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One of the rarest garage-rock collector’s items in existence, the Barons’ “Time and Time Again” 45 didn’t even appear on enthusiasts’ radar screens until 1996, 30 years after its release. The D.C. quartet’s one and only single was purchased at a Maryland record convention by a shadowy Pennsylvania collector who, according to “Moptop” Mike Markesich, legendary Branford, Conn.-based vinyl hound and author of the forthcoming Teenbeat Mayhem: A Retrospective and Discography of the 1960s Garage Band Era, promptly “rang up all his buddies in glee and spun both sides of the disc over the phone.” The collector community was duly impressed, and a frantic search for additional copies of what Markesich calls “one of the finest garage singles recorded” ensued.
Born and bred in Hillcrest Heights, Md., the Barons got together in early 1965, using a local warehouse as a practice space. The group bashed out covers of songs by British Invaders the Yardbirds, the Kinks, and the Animals, as well as some revamped Motown numbers and a few tunes by the Byrds, performing on the usual garage-band circuit of nightclubs and battles of the bands. Steve Packett, the band’s drummer, remembers playing the American Palace, a teen-oriented club housed in the now-defunct Dodge Hotel in downtown D.C. Brother James A. Packett, who played guitar, fondly recalls the group’s battle-of-the-bands defeat of local blue-eyed-soul favorites Lawrence and the Arabians—after which the Barons needed a police escort to escape the angry audience.
The S.R.O. Label—its name presumably short for “standing room only”—was most likely a one-shot deal. It seems to have no connection to the early Chicago house imprint SRO, which in the late ’80s released such 12-inch singles as Steve Simmons’ “Pump the Bass” and Nouveaux Nation’s “Strip (Rock Yo Body).” The Barons disc was pressed by Columbia Custom Pressings in New York, and the songs were registered for copyright at the Library of Congress in February 1966. The 45 was released the next month and distributed almost exclusively in the southern United States, where it received a fair amount of radio play. According to Steve Packett, the band got to enjoy hearing its own songs on the radio “two or three times” during tours through the Hampton Roads area of Virginia.
After that fateful phone call, a few resourceful collectors managed to track down a couple of the Barons themselves, who, shocked to be suddenly offered significant cash for their long-forgotten nonhit, quickly parted with whatever copies they had lying around. Steve Packett sold four; lead guitarist Dave Olson reportedly coughed up a few, as well. Nobody knows for sure how many copies are floating around, though available evidence suggests that there are now fewer than 10 in existence. Even Mark Opsasnick, the minutiae-obsessed author of Capitol Rock and Washington Rock and Roll: A Social History, doesn’t have one. In fact, the Prince George’s County, Md., music historian initially refused to believe the Barons had ever existed, because he had never heard of them.
Imagine, then, the heartbreak of Olson’s mother: According to Packett, at some point she tossed out about 100 copies of the record, which had been taking up space in her Oxon Hill, Md., home for decades. And though Packett and Olson sold their remaining discs at around $100 apiece, don’t expect to pick one up at such a bargain-bin price—Markesich admits that he had to “trade several big-ticket items” from his collection to afford his prized “nice VG+” copy. A copy in mint condition, he notes, currently fetches about $1,500.
Around the beginning of 1966, the Barons took their first stab at writing and recording their own material. The result was this 45, which was recorded in a New York City studio in a single day. According to Steve Packett, A-side “Time and Time Again” was inspired by the Byrds. Like so many other rockin’ young men of the time, Olson was so blown away by Roger McGuinn’s work on 12-string that he went out and bought one of his own—just in time to lend this heartbreak-themed number an air that Australian collector Mark Taylor describes as “moody with folk elements.” Markesich’s verdict? “Time and Time Again” is “‘Love Stinks’ written light years prior to the J. Geils clan, and a far more brilliant tune.” In 1966, the Barons played the song on WDCA-TV’s Wing Ding, where they gamely lip-synched for an audience of avid dancers no older than they were.
At 1 minute, 42 seconds, B-side “Now You’re Mine” is an intense slice of Kinks-influenced rock that Markesich calls “pure teen genius.” And how: The vocals of then-18-year-old James Packett are urgent and echo-laden, and Olson’s furious guitar-playing stands up beside that of Dave Davies. Steve Packett, who was a mere 15 at the time the single was recorded, keeps a menacing beat while riding the cymbals for all they’re worth. Since its discovery, “Now You’re Mine” has found its way onto two compilations, Mayhem & Psychosis Vol. 1 and Lost Generation Vol. 1, and is now receiving regular airplay on Internet-radio DJ Todd Gardner’s garage-rock program, Turn Me On, Dead Man.
Nowadays James Packett, 58, answers to the name Pat—or Pastor Pat, as he’s known to his flock at the Chesapeake Christian Fellowship Church in Davidsonville, Md. After leaving the Barons to serve a stint in the Marine reserves, Packett managed brother Steve’s new band, the similarly garage-rockin’ Sassafras Tea. He then toured with a gospel group before deciding in the mid-’70s to put aside his wanderin’ ways. Known to join his church’s praise-and-worship band once in a while on acoustic guitar and vocals, Packett says that his congregants sometimes kid him about the time he spent playing the devil’s music—though they obviously have nothing against a good show: A couple of years ago, they packed the church to watch James, Steve, and brothers Wayne and Bruce Packett perform together for the first time in ages.
The mystery man of the band, John Bello was one in a long succession of bassists who came, played for a while, and went. Following his stint with the Barons, Steve and James Packett say, Bello lost contact with his former bandmates. His present whereabouts are unknown.
Steve Packett, 54, is a musical lifer: Those adolescent nights spent on the road, sleeping on club stages and earning $750 a show—not to mention the marvelously lucky time the Barons were flown in to play a gig at a private girl’s school—got into his blood. After the Barons—who also had the memorable misfortune of playing Greenwich Village’s infamous Cafe Wha? the night after a performance by one Jimi Hendrix—dissolved in the late ’60s, Packett founded Sassafras Tea. Later still, he joined younger siblings Wayne and Bruce to form a ’60s-influenced group called the Packett Brothers. Currently, Steve and Wayne are both members of Five Over Four, a covers act that not too long ago won a 94.7 “the Arrow” FM competition connected with the film School of Rock. According to Steve Packett, the Edgewater, Md.–based group plays loads of Rush, Beatles, and Led Zeppelin—but nothing by the Barons: Its classic-rock-crazy audiences have never heard of them.
Olson remained the Barons’ guitar player until the band’s demise and played briefly with the Packetts in Sassafras Tea. He ultimately went West, where he commenced a career as a forest ranger. According to Steve Packett, Olson is still a music professional of sorts: Part of his job involves accompanying tourists on trail rides and playing songs around the campfire.CP