It Came from Asheville! WNC Garage Rock in the ’60s, Part Two: The (Fabulous) Wunz

The Wunz and onlys
As the first wave of teenage rock combos spread across the mid-’60s U.S., the craze wasn’t limited to major metropolitan areas. Even Asheville – then with a population of just over 70,000 persons – had a vibrant scene. And at the top of that scene were The Wunz.

“It was a great time in Asheville,” says Jim Stover, who played rhythm guitar. “Lots of bands sprang up, and we were all kids. I was not quite 16 when I got asked to join The Wunz.” He auditioned for the group at the Kimberly Avenue family home of drummer Bob Garner; once he was in the band, practices were held in the West Asheville garage of lead guitarist Bruce McTaggart’s family.

The (Fabulous) Wunz. L-R: Coleman Ramsey, Bob Garner, Bruce McTaggart, Jim Stover. Photo by Juanita Wilson

With Stover on board, the group quickly put together a solid set list. “I would say that 80% of our repertoire was Beatles,” he recalls. The Wunz earned a well-deserved reputation for their ability to sing and play “Penny Lane” and some of the Fab Four’s more challenging material. “Some people called us the ‘Asheville Beatles,’” Stover says with pride. “McTaggart’s guitar was a driving force, and three of us sang, so we could harmonize.” The group learned how to play “Nowhere Man” before the record had even received airplay on local radio.

The Wunz played regular gigs at their high school, Lee Edwards (now Asheville High) as well as shows at North Buncombe High and Asheville Catholic. “Eighty dollars seemed to be the going rate for us in those days,” he says with a laugh.

But things took off from there. Stover recalls a ballroom gig at the top of the Battery Park Apartments and in the penthouse of the Northwestern Bank Building (now The Arras). “Our manager was at Clemson, so we played fraternity parties, too,” Stover recalls.

In the 1996 film That Thing You Do!, Tom Hanks’ cinematic love letter to the garage rock scene, drummer Guy Patterson (Tom Everett Scott) works at an appliance store in Erie, Penn. And the band he joins initially calls itself the Oneders. And while Stover doesn’t claim that Hanks drew inspiration from his Asheville quartet, the parallels are striking.

“I worked in an appliance store in West Asheville, Demos TV and Appliance,” Stover recalls. “And it looked just like the store in the movie.” And just like Hanks’ character did, changing the fictitious band’s name to the more conventional The Wonders, The Wunz’s manager Gary Garner (older brother of Bob) rechristened the Asheville foursome The Fabulous Wunz. And that’s how they would be credited on their only release, a 7’ single, “If I Cry” b/w “Please.”

Stover wrote both sides of that 45 r.p.m. single, released on Pyramid Records, a tiny, short-lived singles-only independent label out of Burlington, N.C. The Wunz were primarily a live group, but Stover’s most treasured memory of his time with the band is “the experience of going in that studio and cutting those tracks.” He recalls the band riding to Arthur Smith Studios in Charlotte for the session. “In front of the studio there was a placard saying that James Brown had recorded ‘Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag’ there,” he says. The producer’s control room was situated up high, looming over the recording studio.“It was a big thrill.”

Equally thrilling (or perhaps more so) was the band’s next gig at Lee Edwards High. “We played in the cafeteria, and sold our records for a buck apiece,” Stover recalls. (There are currently no copies of the record for sale on record marketplace, but the median price of previous sales is $40.)

The Wunz were together from ‘65 until 1968. Stover went on to further success as a songwriter and solo artist; former Monkees vocalist Davy Jones cut one of Stover’s songs (“I’ll Believe in You”) in 1971, and Stover went on to record two singles (“Thanks For The Smiles” and “Country Feelin’s”) that were released by Big Tree Records, and co-produced by hit songwriter Kenny O’Dell, pop artist Bobby Goldsboro and longtime Nashville record executive Bob Montgomery.

“It was cool to join up with The Wunz,” Stover says. “I wish it could have lasted longer, because we had more songs.” But he has no serious regrets about opportunities missed. “Everything runs its course,” Stover says. “And that certainly did.”

[This story has been revised and updated for historical accuracy.]

To be continued…