An Interview With John Byrne (provided courtesy of 60sgaragebands.com)
Above, Count Five with Dick Clark on the stage of AMERICAN BANDSTAND (from the collection of John Byrne).
John (a.k.a. Sean) Byrne was the primary driving force behind San Joses legendary band, The Count Five. Anybody that regularly visits the 60sgaragebands.com website is well aware of their classic song, Psychotic Reaction. Though typically revered for its Yardbirds-like sound, Byrne claims that Keith Relfs group actually had no influence on the tune. Here are other recollections from the Count Fives rhythm guitarist
60sgaragebands.com (60s): How did you first get interested in music?
John Byrne (JB): I was the seventh son in a family where my father and my six brothers filled our house with music every day. They were piano players and my father played the banjo. I was the first to get into guitar music. My first influences were American and English Rock and Roll. I loved Elvis and then the Beatles became my all time favorites.
60s: You had played in a band in Dublin named The Scorpions. Did that band ever record?
JB: I named the band the Scorpions because I am a Scorpio but no - that band never recorded.
60s: What led you to the U.S.?
JB: The Scorpions begged me not to go, and I went to my father and begged him to make me stay in Dublin. My father told me it was my decision but my mother had just died and I felt lost and I felt the need to get out of there.
60s: The Count Five had formed as The Squires in the San Jose area. How did you hook up with them?
JB: When I moved to the U.S. I lived with my brother Leo. I was sitting on the porch one night and heard a "garage band" across the street. I went over and asked if I could sit in, and they said yes. And then they would not let me go.
60s: How long after you sat in with the band for the first time did you become a member? Did you replace anybody?
JB: I don't really recall exactly how long, but it was almost immediately. And, I didn't replace anybody but, soon after I joined, the drummer and the piano player left the band due to personal reasons.
60s: What was the San Jose music scene like? What other local bands did you compete with?
JB: We competed with the Syndicate of Sound and we actually beat Stevie Nicks in a Battle of the Bands. I'll never forget Stevie Nicks coming up to me after we beat her and her saying, "You're good, but you're not as good as me."
60s: The band was turned down by Fantasy Records - and a handful of other labels - prior to landing with Double Shot. Was the band down at this time?
JB: Most certainly we were down, but we believed in ourselves and in our music. And I most certainly believed Psychotic Reaction was going to do well.
60s: How did you hook up with Double Shot Records?
JB: We were hired to do a show for a San Jose State fraternity. A local deejay named Brian Lord was the emcee and he asked me if I was recording and I said I wasnt. He said he knew two guys in Los Angeles that were trying to get into the recording business. He got us a live audition at the old Decca Studios with Hal Winn. We were expecting to be turned down again - we had been turned seven times already. I sang the song for them and they recorded me. Mr. Ellner came out and said, "you've finally got a contract."
60s: Sol Ellner managed The Count Five. What are your recollections of him?
JB: He was a tenacious business man.
60s: Your eventual LP features a classic shot of the band being photographed from inside what appears to be a grave. Who was responsible for that idea?
JB: It was an old abandoned building - not a grave.
60s: Well what about the capes? Whose idea was that?
JB: I wanted to do the capes because I wanted a double entendre ("Count 5" and "Count"). It was a great prop. And we only wore it on one song - our opening song.
60s: You wrote many of the songs on the LP, as well as the band's singles. Where did you primarily draw your inspiration?
JB: My inspiration came from my heart. I love music.
60s: The Yardbirds influenced your best-known song, Psychotic Reaction. How intentional was that?
JB: If you look at the records, the Yardbirds never came close to the popularity of Psychotic Reaction. I like the Yardbirds, but they did not influence Psychotic Reaction.
60s: Do any (other) '60's Count Five recordings exist? Are there any vintage live recordings? Any unreleased recordings?
JB: Your question is unbelievably appropriate because a company from England named Ace Records is about to release a CD of some of my 60's music that was recorded but never released. I have more unreleased recordings than I can count. (NOTE: Way to go, Alec Palao!)
60s: You appeared on AMERICAN BANDSTAND and WHERE THE ACTION IS. Any recollections?
JB: My recollections are that Dick Clark was an affable person.
60s: Do you recall any other TV shows that The Count Five appeared on?
JB: We appeared on many local shows, including (Sam) Riddles.
60s: Why do you think The Count Five could never really duplicate the success of Psychotic Reaction?
JB: I gave up because I was being "screwed over" by everyone.
60s: Could you elaborate on that - or do you prefer to leave well enough alone?
JB: Let's just leave that one go, because it wasn't just me...it was the whole band that was being screwed.
60s: It's well documented that The Count Five reportedly turned down a million dollars worth of bookings to stay in school. How true is that?
JB: Very true - 100%.
60s: When and why did The Count Five call it quits?
JB: We called it quits because I gave up but we are playing together again.
60s: Did you immediately join or form any bands after the Count Five?
JB: Yes: J.J.Tragg, The Von Baron Band, and the new band is named The Count. Writing and playing music keeps me busy.
60s: How often does The Count play?
JB: The Count's first real gig was June 6th at the Backbeat in Santa Clara, although the band gets together once a week to jam. We have already recorded a CD called Can't Sleep. You can go to http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/count to find it. This album is getting rave reviews in Germany of all places.
60s: Are there any other original members of the Count Five in The Count?
JB: Besides me, Ron Chaney, who played bass for the Count Five, now plays lead guitar for The Count.
60s: What do you consider your best experiences with The Count Five?
JB: Meeting my wife Dagmar. She came to see me in concert and told all of her friends that she was going to marry me. She wrote me so much that our manager, Sol, made me write her back. Then we met and the rest is history. We've been together since we were teenagers.
60s: Do you ever regret turning down the million dollars in bookings in order to stay in school?
JB: Yes. Wouldn't you?
[Special thanks to Mike Dugo and 60sgaragebands.com for allowing reproduction of this interview.]
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