the Sound Barrier (Zounds)/Noah/Thanks
The Sound Barrier has often been broken by fans of the 60s garage band sound cranking up the combo's smashing 45 "(My) Baby's Gone"/"Hey Hey" - but the Sound Barrier combo had a smashing history of their own.
The Sound Barrier began as a group of Salem junior high school students. Guitarist Paul Hess and drummer Larry Davis were already experienced players when the British Invasion inspired them to form a real combo. They added school friends Chuck Jackson (rhythm guitar) and Kevin Rhodes (bass) and named themselves the Spectrums. The Spectrums didn't really quite get off the ground so Kevin Rhodes dropped out and Terry Davis, a year older then the other members, joined up in early '65. Terry was the younger brother of Uncalled Four bassist Don Davis. With the personnel change came a new moniker, the Zounds, and the group dedicated themselves to being the best teen band around. They practiced 2 hours a day, 4-5 days a week, with the other days devoted to live performances. Larry's house was the main practice space for a while. The Zounds hosted their own teen dances at the Salem American Legion hall, charging 50 cents admission. The Zounds also played after-game dances at local schools and the Attic teen club in Salem.
Later in '65 they added 13 year old Mike Riffle on keyboards. Mike had learned keyboard tricks from Gary Kekel, a neighbor and veteran of many local combos like the New Breed. In order to get his own Farfisa organ, he swapped out the clarinet he was playing in school band without telling his parents. The Zounds lineup was complete, and the group really took off. The Zounds popularity was stoked by the strong stage prescence of Paul Hess and Terry Davis, and the artistic talents of future fine arts major and wood sculptor Larry Davis Both Paul and Terry handled lead vocals. In mid-late '66 they recorded two songs at John Golden's hayloft studio, a cover of Mustang Sally with Terry singing, and a Paul Hess original, "Hey Hey". Both sides were pressed onto an acetate. The group had some trouble getting used to the recording environment - the first time up they dragged their entire set of gear upstairs, only to leave it sit while they plugged into the mixing board. The demo was used to get some radio exposure but nothing else came of it.
A short while later they went back to the attic/hayloft and re-recorded "Hey Hey" adding a busted tamborine part that helped give the song its unique sound. They recorded another Paul Hess song called "Brain Disturbance" and cut another acetate. This two-sider got favorable response, so the group went ahead and decided to release the sides on 45, but not before a couple changes - "Brain Disturbance" was re-named to the more commercial "(My) Baby's Gone" and the combo was renamed to the Sound Barrier. Tribute was paid to the former band name through the label name of Zounds. The group ordered 1000 copies and in their enthusiasm, Chuck and Paul drove to Pittsburgh to pick up the records. On the late night drive home, the guys decided to test out the steering by some zig-zagging across the Pennsylvania Turnpike lanes. They got hauled into the local police station and payed out most of their pocket cash in fines. When they arrived at the PA/OH border, about 3AM, they were a few cents short to cover the highway toll - so they offered the tolltaker copies of the 45 as payment! In a move that he most surely regrets, if not in the least for the hilarious sales pitch he could have made on Ebay 37 years later, the toll man declined and waived them through.
With a record in hand, the Sound Barrier broke through to the top tier of Mahoning Valley teen action. One Saturday the combo had three performances, a promo spot at Lake Tomahawk, a 8-11PM job, and a 12-3AM show. They appeared on the Teen Time TV show at least twice - one of which was a lip sync to "Hey Hey". They were very popular down in Steubenville and East Liverpool, and west to Alliance and Mt Union College. On a couple occasions, the Sound Barrier's power, coupled with scholastic rivalries, led to fights at dances. One time a girl and PA speaker was tossed out of a window. In late '67 Chuck Jackson quit the group. He felt that he was holding the group back from greater acheivements and decided to concentrate on his studies, and was not enthralled with the emerging psychedelic scene. The group continued on as a four piece and started to add more visual effects to their act. At a club appropriently named the Freakout, the group debuted their homemade light show, incorporating a polka dot light and manually operated strobe light. The group took their earnings and kept investing back into clothes, gear, etc. Additional recordings were made onto reel tape, including at least a couple originals, all done with John Golden. Two of these songs, recorded early 1968 or so, were released on a couple very limted posthumous compilations as described below.
In '68 the group added Pat Pshishnic to sing lead part time, about 1/3-1/2 of a live set. Pat had a great blues-belting voice in the style of Janis Joplin and Grace Slick. With her on board, the group recorded a take of the Who's "Can't Explain" in the basement of Mark Scheuring. Mark was a member of several Salem bands, including the Markees and Queen Anne's Lace. They re-recored "Can't Explain" and the Jefferson Aiplane's "Greasy Heart" at United Audio. They decided to release a 45 of the two covers, but decided to go with the basement recording of "Can't Explain" for the 45. The group printed a deluxe silver tinted picture sleeve to go with the 45.
Shortly afterward, Mike Riffle left the group. He was in his junior year of high school and his family was planning to move to Los Angeles (which they did not). He was the only member still in HS, as the other members had all graduated by '69 and were attending Youngstown State U. and sharing a house. Paul Hess had actually completed high school through correspondence courses after quitting school during his senior year, his long hair not helping his welcome. To replace Mike, they found Danny Hall who brought his Hammomnd B-3 setup on board. In '70, Terry Davis quit, allegedly due to some girl troubles. He later resurfaced as a member of Youngstown native Maureen McGovern's road band. With Terry gone, Paul Hess moved to bass, and Wayne Smith came on as lead guitar and vocals. Pat Pshishnic left around the same time (she was already married). With all the personnel changes, the members felt a name change was needed, so they became Flesh Web. Wayne Smith did not work out, so Mark Scheuring replaced him and the group became Rain - until another band was discovered with that name.
They quickly picked up the name Noah and changed the band's direction. In 1972 the teen dance era was long gone and success meant playing your own material, having professional management, and hopefully a major label recording contract. That's were Noah was headed. The group decided to record an LP of original material at Cleveland Recording. The music was used for promotion and audition, but nothing ever came of it, and survives on tape. While Noah did well on the Youngstown/Pittsburgh club and rock concert circle, the group's attempts to play an all-original show met with resistance in the traditional nightclub scene. After many months of plugging away, the group decided to move back in a more commercial direction. A second drummer, Donny Wolf, and frontman/singer, Loyd Meadows, were added, and another name change was made to Thanks. Thanks returned to a mostly cover song act and became the huge drawing club band they desired, but Loyd's rock star antics caused trouble and they had to can him. Mark and Paul returned to lead vocals. However, this turned out to be the last shot and the long rock-n-roll trip for Salem's finest was over.
Time has been kind to brilliance of the first Sound Barrier 45 - both sides have turned up on several garage band compilations. Other than Terry Davis, the former members have made lives outside of music. Paul Hess now lives in the Bay Area. Larry Davis is an acclaimed sculptor/artist in Los Angeles. Chuck Jackson and Pat Pshishnic are still in the area, Mike Riffle was last known to be living in California.
Around 2000, an LP was released that included the demo LP done as Noah, and the two songs recorded sometime early 1968 as mentioned above. The LP was pressed by a record collector in Columbiana (near Salem) and was called "Brain Suck".
Around 2007 Paul Hess put together a CD-R of all the band's recording, including the 4 45 sides, and all the material on the "Brain Suck" LP.