Roy Head, 79, of Porter passed away this morning with a heart attack. Roy was one of the top performers of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. With at least nine albums and almost 50 singles to his name. Roy was well known in Houston with performances at many clubs including Gilley’s in Pasadena. Roy leaves behind his wife and his son Sundance who recently won, “The Voice” competition. His good friend Archie Bell said, “he is a great friend. I enjoyed performing with him. He is on my CD from 2017, I will miss him”.
A short time ago his son Sundance posted this message:
Well, my old pops is gone to rest I’m trying to make sense of it and I feel like he was the rock on the shore I could always gauge me distance with. Now I feel like I’ve walked out too far and when I turn around to see the shore there is no rock there to let me know where I am or that I’ve gone too far. Lord, please make my dad a star in the heavens so that I may lead my way back to solid ground
ROY HEAD AND HIS FAMOUS GATOR DANCE
Head was born in Three Rivers, Texas, and achieved fame as a member of a musical group from San Marcos, known as The Traits. The group’s sponsor landed their first recording contract in 1958 with TNT Music in San Antonio while they were still in high school. The Traits performed and recorded in the rockabilly, rock and roll, and rhythm and blues musical styles from the late 1950s to the mid-1960s. Though landing several regional hits between 1959 and 1963 on both the TNT and Renner Record labels, Head is best known for the 1965 blue-eyed soul international hit, “Treat Her Right”, recorded by Roy Head and the Traits. After going solo, Head landed several hits on the country and western charts between 1975 and 1985. During his career of some 50 years, he has performed in several different musical genres and used a somewhat confusing array of record labels, some too small to provide for national marketing and distribution. Roy Head and the Traits held reunions in 2001 and 2007 and were inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in 2007.
After moving to San Marcos in 1955 Head, along with San Marcos native Tommy Bolton, formed a musical group in 1957 known as The Traits/aka Roy Head and The Traits who would record and perform for the next nine years. The original group consisted of fellow high school students Head (vocals), Tommy Bolton (rhythm guitar) (1941–2003), Gerry Gibson (drums), Dan Buie (piano), Clyde Causey (lead guitar), and Bill Pennington (bass). When Causey joined the military he was replaced by George Frazier (1941–1996) just before the band started their recording career at Tanner N Texas (TNT) Recording Company, owned by Bob Tanner and located in San Antonio. The Traits had several regional hits at TNT with songs such as “One More Time”, “Live It Up”, both released in 1959, and “Summertime Love” (1960), establishing themselves in the late 1950s and the early 1960s as one of the premier teenage Texas-based rock and roll bands while playing the concert, sock hop, college and university, and dance hall circuits throughout Texas. It was during this period that the parents of The Traits turned down Dick Clark’s invitation for the boys to appear on American Bandstand, which ABC had started broadcasting nationwide from Philadelphia in 1957. At the time, all of the Traits were “minors”, and some were still in high school.
In 1961 and 1962 The Traits added saxophonists David McCumber and Danny Gomez to the line-up and produced additional Texas/regional hits from Renner Records, a label owned by Jessie Schneider of San Antonio. Renner label No. 221 and Ascot No. 2108, a subsidiary of United Artists Records, distributed The Traits version of Ray Sharpe’s 1959 “Linda Lu”, with “Little Mama” by Dan Buie and Head on the B-side. Renner Records also released The Traits “Got My Mojo Working” and “Wo Wo” on label No. 229. By the time the 1962 recordings were taped and mastered at Jeff Smith’s Texas Sound Studio in San Antonio for the Renner label, Johnny Clark and Frank Miller had replaced Frazier and Bolton at lead and rhythm guitars, respectively.
