Asheville’s ‘60s Garage Rock Scene: An Oral History (Part 2)

From left to right, Coleman Ramsey, Bob Garner, Bruce McTaggart, Jim Stover.

Name: Bruce McTaggart
Band: The Fabulous Wunz
High School: Lee Edwards High School (now Asheville High School)
Band Members: Jim Stover (vocals/guitar) – Class of ‘67
  Bruce McTaggart (guitar) – Class of ‘67
  Coleman Ramsey (bass) – Class of ‘67
  Bobby Garner (drums) – Class of ‘67
Years Active: 1965-1968
Recordings: One single 45 record. Released in 1966 on Pyramid Records, with A-side track “If I Cry” and B-side track “Please” 
Current band: McTaggart, Garret & DeBruhl (Bruce McTaggart)

Forming the Wunz

Bruce McTaggart: The Satrys actually inspired us. They were a year older, and they were the first ones out of the chute. I have to give them credit for that. When I came to Lee Edwards, I was in the 10th grade, and I had just gotten into this smaller band with two of the three guys that were later in the Wunz with me. We were the back-up band for a girl singer, Betsy Marshal.

Well, the Satyrs played the sock hop after a football game, playing Beatles music and stuff. And I was outside on the grass at Lee Edwards, and I heard those guys playing and I thought, “Wow, man!” Quite frankly, they inspired us to start our own band, quit playing “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” or whatever we were playing with that girl singer. So that’s how we became the Wunz.

We actually wound up being the Fabulous Wunz on the record. And for most of our success, I guess you could say, we were the Fabulous Wunz. But at the beginning we were just the Wunz. And I started that whole “z” business. It just caught on. Woody Hoyle’s band, they called themselves the Shaydz [pronounced “shades”] and stuck a “z” on it. It was just a popular thing to do back then.

We started off learning some rhythm and blues stuff, like the Temptations’ “My Girl,” [Marvin Gaye’s] “Stubborn Kind of Fellow,” and [Ernie K-Doe’s] “Mother-in-Law.” But we did all the Beatles stuff, too. We played every Beatles song that came out on the radio. It was pretty cool.

Jim Stover, our singer — well, we all sang, but he sang probably half the songs or better — he learned “Nowhere Man” by the Beatles off of WOWO [a former clear-channel AM station in Indiana] about three weeks before it came out here in Asheville. So we started listening to the radio and got all the licks down. And then they had an assembly program at Lee Edwards. This was about 1965, I’d guess. They’d have an assembly toward the end of the year and let the people who had bands play for them. The Satyrs played in that show. Well, we came out and played “Nowhere Man” and didn’t say a word about it. [Laughs.] Everybody thought we had written the son of a bitch! We just let them think it until it came out on the radio a few weeks later.

We played at all the football sock hops and stuff like that. There was nothing like playing a sock hop in a gymnasium. You talk about getting popular over night. All you had to do was be in a band. We played teen centers, played prom-type things at Enka and other high schools. We did a lot of benefit things, too. There was a lady who lived in an iron lung, and we went over to her house and played about an hour for her one time. The newspaper came over and took pictures of it. We were always doing little good things. We would go to the VA hospital and play for the vets and stuff. We were good little kids. We were wholesome.

Our drummer, Bobby Garner, he had an older brother named Gary Garner — Gary owned Garner Stereo, they’re out in Arden I think now — and he went to Clemson. He got us into the Clemson Follies— I don’t even know if they still have the Clemson Follies — but it was a big show in front of the whole school. It was pretty neat. And we were, like, 15 and 16. Gary was in a fraternity, and we played a bunch of fraternity parties for those guys. We were kind shocked, because we weren’t used to seeing a bunch of drunk college kids stumbling around. [Laughs.] We were just sweet little Beatles. That’s when Gary became our manager. He was actually instrumental in us getting our record deal. He put all that together with his parents.

I guess our highlight was when Tommy James and the Shondells came to what was then the Civic Center, and they needed an opening act. So we were asked by WISE radio — by the guy who was eventually the station manager, who actually became our manager later on — and we were just kids. Tommy James and his group, they arrived on the airplane, but their equipment didn’t make it. And we had good equipment. Our bass player had a nice Fender amp, and I had a Fender Super Reverb. We had a PA system that had, like, 4x12s on each side. We’d gotten it from the YWCA. It was more like an announcement system. We bought that thing from them for, like, I don’t know, $100, and put those great big speakers in them. And we thought we were hot stuff, man. We didn’t have to sing through our amplifier, like we had been doing. Yeah, we had good equipment, all the way down to the drums.

