Tommy & the Tom Toms

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Tommy & The Tom Toms
Origin Dallas, Texas, United States
Genres Rock & Roll, Rhythm & Blues, Rockabilly
Years active 1959–1962
Labels Chess Records, LeBill Records, Sparton Records
Past members Tommy Brown (vocalist/piano)
Eddie Wayne Hill (lead guitar)
Joel Colbert (drums)
David (Dave) Martin (bass guitar)
Joe Donnell (saxophone/piano)
Leonard Walters (rhythm guitar)

Tommy & The Tom Toms (later known as The Bill Smith Combo) was a musical group from 1959 to 1962 playing Rock & Roll, Rhythm & Blues, and Rockabilly.


The group first started with two guitars and drums, Eddie Wayne Hill on lead guitar, Leonard Walters on rhythm guitar and Joel Colbert on drums. The three fledgling musicians from Arlington, Texas began jamming in an old barn in 1959 and evolved to playing around town for private parties. This exposure led to regular Friday night appearances at a small, local lounge. Bass guitarist David (Dave) Martin joined the group a few months later. The owner of the Guthrey Club in Dallas heard the band and hired them for an indefinite engagement. At Guthrey’s, one of the largest rhythm and blues clubs in city, the band completed their personnel by adding Joe Donnell on sax and Tommy Brown as vocalist. The band was now complete and decided to change their name to Tommy & The Tom Toms. They soon became one of the top, and most imitated, dance bands in the DFW area and recorded numerous singles for noted Fort Worth producer Major Bill Smith.

One of their best-selling records was an instrumental version of “Heartbreak Hotel” issued by Chess Records (#1773) [1] in 1960 under the pseudonym of the Bill Smith Combo [2]. More Tom Toms recordings were soon released, including “Raunchy”/”Loco” issued by Chess (#1780) as the Bill Smith Combo, “Ptomaine”/”Snookie” issued by LeBill (#306) as the Bill Smith Combo, "Ptomaine"/"Heartbreak Hotel" issued by Sparton Records Canada (#4-857) as the Bill Smith Combo, “Anastasia”/”Tough” issued by LeBill (#303) as the Bill Smith Combo, “Souix”/”Are You Lonesome Tonight” issued by LeCamp (#1900) as Mr. Saks & The Blue Strings, “Tomahawk”/“Kentucky Waltz” issued by Jaro International (#77023) as Tom Brown and The Tom Toms, “Tippin’ In”/”Saints” issued by Duncan (#1003) as Tommy And The Tom Toms, “That Cat”/”Tell Me” issued by K&B (#101) as Tommy Brown, “Corsicana”/”The Den” issued by Rodeo Canada (#247) as The Tom Toms and "The Waltz You Saved For Me"/"Big Blue Diamonds" issued by Maridene (#106) as Gene Summers & Platinum Fog. During this time frame they also backed up Freddy Fender on his Argo release “A Man Can Cry” b/w “You’re Something Else For Me” (Argo No. 5375) plus several other Freddy Fender recordings including the much later Fender release of “Since I Met You Baby”.

After a successful years’ stay at Guthrey’s, the club owner, K.K. Hayles, signed the band to a personal management contract. For the next year the band backed-up numerous recording stars including Roy Orbison, Jimmy Reed, Jerry Lee Lewis, Mark Denning, Jack Scott, Big Joe Turner, Bobby Hendricks, Gene Summers, Skip & Flip, Freddy Fender, Scotty McKay [3], The Carlos Brothers, Chuck Berry, The Original Drifters and once staged a battle of the bands with The Champs of “Tequila” fame. Due to the popularity of their recording of “Heartbreak Hotel” they officially changed the band’s name to the Bill Smith Combo [4] in 1960.

