Wednesday, November 18, 2015

New Interview With Jim Bowen Of The Bondsmen

Daniel Coston: How did you meet the other members of the Bondsmen?

Jim Bowen: The fall of 1966 in Durham, NC I transferred from Durham High School to Northern High School  my junior year. In study hall I met a sophomore Phillip Pearson. We talked about what we did, liked, hobbies, etc. What else do you do in Study Hall besides study? Phil mentioned he played in the school band, played the Euphonium. I said I had played the clarinet previously at D.H.S. Then he said he also played drums in combos. I told him I played electric guitar in combos also. He told me about two friends at the junior high school that played guitars and one of them had a great singing voice. Phillip invited me over to his house for a jam session. I met Ken Haywood playing bass and Archie Thomas playing electric guitar and Phillip was right, Archie is a great singer.

Coston: How did the band form?

Bowen: After playing together Ken and I swapped base and guitar and I started playing the bass and Ken played Lead Guitar. Archie sang lead vocals and guitar. Phillip was an out of sight drummer. We all sang back-up vocals. After a couple more sessions everything was clicking, we enjoyed playing and started to learn more songs. The Bondsmen was formed. The four of us played a few gigs, youth centers, club houses, sock hops, the discotech clubs.

We wanted and needed more variety – a keyboard player. Gene Gallegan was a junior at NHS he had transferred from PA., he played organ and electric piano. He was a great addition to the Bondsmen. Our song variety increased. We wanted more- horns- we auditioned several horn, sax and trumpet players. The just did fit. So far the 5 Bondsmen were learning more and more songs and we all like what we were doing and got along great so the horn player we were looking for had to fit right in.
I call a trumpet player I had player with in the DHS band, Tim Hutchinson. He played 1st chair and what a sound he could deliver. I think we really wanted a Sax player for some of the music we did, but when we heard Tim that all changed. Another great addition to the Bondsmen. So the original line up:

Archie Thomas – lead Vocals
Ken Haywood – Lead guitar – Backup Vocals
Jim Bowen – Bass guitar – Backup Vocals
Phillip Phillips – Drummer
Gene Gallegan – Organ & Electric piano
Tim Hutchinson – Trumpet

Coston: Did you have an idea of what you thought the band should sound like?

Bowen: Our ages ranged from 14 – 17 years old. Some were limited to where we could play- no night clubs because we were under age. We learned a variety of music to please everyone. Some old standards and a lot of top 40 hits. Remember top 40 hits in the  60’s included, Temptations, Tams, 4 Tops, Showman, Beatles, Dave Clark Five, Kinks, Monkeys, Herb Albert, and Jimi Hendrix just to name a few.

Coston: Where were some of your early gigs?

Bowen: Early gigs included; Youth Centers, Sock hops, High school proms, YMCA Dances, Country Clubs, Moose Lodge, Shrine Club, Duke, Carolina and State Frat Parties, Christmas Parties for businesses – WTVD, Trucking Co., Jaycees, etc.

Coston: How did the single with Justice Records come about?

Bowen: Battle of the Bands were a popular event and we liked playing in them for exposure and to win prizes. We won several Battles, The Jazz In, Pearson Music Battle, Raleigh Battle, etc. The prize of  The Durham Battle of the Bands was a recording session and 1000 records at Justice Records in Winston Salem.

Coston: How often did the Bondsmen play during their time together? How many times a week, month, for example.

Bowen: The Bondsmen would get together after school and practice 3 to 5 times a week and if we didn’t have a gig we would do our show on the weekend. When we stated playing gig’s it was every weekend Friday and Saturday. During Christmas Season we played out 3 to 4 times a week. We were not able to practice as much but we would go to gigs and learn songs before the gig started.

Coston: The Bondsmen set list by 1968 was pretty diverse. How did you come to choose songs for the shows?

Bowen: We played for all age groups. The older age group we choose songs like Blue Moon, Love is Blue, etc. My father recommended some songs for their age group and they worked. One night at practice my father gave us sheet music of “Sweetheart of Sigma Chi” to play for the Sigma Chi Fraternity. He said the Frat House would like it and sing along with us. We thought ok well see how it goes, we were skeptical. The night of the gig we played the song and WOW, they went crazy, they were pleased and needless to say they helped spread the word to other Frat Houses and we got more and more jobs. As for the younger age group the top 40’s of the day was great and appealed to the teenager on up.

Coston: How much did the venue (dances, private groups, etc.) affect the Bondsmen’s set list?

Bowen: After months of practice we had learned over 200 songs. We would compile a list for each gig and then take request. When we played one of our regular gigs and had a request we didn’t know we would learn it for the next time.

Coston: My impression is that the Bondsmen were very popular in the Triangle area, and elsewhere. Talk about that.

