- Road Runner
- My Baby Don’t Care
- Little Boy Sad
- I Wonder
- (You Can’t Blow) Smoke Rings
- Crackin’ Up
- Bad Boy
- I Don’t Want to See Her Again and others
- Introducing the Gants (2005)
- Roadrunner! Best of the Gants (2000)
- I Wonder (1988)
- Gants Galore (1966)
- Gants Again (1966)
- Road Runner (1965)
Originally known as The Kingsman, The Gants were a garage rock band which was popular primarily during the 1960’s. The band was composed of lead singer Sid Herring, guitarist Johnny Freeman (aka Freakie), bass guitarist Vince Montgomery, and drummer Don Wood. It was formed in 1963, when the members were in high school.
The band started out playing cover songs at local dances in Greenwood, Mississippi, but as they began to expand into venues outside of town, Johnny Freeman, whose parents would not allow him to travel out of town, was replaced by Johnny Sanders. When Sanders joined the group, they changed their name to The Gants, so named after a popular brand of button-down shirts with a collar.
The Gants opened for The Animals in 1965 on their Florida tour. They also played with the Dave Clark 5 in Jackson, Mississippi, and The Yardbirds and The Box Tops in Memphis, Tennessee.
The bands vocalist, Sid Herring, wrote some original songs and in 1965, the band released its first single, a cover of Road Runner by Bo Diddley. The flip side of the record contained their original song, My Baby Don’t Care (Statue label). It was picked up by a major label (Liberty Records) and re-released later in the year.
Their first album was released on Liberty Records label in late 1965 – the album was titled Roadrunner. In 1966, another single was released by Liberty Records, entitled Little Boy Sad.
The band found time to tour and record during school vacations, but were restricted in their appearances. Their principal threatened to report them to the draft board if they took time off from school for a tour. The band had to cancel the tour.
In 1966, the band released two more album Gants Galore and Gants Again.
Sanders quit the band in the mid-1960’s to go to med school and was replaced by original guitarist Johnny Freeman. The band traveled to Hollywood, California in the summer of 1967, where they stayed for a couple of months. The band, except Herring, returned to Greenwood. Herring met and married his wife while in California, returning to Mississippi the following year, eventually moving to Memphis Tennessee.
The Gants kept a minor cult following despite their lack of hits. They remain popular with a number of their fans to this day. Their single Little Boy Sad was included on Oxford American magazine’s Southern Sample music CD.
The Gants reformed and began to play together again around 2005 to 2010.
Three of the original Gants have passed away. Bassist Vince Montgomery died in 2001; Don Wood in 2011; and Johnny Sanders in 2012.
On June 10, 2017 Sid Herring and Johnny Freeman of The Gants performed in Jackson, along with another Greenwood garage band, The Nurks, at Murrah High School’s 50th class reunion.
The following article is reprinted with permission from Daniel L. Singletary, J.D., and Billy Watkins, who is the author of this article. According to Daniel L. Singletary, The Gants performed regionally and nationally on some of the biggest stages, and their music lives on in their numerous records and CDs which were distributed throughout the world. The Gants were simply the best and most popular Mississippi rock and roll band back during the mid to late 1960s.
Vietnam War Helps End Dreams of Mississippi Rock Band
by Billy Watkins (June 9, 2017)
They were Mississippi’s Beatles. Rock legend Tom Petty called them that on his Sirius radio show, which means they actually were much more than that.
The Gants, four country boys from Greenwood who were friends long before they were bandmates, started playing blues and rock and roll in 1963, just prior to the British Invasion. They were high school kids: Sid Herring, lead guitar and vocals; Don Wood, drums; Vince Montgomery, bass; Johnny Freeman, rhythm guitar — he would eventually be replaced by Johnny Sanders when Freeman’s parents wouldn’t allow him to journey outside Leflore County for gigs.
Within two years, they found themselves in the middle of the nation’s rock scene. They toured with The Animals. They played on the same show with The Dave Clark Five and the Yardbirds. The Young Rascals (“Good Lovin’) opened for The Gants in New York. They recorded at Muscle Shoals’ FAME studios, alongside soon-to-be legends Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin and a roaming guitar player who lived in a tent in the parking lot — Duane Allman.
For Mississippians in the 1960s, the world suddenly seemed smaller as we read about The Gants performing and recording in faraway places like Boston and Los Angeles and Miami; as we saw their faces on album covers; as their songs blasted from our radios.
Dan Singletary, who grew up in Jackson and helped manage and sing harmonies for a local garage band, The Nurks, in the 1960s, recalls: “It was on WLS radio out of Chicago where we heard on-air personalities like Art Roberts and Dick Biondi play these fabulous songs by a band from Greenwood, Mississippi, of all places — the Gants. “No other local bands achieved such national acclaim, so it was natural that our little high school garage band at Murrah began to follow them around and play all their songs.”
The Gants made us dance, and they made us smile. They also made us wonder: Why could they never get the one big break that would vault them alongside rock’s top groups? “Aw,” moans Sid Herring, 71, as the question is asked. “It hurts to even think about it. We were so close a couple of times. So … close.”
Vietnam, ‘Gloria’ and ‘What if’s
They started like most garage bands. Herring learned four guitar chords from his dad, Clint. He showed them to Freeman. Wood agreed to play drums. Another Greenwood High School friend, Montgomery, was known for his ability to play almost any instrument. He became the bassist.
