The following is an interview with Jerry Jenkins, former bassist for the TSU Toronados. The TSU Toronados are best remembered as the band that played Archie Bell and the Drells' "Tighten-Up" which topped the charts in 1968. The Toronados also had a hit with "Getting The Corners" in 1969.
From the late 1960s through early 1970s, the TSU Toronados toured extensively and had a huge following in the Houston area. In 1994, they reunited to make one final live recording with all the original band members except for Leroy Lewis.
Jenkins gives a history of the TSU Toronados starting with their founding in 1965 at Texas Southern University, and he discusses the making of "Tighten-Up." (This interview was conducted by e-mail from Dec. 18, 2007 - July 29, 2008.)
Amy Gold: Tell us about how the TSU Toronados met and formed.
Jerry Jenkins: The Toronados had a interesting beginning, formed in 1965 Leroy Lewis, the sax player, Clarence Harper one of the trumpet players the voice on "The Goose" were music majors at Texas Southern University, as well as Dwight Burns the drummer Cal Thomas the guitar player who also sang with a singing group at the University by the name of The Arabian Knights met, at that time talent shows in 1966 were a big thing around Houston so a few of the guys lived on the campus. So they would practice at the dorm in the basement Lanier Hall for men on campus. The group want to try and win the contest. Taking our name from the school and the sporty two-door Oldsmobile. in 1966. So James Doss was recruited as well as Peter Newman who also played bass but got drafted to the Marines, he and I were good friends as well wood-shedding partners and played with a similar styles, so when he left I took his place so that the band could continued on. We won the talent show and went to do gigs around town and other places. James Doss was from Vegas arranged for the group to play in some gigs during the summer when school was out. Those regular gigs allowed the band to cut our teeth, as well as somewhat of a break, backing up Etta James at the Elks Lodge and became the regular backing band for Marva Whitney the future vocalist with the James Brown Revue.
AG: Were Will Thomas, Robert Sanders, Darryl Busby, and Nelson Mills also members of the Toronados from the beginning or did they join the group later?
JJ: This is the order in which the guys you are asking about appeared, when I joined the band, it was this way:
(Robert Sanders) was the organ player with the group, in the early years 1965, he is the organist on "TIGHTEN-UP." (Nelson Mills III), played trumpet, and took the place of (James Doss), in 1965, and so Nelson was on that recording as well. The bands had been working for years when (Will Thomas), the brother of (Cal Thomas) join the band, he had just been discharged from the Army in the Viet Nam era and was as talented young man, he favored Smokie Robertson and had a similar tone as well, he played guitar, and so he brought a new dimension to the band. Now myself I got drafted into the Army in 1969, in the high time of the group. That I really didn't like that since we had just had a string of recording sessions, and was on the Atlantic Records when I left, so the band needed someone to take my place and that's when Tanny Busby took my chair now he played bass & piano so we all agreed that he was the man for the job. I was gone for short time, about maybe 6-mouths and then I got a Honorable Discharge, and was soon back with the band. We had meeting and decided to keep Tanny but to have him play piano. and we were ready to go again, back to work.
AG: What was the first recording the Toronados made?
JJ: In 1965 the band went in to the studio and recorded a song for when the hourly news would throw it back to Skipper Lee's radio show and so we recorded our first song called "Back After the News" on the Ovide label.
AG: Skipper Lee's radio show was on KCOH, Houston, right?
JJ: Yeah, Skip was the number one evening-drive time DJ back then and was on the air from 3-6 pm.
AG: Was he also the owner of Ovide?
JJ: Yeah. Skipper Lee has always owned Ovide Records. It was named after his son James O. Frazier. Ovide is his son's middle name.
AG: When and how did the Toronados hook up with Archie Bell and the Drells?
