Southeastern News

Rabon, Durrill of Five Americans fame remain active in music, writing

The Five Americans returned to Southeastern Oklahoma State University in 2003 to perform at the Arts Gala concert. Left to right are John Durrill, Norman Ezell, Kevin Lathan, Mike Rabon, and Jim Grant

The Five Americans returned to Southeastern Oklahoma State University in 2003 to perform at the Arts Gala concert. Left to right are John Durrill, Norman Ezell, Kevin Lathan, Mike Rabon, and Jim Grant


DURANT, Okla. –
The packed audience in the Visual & Performing Arts Center eagerly awaited the return to the stage of a band that had captured stardom in the late 1960s. A rock band whose very roots began on the campus of Southeastern Oklahoma State University.

The date was March 15, 2003, and the occasion was the Southeastern Arts Gala, an annual event held to raise scholarship funds.

As students at Southeastern State College in the early 1960s – Mike Rabon, John Durrill, Norman Ezell, Jim Grant, and Johnny Coble  –

began playing cover songs at area clubs and frat parties as “The Mutineers.’’

Seeking fame and fortune, the group headed to Dallas with a new drummer (Durant teenager Jimmy Wrightreplacing Coble), landed a manager, a record contract, and a new name: The Five Americans.

And the rest is history.

While touring extensively and appearing on various national TV shows, the group released such memorable hit singles as “Western Union,’’ (dit, da dit, da dit) ) still heard today on oldies radio and a top 5 hit on the Billboard charts in 1967; “I See The Light,’’ which reached #26 on the charts in 1966; and “Sound of Love’’ and “Zip Code, ’’ both of which climbed to #36 in ’67.

Two other singles – “Evol-Not-Love’’ and “7:30 Guided Tour’’ — also appeared on the Billboard Top 100 chart.

The group released four albums from 1966-68: “I See The Light,’’ “Western Union,’’ “Progressions,’’ and “Now and Then.’’

Management issues and other factors led to The Five Americans calling it quits in 1969, with various members producing solo work, or in some cases, joining other groups.

Back back to March 2003.

The Five Americans took the stage that night for the first time at Southeastern since a 1966 concert inMontgomery Auditorium.

The original band members – minus Jimmy Wright, who, due to a previous commitment, was replaced that evening by Hugo High School student Kevin Lathan – thrilled the crowd with their hits, old blues and rock covers, and even some new compositions.  After the show, the band and crowd gathered at the old Durant Country Club for an impromptu performance.

So now, 14 years later, what are the members of The Five Americans doing?

The Five Americans, circa 1967: John Durrill, Jimmy Wright, Jim Grant, Mike Rabon, and Norman Ezell.

The Five Americans, circa 1967: John Durrill, Jimmy Wright, Jim Grant, Mike Rabon, and Norman Ezell.

Mike Rabon, guitarist–lead singer–songwriter, is a retired public school educator living in Hugo, Oklahoma. Over the past few years, he has authored a handful of books, including “High Strung,’’ a memoir about his days with The Five Americans. He has also been active in various music projects over the years. His wife, Carla, a Southeastern graduate, still teaches.

Rabon was born in Port Arthur, Texas, but as an infant, moved with his family to Oklahoma.  After The Five Americans broke up, he formed Michael Rabon and Choctaw (with Wright on drums). He also returned to Southeastern, earned a bachelor’s degree in Speech Education and a master’s in public school administration, and followed in the footsteps of his parents, both educators.

“Two things stand out about that night,’’ Rabon said recently in recalling the Arts Gala event. “To see all my old friends from high school and college and the Hugo area was very special. And it was also enjoyable to sing with the president (then Southeastern president Glen D. Johnson, now chancellor, who joined the band for a rendition of “Hey Baby.’’) That was a lot of fun.’’

John Durrill, keyboardist and prolific songwriter, was born in Houston, Texas, but was raised in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.  For a time at Southeastern, he and his wife and children lived in the old wooden barracks known as Vet Village. He graduated with an English degree (music minor) from Southeastern, and taught high school English  for one year in Talihina, Oklahoma.

After The Five Americans, Durrill moved to California and played and toured with The Ventures for a while. He has written more than 2,000 songs for 75 artists, including FrankSinatra, Merle Haggard (“Misery and Gin’’) and Cher (“Dark Lady.’’)

Today, Durrill remains very active in the music business and resides in Westlake Village, California.  His current projects include occasional duty with The Ventures, writing for the group Chicago, movie work, and other art and music-related work.

“We loved playing live,’’ Durrill said in a recent telephone visit about The Five Americans’ heyday. “What really made it work for us was we weren’t really big planners. We didn’t know what we were doing, but when we turned those amps on, we knew exactly what we wanted to do.’’

The talent and chemistry of all five band members contributed to the group’s overall success, and Durrill pointed to drummer Jimmy Wright as a catalyst.

“The way Jimmy played – he was the real backbone of our sound. He was a real driving force for us. As far as the concert (2003 Arts Gala), it was déjà vu. We had all gone different directions, but everything came full circle.’’

 

Sadly, the three other band members are deceased.

Bass guitarist Jim Grant passed away in Dallas in 2004; Norman Ezell, rhythm guitarist and songwriter, died in California in 2010; and drummer Jimmy Wright passed away in Denison, Texas, in 2012.

Grant, a Hugo native, was a talented artist who used his creativity to produce logos, posters, and other products for public relations clients in the Dallas area.

As an active and popular student at Southeastern, Grant was President of his Sophomore Class; Delta Zeta Man; President of Sigma Tau Gamma; member of Student Senate, Blue Key, and President’s Club; and elected Friendliest Boy.  (Grant, Rabon, Ezell and Johnny Coble were all members of Sigma Tau Gamma).

Ezell was born in Alabama, but spent his childhood in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He transferred from theUniversity of New Mexico to Southeastern on a football scholarship and earned a bachelor’s degree in Education (Social Studies).

Like Durrill, Ezell ventured to California after the breakup of the band. He founded two churches, “Gloryland Ministries,’’ and produced a number of gospel albums.  In addition, Ezell taught special education in Taft and Stockton, California.  And like Rabon, he penned a book about his Five American days, titled, “Road Runner. ‘’

Ezell was a longtime resident of Lodi, California.

Wright was a native of Wyoming, but grew up in Durant. After life in the band, he teamed with Rabon’s new group to record an album, and then established several ministries in Oklahoma. Wright  also utilized his  talents as a media director, videographer, and lighting director while working and traveling with various ministries, both nationally and internationally.