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The Five Americans

 

The members of Five Americans first met in Durant, Oklahoma at South-eastern Oklahoma State University in 1962. Under the leadership of lead guitarist, Mike Rabon, they formed a group called the Mutineers. The band played local beer joints and frat dances until the summer of 1964, when Mike suggested that they go to Dallas to try and make enough money to pay for tuition for the following fall semester. With the onslaught of the “British Invasion” by bands with strange sounding names, the group also took on a new handle. They were not bugs or beasts of any kind, they were simply, Five Americans.

They achieved some local notoriety in a dive called the Pirate’s Nook. There, they were discovered by a local record label called Abnak Records. John Abdnor, president of the label, took the group under his wing and provided them the resources to write and practice original songs. In the summer of 1965, they released an original tune entitled “I See The Light”. The song went to the top twenty in Billboard Magazine and paved the way for a string of hits by the five. “I See The Light” was followed by “Evol-Not Love” which also charted in the top 40 nationwide.

Then came the biggest hit of all by the band, “Western Union”. With Mike Rabon on lead vocal, this song, which was inspired by a Western Union telegram sign, went on to become number 6 on Billboard and number 3 on Cashbox. “Western Union” sold in excess of one million records and paved the way for the group to appear on American Bandstand twice and Where The Action Is 4 times as well as The Steve Allen Show.


In 1966-1967, this Dallas group enjoyed some modest national success with the number five hit "Western Union," as well as a few other Top 40 entries, "I See the Light," "Zip Code," and "Sound of Love." Dominated by high bubbling organ lines and clean harmony vocals, the group favored high-energy pop/rock far more than British Invasion or R&B-inspired sounds, although a bit of garage/frat rock raunch could be detected in their stomping rhythms — and their guitar-dominated tracks offered something else again, the harmonies and texture of "The Train" (which was very nearly their debut single) recalling the punchier work of Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers from the same period. Recording prolifically throughout the last half of the '60s (often with ex-rockabilly star Dale Hawkins as producer) and writing much of their own material, they were ultimately too lightweight and bubblegum-ish to measure up to either the era's better pop/rock or garage bands. Their 1966 hit "I See the Light" is their toughest and best performance.

Though they officially hailed from Dallas, the Five Americans had their origins in Oklahoma. Mike Rabon grew up in Hugo, the county seat of Choctaw County, in southeastern Oklahoma, founded in 1902 (and named after Victor Hugo, the novelist), 25 miles north of Paris, Texas, and 15 miles west of Fort Towson, site of the last Confederate surrender of the Civil War. He became interested in playing the guitar when he was eight years old, and saved up to buy a homemade instrument at a local pawn shop. He got a start on a few chords learned from his grandmother and quickly got the hang of the instrument. When rock & roll broke nationally, he was swept right in, and became a big fan of Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins, and later added singers such as Frankie Ford to his list of influences. He joined a local high-school band called the Rhythm Rebels, who played mostly instrumentals and whose gigs included some local radio appearances. While Rabon was honing his guitar skills and learning what he could from the playing of Carl Perkins, Scotty Moore, et al., John Durrill, who was a few years older, was living Bartlesville, OK — near the Kansas border, originally part of Indian Territory, and the birthplace of Phillips Petroleum — and already learning a lot by listening to Jerry Lee Lewis, whose playing inspired him to dress up his already freewheeling approach to the piano even more flamboyantly. Durrill entered Southeastern Oklahoma State College in the early '60s as an English major, and played frat parties and the like in his spare time. It was at one such event, playing for Sigma Tau Gamma, that he crossed paths with Rabon, who had started attending the school in 1962.


The Five Americans, previously known as The Mutineers--was a 60s band out of Durant,Oklahoma ( Southeastern State College). For a short while after their hits "I See The Light", "Western Union" "Sound of Love" "Evol Not Love and " Zipcode," they enjoyed the high life, touring and making money. However, their manager, Jon Abdnor Senior, president and owner of Abnak Records and Bankers management and services insurance co, was allowed complete control of the money. After Abdnor's death in 1996, all rights to their songs should have reverted to the original group, but Sundazed records bought the original tapes. The Five Americans had at least five chart records in or close to the top 40 and are now receiving the sales and publishing royalties they so richly deserve.

The Five Americans did see money from at Abnak as royalties in the form of a monthly check which was a "draw" against future income. Although the money was not paid the correct and traditional way, in royalties, it was paid anyway.
The Five Americans broke up in 1969 and went their separate ways. Mike Rabon had a successful touring career afterwards and released two albums that sold well. He later returned to college and acquired a master's degree in public school administration and has been in the Oklahoma school systems for 28 years. John Durrill, the keyboardist, wrote "Dark Lady" for Cher and "Misery and Gin" for Merle Haggard and was also a member of the touring band The Ventures. He now lives in Los Angeles. Norman Ezell (guitar and harmonica) is a teacher and minister in northern California. Jim Grant, bassist for the group, died November 29, 2004. Jimmy Wright (drummer) is living in Ohio and is a Videographer for Breakthrough Ministries.
As of July 2008, there is an online petition to induct Mike Rabon and the Five Americans into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The petition currently contains nearly four hundred signatures.

 

50s, 60s Hits

Western Union

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