Journey to Tyme
Mark Lee and Kenny and the Kasuals
By Paul Heckmann, Executive Director, Memories Incorporated
Edited by Mark Cheyne, Administrator, Memories of Dallas on Facebook
Paul Heckmann: Hello Mark! Glad to finally get a chance to chat.
Mark Lee: Thank you for calling. You are really playing the role of historian. I've sort of taken to writing myself and I admire your pursuit of oral history.
Your stories on Louann's were quite impressive. The Kasuals performed at Louann's and I knew Ann Bovis and Louis very well, yet I think I learned so much more from your articles than I ever knew before.
You certainly have entered that writing triumvirate with Lyles and Wilonsky. I always kind of thought of them playing the role of historians that, in a true historical sense, I think you play that role.
Paul Heckmann: I thank you for that. I would like to think that we offer something a bit different, seeing history through your eyes. Our goal has always been for you tell me what the history is.
The way I see it, if you look at Kenny and the Kasuals, here’s Mark Lee’s version of it, here’s Jerry Smith’s version of it, here’s Kenny Daniel’s version of it, and every single one of them is the truth even though they may not concur. It simply is what you say it is.
Mark Lee: That's an interesting way to look at it. I really appreciate your candor.
Paul Heckmann: So let me backtrack just a second. You were a local kid, weren't you?
Mark Lee: Yes, I went to Lakewood Elementary, and then I ended up going to Ben Franklin Junior High and Hillcrest High School.
Paul Heckmann: Right, about the same time as Stephen Bourn and Bill Bragg. To get back to the story of The Kasuals. I love the fact that your mom was actually kind of the guiding force behind you hooking up with the old Kenny Daniel combo. That’s quite intriguing.
Mark Lee: Oh yes. As a matter fact, she’s the one who gave me the card. I might still have it somewhere, I remember it said the Ken Daniel Combo.
Paul Heckmann: That’s right. His dad had a combo back in the day. As for the Kasuals, from what I have read, your mom went to the Lamplighter and saw them there.
Mark Lee: My mother and dad went to some party at the Lamplighter Motel. Kenny and his band were playing poolside and Mom got a business card and that’s how it got back to me. I put it in my pocket and kind of forgot about it.
But then, fate intervened. What do they say, 'Necessity is the mother of invention'? Let me explain;
I had found myself in a position of booking or helping to book a nightclub, not a nightclub in the regular sense of the word, but they had these apartment clubs back in those days. And there was an apartment complex over in Northwest Highway, off Webb Chapel. I think it is called La Fontana.
A friend of mine, an older friend that worked for my father had been placed in charge of promoting and building this club up at the La Fontana Apartments, he took me along, and he said 'What do you think will work here?'. And I immediately said, 'a band'.
And he said well, 'what band?' Now my Mom had just given this card the night before while we were watching TV so I reached in my wallet and pulled out Kenny’s card and the rest is history.
Paul Heckmann: Oh wow. So if she had seen a different band, and they had a different card, no Kenny and the Kasuals.
Mark Lee: Exactly. So, it was a great time. I had a great time the night they played, and I get to thinking I just want to do more of it. And that’s kind of how I started out in the business.
I booked them there, that was my first time to see the band, and I had no idea that I would always be associated with them for the rest of my life.
Paul Heckmann: I love it.
Mark Lee: It was one of those magical nights. So, I just wanted to pursue it which I did. I not only managed Kenny and the Kasuals, but I had my own record label, my own publishing company.
And I remember a real sense of awe. And, you know, it just simply was fun, and a little bit of profit for a high school student.
Paul Heckmann: Well, everything was profit at that time, because mom and dad were always around to kinda help out just in case.
Mark Lee: Ha! That is true. As for The Kasuals, we had all sorts of adventures and misadventures.
Paul Heckmann: Well, we’ll go into that in a second here. So, okay here at this – you’ve got them playing at La Fontana Apartments, it’s still the Kenny Daniel’s Combo at this point.
