Mouse and the Traps

TrackSingle
A Public ExecutionFraternity F-956
All For YouFraternity F-956
Maid Of Sugar, Maid Of SpiceFraternity F-966
I Am The OneFraternity F-966
Do The Best You CanFraternity F-973
Promises PromisesFraternity F-973
As Far As The SeaFraternity F-983
Cryin' InsideFraternity F-1005
Requiem For SarahFraternity F-1015
And I Believe HerBell B-850

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Mouse and the Traps photo

Mouse and the Traps (clockwise l to r) Dave Stanley (bass), Jerry Howell (keyboards), Ronnie ‘Mouse’ Weiss (guitar & vocals – centre), Bugs Henderson (lead guitar), Ken ‘Nardo’ Murray (drums)

 

Contributor: Dave Stephens

If you’re reading this there’s a pretty good chance you’ve heard A Public Execution but maybe only because it got included in the famous Nuggets compilation. That said, it was one of the standout tracks, if hardly typical of the rest of the content. But, while you’re likely to know this track, the probability of you having delved further into the Mouse and the Traps oeuvre, might well be no more than slight. Hence this Toppermost – to reveal the full magnificence of Mouse & Co.

Okay, that last bit was a tad tongue in cheek. However, the boys did make some fascinating singles in their brief career – 1966 to 1969 with the occasional reformation. Let’s get the biog bit on the table. The band originally consisted of lead vocalist and principal song writer Ronnie Weiss plus four others, playing guitar, bass, drums and keyboards. The last named instrument was often a distinguishing feature on their records, emanating from producer Robin Hood Brians on Farfisa and/or Randy Fouts or Jerry Howell on piano or harpsichord (or simulated harpsichord, I’m not sure which). While I’m mentioning band members I should give Buddy (Bugs or Buggs) Henderson, lead guitar, a namecheck; his at times ferocious work was another significant part of the band’s sound. Initially, Mouse and the Traps operated out of Tyler in northeast Texas which is where all the boys came from (and where Robin Hood Brians’ studio was located), but there was a later move to Dallas.

Their debut single, the aforementioned A Public Execution sold well locally and was a very minor national hit in the US – it got to the majestic height of #121 according to Wiki – and they had a regional hit with the more poppy Sometimes You Just Can’t Win, which was released in ’68. And that was about it for the Mouse story. No LPs were released in the group’s main period so all we have are the singles plus a number of unreleased tracks which have found their way on to one of the two comps currently available (see later).

Back to that record. A Public Execution is just about the nearest anyone has ever got to the ’65 Dylan, or to be more precise, the Highway 61 Revisited Dylan, or, to be even more precise, the Like A Rolling Stone Dylan. That makes it sound like a copy yet somehow the record avoids that trap. A pastiche, yes but done by someone (Weiss) who is head over heels in love with Bob and had locked his backing team in a room with nothing but Highway 61 for weeks. Lyrically, it’s no match for the Zim but it does boast some tough lines:

If this is really what you’re thinkin’
That it’s really, really all my fault
You better find yourself a welder, baby
‘Cause you got locked up in your vault

The flipside, All For You, is another up-tempo stormer and on this one I’m hazarding a (totally unsupported) guess that the inspiration came, not from Dylan, but from another mid sixties folk rocker, the late Richard Farina. Compare Mouse & Co with Richard and Mimi’s House Un-American Blues Activity Dream (though I could have selected Hard Lovin’ Loser which has a very similar sound).

While neither side of the debut disc could be said to be typical garage music then single #2, Maid Of Sugar, Maid Of Spice, was a rock solid example of the genre. Indeed it’s a “we can do better than anyone else in this kind of music” statement. Ronnie’s nasal vocal attack has that Dylan timbre again but this time he’s competing with Bugs’ adrenalin fuelled guitar for a share of the attention. The song is a fast twelve bar with some hints of Subterranean Homesick Blues. I’m well aware that last statement is suggestive of another pastiche, but this one really isn’t. It does stand on its own as one of the very best of examples of what was essentially a highly derivative form of music anyway.