So we were asked if we would rent our equipment to Tommy James and the Shondells, because they didn’t have any. And we said, “Sure!” I think we might have made $20 a piece for this little show we played along with them, but we really stuck it to them, man. We charged them $80 for rental fees. [Laughs.] We were so proud of that. Not only did we get paid by the venue, we got $80 off of Tommy James and the Shondelles. [Laughs.]

The Look

We had Beatles haircuts. We had Beatle boots. We had coats with no collars. We had ties on. We dressed like the Beatles. That was thing, you know? Like Paul Revere and the Raiders and the Dave Clark Five and the Rolling Stones and all those ‘60s bands. And then we later went to paisley tuxedos — I still got them in my closet here upstairs. Real, pretty, blue-and-red paisley tuxedos.

Back then if you were in a band you dressed up. Period. You did not walk onstage with tennis shoes and a hat on and an old flannel shirt. If you went to play, you got a good shower. You rehearsed, got soundchecked. Then you went back and you got dressed up and you came back and you played the show.

Yeah, we all had Beatles haircuts back then. It was just down over your eyes touching your eyebrows. It was all combed forward. It had to be perfect and sprayed so it didn’t blow. And you parted your hair fairly low on one side and brought all that around in front.

I got thrown out of school for having long hair. Because it touched my ears and my collar. That was the rule: your hair couldn’t come over your ears or touch your collar. My mother, bless her heart, she knew I was a good kid. I didn’t drink or raise hell, didn’t drive fast cars. I sat home and played my guitar all weekend, except the time I was playing a gig somewhere. And I had to have my mother drive me to it, because I didn’t get my license until I was 18.

Well, they were going to make me cut my hair. And my mother drove me to school one day, and she went in and talked to Mr. Jones. She said, “Mr. Jones, let me tell you something. My son, he doesn’t drink, he doesn’t drive. He doesn’t go to these bars like these football players that are so well-statured. He stays home and plays his guitar, so I know what he’s doing. And he wears his hair the way he wants to. So I will tell you when it’s time for him to cut his hair.” [Laughs.] So I got to wear my hair a little longer than the rest of them. But not much. Because I wasn’t going to push the envelope. I would cut my hair to just, barely be too long.

Bucky [Hanks, singer/bassist for the Satyrs] had long hair, Rick Haynie [guitarist for the Satyrs]. All those guys had long hair. And especially in the summertime. Heaven forbid, when June came, man, nobody cut their hair. It did get long then. But when you went back to school you had to trim it up a little bit.

You got to remember, this thing hit around 1964. And just the fact that you didn’t have a flat top meant you had long hair. So if you had your hair combed down in front and it touched your eyebrows and went around in front, and it was over the tops of your ears, you had long frickin’ hair, pal. But my hair right now is longer than it was back then. And I have short hair now. If I had the length of my hair now, I would have been thrown out of school no matter what my mother said.

Because that’s the way it was in the ‘60s. Lee Edward High School and the city of Asheville, as well as county wide, had a dress code. You had to wear a collard shirt. Everybody looked good. If you look at an annual from back then, everybody’s got nice clothes on. You could not wear your shirt tail out. That was a sign of defiance. So a lot of us would untuck our shirts in parts of the hall, then tuck them back in before you go to math class. You could get called in to the principle’s office for having loafers and no socks on. And you had to have your hair cut and trimmed. This is what makes the ‘60s so revolutionary. Because all that started changing right then. And thank goodness my mother helped.

Recording the 45

We only did one 45. The hit song was called “If I Cry.” The other side was called “Please”. I found mine about ten years ago, and I couldn’t believe I still had a copy. Because we sold them all. There were only 600 copies. We’d put, like, twelve to twenty in our hands and walk the halls between classes at Lee Edwards selling them. We sold all of them out in less than a month. Everybody was buying them up hot. Over half of them were gone within the first week. We thought we were The Beatles. [Laughs.] But I kept one, thank God.

It was on Pyramid Records. The taping was done at Arthur Smith Studio in Charlotte. Arthur Smith, he wrote “Guitar Boogie”, and he also wrote “Dueling Banjos” in the ‘50s. That was his studio. Bobby Garner, his older brother Gary, he arranged the record deal for us. And I think their parents loaned us the money, and we paid them back through gigs. We probably took some of that Tommy James and the Shondells money and paid that record off. [Laughs.]