Bowen: The Bondsmen had a great following. The YMCA dances got larger. The local radio station WSSB would come out and announce us at the show. The Frat parties spread from Duke to UNC to State. Mostly word of mouth from Frat Brothers. When our 1st record was released we sent a copy to the local radio stations and put some copies in the local Record Bar. One night we got a call from WSSB and invited us to the station for an on air  interview. You can only imagine how high school kids felt (on cloud nine). We were welcome anytime to go to the station and they played our records all the time.

Coston: What do you remember about winning the Battle of the Bands in 1968?

Bowen: January 27, 1968 we were 2nd place in the Raleigh Battle of the Bands. This was held at the Dorton Arena. Playing on the large stage where I had seen groups like Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Moody Blues and more.What an experience for high school students! March 2,1968 we won First place in the Pro Combo Contest. This was a battle held by Pearson Music Store in Durham with 15 bands competing. April 1968 we won First place in the South Granville Battle of the Bands. Winning this Battle qualified us to go to the State Battle of the Bands. June 1968 we were 3rd place in th NC State Battle of the Bands. So many great groups from all over the state. It was great to be a part of this Battle. 

Coston: Talk about “Our Time To Try”, and picking “I See The Light” to record.

Bowen: One of the Battles we won was The Jazz In August 6, 1967, one of the prizes was a 3 hour demo recording at AMH Studio in Chapel Hill. When we went to the studio we recorded 8 songs. The studio engineer said he liked our sound and asked did we have any originals. We told him we were working on one. He made us an offer to come back to record it. We went back to Durham and started to put together “Our Time to Try.” John Santa also went to NHS and would come to shows and practices he had written lyrics to a song. Archie and John worked on the lyrics, and the rest of the group worked on their parts of the music. When we returned to the studio to record “Our Time to Try” the studio engineer also liked “I see the Light” from the demo session and it became the other side of “Our Time to Try".

Coston: Favorite Bondsmen gigs. Talk about them.

Bowen: It’s hard to pick a favorite gig. The Frat Parties were like “Animal House” and they really got into our music. The youth centers & YMCA Dance crowd got larger each time. I enjoyed playing for the large crowds and of course all the girls-yes, we had groupies!

Coston: The band had lineup changes in 1968. Everyone talked about that time, regardless of whether you joined, or left the band?

Bowen: The summer of 1968 Gene, Tim, and I graduated from High School. After the summer we enrolled in different colleges in different areas.

Coston: What did you do after the Bondsmen?

Bowen: After the Bondsmen in 1968 I would jam with different groups. Four musicians from different groups and myself formed a group “The Sour Honey.” We did similar music and played some of the same places. In 1970 I played bass with an all-black group, I think the name was “The Soul Sensations.” We were all over 18 years old and we played night clubs in Raleigh, Apex, and Durham area. The fall of 1970 I moved to Charlotte to attend UNCC. I didn’t play for a couple of years. Then I picked the bass up and have been playing ever since. I have played in several bands and have recorded another 45 with a group “The Eyes”. And don’t forget the album “Tobacco a go-go” with the second Bondsmen record with both tracks on the album. Someone from Duke called my father, who had managed The Bondsmen, in need of a music group to do a “Rock mass” for a Sunday night service at Duke Chapel. “The Crystal Ship” was formed. Hubert Deans, keyboard and lead vocals, Johnny Thompson, drums, Ken Haywood, lead guitar and backup vocals and me on bass and backup vocals. We were the first band to do a rock mass at Duke Chapel in March 1970.

Coston: The recent reunion show. Talk about that. Thoughts, favorite moments, etc.

Bowen: Getting ready for the recent reunion show was a trip. Seeing The Bondsmen back together after 46 years was something I had only dreamed about. I talked to Daniel Coston and Jake Berger at the History Museum in Charlotte at a book release, " There Was A Time", and he asked me if I would be interested in a Bondsmen Reunion. I said that would be awesome but the group is spread out all over the country. Daniel said I will make it happen. That was June 2014. I went to Durham a few times for rehearsals at Hubert Deans Studio. The first time I went it was like being in a time machine. I hadn’t seen Archie, Tim, Hubert, Jim Ward, and Gene in 46 years. I had seen Phillip in LA. In the 70’s and again in 2014 in Charlotte. I had stayed in touch with Ken through the years. When we got on stage for the sound check all the rehearsals, and thoughts and dreams from the past 46 years came together. We were good, we were always good I mean after all these years we all still had it! We were great! 

Coston: To end this interview, finish this sentence. The Bondsmen were and are…

Bowen: The Bondsmen were a group of musicians in High School that formed a group whose motto on our business card was “Modern Music at its Best”. This has carried through the years and we are still preforming the music at the reunion 45 years later At It's Best.

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