Part Two: "Exit Tommy Brown - Enter Gene Summers"[edit]

Gene Summers & The Tom Toms
Origin Dallas, Texas, United States
Genres Rock & Roll, Rhythm & Blues, Rockabilly
Years active 1962–1965
Labels Jamie Records, Alta Records, Capri Records
Past members Gene Summers (vocals
David A. Martin (bass)
James McClung (guitar)
Charlie Mendias (drums)
Jack Castleberry (bass)
C. B. Williams (saxophone)
Ernest Walker (organ/piano)
Glenn Keener (guitar)
Mel Robinson (saxophone)
Harry Jackson (organ)
Jesse Lopez (saxophone)
Bobby Charles (Shumate) (keyboards/Sax)
Tommy Morrell (guitar)
Jackie Lassiter (drums)
Dickie Sloan (organ)

Shortly after this fruitful musical period, Tommy Brown and the Tom Toms aka Bill Smith Combo decided to go their separate ways. Tommy returned to his home state of Florida and the Tom Toms, now without a singer/frontman for the band, turned their attention to rockabilly entertainer Gene Summers. Summers, who was still hot from two regional hits "Straight Skirt"/"School Of Rock 'n Roll", (Jan No. 11-100) and "Nervous"/"Gotta Lotta That" (Jan No. 102), was playing in east Dallas at the 1-2-3 Club with his new group of Rebels which included lead guitarist and original Rebel James McClung, bass player Jack Castleberry, drummer Charlie Mendias and Codine Craft on piano. When Craft married and left the band, she was replaced by pianist/frontman C.W. Kendall formerly of the Big Beats - "Clark’s Expedition" (Columbia No. 41072) and "The Big Beats Live At The Off-Broadway" an LP issued by Liberty Records (#LRP-3407).

This provided the opportunity for Summers to exit the Rebels and in April, 1961 a new group emerged on the DFW club scene known as Gene Summers and the Tom Toms. One of the first performances of this newly formed alliance was on a bill in Fort Worth, Texas at Jimmy Levin’s Skyliner Ballroom with legendary bluesman Elmore James. (It should be noted here that before becoming a musical unit, Summers and the Tom Toms had booked studio time in late 1960 at The Clifford Herring Studios in Fort Worth where they recorded three songs. The first title was guitarist Eddie Hill’s “Taboo” (Lake County LP-504/Born Bad LP-BB107), “Tomorrow” (Alta Records) No. 104) and an original instrumental titled “Loco Cat” (Collector LP/CD-4420).

By May, 1961, Gene and the Tom Toms were touring the USA with the Chuck Berry show. The lineup also included Bill Pinkney's Original Drifters (Bill Pinkney, Andrew Thrasher and Gerhart Thrasher) plus Bobby Hendricks of "Itchie Twitchie Feeling" fame (Sue No. 706). The group toured most of 1961 but by the end of that year the break-up had begun. Eddie Hill and Joel Colbert wanted to form a new band so they left the Tom Toms and departed for Lubbock, Texas. It was while he was returning to Dallas in early 1962 that Eddie Wayne Hill and one of his new band members, Donny LaGrone, were killed when their convertible collided head-on with a gravel truck on state highway 114 south of Decatur, Texas.

Meanwhile, back in Dallas, Summers and bass player David A. Martin were revamping the Tom Toms who were now the house band at the Guthrey Club. Gene’s former drummer from the 1-2-3 Club, Charlie Mendias, joined the group. Also, James McClung, the original Rebels guitar player, became a Tom Tom. McClung had previously written Gene’s rockabilly classic "School Of Rock 'n Roll", (Jan No. 11-101). Also recruited were guitarist Glenn Keener and sax player Melvin Robinson. Robinson, formerly an original member of Sid King and the Five Strings, only played with the group through mid-July and was replaced by Jesse Lopez, the younger brother of soon-to-be-star, Trini Lopez.

The Tom Toms remained intact throughout most of 1962 with only a couple of changes in personnel. During early October, that year, David Martin left for Memphis with singer/organist Sam Samudio. Sam had been playing in Dallas at Jack’s Blue Room which was just up the street from the Guthrey Club on Industrial Boulevard. Sam and David formed the group Sam The Sham and The Pharaohs and, as they say, "the rest is history". Gene's former bass player, Jack Castleberry from the 1-2-3 Club, replaced Martin in the Tom Toms.