Now, I know Kenny has said that you actually came on and told him he was the leader of the new band called Kenny and the Kasuals, is that correct?
Mark Lee: Well, I got the idea of changing there name from the Chicago Casuals, they were the backup band for the Dick Clark Show and Stars, which I saw back then.
And I fell in love with the idea that they could play anything. They backed up everybody. They could play anything, and they were more of an orchestra than a combo.
So, in any event, I thought is was a great name. I'm not quite sure when the spelling of the name came to me, but it did. I got all of that I think from watching a lot of TV, the Dave Clark Five, and so many others, I felt that there was just a certain way to approach it.
I began to realize that so many other things besides the music were important such as the way they dressed so we began to work on that.
Paul Heckmann: I think it’s fantastic. You kinda set a standard there. I mean from what I understand there even selling Kenny and the Kasuals shoes there at one time.
Mark Lee: There was. There was Kinney Shoes store in North Park, and they had so many locations in the metroplex, and so they promoted Kenny’s Kasuals. It became more promotion for the band. They had a huge local following that I think is still crucial to any band’s success, and the people loved them. They were really the best sound around. They were truly a great band.
Paul Heckmann: Tell me about the first gigs. I understand you started playing out at Bryan Adams’ high school too?
Mark Lee: Yeah. Everything was about high school back then. Bryan Adams had this sort of cohesion of this newfound. The only other school I can think of close to the camaraderie and the closeness of the students would've been Woodrow Wilson.
You didn't have that sort of thing at Hillcrest, however, there were some great bands that ultimately did emerge from Hillcrest, The Kasuals being among them.
Paul Heckmann: So you've played the circuit at the high schools. You’re past that, and then you started looking at some of the clubs around town, I saw mention of the Three Thieves, of course Louann’s - we will touch on later, when did Studio Club come into play?
Mark Lee: Well, the Studio Club came into play pretty early. Before the Studio Club was the Studio Club, it was called the Gaslight Club. My Mom and Dad took me there when I was younger. And it was this rolling ‘20s format. As a matter of fact, what you did was you entered a very small lobby, and there was a phone booth, and you stepped into the phone booth and you punched in your member number, and the booth turned around and you were in the speakeasy.
Paul Heckmann: I didn't know that.
Mark Lee: I remember finding a regional menu just as in the ‘60s, a menu for the Gaslight Club, and steaks were $100 a piece, right? That’s expensive today, but it they had all sorts of exotic beverage and cocktails. And I think it was the place, it was just too pricey, too exclusive for the public at large in Dallas.
So that was when Larry Lavine stepped in with his group to buy it and change the format to turn it into the Studio Club. They were sophisticated club owners as were most of the guys I knew best.
Anyway, the club was a hub for the Kasuals. I think we were able to be successful primarily due to a the sound developed at the Studio Club. But I can say that that club was essential in the development of Kenny and the Kasuals. That is where we found our voice.
They were the house band in the earliest days. Well, Larry LaVine wanted them there every time he could get them there.
Paul Heckmann: I remember talking to Larry about that.
Mark Lee: This is before the Chessmen, before the Bricks. And so, you know, other bands ultimately emerged, but the Kasuals was truly first.
Paul Heckmann: So, you’re working at the Studio Club. Now, Jerry told me the story of the writing of 'Journey to Tyme'. What do you remember about how that tune came to be?
Mark Lee: I thought his description was pretty accurate, between you and me, I don’t remember being in the balcony. I do remember we were sitting away from the band when I wrote the lyrics.
Paul Heckmann: So, as the story goes, it was between sets at Studio Club. And pretty much overnight Kasuals turned it into a Top 20 hit.
Mark Lee: Let me tell you how instantaneous it was. We recorded it way into the night, and did a final mix. Bob Sullivan, over at Summit Sound, was the engineer, and we’d thought when we got the final mix so that the big problem was the fuzz bass would bounce the needle off the turntable.
So, we finally got it mixed to where it was playable. The sound was coming out. I took the master, put it under my arm and drove down to KLIF. I'm about a half hour from leaving the recording studio, and run upstairs into the DJ’s room.