After attending SWTSTC (TSU) for two years, Buie, who played guitar and harmonica as well as keyboards, taught for several years before settling into public health administration, after receiving his baccalaureate degree and doing post graduate studies at The University of Texas. Tommy Bolton organized and played with other Central Texas musical groups while both he and Clyde Causey launched careers with the Department Of The Treasury. Danny Gomez graduated from SWTSTC (TSU) and later earn his doctorate at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. David McCumber went on to pursue his love for music at Sound Master’s studio in Houston Texas and then went on to open a Real Estate Company in Austin Texas. He ran the company until his retirement where he enjoyed travel with his wife Sandra until his death from Melanoma cancer in 2005. George Frazier would pursue real estate investment interests, and Bill Pennington followed in his mother’s footsteps and become a successful owner of Pennington Funeral Home in San Marcos. Only Head and Gibson would continue with careers in music. The songwriting talents, and subsequent recording successes, of The (original) Traits during their first five years on a regional level were under the watchful eyes of Ms. Edra Pennington (1913–2005) and Dr. T.R. Buie(1909–2000), would lay the groundwork for what would happen in the group’s last four years.
Roy Head and the Traits signed with Scepter Records in 1964. Scepter had developed a nationwide network of independent distributors while working with The Shirelles. By this time Gene Kurtz had replaced Pennington at bass, Kenny Williams had replaced Clark at lead guitar, Ronnie Barton’s trumpet was added to the mix and backup singer Sarah Fulcher started performing with the group. Roy Head and the Traits released a vinyl 45 featuring the vocals of Head and Fulcher on the Lori label No. 9551: “Get Back” (later released on Scepter No. 12124) and “Never Make Me Blue”.
In 1965, the band signed with the record producer Huey Meaux of Houston, who maintained a stable of record labels. “Treat Her Right” was recorded at Gold Star Studios (later known as SugarHill Recording Studios) in Houston. Issued on Don Robey’s Back Beat label, it reached No. 2 on both the U.S. Pop and R&B charts in 1965, behind The Beatles’ “Yesterday”. “Treat Her Right”, with its blazing horns and punchy rhythm, credited to Head and bassman Gene Kurtz, established Head as a prime exponent of blue-eyed soul. The fact that this was accomplished during the high point of the British Invasion makes it all the more impressive. By 1995, “Treat Her Right” had been covered by 20 nationally known recording artists including Jimmy Page, Bruce Springsteen, Jerry Lee Lewis, Sawyer Brown, Bon Jovi and both Mae West and Barbara Mandrell under the title of “Treat Him Right”. Bob Dylan, Sammy Davis Jr., and Tom Jones covered it “live”. Roy Head and the Traits “Just a Little Bit” and the bluesy-rockabilly hybrid, “Apple Of My Eye” also cracked the Top 40 in 1965. However, those were tiny hits in the wake of “Treat Her Right”, which is estimated to have sold over four million copies worldwide, and was a featured song, along with Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally” and Steve Cropper’s “In the Midnight Hour”, in the successful 1991 motion picture, The Commitments. “Treat Her Right” also appeared in Quentin Tarantino’s 2019 film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. “Come To Me” and “Now You See Em, Now You Don’t” both in 1977 and recorded on the ABC/Dot label reaching No. 16 and No. 19, respectively.
In 1965 TNT released the group’s first album consisting of their music recorded for TNT and Renner Records, TLP No. 101 entitled Roy Head and the Traits, which was also distributed by the New York-based Scepter Records. Goldmine Album Price Guide offers a ‘counterfeit caution’ when buying this album. The original from TNT did not include the song “Treat Her Right”, although it is included in the more widely distributed Sceptor pressing. The ‘counterfeit’ album is also attributed to TNT, but with blue lettering on the label rather than the TNT red. A CD offering 30 tracks today and containing the original red, black and yellow graphics on its cover is considered an offshoot of the ‘counterfeit’ vinyl version of the album.
Video clips from this time period show Head to have been a dynamic and versatile eccentric dancer; there are at least three extant clips of him performing “Treat Her Right” and each one is different from the others in terms of choreography. Modern viewers[who?] have compared his jumps and slides to those of James Brown or even the Nicholas Brothers; because he was white but his footwork included moves popular among African American gymnastic dancers, he was sometimes said to be a practitioner of “blue-eyed soul”.
