|Go Cat Go, Who Are These Cats...
I first met Darren Spears late on a summer night in 1986. he was sitting on a picnic bench in his backyard strumming an acoustic and singing Elvis ballads to his dog. His voice was beautiful - smooth and resonant, strong and distinct. I was completely wowed.Later that year I met drummer Lance LeBeau who was soon telling me his dreams for starting a band. One day we were at a junk yard when Darren drove by on a fork lift. We had no idea that he worked there. "There's the guy who sings like Elvis," I said. They exchanged numbers and made vague plans to get together.
Late summer of 1988 they finally met up in Lance's basement, instruments in hand. They rounded up some high school friends to fill out the empty spots. The guitar player wanted to play Led Zeppelin and the bass guitar player, Paul Turley, was willing to play anything. At the end of a very long afternoon, Lance and Darren got them through a version of Gene Vincent's "Baby Blue." There was a spark.
A year passed before Lance, Darren, and Paul got together again. Darren called Lance and said, "Listen to this!" Lance heard someone picking "Mystery Train" on the other end. It was awesome. "Who is that?" Lance had to know. Darren laughed his dirty old man laugh. I could picture him wringing his hands with glee. "Oh, just an old friend of the family. D'you want to get together?" This time it was in front of Darren's neighbor's garage. Bill Hull, the mystery "Mystery Train" picker insisted that he was "just" a rhythm player while Darren shook his head and laughed. There was a bigger spark.
Practices continued in front of that garage. Neighbors dragged their lawn chairs over to watch. Strangers walking their dogs stopped to dance in the driveway. The guys knew they had something. After several weeks of wondering what to call themselves, Bill pointed to his car's license plate. "GOCATGO" it said. They all agreed that "Go Cat Go", a nod to Carl Perkins and the "Amen!" of rockabilly, said it all. It was immediately adopted as the band's name.
As the summer of 1989 drew to a close, Go Cat Go began to play local clubs and quickly drew the DC rockabilly fans to their side. Darren's high energy and skillful delivery of every song, Lance's insistent punch accented with timely rimshots, and Bill's unwavering stance while his fingers danced on his guitar kept people coming back for more and bringing their friends. It was just about right, but the electric bass, solidly played by Paul, wasn't getting the sound they were after.
In January of 1990, young Brian Freeman, all of 16, offered his services as upright bass player. Brian had classical training, a passion for rockabilly and the licks to prove it. Two weeks later, Brian played his first gig with Go Cat Go.
The band worked hard to perfect some of Darren's collection of original songs. In March, they released a self-produced cassette tape entitled "Out of Control" with six of Darren's songs: "Who Was That Cat," "Forever's Much Too Long," "Time To Rock," "Please Mama Please," "'Till the Cool Cats Cry," and "10 Ways to Rock." Shortly after the release of the tape, they got the bug to do a vinyl record. It would be something they could show their grandkids.
In mid-1991, Go Cat Go recorded six more originals; five by Darren and one by Brian for the Rock-A-Billy Records Company in Denver, Colorado. This, the first 10-inch release from Rock-A-Billy Records (R-301-LP), was on purple vinyl. It included "Little Baby Doll," "I've Got My Eyes on You," "Can't Tie Me Down," "Big Train," "Other Side of Town," and "Lonesome Road." The response to the record, which was released in January of 1992, was overwhelmingly positive. Unfortunately, the record was released without a jacket due to the label's financial constraints. Nearly a year later, the band decided that there must be jackets. With the help of Ronnie Joyner, an outstanding local graphic artist and rockabilly fan, the striking jackets were completed and added to the remaining records.
Also in 1991, two alternate recordings of "Other Side of Town" and "I've Got My Eyes on You were released on Run Wild Records' Big D.C. Jamboree: Volume 2 CD (RW-303). Meanwhile, Rock-A-Billy Records was anxious to begin a second pressing of the LP, but there was a disagreement in terms, so it was never to be. The success of the record and encouragement from fellow musicians prompted the band to plan a short tour. They struck out for Texas in June of 1992 in a rented cargo van. It only had two seats. They took turns driving and suffering in the third and fourth "seats": a turned over five-gallon drywall compound bucket and a rolled out sleeping bag.
Two days into their trip, they were compelled to stop in Memphis, Tennessee for a tour of Sun Records. All long-time fans of the Sun recordings, the band could not leave the studio without recording there. Oddly enough, there happened to be studio time available that evening. Stranger still, a camera crew from the national television news show 48 Hours showed up and recorded the band's entire session for an episode entitled Crazy About Elvis. (The band's appearance on the show, which aired August 12, 1992, lasted less than one minute.) Go Cat Go recorded six songs at the Legendary Sun Studios: "Please Mama Please," "'Til the Cool Cats Cry," "Who Was That Cat," "Carl Perkins' "Honey Don't," Buddy Holly's "Blue Days Black Nights," Billy Lee Riley's Flyin' Saucers Rock 'n' Roll," and of course, "That's Alright Mama."
Once safely in Texas, the band teamed up with High Noon to play shows in and around Austin and Dallas for the next week. The band returned home tired but triumphant and very happy to be out of that van. They spent the next year working as often as they could. Brian was attending college in Richmond, Virginia, about two hours away, making getting together difficult. Aside from working, they began planning their July 1993 tour to California.
When July arrived Go Cat Go took off cross-country in a nice, cushy mini-van. The jam-packed schedule began in Hollywood with a spot on Ronnie Mack's Barndance at the Palomino Club. It continued to Anaheim with a stop at the Linda's Doll Hut for a show with the Dave and Deke Combo, then to the Casbah in San Diego with Big Sandy & the Fly-Rite Boys. Go Cat Go traveled and performed their way back up the coast until they reached San Francisco where they teamed up for more shows with Big Sandy. The tour culminated in a huge, hot warehouse party in San Francisco. At this show, they unveiled the newest song they had been working on, "Kiss Me Baby," a dark and sultry dare of a song. The crowd was entranced by it. "Kiss me Baby" defined the Go Cat Go "sound" and marked their musical direction. Sadly, it was never recorded by the whole band.
Brian returned home in August, full of excitement and plans. They were poised to take the next big step as a band. They were ready to quit their full-time jobs and school to turn all of their attention to recording and touring. They wanted to go to Europe for the summer of 1994. On September 14, 1993, a mere month after returning from California, Darren was shot without warning by three teenagers who wanted to steal the rifle he was using to hunt dove. On September 15, Darren died from his wounds.
Go Cat Go had been on the rise. The loss of Darren was and remains a devastation. The surviving members of Go Cat Go agreed that no-one could take Darren's place, so they went their separate ways. It was all over before they could go to Europe; before they could record anything more; before they could tackle any new songs from Darren's huge notebooks; before Darren could write anything else.
Brian is now finishing school after taking a few years off. Bill quit rockabilly all together, but continues to play guitar in another genre. Lance now plays drums with the Flea Bops and the Twilite Ramblers.
By Wendy Lebeau
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