The Heartbeats were formed in 1966 when the Sanders sisters, Linda and Debbie, met Jeannie Foster and Debbie McMellan in a music class.
In the 1960s, all-girl rock bands were a rarity, especially in West Texas. However, in the summer of 1968 one group of musically talented girls from Lubbock lived out their own rock n’ roll fantasy. Their band, the Heartbeats, won a nation-wide TV contest, the American Idol of its day.
The Heartbeats were formed in 1966 when the Sanders sisters, Linda and Debbie, met Jeannie Foster and Debbie McMellan in a music class. For two years, the quartet honed their talent. Linda sang lead and played drums, her younger sister Debbie played rhythm guitar, McMellan played bass and Foster was on lead guitar and keyboards.
“Our mom always knew what potential we had. Her faith and dreams in us proved to be a reality,” Linda Sanders said.
When Mrs. Jeanne Sanders mailed a demo tape to Dick Clark’s “Happening ‘68,” the girls didn’t think they had a chance of making it on the show. They were wrong. Soon the band from Buddy Holly’s hometown was headed to Hollywood to perform on national TV.
The night before the first round, the girls and their manager, Mrs. Sanders, stayed in a hotel with the other contestants. Oblivious to the girls, their competitors were up late partying and drinking.
“We practiced and practiced, even though we were only supposed to lip-synch. ... We were the only girl group there,” remembered Linda.
The next day the Heartbeats stood in front of the cameras and lip-synched to their brilliant cover of the Outsiders’ “Time Won’t Let Me.” The ABC variety show was hosted by Mark Lindsay and Paul Revere of Paul Revere & the Raiders. One of the judges was James Doohan, Star Trek’s “Scotty.” The girls were stunned when they won the first round because they explained there were some really great bands there they had beaten. The finals would take place a few weeks later and the winner would be awarded $10,000 in prizes and a recording contract. The girls came home to Lubbock and started practicing, hard.
Back in Hollywood for the finals, they were overwhelmed. The girls took the stage and spoke with the hosts and judges, then once more lip-synched to “Time Won’t Let Me.” After the other bands went on, the girls thought for certain they’d lost.
“Then suddenly they announced our name as the winners. We jumped up and down and hugged each other. It was truly a great moment that I will never forget … a wonderful time in my life that I owe all to my mother,” Linda said.
The girls won guitars, amps, four motorcycles, a Volkswagen Bus and a recording contract. The Volkswagen became their tour bus with “The Heartbeats” boldly displayed across the side. Mrs. Sanders continued to manage the band, ensuring they remained in what she described as being in appearance, and reality, a group of decent, wholesome girls.
The Heartbeats recorded several singles and continued playing gigs together until the 1980s. They still live in the area and none of them will ever forget the summer an all-girl garage band from Lubbock fulfilled its musical dreams.
By Max McNabb