Above, The Torquays yesterday and today. Still making music after all these years. Photos by T. J. Segrest.
My high school chums – now scattered near and far – have been burning up the phone lines and engaging in a bit of e-mail frenzy.
The band that provided music for us to dance to and sing along with during our school days, is reuniting for a concert on Thursday, May 29. The old gang is planning to be there where it all began – in my hometown of West Point, Mississippi. The event will be held right in the very park where we all learned to swim and played hide and seek among the wisteria vines.
The wisteria today has trunks the size of elephant legs and the pool has been filled in, but the Torquays will revisit the sounds of our teen years beginning at 6 p.m. It will be a reunion for friends who find any excuse to reunite and feel 17 again.
Now understand, it’s been more than 40 years since our gang gyrated on the dance floor to the music of The Torquays. In those days we were trying to get the hang of a new dance craze called the Twist (I used to practice with a towel in the bathroom), or the Watusi (which I never got the hang of). I tried the “Swim” once and got harassed worse than Elaine in her dorky dance episode on Seinfeld.
But the Torquays offered us the first “LIVE” music we’d ever heard. Prior to that time, we had to dance to what was called a “Hi-Fi.” Stereo hadn’t even come along. We pulled the Hi-Fi speakers apart as far as they would go – about four feet – to get a “bigger” sound. Usually the records we used were scratched and you’d be dancing the jerk, then suddenly, “Unchained Melody” would slow you down.
A live band took us where we’d never been before. With the advent of The Torquays we were able to hold “sock hops” after football games. Members of the Torquays had to peel out of their football or marching band uniforms, tear away from their dates, and rush to “Teen Town” to warm up.
Founding member Eugene Bailey recalled how it all began – it was in about 1962 when John F. Kennedy was president. He said when the guys got together to “jam,” at least one member had to borrow a guitar. It was “just for fun” and no one ever expected the group to go anywhere – least of all into the 21st Century.
“We had no singer at the time, so we only played instrumentals,” he said. “We had learned several songs such as ‘Walk Don’t Run’ by The Ventures, ‘What’d I Say,’ and ‘Tequila’. We began to get some inquires about playing (for events) , so we had to come up with a name. We adopted the name of a song called ‘Torquay’.”
No one really remembers much about the decision. But the name sounded sophisticated, sort of French. Their fans loved it.
Bailey still has documentation showing The Torquays made the whopping sum of $5 each for their early “gigs.” Performances continued until 1965 when the last member graduated from high school and went off to conquer the world.
In retrospect they did pretty well with their music. They garnered more than a $1000 during that period – not bad for the 1960s.
After 40 years of living – brokering deals, starting companies, raising children, and traveling the world, – the guys agreed to reunite and help the Class of l965 celebrate a milestone 40th reunion. It was all in fun and they didn’t even charge a fee.
They wowed their classmates who were more than willing to take a trip down memory lane. Best of all the reunion took place in Teen Town where they played more than four decades ago.
Suddenly other groups were requesting the services of The Torquays – another class reunion, a wedding, a concert. Since they live about 500 miles apart and still have careers, practicing is difficult. But something keeps them making music.
Tinker Lautar, of Memphis, who was with the original group, plays lead guitar. Other founding members include Bob Marshall who alternates between rhythm guitar and saxophone, and Scott Murrah on rhythm guitar. All three of them also sing back-up vocals.
Lead singer Gary Florreich, of New Orleans, who performed very briefly with The Torquays when they were first organized, was recruited for the reunion gig. Other newer members include Bob’s wife Susie Marshall on the keyboard and Tom Segrest from Columbus on percussion.
Marshall on Saxaphone
Lautar said the instrumental sounds of The Ventures were their original inspiration, but with the addition of new members, vocals were added and the group “ventured” into current pop tunes and rhythm and blues.
Florreich said the group is currently expanding its repertoire to the hits of the 1970s.'”We’ll be doing ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ by Bill Withers and ‘I Love You Just the Way You Are’ by Billy Joel,” said Florreich. “But we’ll still be doing the classics like “Midnight Hour” and “Gimme Some Lovin'”.
“We are so scattered logistically that’s it really hard to get together and practice,” said Florreich. “We send CDs back and forth to listen to while we practice on our own, then try to get back to West Point every few months to practice together.” He has invested in new sound equipment and the band is always looking for new arrangements to add to their playlist.
But most of the practice takes place while they are performing. If they’ve gotten rusty, the audience doesn’t seem to notice.
The Torquays will turn up the volume again at 6 p.m. on May 29 in the Sally Kate Winters Park. The concert is free so if you’re in the area, bring a lawn chair and plan to stay and visit. Popcorn and drinks will be available.