Interview with Sid Herring of The Gants - 60s R&B Beatlesque sound with Mississippi Bluesy Delta beat

"Today's music seems to be shortly lived and doesn't have as much staying power as our Rock n' Roll of the past for most of today's artist but not all."

Sid Herring: The Gants of Rock n' Roll

The Gants were an American garage rock band of the 1960s. One of the few outfits of its kind to emerge from the Deep South, the group was originally known as The Kingsmen (not to be confused with Kingsmen who had the hit "Louie, Louie") when the band got together in 1963 to play R&B covers and the kind of instrumentals popularized by The Ventures. Their original line-up was Sid Herring (lead vocals and guitar), Johnny Sanders (guitar), Vince Montgomery (bass guitar) and Don Wood (drums).

Several events combined to push the band out of the total obscurity of playing other people's songs at Greenwood, Mississippi dances and into the relative obscurity of 1960s garage-rock history. Since a name-change was called for they chose The Gants, after a popular brand of shirt with a button-down collar, which is also the French word for "glove". Incidentally, there was another garage-band from West Point, GA also known as the Gants who played one or two gigs in Greenwood as well. That band eventually changed its name to the Outsiders after the [Mississippi] Gants released their popular song Road Runner. At the same time, Herring, who some say resembled Peter Noone of Herman's Hermits and sounded like John Lennon of The Beatles, developed a great interest in The Beatles and began writing original songs. In early 1965, The Gants were overheard by a U.S. tour coordinator for The Animals. 

Liberty released The Gants' first album, Roadrunner, which supposedly featured Duane Allman playing organ on "House of The Risen Sun" (it is most likely they meant his brother, Greg Allman, however). In 1966 and early 1967, several singles and two more albums were released, Gants Galore and Gants Again. Nothing went anywhere, except Sanders, who quit and was replaced by the guitarist he had replaced, Johnny Freeman. One more visit to California in the summer of 1967 proved fruitless, and three of the (former) Gants headed back to Greenwood, leaving Sid Herring in Los Angeles with a job as a staff songwriter for Liberty Records. As of 2005, The Gants were performed together again. 

Interview by Michael Limnios

How do you describe The Gants sound and progress, what characterize your music philosophy?

We had an R&B Beatlesque sound with a Mississippi Bluesy Delta back beat. Where dreams and music are in high places. It was also innocent and simple ...

Which is the most interesting period in your life? Which was the best and worst moment of your career?

When we played with Dave Clark 5 in the Jackson Ms. Coliseum in 1965 with around 8000 people. They wanted to play first which normally the head liner plays last. We came on after the DC5 and the crowd went wild. Three times more than they did for the DC5 and I felt a chill go down my body starting with my hair all the way to my toes. At that point I knew something really good was going on. From there we got invited to tour Florida with The Animals. Shortly after that we were asked if we wanted to record an album in Muscle Shoals Alabama at Fame Recording Studios there. We had the second hit that came from that studio. Followed by Aretha Franklin, Wilson Picket and many, many other great artists of that time. We were very proud to be in such great company. As for the worst, it was when it all ceased to be.

"We had an R&B Beatlesque sound with a Mississippi Bluesy Delta back beat. Where dreams and music are in high places. It was also innocent and simple ..." (Photo: The Gants tour with the Animals)

Why did you think that the Rock n’ Roll culture and music continues to generate such a devoted following?

Because the older music like Rock n' Roll sticks to the wall, so to speak, longer. Unlike a lot of new music of today, once you've heard it a few times it losses its appeal quickly. But I must say that not all of today's music is falling short. Some of it is excellent. I think that there's so much diversity in music today that almost everybody can find their own genre. Also, artists used to be more legendary because you couldn't get as close to them as you can today because of all the different ways to communicate in today's world and they're more accessible. To me, they tend to be more human today. Not so much of a legend ...

What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?

As for the Gants band, we were doing a gig in Lake Goerge N.Y. One of the other bands and clubs in the area asked us to come over and jam on Sunday. We kind of let it fly out of the box that night and got a great response from the other bands. I don't think they expected us Mississippi boys to get as far out with our music as we did. It kind of surprised them. It really was a good time had by all. There have been so many great gigs and jams that it would be hard to pick a few good ones from the early Gants heyday in the sixties to four decades later when we played "Cavestomp" in New York and touring with Lil Steven Van Zant (of The E Street Band with Bruce Springsteen) in Florida at the Hard Rock Casinos.

"Blues music means to me, deep emotions and trials of life captured in a song. Its honestly heart felt music and captured emotions..." (Photo: The Gants with Little Stevie Van Zandt)

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?

We had just gotten a Bullet on the charts in Cash Box Magazine and that was great and very important. A bullet means moving up the charts by ten numbers. We were in New York visiting the president of Cash Box and were invited to go to a party they were having the next night. Paul McCartney and Ringo were going to be there. We were so excited about it. Well, not to long before the party, the lights went out all over N.Y. that night. That was a big bummer for us. As for best advice, I would say never measure your music in an economical way. If the music is good enough the money will come. As an artist you should always put your art first ..

