Ezra's Wonder... What qualifies as success obviously depends a lot on perspective. Case in point: Throughout their brief career from 1965 to 1968, Thursday's Children never had a single that made it out of Texas. They never recorded a full-length release. Hell, the group never traveled farther than Dallas or Beaumont for a show.
Even so, it's apparent that former Thursday's Child Ezra Charles looks back on his first real band as successful in its own way -- a potential hit machine that simply fell victim to some bad breaks.
"We had a recording career that unfortunately was less than we had wanted, because we were signed to a Houston label that had just discovered the 13th Floor Elevators," says Charles. "They quickly found out that it was a lot easier to make money with them than with us."
Charles hopes to rekindle some coulda-been magic with a Thursday's Children reunion concert Saturday at Billy Blues. He's flying in his old bandmates -- singer/guitarist Jan Pedersen, bassist Pat Sullivan and drummer Richard Gollwitzer -- from different corners of the country for the hourlong performance, which will be sandwiched between two sets by Ezra Charles and the Works. It'll be the first time in 28 years that the guys have played together, and in most cases, it's been just as long since they've seen one another. They'll resurrect fab Children originals such as the Eric Burdonesque "Air Conditioned Man" and the kinda Kinks-ish "Help, Murder, Police," along with plenty of covers, including the Zombies's "She's Not There" and the Byrds's "Eight Miles High," both onetime TC showstoppers.
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Call them the Forgotten Five, if you want. Charles likes to call them Houston's Wonders, after the fictional one-hit wonders in Tom Hanks's That Thing You Do! He sees eerie similarities between his pals in the Children and the on-screen Wonders -- personalities that match up impeccably, situations that were remarkably similar.
I'd be more inclined to draw the Wonders comparison for different reasons. Much like the Wonders were an uncanny imitation of the Beatles, the Children were a well-meaning composite of traits from just about every band on the radio at the time -- the Byrds and the Animals, in particular. Listening to them now, it's evident that the Children had few original bones in their lanky college-student bodies. But the stuff is catchy, in a fluffy sort of way.
Charles -- who, in those days went by his real name, Charles Helpinstill -- founded Thursday's Children during his junior year at Rice University. "I was running this orchestra pit band, and I decided we should start a group. We all decided we'd go away for the summer, correspond and learn all the songs we'd picked out," recalls Charles, whose punchy keyboards figured heavily in the band's sound. "I spent that summer in Dallas. The summer of '65, the world went crazy for music. The Beatles had really started to reach an apex, and everywhere you went were bands like the Beatles."
By the following fall, Thursday's Children was a legitimate working unit. "We started out being called the Druids, because there was this Playboy article that referred to the Beatles as 'modern-day Druids,' and they were, of course, our idols," Charles remembers. "But we suddenly realized there was some obscure band somewhere called the Druids, and we had to come up with a new name [insert your own Spinal Tap reference here]. So we came up with Thursday's Children, as in the poem -- you know, 'Thursday's child has far to go ....' We never could decide whether that was positive or negative. We played a concert where somebody said if we had far to go, we weren't going to make it, because they didn't like us."
Evidently, enough people liked Thursday's Children to keep them busy. "Our original goal was to be the big band on campus," says Charles. "But within four or five months, we were playing clubs. In those days they were teen clubs, where you had to prove you were under 21 to get in."
Over the next three years, Charles says, the band "really prospered." The Children recorded three 45s at local studios, none of which caught on in Houston. One, however, did see significant airplay at a radio station in Beaumont when a DJ latched onto its Byrdsy B-side "You Can Forget About That."
The Children's biggest competitor was Billy Gibbons's first group, the Moving Sidewalks. But Charles saw his band as a different, perhaps superior, breed.
"All those guys were much younger than us. They just bought a guitar at the music store, and all of a sudden, they're in a band," he says. "We were a whole different ilk because of the fact that we were all well-disciplined, schooled musicians."
Thirty years later, Gibbons is touring the country with his multiplatinum power trio, ZZ Top, while Charles and the Works are still chasing after national recognition. Talk about a sobering perspective on success.
Etc.... After repeated calls to Willie D's pager in an effort to inquire about his new radio show on the Box, I had just about given up on ever hearing from the elusive Geto Boy. But lo and behold, he finally returned my page last week -- after Static accidentally ran Scarface's picture instead of his. The outspoken rapper, calling from his car phone, sounded hurt and confused, but I explained that it was an honest mistake. He, in turn, assured me that I would never make that mistake again, as he was going to mail me a whole pile of Willie D photos. He even managed to take down my address while he was driving. File that one under "They're only around when you screw up."
-- Hobart Rowland
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