Welcome to Mellow's Log Cabin. This blog's purpose is to supply information on a diversity of American southern music - ranging from country, blues, old-time and folk to R&B, rock'n'roll and rockabilly. I regularly present my research results about artists, labels, shows and also give guest writers a chance to publish their texts here on occasion.

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Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Thunderbirds

The Tunderbirds from El Reno, Oklahoma

 
The Thunderbirds - T Bird Rock (United Southern Artists 5-115), 1962

From the mid-1950s up to present days, there were probably hundreds of music groups using the name "The Thunderbirds." One of those groups always had my special attention just because of the raw demos they made. Their first demo record was on the Monette, Arkansas, based Buffalo label featuring "A Whole Lot of Shakin'" and "Flying Saucers." At the same time, there was a group of the same name that had an instrumental record out on United Southern Artists (from Hot Springs, Arkansas) and I always assumed this was the same band. I was surprised when I learned that this was not the case. Bassist Jack Heffron contacted me and fortunately brought some light on The Thunderbirds from El Reno, Oklahoma.


In the early winter of 1961, four young guys from El Reno, Oklahoma, got together and founded a band, calling them "The Thunderbirds." The line-up consisted of Kenneth "Gizz" Davis on rhythm guitar, Darrell Wiemers on lead guitar, Jack Heffron on bass, and Bob Garrett on drums. They organized teen hops in El Reno and the surrounding towns by renting halls and advertising their shows on newspaper and with posters. "Happy" Howard Clark, a disc jockey on WKY in Oklahoma City at that time, got word of the Thunderbirds and hired them to travel with him, playing dances all over Oklahoma.

Gizz Davis, who was handling the business issues of the Thunderbirds, somehow managed to secure a recording contract with United Southern Artists, a new label from Hot Springs, Arkansas. The Thunderbirds travelled to Hot Springs in order to audition for Carl Friend, A&R manager of the label. The band signed a contract and Friend soon set up a session at Echo Recording Studio in Memphis, Tennessee, where they cut "T Bird Rock" and "End Over End." Both instrumentals were released in either late 1961 or early 1962 on United Southern Artists 5-115. Billboard reviewed the single January 1962 in its pop segment.

Billboard January 27, 1962, review
The Thunderbirds had signed for two records and waited for Carl Friend's response but he never asked for a second record. Possibly it didn't sell. However, they did not make any more recordings. Cees Klop released a compilation on his Collector Records entitled "West Tennessee & Arkansas Rockin'" in 1998 that included "T Bird Rock" by the Thunderbirds as well as demo recordings of "Walking Down the Road," Warren Smith's "Ubangi Stomp" and "Blue Moon of Kentucky," also credited to the Thunderbirds. Either Klop miscredited those demos or the recordings were by another group of the same name. It's possible this second group was the same that recorded the demo record on Buffalo, mentioned earlier in the introduction. However, this has yet to be confirmed.

Shortly after the record, the band broke up. Davis and Heffron reformed the group again and played night clubs in Oklahoma City for a short time until the sudden death of Gizz Davis. He died in a car accident on March 20, 1963. Darrell Wiemers joined the Oklahoma Highway Patrol in 1964. His son remembers: "I remember as a kid listening to that record and thought it was so cool that Dad was in a band like that. He could really play and always regretted selling his SG.Jack Heffron now lives in Bethany, Oklahoma, while Bob Garrett resides in Washington and Darrell Wiemers already passed away on August 18, 1997. 

Discography

United Southern Artists 5-115
The Thunderbirds
End Over End (Davis-Weimers-Heffron-Garrett) / T Bird Rock (Davis-Weimers-Heffron-Garrett)
M8OW-8396 / M8OW-8397 (RCA)
1962
Recorded ca. late 1961 at Echo Recording Studio (14 North Manassas Avenue - Memphis, Tennessee) 
Darrell Wiemers (ld gtr), Kenneth Davis (rhy gtr), Jack Heffron (bs), Bob Garrett (dms)

Special thanks to Jack Heffron and Darrell Wiemers' son for sharing their memories with me.

6 comments:

KL from NYC said...

Thanks for this one. I like it, but I'm not surprised it didn't do well. It's too fast for dancing The Twist, and not "surf" enough to get West Coast airplay.
There's a French EP on America Records of another raw-sounding American Thunderbirds group that does a terrific cover version of The Man With The Golden Arm (under the title Delilah Jones). The EP is the only thing that has surfaced; no US pressings that I'm aware of.

mike fernandes said...

Hi,
Looking for country singer to sing these songs. I am a songwriter and not a singer and want someone to sing this song. If you email me I will send words and music at no cost. All I ask is for you to post your recording on tube and let me know. Also if you happen to make any money with the songs I would ask for royalties. thanks

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=1b4RJ3Ax4l4

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=-f4S5lHf1Qw

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=IV1SFTpRNA0

Anonymous said...

Darrell Wiemers was my Dad. I remember as a kid listening to that record and thought it was so cool that Dad was in a band like that. He could really play and always regretted selling his SG. He passed away August 18, 1997. He ended up pursuing a career in Law Enforcement and joined the Oklahoma Highway Patrol in 1964 and achieved the rank of Colonel/ Chief and retired as rank of Brig. Gen/ Asst. Commissioner for the Oklahoma Dept. of Public Safety. He was also an expert in Anti and Counter Terrorism specializing in Crisis Management. When he passed away he worked for the U.S. State Dept. under a govt. program with the FAA. He was a genuine leader of men. Thanks for this part of his history that lives on. Darrell Wiemers was a great man and when he died we became less safe. Its a shame he didnt live to see his peedictions fulfilled a few short years after his passing.
Thanks for this Blog and this very nice article about The Thunderbirds from El Reno, Oklahoma. THE REAL THUNDERBIRDS

Arkansas45 said...

Is there a copy of the Buffalo 45 floating around anywhere? How do you know about that record?

Anonymous said...

I just found a copy of the Thunderbirds' Buffalo 45 at an estate sale in AR this weekend. If you need a label scan, just let me know. Eric P

Mellow said...

Eric, if you don't mind I'd like to have a label scan as well. You can send it to my email adress (on my profile page).