JJ: Well to start with Skipper Lee had began to manage bands and singing groups beginning in 1966 an entrepreneur so to speak. He managed us and at the time we were way ahead of our time. One day we corned Skip and told him we had an instrumental that we play at the Cinder Club (a popular spot at the time) we told him that every time we played this song everyone would hit the dance floor. We knew that he also recorded Archie Bell & the Drells and that those recordings didn't do anything, but it did allow them to travel and dance all through Texas and Louisiana. About this time Skip was recording some other bands in the Jones Studio on Blair St. in Houston. One day in 1967 Leroy Lewis the band leader, along with the other band members told Skip that with some lyrics for that instrumental we talked about we could have Archie & the Drells sang it. He agreed and so The Toronados and Skip went to the studio and in one night we recorded the instrumental version of "TIGHTEN-UP" including all of the rhythm section, and on the second night Archie & the Drells were brought in to do their parts.
AG: When "Tighten Up" was released were the Toronados given any credit?
JJ: No!!!!!!!!!!!!!! not at first.
AG: Why weren't the Toronados properly credited at the time?
JJ: At the time of the recording we were teenagers and didn't have a lot knowledge of the business part, or the administration nor the mechanicals so since Skipper Lee knew more we sold the rights, we just got paid as the studio musicians.
AG: When were people finally made aware that it was in fact the Toronados who provided the instrumental backup for "Tighten-Up"?
JJ: It was when we went to New York to do some more recording for Archie, at Atlantic Records in 1967 on the song "You're Such A Beautiful Child" with our name on the bottom of the record under the title. At that time Atlantic sign us to their label.
AG: Besides Archie Bell and the Drells, what other bands did the Toronados back up?
JJ: Back in 60's Skipper Lee had a TV variety show on one of the local stations and would have guest that had come to perform on the music scene in Houston. Since we were the house band on the show as well as the many number of clubs own by at the time a club owner in Houston by the name of Ray Barnett, who was the self-proclaimed Godfather of the club business. Between the TV show and the main clubs Ray owned around town, we the acts which included people and singing group like Tyrone Davis, Marshell & the Chi-Lites, Wilson Pickett, Johnnie Williams, Gene Chandler, Barbara Lynn, Roy Head, The Whispers, The Five Stairsteps, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas (her father), Ronnie Dyson, Carl Carlton, The Osborne Brothers (the early years) and many more. We also had the chance to work with and open up for some others - James Brown, The Who, Vanilla Fudge, Kenny Rodgers and The First Edition, Sunny Ozuna, B.J. Thomas. We were young and had lots of fun, traveling as well.
AG: Wow, that's quite impressive! Did the Toronados record with any of these bands?
JJ: No we didn't.
AG: Did the Toronados have the same group lineup from start to finish, or were there some personnel changes along the way (i.e., besides you replacing Peter Newman)?
JJ: Yeah! after some years of touring as the original group with me, there was a few generations of the band that had few changes. Cal Thomas always wanted to run the business side but had little experience at it so when the group divided up Clarence Harper, Dwight Burns, Will Thomas and for a little while I stayed together. We hired a few players from some of the local area bands that fit our format, and continued to do the gigs that were all ready booked, some of those guys names were Harold Broussard (deceased), Robert Motley, Morrell Bishop and some others as well.
AG: What was the group lineup for "Getting the Corners"?
JJ: The same members that are in the Atlantic Promotional Flyer (the orange one that is).
AG: Tell us about how you first got started in music (i.e., before the Toronados), e.g., your first musical instrument, earliest musical influences, etc.
JJ: I started when I was 16 yrs old and have not stop playing since. My all time favorite group was and still is The Beatles. By the way I am looking for a ghost-writer to help me finish my own auto-bio. So if you would like to or know someone that is interested contact me anytime.
AG: Wow, that exciting! You and the Toronados are a big part of oldies music history and we all look forward to reading your autobiography when it is complete. Jerry, thanks so much for this wonderful interview. It was a pleasure and an honor.
JJ: You're welcome, and thank you.