Sweetarts Celebration!

The band and the boys whose single launched Sonobeat Records in 1967
Sonobeat's first 45 RPM single, A Picture of Me by the Sweetarts, released in September 1967
Sonobeat packages the Sweetarts' single in a custom picture sleeve (1967)
The Sweetarts get together – 50 years later in August 2017 – to recreate the single sleeve for A Picture of Me
photo by Johnny Gammage
The Sweetarts' (or Sweettarts, as the band's name was originally spelled) 1966 single So Many Times, released by the Dallas-based Vandan label, brought the Sweetarts to the attention of Sonobeat
The Sweetarts between sets at an Austin private party, perhaps at a frat house on the University of Texas campus (1967)
courtesy Ernie Gammage

It's fall 1963 in Austin, Texas. Dwight Dow and Ernie Gammage are just starting at The University of Texas, Dwight as a junior transferee from North Texas and Ernie as a freshman. The two connect with Austin musician Charlie Hatchett (who'll later become a legendary Austin band booking agent) to form rock cover band The Fabulous Chevelles (not to be confused with another Texas band that forms almost ten years later, The Fabulous Thunderbirds). The Chevelles play all the regular Austin live music venues and University of Texas fraternity parties. The money's good and helps Dwight and Ernie pay their way through college. But by 1965, Dwight and Ernie move on to co-found the Sweettarts – note that the original spelling of the band's name mirrors, but as one word, the spelling of the popular candy Sweet Tarts, first introduced in 1963. The new band – at the time nameless – gets a call during rehearsal from a frat party booker who wants to know who they are; Dwight's eating Sweet Tarts at the time. As a joke they give the booker that name, and it sticks.

When Dwight and Ernie form the 'Tarts, they recruit two African-American musicians and promote the band as "The Sweettarts – half black, half white. You gotta hear them, they're outta sight." But the first incarnation of the band doesn't last long, largely because The University of Texas fraternity party scene, which generously subsidizes Austin bands every weekend, is unsure whether the 'Tarts are a rock 'n' roll band or a rhythm 'n' blues band, so frat bookings start to dry up. Version two of the Sweettarts features the line-up that will initially record and release a single, So Many Times, in 1966 for Dallas-based Vandan Records. Perhaps, after the Vandan release, it's a call from Sweet Tarts manufacturer Sunline's trademark attorneys that results in a change in spelling of the band's name to Sweetarts, with just one "t" in the middle, or perhaps it's just a smart tweak to make sure the band's name is spelled correctly in night club newspaper ads and on marquees. Following up the Vandan single, the band records Sonobeat's first release, A Picture of Me, in 1967. Most other Austin rock bands in the mid-'60s stick to covers of top 40 hits, but the Sweetarts are fortunate to have a strong and clever tunesmith in Ernie Gammage, who writes both sides of the Vandan single and both sides of the Sonobeat single.

When the Sweettarts' Vandan single comes out, it's well promoted nationally and, although it doesn't make the national charts, it's a bona fide regional hit and naturally sells well in the band's hometown, Austin. Austin's KAZZ-FM, at the time the only FM station regularly playing rock music anywhere in the U.S., happily plays singles recorded by Austin bands, including those by Leo and the Prophets, The 13th Floor Elevators, and... the Sweettarts. In 1966, KAZZ's afternoon deejay, Rim Kelley, pretty much plays the grooves off So Many Times and in February 1967 hosts a live remote broadcast over KAZZ that features the band performing at Club Saracen in downtown Austin. That seals the deal as Kelley and KAZZ station manager Bill Josey Sr., co-founders of Sonobeat, are about to launch their Austin-based record label. A Picture of Me is more than Sonobeat's first release; it's a stereo 45 RPM release (no other record companies release stereo singles at that time) and is packaged in a picture sleeve. The resulting combination of clever original song, solid performance, stereo release, and picture sleeve attracts a positive national review for A Picture of Me in music industry trade journal Cash Box.

September 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the release of A Picture of Me, a darn good reason to celebrate. And for the celebration, all five members of the Sweetarts get back together in Austin – during Hurricane Harvey, which dumps torrential rains over Central Texas – for a photo shoot that replicates the cover photo Sonobeat uses on its packaging of the original single. We also take this opportunity to ask each member of the 'Tarts some fresh questions. So, here's some background on each of Dwight, Ernie, Mike, Pat, and Tom, followed by their answers to our questions.

