documenting the optical sounds of '60s pop, Acid Punk & Psychedelia

The Hangmen: An interview with Tom Guernsey

The Hangmen – “What A Girl Can’t Do” / “The Girl Who Faded Away” (Monument 910) November 1965

The Hangmen are now well represented on some garage websites with detailed information about the band as well as rare photos. So head on over to ”Garage Hangover” but have my site your port of call for a more in depth look at their 45s and sole album on Monument Records.

I’ve also got some vintage pics from the archives of The Hangmen’s lead guitarist and songwriter Tom Guernsey, that as far as I know are unique to my ”Yellow Paper Suns”.

The Hangmen formed when Washington D.C. band The Reekers drifted apart sometime in mid 1965 when various members went to other colleges outside the Washington area. The Reekers were a popular draw and had a wild surf sound. Just check out the classic ’Don’t Call Me Flyface’ from 1964.

Tom Guernsey soon got active in putting together another combo by seeking out the ’long hairs’ at Montgomery Jr College in Washington D.C. where he was attending. The new band was given the name of The Hangmen (which I think is a super cool name for a band)….

Around about the same time Monument Records, based in Nashville got passed tapes of recordings by The Reekers. The songs were ’What A Girl Can’t Do’ and ’The Girl Who Faded Away’ both written by Tom Guernsey.

Monument were impressed and decided that they wanted some of the teenbeat sound on their roster (the label was primarily a vehicle for rock and roll, country and western and R&B. At this period in time Roy Orbison was the label’s biggest star) and signed the band but because The Reekers were no more, Monument released the songs under the moniker of The Hangmen simply because of the Tom Guernsey connection.

So what of the music? ’What A Girl Can’t Do’ is classic mid 60s rock with an echo laden backbeat, pulsating bass runs and a Ventures style guitar attack giving the song instant teen appeal. The sound was new and dangerous with a potent mix of merseybeat and sneering ’put-down’ lyrics. Thankfully Monument Records got their distribution right in and around the ’Tri-States’ and the 45 was a big hit locally. Sadly the non existent promotion elsewhere meant that the band would not make it on to the National scene.

The flip ’The Girl Who Faded Away’ is a gentle ballad in a Paul McCartney style. Tom confirms that it was influenced by the minor key kings The Zombies.

Both songs were compiled back in 1984 on the Satan label release ’Signed D.C.’

The Hangmen – “Faces” / “Bad Goodbye” (Monument 951) June 1966

The Hangmen had been basking in the limelight for several months following the big local hit ’What A Girl Can’t Do’. It must have been weird though for the band members who didn’t play on this record, apart from Tom Guernsey of course, who wrote their first hit 45 and played lead guitar on the platter.

The Hangmen were pop stars in Washington D.C. and even performed for the Kennedy’s at some posh gig and appeared at the ’Giant Record Shop’ in Falls Church, Virginia attracting thousands of teens hoping for a piece of The Hangmen action.

But the heat was on for the current line-up to come up with a follow-up record to maintain their popularity. That new recording was a George Daly/Tom Guernsey original called ’Faces’.
’Faces’ is a tuff fuzztoned rocker and the combination of incessant fuzz and tambourine makes for THEE classic ’66 punk sound.

The flip ’Bad Goodbye’ is also a band original, again written by the Daly/Guernsey partnership. This time though the pace is slowed right down to reveal a mournful folk rock tune similar in style and sound to those great Val Stoecklein compositions with The Blue Things.
There is a slight Dylanesque vocal delivery from Dave Ottley and a mellow harmonica break.

Monument Records decided to promote the record and a full page advert appeared in trade magazine Billboard signalling it’s release.
Over the years this 45 has become a highly sought after disc by the garage aficionado.

”Faces” was compiled in 1987 on ’60s Choice – Volume 1’ coming out on a French label called GMG. I bought this LP when it first came out and it was on this compilation that I first ever heard ’Faces’.
Bad Goodbye” remains un-compiled.

Following on from the success of ’What A Girl Can’t Do’ The Hangmen were signed up by guitar makers Mosrite to promote their new Mosrite Ventures Model guitars and amps.

George Daly plays a custom Mosrite Mark 1 guitar
Tom Guernsey plays a custom Mark 12 string
Paul Dowell plays a custom Mark X bass

The Hangmen – “Dream Baby” / “Let It Be Me” (Monument 45-983) November 1966

In late 1966 The Hangmen travelled to Nashville to record their album for Monument Records. This album was of course ’Bittersweet’. The band had the chance to work with musician and talented producer Buzz Cason, who was a member of The Crickets.

