NEAL FORD AND THE FANATICS-GOOD MEN.

NEAL FORD AND THE FANATICS-GOOD MEN.

Between 1964 and 1968, Neal Ford and The Fanatics were Kings of the Houston music scene. They spent several years honing their sound and were now enjoying the fruits of their labor. Their unique and slick fusion of rock, R&B and garage won friends and influenced other groups all over Texas. Neal Ford and The Fanatics it seemed were riding the crest of a musical wave with their amalgam of American and British music. The next step was to release their debut single.

This was I Will Not Be Be Lonely, which was released on the Gina label in 1966. It was garage rock with an English influence. English groups like The Kinks, The Yarbirds, The Animals and The Zombies had influenced Neal Ford and The Fanatics. So had a whole host of American groups. However, in 1966, the English interest shawn through. A year later, having dominated their local music scene, Neal Ford and The Fanatics signed to Hickory Records and hoped to enjoy nationwide success.

Success at a local level was all very well. What Neal Ford and The Fanatics really wanted, was to translate this success to a national level. Hickory Records, a bigger label, with more resources, gave them a better chance of achieving this success. The combination of Neal Ford and The Fanatics and Hickory Records looked like a winning combination. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. After releasing a handful of singles and their 1967 eponymous album, Neal Ford and The Fanatics and Hickory Records parted company with Hickory Records. That wasn’t the end of Neal Ford and The Fanatics. No. They released a few more singles. These tracks feature on Neal Ford and The Fanatics’ Good Men, which was recently released on Big Beat Records, a subsidiary of Ace Records. Before I tell you about the highlights of Neal Ford and The Fanatics’ Good Men, I’ll tell you about the band and their history.

Neal Ford was born in San Antonio, but moved around during his childhood. This was his due to his father’s work. He was a steelworker, so had to move to where they work was. They settled in Houston, Texas, where Neal a talented athlete, went to high school. Having won a scholarship to the Howard Payne University in Brownwood, his musical career inadvertently began.

At Payne University, Neal met Kim Espy, who was on a basketball scholarship. The pair became good friends. At night in the dorm, Neal sang and played ukelele. Then one night, Kim joined him and the pair sang harmonies. Next to join them, was Ray Hildebrand, who was also on a basketball scholarship. They started singing together. Then Ray left the trio to cut a single with Jill Jackson. As Paul and Paula, they recorded Hey Paula. Now just a duo, Kim and Neal called themselves The Ramadas and started performing live. After that, they recorded their debut single.

Teenage Dream was The Ramadas debut. Released in 1963, on the Phillips label, it came attention to a local music impresario, Major Bill Smith. Teenage Dream and its followup, Summer Steady. The following year, 1964, The Ramadas moved to the New World label, where they released a trio of singles. Later in 1964, The Ramadas formed their own label and as the VIPs, released another single. By then, music was changing, when the British Invasion changed American music forever. Something else was changing, Neal was drafted into the US Army.

When he left the army, Neal set about forming a new band. This band would be influenced by the British Invasion. Each of the band were much older than Neal. He was the youngest member and in charge. This didn’t trouble him. Neal’s first recruit as guitarist Johnny Stringfellow. Then bassist W.T. Johnson, drummer John Cravey and Jon Pereles guitar and vocalist. Keyboardist Dennis Senter was thought to be the final member. That wasn’t to be. After one of their first concerts, Dennis asked how much they’d made. However, when Neal told them they each owed him sixty-seven cents, Dennis quit. His replacement until January 1966 was Steve Ames. After that, Lanier Greg filled the role. That was still to come. Before that, Neal Ford and The Fanatics were about to record their debut single I Will Not Be Be Lonely, which features on Neal Ford and The Fanatics’ Good Men.

I Will Not Be Be Lonely is one of twenty-six tracks on  Neal Ford and The Fanatics’ Good Men. There’s the nine singles Neal Ford and The Fanatics released on Hickory Records, plus two album tracks. Then there’s the three singles released on Tantara and four singles for the Caped Crusader label. As an added bonus, there’s seven previously unreleased tracks. These twenty-six documents the musical career of Neal Ford and The Fanatics and demonstrate why over forty years after they released their last single, there music is fondly remembered.

