A short introduction to the Five Americans
The Five Americans are now fondly remembered for their snappy song “Western Union,” their 1967 Top 10 hit. The Oklahoma group released many other fine singles including “I See The Light,” “Evol not Love,” “Sound Of Love,” and “Zipcode.” However, their artistic and financial matters were in control by their label’s owner Jon Abdnor, who also compromised their music and their chances of developing their musical horizons. When their disputes with Abdnor were worsening, the band was in the brink of collapse. Despite shift in the lineup, the Five Americans finally broke up in 1969.
The formation of The Five Americans
The Five Americans comprised of lead guitarist Mike Rabon, keyboardist John Durrill, bassist Jim Grant, guitar and harmonica player Norman Ezell and drummer Jimmy Wright. All of the Five Americans were schoolmates from Southeastern State College in Durant, Oklahoma, but they officially started their music career in Dallas, Texas, where they first named themselves as The Mutineers. They were signed to Abnak Records owned by Jon Abdnor Jr., who discovered the group and also gave the band the name The Five Americans.
Their first single was “I See the Light,” which appeared on the charts in early 1966. It did decently on the charts (at #26) that gave a go-signal for the band to record their first album, which would also be titled I See the Light. Both mono and stereo editions of the album were released that same year; the album finally peaked at #136 on the Billboard 200.
“Western Union” single and LP
While their follow-up single, the harmonious rocker “Evol-Not Love” became only a minor hit (at #52), the following single “Western Union” soared in the top 10 on the pop charts in 1967. The inspiration behind this is that when Rabon was just playing around with a guitar when he suddenly came up with a riff that sounded like a telegraph key.
“Western Union” was written by Rabon, Ezell and Durrill. As the single peaked at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100, its album (with the same name) reached at #121 on the Billboard 200. It also made a dent on the Canadian album chart, peaking there at #66. Another single off Western Union LP, “Sound of Love” managed to reach the top 40 at #36.
The Five Americans’ problems with management and eventual split
The band’s third studio albumProgressions (1967) produced their last top 40 hit single, “Zip Code” (#36)
The Five American’s rift with Abdnor was getting worse. Abdnor, who was also in control of the band’s finances, seemed also to pry into the band’s music. The band felt that Abdnor was even dictating them what to play and where to record their music. As a result, two of the original members Durrill and Ezell left the band in 1968. They were replaced by Lenny Goldsmith and Bobby Rambo, but they were never the same group again. The Five Americans finally disbanded in 1969. After Abdnor’s death in 1996, Sundazed records purchased the original tapes and reissued much of their catalog into the 21st century.
Bassist Grant died in 2004, guitar/harmonica player Ezell in 2010 and drummer Wright in 2012. These deaths have left guitarist Rabon and keyboardist Durrill the only surviving original members.