The Hangmen had recently changed lead singer because Dave Ottley had returned to England so replacement Tony Taylor had the chance to shine.

Before the album was released Monument Records released a single in November 1966. Both of which were recorded in Nashville with new singer Tony Taylor. Both songs would also be part of the long player released in 1967.

’Dream Baby’ is a psychedelicalized version of the Roy Orbison hit. The musicianship and production are exceptional and it’s a sound that I feel The Hangmen should have explored more. ’Dream Baby’ was written by Cindy Walker who visitors to my site may know also wrote ’Blue Canadian Rockies’, a song recorded by The Byrds and released on their seminal country rock album ’Sweetheart Of The Rodeo’.

The flip ’Let It Be Me’ is another cover version, written by Allie Wrubel / Mort Dixon and is a slow paced ballad.

The Hangmen – “Bittersweet” LP (Monument MLP 8077) 1967

Clearly an underrated album but with mixed reviews. It’s too pop for the garage heads and I’ve been put off buying it for years when I read that the re-recordings of ’Faces’ and ’What A Girl Can’t Do’ were deemed to be not as good as the single versions.

I was tempted a few times to buy the bootleg on Radioactive but I’ve never been a fan of their CD masterings. Tom Guernsey sent me a copy of the album on CD recently and I was suitably impressed by the music to go out and seek an original copy on vinyl.

Some prices were in the region of $100-$130 but I managed to locate one (not on eBay) for $50 and it was in mint condition, as well as being the important MONO release.

By the way, here’s some trivia for you. The trippy picture of The Hangmen on the cover of the album was taken in the bedroom of Tom Guernsey’s apartment in 1967. Tom is hiding behind the self portrait.

The psychedelic influence for graphics was evident with the logo for the ’Bittersweet’ album. This colouful lettering brightened up the back cover.

Side One of ’Bittersweet’ opens with ’Dream Baby’ (also selected from the album as a single). I really dig this sitar and fuzz imbued psychedelic ’Dream Baby’ and it clearly was the strongest song/performance on the album IMO.

’Guess What’ is another slow ballad. The Hangmen seemed to like this style.

’Crazy Man’ ups the pace somewhat and the lead vocals are performed by bass player Paul Dowell.

’Let It Be Me’ was the flip of ’Dream Baby’.

’Terrible Tonight’ is another song about a girlfriend problem. She has a ’plastic heart’…

’Faces’ is a re-recording of the second single and is much different. It’s a lot slower with fuzz but this fuzz is not as killer and is sadly buried in the mix. The back-up vocals make up for this though.

Side Two of ’Bittersweet’ kicks off with ’I Wanna Get To Know You’, a slow paced song with more than a nod to the Lovin’ Spoonful. It’s a song that Tom Guernsey is happy with from the Nashville recording sessions and he would have liked it to have been the band’s third single instead of ’Dream Baby’.

’Everytime I Fall In Love’ is a cover of a song by fellow Washington D.C. band The Fallen Angels. It’s a slow heartfelt ballad of ’love gone wrong’, a theme so common with mid 60s bands.

’What A Girl Can’t Do’ is a re-recording of the classic single. I’m not quite sure why The Hangmen wanted to try this one again, maybe it was to give new lead singer Tony Taylor his chance to stamp his authority on the song, or perhaps the band were rushed in the studio and didn’t have any more material?

’Isn’t That Liz’ is a band original with some fuzz and a neat harmonica break mid way through the song. It’s a grower and the tune will stick in your head.

’Gloria’ is the famous Van Morrison song originally recorded by his band Them. Many mid 60s American bands either played this song live at gigs or recorded their own version. I’ve never heard a better version than the original by Them. The Hangmen performance is a slowed down and extended take with a good vocal performance by Tony Taylor.

I asked Tom Guernsey how he felt about the album and if he was satisfied with it.

”Some of the songs on the album stand up better than others…for example I really l like ”I Wanna Get To Know You” (particularly the harmonies and the instrumental intro / ending) and ”Crazy Man” has some pretty good lyrics and an excellent bridge.

Although everything we wrote at the time was put under Guernsey/Daly, the two songs I mentioned are largely the work of my song writing partner George Daly. We were following the lead of Lennon & McCartney, who as I think you probably know, put all their songs under both writers names even if only one of them wrote it…such as ”Yesterday”

The Omegas – “I Can’t Believe” / “Mr Yates” (United Artists UA 50247) 1968

Following the demise of The Hangmen in mid 1967 the group more or less split into three factions, each one becoming a recording band. Tom Guernsey hooked up with former Reekers singer Joe Triplett and they called themselves The Omegas.

