The seven-member group of Treadwell High School (Memphis, Tennessee), alumni included Bruce Bowles (vocals), Bobby Fisher (saxophone, keyboards), Jimmy Hart (vocals), Jimmy Johnson (trumpet), Pat Neal (bass guitar), Larry Raspberry (guitar, lead vocalist), and drummer Larry Wall (replaced by Rob Straube) and also with another member, Larry Butler (keyboards). The youths formed the Gentrys in May 1963 as a rock ‘n’ roll group for local dances, and were very successful playing for high school dates. In September 1964 they won third place in the Mid-South Fair Talent Competition and auditioned for the Ted Mack Amateur Hour. They soon became the most popular teenage band in the mid-South and in 1964 won the Memphis Battle of the Bands. In December 1964 the group was given a contract by local record label Youngstown Records, and made their first record of “Sometimes”, which was very popular locally in early 1965.
After bubbling under the Billboard chart for a week, the Gentrys scored with the million-selling “Keep on Dancing” which reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1965. Success led to appearances on Hullabaloo, Shindig!, and Where the Action Is, and they toured with The Beach Boys and Sonny and Cher, as well as playing on Dick Clark bills. However, five follow-up singles failed to break into the Top 40; several months after appearing in the 1967 movie It’s a Bikini World, the group disbanded. Other notable band members during the 1963–1966 years were Claude Wayne Whitehead (rhythm guitar), Ronnie Moore (bass), Sonny Pitman (bass), and engineer/producer Terry Manning (keyboards).
“Keep on Dancing” is notable for the fact that it is actually one short recording repeated, to stretch the record out to the length of the typical pop single of its day. The second half of the song, after the false fade, beginning with Wall’s drum fill, is the same as the first. Though the group had Hart and Bowles as singers, their biggest hit was sung by their guitarist, Larry Raspberry.
Original member Hart reformed The Gentrys in 1969, with himself as lead singer; they recorded initially for the Bell Records label. The 1969–1971 Gentrys included Hart, Steve Spear (bass), David Beaver (keyboards), Jimmy Tarbutton (guitar), and Mike Gardner (drums). In 1970 they recorded an album on Sam Phillips‘s Sun label and put two singles into the Billboard Hot 100: “Why Should I Cry” (which peaked at No. 61 on 7 March 1970) and “Cinnamon Girl“, charting before Neil Young‘s version and peaking at No. 52 on June 13, 1970.
The 1971 through 1972 line-up of The Gentrys included Hart on vocals, along with Wesley Stafford on lead guitar and vocals, Alan Heidelberg (drums) and Bobby Liles (bass). Marty Lacker (a member of Elvis Presley’s “Memphis Mafia”) helped to land this version of The Gentrys a recording contract with Capitol Records. It produced a single written by Hart and Stafford entitled “Let Me Put This Ring Upon Your Finger.” Knox Phillips was the record producer for all recording endeavours of this period.
Hart subsequently found greater fame and success in professional wrestling, as a manager nicknamed “The Mouth of the South.” During this time, he also composed entrance music for wrestlers, as well as appearing as a member of The Wrestling Boot Band, a group fronted by Hulk Hogan. The story of the Gentrys is described in the book The Mouth of the South by Jimmy Hart, Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, and Jerry Lawle
The original members were all from Union City Indiana; however, the Zehringer boys were initially from Fort Recovery, Ohio. The band members were guitarist and lead singer Richard Zehringer (later known as Rick Derringer), his brother Randy (later known as Randy Z) on drums, and bassist Dennis Kelly. This first line-up was known as “The Rick Z Combo”, and later known as “Rick and the Raiders”. When Kelly left for college, the Zehringers were joined by bassist Randy Jo Hobbs, saxophonist Sean Michaels, and keyboardist Ronnie Brandon. This was the line-up that took the name of “The McCoys”. Brandon left the group in 1965 and was replaced by Bobby Peterson on keyboards.
One of their best-known songs is “Hang On Sloopy“, which was #1 in the United States in the Billboard Hot 100 chart in October 1965 and is the official rock song of the state of Ohio. It also is the unofficial fight song of The Ohio State University Buckeyes and can heard being played at many Ohio State athletic events by the OSU bands. American sales alone were over one million copies. Other hits include a Top 10 cover of “Fever” (Billboard #7), and a Top 40 cover of Ritchie Valens‘s “Come On Let’s Go” (Billboard #21).
A cover of “Sorrow“, the B-side of their version of “Fever”, was a hit in the United Kingdom for The Merseys and was later covered again by David Bowie. Its opening line, “with your long blonde hair and eyes of blue” was quoted by George Harrison in the fadeout of “It’s All Too Much“, featured on the 1969 Yellow Submarine film soundtrack album.
The two Zehringer brothers (then known as Rick Derringer and Randy Z) and Hobbs became Johnny Winter‘s band for the albums Johnny Winter And and Live Johnny Winter And in 1970 and 1971 respectively. As backing musicians, both Derringer and Hobbs contributed to Winter’s later releases, Still Alive and Well (1973), Saints & Sinners (1974), and John Dawson Winter III (1974). Derringer and Hobbs later played with Edgar Winter, as well as appearing on the Together: Edgar Winter and Johnny Winter Live album (1976). Hobbs later toured with Johnny Winter, but without Derringer, resulting in Winter’s Captured Live! album (1976). Derringer also played with Steely Dan and Cyndi Lauper, among others, in addition to forming later bands such as DNA, with drummer Carmine Appice.
Hobbs died of drug-related heart failure on 5 August 1993 (Derringer’s birthday), at the age of 45. Peterson died in Gainesville, Florida, on 21 July 1993, at the age of 47.