Are there any memories from recording time with Duane Allman which you’d like to share with us?

Duane was a props man at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala. He was not famous yet. We never got to meet him but we were told he played organ on our version of "House of The Risen Sun" on our album. But I can't say for sure. That was about it.

What do you miss most nowadays from the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of music?

That's not hard to answer. I miss THE GANTS, my best friends and brothers in the band the most. We all had 48 year of fun and camaraderie together. I'm sorry to say that they have all passed away. We had so much fun together. It was unreal, really great, all of it. As for the future of music, it is the greatest language of the world and such a great way to communicate. A great learning tool that I wish they would make a required subject for all schools today. It will serve you well through life in many ways and always be your friend ...

Which memories from Fame Studio in Muscle Shoals and Sam Phillips studios makes you smile?

Well, on my song "Smoke Rings", there was a guy from Nashville that came down to assist us on the session at Fame Studios. He had this oscillating fan that ran very quite. He took the fan and put it in front of the speaker and put the mic on the other side. That's what made the sound of the guitar that you hear on "Smoke Rings". It made it sound like a faze shifter or a Lesley was on it. That was kind of funny to me. As for Sam Phillips Studios, that was our first time to ever record. After we got through setting up and playing our songs, all in one cut with no over dubs, he asked us to come hear his latest cut. It was Sam The Sham's "Wooly Bully". We all wanted our music to have class like The Beatles so we weren't so impressed but he was and he was right. I think it sold about 4 or 5 million...Ha! What did we know? We did tour with Sam The Sham and The Swinging Medallions later and we had a great time. All those guys were good guys... (Photo: The Gants at Fame Studios)

What are the ties that connect the legacy of Blues with Soul and continue to Garage and Rock n’ Roll music?

I'm a big fan of Robert Johnson, the great blues player from my home town, Greenwood Mississippi. He is buried there on Money Rd.

I go by his grave often. To me he was the real creator of Rock n' Roll. His songs branched out of the blues genre a bit which was the idea of what Rock n' Roll became. He was a fantastic musician and very smart about his music. I call him the original King of Rock n' Roller. The Beatles & The Stones were very smart as well. They heard the potential of American music that I was living in the middle of and took it to another level and genre and sent it back to us. We went crazy over it. Now that's smart and super talented. But, in my opinion, Robert Johnson was the main force that made it all happen.  Mississippi is known as the original home of American music...

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?

I have a new song that I recently wrote named "BLUESY DELTA SMILE" which will be released within the very near future. It tells a true story of when I was five years old and first heard blues music. It also tells of when I was 14 and went across the tracks, so to speak, and heard Bo Diddley for the first time. As I was growing up, my Mom used to sing a line from one of Robert Johnson's songs as she was cleaning around the house. Little by little it was soaking into me as a child. I knew it was what I wanted to do really early in life. Blues music means to me, deep emotions and trials of life captured in a song. Its honestly heart felt music and captured emotions...

"I love laughter. That's one thing The Gants did a ton of with our music. We had great fun together while in the process of creating it all from the beginning till the end." (Photo: Sid plays the Blues)

How has the music circuits changed over the years? Do you believe in the existence of real rock nowadays?

I am the existence of Rock n' Roll. The old saying that Rock n' Roll will never die is true in my world. It is history as well as music. I do admit that now days they're reaching for the feelings that we got back in our time from old Rock n' Roll by Elvis, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, The Beatles, Stones & many others that doesn't reach that marker in today's music. Today's music seems to be shortly lived and doesn't have as much staying power as our Rock n' Roll of the past for most of today's artist but not all.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the music industry?

I love laughter. That's one thing The Gants did a ton of with our music. We had great fun together while in the process of creating it all from the beginning till the end. After all the guys passed away I had this ring made and it is inscribed on the inside with Sid, Johnny, Vince & Don. 50 yrs. of great music & brotherhood.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

To Heaven to see my 11 yr. old son who died on his bike in a car accident in 1985. Unfortunately, I have too many of some of my favorite and most loved family and friends up there. Gone way too soon. Now, here on earth, I think it would be great to see some older guy, or maybe myself at my age, break though the top of the music charts and prove that old people can still rock as well. I like to think that older people still buy music also...I'm not wanting much, maybe a top 20 hit will do...Ha! It's not over till it's over...Right? I still feel music inside trying to get out...Somebody will do it sooner or later ..

Your request for this interview has generated a lot of great memories and emotions. I thank you for that. I hope I was of some assistance to you with this. I'm sure I can speak for all The Gants by saying much thanks to you for thinking of The Gants and thanks to anyone who ever came to a Gants gig or ever bought The Gants recordings. A personal appreciation from myself as well...

All We Need Is Love as John Lennon so elegantly said..

The Gants - official website

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