Lead guitar player Glenn Kenner also left the Tom Toms about six weeks later to join a banjo group called Freddy Powers and the Powerhouse 1V. In July, 1962, the Powerhouse 1V had been discovered by Hugh Downs of the "Today Show" and had appeared twice on his program. Keener joined the group in late 1962 just in time to appear on their Warner Bros. Records album "The Good Life!" (WBLP-1488) which was released in early 1963. Keener eventually ended up in Nashville as a record producer for Opryland Records and then Mercury Records-Phonogram. Keener holds the distinction of being the first to sign/record Reba McEntire for a major label deal (see "Reba:My Story" Bantam Books, pages 56–57).

With the defection of Martin and Keener, Summers again, re-organized the Tom Toms. The new lineup now included James McClung-lead guitar, Jack Castleberry-bass, Charlie Mendias-drums and Jesse Lopez-sax. The rhythm section was augmented with the addition of organ player Harry “Good Times” Jackson. Jackson was replaced a short time later by keyboard player Bobby Charles (Shumate), who also doubled on saxophone. By early 1963 Bobby Charles had left the group and was replaced by organ player Ernest Walker. Jesse Lopez, who was still in high school, dropped-out of the band and was replaced by sax player C.B. Williams. This became the final musical lineup for Gene Summers and the Tom Toms. The band now included Summers, McClung, Mendias, Castleberry, Walker and Williams. This was the group that went into the Clifford Herring Recording Studio, in Fort Worth, Texas, on Thursday, March 28, 1963 and recorded Gene's breakthrough single "Big Blue Diamonds" (Donnybrook Records No. 556/Capri Records No. 502/Jamie Records No. 1273). An instrumental version of "Peanut Butter" (Shane No. 47-2) was also recorded at this session. In June, 1964, they would return to the Summit Sound Studios in Dallas to record the Summers rockabilly classic "Alabama Shake" (Capri No. 507), a song composed by James McClung in 1958. They also cut Lloyd Price’s "Just Because" (Capri No. 507) plus "The Great Pretender" (Crystal Clear CD CCR 9723-2) at this session.

The Tom Toms continued to make great music through the first part of 1965 playing, primarily, at the Guthrey Club in Dallas at Corinth and Industrial, which was now owned by James and Billie Thompson. But like most good things, it all came to an end. For a variety of personal and professional reasons, the Tom Toms were no more.

Gene Summers has continued to record and perform in clubs and worldwide tours into the 21st century. In 1997 Gene became the 29th artist to be inducted into the Rockabilly Hall Of Fame. He was also inducted into The Southern Legends Entertainment & Performing Arts Hall of Fame in 2005. Summers was presented his HOF certificate in Hollywood, California by air personality John Rhys on October 29, 2005. In February, 2008, he celebrated 50 years as a recording artist with the release of a new studio album "Reminisce Cafe" (Seduction SCD-110).


  • "Reba: My Story: by Reba Mcentire (published by Bantam Books, 1994 USA (pages 56–57).
  • Rockabilly: A Forty-Year Journey by Billy Poore (published by Hal Leonard 1998) USA
  • The International Who's Who in Popular Music 2002 by Andy Gregory (Published by Routledge 2002, USA)
  • The Handbook Of Texas Online (c)Texas State Historical Association (published at The University Of Texas at Austin) 2007, USA (online)
  • Official Price Guide To Records by Jerry Osborne (published by House of Collectibles) USA
  • Chess Records Discography (online) USA
  • Texas Music by Rick Koster (published by St. Martin’s Press USA 2000) USA
  • Jamie Records Discography (online) USA
  • Jubilee Records Artist Roster (online) USA
  • Charay Records Discography (online) USA
  • Alta Records Discography USA
  • W&G Records artists Australia
  • Who’s Who In The South And Southwest (published by Marquis Who’s Who In America 1984-1985 Edition) USA
  • Article and sessionography in issue 15 (1977) of New Kommotion Magazine UK
  • Article and sessionography in issue 23 (1980) of New Kommotion Magazine UK
  • Feature article and sessionography in issue 74 (1999) of Rockin' Fifties Magazine Germany
  • Feature article with photo spread in issue 53 (2000) of Bill Griggs' Rockin' 50s Magazine USA
  • Feature Article with photo spread in issue 54 (2000) of Bill Griggs' Rockin' 50s Magazine USA

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