Bill Carter moved to Gainesville in 1962 and paid his way through college by playing guitar in The Playboys and later The Rare Breed until he left in 1968. An excellent guitarist with a taste for Chet Atkins, Carter is still playing gigs fifty years later around Orlando. The Rare Breed was one of the few Gainesville bands of the '60s to record; one of their songs "I Talk To The Sun" is on a European CD anthology collection. His story gives a rare insight into the pre-Beatles music scene in Gainesville and the apparent ease with which open-minded white musicians interacted with equally open-minded black musicians.
I was born in the Panhandle, near Panama City in a town called West Bay. My father was in construction, and we moved and settled down in West Palm Beach, and I grew up down there, graduated high school in 1961. At 14 I started teaching myself how to play guitar and at 16 I was in my first real band, The Bel-Aires, we played teen dances on weekends and during the week we played in black nightclubs. I never had a music lesson, I played by ear.
My parents were basically racist, not because they were mean people but that's just the way they were brought up, and they would have killed me if they'd have known I was playing in black nightclubs.
There was a place called the Lake Worth Casino with dances on the weekends; we were the main band most of the time. Back then the recording artists, they did not travel in buses, they drove themselves to gigs or their manager would drive them, depending on how famous they were. If they got to a dance and the band was good enough the band would back them up if the artist didn't want to lip sync. We were good enough and we backed up several performers, like Bobby Vinton, Chubby Checker, Jay and the Americans. In the black nightclubs we backed up Jackie Wilson, Brook Benton, people like that.
We started out with two guitarists, drums and sax, and one microphone I got from an old tape recorder. We did mostly instrumentals. In 1961, the two biggest artists that played instrumentals were Duane Eddy and The Ventures. Later on surf music came along, "Pipeline," "Telstar," and "Ghost Riders In the Sky," back in the early '60s. We made $5 each from gigs. Our "manager" had the only car and he got his $5 basically for having a car.
When I started with The Bel- Aires I had a Harmony guitar bought from the Montgomery Ward catalog, which I traded in for a Telecaster, then traded that for a Stratocaster, this was back in '61.
I was a huge fan of Chet Atkins, and Duane Eddy played a Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins model, so I bought one like that, an orange one. I payed $660 for it . I wrote Chet a letter when I was in high school and told him what a huge fan I was and would he please send me an autographed photo. He sent me the photo and wrote "...if you're ever up in Nashville look me up and we'll pick." I hitchiked up there in 1963 and I looked him up and we picked for three hours.
Many Florida bands from all over the state would travel to Gainesville to play, because gas was cheap and you could make good money playing the university fraternities. The R-Dells, who for some reason changed their name to The Ardells, were one of these bands—they were big in South Florida. The Ardells played Gainesville several times, and when their lead guitarist Bill Ande left the band and they asked me to fill in, I was glad to do it. We would drive the 300 miles from West Palm Beach to Gainesville to play and when the gig was over the fraternities would give us a place to stay for the night.
Frank Birdsong was a friend of mine who had been in a band called The Accents. He was going to college at the University of Florida where he'd started a band called The Playboys; he played lead guitar and Randy McDaniel played rhythm guitar. Their bass player was graduating, and Frank invited me to go up there, he said I could probably make enough money playing in a band to pay my tuition. My parents were poor and couldn't help me out financially, so I basically played my way through college. Frank switched to rhythm and I played lead and together we taught Randy how to play bass, the band chipped in and bought him a bass. The Playboys started as a four-piece: two guitars, bass, and drums. We'd occasionally get sax players but they never lasted too long.
We played fraternities and dances at this place at the university called The Hub. My pay went from ten dollars a night in West Palm Beach to fifty dollars a night in Gainesville.
Back when I was playing in West Palm Beach we always had people coming to gigs saying they would make us famous, and we'd say yeah, sure. One day a guy came in and said I don't need your musical talent, but I do need a band for a movie, it's called "Where The Boys Are." We turned him down because we thought this guy was bullshitting us because no one made movies in Florida back then. The movie came out and it was a big hit.
I finally moved to Gainesville in the Fall of 1962. My first semester's tuition at the U of F in 1962 was $113. The only income I had was playing in the band. We played regularly, and we didn't have any trouble getting two gigs a week. But sometimes I had to ration my food out. I'd buy a dozen eggs and I had a tin cup and a heating element you put in there and I'd boil eggs one at a time in that cup, and sometimes a hard boiled egg was my meal for the evening.
The U of F was in session from September until May, but Gainesville was a sleepy cow town in the summertime, the place was empty and you were lucky to get a job. In the summer we went from playing for fifty dollars each to five bucks a night and all the beer you could drink.
There was a bar called Sam's at 12 NW 13th St, and about halfway between there and a titty bar nearby called Trader Tom's was The Speakeasy. They served beer and wine, you played on the floor in front of the fireplace. The guy that owned it was was a real louse; he was fixing up people for abortions and was eventually arrested. He'd call me in the summertime when I was hungry for jobs, I was digging stumps during the daytime and he'd call and say we need a guitar player, I got everything, sax, bass guitar, drums, all I need is for you to show up, and when I did there would only be a drummer and a sax player, and we'd never met before, and we sounded awful, and we got paid five bucks a man.
