A Story About Young Lads from Arkansas and a Top Show Band from Niagara Falls
Covering behind the band name "Beau-Hannon and the Mint Juleps" initially were four young men from central Arkansas who found themselves doing their hobby in one minute and being on tour just the other. The Mint Juleps haven't been spotlighted yet - until now. However, the leader of the band, Jim Bohannon, went on to greater things and developed this band into one of Canada's and New England's top show bands of the 1960s and 1970s.
The band got together in May of 1961 and began to rehearse. The members were Jim Bohannon on vocals and rhythm guitar, Buddy Dodd on lead guitar, Larry Fite on bass, and Ken Martin on drums.
Jim Bohannon, the leader of the band, was born on January 9, 1938, in Sanford, Florida, to Johnnie Bohannon and his wife Ruby. Bohannon's family still suffered from the Great Depression but they made their way through the hard times. He was born into a musical family, as both his father and his brother played the guitar. With his brother and his sister, he performed in the local church. At that time, Bohannon was mainly influenced by country music, bluegrass, and gospel. By the time he became 14 years old, however, he started listening also to other music styles, including pop, opera, rhythm and blues, and later also rock'n'roll. At some point, Bohannon also took up the guitar. In 1956, when Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley were storming the charts with their rockabilly sound, Bohannon joined the Air Force and spent most of the time at Stewart Air Force Base in New York. Upon his discharge in January 1960, he started his way home to Florida but decided to take a break and visit New York City. He went to Greenwich Village and managed to get a gig in a coffee house there. "Didn't know what the hell I was doing, it lasted 3 nights. I was so embarrassed with myself, I just left without getting paid. (Laughs) What a disaster that was!"
After this embarassement, Bohannon continued his journey and stopped by in North Carolina, visiting an Air Force buddy. Although he had started to get back to Florida, he changed his mind in North Carolina and looked for an option to work. He took a job with a candy company, promoting their products all over the country. Bohannon recalls: "A week here, a week there. Two weeks, three weeks. Depending on the size of the town. [I] lived in motels playing my guitar and singing in my room." One day, he stopped by in Arkanas and met Edd Williams, who hailed from Bauxite, a small mining town near Little Rock. Williams was a great talker, the kind of used car salesman, and persuaded Bohannon to try his luck in the music business. They stayed with Williams' parents in Little Rock and started looking for musicians.
Not long after, they assembled a bunch of locals: Buddy Dodd, Larry Fite, and Ken Martin. Bohannon took the stage name of "Beau-Hannon" and they began to perform under the name of "Beau-Hannon and the Mint Juleps." After practicing for some months, they felt good enough to try their hand at recording. United Southern Artist Records, an uprising label from Hot Springs, Arkansas, contacted Bohannon and offered them the possibility of making a record, as the Mint Juleps had made themselves a name in the region. They went into Leo Castleberry's recording studio in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and there they cut the instrumental "Brainstorm." It was a Larry Fite composition which they had played previously a lot in the clubs around Hot Springs and Benton, where it was received well by the audience. Castleberry heard it and decided to put it on record together with another of the band's songs, "'It's All Over" (written by Bohannon).
The label released both songs in September 1961 (United Southern 5-108) and the band went out on the road that same month. Edd Williams became the manager of the band, as bassist Larry Fite remembers:
We struck out on the road in Sept of that year going to the east coast, having a manager travel with us, his name is Ed Williams. He was a great talker and talked clubs into taking us on by showing the record. We played in Mass., N. Hampshire and upper state New York whereby we were hired by 'The Black Orchid Club' in Montreal, Canada.They remained with the Orchid for some months and while in Montreal, Bohannon and the Mint Juleps recorded another song called "The Bristol Stomp," which remained unreleased. The band intended it to be something like "The Peppermint Twist," a song that started a new dance craze.
We got to be known as the band that brought the twist to Canada. Bill Haley and the Comets were still playing in Montreal, Joey Dee and the Starlighters as well as others - the money was good in Canada.
But in the spring of 1962, Uncle Sam was calling for Fite and he went back home. He got married in May and the band broke up after only one year of existence. Fite joined the National Guard but lost contact to the other members. Today,
Larry Fite lives in Perryville, Arkansas, performing sometimes in the
local church. Ken Martin probably still lives in Youngstown, Ohio, while
Buddy Dodd started preaching but unfortunately got killed in a car
This was the end of the first chapter of the Mint Juleps. Bohannon left New England, as he was severe ill: "I came down with hepatitis from a dirty needle that I got from a Dr. in Canada for bronchitis. I was in hospital for three months, then six weeks rehab at a friend's place. Afterwards, I went back home to Jacksonville, Florida, to recuperate. After about six months of 'beach duty' (laughs), I went back to Arkansas and put together another group, and headed back to Canada." The new group soon started playing local gigs as Bohannon already had built up connections in the area. The names of the band members that formed the second incarnation of the Mint Juleps are lost to time, unfortuantely except for the bassist's name, Harvey Hockersmith. Beau Hannon recalls: "We were on a job, and one night, Harvey was drunk, couldn't stand up. This is crazy. So we took him to the back of the stage, close to the drummer, and stood him up against the back wall, strapped his bass on him, and he played. If you didn't see it, you wouldn't believe it. Never missed a beat. Unbelievable."
The group played in Rouyn, Quebec, when they broke up again. The second incarnation of the Mint Juleps had not lasted long either and in addition, the connection with Edd Williams broke up, too. Bohannon was on his own again. However, there was an all female group in the area and Beau Hannon started dating the band's bass player, Mimsie Pringle. They became a twosome (marrying eventually) and decided to join forces, putting together the third version of the Mint-Juleps in 1963. Within months, they had assembled a group that consisted of Bohannon on rhythm guitar, bass, and vocals, Billy Vincent on guitar and vocals, Mimsie Pringle on bass and vocals, and Ronnie Briggs on drums. Soon afterwards, they were booked at the Thunderbird Room in of the Fallsway Hotel in the Canadian part of the city Niagara Falls, Ontario.
