by Paula Bosse
Last Tuesday, my old friend Carlos Guajardo and I were each asked to present a favorite vinyl album at the Tuesday Night Record Club, a monthly event organized by Brian McKay and held at the historic Texas Theatre. My choice was a French import called Public Execution by Mouse and the Traps, a collection of the Texas band’s singles issued during their fairly short career (roughly 1965 to 1970). I bought this at a time when all of my disposable income was going to alternative record stores Metamorphosis and VVV, and I feel fairly certain that I bought this album at Metamorphosis. ’60s garage rock may be my favorite genre of music, and Texas garage rock is, for whatever reason, usually the best.
Mouse and the Traps was a band formed in Tyler, Texas in 1965, with Ronnie Weiss (whose nickname was “Mouse”) on vocals and guitar, Bugs Henderson on lead guitar, David Stanley on bass, Ken “Nardo” Murray on drums, and Jerry Howell on keyboards. Even though most of the band members grew up in Tyler and almost all of their singles were recorded there (recordings produced by the great Robin Hood Brians, who was only a couple of years older than the band), the band pretty much moved to Dallas when they began to get a lot of airplay on local stations, notably KLIF. I actually always thought they were a Dallas band, and, damn it, I’m still considering them a Dallas band.
Mouse and the Traps toured around the state feverishly, playing clubs, colleges, parties, and even proms. There were occasional forays beyond Texas, but, for the most part, they remained a (very popular) regional band. Their first single — the unapologetically Dylan-esque “A Public Execution,” was released at the end of 1965 on the Fraternity label; it was their only record to show up on the Billboard charts, as a “bubbling under” track, not quite reaching the Top 100. After a couple of years, Bugs Henderson (who later became “guitar legend Bugs Henderson”) left the band and was replaced by Bobby Delk. Their personnel history is a little fuzzy, but I think Bugs re-joined the band briefly before the group finally disbanded sometime in 1970, after releasing a series of well-regarded singles and after almost five years of endless live dates. For most bands that had found little commercial success, that would have been the last most people would have heard of them. But most bands weren’t “Nugget” bands.
In 1972, Lenny Kaye included Mouse and the Traps on his revered (and influential) “Nuggets” compilation, propelling the band from “slowly-fading memory” to “newly-appreciated cult band” and introducing them to a whole new international audience. The band is now regarded as “proto-punk” and an important Texas garage band.
Their garage recordings are probably the most admired, but they dabbled in every ’60s style imaginable, including psychedelia, folk rock, breezy pop, and West Coast country, with hints of Dylan, The Beatles, The Yardbirds, Them, Donovan, and the Sir Douglas Quintet. There’s even a “Get Smart”-inspired novelty song in there. My favorite song of theirs, “Maid of Sugar, Maid of Spice,” is generally considered their finest single, assuring them a place in the pantheon of great garage songs. The stinging, electrifying guitar of Bugs Henderson is fantastic.
The band re-formed for several reunion shows over the years, but, sadly, Bugs Henderson died in 2012. No more reunion shows featuring the original line-up.
As far as the Dallas connection during the height of their career, there is precious little I’ve been able to find, as far as contemporary local photos, ads, or newspaper mentions. Despite the cultural revolution that began with the explosive arrival of the Beatles to the U.S. in 1964, “teenage” music in the ’60s was not taken seriously enough at the time to warrant much coverage in the major newspapers.
One of the few mentions of the band I found was as a support act on a Sonny and Cher show at the Fair Park Music Hall in early 1966. Also on the bill: The Outcasts from San Antonio, and Scotty McKay from Dallas (who can be seen performing two pretty good songs in a clip from one of Dallas director Larry Buchanan’s “schlock” movies, “Creature of Destruction,” here).
They also appeared on the TV music show
“Sump’n Else” “Upbeat” (in 1968, post-Bugs). (Thanks to Jim for pointing out in the comments that these two color photos actually show the band on the Cleveland-based syndicated teen show “Upbeat,” hosted by Don Webster. TV listings show that the band appeared on the show in April, 1968, along with the Boxtops and several other performers.)
They also played a memorable show at Louanns in 1966 where they appeared on a double-bill as two separate bands. In 1966 Jimmy Rabbit, a popular DJ on KLIF who was a big supporter of the band, asked them to perform as his backing band on a (great!) recording of “Psychotic Reaction” — a very early cover (perhaps the first) of the song by the Count Five. The song was recorded in Tyler by Robin Hood Brians with Rabbit on vocals and was released under the name Positively Thirteen O’clock. Unsurprisingly, with Rabbit a DJ on the top station in town, it became a huge local hit. Ken “Nardo” Murray talked about it in a 1988 interview (read the full interview here). Click for larger image.
And here they are at Louanns, with Rabbit at the mic, backed up by Dave Stanley, Bugs Henderson (he has “Bugs” and a picture of Bugs Bunny on his guitar!), and Jerry Howell:
If anyone has any Dallas-related photos or memorabilia of Mouse and the Traps, I’d love to see them! I’d also love to hear from people who saw them perform in the ’60s.
Sources & Notes
A few Mouse and the Traps tidbits:
The band was originally called “Mouse.” “The Traps” was added when the second single, “Maid of Sugar, Maid of Spice” came out in 1966.
The “Henderson” listed as co-writer with Ronnie Weiss of a few of the early Mouse and the Traps songs (including the first two singles) was not Bugs Henderson (who was born Harry Fisher Henderson but was known as “Buddy” in the pre-“Bugs” days) — it was Knox Henderson, a high school pal from Tyler, seen below from a 1955 John Tyler High School (Tyler, TX) yearbook.
More on the band — including photos and newspaper articles — can be found here. Also included is additional information on Robin Hood Brians who has produced artists as diverse as ZZ Top, the Five Americans, James Brown, David Houston, and John Fred and His Playboy Band (whose “Judy In Disguise” knocked the Beatles out of the #1 spot on the national charts).
Mouse and the Traps on Wikipedia, here.
More on Dallas-area ’60s garage bands on GarageHangover.com, here.
Thanks again to Brian McKay for inviting me to play these great songs at the Tuesday Night Record Club!
Pictures and clippings are larger when clicked.
Copyright © 2016 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.