Tommy Mann and Marvin Taylor were not original members of The K-Otics but they quickly evolved into the band’s leaders. Under Mann’s tutelage, The K-Otics became an excellent performing band and amazingly popular in the southeast region. While The Swingin’ Medallions’ cover of “Double Shot (of My Baby’s Love)” might be better known today than The K-Otics competing version, it was the K-Otics who recorded it first…with no less than Sam Phillips at the helm. Unfortunately for The K-Otics, unforeseen circumstances and delays resulted in the Medallion’s version reaching radio stations only days before the K-Otics version did. Both songs proved extremely popular, however, and still rate as the signature tune for both groups.
Tommy Mann Recalls The K-Otics
I come from a family of musicians so it was natural to be a member of the high school band as well as the church choir. I was not a member of the original K-Otics but joined early on – by accident, actually. I was assigned to a dorm room in the fall of ’62 with a total stranger, Joe Torillo. Joe was playing his guitar one night and I knew the song so I started singing it. Joe asked, “You can sing?” I said, “Yep.”
He had me learn a few more songs over the next few days. Joe told me he played in a band called The K-Otics and that their lead guitar player was doing the singing for them but wasn’t really a lead singer. He asked if I would sing with them the following weekend.
We played at the Ozark teen club in Ozark, Alabama, which was 50 or so miles from Troy University where we were students. The only song I was able to do good enough was “Rhythm of the Rain” but the crowd loved the song so much that I had to sing it four times. I was paid $20.00…but the feeling of being on stage and being paid for it was wonderful! I figured I was done though since I had overshadowed the guitar player who was also the leader of the band. Joe told me the next week that the band had decided to make me their new lead singer.
For the remainder of the year we played on campus and at high school proms, etc. Over the next few months the other members dropped out of college. I believe Joe was the last one to leave. We picked up members as needed. When Joe left he said The K-Otics was my band if I wanted. For the next one and a half years the name of the band changed to Tommy Mann & The K-Otics. I used students that could play drums and guitar to play with me when I contracted to perform. Some of those players were really good. A guitar player from Kissimmee, Florida, Ken Murphy may have been the best of them all, but they kept leaving school so I had to keep replacing rhythm players.
At the end of the 1964 school year, in April or May, I was looking for some new members and agreed to listen to three guys that had just graduated from high school. We practiced and then played a gig. Not only was the sound great but we all seemed to get along with each other. One of the guys played guitar and after a few months I let him go and started playing guitar myself. This was the last time we only had four members.
In 1965, my last year in college, we recorded a song called “Charlena” for Rick Hall of fame Records which went to number one in Montgomery as well as in Troy, Auburn and other locales. I think Jimmy Johnson may have recorded it for us (Jimmy told Kim Venable last year that he thinks he did record us there but that he wasn’t 100% sure. How about that? The K-Otics might have jumpstarted Jimmy Johnson, Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham to their eventual stardom! Just kidding!). Our rate to perform went much higher and we began to get calls from most of Alabama as well as from eastern Georgia. We played for most of the high school proms in the area…but the best was yet to come!
I first heard “Double Shot (Of My baby’s Love)” played by a local band in Troy. They had heard a band called The (Swingin’) Medallions play it somewhere. We played at a club in Panama City, Florida, at the Old Dutch Inn and went to another club where we head The Medallions. They played “Double Shot” and said they were going to record it. We started playing the song like most bands and figured they would release the record. We saw them months later and they said Dot Records refused to do the record. I, we well as my drummer, told them we were thinking of recording it and they said, “Go ahead.” I knew that there had been a version years before so I had a contact research the history and found the Dick Holler & The Holidays (original) version. Since the song had already been recorded it was perfectly okay for us – or anyone – to record.
Within a few weeks I arranged a recording session. This next part will surprise a lot of people but the first time I recorded “Double Shot” was in very late 1965 or early 1966 for – are you ready for this – Sam Phillips in Memphis, Tennessee! I still have the dub. Sam said he would release it or have us come back to improve upon it; it did need more work.
Sam made of the more serious mistakes in rock and roll during the next few weeks. After approximately a month Rick Hall from Fame Records, where we had recorded “Charlena” a year earlier, said Sam had called him and told him that his opinion was that “Double Shot” would be a local hit in Alabama for us and a local hit for The Medallions in South Carolina! Rick disagreed with Sam and wanted us to record it for him immediately. I cancelled all plans for the next week and we set a date.
Here, again, one of those things that change history forever happened. Rick’s secretary called and said Rick was sick and told me that we would have to delay the recording session for a week. The next week he was worse and we delayed it another week. They called again the third week and said Rick had pneumonia but that he had heard The Medallions were going to record for Mercury Records and he didn’t want to delay the recording any longer. He wanted us to come up and record “Double Shot” with one of his songwriters, a guy named Dan Penn. I asked, “Who the Hell is Dan Penn? I want you to handle it.” But it was to be the first record Dan produced. He did a good job. It was his idea to use the fuzztone on the guitar. Spooner Oldham made some suggestions also. Both of them went on to outstanding careers.
Rick was to get us on Atlantic Records in short order and the single went nationwide on their Bang label. Due to Rick’s illness The Medallions record had reached radio stations all over the United States three days ahead of us. This made a big difference to some of the stations. A great many of them played both versions and asked the kids to let them know which one they liked best. The stations that did this told me we beat The Medallions about 90% to 10%. Bert Berns had a full-page ad in the March 26, 1966 Billboard Magazine.