Jimmy Rabbit was the DJ, and he said 'what do you got there?' I said Kenny and the Kasuals’ new record. He says 'let me hear it'. And he put on that fuzz bass intro, he went 'holy crap'. And he took the record, put it on that morning, right then and there and played the heck out of it. That’s how quick it was.
It was an instant hit. And I remember he kept the record. He says I gotta have this. I gotta keep playing it.
Paul Heckmann: That was your master.
Mark Lee: And I didn't have a copy of it, but I had to go get some sleep. I was beat. Grabbed a couple of hours nap, and then I had to go get the record mastered out in Arlington.
Paul Heckmann: Oh my gosh, man. That is so cool.
Mark Lee: Yeah. It was an instant hit record thanks to Jimmy.
Let me add this. Lee Lightfoot, our bass player, this was part of his contribution. And I’ll say this, it’s the first use that I recall of the fuzz tone on the bass.
Paul Heckmann: I'm gonna have to go back and listen to that one again now that you’ve told me a little bit more about the story.
Mark Lee: It was totally cool. It was one of those moments I suppose we all live for.
Paul Heckmann: So, you’re playing the Studio Club, and then of course you get the shot to play over at Louann’s, which I imagine was quite a big deal in those days.
Mark Lee: Over at Louann’s, I would say Miss Bovis ran that club with a tight fist. She had sort of a personal relationship with the club. She knew what was going on in the club, what was permitted and what was not permitted. So, both were great clubs.
Paul Heckmann: I interviewed Larry about it, so I picked up on some of the stuff there.
Mark Lee: The Kasuals did play with the Turtles at Louann’s and on other occasions. But even though I booked them there, well, both Larry Lavine and the Kasuals would much have preferred that they be at the Studio Club.
Well, when you booked the Kasuals, you ensured a crowd of 500 plus every night they played.
You looked at that dance floor, you looked at that club and you consider the square footage, and you know that it is a sold out crowd night.
Paul Heckmann: So, you’ve been playing at Studio Club. You open for the Turtles at Louann's. Now tell me the story about the Yardbirds at the Studio Club.
Mark Lee: Well, we opened for the Yardbirds. Beck had already left, but Jimmy Page was there. I remember talking to and saying hello to Jimmy Page as he passed by in the kitchen.
And, you know, that’s just one of those fleeting moments, fleeting memories. We also opened for Sonny and Cher. It was a great show.
Paul Heckmann: Of course, as far as I know, that was Sonny and Cher's first appearance in Dallas. Very cool.
Now, tell me about the Sump'n Else TV show. I think it was being shot at Northpark then
Mark Lee: I would say, I can’t think of any band that was a more frequent guest than Kenny and the Kasuals. And I remember when they introduced a new tune called 'Sea-Saw Ride', on videotape which we shot at Vickery Park and the old swimming hole. This was decades before MTV, this was very unique.
Paul Heckmann: I never knew that. I will see if Bud Buschardt has a copy of that.
Now about this point in time, things are going well in Dallas and you have decided to go ahead and take a shot at the big time and go to New York. Vinny Albano I guess was one of your contacts up there
Mark Lee: We did. We went to New York, and it was – well, it was a transitional climate, I think it was a crossroads for the group. The group had huge following back here in Dallas, and I think given their druthers, we preferred to stay and play in Dallas.
But we took our shot. We were residents at the legendary Albert Hotel in New York City. The group that was our next-door neighbors there were the Seeds. They had that top tune 'Pushing Too Hard'.
So, you know, it was one of those magic moments. There was a club there, I think it was called Rome, I can't tell ya it, but there was a band that they wanted us to pair up with, they were called the Expressions back then, but they became the "Guess Who" who had the #1 hit 'American Woman'.
And they were playing the club, and the club wanted all of us over, and like I said one thing led to the other.
Paul Heckmann: So, tell me the story of when you were gonna open for the Beatles, and what happened with that?
