COUNTDOWN 5 - The Full Story
The original band, "D & The Dominoes" was formed in the summer of 1962 by childhood friends Tommy Williams (drums), Tommy Murphy (bass), and an older fellow named Elesio Delao in Tommy Williams' garage in Texas City, Tx. Delao then left and was replaced by another childhood friend Mack Hayes (singer & keys) and two more musicians that were recommended, Starling Mosley (guitar) and Steve Long (sax & keys).
Battle of the Bands
Within a matter of a few months, Mosley left the group, and while searching for a replacement, we played in a Battle of the Bands in Texas City and were impressed with a left handed guitar whiz named John Balzer, who was backing some fellow named Johnny Lee in that same contest. We also played a battle of the bands at the Texas City High School baseball field in the middle of the summer. We wore red blazers (go figure) and were dying in the heat waiting to go on. Just as we were to take the stage, they inserted a band in front of us because the leader of the band was albino and had to get out of the heat as soon as possible. That was our first encounter with Johnny Winters.
Finally, D & The Dominoes was set: Balzer, Hayes, Murphy, Williams, and Long. The home base for D & The Dominoes for the next few years in the spring and summer was the legendary Bamboo Hut, and later the Grass Menagerie, Galveston Beach Clubs that were THE summer destinations for college kids from all over the U. S. During this time we hired a manager, Don Gomez, and It was at the Bamboo Hut that D & The Dominoes caught the eye of a Houston TV producer who signed the group to be the featured band on a weekly TV show called "Impact". The show, a local version of Dick Clark's "Where the Action Is", was filmed at various Galveston beach locations. The producer wanted us to change the name of the group to something echoing the new space industry being established in the area; hence, the "Countdown 5" was born.
Obviously we were influenced by the Beatles, the Stones, and The Raiders, but in those early days there was a trio that played at the Rusty Bucket in Pasadena called "Clarence Perry & the Perrymates." Clarence was the most extrodinary singer, guitar player, and showman that we had seen at that time. They were a very big influence. The transition from The Dominoes to The Countdown 5 included moving from what today would be absolutely primitive sound equipment to the thunderous power of a wall of silver roll and pleated Kustom Amps and speakers, the first in Houston, and a portable drum stage. Pretty impressive back then.
The 5The "5" was a showy, entertaining rock & roll band that cut up with the crowds, did a lot of choreography, and was dedicated to putting on a good show. There was always a lot of movement to go with the music, and extras like left handed guitar whiz Balzer playing the guitar behind his back and with his teeth, and Williams jumping up and down on his drum kit during “Shout”! The 5 played the beach 6 nights a week plus Saturday and Sunday afternoons during the spring and summer, and Texas (Houston, Dallas, Ft. Worth, Austin, Corpus Christi, Beaumont, etc.) and Louisiana (New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, Lafayette, etc.) in the fall and winter. The Houston area gigs included the appearances on the Larry Kane TV show, Catacombs, Teen Hall, Taylor Hall, the Golden Fleece, Alvin American Legion Teen Dances, the Dome Shadows (with Jimmy Clanton), La Maison (with Paul Revere and the Raiders), etc. There were also many of the Battle of the Bands at venues like the Arena Theater, Menard Park in Galveston, East Bernard, as well as many others. Those are where we battled against the great Houston bands like the Moving Sidewalks (just pre ZZ Top fame), the Clique, the 13th Floor Elevators, the Coastliners, and others. In fact the Coastliners and the Countdown 5 were picked at one of the battles to go to Dallas to compete for the state title.
Hit the charts
We wrote and recorded a wealth of material during the mid sixties. We were part owners in Walt Andrus' recording studio "Andrus Productions" on Howard Drive and the Gulf Freeway. We had two Billboard Top 100 hits during that period, "Uncle Kirby" and "Shaka Na Na." Because of those records and the showbiz nature of the group, concert promoters began to book us as the opening act for many of the superstar groups when they made their Gulf Coast Swing. We opened for people such as the Dave Clark 5, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Grass Roots, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, the Fifth Dimension, and many others. We actually did a few concerts with Sam the Sham (Domingo Samudio). Sam liked our band and invited us to come to Memphis where he had his producer record some tunes with us in his studio. Sam was a bit of a wild man, especially when he was on his motorcycle. He was a fun guy, and even took us over to Graceland. Too bad Elvis was in California, and we didn't get to meet him. A typical set list would include tunes like Shout, Ooo Poh Pah Doo, Midnight Hour, Mustang Sally, Louie Louie, Satisfaction, some Beatle tunes, Purple Haze, Sunshine of Your Love, When a Man Loves a Woman, Wild Thing, Wolly Bully, My Girl, and some Paul Revere and the Raiders tunes.
Glamour & Reality
We had more than our share of close calls with angry boyfriends, cowboys that didn't like the Beatle hair or "them goofy outfits", and a couple of joints right out of the Blues Brothers movie where we dodged beer bottles behind chicken wire. All in all it was great fun. I'll never forget the first time we opened a concert for one of the major acts. This was during the height of the Beatle era and at that concert level the kids would mob us as well as the main act. It was quite an eye opener and while it was a thrill, it became pretty scary sometimes.
One more thing
A very strange thing occurred after I had put my personal web site up in the 90's, I received emails from people in London, Paris, and other European cities telling me how they danced to"Uncle Kirby" and "Shaka Na Na" in the European dicos in the 70's. We had no idea that they had been released overseas. They were also included on several European compilation albums. We later found out that “Shaka Na Na” hit number one on the German charts in 1968.