Thursday, May 24, 2018

Hangin' Out with the Blox

The Blox are well-known among sixties fans today for their 1967 single "Hangin' Out" on the Solar label. The single did not make any impression at the time of its release, but it was rescued from oblivion by inclusion as the lead-off track on Flashback (later known as "Texas Flashbacks") Volume 3 in 1980. Yet the group themselves have not factored into too many memories of the Houston '60s scene.

The core trio of the Blox (Robert Turner - lead guitar; Tim Oliver - lead vocals, organ, rhythm guitar; and Jared Satterwhite - bass) played together in several bands with different names over the second half of the '60s, and these frequent name changes probably contributed to their later obscurity. They recorded as early as July, 1965, but did not see a vinyl release until they hooked up with Fred Carroll at Andrus Productions in 1967. A McCoys' album track, "Say Those Magic Words," was immediately recognized for its commercial potential, and their cover version was rushed out on Carroll's new label, Solar, in June, 1967. This was indeed a hit, but only locally. Nevertheless, it probably inspired the McCoys' to release their own version a couple of weeks later as a single just in case, thereby "covering" a cover. As a nice bonus, the Blox were invited on The Larry Kane Show to mime their record.

Released in November, 1967, Robert Turner's original "Hangin' Out," sung by Tim Oliver, had a much tougher sound and attitude, with punk lyrics ("my whole world is out of place"), fuzz bass, and a psychedelic tape-phased instrumental break. Though listed among radio station KFMK's "most requested" in the Houston Post on November 26, 1967, this second single didn't make much impact, and today it is far rarer than copies of "Say Those Magic Words."

When Lelan Rogers left International Artists in February, 1968, IA President Bill Dillard hired Fred Carroll to return to the label that he started. Fred brought the Blox with him, and work on a third single commenced in the early spring of 1968. But Carroll, who had a combative personality, didn't last with IA very long, and when he left, the band's hoped-for release went into deep-freeze. While a lot of "lost" and unissued IA tapes and acetates have been excavated in the decades since, no one has ever found the Blox tapes.

The group soldiered on, but had run out of steam by 1969.

Robert Turner and Jared Satterwhite shared their memories of the Blox with me, and Jared kindly provided photographs of the group.

Houston teen club, 1966. From left: Jared Satterwhite, Robert Turner, Tom Cramer, Tim Oliver. (All photos courtesy Jared Satterwhite Collection.)

Robert Turner / lead guitar, songwriter 

We had a group that was a little radical at the time [1966] called the Third Institutional Commitments. We played the Catacombs, La Maison … we went into the studio to record a couple of tunes and met Fred Carroll, who managed the Coastliners at that time. That’s when we changed our name to the Blox. We were about 18 or 19. Fred was a really talented guy who seemed sort of like a frustrated musician himself. He could play keyboards and he wrote a lot of songs. He locked into the music business through Andrus Studios. He was real close to being the best record producer down here, and he had the best ear for music. He’d tell everybody he was 25 when he was really only about 21. 

The Third Institutional Commitments at the Shamrock Hotel swimming pool, 1966. Mike Kahn (drums), Robert Turner (lead guitar, left on diving board), Jared Satterwhite (bass, center), Tom Cramer (rhythm guitar, right), Tim Oliver (lead vocals, organ, in pool). Click to enlarge. 

He wanted to expand his horizons when we met him, because he had the Coastliners, who were very bookable. So if somebody couldn’t afford, or didn’t want to pay the money the Coastliners were asking – which was like $2500 – Fred could offer them the Blox for $750-1000. So we could kind of ride on their coattails without doing surfer music. 

We made the Top 30 on KILT and KNUZ with “Say Those Magic Words.” We had to keep ordering copies from United Distributing. Mercury was fixing to pick it up, but the McCoys released their version on a 45. 

Nowsounds Calendar in the Houston Post, July 23, 1967. Click to enlarge. The Blox are playing at the University of Houston Student Center the following Friday, and Mount Carmel High School the next night. 

La Maison was started by a guy named Jerry Clark. It was the first avant-garge, counterculture dance hall in Houston. La Maison was on Richmond and had been a grocery store before being converted into a teen dance club. After it closed down, the Hullaballoo Club moved into the same location.

