a different process altogether. Either I or Allen Hunt would come to rehearsal with a mostly complete song. Al took a lot of his cues from Beau Brummels and/or Jeff Beck. As for myself, I remember being into Small Faces and Jefferson Airplane. For Kubla Khan, I basically wrote everything so I would just bring the songs to rehearsal and we’d arrange them accordingly before going into the studio. The Band was my inspiration on most of the songs, for sure! And of course, the main theme that inspired 90 percent of all the songs was girls – usually unrequited love or breaking it off! Let’s face it, it’s what most young men dwell upon.
Drummer Pat Whitenton, bassist Rex Gregory, singer Chris Gerniottis, lead guitarist John Lopez and rhythm guitarist Pete Stinson from 2006.
Thank you very much for your time. Would you like to share anything else with readers of It’s Psychedelic Baby Magazine?
It’s a priviledge and an honor to still be remembered as a Zakary Thak after all these many years.
Cheers to one and all,
Interview made by Klemen Breznikar / 2012
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