Singer on acclaimed record keeps reinventing his rock ‘n’ roll self.
Charlie Ryan rode to rock ‘n’ roll stardom in his Hot Rod Lincoln. Jackie Brenston motored there in a Rocket 88. The Beach Boys rolled in their Little Deuce Coupe.
Paul Barry, 75-year-old resident of Village of Rio Ranchero in The Villages, drove to rock ‘n’ roll fame in a “Kenosha Cadillac.” That’s what folks in Kenosha called the AMC Ramblers they built, clunky old breadboxes with wheels that were about as sexy as Mr. B’s maid Hazel. Rock ‘n’ roll rebels didn’t drive Ramblers; their fathers did.
“My dad didn’t want me to have anything to do with rock ‘n’ roll,” Paul recalled. “Just before going to college, I bought a set of drums. My dad came home and I had them set up in the living room and boy he was upset. So he says to me, ‘Paul, I don’t want to hear those drums, I don’t want to see them here. I’ll tell you what I’m going to do, get rid of those drums and I’ll let you take the Rambler to college.’
The dutiful son sold the drums, loaded up the Rambler and puttered off to Stout State University in Menominee, Wisconsin, his focus restored to obtaining a college degree and a square career. No more rock ‘n’ roll. That was the plan.
“I got up to the school, and the first or second day I’m at the dorm there’s all kinds of noise coming out of the basement,” Paul says. “I go down there and there’s guitar players and bass players and no drummers. So I took the Rambler, drove to Minneapolis, bought a set of drums, came back and we started jamming.”
And The Benders were born.
“That’s basically how the whole thing started, just a fluke,” says Gerry Cain, lead guitarist of the first band named after excessive alcohol consumption. “Like, man I went on a bender last night,” says Gerry, who’s still rocking in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Before long the foursome was playing for fraternities and sororities on campus. That led to gigs in clubs and bars. The Benders became so popular that the boys opened their own nightclub in the basement bowling alley of an old hotel.
The Benders played current rock ‘n’ roll hits, but their original composition, Can’t Tame Me, is the song audiences clamored to hear. The boys decided to pool their pennies and record it.
“One the guys knew of this little studio in Wausau, and so away we went. We piled in the car and went there,” Paul says. “We just did it on a lark.”
“It was like, ‘Hey, let’s go make a record!’ ‘Sure, why not?!” says Gerry.
Northland Recording Studio, owned and operated by radio station owner/polka bandleader Duke Wright, was small potatoes. “Little tiny room, I couldn’t even see the guys. I was behind a plywood, baffle thing and banged that baby out,” Paul says.
The room may have been small, but the two-track recorder captured a big sound that April day in 1966. Paul carried the tune with frenetic drumming and a snarling vocal years ahead of its time. Gerry branded Can’t Tame Me as unique with a grinding guitar solo distorted by fuzz pedal. The hook “Well, it’s alright, alright, alright, alright” was as irresistible as the “Yeah, yeah, yeah” in She Loves You.
Can’t Tame Me was as vital and energetic as The Rolling Stones 19th Nervous Breakdown, which was heading for No. 1 on the New Musical Express charts. Too bad the recording engineer in Wausau didn’t hear what he was listening to. This story wouldn’t be news to you if The Benders recorded in Memphis. Sam Phillips would have surely signed the band to his Sun label.
A month later, The Benders were finis. No acrimony, no hard feelings. Paul and his mates never intended to play beyond graduation from college. “We all came from different parts of the state. When school was done we were going to get jobs. Real jobs. We didn’t even think about the record until years later.”
Paul became an Industrial Education teacher. But he didn’t stop rocking.
He formed and fronted the hugely successful show band Barry’s Truckers, published his own music magazine, and operated a recording studio he built. “Paul was really quite successful. Barry’s Truckers were a really well-known Milwaukee Band that made really good money,” says Gerry, who played in bands and taught guitar.
Barry’s Truckers were a band in demand. They opened for The Beach Boys, Frankie Valle and the Four Seasons, the Everly Brothers, Ricky Nelson, the Temptations and other big-time artists. Barry’s Truckers were good enough to play evening headliner slots for years at Milwaukee’s annual Summerfest, which draws 750,000 to 1 million music lovers each year. In fact, they were the only regional band allowed on the headliners stage.
Seeing the group was an experience. Barry’s Truckers dressed in drag to parody The Supremes, donned outlandish costumes when they performed songs made famous by Elton John and The Village People, even painted their faces when they raised the roof on I Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll All Night by KISS.
“Once you see the band, you’re like, ‘That was really something.’ They’re very entertaining,” says Paul’s wife Pat, who was a fan long before she became a spouse. “There wasn’t much they wouldn’t do to poke fun of themselves. There were some other guys in that group that were as crazy as he was, so it all worked out pretty well.”
“Paul was very demanding, but just a great guy. He knew what he wanted and he knew how to put on a great show,” says Jill Gestwicki, who played saxophone in the band.