It went to number 1 for six weeks in Raleigh. And we flipped out, man. We couldn’t believe it. But it never did anything else because we weren’t on the road. To make a record successful you’ve got to back it up with touring. And we were all high school kids, we had to go do our numbers, you know? Figure out: Did Magellan go around the world in 1519, or was it 1915? [Laughs.]


The Battle of the (Garage) Bands

They had a Battle of the Bands every year at the old Civic Center [where the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium is now]. When I say every year, it was actually only three or four years that we were in that era, from ’64 or ‘65 till about ’69. Because then the heavier rock came in, with Led Zeppelin and Janis Joplin. And by then, what we were doing — which was really on the tails of the Beatles and in with the Rolling Stones — that whole thing lasted only about four years.

The Battle of the Bands, it was a big deal, man. Everybody showed up for them. Because we were in high school. It was so cool to be in a band, and everybody wanted to go see live music. You didn’t have YouTube, you didn’t have MTV. So it was a big deal to go see something. And if there was a Battle of the Bands with all your friends in it, everybody showed up. The place was packed. I mean, you couldn’t hardly get in the door. It was a lot of fun, man.

All you had to do was just sign up and come play, and there’d be, like, ten or twelve bands playing all night long. They’d start at six or seven o’clock. And you could play three songs. I think you’d win something like, I don’t know, a trophy or something. I forget that aspect of it.

There’d be a band from [A.C.] Reynolds High School, and an Enka band. Every school had their number one band. Asheville was a little but bigger, so we had the Satyrs and us and Bee Bumble and the Stingers. But there was a lot of camaraderie. All the musicians would hang out and talk about the guitar and what song we’re going to do and what clubs we’d played. Even though we were from different schools. That was kind of a unique situation, having schools that compete against each other in football and basketball, but all the musicians would share knowledge.

One year we got Most Original Song because of that little “If I Cry” record we did. But the MC of the show that year was the manager of Bee Bumble and the Stingers, and they won the thing. Boy, you talk about an outrage. But they did a good job. Steve Stewart [drummer for Bee Bumble and the Stingers] came out front, and they did “Wipeout” — are you familiar with that song? Well, the drumming’s a big deal. He came out front and beat on the microphone with his drumsticks. And everybody thought, “Wow, man, that’s so cool!” Well, they won it. But they weren’t the best band. We just rolled our eyes. We got our trophy for best song, so who cares. 

I tell you what, it was a lot of fun back then. Not just because of the youth thing. Everybody has fun when they’re young. I’m still having fun and I’m not as young as I used to be. But that was a wonderful time to be playing music. Because it was all so new, it was all so fresh.

To me music is a sickness. It’s a fever you start running when you’re about 11- years- old. And you never get over it. And that’s the way I am right now. I’m still running that temperature. I’ve got that fever. It’s like being tied to a bulldozer with a hundred-foot chain. You might run up behind it and sit down, but you’re not going to win. Because that chain will tauten up and you’ll be on your way again. 

The ‘60s Scene in Asheville

There were a lot of acts that came through Asheville in the ‘60s. Paul Revere and the Raiders, Jerry Lee Lewis, Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs — you know, “Hey there, little red riding hood…” All of those guys came through town. I still got my Beatles ticket, where I went to see them in Atlanta for six dollars and fifty cents in 1965. I filmed it with an 8mm camera. I still got the film of that show somewhere.

There were a whole fistful of clubs that were in town back then. One of them was The Golden Eagle on Haywood Rd. They could sell beer but couldn’t sell liquor. But they had brownbagging. That’s the key to it. You could brownbag in a bar if it was private. They’d take your liquor behind the bar, put your name on the bag or write it on the label. And then you could drink the whole bottle there. They’d sell you Cokes for a dollar. That’s the way they made money back in those days before they had liquor by the drink, which only came in about 20 years ago.

And then of course you had The Hideaway on Tunnel Road. It was an old garage where they worked on cars. They had the bay doors that opened down, and they just closed those and made a bar out of it. Man, it was a great redneck bar. [Laughs.] There was Rock City. Joe Hall owned that. That was a bowling ally. I played there a bunch. The Brown Derby was on Biltmore. It was downstairs. I only played there once. There was a bar on Amboy Rd. where the racetrack was, The Amboy Lounge. And there was another one called the Cat and the Fiddle on River Rd., right across the street from where the golf course is down there now.

These may seem insignificant, but all these bars did a monster business in the ‘60s. Because this place was a whole lot more country back then.

