The Reekers/The Hangmen — “The Girl Who Faded Away”: Brace for the Obscure (60s rock)! — October 28, 2022


621) The Reekers/The Hangmen — “The Girl Who Faded Away”

’65 B-side of the Hangmen’s (see #560) big Washington, DC hit that knocked the Beatles off the top spot on local radio — a wonderful, wistful garage ballad with a complicated history. Oh, and the band played and got drunk at the Kennedys’ place!

Lead Hangman Tom Guernsey recalls:

“What A Girl Can’t Do” [the hit A-side] was released under the name of The Hangmen because, after The Reekers recorded the song and it was picked up by Monument Records in Nashville, we (The Reekers) were all in different places, and Monument needed a working band to support the song. Since I was in both bands, Monument made the easy decision to put it out under The Hangmen name. Although they understood the logic of the move, it obviously was not very pleasant for the other Reekers. Lead singer Joe Triplet (of The Reekers) tells a great story of how he was picked up while hitchhiking once while he was home from college. “What A Girl Can’t Do” was #1 at the time and came booming onto the car radio. Joe told the guys giving him a ride, “Hey, that’s me singing that song!” They obviously did not believe him, much to his chagrin.

We got some high-powered management after the record took off. A Washington lawyer, a television producer and a prominent businessman formed a corporation to manage us. They were all very well connected in Washington, D.C. and got us a number of high visibility gigs playing at embassies in town. There was a lot of press about us in The Washington Post and eventually Ethel Kennedy asked us to play at a charity event at the Kennedy home in McLean, Virginia. I remember sitting around in the kitchen with Ethel Kennedy and the rest of the band casually drinking beer and talking before the show…and then I helped myself to a bottle of their scotch and the band got smashed. Our managers were not very happy about that!

[question: “The band was so popular that you reportedly caused a riot when appearing at the Giant Record Shop in Falls Church, Virginia.”] Wow! That was right out of A Hard Day’s Night.”What A Girl Can’t Do” was the #1 record in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia and we were asked to do an “in-store” in a very large and well known record store that had sold some 2,500 copies of the record in that store alone. Well, when we showed up to play, there were 500 people jammed in the store, and another 3,000 or so outside completely blocking traffic on the streets outside the store. We had just started playing when the store started to get trashed because it was so packed and out of control. The cops came in and whisked us out a back door and down an alley; unfortunately (or fortunately?) the crowd on the street spotted us and came screaming after us. Now we were inclined to stay. I mean there were a lot of pretty girls coming down that alley, but the police had other ideas. They shoved us into police cars and sped away. It really was right out of a Beatles’ movie. It’s hard to believe now; it was such a different time.

Chris Bishop tells us that:

The Hangmen formed at Montgomery Junior College, and included bassist Mike West and rhythm guitarist George Daly. They were joined by fellow students Tom Guernsey and Bob Berberich, whose previous group the Reekers, dispersed when other members went away to college. . . . In early summer of ’65, the band’s managers Larry Sealfon and Mike Klavens played “What a Girl Can’t Do” for Fred Foster of Monument Records. . . . Foster signed him – only Tom as he was the songwriter and leader of the Reekers. Since Joe Triplett and Mike Henley were committed to college, Tom decided, against his own preferences, to work with the Hangmen as his band. Monument then released the Reekers’ recordings of “What a Girl Can’t Do” and “The Girl Who Faded Away” under the Hangmen’s name, even though only Tom and Bob Berberich had played on them. Some sources report that the Hangmen rerecorded the “The Girl Who Faded Away” for the Monument 45. A close listen shows that the Hangmen’s Monument 45 version uses the same instrumental backing as the Reekers’ original Edgewood acetate. The vocal track does not match the demo, with different lyrics, but the lead vocalist is the same (Triplett I think). The acetate also runs about 24 seconds longer than the Monument 45. Confusion also exists about “What A Girl Can’t Do”, but there should be no doubt, the Monument 45 version released under the Hangmen’s name is actually the Reekers. In 1966 the Hangmen recorded their own version of the song for their LP, which sounds very different.

Arnold Stahl, a lawyer, and Mike Klavans of WTTG formed 427 Enterprises to promote the band. Their connections landed gigs for the Hangmen in embassies and a mention in Newsweek. One memorable event was playing a party for Robert Kennedy’s family and getting drunk in their kitchen! Despite these connections, the Hangmen were still primarily a suburban band, playing for kids at parties and shopping malls but not getting into the clubs like the big DC acts like the British Walkers and the Chartbusters. This would change as the Monument 45 of “What a Girl Can’t Do” started gaining momentum locally. “What a Girl Can’t Do” knocked the Beatles’ We Can Work It Out/Day Tripper out of the top spot of the charts for Arlington radio station WEAM on Feb. 7, 1966. On a national level, though, Monument wasn’t doing enough to promote the 45. “What a Girl Can’t Do” remained only a local hit. Their best opportunity had been wasted . . . .

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2 thoughts on “The Reekers/The Hangmen — “The Girl Who Faded Away”: Brace for the Obscure (60s rock)! — October 28, 2022

  1. On This Day In History: For the first time, I’ve previously heard of one of your obscurities lol

    I discovered “The Girl Who Faded Away” a few years ago. Why the hell was this the flip side?!? Not quite perfect — I think the rather twee “Ohhhh” break could have been stronger — but damn close.

    Don’t know much about The Hangmen otherwise. They did a not bad popsike cover of Orbison’s “Dream Baby”: presumably some Monument publishing shenanigans were going on there.


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