Dwight Dow

Drummer Dwight Dow's hometown is tiny Wink, Texas, which happens also to be the hometown of '60s rock icon Roy Orbison. Wink is about 400 miles west of Austin, not far from the Texas-New Mexico border. Dwight picks up his drumming skills as a member of his high school band and during his senior year in high school is a member of hometown trio The Madcaps. Dwight starts college at North Texas State University (alma mater of Pat Boone, Roy Orbison, Don Henley, and Norah Jones and now known as the University of North Texas), then transfers to The University of Texas to begin his junior year majoring in architecture. A chance meeting with Ernie Gammage and Charlie Hatchett leads the three to form The Fabulous Chevelles and, a couple of years later, for Dwight to depart with Ernie to start the Sweetarts. Married during his senior year at The University of Texas, Dwight continues on from the 'Tarts to its successor band, Fast Cotton (he's even credited with naming Fast Cotton for a greyhound racing dog), but with a child on the way, Dwight hangs it up when Fast Cotton disbands early in 1971. Dwight leaves music behind to pursue a career in architecture and residential construction, remaining in Austin.

Ernie Gammage

Lead guitarist, singer, and songwriter Ernie Gammage hails from Houston, Texas. He starts playing guitar in junior high, inspired by '50s rock and rhythm & blues artists, especially Little Richard, Jimmy Reed, and later, Otis Redding. Ernie moves to Austin in fall '63 for his freshman year at The University of Texas, where, during rush week, he meets Charlie Hatchett, who's already been in modestly successful Austin bands. Ernie and Charlie hit it off and agree to form the Chevelles, with Charlie on guitar, Ernie on bass (this is a new instrument for Ernie, but Charlie tells him "it's easy; it's only got four strings"), and Dwight Dow on drums. Although the Chevelles are a highly sought after frat party band and play all the local night clubs, they do what most other local bands do: perform covers of the current top 40 hits, particularly those by The Beatles. But Ernie has a knack for clever lyrics and musical hooks, and the Chevelles begin to play some of his original tunes. By the time Ernie and Dwight leave the Chevelles to form the Sweetarts, Ernie has plenty of originals ready to go. It's two of his originals that the Sweetarts record in 1966 for Dallas-based Vandan Records and two more the 'Tarts record in '67 for Sonobeat. After completing his B.A. in Business (with an emphasis on finance and insurance) at The University of Texas, Ernie does a semester in law school that he has trouble putting his heart into, but through it all he continues to perform in band after band, all in Austin, taking a break in the early '70s to relocate to England for a couple of years. Back in Austin following England, Ernie jumps right back into music while also holding down "regular" full-time jobs, among them director of the annual Austin Aqua-Festival. He retires in the 2000s from his role as Director of the Texas Wildlife Expo at the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. But he's not really retired and continues to perform gig after gig in and around Austin, presently as a founding member of The Lost Austin Band. While in England in the early '70s, Ernie gets into art, creating dozens of unique paintings that he now offers as glicée prints on canvas at his many showings in and around Austin.

Mike Galbraith

Singer and percussionist Mike Galbraith, like Ernie, is a Houston, Texas, native. While in junior high, Mike performs in The Blue Notes, a sextet that's good enough to be invited to audition for The Ted Mack Amateur Hour, one of the most popular 1950s TV variety shows, along the lines of The Ed Sullivan Show. Mike and Ernie become close friends at Lamar High School in Houston, but Mike starts his college education at Texas Tech in Lubbock, in northwest Texas, while Ernie heads up to The University of Texas in Austin. Transferring to The University of Texas in 1964, Mike rooms with Ernie and occasionally takes the stage to sing with Ernie's band, the Chevelles, but Mike never formally joins the trio. Nor is Mike an official member of the Sweetarts when Dwight and Ernie leave the Chevelles to form the Sweetarts; it's only later in '65 that Mike is invited into the band as both singer and roadie. In 1969, as the Sweetarts break up to form Fast Cotton, Mike moves back to Houston, but in '71 he returns to Austin to complete his undergrad degree at The University of Texas, thereafter returning to Houston in 1972, where he still lives. Mike leaves his music career behind after the 'Tarts, focusing on construction project management.

