The Hangmen


Band members                             Related acts

  line up 1  (1965)

- Bob Berberich -- drums, percussion

- George Daly -- rhythm guitar

- Tom Guernsey (RIP 2012) -- backing vocals, guitar

- Mike West -- bass

 

  line up 2  (1965-66)

- Bob Berberich -- drums, percussion

- George Daly -- rhythm guitar

- Tom Guernsey (RIP 2012) -- backing vocals, guitar

NEW - Dave Ottley (RIP 2012) -- vocals

- Mike West -- bass

 

  line up 3  (1966-67)

- Bob Berberich -- drums, percussion

- George Daly -- rhythm guitar

NEW - Paul Dowell -- bass (replaced Mike West)

- Tom Guernsey (RIP 2012) -- backing vocals, guitar

NEW - Tony Taylor -- vocals (replaced Dave Ottley)

 

 

 

 

- The Button (Bob Berberich, Tom Guernsey and Tony Taylor)

- Paul Dowell and the Dolphin (Bob Berberich, George Daly, and

  Paul Dowell)

- Graffiti (Tony Taylor)

- Grin (Bob Berberich and George Daly)

- The Omegas (Tom Guernsey)

- Ottley (Bob Berberich)

- The Reekers (Bob Berberich and Tom Guernsey)

- The Roaches (Tony Taylor)

- The Rosslyn Mountain Boys (Bob Berberich)

 


 

Genre: rock

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  Bitter Sweet

Company: Monument

Catalog:  MLP 8077
Year:
 1967

Country/State: Rockville, Maryland

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: --

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 2875

Price: $40.00

1960s Washington, D.C.-based cult band ...  (Okay, they actually hailed from Rockville, Maryland.)  

 

While attending high school in Montgomery, County Maryland (a Washington DC suburb), drummer Bob Berberich and guitarist Tom Guernsey had been members of The Reekers. The Reekers managed to record an obscure 1964 Guernsey-penned surf-rocker that was released as a single for the small Baltimore-based Ru-Jac label.  The single did nothing and before a follow-on could be recorded the band called it quits when the members when off to college. 

- 1964's 'Don't Call Me Flyface' b/w ' Grindin' (Ru-Jac catalog number 45-RJ-13) 

 

Berberich and Guernsey enrolled in Montgomery Junior College where they found kindred spirits in fellow students George Daly (rhythm guitar) and  Mike West (bass).  If you believe the story, the four decided they wanted an authentic British singer.  Reaching out to the British Embassy, they were put in touch with Scottish-born singer/hair-stylist Dave Ottley.

 

Active playing battles of the bands, local dances and club scene (La Salle Teen Club, The Rabbit's Foot, etc.), in 1965 band managers Mike Klavens and Larry Sealfon played a Hangmen demo for Monument's Records founder Fred Foster. Foster was impressed, signing the band to Monument.  Over the next year they releasing a first rate pair of garage rockers:

- 1965's 'What a Girl Can't Do' b/w 'The Girl Who Faded Away' (Monument catalog 45-910)

- 1966's 'Faces' b/w 'Bad Goodbye' (Monument catalog number 45-951)

 

Touring up and down the East Coast, opening up for a slew of national acts increased their profile and sales of the singles proved strong in their Washington D.C. home market.  That provided enough commercial promise for Monument to finance an album.  With former The Roaches lead singer Tony Taylor replacing Dave Ottley and Paul Dowell taking over bass for Mike West, 1967's "Bitter Sweet" found the band teamed with songwriter/producer Buzz Cason.  Recorded in Nashville, the album offered up a mixture of band originals, including remakes of the two earlier singles, and a couple of outside covers  While a lot of folks were less than enamored by new singer Taylor, to my ears he wasn't half bad.  I just didn't see where the loss of an authentic English singer made much difference to their sound.  About half of the album was quite good. Their cover of Cindy Walker's 'Dream Baby' was slinky and enjoyable.  'Terrible Tonight' had a nice lysergic feel.  The band original 'Isn't that Liz' held on to their earlier garage roots and they turned in a nice cover of Van Morrison's 'Gloria'.  While pale compared to the original 45, their re-recorded version was still energetic.   Unfortunately, exemplified by the re-recorded singles,  Monument seemed determined to recast the band as a faceless pop entity. To that end producer Cason saddled the group with sappy, over-produced ballads such as 'Let It Be Me' and the Lovin' Spoonful-influenced 'I Wanna Get To Know You'.  Certainly not a bad debut, but you had to wonder what they could have accomplished given more artistic freedom.