I think The Caribou out on Sweeten Creak Highway became The Nashville Club. They sold liquor behind the bar. You could walk in there and buy a pint of liquor and get drunker than hell. And a hell of a good time was had by all. Don’t take your wife there because you girlfriend’s probably going to be there. That kind of thing. I didn’t see a whole lot of fights, but it was that kind of environment. And everybody had hot cars. Because in the ‘60s everything had a V8 in it. You could write you name in the road with those cars.

The Riverboat Lounge is where I drank my first beer. It was down on the river between Asheville and Marshall. It burned down in a fire. You can still see the remnants. A lot of bands played there.

I was 16, and I didn’t touch the stuff again for two more years. My older brother Carl had given me a hit of speed that night. There was a little band playing in there, and he wanted me to get up and play with them. So he said, “Here, eat this.” He gave me this white pill. Hell, I had no idea what it was. So I ate it. Then he put a beer in front of me. I said, “I’m not drinking that beer.” And he said, “No, drink that beer.” Now, I idolized my brother. He’s the one who taught me how to play guitar. So I said, “Well, I don’t—“ He says, “Just drink the beer. You’ll need it to offset what you just ate.” [Laughs.] So I drank that Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, and let me tell you, I played my ass off that night.

Raising a Little Hell

I’ll tell you where I did play — The Casa Loma. Everybody went there. It was where the Long John Silvers is now on Biltmore Avenue in Biltmore. They had chicken wire fence and a dirt floor with plywood on it. And the walls were, like, corrugated metal. A lot of that was just nailed up to old 2x4s standing-up. And when you went down the hallway to go in, they had a black light where they’d stamp your hand, and then you’d pay a dollar or two or three to get in, because everybody’s going in and out to smoke.

We wrecked a car coming back from there on time. There was another band, the Royal Spades. David Plemmons was their drummer, and their guitar player was Earl Fowler. He became a judge here in town. Carl Mott was the bass player [actually, he played guitar and sang]. Well, Earl had to go to Wake Forest to take his entrance exam for law school. So they asked me if I wouldn’t play guitar that weekend at the Casa Loma — I was one of the few people in town who could play well enough. Actually, I was teaching guitar at that time at Dunham’s Music House. I was only 16 and I had something, like, 30 guitar students. I bought my first car teaching guitar as a kid.

So we played the gig. And I had a bunch of firecrackers. And we were leaving the Casa Loma, heading out Beaver Dam Road to take Carl home — we weren’t drinking, we were too young to drink — but I was having a ball. I had the window down about six inches, and I was flipping those firecrackers out the window. It was about 1:30 in the morning. We were raising hell. We’d just gotten done through playing, got our money. Plemmons had filled up his ’62 Ford Falcon with $5 worth of gas, ‘cause gas was about 35 cents. He’d filled that tank, had a full tank of gas.

So we were getting ready to go into a curve, and I’m flipping these firecrackers out the window. Well, I flip one and it hits the roof and comes back in the car. And, oh man. So I try to reach for it and the thing goes off. It about near blows David Plemmons’s head off. He hits a telephone pole and we roll three times down a bank into a lady’s corn field. You should have heard the metal and the glass, man, it was scary as hell. They say that your whole life goes in front of you in a wreck. Well, I was, like, 16 years old, and it happened. I saw everything I’d ever done in, like, about three seconds.

There was all this noise and racket. And then we finally got to the bottom the car was upside-down. I had to crawl out through the back windshield — it was busted out — because the doors were jammed shut. Totaled the car. Nobody got really hurt. I came out and I was bleeding a little bit. Had some blood on my shoulder and a little bit on the elbow. I had a thing on my nose. But it was all just little pieces of glass cut.

Well, David comes out, and I said, “Are you OK, man? Are you OK?” And he reaches for his chest. He grabs it real tight, and I think, F—k, this guy’s gonna die, man. Cause it was a helluva wreck. And I said, “What’s the matter, man!” He says, “I left my cigarettes inside the car.” [Laughs.]

So he went back in the car and got his cigarettes, and by then Carl was coming out. And David started bitching. He was pissed because he had just put $5 worth of gas to fill up the tank all the way to the top. He says, “Damn, if I’d had known, I would have wrecked that car empty!” [Laughs.] Because we didn’t make but $15 anyway.


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2 thoughts on “Asheville’s ‘60s Garage Rock Scene: An Oral History (Part 2)

  1. JOHN-C

    I have a copy of the Fabulous Wunz 45 in good playing condition… I’m into selling it for the right price… Hit me up if your interested… or contact me through this site(xpress)

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