The band was founded in 1964 by John "Mouse" Michalski (born 1948, Cleveland, Ohio) playing lead guitar and Roy Chaney (born 1948, Indianapolis, Indiana) playing bass guitar. The two were high school friends who had previously played in several short-lived bands, most notably a surf rock group named The Citations. As the British Invasion's influence took effect, the band changed in musical direction. After going by the name The Squires for a short time, along with several line-up changes, the Count Five was born. John "Sean" Byrne (1947-2008, born Dublin, Ireland) played rhythm guitar and performed lead vocals, Kenn Ellner played tambourine and harmonica, while sharing lead vocals, and Craig "Butch" Atkinson (1947-1998, born San Jose, California) played drums. The Count Five were recognizable for their habit of wearing Count Dracula-style capes when playing live.
"Psychotic Reaction", an acknowledged cornerstone of garage rock, was initially devised by Byrne, with the group refining it and turning it into the highlight of their live sets. The song was influenced by the style of contemporary musicians such as The Standells and The Yardbirds. The band was rejected by several record labels before they got signed to the Los Angeles-based Double Shot Records. "Psychotic Reaction" was released as a single, peaking at number five in the U.S. charts in late 1966. The band enjoyed limited success for a short time, dropping out of view altogether when their only hit had fallen from public memory. Another setback to a potential career in the music business was the decision of the five members (who were between the ages of 17 and 19) to pursue college degrees.
By 1969, the Count Five had broken up, but their memory was immortalized in a 1971 essay by rock journalist Lester Bangs, entitled "Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung." In the essay, Bangs credited the band for having released several later albums (after Psychotic Reaction): Carburetor Dung, Cartesian Jetstream, Ancient Lace and Wrought-Iron Railings, and Snowflakes Falling On the International Dateline -- each displaying an increasing sense of artistry and refinement. However, none of these subsequent albums actually existed except in Bangs' own imagination.
The Count Five reunited only once, when they performed a concert on April 11, 1987 at a club in Santa Clara, California called "One Step Beyond". This performance has been released as Psychotic Reunion LIVE!.
The song "Psychotic Reaction" can be heard playing on the jukebox in an early scene in Wim Wenders' film Alice in the Cities (1974) and in the party scene in The Sense of an Ending (2017). It can also be heard on the season one finale of the HBO drama series Vinyl.
Roy Chaney formed a new band in the 1990s called The Count (with Byrne and drummer Rocco Astrella (born Mar 20, 1951 - died Mar 1, 2014, who played in the last version of the original group). The Count released their debut CD, Can't Sleep, in 2002. In 2006, Count Five was among the first bands inaugurated into the San Jose Rock Hall of Fame.