Tom Van Zandt

Keyboardist Tom Van Zandt is born in Lima, Peru, where his father is stationed during the waning years of the Second World War. When WWII winds down, the Van Zandt family returns to Tom's father's hometown of Ft. Worth, Texas, which Tom finds is thick on the ground with Van Zandt kin, due to his prolific great grandfather Major K.M., one of the town’s founders, and his three wives and 14 children. One of these relatives is Tom’s third cousin, legendary Texas songwriter Townes Van Zandt, who actually grows up in Houston. Tom's mother, who as a teenager is a featured singer with some of the best known big bands of the era, teaches Tom piano, and he's hooked. As a freshman at The University of Texas, Tom makes the rounds of all the popular frat parties, where The Fabulous Chevelles frequently perform. Convinced the bands are having more fun than the partygoers, Tom buys a Wurlitzer electric piano and forms a band with an atrocious pun for a name (we're not going to repeat it here) with some of his fraternity brothers. Though admittedly not particularly good musicians, the band garners a reputation as a raunchy but fun party band. Approached by Ernie Gammage as Ernie is departing the Chevelles to form the Sweetarts, Tom jumps at the chance to join a more legit band and the rest, as they say, is history. Tom continues from the Sweetarts into its successor, Fast Cotton. Graduating from The University of Texas with majors in Government and History, Tom then enters The University of Texas law school, graduating after four years with a J.D. degree. But with a low draft number – remember, this is the Viet Nam conflict era – Tom decides to serve his country by joining the Peace Corps, serving for three years as Legal Advisor to the Ethiopian Ministry of Public Works and Water Resources. Returning from Africa, Tom then heads for Wisconsin to pick up another post-graduate degree, this one in Water Resources Management from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. A year-long stint in Washington, D.C., working for the Smithsonian on a federal environmental study provides some political excitement and an opportunity to sample some of the great jazz and R&B around the D.C. area. But Wisconsin calls him back to take a job as director of an environmental outreach program for U.W. and (mainly) to be with his grad school roommate and now wife, Sandy, who is finishing up another graduate degree. After three years of this, it occurs to Tom that Wisconsin winters are brutal, so he and his wife return to Austin, where Tom's appreciation for and occasional participation in Austin’s great musical banquet blends with his career in environmental consulting. Austin also is the birthplace of two sons, Nick and Pete, now in their 30s, gainfully employed, happily married, and big aficionados of music, some of which Tom does not understand. Notwithstanding his professional career, Tom continues to play gigs with old and new friends in Austin until, a few years ago, the wear and tear of setting up, tearing down, and staying up late persuade him to shift his musical energies toward songwriting. Tom's still in Austin and is gradually retiring from the environmental consulting firm he and Sandy founded 30 years ago.

Pat Whitefield

Bass player Pat Whitefield is a Dallas, Texas, native. Unlike his Sweetarts comrades, Pat moves to Austin a couple of years before starting college, initially playing with the Night Owls. When he enters The University of Texas, Pat majors in German and math. He vividly recalls sitting next to Charles Whitman the spring semester before Whitman becomes infamous as The University of Texas Tower Sniper, killing 17 and wounding 31 before himself being killed by Austin police. So vivid is Pat's memory, he recalls the class he and Whitman shared is Calculus Proved by Analytic Geometry. Pat isn't one of the original Sweetarts but is invited into the band when it reorganizes from its rhythm & blues-inflected "half black, half white" origin into a straight-up rock band. Joining the band, Pat's assigned bass guitar, an instrument he's never played before, but bass sticks with Pat through the rest of his long career in music. Marrying at age 22 changes the equation for Pat, and six years his first child is born, forces him to augment his music career with a series of "serious" jobs, including working as a UNIX systems administration. But Pat never really gives up music and continues to play, focusing on traditional blues, right through until his untimely death – following brain cancer surgery – in August 2019. Pat played his final gig with The Little Elmore Reed Blues Band only a couple of days before his brain surgery in June 2019.

The 2017 Q&A Session

Although there have been many published interviews with the Sweetarts, most are now more than a decade old. To celebrate the 50th anniversary digital reissue of A Picture of Me, we caught up with each of the 'Tarts to ask a fresh set of questions. We learned a lot from their answers, including that Dwight's a man of few words.

What Austin musicians inspired you in the '60s?

Ernie Gammage: "No particular band... I was just thrilled to be part of such a great scene. Sunday afternoon jam sessions at the New Orleans Club before the out of town bands hit the road for home were always fun."

Mike Galbraith: "We all loved to go to San Antonio to hear the blues played at all-Black afterhours clubs. Loved, loved, loved the Beatles."

Tom Van Zandt: "The Chevelles, with Charlie Hatchett, Ernie Gammage, and Dwight Dow (classic lineup). The Sparkles, with Lucky Floyd and the late Bobby Smith. The Mustangs."

Was playing in the Sweetarts financially rewarding?

Dwight Dow: "Yes, absolutely."