Mark Lee: That’s one of those times where we were in New York and everybody was on board, some early publicity went out, I think Yuri Smith set it up, but for whatever reason it didn't work out.
Paul Heckmann: The red tape killed it.
Mark Lee: There were other people that it did not work out for also. I think that's all we are gonna say about that.
Paul Heckmann: Fair enough.
So, about this time, it looks like folks are starting to go different directions, they might be leaving or at least considering it. Would that be kind of accurate?
Mark Lee: Yes I suppose. And of course, I noticed your interest in The Flower Fair.
That was, like I said, a time of change. That movie, I can't think of the name of it, which Tom Cruise, where he manages the band, and the band actually ultimately breaks up over the Vietnam War, and that’s really what you had.
The draft broke up the band. And I am sure that’s not just Kenny and the Kasuals in Dallas, but lots of bands all across the great United States got, because that was a serious matter at that time.
Paul Heckmann: So you saw what was happening, Kenny had been drafted and you know he was leaving. So tell me about their swan song, because the Flower Fair sounded really cool. I mean some of the people you had there were just off the charts. Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, Jimmy Reed and Neil Diamond.
Mark Lee: Yeah. It was all entertainment, $1 a day. It was a hybrid between a music festival and a trade show. Various vendors had been selling musical instruments, guitars, whatnot, clothes; all of the things that young people were interested in back in those days.
Paul Heckmann: Oh that’s cool.
Mark Lee: A multipurpose. I would say this, that is also the very first appearance of Neil Diamond in Dallas.
Paul Heckmann: I did not know that. Another little tidbit of lost history.
So The Flower Fair is over, Kenny leaves the morning after for the Army and ended up as part of the Tet Offensive
I talked to Jerry Smith about it, he told me about the band "Truth". Were you involved with them?
Mark Lee: Yes. Dale Bramhall, Doyle's twin brother came in as lead singer. But that group didn't last two long as more military commitments took several members.
Paul Heckmann: Can you tell me about the revival of Kenny and the Kasuals.
Mark Lee: Well, at one point around 1980-81, I got wind from people overseas that their Impact album, the Kenny and the Kasuals’ version of Gloria had taken off.
It had gone to number one on Radio France. I don’t even know how they got a copy of it!
In any event, that sort of set things in motion. Now that was ’77, ’78. And ultimately, the guys with Stiff Records, Elvis Costello, Jake Rivera with Stiff, different movers and shakers and were also – you quoted, you know, all extended to Kenny and the Kasuals, the Impact album was the major impetus for the movement.
So, I kinda got the idea of bringing the band back together, Kenny and the Kasuals did go out, and they did play both coasts.
Paul Heckmann: Wow, what a trip. And all these years later, Jerry is still strumming, Kenny is still with the Kasuals and you are still looking for the next thing. Gotta love it!
It has a been an absolute delight talking with you Mark!
Mark Lee: I'm glad we finally hooked up, and needless to say, I am sometimes a living museum of Dallas music.
Paul Heckmann: All right. I hope to see you Aug 3rd at Ozona. Jerry will be playing there with the Legendary Woo Brothers at a Fundraiser for Memories of Dallas. I’d love to see you there.
Mark Lee: I will make it a point. Thank you. You got my number if you have any questions.
Oh, by the way, you may be aware that I had a role in the Hot Klub here in Dallas, and I've written a couple of short stories. One about the Hot Klub, the other about Flower Fair that I would like to share with you. As soon as they are finished and publishable, I will send you copies, yours to do with as you wish.
Paul Heckmann: Thanks Mark!
We had such a great time at Ozona on Aug 3rd. Mark Lee was there, Angus Wynne, his lovely date Catherine, Jerry Smith, Jackie Don Loe, Billy King and Peter Kaplan, Mike McCullough, not to mention dozens of members of Memories of Dallas. Be sure to come join us on the FB page or subscribe to this one for further updates
Angus Wynne III
This was one for the books! Talk about Memories: it would be hard to top a date at Ozona with Jerry Smith and the Woo Brothers!
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