The Dantes and the Garage Rock Sound of 1960s Ohio
Posted April 19, 2021
Topics: The ArtsArchives & Library

By Matt Benz, Manuscripts Curator

If you were a Central Ohio teenager in the spring of 1966, with the dial of your transistor radio tuned in to a local AM radio station, listening to the hit songs of the day, maybe your ears perked up when they caught the sound of a chiming 12-string guitar. Hearing that cascading jangle of notes, maybe you thought it was a new song by the Byrds. But wait: after three walloping drum hits, a galloping beat kicks in, pushing the song furiously forward. This isn’t the Byrds, you think; who is this, the Rolling Stones, maybe? But it doesn’t matter: by the time an urgent vocal starts singing over a pattern of three churning chords, you’re hooked. And when the song ends two and a half minutes later, maybe you found yourself reaching for the phone to call the radio station and request that the DJ play it again.

And you wouldn’t have been alone, as that song, “Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love,” by the Dantes became a big hit on Columbus radio in 1966. Columbus teenagers obviously liked what they were hearing. Considering that the Dante’s were one of the most popular bands in Columbus during the mid-1960s, this isn’t that surprising. What might be more surprising is that the Dantes were a local band, teenagers from the north side of Columbus. In those heady days of 1960s pop radio, it wasn’t uncommon for local bands to have a hit song on their hometown radio stations, played alongside the latest British Invasion and Motown hits.

Before the age of media consolidation and the resulting homogenization of radio playlists nationwide, radio stations around the country maintained their own top 40 “hit parades” which reflected local taste more readily. This wasn’t a new thing in the 1960s; it was a continuation of a trend that had started with the postwar rise of pop radio, and many artists – particularly the new breed of rock and rollers and rhythm and blues performers of the 50s – had regional hit songs, released on one of the many small record labels that flourished after World War II.

So having a song played on local radio was not an unrealistic goal for a teenage band in the 1960s. And with “Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love,” the Dantes had met that goal. The song proved to be so popular in Columbus that it hit number one on the “Hitline Survey” chart of WCOL, then the most popular radio station in Columbus.

Hailing from Worthington just north of Columbus proper, the Dantes formed in 1964, with members coming and going before settling on a lineup of singer Barry Hayden, guitarists Dave Workman and Lynn Wehr, Carter Holliday on bass guitar and drummer Joe Hinton. The Dantes were fairly typical of the teenage bands that had sprung up around the country in the wake of the Beatles arrival on US shores in February of 1964. In the thrall of the so-called “British Invasion” – the flood of English bands that followed the Beatles, swamping the US charts and firing the imagination of America – teenagers everywhere picked up electric guitars and drum sticks and formed groups and started pounding out their own versions of hit songs by the likes of the Rolling Stones, the Kinks and the Animals, along with revved-up takes on older rock and roll and rhythm and blues songs. Although teenage bands certainly existed before – surf and “frat rock” bands, for example – the British Invasion increased interest and inspired teenagers all over the country to form bands.

These teenage bands would eventually come to be known collectively as “garage bands” – a genre term that reflected their more rudimentary stylings and supposed preferred practice spaces – and in retrospect be seen as important in the history of rock music and popular culture, but at the time, they were just kids looking for a creative good time and a way to get a little attention and excitement in their suburban teenage lives. Forming a garage band in the 1960s of course didn’t guarantee fame and success, much less becoming the next “Beatles,” but you did have a shot at maybe being the local version of the Beatles, and that certainly could create plenty of attention and more than a little excitement.

The world of the 1960s garage band was filled with playing dances in gyms and teen centers, shows in area clubs, getting to open for major artists at concert halls, competing in “battle of the bands” contests, articles in newspapers, and making appearances on local television shows like Dance Party on WLWC-TV (now WCMH), all while wearing the latest “mod” fashions and wielding the same musical instruments and gear that their British idols used. Pretty thrilling stuff for a teenager from the suburbs! What could possibly be more exciting?

Well, heading to a recording studio and making a record, for one thing. While plenty of 1960s-era garage bands were content to bash out covers of hits from the Top 40 at a gym dance, many others found their way to releasing a record. Maybe it was their local businessman manager arranging it, or their parents putting up some money. But whatever it took, teenage bands from all over the country entered recording studios to quickly record a couple of songs to put out on a 45 RPM record, usually released by a small record label. Occasionally, the songs were brash covers of recent hits; more often than not, however, at least one of the songs was an original.

Such was the case for the Dantes. The two songs on their first record – released in March of 1966 – were originals. Both songs capture the sound of the times, reflecting the excitement and inspiration of the British Invasion. The B-side of the 45 is an energetic rhythm and blues instrumental titled “80-96” – very much in the style of the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds – that showcases the band’s musical talent. Of course, the A-side of the record is the aforementioned “Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love,” the song that was a big hit in Columbus in the spring of 1966.