Ernie: "My parents paid for my college education, so the money I made playing ... was gravy on the side. At one point, I had so much cash in a shoebox that I considered buying a Jaguar as my 'second car'."

Mike: "For me, financial reward was limited to financing incidental expenses."

Pat Whitefield: "Playing in the Sweetarts was a financial gift enabling me to blow off school, flunk out and have to spend 1966 commuting from Dallas every weekend." [Editor's note: We're not sure Pat's amswer is serious.]

Tom: "The frat party circuit was steady money. It didn't 'pay my way through college' (as I used to claim), but it took some of the heat off Mom and Dad and covered a lot of incidental college expenses, like long afternoons and countless pitchers of Pearl [beer] at the Orange Bull. For several years, the Christmas Party season funded post-Christmas trips to Acapulco with some of my more flush compadres."

Had the band hit it big nationally, would you have have been willing give up college to tour?

Dwight: "Maybe."

Ernie: "Strangely, I've never considered what I'd do if the band hit it big although, of course, that was my desire. I think I'd have convinced my parents I needed to take a 'leave of absence' from college to pursue the dream. That said, I had children young and I'm not sure my wife would have supported hitting the road."

Mike: "I supposed I would have jumped in if we had 'taken off'."

Pat: "If the money had been good for plenty of gigs there is no question I would have toured rather than going to school."

Tom: "Of course. But remember, I would have been giving up an even more valuable asset – my student deferment." [Editor's note: This was the Viet Nam conflict era, and one way young men avoided being drafted and sent to Southeast Asia was to remain enrolled in a four-year college.]

Any "best" memory as a member of the Sweetarts?

Dwight: "Enjoyed road trips, New Orleans, Texas-OU weekend." [Editor's note: The Texas-OU weekend Dwight refers to is the traditional University of Texas-University of Oklahoma football game held at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas.]

Ernie: "Around '67 or '68, the band was hired to play a week's worth of rush parties for a fraternity at Tulane in New Orleans. We played one gig and then the frat was banned from having any more parties because of some infraction. We did, however, play several more times for them out in the country under trees hanging with Spanish moss, generators cranking! Dwight had just gotten married so it was his honeymoon as well! Also visited the local Playboy Club. Now that was something!"

Mike: "One of the best... playing in San Antonio Battle of the Bands. I think we may have won it, but felt rather 'big time' playing for crowds and rubbing shoulders with radio and TV personalities."

Pat: "The Phi Delta Theta fraternity had a party in late October at a [Central Texas] hill country ranch that was populated with large flat pieces of limestone. For a stage they had a flat bed trailer and had run about 500 yards of cable out to a gas generator for electricity. We covered Sympathy for the Devil by the Rolling Stones and each of us had a rhythm instrument to start the song. Well, halfway through the song the generator ran out of gas and left only [drummer] Dwight Dow playing. We all picked up our rhythm instruments, accompanied Dwight and walked off stage into the crowd who were sitting on the limestone. They got off the rocks and proceeded to follow us until about ten minutes later the power came back on, whereupon we went back on stage and finished the song. The crowd went wild!"

Tom: "We were playing a weekend party at the original Soap Creek Saloon on Bee Cave Road [in Austin], and one of the over-served guests thought it was amusing to dance by the stage and twist the volume knob on our P.A. to 10, creating awful feedback. So when this knob-twisting @$# appeared to be about to do another dance-by, I have this vivid image of a blur coming from stage right, down on the floor. It was Rock and Roll Randy [Editor's note: The late Randy Thornton, who had joined the Sweetarts near the end of its run], who round-housed the guy and sent him skidding halfway across the dance floor. It kind of changed the mood of the party, but not for long."

What's your advice for musicians just starting out today?

Ernie: "Develop skills that will provide a living beyond a career in music and don't give up your day job."

Mike: "If you are young enough, pursue the dream as long and as far as possible. The practicalities and realities of life will overtake you soon enough, so go for it while you can."

Tom: "I am definitely not the right person to give advice on that one. It's much harder to make a living at music than it used to be, but that doesn't seem to deter many talented people who love music and continue to find ways to keep doing it."

More to explore...

The Sweetarts musical career is well documented over at the Sweetarts retrospective website, which also includes extensive interviews with Dwight, Ernie, Mike, Pat, and Tom. And, you'll find insightful interviews with the individual 'Tarts over at Beyond The Beat Generation. And, of course, you can find more here at SonobeatRecords.com.

