The Gants were originally known as The Kingsmen (but should not be confused with The Kingsmen who had the legendary hit "Louie, Louie") when the band got together in 1963 to play R&B covers and the kind of instrumental tunes popularized by The Ventures. Their original line-up was Sid Herring (lead vocals and guitar), Johnny Freeman (guitar), Vince Montgomery (bass guitar) and Don Wood (drums).
Several events combined to push the band out of the total obscurity of playing other people's songs at Greenwood, Mississippi dances and into the relative obscurity of Sixties garage-rock history. First, Freeman had to quit, because his parents wouldn't let him play out-of-town shows, and was replaced by Johnny Sanders. Since a name-change was called for (thanks to those other Kingsmen) the band chose The Gants, after a popular brand of shirt1 with a button-down collar. At the same time, Herring, who resembled Peter Noone of Herman's Hermits2, developed a bad case of Beatlemania and began writing original (if Beatles-derived) songs. In early 1965, The Gants were overheard by a US tour coordinator for The Animals while playing in a hotel ballroom and were chosen to open for Eric Burden's band on their Florida tour. This turned out to be a typical development for The Gants--playing the first set for more famous groups--but opportunities were limited with half the band still in high school and the other half in college, unwilling to drop out and face their draft board.
At this point, The Gants had a professional sound and a strong repertoire of original material and covers, which were reflected in the choice of sides for their first single: (Bo Diddley's) "Road Runner" backed with (their own) "My Baby Don't Care", released on the Statue label in mid-'65. The record showed enough potential to get re-released by a major label, Liberty Records, in September, and it saw some modest chart action. Later that year, Liberty released The Gants' first first album, Roadrunner, which supposedly featured Duane Allman playing organ on "House of The Rising Sun"--I think they mean his brother Greg, though. In January, 1966 a new single was released, "Little Boy Sad", which includes a very early use of the wah-wah tube device later made famous by Joe Walsh and Peter Frampton. The band tried to get Liberty to release their recording of Them's "Gloria" but the label refused and The Gants were later disgusted to see the song become a huge hit for The Shadows of Knight.
A definite pattern had been established; The Gants were able to record and make brief tours during vacations, but that was never enough. Radio stations gave up on their records when the band couldn't get away from their responsibilities at home for promotional appearances--and in the mid-'60s, radio airplay was the key to success. In 1966 and early '67, several singles and two more albums were released: Gants Galore and Gants Again. Nothing went anywhere, except Sanders, who quit and was replaced by the guitarist he had replaced, Johnny Freeman. One more visit to California in the summer of 1967 proved fruitless, and three of (former) Gants headed back to Greenwood, leaving Sid Herring in Los Angeles with a job as a staff songwriter for Liberty Records.
In 2000, Sundazed Records released Roadrunner! The Best of The Gants, with excellent liner notes by Mike Stax, from which the facts for this node were gathered. The Gants are said to be performing together again, and one can only hope that they are serious about it this time. Somewhere inside them they had the makings of a band more deserving of success than most American bands of their time.
1. Name 3 other bands named after shirts. No, don't. It's a terrible way to name a band, and I don't think any of them were very successful. Gant, by the way, is French for glove. Maybe they should have called themselves The Gloves; it sounds almost psychedelic!
2. Herring, like the singer for The Knickerbockers, did a fairly accurate imitation of John Lennon's voice when he sang his own songs. Unfortunatly, the rest of the boys sounded like Americans, not Paul & George, on harmonies.