Not fade away

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More often, these bands have long since faded to brilliant echoes. The best of their lot--including the likes of The Jades, The Briks, Scotty McKay, Mouse and the Traps, and a few others--mean almost nothing to today's audience, which might well be surprised to discover that punk existed in town long before Deep Ellum turned into a strip mall.

Yet it's odd how much The Esquires have been compiled--all three of their singles, A- and B-sides, also appear on a 1984 vinyl release from the Cicadelic label--and how little is known of them. Even so many of their contemporaries from back then do not recall the name. "The who?" says David Dennard, once in The Novas.

The Esquires' story is a rather typical one for 1965: Four buddies from Irving High School--Snellings, Horne, Dick Thornbury, and Terry Hall--get hooked on the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, and the Animals, then start a rock-and-roll band in the garage. Snellings' father, Don--once a publicity man for RCA Records, a self-released country artist himself, and for a while the manager of country singer Hank Snow--funds a small label (Glenvalley, so named for the Snellings' street in Irving). He pays for the boys to record in Tyler with the legendary producer Robin Hood Brians, and then releases and promotes the records all by himself. From 1966 to 1967, The Esquires recorded three singles, got a little play on KLIF-AM with a horns-laden remake of the Gershwins' "Summertime," and turned their Brit-rock fetishism into a handful of psychedelic-punk masterpieces, including "Judgment Day," which wasn't so far removed from the sounds being made by Roky Erickson and the Thirteenth Floor Elevators in Austin at the same time.

Like most bands of the period, they played their gigs at LouAnn's on Greenville or the old Studio Club in North Dallas; they also had their share of frat parties. By 1969, they were the house band at the Cellar clubs in Dallas and Fort Worth, the ought-to-be-legendary dens of iniquity where rock-and-rollers played in a tiny pit while waitresses go-go stripped for acid-soaked patrons who melted into bean-bag seats. (The Dallas Cellar was located at the corner of Commerce and Central Expressway--or two blocks down from police headquarters.) The Esquires played there till 1971--from 7 p.m. until 4 a.m., six nights a bloody week.

"We didn't quite connect enough with whatever it took to get into the spotlight," Snellings says. "But it was like we liked that almost. We liked being an underground band, even though we were trying to make the money the above-ground bands were making. Dick and I talked about how cool it would be to find a hole-in-the-wall place and just do stuff for fun. Then we had a job at the Cellar and didn't like it after the second year. We didn't get paid anything. It was like it's a privilege to play there. The place had some kind of aura. One night, Bugs Henderson and I played a shuffle that lasted two hours, and it was at the speed of light."

The band would last till the mid-1970s, evolving into a soul band and then an experimental trip. But never once, in more than a decade of playing music, did any of The Esquires have to go out and get a day job. They made a living playing rock and roll in Dallas, without ever being known outside--or, hell, inside--the city limits; indeed, by 1973, they were the house band at a local studio, sessionmen laying down tracks for the likes of Tejano superstars Little Joe Y La Familia. Their final gig came in 1974 at the Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin; by '75, Snellings was in Phoenix working as a bouncer at a club.

Wes Horne finds it almost hysterical that there are labels out there still releasing The Esquires' music decades after even the band members forgot it. But he also finds it a little appropriate--after all, he says, his band and their peers were the first generation of punk-rockers, makers of the real alternative music, even if was just a sloppy, half-assed variation on England's second-hand version of American blues. And yes, every now and then Horne does regret being known for being forgotten.

"We were very young and naive," Horne says. "I don't think we knew what we really could have done, and I just don't think we knew what we had. There's no doubt in my mind today that had we really followed up with a tour and then got on a bigger bill, had we done that, we could have done something and got some good songs out. I regret it. I have to admit I do. I regret being stupid. Of course, I regret that every day." He laughs. "But that's just the way it goes."

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky