Gary Quackenbush, guitarist who helped power SRC, dies

Susan Whitall
The Detroit News

Gary Quackenbush, who came to rock fame as guitarist for the SRC, one of the biggest bands to come out of Detroit's rock scene in the '60s, died Saturday after a yearlong bout with pulmonary fibrosis.

Guitarist Gary Quackenbush found fame as a member of the SRC.

Quackenbush was 67 and lived in Tecumseh, Mich., where he was under hospice care.

On June 5, friends put on a musical fundraiser for the guitarist at the Necto in Ann Arbor to help with his mounting medical expenses. He was too ill to attend, but a DVD was made of the event, and Quackenbush enjoyed watching it in the days before his death, his sister said. The benefit was hosted by Doug Podell of WCSX.

"Gary was such a big part of the Detroit rock foundation, he just broke so much new ground with SRC back in the day and continued to perform at a high level throughout the years," Podell said. "He was always there whenever anyone needed him. I'm truly going to miss him."

Quackenbush was born in New Jersey, the son of Mary and Eugene Quackenbush. The family moved around a lot because his father was in the military, but once they settled in Birmingham in 1956, the moving ended.

Gary and older brother Glenn became known around Birmingham with first the Tremelos, playing instrumental Ventures-style music.

"I was kind of a nerdy kid," said Glenn, 17 months older than Gary. "I asked my parents for classical piano lessons when I was in the fourth grade. They wanted Gary to play an instrument, too, so he chose the guitar because he liked Elvis. Well, he corrupted me with rock and roll. I bought a Wurlitzer electric piano, and we used to play in our family room and out on the back porch."

The Tremelos morphed into the Fugitives, one of the north suburbs' more popular bands on the school and teen-club circuit. They often played the various Hideout clubs, co-founded by Edward "Punch" Andrews, better known today as Bob Seger's manager. Gary Quackenbush graduated from Birmingham Seaholm in 1966.

Podell remembers Gary Quackenbush telling him how the Fugitives "became" the Scot Richard Case.

"They went to see Scott Richardson perform (with the Chosen Few), and the minute they saw him, they said, 'We've got to get him,' " Podell said.

So they took part of the Fugitives, incorporated Richardson, guitarist Steve Lyman and bassist Robin Dale, and named themselves the Scot Richard Case. Manager Jeep Holland had suggested that three-word group names were big with British groups.

And the band was heavily influenced by the British groups, with Gary Quackenbush enamored of guitarists Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck. The Scot Richard Case, and later in their SRC days, had a progressive/psychedelic sound that was unique in the local scene. One of their best-known numbers was a sort of psychedelic mashup, "In the Hall of the Mountain King/Bolero."

By 1967-'68, the Detroit-Ann Arbor rock scene was exploding. Record companies had been signing San Francisco rock bands and were looking for the next big thing.

"We had a single that came out that was on WKNR, 'I'm So Glad,' in '67, right about the time of the riots," Glenn Quackenbush said. "Then we changed our name to SRC and signed to Capitol Records."

"They thought Detroit was it, so they really signed up everybody, The MC5, the Amboy Dukes," Glenn said. "It was an exiting time; there were lots of places to play, lots of teen clubs, so the bands could make some money. That all changed later on after the Grande closed."

The SRC recorded three albums for Capitol and played as an opening act on many national tours. They remained popular abroad, and reportedly, Peter Gabriel has cited their album, "SRC," as influential.

Later the group splintered, and the Quackenbushes stayed in Michigan, while Richardson moved to California. After the Grande Ballroom closed, the scene shifted to bars. Over the years there were fewer places to play, and few national acts were booking local openers.

In recent years, Gary supported himself working for an electronics distributor as a sales representative, working in a wedding band with brother Glenn and a female singer; and giving guitar lessons.

"It wasn't playing SRC music, which is really what he wanted to do," Glenn recalled, although Gary formed a band to play SRC music.

Members of the original SRC did regroup for reunion shows in Detroit in 2011 and 2012, which was a happy occasion for Quackenbush, fans and the band.

Younger sister Martha Leabu said it was fun growing up with "two rock and roll older brothers," although she worried about them during the '60s, when they were living in Ann Arbor. "I was 6 and 7 years younger, so I was not part of their scene. They were renegade rock and rollers. My dad didn't want to take them to the country club."

She did benefit from it: "(SRC) did play for my 16th birthday at the Birmingham Palladium, that was fun."

Gary Quackenbush is survived by brother, Glenn, of New Hudson; sister, Martha Leabu, of Brighton; and 10 nieces and nephews. Funeral services will be private. The family asks that donations be sent to the Hospice of Lenawee, 1903 Wolf Creek Highway, Adrian, Michigan.