HOMER - The early days
as told by guitarist Galen Niles, 2002
"In September 1966 I returned to San Antonio after spending the summer playing gigs in Ohio with “The Outcasts”. The band was a 4-piece by this time, as Jim Carsten quit the band rather than go on the Ohio “tour”. I moved to San Marcos, to resume my “college career” at SWTSU, and the other members of the band remained in San Antonio: Buddy Carson and Jim Ryan moved into an apartment with Roy Cox, and Rickey Wright moved back home with his parents. We still played on weekends, but we never practiced or learned anything new; so the band was essentially going nowhere.
Meanwhile, we stored our equipment van in the garage at my parents house in San Antonio. One fateful day, the Bexar County Sheriff showed up at my parents’ front door with a search warrant in hand. The warrant specified that the equipment van would be searched for contraband substances; i.e., “Marijuana”. Fortunately, this was before the advent of dope dogs, etc, so no illegal substance of any sort was found. The story did not end there, however; as my phone rang in San Marcos - It was my dad calling... He said he simply wanted to inquire “just exactly what-the-fuck was the sheriff doing in his goddamn garage searching through our equipment van for illegal drugs and stuff?” (This was 1967 for chrissakes - you could do years of “shakin’ em up here, boss” type of jail time for possessing 2 friggin’ seeds.) This van search scared me shitless - futhermore, my dad told me I would never be the next Jeff Beck - cause my “goddamn rock n’ roll career was FIN-I-TO!” (He was really pissed about the Sheriff’s search.) Sure enough, I was an ex-Outcast the next week.
I effectively retired from the music business to a college life not very dissimilar to that portrayed in the movie “Animal House”. Meanwhile, I found a steady girl friend in San Marcos (Carol O’Brien). Carol’s room mate was dating a guy named Chet Himes. We went out on double dates many times, and Chet & I became friends. Chet always pestered me to form a band with him - as he claimed to be a bass player. School got out in May of ‘67, and I agreed to get together and “jam” with him. I called a drummer friend of mine - Gary Crapster - and asked him to come over to join in. Gary agreed, and we got together. Now, I had played in a few bands with Gary during high school, and he was an excellent drummer (in fact, he went to St. Mary’s University in San Antonio on a music scholarship) - But Chet was a different story... he knew how to play “The Peter Gunn Theme” and not much else. Moreover, his bass was one of them goddamn Italian violin shaped hollow-body “Beatle” basses that whistled with feedback constantly. We truly sounded like shit, but we drank a lot of Falstaff beer and had a good time, so we agreed to get together and do it again the next week. In the meantime, Chet practiced constantly.
After a few weeks of these jam sessions, we could play about 12 cover songs. Chet was extremely motivated to get a band going, and brought us a guy named Frank Coy who he said could sing. Frank practiced with us a few times - he sounded okay, and could stay on key. Anyhow, Gary and I hung in there and we practiced for a few more weeks. (We were beginning to believe that maybe we could actually get a band going.) Frank told us he had a friend (Pat Cosgrove) who he had gone to school with at a Catholic seminary who could play guitar, and asked us if he could invite him to join us. I said “Whoa, what’s this business about studying for the priesthood at a Catholic seminary, Frank”? (I was concerned that he might be too innocent in the ways of the world to make a decent rock n’ roller - that is: no stage presence, no “banana in the crotch”, etc.) He informed us that he and Pat had both dropped out of the seminary, and that the priesthood was not for them. I said “Well, okay, bring Pat over”. Pat showed up at our next practice with his red Gibson SG. He could play fairly decent rhythm, and more important - he could sing back-up. Our line-up was set.