 

"Bitter Sweet" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Dream Baby  (Cindy Walker) - 2:25   rating: **** stars

Written by the late Cindy Walker (one of America's most overlooked songwriters), Roy Orbison probably recorded the best known version of 'Dream Baby'.   That's not to say it was the best.  Powered by some tasty electric sitar and showcasing the band's wonderful harmonies, their lite-psych tinged version was simply killer.  Easy to see why Monument tapped it as the album's first single:

- 1966's 'Dream Baby' b/w 'Let It Be Me' (Monument catalog number 45-983)

2.) Guess What   (Tom Guernsey - George Daly) - 2:16  rating: *** stars

Complete with horn arrangement, 'Guess What' was a bit too MOR poppish for my tastes, but I'll admit it was a well crafted song.   

3.) Crazy Man   (Tom Guernsey - George Daly) - 2:21   rating: ** stars

The country-tinged melody and counterculture lyrics certainly date the song, but the thing that ultimate kills it was xxx's nasally voice. 

4.) Let It Be Me   (Becaud - Dalanoe - Curtis) - 3:05   rating: ** stars

The album's prettiest tune, but very close to saccharine.  If you're going to bother, go with The Everly Brothers version.

5.) Terrible Tonight    (Tom Guernsey - George Daly) - 2:20   rating: **** stars

Another band original, 'Terrible Tonight' finally saw the band moving away from drippy pop towards a more contemporary sound.  Nah, it wasn't acid rock, but complete with Coral electric sitar colorings, the song exhibited at least glimmers of a harder and slightly lysergic-tinged sound.

6.) Faces   (Tom Guernsey - George Daly) - 3:35   rating: **** stars

OMG !  Full of fuzz guitar and Ottley's snarling vocals,  'Faces' finally showed they were capable of recording a true, stomping garage rocker.  Add in a wonderful, martial bass line and a cool, druggy organ and you had one of the best things they ever recorded.   Awesome track which was released as their sophomore single.  Maybe it was just my ears playing tricks on me, but the earlier 45 mix seems to have had far more snap and energy than the LP version.

 

(side 2)

1.) I Wanna Get To Know You   (Tom Guernsey - George Daly) - 2:32   rating: *** stars

Anyone who appreciated the softer sounds of groups like The Lovin' Spoonful was likely to enjoy this sweet ballad.   Nice harmony vocals.

2.) Everytime I Fall In Love   (Jack Bryant) - 2:18   rating: **** stars

Give the band credit for recognizing a good song when they heard it - in this case a track written by Washington DC contemporaries The Fallen Angels.  While it couldn't match the dreamy original, to my ears their cover of 'Everytime I Fall In Love' had a surprisingly modern sound.  One of the album's standout performances.

3,) What A Girl Can't Do   (Tom Guernsey) - 2:27   rating: *** stars

Previously released as the debut Hangmen 45, 'What a Girl Can't Do' was actually a Reekers performance feature Joe Triplet on lead vocals. Sadly the rerecorded album version lost its edge with Monument seemingly afraid to showcase the group's garage edge.

4.) Isn't That Liz   (Tom Guernsey - George Daly) - 1:59   rating: **** stars

'Isn't That Liz' was the only tune to echo their earlier garage rocker roots.  Killer performance that left you to wonder what the album could have been like had the band given more flexibility to select what they wanted to record.   Only complaint - the song was too short.

5.) Gloria  (Van Morrison) - 5:27  rating: *** stars

Like virtually every mid-'60s rock band, The Hangmen's recording contract apparently included a clause requiring they record at least one Them cover ...  Just kidding, though like any self-respecting mid-'60s band their live repertoire included an extended version of 'Gloria'.   The studio version wasn't half bad.  It won't make you forget Them's original, Tom Taylor's vocals were suitably impressive with Guernsey getting an opportunity to cut loose on guitar.

 

And that was it for The Hangmen.  By mid-1967 Berberich, Guernsey, and Taylor had added former Mad Hatter bassist Alan Flower and lead guitarist George Strunz to the line-up and opted to dive into psychedelia under the name The Button.   Guernsey subsequently quit and The Button morphed into Graffiti.

 

 

Berberich has enjoyed an extensive post--Hangmen career including stints backing Nils Lofgrin in Grin, and played with groups as diverse as The Rosslyn Mountain Boys and Ottley.  Last time I checked, along with his wife Martha Hull (of Slickee Boys fame), he owned and operated Vinyl Acres in Frederick Maryland.

 

Dowell became equipment manager for the Jefferson Airplane.

 

Daly went on to A&R work with Elektra Records.

 

Sadly, Guernsey died of ALS in October, 2012

 

Having returned to the UK, where he continued to work as a hairdresser, Ottley died in November 2012.

 

For anyone interested, prior to his death, the Please Kill Me website conducted an interesting interview with Guernsey: http://pleasekillme.com/an-interview-with-tom-guernsey-from-the-hangmen/  

 

 

 

 

 

 

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