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By the mid-1960s, the Beach Boys' sunny California harmonies had swept the nation. The Malibu group's songs about the beach, surfing, cars and girls were something every kid could either identify with or simply wanted to. The Houston area was no exception, and in Baytown, Ozzie Hart (drums), Tommy Meekins (keyboards), Wayman Lamb (guitar), Bob Williamson (bass) and Rex Kramer (lead guitar) formed the Coastliners in 1964.
The beach-loving group stayed true to Brian Wilson-style harmonies, yet added garage-rock fuzztones. With International Artists founder Fred Carroll managing them, the Coastliners became well known as the Gulf Coast's answer to the "Surfin' USA" boys. Semi-active since re-forming in 1998, the Coastliners return Saturday night at Galveston's Moody Gardens...with none other than the Beach Boys. The Houston Press sat down with Tommy Meekins, now a pastor of 23 years still living in Baytown, at his home last week.
Houston Press: Where did the Coastliners play starting out?
Tommy Meekins: We never played what we call clubs or nightclubs. We were teenagers ourselves at the time, [and] Fred Carroll was probably only three or four years older. We played a place in Baytown called Safari Au Go Go numerous times.
I got a call from a guy not too long ago who said he heard us play at the Tiki Club in Galveston. He said, "I met this girl that night at the Tiki Club, and it was the first time I heard the Coastliners; we got married a few years later and have been together ever since."
HP: Did you guys ever play the Balinese Room?
TM: Actually, we did not.
HP: Fred Carroll started the legendary International Artists record label. I take it that's how the Coastliners were signed to IA.
TM: Right. Our first, and one of our biggest, hits, "Alright," was on that label. We hadn't had the song out but a short while and it was really doing well, then Don Robey of Back Beat/Duke/Peacock records picked us up [and] re-released "Alright" on Back Beat. Around then, Larry Sanders replaced Lamb and Rich Gardner replaced [Williamson] after he was drafted.
HP: Those are pretty big boots to stand in. The Coastliners have to be the only group to record on both labels.
TM: In a sense, Fred Carroll was like a Coastliner. He was more than a manager. He wrote songs [and] was almost like the music director. I don't want to say we were kids, but we were young and he helped us out a whole lot with the vocal harmonies. We could all sing and play, but the Coastliners were all about the harmony — not just the Beach Boys [style], even though we covered a lot of their stuff. For the Gulf Coast area, that kind of harmony was just unheard of. I would say the Coastliners would have never become what we were, and still are, had it not been for Fred.
HP: Did Carroll stay with you when you went over to Back Beat?
TM: Yeah. Fred was with us all the way. We had six Top 10 records — back in those days, records could be two-sided (45 rpm singles), and both sides could be hits. "Alright" was a top hit in Houston, and the other side was "Wonderful You," which was a Top 10 hit on the black stations.
HP: How did Robey end up approaching the band?
TM: That was all through Carroll. The Coastliners, that I know of, actually never met Don Robey.
HP: The group went on to record another 45 for the Back Beat label called "She's My Girl."
TM: "Alright" was huge, and "She's My Girl" was just as huge. After that we did a song called "California on My Mind."
HP: Was "Alright" already charting on International Artists?
TM: Yes. I think in Houston itself it got to No. 2, only beaten out by Elvis's "Puppet on a String." So I guess if you succumb to anyone, it might as well be the King.
HP: Have you ever heard of the Houston garage-rock group the Ka-Nives?
TM: No sir.
HP: They recorded a cover of "Alright" a couple years ago.
TM: I'd like to hear that; you have a copy in your back pocket?
HP: Nope, but I'm sure I can make that happen for you. What about that Beach Boys sound was the group so interested in?
TM: Just [like] how Elvis was the sound of the '50s, the Beach Boys was the new sound in the '60s — catchy songs about the beach, girls, cars and things teenagers want to sing about.
HP: But your songs had a rugged garage-rock vigor — more "Jump up, dance and party" than beach-bonfire sing-along.
TM: "Alright" had a lot of energy. Radio stations loved it because it was two minutes and was a good song to come back [with] after the news. When we play it, you see people singing along in the crowd.
HP: After recording "California on My Mind" in 1969, the group called it quits. Why?
TM: Basically we were all getting married, going to college and Fred was no longer our manager. Fred was more to the group than what we may have thought amongst ourselves; he kept us centered.
HP: Talk about re-forming in 1998.
TM: We've been together longer re-formed than originally. I contacted Sanders, Hart, Williamson and Kramer. The new vision was to bring my son in as lead guitar player at 22.
HP: How did this Beach Boys show come together?
TM: It's always been a dream of ours to do a show with them. It was all set up [through] the Lone Star Biker Rally. Except you know what happened with Ike, and the rally had to be pushed back. People felt this concert still needs to happen as a comeback for the island. They've given away several hundred tickets to city workers too.
HP: How did you guys make out with the hurricane?
TM: We built this place way up to avoid water damage, but we got a good amount of wind damage that opened up the roof. [We're] getting some rain in here, so there's plenty of work to do.
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