The song did well in Miami (#1 or #5?). When we played in Tampa the radio person told me they received both version of “Double Shot” at the same time so played both and asked the kids to call in. We received 97% out of each 100 votes. He also said he had been under pressure to report just the opposite and told me he had to do just that if he wanted to keep his station open. This (same thing) was repeated to me at other locations. A local record store in Auburn, Alabama kept ordering our version but kept receiving The Medallions’ version. I found out later that this was a way to stop distribution and therefore sales! This is what happened; no sour grapes, though – I’ve done extremely well. The pros in Muscle Shoals tell me “Double Shot” should have reached the Top 40 only – not reached #17. I will believe to my dying day that both versions should have gone to the #35 or #40 position and probably did…but if you take the air play and sales from both groups you wind up with a #17 position.
I thought we were off to the big time. Indeed, Fame Studios with Dan Penn producing again had us record several songs for an album but, alas, another ironic twist of fate happened. The song that we were to release next and which we recorded during this session was “I’m Your Puppet.” Dan said if we were able to get high enough on the charts we had it; if not, two guys from Pensacola – the Purify Brothers – would get to release it. I believe the song became the biggest hit Dan Penn ever wrote! You can see the tear drops…can’t you?
We started playing at all the popular teen centers and frat parties. The biggest shows we played were the Big Bam Show in Montgomery; WVOK Show in Birmingham; and Wape “The Big Ape” in Jacksonville. We played the Brandon Armory is Tuscaloosa and at the West Point, Georgia teen center; the Alexander City, Alabama Recreation Center; and at Buddy Buie’s in Dothan, Alabama. The biggest nightclubs we played – in prestige, not in size - were the Whiskey A-Go-Go in Atlanta and the Civic Center in Mobile. We also played in Tifton, Georgia; the Sandpiper Club (and one other) in Pensacola; Big Mack’s teen center in Tampa, and places in Jacksonville Beach and Miami Beach.
I handled all of the band’s bookings, recordings, and personal management until early 1966. At that time “Double Shot” was doing really well and we needed to move on up. We had initially signed recording contracts with Fame Studios in 1965 and in 1966 signed management and recording contracts with Buddie and Bill Lowery in Atlanta. A list of groups and personnel managed by these guys at the time read like a “Who’s Who” of rock and roll: Roy Orbinson, The Candymen, Tommy Roe & The Roemans, Billy Joe Royal, The Classics IV, Joe South, and The K-Otics. Buie later combined guys from The Classics IV and Candymen and I believe some others to form The Atlanta Rhythm Section.
Our sound was rock and roll with influences from The Beatles, Stones, Otis Redding, and Roy Orbinson. I don’t know how to describe a “child prodigy” but our lead guitar player at the age of eighteen could play extremely well and could watch another good player – Mitch Ridder, for example – and immediately play just as well. How good did we become? I can only mention the things we were told. The crowd always told us that we were the best band they had ever heard. Do fans tell you that anyway? Perhaps – but the accolades came from fans and fellow musicians. If we announced that we were going to be in a battle of the band contest no other bands showed up; we therefore had to decline offers! We played in, I believe, Macon, Georgia and the crowd said we were the best they had ever heard. One guy, a musician, said he heard a group in Jacksonville that might be just as good as we were. This, of course, got my attention. How could he say such a thing? He said they did something he had never seen before. I asked, “Like what?” He replied they had double lead guitar players and that while our vocals might have been better and our guitar player may have been the best he ever heard the double leads were fantastic! I asked who they were. He said their name was something “like The Almond Joys (Allman Joys.)” I said, “Sounds pretty dumb to me!” The rest is history!
Another recent reference came from Greg Haynes, who is completing a book/music project called The Hey Baby Days of Beach Music. Greg remembers going to see a big name group in Macon in 1966 and telling one of the people he met there how good he thought the band was only to have the guy reply, “you haven’t heard anything until you go over to Alabama and hear a band called The K-Otics. Greg’s project should be completed soon. Our first record “Charlena” was supposed to be a big part of it but Rick Hall refuses to release it!
The K-Otics broke up because of the Vietnam War. The bass player and I were in the national Guard and had to report for active duty training and upon our return some of the members had left while others had joined other bands. For example, Kim Venable and Lawrence Shawl joined The Classics IV (“Spooky”, “Traces”). Marvin Taylor joined The James Gang and later was in a group called Moses Jones who toured extensively in the northeast. He now plays in Atlanta with a former member of .38 Special in a group called Java Monkey.
Fate seemed to determine who made it big and who didn’t during that time in music more than at anytime before or since. One situation that points this out is this: I hired a keyboard player in 1965 who was young and still learning to play. My guitar had no patience with him and was always trying to get me to fire him. One night, as we were leaving a gig, we backed up the car and ran over the guitar player’s guitar. It seems that the keyboard player was supposed to put the guitar in the trunk! The guitar player tried to strangle the keyboard player and I had to pull him off. He said, “You’re going to have to fire him or I’m going to kill him.” I went to the back of the car and told Ed, “I’m going to have to fire you or Marvin is going to kill you.” Ed said, “I know it, Tommy.” After I fired him, Ed went with another local band then on to Los Angeles and founded The Sandford Townsend Band. He co-wrote “Smoke of a Distant Fire” which I believe went to #9 on the charts in the ’70’s.
I currently play a little guitar and sing with a friend locally here on lake Martin. I retired at age 52 after 25 years in Human Resources. I sing in the same choir (not with the same people of course) but some members are there, however. I ride in the boat during the summer and also play a little golf. I’m still married to my lovely wife pat and have two children, Thomas Mann Jr. and Angela.
I had a local studio make a CD of five of our records – the ones actually released on vinyl. The album is called “Double Shot”, of course. These are the only recordings I have; our last recording session at Fame Studios was lost over the years.
My experience with The K-Otics was wonderful. I'm not the first one to say it, but there was something in the air during those times that has not been here since and sadly will never be here again