Once again the boys serve up an excellent flip in I Am The One, a medium tempo folk rock ballad with guitar and keyboards to the fore. I get the impression that Ronnie has toned back the Dylanisms slightly, though there’s still an overall Blonde On Blonde air about the whole thing.

There’s yet more of the ersatz thin, white mercury sound about single #4, Do The Best You Can, another ballad which drops into a minor key on certain phrases. This time Ronnie throws in plenty of those stretttccccched syllables which we would have first noted on some of the more contemplative numbers on Blonde. Again there’s an interesting flip. Promises Promises is, surprise surprise, country rock, a la, the Byrds. While I can’t honestly say it’s up to that band’s exalted level, it’s still worth pointing out that this single was released nearly two years before Sweetheart Of The Rodeo. Another reference point for this track might be the Monkees, although even with them, the more country flavoured material was further down the track.

I skipped over the boys’ third single. It’s A-side was a novelty which doesn’t stand up well to repeated listening. However the flip, Like I Know You Do is another in roughly the same style as I Am The One and Do The Best You Can, and very nearly made my list.

Somewhere around this time (1967) the band plus Dallas Dee Jay and self-styled outlaw Jimmy Rabbitt released a single under the name of Positively 13 O’Clock, an obvious Dylan reference. On the A-side they gave us a perfectly credible version of Count Five’s Psychotic Reaction, though whether the world needed another version is perhaps debatable. It did have a rather splendid scream at about 1:20 in followed by a quite spectacular guitar break. The flip contained, rather surprisingly, an instrumental entitled 13 O’Clock Theme For Psychotics. A slightly puzzling affair altogether though for me the flip brought to mind the Phil Spector approach of including a throwaway instro on many of his B-sides (deliberately done, we are informed, to prevent DJ’s playing the B- instead of the A-side).

1967 was also the year when the boys released another alternate name record. This time the moniker chosen was Chris St. John – one wonders whether they thought it might be seen as a Brit group/singer. The single was As Far As The Sea/I’ve Got Her Love. I’ve gone for the A-side but the flip’s also well worth a listen coupling an overall Byrdsian approach albeit with background woo-woos that could have come from the Beach Boys, not to mention some Beatles hints. The A-side also shows strong influences but this time they’re very definitely from the Beatles in full Eleanor Rigby mode plus the undoubted kings of baroque, The Left Banke. A harpsichord opens the record followed by George Martin style strings. Yup, it’s another pastiche and, no, it’s not as good as Rigby or The Left Banke, but then, not many were.

While all this was going on the band was still releasing singles as Mouse and the Traps, several of which were in a more poppy vein than hitherto. Of note were Sometimes You Just Can’t Win (which was a local hit) and, L.O.V.E. LOVE. But the one I’ve gone for is Cryin’ Inside from July ’67. Bubble Gum in approach with a Farfisa to the fore plus some imaginative touches that rather belie that overall descriptor I’ve given the record. And there’s an unexpected flip in the shape of Lee Dorsey’s Ya Ya. Perhaps this was a pointer to the fact that, like many US groups of the ’65 to ’67 period which usually got lumped together under the heading of garage, Mouse and the Traps were prone to including soul, blues and R&B material in their stage act. One of the two comps available, The Fraternity Years from the redoubtable Ace Records, contains a version of I’m A Man, a great favourite of early to mid sixties groups from our side of the pond.

The last few singles from the band didn’t drop the quality level. I Satisfy (1968), which very nearly made my cut, was a triumphal return to garage with superb scything fuzz guitar from Bugs Henderson after an ominous psych style intro. Requiem For Sarah from later that year was even more psych in approach though to be fair to the boys the influences are far more subtle and varied on this one – they even include a light jazzy jam as long fade. With sufficient plugging this one could have been a hit.

The final record from Mouse and the Traps, released in December ’69, was Wicker Vine/And I Believe Her. Both sides are up-tempo stormers. I’ve gone for the B-side which could almost be a (minor) Moby Grape record. Again, I don’t think this is accidental. While the great Grape never became more than cult heroes in the UK, they did get considerable radio plugging in the US when their first album came out so it’s highly likely that Ronnie and the others would have heard them.