For some reason, we decided to name the band “Homer”. (I think that Gary came up with the name.) We practiced more and more through the summer, and we were actually becoming a decent cover band; we did songs like “She’s Not There”, “Hush”, “Land of 1,000 Dances”, etc. When the summer was over, Chet and I went back to school in San Marcos; Gary, Frank and Pat stayed in San Antonio and continued to go to St. Mary’s. Chet and I drove the 50 miles to San Antonio where we continued to practice at least twice a week. We got tighter and better, and it was finally time for our first performance. I knew most of the rock n’ roll club owners in San Antonio through my stints in previous bands, and I approached the “Pusi-Kat” club for our first gig. They “allowed” us to play there on a Sunday night, with no pay. Fortunately for us, the club was mostly empty. I say “fortunately” because Frank, Pat, and Chet were paralyzed with stage fright. Also, Frank showed up dressed in a white “Nehru” suit with the biggest friggin’ gold medallion and chain around his neck that anybody has ever seen before or since. Frank attempted to dance across the stage like James Brown with that big gold mother-fucker around his neck (as Gary and I looked for something to hide behind).
Things could only get better, and after several more low-profile gigs, things did actually begin to improve. After 6 months or so, we were playing clubs all over South Texas. We also began to write some original tunes and do our own arrangements of previous hit songs - ala “Vanilla Fudge”. School let out in May of ‘68, and we decided it was time cut a record. We saved our money and booked time in Robin Hood Bryan’s Studio in Tyler, and recorded a Willie Nelson song - “I Never Cared For You” and a Homer original titled “Dandelion Wine”. We came back to San Antonio with master tape in hand, and had several hundred 45’s pressed and gave them to a local record distributor (on consignment). We approached the program directors of the two biggest AM radio stations in San Antonio at the time - KTSA and KONO - and asked them to play our record. We got nowhere.
Meanwhile, I discovered that my dad knew the morning drive-time DJ at KONO (Howard Edwards) quite well, as he was a long time customer at the grocery store which my dad managed. I gave the record to my dad to give to Howard, which he did - along with about $100 worth of free prime beef in Howard’s grocery basket. That did the trick, as Ol’ Howard came through for us and began to play “I Never Cared For You” on his morning show. After about a month - and several hundred dollars more of free prime beef in Howard’s grocery basket - the distributor called for more records; they were sold out. KTSA also began to play it. Actually, we had sold about 5,000 copies ourselves when we were approached by a newly founded management agency called “Huffman & Hathaway” who expressed a desire to manage “Homer”. We agreed that we needed mangement and signed with them. (Huffman was a local attorney and Hathaway was a KTSA DJ.) We turned over control of the record sales to the agency at this point, and consequently, we’re not sure how many total units were actually sold.
The agency began to book us bigger gigs, and we found ourselves opening shows for national acts like “Blood, Sweat & Tears”, “Vanilla Fudge”, “Strawberry Alarm Clock”, etc. (The record peaked at number 2 in San Antonio on KONO’s top 40.) We were also getting airplay in other markets such as Houston, etc. We had a regional hit on our hands. Our agency then approached several major labels about taking the record national, and actually reached a tentative deal with Columbia records which included $5,000 in advance money. We were floating on cloud nine when Columbia’s head A&R guy (Jack Gold) decided that before Columbia cut that $5,000 check, he wanted to hear what Homer had in mind for a follow-up record. Needless to say, we were caught off guard with this - we hadn’t thought that far ahead. Anyhow, Huffman told us to pick out the best original tunes we had, and he would book some studio time in Tyler.
We cut “On The Wall” and “Texas Lights”, and sent them off to Columbia. Jack Gold then crabbed the whole deal - he informed us that he neither one of these songs remotely resembled a hit. Moreover, he said that “I Never Cared For You” had probably run its course, and at best, we were destined to become “one-hit wonders” - furthermore, Columbia would pass. (There would not be any $5,000 check in the mail after all.) What a dick. Huffman told us we would release “On The Wall” anyway, and prove Columbia wrong. After “I Never Cared For You” dropped off the San Antonio charts, “On The Wall” was released. It didn’t sell near as well as our previous record... could Jack Gold have been right?"
to be continued...
The Lama Workshop