San Jose rock pioneer John Byrne of the Count Five dies at 61

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by glea, Dec 18, 2008.

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  1. glea

    glea Well-Known Member Thread Starter


    Back in the '60s, five scruffy San Jose high school students came together to rock out in a garage tucked away on Revere Avenue. One of the kids, John "Sean" Byrne, had recently emigrated from Ireland, and his bandmates thought the accent made him sound cool. Little did they know that 40 years later they'd be credited with creating a punk-psychedelic-garage classic, "Psychotic Reaction." It was named one of the 500 most influential songs in the history of rock, a song that lives on today on YouTube.

    That Irish kid went on to become a punk-rock pioneer as the lead singer of the '60s San Jose garage band known as the Count Five. Byrne died Monday in a San Jose hospital after a long battle with cirrhosis, his family confirmed Wednesday. He was 61.

    "That was one of the most pivotal songs in rock history," said Dan Orloff, co-founder of San Jose Rocks, an organization that researches and celebrates the South Bay's role in rock 'n' roll history. "If San Jose had a sound, they created it."

    Even in the age of YouTube, the Count Five continues to resonate in pop culture. Beloved as a one-hit wonder, Count Five was one of the first groundbreaking bands to come out of San Jose. The Pioneer High School alums' hit not only became emblematic of a period in time, it also climbed all the way to No. 5 on the pop charts in 1966. From their wild, untamed sound to their outlandish Dracula-style capes (hence their name), the Count Five — which included
    Byrne, John "Mouse" Michalski, Ken Ellner, Roy Chaney and Craig "Butch" Atkinson — had a style all their own.

    "They were iconic," as rock historian Jud Cost puts it. "They were on the cusp of two eras. They were the Everyman's version of garage rock, the thumping, cave-man drumbeat music that was popular in the '60s, crossed with psychedelia, the trippy, drug-fueled music that separates you from humdrum reality, that was popular in the '70s. It was a teenager's take on the Yardbirds."

    Rock aficionados have dubbed the band one of the first "proto-punk" pioneers. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland sports a Count Five plaque in its "One-Hit Wonder" exhibit. The tune also has been showcased on the video game "Battlefield Vietnam," on movie soundtracks from "Drugstore Cowboy" to "Less Than Zero," and in concert by Tom Petty, not to mention by random fans on YouTube.

    In its heyday, Count Five shared stages with megastars from the Beach Boys and the Temptations to the Doors. The band also played on both of Dick Clark's TV showcases, "Where the Action Is" and "American Bandstand." The Count Five was part of the inaugural class of the San Jose Rocks Hall of Fame in 2006, and Byrne performed with the band at the induction ceremony.

    "The big cities used to get all the glory," Cost notes. "In those days people thought a punk band from San Jose couldn't cut the ice. But there was some great stuff done here whether San Francisco knew it or not."

    "The Count Five was the first band to put San Jose on the map back in 1966,'' agrees Orloff, who can still remember exactly where he was the first time he heard "Psychotic Reaction" as a 12-year-old boy in Daly City. "They took what was coming from the British and put a San Jose twist to it. It's such a haunting song. You know the song immediately in the first note. A lot of people call them a one-hit wonder, but I call it a one-note wonder."

    Byrne's life story was almost as dramatic as his music. He came to San Jose from Dublin at 14, after his mother died, but he remained an Irishman at heart forever.

    "He was a stubborn old Irishman to the end," his daughter Tina Byrne said Wednesday. "He was always a rebel. He was growing his hair long even after people stopped doing that. He always had the dark sunglasses. He was very cool."

    He always had a gift for music. His daughters say he had the uncanny ability to make any instrument sing, even without lessons.

    "Aerosmith called him a rock 'n' roll legend," said Tina Byrne, who is planning on finishing her father's autobiography, "The '60s From the Inside," which he was toiling away on until the end.

    Like so many musicians, Byrne's music was his lifeblood long after it stopped paying the bills. He ended up working as an accountant for Montgomery Ward, but when that company went under, he lost his job and his optimism. It was his music that kept him going.

    "His music touched so many," his daughter Ellen Wise said. "It gave them light in dark times and made them smile."

    Byrne fought a battle with his health for years. A drinking problem led to cirrhosis of the liver. The condition left him partially blind and having to use a walker.

    Despite his ailing health, Byrne continued to make music until the end. Daughter Tina was also helping him work on an album titled "Facing Reality,'' which fused rock and hip-hop. He never had a chance to finish, so Tina is hoping to get it out there to keep her father's legacy alive.
  2. sprocket

    sprocket Active Member

    Shafter, Ca
    Wow. How sad. RIP.
  3. ManFromCouv

    ManFromCouv Employee #3541

    It sure is difficult to reconcile the idea that the kid with the pudding-head haircut was 61 years old. By the way, he wasn't the lead singer was he? I thought he was the rhythm guitar player who wrote the songs. Psychotic Reaction may well be the #1 all-time garage classic tune.
    Very sad news.
  4. Platterpus

    Platterpus Forum Resident

    That sucks!:shake: Great band! One of my favorites of the garage band era.:righton: RIP

  5. darkmatter

    darkmatter Gort Astronomer Staff

    Thank you for posting, a sad story :shake: and RIP John
  6. howlinrock

    howlinrock Forum Resident In Memoriam

    SF Bay Area
    A sad endng to a true pioneer of early 60's bay area rock. RIP John
  7. MikeM

    MikeM Forum Resident

    Youngstown, Ohio
    On the original Psychotic Reaction LP, Kenn Ellner is listed as "leader, vocalist, tambourine, harmonica." Bryne is listed as "vocalist, rhythm guitar, composer" (he is the sole or co-composer of all of Count V's originals).