It was on 1st January 1965, that Neal Ford and The Fanatics’ cut I Will Not Be Be Lonely. This was one of a number of songs the group recorded that day. Just like the B-Side Be Mine, it was written by Neal Ford. With its stomping beat, washes of keyboards and jangling guitars the arrangement is a fusion of American and British music. There’s a strong Kinks’ influence. As for Neal’s lead vocal and the harmonies, they melt into one. They play an important part in the song’s success. Listening to this single, it’s obvious that all of the band are experienced musicians.

While Neal Ford was completing his time in the Army Jon Pereles took charge of the lead vocal. Steve Ames also replaced Dennis Senter on keyboard. When Neal returned home, Neal Ford and The Fanatics signed to the Tantara label. 

There are four tracks from Neal Ford and The Fanatics time at Tantara on Good Men. They’re a quality quartet, where the group’s influences shine through. Neal remembers writing Bitter Bells when he was in the US Navy. It’s a trippy fusion of rock and psychedelia. As Don’t Tie Me Down, The Animals seemed to have influenced them. It has a wistful and cinematic, before becoming dramatic and emotive. Better Slow Down is best described drama-laden and three-minutes of timeless theatre. Lysergic, moody and psychedelic describes I Will If You Want To, which is the highlight of Neal Ford and The Fanatics time at Tantara.

After the band left Tantara, where they were one of the label’s biggest acts, their manager decided that it was all very well enjoying local success, but nationwide success was where the money was. So, he shopped the band around various labels. Capitol were interested, but eventually, the band decided upon the Nashville based Hickory Records. They were a subsidiary of publishers Acuff-Rose. When Neal Ford and The Fanatics signed to Hickory keyboardist Steve Ames left because of health problems. Lanier Greg replaced him and completed the classic lineup of Neal Ford and The Fanatics.

From Tantara, Neal Ford and The Fanatics headed to Hickory Records. There’s eleven tracks from this period on Good Men. Among them are some of the singles they released on Hickory. This includes 1967 I Have Thoughts Of You, which was written  by Jon Pereles and produced by manager Richard Ames. It has a much more thoughtful, ethereal and soulful sound. That’s because of Neal’s wistful, heartfelt vocal and the tender harmonies. So good is this track, that it’s one of the best tracks the Good Men recorded. Tucked away on the B-Side is That Girl Of Mine. It’s much more what we’ve come come to expect from Neal Ford and The Fanatics. There’ a British Invasion influence, especially The Who.

Shame On You is another of the singles Neal Ford and The Fanatics released on Hickory. Neal is very much the showman, vamping his way through the track, while rock, psychedelia and garage are combined by The Fanatics. They also add cooing harmonies on what is a quirky, hidden gem. Flip over to the B-Side and you’ll find the Jon Pereles penned Gonna Be My Girl. People realized it was way too good to be a B-Side and deserved a better fate. When Joe Ford a DJ at KNUZ radio station played Gonna Be My Girl, it became a hit right through the Gulf Coast, selling 20,000 copies and reaching number one in the region. This showed that Neal Ford and The Fanatics were on the cusp of making a commercial breakthrough. Sadly, it never came.

In 1967, Neal Ford and The Fanatics released their eponymous debut album. Featuring eleven tracks, this included Gonna Be My Girl, Nothing Left To Do, Bitter Bells, Shame On You, That Girl Of Mine and (I’ve Got A) Brand New Girl. All of these tracks feature on Good Me. They feature the classic lineup of Neal Ford and The Fanatics at their tightest. Here’s a band that are experienced and have spent years honing their sound and mixing musical genres. Proof if any was needed, is the fusion of blues and rock that’s One Times One Ain’t Two. Here, Neal Ford and The Fanatics fuse the Rolling Stones and Chess  blues. It’s a mesmeric masterstroke. Sadly, despite the undoubted quality of songs like One Times One Ain’t Two, Neal Ford and The Fanatics wasn’t a commercial success. This hadn’t been helped by the loss of a Fanatic.