There was this old farmer in there one night when we were playing, he stands in front of me with about three teeth in his mouth and wearing bib overalls, and he says, "Son...ya'll sound like shit," and...he was right!
We played several gigs in the boonies, some black clubs in town, The Oriole, it was on the north side of town, and other black clubs. Back then, it was no problem, we didn't feel unsafe, and we'd jam and they loved it, we also played a place called Mom's Kitchen.
Frank Birdsong and me would get together in his dorm room and work out parts, and also at the drummer's place, who lived near the Suburbia Drive In Theater at an old funeral parlor converted into apartments.
There was no guitar tab or charts back then, we sat down next to the record player, played a few seconds of the record, then lifted the needle and tried to figure out the music, same with lyrics. Like "Louie Louie," no one knew the real words to that, and we had a trick we'd do, if you put your fingers in your ears sometimes you could understand the lyrics better. But I can pretty much hear a song and figure out the chord progression now.
We evolved into The Rare Breed around '63 or '64, Frank Birdsong left, and Jim Garcia joined, who had been the lead guitarist in a band called The Big Beats, and a sax player joined named Brian Grigsby. Our drummer was Paul McArthur.
Folk music was really coming on strong when I came to town, because of the Kingston Trio the folk guitar sales went from like 50,000 to about half a million a year, it was incredible. There was a TV show called "Hootenany" that went to colleges to film the shows. They did two shows at the U of F in 1964. Johnny Cash was there, Jo Mapes was there, a great singer, and Johnny was acting all weird trying to impress her, and there were The Coventry Singers that played as well.
The Rare Breed played some folk songs, but we mostly played "rock," Chuck Berry songs, "So Fine" by The Fiestas, "Kansas City" by Wilbert Harrison, Ray Charles songs such as "What'd I Say," "Sticks and Stones,""Hit The Road, Jack," and songs by The Coasters, The Drifters, and "Runaway" by Del Shannon.
We'd often play fraternity row, and during the break we'd run next door and check out the other bands and we'd check out three or four bands each night, it was easy because the fraternity houses were so close to each other.
Steve Stills was in town when I was in town. He'll never agree to this but he bought a Gretsch 6120 just like mine because I impressed him so much and he said "I'll never forget you, man," and if you see pictures of him playing in the Buffalo Springfield he's playing a 6120 like mine.
There was a place east of town near Hawthorne, down a dirt road out in the woods, run by a woman called Louise; it was called The Blue Eagle, down a one-lane dirt road that you darted around trees to get there and you'd get out in the middle of nowhere and there's a tavern there. The stage was right next to the back door.
I saw a lot of fights in bars over the years. Normally when you see a fight the first thing you hear is glasses breaking. And this one night we're playing The Blue Eagle, we see this chair flying in the air toward the bandstand, so we stop playing and put our arms over our faces, and Jim Garcia's watch crystal was broken, and my microphone was hit into my tooth and it chipped it, we unplugged and ran out the back door real quick, that was a hell of a brawl. I'd never seen a fight where there was no noise beforehand.
The Rare Breedwere the house band for a long time at Dub's. When we first went there in 1962 it was called The Hootenany before it was The Orleans  and before it was Dub's. They had a piano bar with sheet music and the piano player would play songs and you'd sing along, mostly folk songs. When Tom Hicks and Don Denson took it over they renamed it The Orleans.
Then Dub Thomas took it over and renamed it Dub's. It did a really good business, we got huge crowds there, and there were a lot of fights, even back to when it was The Orleans. We played six nights a week, Monday through Saturday, nine till two in the morning. We got paid by the week, when you play like that you didn't get as much per night. By the time I left Gainesville in '68 I was making $60 a night, but at Dub's I made about $35 or $40 a night.
I worked at Chandler's Hamburgers from six to nine then I'd go to Dub's and play for five hours, then go to bed and go to school during the day.
I left Gainesville in 1968, The Rare Breed were there from '64 to '68, By the time I left Gainesville, we were playing songs such as Vanilla Fudge "Keep Me Hangin' On." When strobe lights were popular, some bands would use a light bulb and a fan, the fan in front of the light bulb. We spent $300 on a good one, got it at Lipham's.
Jim Garcia and I wrote fourteen songs, we recorded about eight of these and also backed up the black group The Blues Kings. Only four of our songs were made into records. The first record was "In the Night" b/w "I Need You." The second record was "I Talked to the Sun" b/w "Don't Blow Your Cool." Both of those songs were recorded in '66, at Charles Fuller Studios in Tampa, the same place where The Royal Guardsmen did their "Snoopy vs. The Red Baron" songs. Dub Thomas and Bob Norris, who was a DJ at WUWU are the ones that convinced us to record and they paid for the studio time.