I said ‘final record’ but in 2010 an album was released credited to Mouse and the Traps entitled Lost Sessions. Rather fortuitously some tracks had appeared out of nowhere from the 1981 incarnation of the band, which still included several original members including Ronnie Weiss. Other than one track, which I’ll come to, it doesn’t sound very much like the ’65 to ’69 band but they’re rootsy and tight, so much so that I’d recommend checking out the MP3 samples on Amazon. That one track? Good Old Days (1969) – that’s the full title including the brackets – and on this one Ronnie’s in full Dylan mode again, capturing that strutting panache that really came through on the live recordings. I’d attempt to put this up on YouTube if it weren’t for the fact that the entire album is already there but is not available in the UK.

I wouldn’t claim that Mouse and the Traps were any more than a tiny footnote in the history of rock and roll. They didn’t have hits at much more than local level. Nor did they attain the cult level following of other bands of that period such as fellow Texans, The 13th Floor Elevators. Even my write-up above includes words and phrases like ‘minor’ and ‘not as good as’. But maybe, just maybe, if they could have slightly curbed those chameleon-like tendencies, to borrow an adjective from AllMusic, they might have broken through. Would they have been so entertaining though? I wonder.

 

Postscript

A Public Execution was credited only to ‘Mouse’ although the full band was present. The ‘and the Traps’ got added from the second single onwards.

Their last single Wicker Vine/And I Believe Her was produced by Dale Hawkins, yes he of Susie Q fame. They also played support roles on Hawkins’ attempted comeback album, L.A., Memphis & Tyler, Texas, released in 1966.

Buying Mouse and the Traps output is pretty straightforward. There are two compilations currently available: Public Execution (only available in MP3 format but cheap at present) and The Fraternity Years from Ace. The first named dutifully includes the singles including those under alternate names, while the second omits a tiny handful of single tracks but compensates by including a number of unreleased tracks.

One of the extra tracks on The Fraternity Years is their version of You Are My Sunshine and it’s yet another confirmation of my theory that there just aren’t any bad versions of this song. Mind you I have to add that this is based on pretty selective listening. In this one, Mouse & Co come across as a white soul band.

 

Buddy “Bugs” Henderson (1943–2012)

 

Mouse and the Traps page on Flashback: Dallas

Mouse and the Traps discography

Mouse and the Traps “The Fraternity Years” (Ace Records)

Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965–1968

Mouse and the Traps biography (Wikipedia)

Dave Stephens had a long career in IT – programming, consultancy, management etc. – before retiring in 2007. After spending time on the usual retiree type activities he eventually got round to writing on one of his favourite subjects, popular music, particularly, but not only, the sort that was around in his youth. He gained experience at ‘the writing thing’ by placing CD reviews on Amazon. This led to his first book “RocknRoll” which was published for Kindle in 2015. He followed this up with “London Rocks” in July 2016. You can follow him on Twitter @DangerousDaveXX

Read the Toppermosts of some of the other artists mentioned in this post:
The Byrds
Lee Dorsey
Bob Dylan
Richard & Mimi Farina
The Left Banke
The Monkees

TopperPost #556

2 Comments

  1. Andrew Shields
    Sep 27, 2016

    Thanks for this great introduction to a fascinating band. And the Dylan impersonation on ‘A Public Execution’ is very impressive while the song itself is a surprisingly good one. Wondered as well if Lester Bangs had ever written about Mouse and The Traps- given that he was such a fan of Count Five. ‘Mouse’ also, of course, belong in the list of bands with great names. My personal favourite is probably Telephone Bill and the Smooth Operators, but there are many others…

    • Dave Stephens
      Sep 27, 2016

      Wholeheartedly agree with your description, a “fascinating band” indeed. They stand head and shoulders above the average garage outfit. And, no, Lester doesn’t appear to have written about them. There’s actually surprisingly little in print. The Flashback:Dallas feature, above, is the best I’ve seen.

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