The time frame afterwards is documented a bit hazy as I did not find any band members from this period. Mike Burnett, who later joined the Mint Juleps, remembers the names Billy Vincent (who was from Niagara Falls, New York) and Mel Coats on drums. However, members changed over the years and there were probably more musicians who performed with the Mint Juleps.
The 1960s saw the band recording a couple of 45 records. In late 1965, the band had a release on the Eksee label, comprising the powerful, shouting "You Stop Telling Lies About Me" and the soft ballad "Stop Me from Falling in Love." The songs were also released on the Canadian Barry label and eventually peaked at #28 of the Canadian RPM charts in March 1966. The single was also released in Belgium on the Frankie label and in Germany on Columbia Stateside. Another record came into existence in late 1967. "Rosie Rosie" b/w "Who's Got the Right of Way" appeared on the Dionysian label, which was California based, however, and I have no idea how the band ended up with this company.
In 1966, the Mint Juleps started playing the Thunderbird Room again, performing there for 78 consecutive weeks. The venue became the group's home base from now on. They would perform two to four weeks there, then heading out to tour Ontario or New England and returning to Niagara Falls.
In early 1968, guitarist Mike Burnette became acquainted with the group. Burnette, who was living in Galt, Ontario, at this time, had performed qith a four piece band previously but was on the verge of quitting the music business. However, his wife Joan was a waitress at a local venue where the Mint Juleps were playing and came in touch with the band's guitarist at the time, a guy called Steve from Niagara Falls. Burnett picks up the story: "[Steve] said he was leaving the band and they would be looking for a replacement. She spoke with Beau and I had an audition the next week in Welland, Ontario, and was hired to start the week after in St. Catharine’s, Ontario." By then, the Mint Juleps had gained a lot of popularity in Canada and New England as one of the best show bands in the area. They had abandoned the local rock'n'roll sound in favor of the top hits of the day for years by then and were playing to thousands of people in different venues in Canada and the United States. "[...] I had to have three new double breasted suits to go on stage. Beau fronted me the money to be taken weekly out of my pay. The suits came from the legendary Lou Miles in Toronto. So to join the group I was immediately $600.00 in debit. I also had to be able to do “steps” for some of the songs. Beau also fronted some money for a Fender Guitar amp, as he didn’t like my Trainor Power Guitar Amp," Mike recalls.
At that time, the band consisted of Bohannon (vocals/bass), his wife Mimsie (vocals/bass), Burnette (lead guitar), and Larry Petrie (drums). The band acquired an own lighting and sound system and eventually also a lighting and sound engineer, Dave Schiller, to take care of and run the equipment.
In 1969, the band started a successful tour in the Boston area that lasted for abour six to eight months, then returning to Canada for a short period only to hit the road again for extensive tours across Texas (mostly the Forth Worth-Dallas metroplex) and Oklahoma in 1970. The Boston tour became such a success that the Boston Globe called the band "the best Canadian import since Canadian VO Whiskey," not knowing that the group's front man actually came from the deep south of the United States.
The group still enjoyed great popularity and performed usually in packed halls. "The most memorable was when we came back after six months in Boston and before we went to Texas. The Fallsway had been putting 'teaser ads' in the local newspaper saying 'Beau is coming back, three weeks til they're back, two more weeks', etc. We opened on a Monday night and I went to the hotel early to tune the new strings I had put on my guitar that afternoon when we set up. When I pulled into the long driveway of the hotel, people were standing out in the parking lot. I could not figure what was going on. I pulled around to the back where we parked and went in thru the kitchen and walked into the lounge. The lounge was PACKED….every seat taken for a 9 pm start and it was about 8:15 pm. The people in the parking lot were waiting in line to get in and the line up continued until about 11 pm. Just crazy," recalls Mike.
In between the Boston and Texas/Oklahoma tours, the band recorded their only full-lenght album of songs that they regularly performed at the shows, entitled "Most Requested". The recording sessions took place in a Toronto studio, where Bohannon and the group spend one week to record the songs, usually late at night. Produced by Quality Records in Canada, it was released on the Birchmont label. "[...] When the album was released we were at the Fallsway and Beau decided we should pre-autograph some copies to sell that night. I think we did about 30. When the people bought the album, they took the protective cover off and threw it away, which is what we had autographed, so we had to do them all again," recalled Mike the release night of the album.
Shortly after the album release, the band dropped the name "Mint Juleps" and continued simply as "Beau Hannon" (although they had used the shortened name "Beau Hannon" already earlier sometimes). A year later, Bohannon and the group recorded another single at Act-Sound Studios in Buffalo, New York, which saw release on the Rainbeau label (likely Bohannon's own imprint) with "Beau Diddley" and "Yesterday". The latter was by a group called Abraham, Martin & John.
Shortly before Burnette left the band in 1972, they hired Tim Last on keyboards to round out the sound of the group. Afterwards, Burnett formed his own group, Mike Roberts and the Legend. Bohannon continued the band for another six years before the times were changing and the band "Beau Hannon" was laid to rest. Though, Bohannon continued to play music well into the 1980s. He retired from the music business in 1984. Burnette still makes his home in Niagara Falls and plays music with his wife Joan regularly at a tea dance party. While Mimsie Bohannon already passed away around 1995, Jim Bohannon is still alive living in a seniors home in Georgia.
• Many thanks to Beau Hannon, Larry Fite, and Mike Burnett for contributing so much to this post and sharing their memories with me.