It was a real studio with a four-track recorder, a control room with a double glass window to the tracking room, and sound barriers around the drums.
We recorded there twice. It was neat because the next time we drove down there to record, we heard our first song on the radio three times driving from Gainesville down to Tampa. On the way back home there was a Pizza Hut south of town where the train overpass was, we stopped there to get a pizza and one of the guys who worked there played our song "In The Night" on the jukebox.
Our biggest "hit" was "I Talked to the Sun," b/w "Don't Blow Your Cool," they sent the record off to have it pressed, but on the label it was printed "I Talk to the Sun," which wasn't the real title. That song had been pirated and put on "Destination Frantic" album over in Europe and it sold thousands of copies but we never made any money from it. We have two songs on Gear Fab's "Psychedelic States" series [Florida in the '60s Vol. 1 and Vol. 3].
We sold over 50,000 copies but we never made a cent, we didn't know who to ask or who to go after. We got a lot of gigs from that and we got to raise our rates. We played the pier on Daytona Beach because of that record, we were playing in Daytona all the time after that, we were like rock stars. We wore white slacks and purple shirts, and these girls would rip off our purple shirts after the gig...
WGGG played it and WUWU did as well, our song was charting when the Maundy Quintet's record was out and we were always trading places with them in the charts. And there was some competition going on between the bands. Don Felder was the guitarist in the Maundy Quintet and he had a bit of an attitude. We'd play some of the same gigs as them, and he and his band would stand out in the audience and point and snicker. But I have no ill will for him, he's a great guitarist.
Back then the instruments were not grounded and you only had two prongs on power cords, the microphone was often not grounded the same as the guitars, and three people would sing around the one microphone the band owned. There was a band from Jacksonville called The Mad Dogs, around '65, they wore dog collars with spikes around their necks, we were playing a gig with them in the north part of Gainesville, with about four bands, the bass player went up to the mic to sing and you could see the sparks flying from his lip to the mic, and he said "shit!" on the microphone and the guy that was running the show came up and fired him on the spot. Back then you couldn't say that, they had to leave the stage without finishing the song!
Florida had some excellent bands. We The People were from Orlando, they were great . The Tropics were from Tampa, they won a Battle of the Bands up in Chicago. We played a gig with them, great showmen, tall bass player named Charlie Sousa, and Ron and the Starfires from Lakeland, they were the best Beatles-sounding band I'd ever heard. A group from Polk County called The Legends, they had Gram Parsons, and Jim Stafford, who did "Spiders and Snakes" and had married Bobbie Gentry. I saw them play; they were good. And there was a Daytona band called The Nightcrawlers, who had "Little Black Egg," a song about a mixed couple.
The Nation Rocking Shadows, one of their fathers owned a music store, or outfitted the band. Remember those cream-colored Fender amplifiers? The whole band was outfitted with those, including those Fender reverb units, it looked so impressive on stage.
The only music store in Gainesville I did business with was Lipham's. Buster was a shrewd businessman; I had a VW bus, and he said if I agreed to have the Lipham's logo painted on the side of the van, he would let us use any equipment we wanted when we went in to record. On one song we did, "Before You Go," we borrowed a harpsichord from the store, the Beatles were using one at the time, our keyboard player Ron Gause was going to try and play his solo on it, but he choked up every time he tried, so I ended up playing a guitar solo.
Everything changed after The Beatles came along. The bands went from a clean-cut image, with short hair, wearing ties, everyone dressing alike, to people dressing individually. The music equipment changed, bands played louder, folk music went on the back shelf and the music scene just exploded, with British bands like The Kinks, and American bands like Paul Revere and the Raiders and The Young Rascals.
I saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. The first song they did was "I Want To Hold Your Hand," and I thought that was terrible. The other stuff I thought was really quality. I was going to a community college in Ocala and was taking a course on music appreciation, and the instructor was really belittling them, and I said "have you ever really listened to them?" We were studying rondo form and polyphonic music and countermelodies and stuff and I said "you really need to listen to these people." And I remember, this instructor looked me up, found where my class was, and he came to me and said "I just heard this song, 'Good Day Sunshine,' man, did you have it pegged!" He apologized profusely for what he had said.
We went and saw him in concert about two years ago in Tampa, along with Steve Winwood, who opened for him. Petty, every song, he's got a different guitar, him and Mike Campbell, the sweetest collection of guitars I've ever seen in my life. If you make a wish list of every guitar you wish you could have, Tom Petty's got 'em. And that band was so much better than I ever thought they would be. Winwood was good but Petty's band was hot that night.
After I left town I was a teacher for forty two years, a public school teacher for thirty one years and then I started doing consulting. I still have fun playing guitar, I spend my money on concerts and I still play in a band, The Shades. I now live an hour northwest of Orlando, outside a town called Astatula.
Gainesville was a special place for me while I was developing my musical talent and knowledge. It was the perfect environment to nurture the band format. I cannot think of a better place to have been during that musical period of my life.