Formed in the spring of 1963, the Gentrys from Memphis, Tennessee gathered a great deal of regional recognition before finally making a nationwide breakthrough in the summer of 1965 with “Keep On Dancing.” Peaking at the No. 4 spot on the charts, the frisky tune, which fused a beer-stained frat rock feel with a catchy garage pop outlook, added a teasing twist to the rug cutting romp in the shape of a false ending that was considered quite clever and daring at the time.
Although the Gentrys never again scored a hit single that matched the phenomenal success of “Keep On Dancing,” they proceeded to produce quality material. Capable and adaptable, the band certainly had the talent to stage a further impact, but their excellent efforts simply did not receive the promotion and distribution they should have.
In 1969, the Gentrys hooked up with Sun Records, where they released half a dozen singles and a full-length album for the legendary label that launched the rock ‘n’ roll revolution with the likes of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison. This disc concentrates on tracks the band recorded during their stint with the roster, which spanned a couple of years.
Kicking off with a faithful cover of Neil Young’s crushing “Cinnamon Girl,” the album features a string of subsequent heavy-handed happenings. Among these songs are the pile driving blues blush of “South Bound Train,” the seductive “Goddess Of Love,” which sends a salute to the Latin flavored flurries of Santana, the loud and fuzzy “Sunshine,” the anxiety-ridden “Help Me” and a power drilling treatment of “Stroll On” by the Yardbirds.
Aiming to grab a piece of the market occupied by bands such as Steppenwolf, Iron Butterfly, Deep Purple and Mountain, the Gentrys proved to be a mighty fine hard rock act. Tireless stamina, boosted by robust instrumentation and explosive harmonies anchored the band’s method of operation.
But the band kept their options open and were not opposed to playing other styles of music as The Very Best Of The Gentrys (Collectables Records) affirms. Guided by the weepy whine of a pedal steel guitar and nasal-pitched crooning, “Tears” is as country as country gets, while both “He’ll Never Love You” and “Can’t You See When Somebody Loves You,” with their crystalline sheen, jumbo-sized choruses and luscious melodies, strongly recall the polished pop pizzazz of the Grass Roots. An inspired interpretation of Cat Stevens’ “Wild World” appears here as well.
Trivia hounds take note: Jimmy Hart, lead singer of the Gentrys later became a manager with the World Wrestling Federation and earned the nickname “Mouth of the South” — woo hoo!