Although Neal Ford and The Fanatics enjoyed a degree of success further afield, the band remained a Texan success story. The most successful period of their career was between 1966 and 1967. Unfortunately, just as the only album of their career was released, John Stringfellow was drafted. This meant one of the group’s most important members was missing. The continued to release singles and even opened for Jimi Hendrix. What should’ve been a momentous evening wasn’t. They weren’t as well received. Catcalls from the audience signaled music had changed. Their contract with Hickory ran out in 1968. After a one-off single deal with ABC, Neal Ford and The Fanatics seemed to run out of steam. 

There were arguments about whether the group should “go psychedelic.” Then members of the band left and replacements drafted in. They recorded four or five songs before in the summer of 1970, Neal Ford and The Fanatics split-up. That might have been the end of Neal Ford and The Fanatics, but isn’t the end of Good Men.

There’s ten other tracks on Good Men. This includes four released on Caped Crusader in 1994. This includes Good Men Are Hard To Find and For You. Good as they are, the other two tracks are real finds. I Can’t Go On is a driving, choppy and needy slice of psychedelia. Dramatic with some peerless guitar playing it’s a real find. So is Woman where rock, garage and psychedelia unite. 

The other songs on Good Men are the previously unreleased tracks. Amongst them are a couple of real gems. This includes The Seasons, a genre-melting fusion of funk, garage, rock and psychedelia. Save Your Affection is a melodic, infectious track that unfolds in waves. Featuring some of The Fanatics’ trademark harmonies, you wonder where this track has been all these years? Then there Night Time, where The Rolling Stones and Lou Reed seem to influence Neal’s strutting, sneering vocal. Behind him, The Fanatics mix musical genres and influences in their melting pot. This trio of track are another three reasons why Good Men is the definitive Neal Ford and The Fanatics’ compilation.

Featuring twenty-six tracks, Neal Ford and The Fanatics’ Good Men covers every part of Neal Ford and The Fanatics’ career. This includes from their first single I Will Not Be Be Lonely, right through to the end of their career at Hickory Records it’s all on Good Men, which was recently released on Big Beat Records, a subsidiary of Ace Record. Whether you’re an old fan rediscovering Neal Ford and The Fanatics or a new fan wanting to hear their music for the first time, Good Men is the perfect starting place. It’s not just the music that makes me say this, but Alec Palao’s sleeve-notes. They’ll tell you everything you want to know about Neal Ford and The Fanatics, but were afraid to ask. They’re also the perfect introduction to a group who could’ve and should’ve enjoyed a longer and more successful career.

For six years, Neal Ford and The Fanatics created genre-melting music. Originally, they’d been influenced by the British Invasion, and groups like The Kinks, The Yarbirds, The Animals and The Zombies. Having said that, there was still a strong American influence to their music, including blues, garage, classic rock and psychedelia. Despite their undoubted talent and ability to combine genres and influences, commercial success and critical acclaim eluded them. There’s maybe a simple explanation for that.

That’s that Neal Ford and The Fanatics stood still. Between 1966 and 1967, they were producing cutting-edge music. This continued into 1968. Then when John Stringfellow was drafted. This meant one of the group’s most important members was missing. They continued to release singles and even opened for Jimi Hendrix. What should’ve been a momentous evening wasn’t. They weren’t as well received. Catcalls from the audience signalled music had changed. That should’ve resulted in Neal Ford and The Fanatics changing direction. They considered heading in the direction of psychedelia, but didn’t.

After that their contract with Hickory ran out in 1968. After a one-off single deal with ABC, Neal Ford and The Fanatics seemed to run out of steam and the band split-up in 1970. However, the music on Neal Ford and The Fanatics’ Good Men features the band at their best, pushing musical boundaries and combining a disparate and eclectic selection of influences. Standout Tracks: I Will Not Be Be Lonely, Gonna Be My Girl, One Times One Ain’t Two and Night Time.

NEAL FORD AND THE FANATICS-GOOD MEN.

Good Men

Good Men

Good Men

Good Men

 

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