Fred Carroll and I started Solar Records. We later signed with International Artists, but it all fell apart because Fred left, and we were stuck without a record producer, and the guys over there didn’t know what they were doing. There was nobody at IA that knew anything about producing records. We went into the studio and had started recording when all this was taking place. We eventually hired a lawyer to release us from our contract. It was all kind of falling apart at that point (1969). Fred had started IA, but sold it to the two lawyers (Bill Dillard and Noble Ginther, Jr.). In the meantime, we had started Solar. He had a falling out with Don Robey, and the Coastliners didn’t make him a millionaire. That’s when he signed a new producer’s contract with IA. 

“Say Those Magic Words” was released at the same time that the Who came to town for the first time. We opened for them in Beaumont. About 500 came and probably 300 were there to see us. When they played in Houston, they did real well, but the day before they played at the Beaumont Auditorium which holds 3,000 people. The Who sounded great. There were two shows … we opened both of them and still played a night club that night. Keith Moon and the bass player came down to see us that night at the club we were playing. After the show we sat down and drank beer. Keith and John were very refreshing, the other two (Pete Townshend and Roger Daltry) were more standoffish. 

We tried every trick in the book on “Hangin’ Out” and we got a little airplay. We sold about ten thousand copies of our first record, but I bet we didn’t sell more than a thousand of “Hangin’ Out.” 

We’d all play this little circle of clubs. Everybody played Mount Carmel High School, then they’d go up to Bay City, then down to the Golden Triangle (Beaumont-Port Arthur-Orange).

Houston Post, November 26, 1967. "Hangin' Out" mentioned as KFMK's "most requested."

Jared Satterwhite on stage, possibly at the Cellar Club, Houston, 1968 or '69. 

Jared Satterwhite /  bass

Robert Turner, Tim Oliver, and I started the Falcons V. We played for private parties. I trained a falcon to sit on my bass. 

Then we became the Outsiders (in late 1965/early 66). We did a lot of Beach Boys stuff. We had madras tuxedos we wore with knee-shorts and long black socks for formal occasions. We played a lot in Lake Charles, Louisiana at the Puppy Pen, owned by Eddie Arceneaux. It was an old, abandoned air force base. It was kind of a low-rent Catacombs. 

We played with Sam the Sham in Galveston at the Moody Center. He had a sentry posted in front of his room – I don’t know if it was to keep us out or them in. 

We played one week-long gig at a place called the Plantation on West Gray, across from the River Oaks Theater. It was a gay private club. You talk about a weird gig, man. We’d never been exposed to that before. Girls dancing with girls, guys dancing with guys, and some unidentified. We didn’t go back. 

We played at UH (University of Houston) at the Cougar Den. We played a lot of stuff at UT (University of Texas). Rice University used to have what we called a “Gross-Out” party. God, they just backed up the beer trucks to this place. Man, when they left and the lights came on, there would be beer bottles, vomit, parts of bodies all over the place. It was horrible!

The Blox on stage, 1968 or '69. Jared Satterwhite (bass) and Don Stott (drums). 

We played for (wealthy society matron) Candace Mossler. She had a coming out party for her daughter and hired us. We played at her house, outside. She’d send down notes that, at first, said, “Turn your instruments down.” But then she sent down requests. None of which we knew, songs like “Old Smokey.” That was a freaky gig. 

We played Love Street quite a bit. Even played the Cellar. That was the real “hard” place. Girls would just get up and start dancing – some would take off all their clothes. 

The music business is a dream world. It’s like, you always want it to happen, but you don’t think it ever will. So I don’t think there was ever any disappointment. 

The Blox on stage, 1968 or '69. Tim Oliver (organ, vocals) and Robert Turner (guitar, vocals). 

Postscript and Discography

I believe Robert is mistaken about the sales figures of "Hangin' Out." Only an estimated dozen or so copies of this record exist today, so the possibility that it originally sold 1,000 copies is extremely unlikely. 

The Stumbling Blox who recorded the unissued "It's Gonna be Alright" (Texas Punk 1966 on Cicadelic Records, 1984) are a different group.

Solar 235 - Say Those Magic Words/The Way I'm Gonna Be [KILT chart: #37 6/23/67]
Solar 237 - Hangin’ Out/Everyday’s Gonna Be Fun [Houston Post mention: 11/26/67]
(Solar 237 also exists as a one-sided DJ copy with only "Hangin' Out.")

The Solar singles were recorded at Andrus Productions in 1967. A version of “Every Day’s Gonna Be Fun” was recorded at ACA-Gold Star Studios [as the Falcons V] July 3, 1965, and may be the master used for the B-side of Solar 237.

Below: International Artists ad from Mother magazine, 1968, showing the Blox among bands whose "singles (were) in progress." This was a chaotic time for the label, and none of these were released except for Beauregard. Click to enlarge. 

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