The musical group Kenny and the Kasuals came together in 1964 and is recognized as one of the most seminal and long-lasting Texas rock-and-roll bands from the 1960s. The band is also considered to be one of the first pioneers of the psychedelic era.
The group that would become Kenny and the Kasuals first met in the living room of Kenneth B. (Kenny) Daniel. Encouraged to play music by his musician father (who had a big-band group called the Ed Daniel Orchestra in the 1930s), Daniel and his Bryan Adams High School classmate Tommy Nichols called themselves the Illusions Combo. Both boys played electric guitar and both sang, with Tommy Nichols taking the role of front person. Soon they added two neighborhood friends, Blaine Young (drums) and Charles Beverly (bass). As the Illusions Combo, the four high school students played for backyard parties, dances, and other small local events, as Daniel and Nichols kept their eye out for bigger opportunities.
In late 1964 the Illusions Combo was forced to restructure; Blaine Young passed away from a rare form of meningitis at age eighteen, and Charles Beverly did not wish to tour and was replaced. Kenny Daniel took over as the front person, renamed the group the “Ken Daniel Combo,” and added two other Bryan Adams classmates to the mix. Jerry Smith and Lee Lightfoot had been members of another local band, the Vibrations, but they soon joined Daniel as lead guitarist and bassist, respectively. Subsequent additions were made with David “Bird” Blachley on drums and Paul Roach on keyboards, forming the primary lineup for Kenny and the Kasuals throughout the 1960s.
Daniel and Smith both worked as lifeguards for the swimming pool of a local motel, the Lamplighter Motel, owned by Dallas businessman Roy Norwood. Every Friday the Ken Daniel Combo would play at a teen dance party held in the club of the motel. One of the regular patrons was impressed by the young band and told her son, Mark Lee, about their talent. Lee, who attended a rival high school (Hillcrest), dressed up in a suit and tie and sought them out at a show the very next evening to introduce himself as their new manager (and, that very night, dubbed them henceforth “Kenny and the Kasuals”). The band accepted this arrangement. Tommy Nichols was let go at this time, and Kenny Daniel became the clear leader. Mark Lee began to promote and reinvent the band in order to maximize their chances of success. The arrangement worked well as Kenny and the Kasuals began to play adult and teen clubs alike; not only in Dallas (at clubs like the Three Thieves and the Studio Club), but throughout Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana.
The primary venue for Kenny and the Kasuals was the Studio Club in Dallas, owned by Larry Levine (founder of the Chili's restaurant chain). One memorable evening, according to the band, started out as usual when they were all relaxing backstage before one of their regular shows. Someone at the club walked in and informed them that there was an English band in the front room asking if they could play a few songs before Kenny and the Kasuals went on; Kenny and the Kasuals agreed. The band was in the United States for one of their first national tours and was in town to play a show at Dallas Memorial Auditorium; the group was the Yardbirds, with Jimmy Page on bass and Jeff Beck on lead guitar.
The bookings continued to mount in what was turning out to be a very lucrative vocation for the high school boys. In Dallas they opened for such nationally-known acts as Sonny and Cher, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, and the Buckinghams. In addition to their bookings, they also appeared regularly on a local WFAA television show hosted by Ron Chapman and called Sump’n Else, which debuted in September 1965. Other regional bands appeared on the show as well, such as the Nightcaps and the Chessmen (featuring a young Jimmy Vaughan and Doyle Bramhall). As the band accrued finances and honed their craft, they began to make recordings.
The band’s first release was a 45 rpm entitled “Nothin' Better to Do,” with a B-side called “Floatin'.” Several more singles followed in short succession, and then the band made a decision to record a live album at the Studio Club and independently release it as an LP. The recordings were made—albeit not entirely live, by the band's own admission; much of the recording was done at a studio in Tyler, with crowd noise from the Studio Club added in. The album was released with a 500-copy pressing and the audacious (yet auspicious) title The Impact Sounds of Kenny and the Kasuals Recorded Live at The Studio Club. Known amongst fans and collectors as simply Impact, the LP is highly prized. Rolling Stone magazine categorized the first pressing of this album as “one of the most collectible American albums” ever released.
Further success came to Kenny and the Kasuals during an extra hour of studio time, when Jerry Smith and Mark Lee, the band’s manager, wrote a song called “Journey to Tyme.” Lee Lightfoot, recently introduced to the music of the Who, had just rushed out to buy a fuzz-tone pedal, which he set up to use on the new song. The recording was heavy on fuzz bass and existentialist lyrics and is often considered to be one (if not the first) song released of what would become the “psychedelic” music genre. On the evening that Kenny and the Kasuals recorded this song, a local deejay named Jimmy Rabbitt was present in the studio. Greatly excited by what the band produced, Rabbitt took the original acetate from the session and walked it over to his radio station and put it on the air. “Journey to Tyme” became a regional, and then a national, hit song in 1966. Major label United Artists (UA) optioned and won the rights to the song and assisted in its becoming a national hit, particularly in the Northeastern part of the United States in the markets of Buffalo and Pittsburgh.
Based on this success, Kenny and the Kasuals decided to pursue stardom even further. Now students at El Centro College in Dallas, they had befriended a New York transplant in a student named Vinny Albano, who urged them to come to New York City and play to audiences there. The band decided to go to New York for about a month, and Mark Lee booked them rooms at the Albert Hotel in Greenwich Village. Upon their arrival, the Kasuals found that other soon-to-be-legendary 1960s bands such as the Seeds and the Lovin' Spoonful were already there doing the same thing; indeed, they were staying at the same Greenwich Village hotel as Kenny and the Kasuals.
During their month in New York, the band played venues, such as the Rolling Stone Club, and, as they experienced what 1960s New York had to offer, saw many shows as well. While they were in New York, Kenny and the Kasuals were contacted by United Artists and presented with an opportunity to play at Shea Stadium, sharing a bill with the Bill Black Combo, the Ronettes, and the Beatles. They were advertised as playing on the bill, but last-minute bureaucratic red tape involving band management disallowed them from performing. Manager Mark Lee refused to grant exclusive rights to the band to United Artists. Consequently, the label dropped the group from the playbill and banned them from negotiating any future contracts with any other record company.
Upon their return to Texas in 1967, the band continued to play publicly, but their interpersonal dynamics had begun to decline, with an end result of most of the Kasuals forming a separate group called “Truth”—and sans Kenny Daniel. Added to the mix was the Vietnam War, calling men to duty. Several members were drafted or joined the military, while others pursued further education. Kenny and the Kasuals reunited on April 5, 1968, for a final show called “The Flower Fair” which also boasted acts such as Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, Jimmy Reed, the Turtles, the Box Tops, the Doors, the Association, and more. The show was a huge success. The next morning, Kenny Daniel went off to the draft, was sent to Germany as a gunner, and in 1969 he traveled to Vietnam to participate in the Tet Offensive.
In the 1970s the band members all worked towards their own pursuits. Kenny Daniel started a successful local band called Summerfield upon his return from Vietnam. Collectors, however, in Europe expressed increased interest in earlier recordings of Kenny and the Kasuals, such as Impact, and the album was re-released in the late 1970s. At the suggestion of Mark Lee, the band reformed with Daniel and several of the original Kasuals. The 1980s saw the eventual departure of all but Lee Lightfoot, who rejoined on bass. Chuck McDaniel played keyboard, and his brother Alan joined on lead guitar. This lineup remained stable from the 1980s into the twenty-first century. Kenny and the Kasuals still played frequently in the Dallas area in the 2010s.