The Playboys of Edinburg created a refined and sophisticated sound, hailing from south Texas. The Playboys wrote all of their own material, James Williams was the primary songwriter, however other band members occasionally contributed in the writing process. As far as playing and singing, the group was leaps and bounds ahead of the competition.
I recently have been in contact with Val Curl, the leader of Playboys of Edinburg, and had a small interview with him about his days in the group.
How did you get into music?
A friend of mine & I lip sank an Everly Brothers’ tune on a Jr High talent show and got lots of recognition from GIRLS… We used a Mark-O-Lot to paint on our sideburns… and held homemade cardboard guitars.
Where was everyone from and age when started? Edinburg?
We were all born in Edinburg and were schoolmates in Edinburg High School. We all started playing at 15, 16, 17, and became best friends, working and playing together for over 10 years.
We all got together for a 42nd yr reunion in Nashville in April of 2007. Had a blast. Most of us hadn’t played in 20 years. We recorded a couple tunes at Jeff Williams’ studio (James Williams’ son). Came off almost “live” since most of us couldn’t survive multiple takes, bloody fingers and all… but we found what was left of our chops… I never played any Team Sports, but I liken our get together in ’07 to a Team Sport…. Once we started playing, everyone had everyone else’s back…. And everyone knew what everyone else was going to do…. And everyone covered everyone else’s shortfalls and inadequacies, filling in any gaps…. It was almost religious for me….. nothing like it. More fun than should be legal…..
What was everyone’s name in the group?
Val Curl, bass; vocals, percussion
James Williams, rhythm guitar, vocals
Micheal Williams, keyboards, vocals, percussion
Jerry McCord, lead guitar; vocals
Don Faires, drums, percussion
What were your influences?
In the beginning- the Ventures, Duane Eddy, Les Paul, country gospel, Jimmy Reed, the Blues in general….
Post 1964- Beatles, Zeppelin, Byrds, CSN&Y, Hollies, Moby Grape, Hendrix, Stones, Yardbirds, Clapton in general, all the British Invasion guys and all the Blues guys…. old & new… , (I saw the Stones in 1964 open up for a very drunk headliner, George Jones, at the San Antonio Livestock Show & Rodeo. Bunch of pasty white longhairs hanging out at the hotel pool where we stayed. Pretty funny today, but a sad first tour for them back then.)
How did the group form?
I had formed a band called the Continentals in about 1962. Me on guitar, Bobby Madrigal on sax; Lance Smith on drums; Jimmy Fulton on guitar…. played a few local gigs in ‘62-’63. Mostly instrumentals (the Ventures, Duane Eddy). I only remember singing a very few vocal tunes… Linda Lou; That’s Really Wicked (Freddy Fender); La Bamba; some Jimmy Reed stuff…. We had a revolving door for the next year w/ guys coming in and moving on… I wanted to build a solid group that we could move forward with… and began looking for committed players.
A friend told me that my high school classmate, James Williams, played and sang, so I called him and we sat down together in his living room to jam. Turns out James and his whole family were great singers, lots a gospel and country. We just started playing together whenever we could.
James and I became aware of another schoolmate, Jerry McCord, who was a couple years behind us in High School. I heard that Jerry was a good guitar player…. He and I hooked up in his living room for a few hours one Saturday and we both played every tune we ever knew (ala Bobby McGee ?). There weren’t that many… I was playing lead guitar at the time, but after an hour playing w/ Jerry, I knew that I had found our lead guitar player. Jerry was light years ahead of anyone I knew, and had an uncanny knack for picking up all the rifts after one listen to a tune…. a natural born talent.
Jerry’s good buddy, Don Faires, was also a couple years behind me & James in school. Don & Jerry were in High School Band together. Don was a fabulous drummer, but had no trap set of his own. So he began borrowing a drum set from Euginio Guzman, a conjunto drummer in town, and continued to play on borrowed equipment for the first year or so. (Euginio’s bass drum had Christmas lights inside the skins for that extra special effect…)
One of our first showcases as the Playboys of Edinburg was “Annual Scandals”, playing on stage for our high school talent competition. We were playing all three guitars through an old Silvertone amp I had (my grandfather had given it to me after confiscating it for unpaid rent in one of his apartment rental units in Pharr), also adding our only mike to the overloaded amp…. We played the instrumental “Matilda” and were so nervous we couldn’t figure out how to end the tune….. I’m still not sure which one of us figured out when to stop playing….
So we had our drummer, Don, our lead guitar player, Jerry, and James, our rhythm guitar player and lead singer. It was obvious that we were going to need a bass player, so I sold my Gibson Les Paul and bought a butchered-up Fender Mustang guitar that had been converted to a short-necked bass, and ultimately I purchased a used 1966 Fender Precision Bass.
