Record label remasters and revives music from local 1960s band
The Countdown 5 is making a comeback to the music scene — sort of.
In its heyday, the band, which formed in 1964 and disbanded in 1969, featured local musicians Mack Hayes, Tommy Williams, Tommy Murphy, Steve Long and John Balzer.
The high school buddies from Galveston and Texas City, who played in legendary beach clubs such as The Bamboo Hut and The Grass Menagerie, released its first international two CD package titled “Countdown 5 — The Complete Recordings,” on Aug. 17 in America and Europe.
Williams, a Texas City resident and founder of the original group D & The Dominoes, fell in love with music at the age of 8 after watching his sister play drums for Texas City High School’s marching band, he said. She showed him how to use drumsticks and the rest, you could say, is history, he said.
“I can’t really remember how we started the band, but I thank our longtime neighbors, Leo and Zada Ferguson, who had to endure the early stages of our musical careers,” Williams said. “The renewed interest in the band was totally unexpected and has brought back great memories and feels very rewarding.”
The band has toured all across southern America performing concerts with acts such as the The Grass Roots, The Dave Clark 5, Paul Revere & the Raiders, The Fifth Dimension and many more.
The Countdown 5 even had two songs, “Uncle Kirby” and “Shaka Shaka Na Na,” to reach the Billboard Top 100. The songs received additional airplay in Europe in the 1970s.
Balzer, who joined the group as a guitar player and vocalist, grew up in Galveston where he still lives today. Balzer’s musical background began in public and private schools where he was able to attend music camps and seminars, he said.
“My time with the guys was such an amazing time — the ‘60s and all,” Balzer said. “We were the first in so many ways. Back then, bands were still playing blues, swing and a lot of ‘whip’ music. On the other hand, we were performing our own brand of music, which we choreographed and seasoned with some British pop.”
The band was heavily influenced by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Raiders and Clarence Perry & The Perrymates, a band based in Pasadena. The Countdown 5 even caught the attention of a Houston TV producer who eventually signed the band to perform on a weekly TV show called “Impact,” Hayes said.
“As a band, we took nothing and created a dynamite rock and roll show band that barely missed making that ‘one in a million’ shot at national stardom,” Hayes said. “It was tough, scary, exhilarating — and one hell of a ride.”
After the band disbanded in 1969, Williams, Balzer and Hayes formed a new band called Wire Band, which was created specifically to travel with musical icon Liza Minnelli.
“Touring with Minnelli was the biggest thrill,” Williams said.
Long, who played saxophone and keys, was one of the last two to join the band. After the band broke up, Long worked for Galveston’s K-ILE radio in advertising sales and news. He also spent six years as a features writer for the Houston Chronicle, as well as authoring three true crime books, he said.
“I remember doing the concerts and being mobbed by fans,” Long said. “It’s gratifying to know there is continued interest in the work we did throughout the ‘60s. It’s wonderful that we left an impression that has outlasted throughout the decades since.”
Murphy, also an original band member who lives in Texas City, credits his uncle for putting the love of music in him at the age of 2, he said. That uncle was killed in the Texas City explosion in 1947 that originated with a mid-morning fire on board the French-registered vessel Grandcamp, which triggered other explosions and killed hundreds of people in one of deadliest industrial accidents in U.S. history.
Murphy, like the others, is excited the band is still relevant — 50 years later.
“I can’t believe I have been a rock star all these years and didn’t even know it,” Murphy said. “I have great memories that still make me laugh. Great friends that still make me happy. And finally, the recordings I had almost given up on. They’re pretty good … you should give them a listen.”
Today, all five members are signed with Gear Fab Records, which contacted the band in the spring of 2018.
The independent label purchased the original masters of all of their recordings, including 28 songs, most of which have never been released. The CD is available in America, Europe, Japan and on several internet sites such as Amazon, Target and eBay, among others.
And although the band no longer exists, all the members are grateful to be alive and well, and are excited that the music will live on.
“I think the guys would agree that The Countdown 5 era was very special to all of us,” Hayes said. “To have all of our recordings, which we thought were lost forever, not only reemerge, but be remastered and packaged in a double CD for our first international release — 50 years later — is absolutely mind blowing. I can’t express the feeling of knowing that our music will now live on.”