Meet The Gaunga Dyns at the 2013 Ponderosa Stomp

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Clips from The Gaunga Dyns heyday
  • Steve Staples
  • Clips from The Gaunga Dyns heyday

The show must go on: 2013 Ponderosa Stomp organizers announced that despite the approaching weather-doom, this weekend's festivities will go on as planned at Rock 'N' Bowl.

West Bank teenage psychedelic rock 'n' roll band The Gaunga Dyns will reunite Saturday, Oct. 5 at the Stomp. The Gaunga Dyns recorded two records on Busy B in the mid-1960s: "Rebecca Rodifer" and its B-side "Stick With Her," and "Clouds Don't Shine" with "No One Cares." In this week's Gambit, I talked to Gaunga Dyns guitarist Steve Staples — who performs in the Avon Suspects and runs International Vintage Guitars in Algiers.

The band's moody, twangy garage rock was released on legendary New Orleans label Minit Records' subsidiary, Busy B, and hit radio waves and rock 'n' roll clubs. As Staples says, "We were on fire."

The band dissolved by the late '60s. After the jump, read Gambit's interview with Staples — he talks about the mid-'60s psychedelic scene, performing at Maison Blanche, what happened to the original recordings, and getting the band back together.

How are rehearsals going?

The rehearsals have been going very well. I’m pleased it’s coming together and sounding better than I had even hoped.

We had to fill a few holes, but we have the original singer (Beau Bremer), and me — I play guitar and sing, too, and I did all the vocals on all the records, so we’ll be there. We’ll have the original organ player Brian Collins, and the original bass player (Bobby Carter). We’re missing the drummer (Ricky Hall) and a lead guitar player (Mike King). We have a new drummer and we’ve added a couple extra guitar players.

Ira Padnos has been trying to get the band to play the Stomp for several years. How did it finally come together?

It was never a question whether I wanted to do it. The problem was I didn’t know where everybody was. The drummer who I considered to be probably the most talented of the entire band, he was nervous because he hadn’t played in 30 years. When I first started calling six or seven years ago, he didn’t return my phone calls. Then he called me back and we started talking, and he said he didn’t think he could do it. At the same time I couldn’t find the lead singer. I entertained the idea of doing it without the drummer, but I couldn’t see doing it without the voice. I couldn’t find him. I thought he was dead. No one knew where he was or how to get in touch with him. He hadn’t kept up with anybody. I heard he was sick and at death’s door. Here we are, we have the band together, the Avon Suspects playing at the Old Point Bar, and he just walks in right up to the stage and goes, "Hey, didn’t we play together in Gaunga Dyns?" I go, "Yeah, it’s me Steve."

He started singing with our band, I told Ira we found him, and he asked if we could get them together. I said yeah I think I can do it. I called everybody up, and the drummer said he was going to have back surgery and he didn’t know whether he could do it. He entertained the idea. I had everyone on board except for the original lead guitar player. He’s gone. We don’t know where he is. Then the drummer got a set of drums and practiced. He called us a couple months ago and said I don’t know if I can do it, with my back and the surgery. I got the drummer who plays in the band we have now, we already play a bunch of Gaunga Dyns songs. He’s been studying the records really hard. So we’re good to go. It may sound as good or better than it used to. Our equipment’s better. (laughs)

Gaunga Dyns formed while you were still in school with another band. How did the band get together?

The band that recorded the two records was formed from two bands that had existed that split up for different reasons and formed two bands — one of them was The Gaunga Dyns. They had already existed on the West Bank and I was in another band with the singer and drummer called The Twilights. This was 1964-1965. The Gaunga Dyns had two guitarists who were older than the rest of the band. It was just a hobby for them. So Gaunga Dyns broke up. They already had a singer, a keyboard player and a bass player, and a guitar player. We didn’t like our bass player, and Bobby was a good friend, so we formed one band and called it The Gaunga Dyns because we liked the name better.

Shortly after that we got ourselves a really good manger (Jeb Banashak) whose father was Joe Banashak, and he ran Minit Records, which did Allen Toussaint and Irma Thomas, and recorded at Cosimo Matassa's (J&M Recording Studio). His daughter was married to a DJ at WNOE, which was a huge radio station back them. We had a big in.

Plus, we were really good. We rehearsed four days a week and played every Friday and Saturday. We were connected, but we also could deliver. We played four hour gigs and played one 15 minute break — 45 minute songs back to back, non stop. We were a machine. We worked constantly. That’s how it got started and going. He said, "Let’s make a record." As soon as we made a record we got it on the radio. It just took off. People liked it. We were in the right place in the right time, and luckily we had the right product.

Gaunga Dyns were pretty, at least lyrically, heavy. What were your early influences?

Both bands were formed right in the beginning of the British invasion. We were playing a lot of American rock 'n' roll and soul music, like “Midnight Hour” and “Tell it Like it Is,” and Chuck Berry and doo wop. Then the British stuff came along, and we were super attracted to that. The Beatles came along — that’s why we got in bands. We all wanted to be The Beatles. It’s as simple as that. Before we even formed a band, we formed a make-up band in seventh grade. … The girls went crazy. We all said, "This is it." We were playing to an auditorium of girls who were screaming and we were 14 years old.

But then there are songs like "Rebecca Rodifer."

It was also the beginning of the drug culture. Most of us went to Martin Behrman High School. It was gritty. You had your jocks, but there were a lot of hoodlums. And there was our whole in-crowd, the people who started getting turned on to pot and psychedelic music. My perception — I wrote all the lyrics — was there was an underbelly to all of that. Abortions were against the law, drugs were way illegal — all that was going on, and I was listening to the heavier Bob Dylan tunes, the groups out of San Francisco. I liked The Who a lot. I found that music to have its dark side.

What was the rest of the scene like? Were there enough clubs to support a band like Gaunga Dyns?

There were a lot of groups like us. There were a few who did it completely for a living. They were really good. They were regional. There were two nightclubs in town that were just for teenagers. We played those a lot. Since there were so many bands, and so many people getting excited about that music, it was just popping. It’s hard to imagine. It’s not like that now. VFW dances, graduations — we played for everything and anything. We played fashion shows at Maison Blanche department store. It was a real happening thing. We were on fire.

What happened to the original recordings?

I’m still friends with our ex manager, Jeb Banashak. He lives in Waveland. He told me they had everything stored somewhere, and they sold a bunch of it to some record company, and made a deal to sell it somewhere else, and then Katrina got it. It was all stored, and Katrina washed it away — all the memorabilia, all the pictures they had saved. They had an incredible history and they lost it all. The only recordings left are 45s or digitized copies scabbed from 45s and sent around the world. I’ve bought them in places like Tokyo, Paris and Rome. Compilations with our songs on them.

I went into music stores and found our music, and found out there was a band in Italy playing our songs, and there was a band in New Jersey who had recorded our songs.

All the reason to record again?

We were entertaining the idea of keeping it going, but we’ll see. We haven’t made a decision about that yet.

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