Gary & The Hornets: The Grooviest Band to Ever Sing About Wieners

As a kid in the mid-’70s, one of the funniest things I ever heard was a promotional record my uncle acquired from a friend who used to work for the Oscar Mayer Company. Recorded around 1966, the album consisted of six versions of the familiar “I Wish I Were An Oscar Mayer Wiener” jingle, performed in various pop styles of the day. I seem to recall a breathy bossa nova, a Tijuana Brass-type arrangement, and a country version replete with steel guitar and echoing backup vocals–and that the merging of the deadpan performances and ridiculous lyrics provoked fits of paralyzing laughter in my ten-year old self.

But my two favorites were an impassioned soul rendition with hand claps and full-throated gospel choir, and a rock version by a band identified in a spoken intro as “Gary & The Hornets.” The latter was a sub-Cowsills exercise in mid-’60s pop, with plenty of harmonizing and “bah bah baaaahs,”  performed by a group who sounded like their members hadn’t yet graduated middle school.  After some cheesy organ fills, one of the little twerps wraps it up with the deathless utterance, “Oscar Mayer all-meat weiners — groovy!”

Decades later, while falling down a YouTube rabbit hole, I discovered that Gary & The Hornets was not a fictional band concocted in the studio for a promotional record, but an actual kid combo consisting of the three Calvert brothers from Franklin, Ohio: 11-year-old Gary (vocals, guitar); 14-year-old Greg (bass); and 7-year-old Steve (drums). During their brief existence, they managed to record three singles for Smash Records in 1966-1967 and make two appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Here, then, is more of their output than any sane person could reasonably want: a TV commercial featuring a truncated version of the song on the Oscar Mayer record; a cover of The Troggs’ “Hi, Hi Hazel” (dig Greg’s sterling kazoo work); and their second Tonight Show performance. To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, the music of Gary & The Hornets is like a dog walking on its hind legs; it is not done well, but you are surprised to find it done at all.