Sweetarts Fast Cotton


Life post-Sweetarts includes Fast Cotton, which records with Sonobeat in the early '70s. All the Sweetarts except Mike Galbraith remain on as members of Fast Cotton, but the band also includes additional musicians and a female singer and goes through personnel changes when Dwight and Pat depart. From Fast Cotton, Pat goes on to play bass with dozens of artists performing at Antone's in Austin as well as with Don "Skipper" Young (whose combo records with Sonobeat in 1971), The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Marcia Ball Band, Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets, the Rob Roy Parnell Band, and more. After his stint in England, Ernie returns to Austin and in 1973 joins Sonobeat's quadraphonic recording experiments in the studio band Base; Ernie goes on to play in Plum Nelly, The Austin All Stars, Mother of Pearl, Ernie Sky and the K-Tels, The Good Earth, and, presently, The Lost Austin Band. Tom plays in the Leghounds alongside Pat following Fast Cotton's break-up.

On March 13, 2013, during SXSWSouth By Southwest, also known as "SXSW" or "South By" and whose name is inspired by the Alfred Hitchcock thriller North By Northwest, begins in 1987 as an Austin-based music festival and since has expanded to cover feature films and interactive media. SXSW pretty much takes over Austin during The University of Texas spring break every March. in Austin, the Sweetarts reunite at Tom's Tabooley/Antone's Records for only their second performance since disbanding in 1969 to form Fast Cotton. Rim Kelley, producer and engineer of the Sweetarts' Sonobeat single, introduces the band at the 2013 event. On February 9, 2014, the Sweetarts reunite again, also at Tom's Tabooley/Antone's Records, to support Ricky Stein on the occasion of the publication of his book Sonobeat Records: Pioneering the Austin Sound in the '60s. Ernie offers great photos of the many bands he's been in and samples of his art over at Art & Music of Ernie Gammage.

Fast Cotton (from left, Danny Galindo, Misty Browning, Ernie Gammage)
courtesy Ernie Gammage

50th Anniversary digital reissue of A Picture of Me and Without You

For its 50th anniversary digital reissue, we’ve had A Picture of Me remastered by Colin Leonard at SING Mastering in Atlanta, Georgia. Colin’s impressive mastering credits include albums and singles by Alessia Cara, Justin Bieber, Jay-Z, Icona Pop, Mastodon, Indigo Girls, and Gucci Mane. A Picture of Me is now available on the world’s leading download and streaming platforms: in addition to iTunes and Apple Music, the remastered single is now or shortly will be available on 24-7, 7digital, 8tracks, Akazoo, Amazon Music, Anghami, AWA, Deezer, Google Music Store, iMusica, Inprodicon, Kdigital, kkbox, Kuack, Line Music, MediaNet, Napster, Pandora, Saavn, Slacker Radio, Spotify, Tidal, Yandex, and YouTube Music. A Picture of Me is Sonobeat Historical Archives’ first Mastered for iTunes digital reissue, encoded directly from a high resolution 88.2kHz/24bit transfer from Sonobeat’s original analog session master tape. Mastered for iTunes is Apple’s premium music delivery format.

Join the celebration by picking up a copy of A Picture of Me and Without You at any of the usual digital download sites, including iTunes, Amazon Music, Google Music Store, and Tidal, or listen at any of a gazillion streaming sites around the world, including Apple Music, Deezer, Pandora, and YouTube Music. Here, we'll help you get started.

A Picture Of Me (2017 remaster)

   Get it on Google Play

Without You (2017 remaster)

   Get it on Google Play

A Picture of Them

When Dwight, Ernie, Mike, Pat, and Tom reunite in Austin on August 26th and 27th, 2017, they restage the band photo used on the sleeve of their Sonobeat single. They also restage a 1967 publicity photo we love, and we present the original and restaged shots below. The 2017 recreation is photographed by Ernie's son Johnny Gammage.

Yesterday and today: the Sweetarts' 1967 promo photo (top) and the band’s 2017 recreation. From left in both shots, Ernie Gammage, Tom Van Zandt, Mike Galbraith, Dwight Dow, and Pat Whitefield
1967 photo courtesy Ernie Gammage • 2017 photo by Johnny Gammage
Dwight Dow, Sweetarts' drummer
courtesy Ernie Gammage
Sweetarts' singer and percussionist Mike Galbraith
courtesy Ernie Gammage
Sweetarts' guitarist, lead vocalist, and songwriter Ernie Gammage
courtesy Ernie Gammage
Sweetarts' keyboardist Tom Van Zandt on his Farfisa
courtesy Ernie Gammage
Sweetarts' bass player, Pat Whitefield
courtesy Ernie Gammage