’I Can’t Believe’ is a catchy mod swinger that really lifts off with some killer fuzz leads and incisive female backing vocals from The Jewels. The song appears to be relatively obscure but I’m certain it has all the right ingredients for today’s European mod DJs… It’s certainly a record that will increase in value once it is ’discovered’.

The flip ’Mr Yates’ is completely different and it’s almost like listening to a different group. It’s a piano based introspective song that has a late 60s English folk vibe.

I asked Tom about these recordings for United Artists. Here’s his response.

’Mr. Yates’ (and the ”A” side ”I Can’t Believe”) were recorded in Edgewood studios in Washington D.C. engineered by Ed Green, who later became very well known in L.A. for his sound work.

”I Can’t Believe” was recorded on a 4 track machine (this was 1968!)….we recorded 3 tracks of rhythm, bounced those down to 1 track and then put the vocals on 2 of the now empty tracks and then double tracked the bass on the other empty track because we felt it did not cut through enough…

Ed Green, the engineer at Edgewood said to me ”Tom, someday I will get an 8 track machine and you will figure out a way to fill all 8 tracks!”

Dolphin – “Let’s Get Together” / “Grubb’s Blues” (Phoenix PH 3) 1968

Paul Dowell (bass), Bob Berberich (drums) and George Daly (rhythm guitar) quit The Hangmen in mid ’67 and attracted hot young lead guitarist Nils Lofgren from a local group and they called themselves Dolphin.

’Let’s Get Together’ is a fast and heavy version of the ’hippie’ anthem recorded by several bands in the sixties. The song is notable for some fierce skin action by Bob Berberich.

The flip ’Grubb’s Blues’ is a Nils Lofgren original but the credits on the label display Nils Lothgrin (typo?) and it’s another stripped down and basic late 60s rock and roll, heavy on the bass and brought to life with some great lead guitar by Lofgren.

Both sides were produced by Richard Gottehrer from The Strangeloves.

The Dutch picture sleeve for ’Let’s Get Together’ / ’Grubb’s Blues’ by Dolphin. It’s an appalling cover, maybe one of the worst I’ve seen. First off they couldn’t even get the song title right, they have it as ’Let’s Together’ and even worse still, those things don’t look like Dolphins to me (if that’s what the designer was trying to capture)

The band had a further 45 ’It’s Better To Know You’ / ’Time I Saw You’ released on Sire Records in 1969 but I’ve not heard it before. This release was with a slight change in band name to Paul Dowell and the Dolphin.

Graffiti – “He’s Got The Knack” / “Love In Spite” (ABC 11128) 1968

The third band to form from the ashes of The Hangmen were Graffiti. The band had previously been called Button and contained ex Hangmen singer Tony Taylor and George Strunz who had replaced George Daly in The Hangmen in early ’67 before they decided to split.

Button relocated to Greenwich Village from Washington D.C. and changed their name to Graffiti then signed to ABC Records. The only Graffiti music I’ve heard are the two cuts from their first 45. ’He’s Got The Knack’, a killer psych/prog cross-over appeared on the sought after compilation album ’World Of Acid’.

Graffiti released an album on ABC which is now becoming a collector’s item. By all accounts it is a good album and well worth checking out. The band released a final 45 in 1969 ’Do You Feel Sorry?’/ ’Girl On Fire’…


At the start of my research into the story of The Hangmen and the various off-shoot bands, I put together a compilation of all of their 45s including The Omegas. All tracks were mastered from my originals, meaning you’ll be hard pressed to hear them in better sound unless of course you have your own mint records.

By the way all of these records can be found at a reasonable price but I have noticed that ’Faces’ is commanding a higher price than previously. Anyway, I decided to send a copy of my Hangmen retrospective to Tom Guernsey and anyone who made a comment via my blog FREE of charge (I didn’t even want the shipping costs). Sadly only two comments rec’d despite getting at least 400 hits per day.

According to Tom Guernsey, Monument Records was bought out by Sony in the 70s and the likely hood of ever seeing a legit Hangmen CD are slim to say the least. Sundazed records have made some inquiries apparently, so you never know.

You can find the following songs on these comps. Sound quality obviously varies from decent to poor:

The Hangmen – ’Faces’ – ’60s Choice Volume 1’
The Hangmen – ’What A Girl Can’t Do’ – ’Psychotic Moose & the Soul Searchers’
Graffiti – ’He’s Got The Knack’ – ’World Of Acid’ and ’Turds On A Bum Ride Volume 3’
The Omegas – ’I Can’t Believe’ – ’I’m Trippin’ Alone’

originally posted on the 4th July, 2009

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