Roy Head and the Traits
San Marcos, TX band that had a smash hit with 'Treat Her Right' reunites
By Michael Corcoran
Saturday, October 20, 2007
It doesn't get much more incongruous than this: a group of men in their 60s playing
up-tempo sock hop blues in a vacant house next door to the funeral home owned by their
bassist. But the Traits, former San Marcos High School mates who had regional hits soon
after forming in 1957, have been practicing almost daily for a month to get ready for a
reunion of original members, including renowned singer Roy Head. Coming down from
Nashville for the group's 50th anniversary October 20th performance at Texas State University's
student center was Bob Timmers founder of the Rockabilly Hall of FameŽ, who
inducted the Traits before the show.
Since it was also homecoming weekend for the San Marcos High School Rattlers, the sold-out
program was the hottest ticket in San Marcos. Roy Head and the
Traits also performed at 1:30 p.m. that Sunday afternoon at Cheatham Street Warehouse, where they played a
benefit for guitarist Bill York, whose medical bills have been mounting since he fell off
the roof of his church while cleaning the gutters last month.
"That was a big setback when Bill got hurt," says Traits piano man Dan Buie, "but we're
back into it hard and heavy and Bill might even play with us." Although not an original
Trait, York had been added to replace guitarist Tommy Bolton, who passed away in 2004.
Besides Buie, original Traits who backed the ageless Head included
bassist Bill "Hound Dog" Pennington, drummer Gerry Gibson and guitarist Clyde Causey.
Repping the later version of Roy Head and the Traits, who had an international smash with
"Treat Her Right" in 1965, is Gene Kurtz, who co-wrote the song.
The son of migrant farmers from South Texas, Head moved with his family to San Marcos when
he was a high schooler and sought out musicians who shared an affinity for the
hard-driving rhythm and blues he grew up loving. His first band was a trio with Bolton and
Gibson called the Treys. Even after adding Buie, Pennington and Causey (who joined the
service after high school and was replaced by George Frazier), the band was called the
Treys. But one day a radio announcer mistakenly introduced them as "the Traits" and the
name stuck. "It didn't feel right being in a six-piece band called the Treys," Buie says.
The group's first single "One More Time," which resembled "Summertime Blues" by band fave
Eddie Cochran, came out on San Antonio's predominantly polka label T 'n' T Records and got
a lot of airplay from the Rio Grande Valley to Austin. Similar regional success with "Live
It Up" and "Summertime Love" established the Traits as one of the top rock bands in
Central Texas. The dancing dynamo Head set them apart from the breed of new bands and the
Traits made good money playing frat parties.
Around 1960, the frontman asked that his name be put before the band's and they became Roy
Head and the Traits. "Roy was 110 percent into making a living from music," Buie says,
"but the rest of us kinda had the attitude that we were having fun and all, but it would
soon be time to go to college and get jobs." The exception was Gibson, who everyone agreed
was the best drummer in these parts. Years later, he would tour with Sly and the Family
Stone for a year and add drum parts to Sly's 1971 magnum opus "There's a Riot Goin' On."
Gibson flew in for the reunion from Nashville, where he works as a
horticulturist for Lowe's Home Improvement. Pennington quit the band, which was partially
financed by his mother, Edra, in 1963 to work in his family's mortuary business. Buie
graduated from the University of Texas in 1970 and worked for many years as a health
administrator specializing in substance abuse cases. Causey worked as an auditor for the
IRS before retiring in 1995.
When Head moved the band's headquarters to Houston around 1963, only drummer Gibson
followed him from the original Traits.
Today, singer Head is best known to the "American Idol" generation as the father of last
year's hopeful Sundance Head. But in 1965, he was neck and neck on the charts with the
Beatles. With its thumpin' beat, blazing horns and Head's soulful delivery, "Treat Her
Right" was the hottest number on the radio, perched at no. 2 on the Billboard Top 40 chart
and rarin' to take over when "Help!" dropped down. But "Treat Her Right" was leapfrogged
by another Beatles single. Little ditty called "Yesterday."
Head and the Traits had two more minor hits in '65, "Just a Little Bit" and "Apple of My
Eye," but the British Invasion wiped out the fiery R&B showband style that Head honed in
Ironically, Head remains a rock god in Britain and continues to tour sporadically both
overseas and in the States. "There's no drop off in the intensity of his performances,"
says Dianne Scott of the Continental Club, where Head played last month. He's become a
cult artist for roots fanatics, a real deal marvel who can still do the splits.
But for a time there he was nipping at the heels of "Yesterday." Chasing yesterday; a good
theme for the weekend's reunion shows, when the Traits brought it "One More Time."
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