With its power chords, pounding drum rhythm and kiss-off lyrics, “What a Girl Can’t Do” attracted huge attention after it was recorded in 1965. A free appearance at Giant Record Shop in Falls Church turned into a commotion. Billboard reported that 400 people were in the store with another 1,500 waiting outside. The band played only 15 minutes and needed a police escort from the store.
They opened for the Yardbirds and the Shangri-Las at the Alexandria Roller Rink and served as backup band for headliner Link Wray on a show for local disc jockey Barry Richards.
When they performed on Jerry Blavat’s “The Discophonic Scene” television show in Philadelphia, they joined soul stars the Impressions and Jerry Butler in a jam session on the Motown song “Money.”
The Hangmen became undisputed regional stars, largely fueled by their one hit until disbanding in 1968. Mr. Guernsey’s “What a Girl Can’t Do” is now covered almost as frequently by punk and garage rock bands as Van Morrison’s “Gloria” and has been performed by groups including the Lyres, the Untamed Youth, the Nighthawks and, most recently, a U.K. band called the Ladykillers.
Mr. Guernsey found humor in attempts to capture the mid-1960s innocence of the Hangmen, an era before rock became more psychedelic, self-indulgent or self-consciously crude. He told The Washington Post in 1983 that he heard a recording by a Boston punk band and found it “pretty funny.”
“It was true to the original arrangement but more high energy, real raw,” he said. “I couldn’t tell if the guys were really amateurs or if that’s what they were trying to get across.”
George Thomas Guernsey was born in Chicago on July 5, 1944. His father worked for the AFL-CIO, and his mother was a schoolteacher. The family moved to Garrett Park when he was 2. He graduated from Bethesda’s Walter Johnson High School in 1962 and attended Montgomery College in Rockville.
His father loved jazz and encouraged Mr. Guernsey’s guitar studies with blues and jazz guitarist Bill Harris.
Mr. Guernsey’s first band came together in 1963 with singer Joe Triplett and keyboardist Mike Henley — all friends from Walter Johnson. They called themselves the Reekers.
“The first gigs, as the name might imply, were just a bunch of beer-swilling boys,” Triplett said. “Our first gig might have been in our parents’ living room. Tom was what carried it and pushed it forward. The rest of us wanted to drink beers and meet girls.”
Various bass players and drummers came through the band, and Mr. Guernsey was able to secure summer gigs in Ocean City. The Reekers recorded two surf-style instrumentals that came out on a Baltimore label.