crop of fans.
For one thing, the band avoided the drugs, bankruptcies and in-fighting that make for juicy storytelling.
For another, Johnny Sanders, Sid Herring, Don Wood and Vince Montgomery aren’t exactly household names.
That’s changing a little bit.
The music four boys from Greenwood recorded more than 30 years ago is crossing oceans and continents in 2000.
“We didn’t realize we had a fan club in Tokyo until we saw it on the Internet,” said Montgomery, 50, bass player and Clarkesdale attorney. “It was a shock.”
There’s a small but tight-knit group of garage band fans who’ve discovered The Gants and spread the word through magazines and the Internet.
“Sometimes someone out of nowhere calls me from Brazil,” said Herring, 54, lead singer and business owner from Hendersonville, Tenn. “A guy from New Jersey loved the song I Wonder.’ He called and said, Could you write me some new songs like that?’ You know, it’s only been 30 years.”
Today’s fans aren’t necessarily aging Baby Boomers looking to relive glory days.
Sundazed Music, which sells “Road Runner: The Best of The Gants,” reports that most buyers are between the ages of 18 and 30.
“People are actually appreciating this music now, so it makes me feel good,” Herring said. “It has held its own over the long run somehow.”
The Gants started in 1963 as The Kingsmen, a group consisting of Herring, Wood, Montgomery and guitarist Johnny Freeman. Freeman’s parents forced him out of the band, so Sanders came aboard.
“When I joined, we turned into The Gants,” said Sanders, 54, guitarist and Tupelo gynecologist. “The Gant’ was a type of shirt with a loop in the back that was popular at the time.”
Though the band formed in the birthplace of the blues, The Gants had little appreciation for the music of the Mississippi Delta until the British Invasion, when bands like the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Yardbirds and Animals changed the nation’s sonic scene.
“The songs that we liked the most É we had to go all the way to England to get them even though they were right at our feet in the Delta,” Herring said. “That’s where the people from England were getting them.”
After playing the party circuit for a couple of years, The Gants earned a spot touring in Florida with Eric Burden and the Animals in 1965.
That’s when the band heard the song a blues number that would become The Gants’ first hit.
“The Animals took Bo Diddly’s Road Runner.’ Diddly’s version is slow. The Animals started with that song and beefed it up some,” Herring said. “We were knocked out by it. We learned it and started playing it.”
Once the band recorded “Road Runner,” the single did enough business for Greenwood businessman Domenic Fratesi’s Statue label to gain the notice of Liberty Records.
Liberty made the song available to listeners in Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Washington, D.C., and The Gants were on their way.
Talk about living a dream these four guys from Mississippi were flying coast to coast and riding in limousines.
“I was 14 at the time,” said Wood, 50, drummer and retired restaurateur from Vicksburg. “I had to get permission from my physical science teacher to go to Hollywood. It was amazing.”
They met the likes of Jeff Beck with the Yardbirds, Peter Noone with Herman’s Hermits and Dave Gates with Bread.
Before the Allman Brothers stormed onto FM radio, Duane Allman happened into a Muscle Shoals recording studio at just the right time to help The Gants.
“We needed an organ for House of the Rising Sun.’ He was there setting up equipment and said, I can play it,’” Herring said. “He wasn’t famous then. He was just good and nobody knew it yet.”
Their chance to meet members of the Rolling Stones and Beatles at a New York party was foiled by a blackout.
On the plus side, The Gants got to fulfill the rock n’ roll dream of performing in front of an orchestra.
“We played with the L.A. Philharmonic Orchestra,” Sanders said. “We looked at the orchestra and said Whoa.’ It was intimidating.”
There’s generally no percentage in playing “what might have been,” but The Gants can point to two factors that deeply affected their place in rock n’ roll history.
The first was an extremely poor decision by a record producer.
“WLS in Chicago was playing our version of the Van Morrison song, Gloria,’ off the album. It was in the station’s top 5 or 10, something like that,” Herring said. “We called the record company and said, Please, please, please, release it as a single.’ They said, No, no, no.’”
The Shadows of Night released the song as a single a short time later and received substantial nationwide airplay.
“It sounded exactly like our version,” Sanders said, “but the singer can’t touch Sid.”
Vietnam served as another obstacle to big-time rock stardom. A tour was scheduled for the Northeastern U.S., but school was in session.
“We had to ask if we could take some time off to go on tour,” Herring said. “They said, Absolutely not. If you do, we’re going to report you to the draft board.’”
Rock n’ roll dreams took a back seat to reality, sapping the band’s upward momentum.
The Gants missed the wretched excess of rock stardom, but the music and friendships have survived more than 30 years.
“Every year we do a couple or three charity shows,” Montgomery said. “Sometimes we just get together for no other reason than to get together and play.”
In 1992, the late John Mihelic of Tupelo caught word of renewed interest in the band in Europe. He convinced the guys to return to the studio, where they recorded “Delta Blues.”
“We’re so proud of Delta Blues’ Maybe we’ll get it released someday,” Sanders said. “We took it to Sundazed and asked them to listen to it. They said it was good but it wasn’t what the audience wanted. They only wanted the old, old, old stuff.”
Herring said the only problem with “Delta Blues” was The Gants did too good of a job. Garage band fans like to hear flat notes and fingers sliding across guitar strings.
“We’ve got to go back and cut it again and make it sound bad,” he joked. “If we work on it, I know we can do it.”
When The Gants played live in the 60s, the crowds expected to hear popular party tunes of the day.
That type of music would have gotten the band booed off the stage at a recent concert in Detroit. The promoter explained fans at the show wanted to hear The Gants’ originals.
Egos in the band soared.
But there was a tiny problem.
“We had to get the album and listen,” Sanders said. “The only time we’d played some of those songs was when we recorded them.”
With upcoming concerts scheduled for New York, Greenwood, Oxford and Flowood, The Gants are about as busy as they can afford to be. They’ve kept their day jobs, after all.
The garage band past was a blast; the present has definite advantages; and the future looks rosy for four friends who share a life-long love for rock n’ roll.
“We’re going to keep having fun for as long as we can,” Wood said. “This is a very exclusive club. There’s just the four of us and there’s only one way to leave.”