Gerry Cain at 2008 Woodtick Festival
By STEVE SEYMOUR
Menominee, Michigan's Gerry Cain recorded 45s with two different bands which are highly sought after by collectors today.
In 1966, the Benders issued "Can't Tame Me," while the Why Four released "Hard Life" later in the year. Cain played lead guitar and was a co-writer on both songs which were largely ignored at the time but are now considered punk classics.
The Benders were formed at Stout State University in Menomonie, Wisconsin, by Cain, Paul Barry, drums and vocals; and Geno Jensen, bass. Tom Noffke was added as rhythm guitarist after a few months. "Gerry was already jamming with some guys when I met him and they needed a drummer. Well, I wasn't much of a drummer but I was the only thing available at the time so I got the job. I never played in an organized band and was totally green. But, there I was playing rock 'n' roll in college in the '60s," Barry recalled
At first, they played for fraternities and sororities on campus, practicing in the basement of their dormitory. They soon found themselves playing at clubs and bars.
As their popularity grew, the Benders got themselves a regular gig when they rented the basement bowling alley at an old hotel and founded their own nightclub. Called the "Pit," the place was very popular with young people but proved to be too much for the four band members to handle and closed within a year.
In March, 1966, the group decided it was time to record "Can't Tame Me," which had been wildly received at their live shows. They traveled to Big Sound studio, located at 529 3rd St. in Wausau, Wisconsin, for the session. Owned by Duke Wright, the label had released singles by Robin Lee, Starfires, Spacemen, Orbits, and Rejects.
The Benders taped "Can't Tame Me," at just 1:56, as the 45 rpm single's top side; and "Got Me Down," for the reverse. "Got Me Down" is a haunting ballad clocking in at two minutes and 46 seconds. Both songs were composed by Jansen, Cain and Barry.
"The A side, 'Can't Tame Me,' was very edgy stuff for that time with Gerry doing a great fuzz tone guitar solo," Barry stated.
Issued as Big Sound 3006, the 45 was accompanied by a picture sleeve, unusual for an independent release at the time. The front featured a black and white photograph of the Benders, while the back included biographical information about the group.
"Two years ago four guys got together in a college dormitory and decided to form a band. Today, three of the original members and one new player are still together pounding out what they like to call the "Bender Sound." The sound rocks and the guys do not like to play slow songs- in fact they only play them when requested. Although the personalities of the guys vary greatly, when they get on the stage they are molded into a unit that does nothing but wail. This is their first record and is typical of their style. They hope that you dig 'it' as much as they do."
The quote was attributed to manager "Jim Robinson." While the notes were undoubtedly true, the band made-up the manager to increase their professional credibility.
Although the 45s were delivered in May, 1966, the Benders broke up a month later.
Certainly, many of the Benders' fans appreciated "Can't Tame Me" for its snarling attitude.
"Over the years, it has became a sought after item by record collectors world wide. It has ended up on many garage band compilation albums here and over seas," said Barry, who drummed and sang lead on the track. The song is one of the stand-out cuts on "Back From the Grave, Vol. 8," released on Crypt Records, Frenchtown, N. J.
While casual fans can easily pick-up the song on compact disc, a few die-hard music fans still desire the 45 rpm single of "Can't Tame Me." A Texas collector paid over $2,000 for an original 7-inch vinyl copy earlier this year on eBay.
Back in 1966, meanwhile, Cain quit the Benders and college to join a hot band called Bobby Lee & The Showman, with the latter role being taken by Cain. The group's manager was Al Shultz, from Waukegan, Illinois, who also handled the Hollywood Argyles of "Alley- Oop" fame. (Cain was actually from the Chicago suburb of Elmhurst and was friends with the Shadows of Knight, one of the area's best known garage rock bands.)
With Bobby Lee & The Showman about to open in Vegas, Lee gets drafted," Cain told me. Suddenly, the young guitarist had "no band, no school, no cash, no car."
"My college roommate was from Marinette and I had gone home with him a few weekends and jammed with local bands and met musicians Kenny Stone and Drew Lund. Just as my world was crashing down, they contacted me about getting a band together. I had nothing to lose and a free place to live."
The Why Four
Thus, the Why Four began. At one point, they trespassed on railroad property to get a promotional photograph of the band on the back of a rail car. Another picture shows them standing on a monstrous pile of logs.
With an original composition called "Hard Life," the group traveled to Rampro Records in Janesville, Wisconsin, to commit the song to tape in September.
Issued as Rampro 118, the resulting single contained "Hard Life" as the B side and a rockin' version of Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away" on the obverse side." "Hard Life" was credited to G. Cain, D. Lund and K. Stone and runs a brief, but furious, two minutes and two seconds. "Not Fade Away," meanwhile, had returned to the charts in mid-1964 in a version by the Rolling Stones which became their first hit in the United States.
Despite being another excellent song, "Hard Life," languished. As was often the case with 45s issued on small labels, the lack of distribution and promotion opportunities doomed any chance of success on a national level.
By 1998, however, both Why Four songs appeared on a compact disc compilation called "Essential Pebbles, Vol. 2," issued by AIP Records, in Burbank, California.
Like "Can't Tame Me," the 45 single of "Hard Life," draws big interest when it pops up on eBay occasionally. In June, seller Craig Moerer auctioned a copy in "very good condition" for $797.
Paul Barry, Cain's band-mate in the Benders, meanwhile, moved to Milwaukee after college and fronted Barry's Truckers, a seven-piece classic hits show band. The group opened for many acts over the years, including the Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison, Ricky Nelson and many others.
Paul Barry, left, and Gerry Cain
Barry also has fond memories of performing at the Waterfront Festival in Menominee on Aug. 7, 2003. Before heading to Michigan, Barry received a surprising email from someone asking if they were going to play "Can't Tame Me" and "Got Me Down" at the upcoming show. The emailer happened to be Gerry Cain and the two veteran musicians were reunited at the Menominee show. "We hadn't seen each other in 37 years. It was absolutely great to get together and catch up after all this time," Barry recalled.
Cain has continued playing professionally. His lengthy resume includes Supernatural Bandwagon, Raw Meat, Virgil Hill, Brix Band, Kingbee, Showboat and Thunderbird, Guaranteed Wholesome, Breakin EZ, Raisin Cain, Carlin & Cain, Son of Sammy and the Billy Shears Band.
Also a guitar teacher, Cain continues to inspire music fans as he has since the 60s.
The Why Four