Four eighth-graders from tiny Rolla, Missouri, had just three smalls amps, a single microphone, a snare drum, and a cymbal—more than enough to start a rock ‘n’ roll band. The precocious young Reactions were born of humble circumstances, with a triple-guitar lineup of Tom Williams, Ken Giddens, and Charlie Daniells, while Mike Gibbs played that lonely snare and cymbal combo. Encouraged by Daniells’ father, a former swing band clarinetist/saxophonist, the Reactions were less a garage band than a living room band, obliged to clear away the family furniture for every practice.
By May, 1966, they were playing their first gig at a perfectly appropriate venue—a party celebrating the end of the school year. Their trebly guitar attack was balanced by the low end of Ray Hollingsworth’s bass in August, plus Giddens’ departure in March ’67. With a growing power in their rhythm section, the band made Rolla’s scene, playing covers and honing their craft at school dances, sock hops, private parties, wedding receptions, and the military officers clubs of nearby Fort Leonard Wood.
While navigating high school’s terrors, the teens headed to Kansas City Municipal Auditorium for a Missouri state Battle of the Bands. Though their original songs didn’t vanquish their rivals, the band responded by heading underground to record at Cavern on May 30, 1968. “I lived in a town of 10,000 people. To come to the big city and drive through a cave to a recording studio was pretty impressive,” said Daniells. “I was only 15 years old, wasn’t even old enough to drive.”
Cavern pressed up 250 copies of “In My Grave,” with vocals by Hollingsworth, backed by “Love is a Funny Thing,” sung by Williams. The Reactions sold the Rock-labeled singles for a buck a pop and even achieved placement in the jukebox of the local Pizza Hut. Despite this cheesy glory, Gibbs soon quit the group and was replaced by Bruce Pompe. By the fall, they’d changed their name to Stonehenge Riot and incorporated more brass, expanding to a quartet with Jon Goin on guitar and trumpet.
Faced with the existential threat of graduation, the band began to split apart and take their separate paths towards adulthood. High school reunions brought the Reactions back to perform together in 1990 and 2005. Though Hollingsworth passed away in 2009, the rest of the group convenes every few years to practice, after carefully moving sofas and end tables into the corner, of course.