They learned a lot of Bo Diddley and Little Richard. “Bo Diddley changed my life,” Herring says. “I went to see him in 1961 in Greenwood. Whatever he was doing flipped a switch for me. I heard songs like ‘Road Runner’ and I went home and started trying to get that beat on the guitar.”
The group received a jolt in February 1964 when the Beatles came to America. “Their sound definitely opened doors for all rock bands at that time,” Herring says. “Nobody sounded like that. All of a sudden, everyone was trying to capture that sound.”
The Gants began playing gigs in 1963 at Greenwood’s American Legion Hut. They eventually landed dates all over Mississippi, even though they were still in high school. Their music was tight, and Herring’s soulful voice gave them a unique sound.
In the summer of 1965, Dominic Fratesi, a Greenwood resident who had been around the music business for years, asked if they would like to record a couple of songs in Muscle Shoals. Nervous but confident, they recorded “Road Runner” and an original written by Herring, “My Baby Don’t Care.” The single was released by a small label, Statue, and stirred enough interest to earn a contract with Liberty Records, which re-released “Road Runner.” It reached No. 46 on the Billboard chart. The Gants’ first album hit stores shortly after that.
“A guy from New York heard us play at the Holiday Inn in Laurel one night and wanted to book us on a tour up and down the East Coast,” Herring says. “Radio stations had agreed to promote it, which was huge in those days. “But first we had to ask our high school principal because we were going to miss about six weeks of school. “My dad even went with us to the meeting to show he was OK with it,” Herring says. “The principal told us, ‘If y’all do this, I’m going to have to report you to the draft board.’ The Vietnam War was escalating, and we were gone (to the military) if we left. “I was sick. We were doing everything right, and there is no way to even guess how much a tour like that would’ve done for us.” They shrugged it off, best they could, and kept playing.
They recorded “Gloria,” a song written by Van Morrison and released by his group, Them. The Gants changed it up some, and Herring delivered one of his most memorable vocals — even if he wasn’t pleased with it at the time. Radio stations in Chicago began playing it. The record climbed to No. 3 on the city’s charts. “We begged Liberty to release it as a single,” Herring says. “But they said no. To this day, I don’t understand why. They had spent a lot of money recording us, so it didn’t make sense. “Shadows of Knight came along and recorded it, and a million sales later we’re still wondering, ‘What if?’ ” But they were still having fun. “We were focused and I’m happy to say that we didn’t let a minute of it go by without taking it in. We loved what we were doing,” Herring says.
On the bill with the Dave Clark Five at the Mississippi Coliseum, The Gants went on second. The Gants couldn’t believe the coliseum was much louder when they played than when the Dave Clark Five pumped out their hits such as “Catch Us If You Can” and “Because.”
Dates all over Florida with The Animals and lead singer Eric Burdon were an education. “They made a massive sound when they cranked up,” he says. “They had these huge Vox amps. Eric Burdon came from a rough part of England, and he didn’t put up with a whole lot,” Herring says. “Wasn’t a big fellow, but he sure could sing.”
Herring, often mistaken for Peter Noone in the ’60s, remembers The Dave Clark Five as “a little snobbish … (keyboard player and vocalist) Mike Smith was a really nice guy. They should’ve been named The Mike Smith Five.” Working with bands that had “made it” solidified what Herring already knew: “We were good enough. “But you have to have three things to really make it: You have to have Triple A talent. I never felt I was great on the guitar but I could hold my own with anyone singing. Two, you have to know the right people. And, three, you have to have a lot of luck. The luck part is where I think we fell short.”
Little Steven, more gigs and losses
At the end of 1967, the group decided to take a break. Herring moved to California to write songs. He met his wife, Sandee, the 1967 Miss Teen USA, whom he married a year later. Herring eventually signed a recording and songwriting deal with TMI in Memphis. He recorded two albums there. Around 2000, he received a phone call from Steven Van Zandt, the longtime guitarist in Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band. “Through the internet, he heard us and wanted us to come up to New York and play some gigs,” Herring says. “(We) wound up playing several places with him. That guy treated us like we’d been friends all our lives” With Freeman back on board, The Gants began touring again, playing multi-act shows with people like The Spencer Davis Group, The Hollies and The Lovin’ Spoonful. But the band soon faced the sounds of silence.
Montgomery died at his Clarksdale home in 2001. Wood passed in 2005, then Sanders in 2012. “I’m still not over it,” Herring says. “We were all so close, had so much fun together. I talk to them all the time when I’m playing golf (as though they’re with me).” Herring knew other loss, as well. His 11-year-old son, Heath, was struck and killed while riding his bicycle in 1985. Sid and Sandee have two other children. “But the loss of Heath took a big chunk of my heart, and the pain remains strong and potent.” Sid and Sandee live in Nashville. He still writes songs, which was one of his first music loves. “That’s another thing that bugs me,” he says. “I could see how the audience reacted when we played our original stuff. They liked it a lot better than the covers… But we could never get the record company to release or promote any of it. They just wanted covers. “Only thing I can say is that we gave it our absolute best shot,” he says. “And I’m OK with that.”
Contact Billy Watkins at 601-961-7282 or [email protected]. Follow @BillyWatkins11 on Twitter.
- The Gants Again, and Again” a Sixties Garage Band with the Delta Blues, a personal recollection of Danny Duncan Collum (Novembe 2001) is an excellent history of the Gants.
- The Gants on AllMusic by Richie Unterberger