Don ultimately bought a Ludwig double bass set w/ several toms and cymbals. Over the years, I still don’t know anyone who could play like Don, doing rolls w/ his feet on the two bass drums (listen to “Tune In”), standing and even playing on my bass strings with his sticks while I fingered the rift….
We played as a foursome for the first couple years, and recorded our first tune at Jimmy Nicholl’s Studio on the Pharaoh label in ‘65 or ‘66. Understand Me was the first tune that I ever wrote and we recorded it on a 2-track tape machine w/ an overdub that took the quality down a generation or two. We got great airplay on KRIO and became good friends w/ Jay West, program director and dee-jay. I believe that we hit #1 on their chart and stayed there for a few weeks in the top ten.
James’ brother Micheal was the same age as Jerry & Don, and we brought him in to the group in ‘66 for his fabulous voice. He & James had a harmony that only siblings can have. Micheal could also hit the high range for the vocal leads on Zeppelin covers and tunes like Mississippi Queen…. Micheal later took up keyboards and played guitar as well.
Immediately after the release and moderate success of Understand Me, James began his prolific career as a writer, giving us Look At Me Girl for our second single release on Pharaoh. Columbia Records picked us up and we released Look At Me Girl on Columbia label in 1966. Bobby Vee covered us on the tune, but we still got on Billboard Magazine, bubbling under the top 100.
We were playing lots of venues in the Rio Grande Valley over the next year or so. After getting National recognition from Look At Me Girl, we began getting bookings in Austin, Houston, Dallas, and virtually all over the State.
We attended the Columbia Record Convention in Las Vegas, along with several of their recently signed acts, The Cyrcle (Red Rubber Ball) and Tim Rose (Hey Joe)……
Simon & Garfunkel, the Byrd’s, Bob Dylan, Billy Joe Royal, Paul Revere & the Raiders, Chad & Jeremy, George Benson, & Rubber Band were all on Columbia during our time on the label, a very prolific time for Columbia.
After 3 single releases, we were dropped by Columbia (as were over 100 new acts that same month), and later were recruited into the Capitol Label Group, recording at Bill Lowery’s studio in Atlanta on Capital’s 123 label. After a few singles on Capitol w/ moderate chart success, we signed on with Universal Studios (UNI label). My recollection is that we were one of the three artists at that time. The Who and Neal Diamond, and us…. Looked like the opportunity we were waiting for. UNI liked the fact that we were working on a concept album when we signed on. The Who had had great success w/ the concept album, Tommy, and UNI believed that we would have a huge hit with ours, Up Through the Spiral. We wrote recorded, produced, edited, and mixed our Masters at Jimmy Nicholls Studio and UNI produced the album cover and inside and out.
Our most memorable gigs include:
-playing a New Years’ Party in the Astrohall (Astrodome in Houston) along with many other bands and an estimated 50,000 in attendance. The venue was so large that you could see double-decker buses that looked like toys across the hall. There were multiple stages w/ bands playing simultaneously, and no problem listening to each while walking from band to band.
-showcasing our concept album for UNI at the then-famous iconic venue, Johnny Rivers’ Whiskey-A-Go-Go in Hollywood.
-playing ‘em “out of the chutes” at a County Fair Rodeo in West Texas, and “out of the chutes” at a strip club in Temple, Texas…..
-playing the Birthday Party for General Brown, Leader of the 4th Army, while our guys attended Summer Camp at Fort Hood. It took place in the deep woods of Fort Hood w/ a power generator and only a few Army personnel in attendance.
-performing on weekly TV shows in Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, and Harlingen.
-playing redneck clubs in East Texas, and pretty much every other type venue you can imagine.
What studio did you guys record out of, any other names you can remember, producer, sound engineer, anything?
Jimmy Nichols Studio, McAllen, Texas. Pharaoh Label; Jimmy Nicholls & Playboys of Edinburg, Producers and mixer/editors.
Columbia Studio “A”, Nashville. Columbia Label; Frank Jones & Don Law, Producers.
Bill Lowery Studios, Atlanta. Capital / 1-2-3 Label; Mike Clark & the Playboys of Edinburg, and Buddy Buie, Producers; Paul Revere & The Raiders, Billy Joe Royal (Down in the Boondocks), Dennis Yost & Classics IV (Spooky; Stormy) were other acts recording at Lowery Studios during our tenure there. We became friends w/ Billy Joe and the Raiders…. Mostly a good bunch of ole Southern boys…..
Jimmy Nicholl’s Studios ( w/ improved 8 tracks and board); for UNI Label (Universal Studios); Written, Arranged, Produced & Mixed/edited by our loosely-formed “Number VIII Productions”/Playboys of Edinburg; I may be wrong, but I believe that the only other acts on the new UNI label at the time were the Who and Neal Diamond.
