The Beatles were still performing in Liverpool’s Cavern—utterly unknown in the States—when Kansas City mainstays the Fabulous Four had the misfortune of picking their soon-to-be-famous name. After being confused for the biggest act in the world, the group was known by no less than eight names over the course of its existence and, by sending up a lineup of lead vocalists, created a morphing, ever-changing sound to match those many monikers.
In 1959, guitarist Bob Theen and drummer Alex Love split from their high school group, the Midknighters to form the Fabulous Four Jacks with the soon-departing Dick Wilson on guitar and Bill Bryant on keyboards. Lineup changes brought name changes, and the “Jack” got dropped when Mike Myers and Jeff Mann joined on keys and bass, respectively. Even this new identity was unstable. “All of our fans around here, they started calling us the Fab Four,” said Theen, “and some of us even just called us the Four.”
They spent nearly a decade gathering an audience on the KC scene, releasing three 45s on George Hodes’ Brass imprint before Warner Bros. came calling in 1968. Setting the band up to record “I’m the Only One” b/w “Break Away” in New York City, under the guise of The Next Exit, the big firm intended the 45 as a tie-in with Goldie Hawn film vehicle Butterflies Are Free. However, only one of the songs appeared in the eventual film—five years later and in a very different version. Discovering sound underground closer to home, the band hit Cavern after club gigs, recording until a sunrise unseen in the depths and releasing “River Days” b/w “I Got a Feeling In My Body” under their Fab Four handle on Pearce.
The strange sounds of psychedelic rock were echoing down through the caves when longtime band friend Michael “Quint” Weakley appeared, his head full of wild ideas after a winning stint with the Electric Prunes. He enlisted the Four to help execute his mind-melting vision, providing melodies and song titles and letting the band flesh out the lyrics and arrangements. “It just kind of got us all going in a little different direction than we had been,” said Theen. “He liked to smoke a little dope. He came up with some strange ideas.”
Admiring the resulting eight tracks, Weakley called them Pretty. “Mustache In Your Face” b/w “Electric Hand” was released from the sessions on Weakley’s own Squeakie label without the band’s consultation. Of that unfathomable title, Theen said “When you first hear that, ‘Mustache In Your Face,’ first thing you think of is: well, that’s gotta be something a little on the nasty side.” Packing his suitcase full of Squeakie 45s, Weakley disappeared back to California, hoping to sell the band to a major label. “After that, I don’t think he ever came back,” said Theen. “We never really heard anything from him.”
In any case, Theen’s group was already recording under the name Sheriff with Jim Williams. Less odd-ball then Weakley, Williams was his own kind of character, a former rockabilly star and training pilot who pushed the band to record the anti-love song “I Don’t Really Want You” and half dozen other rural-rock originals. Williams did score the group a deal to record at Memphis’ American Studios—this time under the name Kansas City, with a sophisticated harmony-laden sound. “Linda Was a Lady” b/w “Red Tower Road” was released on Capitol subsidiary Trump in 1970.
Pretty as they ever were, the band spent the next half decade grinding out a prosaic existence in the 816 area code, before lowering all its banners—the Fabulous Four Jacks, the Fab Four, the Four, The Next Exit, Pretty, Sheriff, and Kansas City—to half-mast in 1976.