My first official group was called The Cimarrons. After 'Apache' was a hit for The Shadows, it seemed that every other guitar instrumental had a Red Indian sounding name. Totally non-PC of course but we wanted a name, for the band, that reflected a Red Indian background. Alan Hicks and I studied a map of North America looking for a place name that we could use. Then we found a river in New Mexico called The Cimarron. The other members of the group were all really pleased with the name and we all felt very Red Indiany. Naturally, we wrote a tune called "The Cimarron" which we played like an anthem at the start of every gig. Pretentious? We all imagined the name had been part of native North American history for thousands of years. We later found out that the name had come from the Spanish for "Wild". In hindsight we probably should have found the Spanish for "mild". Members at various times included Alan Hicks - Maurice Preece - Peter Withers – Gerald Thatch Bird – Dave Spilsbury - Mac Turner - John Shepherd - Cal Denning (John Fletcher) - Lee Zenith (Ray Hyde) and me.
At first, the whole band were going through my Watkins Dominator amp. Dad must have been putting in some overtime because within twelve months I was playing a Burns Trisonic guitar through a Selmer amplifier and a Swissecho unit (Big Time). We were a covers band that was as close to The Shadows as any four spotty youths (with the wrong equipment and no style) could be. Mac Turner, my schoolmate, was the first vocalist. Cal Denning was the second and Lee Zenith was the third. There might have been a fourth but before we managed to find someone, the rest of us discovered that we could do it ourselves (sing, that is). We became a four-piece and learnt every Beatles song on every album.
The Cimarrons recorded 'Pretend' for an L.P. called Brum Beat. The line up for Brum Beat was a collection of Birmingham groups, hurriedly thrown together and recorded in the hope that people would turn to the Birmingham sound when they got bored with The Beatles. I'm still holding my breath. I managed to upgrade my gear to a Fender Telecaster, a Binson Echo unit and a Fender Tremolux amp. We worked mainly around the Midlands area and appeared alongside acts such as Cliff Bennett and The Rebel Rousers, The Tornados and Little Stevie Wonder (I lent him my amp – he gave me a harmonica). One of the guitar heroes and innovators at the time was Mick Green of The Pirates. He seemed to be getting a more American sound than anybody else.
When we worked with Johnny Kidd and The Pirates at Rubery Social Club, I asked him what type of strings he played, and in the true spirit of musician's comradeship he said (in an Arthur Mullard voice) "Rum and Blackcurrent, mate". Later, he did hand me the guitar, and it all became clear – light gauge strings with a plain 'G' string. What a revelation! At the time, most of us idiots were using the factory-supplied gauges, which were .012 to .056. If I wanted to bend my 'G' string – I needed a fork-lift. Modest.
Regular venues at the time included The Hen and Chickens at Langley, where we supported The Hollies and Denny Laine and The Diplomats, and The Winter Gardens in Droitwich where we played every Wednesday. At The Matrix Ballroom in Coventry, we missed playing with the (not yet famous) Beatles by one day. They were supporting The John Barry Seven, who had just had 'The James Bond Theme' in the top twenty. I remember looking at the poster and thinking the word Beetles was spelt wrong.
The Cimarrons greatest achievement was attaining second place in the Locarno Ballroom Rhythm Group Competition. Mr. Jones, of Jones and Crossland presented the cup. This band was together from late 1962 until early 1966 when, for no particular reason, it became time to move on.
Truth be told, towards the end The Cimarrons seemed to be forever replacing members. Every few weeks, a new drummer. We ended up rehearsing more than working. While working at Wrensons Grocers, I had met Grant Kearney. He was also in a group and the stories he told always seemed so much more exciting than mine! When he offered me a job with The Sombreros, I took it without hesitation. Grant had a friend called Jo Burton, she managed a record shop in Northfield. I'd spend all my lunch-times in there, just listening to records, drinking coffee and chatting up Jo.