    However, Byrne sang lead on "Psychotic Reaction," as videos of the day show.

    I love "Psychotic Reaction," but hometown pride notwithstanding, I think it's a real stretch to say it was "one of the most pivotal songs in rock history." And I'd also like to know exactly who named it "one of the 500 most influential songs in the history of rock."

    It was such a direct Yardbirds cop...indeed most radio listeners of the day thought it WAS The Yardbirds when they first heard it. The Yardbirds were influential...Count V was an excellent garage band who made it big one time. At least on this song, they weren't doing anything more innovative than a thousand other garage bands of the day.

    I was more a fan of "CR"'s flip, "They're Gonna Get You," the follow-up single "Peace of Mind," and the later non-LP single "Teeny Bopper, Teeny Bopper."

    Not at all to speak ill of the late Mr. Byrne...he was responsible for a great moment in time, and some other more interesting moments as well. R.I.P.
  8. rene smalldridge

    rene smalldridge Senior Member

    R.I.P. Mr. Byrne - think I will dig out the Psychotic Reaction 45 and give it a spin tomorrow in his honor - aw heck , I'll just play the recent CD release of all their recordings.
  9. -Alan

    -Alan Moderator Staff

    Connecticut, USA
  10. kentb47

    kentb47 Forum Resident

    Hot Springs Ark.
    Sorry to hear that, very sad story.

    No, I think Kenn was NOT the lead singer on much of anything. He just sang on the choruses and stuff. I think his dad managed and bankrolled the band so they sorta had to let Kenn be in it (this sounds mean, but it's not intended to be, just the facts as I've read them).

    Far as I know, Sean's the one who's responsible for everything good about Count Five (I actually love a lot of their songs).
  11. sharedon

    sharedon Forum Zonophone

  12. Mark

    Mark I Am Gort, Hear Me Roar Staff

    A classic. RIP.
  13. J. R.

    J. R. Forum Resident

    Kansas City, MO
    Very sad - RIP. That song is still one of my favorites today - it always brings a smile when I hear it.
  14. Runt

    Runt Well-Known Member

    Motor City
    Jeez, way too young...sad.

    I think I've still got the original "Psychotic Reaction" 45 in a box downstairs. An iconic tune from that era.
  15. Lon

    Lon Forum Resident

    Tracy, CA
    Saw the Count Five about 5 years ago or so and although John did not perform with them (Kenn was singing lead), he was at the show and sang on one song with them at the end of the show. We had heard that he was having medical problems but his voice sounded the same and it was cool to see him in person.
  16. boyfromnowhere

    boyfromnowhere Forum Resident

    missouri, usa
    Sad news. I love a lot of Count Five stuff!
  17. sharedon

    sharedon Forum Zonophone

    Please read this, which I hope it's OK to copy from :

    Washington Post Coverage
    More info: or 202-966-5304.

    *JANUARY 19, 2009* We received the below that we believe is important enough to share:

    My name is Tina Byrne. I am the daughter of John 'Sean' Byrne lead singer and song writer for the band Count V (hit song ''Psychotic Reaction). On December 15, 2008 my father passed away after being in the hospital for over a month. He was the young age of 61. In his passing he left a pretty big pile of hospital bills, funeral costs, a huge mortgage, and not to mention the other everyday bills we all get each month. My dad had no life insurance and was disabled for the last 6 years of his life and needed 24 hour care (which my mom Dagmar provided until the end). So both of my parents were unable to work and the only income they had was my dad's monthly disability checks (which didn't cover all the bills). In March of 2007 my parents were on the verge of foreclosure and needed money to keep their home of 33 years so my dad, having nothing of any real value (except the rights to his music), had to sell ALL rights to his songs (including 'Psychotic Reaction') to have enough money to stay in their home. So my mom doesn't even get those royalty checks anymore. Needless to say she is not only mourning the loss of he husband of 35 years and best friend she is also overwhelmed financially with bills she can't pay. Her mortgage is due and she has $40 in the bank. So I am trying to help her raise money to help her in her time of sorrow and loss. Just enough to get her back on her feet and help out until she can secure a job to pay her bills. I started The John Byrne Memorial Fund to try to raise a few bucks but no one sent anything. So on February 21, 2009 with the help of Dan Orloft (co-founder San Jose Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame) and Mark Fenichel (clear channel radio stations KFOX) I am having a benefit concert in my father's name to further help with money issues my family is facing. The show is at 777 Lawrence Expressway in Santa Clara, California. Doors will open at 7:00pm and tickets will be $25 each. We will be hosting a silent auction that night and we are trying to get some donations of memorabilia to be auctioned and also any musical instruments (guitar to be signed by all bands performing and raffled off) would be greatly appreciated. I am also in need of endorsements and/or sponsors for the concert. Basically any help you can give. If you can in anyway help please contact me any time. My family and I thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to help us in our time of need. You will be helping not only remember one of the most influential artists ever but a family who could really use a helping hand. Thank you again and I hope to hear from you soon.

    Tina Byrne

    For any cash donations send check or money order to:
    P.O. Box 5415
    San Jose, California 95120
    Phone: (408) 265-3538
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