Barry’s Truckers entertained for 36 years. Can’t Tame Me was never on the set list. The song was long forgotten. There was no reason to think about the song. Northland Records only pressed 300 copies, and the song never charted.
Paul was enjoying life in The Villages when Gerry informed Paul that the 1 minute and 56 seconds of exuberance they’d laid onto magnetic tape in 1966 was very much alive.
Gerry says, “A magazine writer called and asked, ‘Is this the Gerry Cain who played in The Benders in the 60s?’ He was all excited. He said, ‘Your song Can’t Tame Me is big in Europe.’ I said, ‘It’s nice to know that I peaked in the 1960s!”
No one knows exactly how an obscure single sold at gigs The Benders played made its way across the ocean. But it was indeed big. And not just in Europe. Can’t Tame Me reached all continents after appearing – without permission – on numerous low-budget compilations albums. “They’re small operations. They’re small, they’re not going to worry about you suing them,” says Paul.
Articles in newspapers and magazines increased interest in the song garagepunkin.com calls, “A true Punk record by any means, and way ahead of its times!”
“Evidentially, people, especially in Europe, love that garage band sound on our song” Paul says. “When we did it, my guitar player had just gotten a fuzz tone, so he was cranking that baby. If you listen to that song, You Can’t Tame Me, it’s very punk for that time. I think that’s what’s made it popular.”
The Internet continues to spread the word worldwide. “There’s still a little cult Benders following,” Gerry says.
And the following is growing. “Two, maybe three years ago I got a call from a film producer. He said, ‘I want to use your song Can’t Tame Me in my movie,’” says Barry. “We got a whopping $1,000).” The film, Thirst Street, promoted as “A Psychosexual black comedy,” was an Official Selection at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.
Several bands, including Los Tentakills, Gasoline Men, and The Fink Bombs, have uploaded their cover version of Can’t Tame Me to Youtube.
And the 45 is on the radar of record collectors worldwide. An ebayer in Texas paid $2,024 for a 45 and picture sleeve of Can’t Tame Me. “I only have one copy of the record,” Gerry said. “If I had known someone would pay $2,000 I would have driven to Texas and delivered it!”
“That little record that we did back when I was in college has just been amazing,” Paul says. “It’s sold on ebay. I’ve sold copies for as much as $1,500, $1,600, compared to some Buddy Holly song, a classic, a great like that is sold for $300. What is going on here?”
Copies without the sleeve have sold for $400-$900 on online auction sites. The sleeve itself – without the 45 – sold for $400 on ebay. The sleeve is so rare that it has been counterfeited and listed for sale at least twice.
The three surviving members of The Benders are tickled they’ve been rediscovered, and their record is finally appreciated. More importantly, they’re thankful their song brought them back together.
“We got together after 47 years,” Gerry said. “We re-recorded Can’t Tame Me and we just picked up like yesterday morning. It came right back.”
The Benders could probably reform and tour Europe on the strength of their classic – the remake sounds even better than the original – but Paul has no desire to return to the road. He’s too busy making music videos in his in-home studio in The Villages.
The videos are as creative and entertaining as the memorable shows Barry’s Truckers were famous for. Paul wrote and video recorded Quarantine Man to the tune of Ricky Nelson’s Travelin’ Man. Bogey in Golf is sung to the tune of Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues. A music video about an impending hurricane featured Pat off camera tossing water and tree branches at her husband while he sang.
Through the magic of green screen and Band in the Box software, Paul clones himself and sings along with his “brother Darryl and his other brother Darryl.” “You put in the chords and the tempo and pick a style and it makes a back-up band. And I supply the vocal. I’ve been able to take a lot of songs I’ve written and recorded them with a band behind me.”
Paul is also quite fond of making split screen videos with himself singing and playing guitar alongside videos taken off Youtube. One song has video of a little boy drumming. Paul’s rendition of Tequila features an Asian woman in a forest playing a melodica, washboard and other unconventional instruments.
“He has all kinds of videos. Sometimes I have to tame him down a little bit,” Pat says. “I say, ‘Yeah, do you really want to do that?’ Sometimes I just look at him and say, ‘Whatever you want to do.’ I just roll my eyes and say, ‘Oh boy, here we go.’ His mind doesn’t ever stop, that’s for sure.”
“I just enjoy doing it. It keeps me rolling. “I’m so thankful for the fact I have a studio in my home,” Paul says. “I’m going to continue to make the videos, not only the cheesy ones, but my own songs,” Paul says.
For 36 years, Paul played other people’s songs. Now, he finally has time for his own songs. “I did the live things for 36 years. I never took the time to go forward with my original songs. I’ve probably got 300 songs that are waiting for me to finish,” Paul says. “I’m financially set. I’m not trying to have a hit or make tons of money, but I would like to be able to share my music and see if there’s any reaction to that stuff.”
Speaking of reactions, did dad take the Rambler back when he learned that Paul had purchased another drum set and joined a rock band in college? Paul recalls, “When my first report card came out, I was on the honor roll and I sent him a picture of me and my band. What could he say?”
Dad probably said, “That Paul, never could tame him!”