The chart-makers recorded and released on the Back Beat and Scepter labels spelled the end of Head’s association with what has come to be thought of as the “second group” of Traits. See “Doubled Edged Sword” in The Story of Roy Head and The Traits.
Later releases by Head on Dunhill and Elektra contained elements of rockabilly and psychedelic rock, but by the mid-1970s his solo career had led him to country. He signed first with Mega Records and then with Shannon Records and later on with ABC Records and Elektra Records. After releasing the 1970 cult classic “Same People That You Meet Going Up You Meet Coming Down” on Dunhill Records, Head’s music reached the U.S. country music Top 100 24 times by the mid-1980s, while landing three Top 20 hits: “The Most Wanted Woman in Town”, (1975) “Come To Me” and “Now You See Em, Now You Don’t” both in 1977 and recorded on the ABC/Dot label reaching No. 16 and No. 19, respectively.
Even the earliest blues-laced, rockabilly-styled recordings of The Traits, primarily written in a collaboration between Bolton, Buie, Gibson and Head, have demonstrated lasting power with “One More Time”, “Live It Up” and “Summertime Love” making periodic surges into the Top 100 in various parts of Europe. Joe “King” Carrasco had a hit covering The Traits “One More Time” and releasing it on Hannibal Records and Stiff Records (UK) in 1981-1982. Two Tons of Steel covered “One More Time” again on both CD and DVD in 2000, Palo Duro Records entitled Two Tons of Steel – Live at Gruene Hall. Discographies reveal that much of the music originally written, composed and recorded by the Traits at TNT and Renner Records between 1958 and 1962, has been re-released over the past four decades numerous times by as many as 20 different record labels both in the U.S. and abroad.
During 1966 and 1967, when Head was working with the Roy Head Trio, The Traits independently recorded using Dean Scott on lead vocals. Scott had previously been the stand-in vocalist while Head had been away in the military. In 1967 The Traits recorded with pre-fame Johnny Winter featuring Winter’s vocals and blistering guitar leads, producing a vinyl 45; “Parchman Farm” and “Tramp” on Universal 30496. No one knew that Johnny Winter was just months away from bursting upon the national scene with his appearance at Woodstock. Johnny Winter later re-released the track of “Tramp” he recorded with The Traits in his 1988 compilation album, Birds Can’t Row Boats.
After the 1967 disbanding of the Roy Head Trio consisting of Head, Gibson, Kurtz and guitarist David “Hawk” Koon, Head started pursuing his solo career.
Head is a member of the Gulf Coast Music Hall of Fame, the Texas Country and Western Music Hall of Fame and the Austin Music Awards Hall of Fame. Roy Head and The Traits held reunions in 2001 and 2007. Both reunions involved performances at Kent Finley’s Cheatham Street Warehouse in San Marcos an early musical hangout of George Strait. During their October 2007 sold-out Golden Anniversary Concert appropriately billed as ‘Roy Head and The Tratis – For The Last Time’, at Texas State University, Roy Head and The (original) Traits were inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame by the Hall’s Curator, Bob Timmers. Tommy Bolton and George Frazier were inducted posthumously. Musicians for the performance were Traits Head, Gerry Gibson, Dan Buie, Clyde Causey, Bill Pennington and Gene Kurtz, with special guests Bill York, Don Hutchko, Don Head (1933–2009), and his son, Jason “Sundance” Head.
In 2008, Head performed in Cleveland, Ohio for The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As observed by the Austin Music Awards organization, ‘if someone ever starts a Hall of Fame for blue-eyed soul artist, “Roy Head and the Traits” should be the first name chiseled in granite.' Billboard has observed that Head’s versatility actually worked against him since he did not fit into any specific marketing niche. His use of many small record labels also prevented his recordings from achieving national distribution.