The early 45’s (singles) were recorded on 2 and 4 track machines at Jimmy Nicholl’s Studio (which is pretty much “live”, ’cause overdubs result in much inferior sound). We later had access to 8 tracks at Jimmy’s and 16+ at Columbia and Lowery Studios tracks, but all along we experimented w/ getting various sounds and effects without the benefit of electronic/digital tricks. (analogue)
Here’s some of the stuff we did:
- Singing thru paper towel rolls (listen to vocal on “Sons Of Belial”);
- Using two vocal mikes to “bend” the vocals…. physically swirling the mikes in front of the singer(s) to emulate the “phasing” sound that we heard on some of the Beatles’ tunes (listen to vocals on “A Debt To Pay”);
- Running tape loops in reverse (listen to “Automatic Writing”);
- Plucking the strings on a concert piano like a harp with guitar picks and drum sticks (listen to “Up through The Spiral”);
- Playing lead guitar thru a “leslie” w/ rotating “horns” that was used with B-3 Hammond organs … (listen to “Sweet Morning” lead guitar)…….
- Recording a live thunderstorm w/ sirens from the front porch of Jimmy Nicholl’s Studio during a break in a session (listen to the beginning of “Fallin’ Off).
- Playing a trombone with a trumpet mouthpiece taped on to get the sound we wanted (listen to “Up Through The Spiral”).
- Moving our heads left to right while singing the “wahs” on “Tune In” to make the “ghost/spirit” sounds travel across the room (from left channel mike to right channel mike).
Little Known Fact: the over-modulated tambourine on “Look At Me Girl” was a mistake that we couldn’t correct without re-recording the vocals, so we left it on the Master Tape. We found it humorous that Bobby Vee tried very hard to get the same “fuzzy” sound when he covered us on the tune…
What was the music scene like in McAllen? Why McAllen?
Muchos garage bands…. We all grew up in Edinburg as a “suburb” of McAllen, only 10 minutes away. Lots of raw talent in the Upper and Lower Rio Grande Valley area….
What was it like being on a label with groups like the Headstones and Chris and the Souls, which are really snotty rock groups, but you guys seemed to go more of a harmonizing beautiful toned route?
We all grew up together and were friends, supportive of each other. Lots of “battle of the bands” took place over the years, and lots of National Guard Armory Dances, (attendees paid $1 at the door). Dave Williams (Headstones, Seompi… more) surfaced in Austin a few years back and we hooked up a couple times. I’ve heard that the Invaders have reformed and are playing parties in McAllen these days. The Foamy Brine was another friend to us… Tom Kelly sang at my wedding, and I’ve run into him a couple times over the years. Mitch Watkins, guitarist w/ Seompi/Headstones/and all iterations of same…. became a nationally recognized award-winning writer/guitarist and heads up the worship band at our old church here in Austin…. Allen Kirsch, a member of Christopher & the Souls, now owns MusicMakers store in Austin.
Did you guys tour with any groups or at all?
We played all over the state for many years. A typical week would include 3 nights of gigs. Most of us were going to college at Pan American in Edinburg, taking Tuesday/Thursday classes and Wednesday night classes so that we could travel…. We played a lot of Frat gigs and clubs in Austin during those years and our favorite venue was the New Orleans Club at Red River and 12th. I remember unloading the van on the steep incline. We’d just park and open up the back doors…. Then pick up the first stuff that fell out…. We played on stage w/ the likes of the 13th Floor Elevators, Moving Sidewalk, Bubble Puppy, Doug Sahm, Krackerjack (Al & John Staehely; later members of Spirit and JoJo Gunne…and Tommy Shannon; bassist for Stevie Ray and Johnny Winter), Pumpkin, Sweetarts, the Chevelle V, Baby Cakes, the CHEVELLES, the Sparkles, the Chessmen, and many more. We’d stay over on Sundays at the New Orleans when there would be dozens of bands playing off one set of equipment…. We all played for FREE BEER. I blame Ron Coleman, the club manager for all those GOOD TIMES. Made lots of long-lasting friendships at the New Orleans. These were the days of the Armadillo, Vulcan Gas Co., and Janis Joplin at Threadgill’s…… iconic years.
At what moment do you remember thinking wow were a band and this is really happening, when your record first came out, first gig. What?
First gigs, first record, first time on the charts, first, second, and third labels, we really just enjoyed relating to the audiences best we could….. Loved the people….
Do you recall some of the names of the venues or jamboree’s you guys played in alot in McAllen?
Edinburg National Guard Armory; Grapefruit Bowl in Mission; defunct Car dealership?? Showroom in Edinburg; Ft Brown Auditorium in Brownsville; the Alaska Club in Reynosa, Mexico…. lots of Street Dances and home parties…
“Look At Me Girl” has such warm harmonies, which in a couple of places, I dug up on the web coined them “The Texas Byrds” because of their amazing voices. I want to thank Val Curl for taking the time to answer all of my questions and for providing us with the great photos from back in the day. Please check out Mr. Nobody Records if you would like to pick The Playboy’s full album along with each single released on their various labels. The disc comes with a color booklet with lyrics.