And it’s easy to hear why: “Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love” is a deceptively simple pop song, albeit one driven by the spirit of the British Invasion and revved-up by the undeniable energy of the American teenager. While not as “punk” and raw sounding in the way that so many songs by 1960s garage bands are, “Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love” nonetheless generates its own kind of excitement. The jangle of the 12-string guitar conjures up the very American sound of folk-rock – a style that caught on in 1965 when American bands like the Byrds mashed together folk music stylings with the new “beat music” sound coming from the UK – while the frantic drum break is reminiscent of the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” The relentless driving beat all but guarantees a filled dance floor, and a brief dip into a minor chord during the verse confirms that “Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love” really is quite the catchy pop song, and one sure to win over the heart and ear of any teenager that heard it.

Christine Nethers was one of those teenagers. A Newark-area native, Nethers became a fan of the Dantes, going to their shows, buying their records and collecting memorabilia. We know this because in 2018, her daughter donated to the Ohio History Connection a small collection of materials from Christine’s teenage and young adult years, documenting her interest in the pop culture of the day. Included in the collection are photographs of the Dantes, including shots of them performing on stage in 1966. Presumably taken by Nethers, the photographs are wonderful documents of the garage band era, not only capturing the youthful excitement and energy, but providing perfect visual examples of the sartorial style and instrumentation of what a “classic” garage band looked like back in the mid-60s. It’s a study in garage band cool, and the Dantes certainly captured the look.

As popular as they were in the Columbus area, the Dantes were but one band in a vibrant garage rock scene that kept teenagers dancing. In 1967, for instance, the “VOX Festival of Bands” held at Valley Dale featured thirty-four bands.  Among the many bands in Columbus were the Edicates, the Gears, the Ebb-Tides, the Four O’ Clock Balloon, the Noblemen, and the young women of the Wild Things. Nor were the Dantes the only teenage band in Columbus to release a record. Other examples include The Fifth Order, the Dantes’ “rivals” in popularity, who also hit number one in 1966 with their moody rocker “Goin’ Too Far,” and the Epics recording of “White Collar House,” an ode to local teen dance hot spot The Blue Dolphin Club.

Garage rock proved to be as popular throughout Ohio as it was in Columbus. Bands could be found from Akron and Ashland to Wooster and Youngstown. A few had hit songs on the national charts, songs that remain popular to this day. Cleveland’s the Choir scored a hit with “It’s Cold Outside” in 1966 (they became the Raspberries in the 1970s, and had major hits with “Go All The Way” and “I Wanna Be With You”). The Human Beinz from Youngstown hit the Top 40 in August of 1967 with “Nobody But Me” and from Mansfield, the Music Explosion had a national number two hit with “Little Bit O’ Soul,” also in 1967.

The Dantes went on to release two more singles, the last coming out in November of 1967. They continued to enjoy regional success, including opening up for the Jimi Hendrix Experience at Veterans Memorial Auditorium in 1968, before disbanding in 1969.

Starting in the 1970s, years after the last fuzzy garage rock chord had faded away, interest in the genre was reignited, spurred on by compilations with such titles as “Nuggets” “Pebbles” and “Back from The Grave.” Collectors searched for all but forgotten vinyl records from the 1960s, and magazines devoted to garage rock filled their pages with unearthed tales of teenage band lore.

The Dantes didn’t miss out on this revival. In the mid-1980s, “Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love” was featured on the “Highs In The Mid 60s” collection. The band reformed to play several successful reunion shows in the 1990s and 2000s and stayed in the public eye through positive media coverage and social media attention.

It’s been over fifty years since the Dantes, the Fifth Order and their fellow garage rockers ruled the Columbus teen music scene, fifty years of shifts and changes in popular culture and society, which might lead one to overlook or dismiss the importance of white suburban teenagers picking up guitars in the 1960s. Nevertheless, the music that those teenagers created originally for fun was a part of the massive wave of social, political and creative upheaval and energy that swept up their generation during that decade. And while it’s inarguable that nostalgia colors the lenses when looking back at the 1960s, it remains clear that the teenage garage bands of that era helped define their own times as well as influence the music of generations to come.

And the excitement and energy they generated lingers on. Even now, when the needle drops into the grooves of an old record, and the sound of a 12-string guitar, a cascading jangle of notes, emerges from the crackles and pops as “Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love” bursts from the speakers, it’s obvious that not even the dust, scratches and nicks of time can dull the sound that the Dantes unleashed on Columbus that long ago spring of 1966.

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