Monday, June 26, 2017

Interview -- Art Alexakis (Everclear)

"I will buy you
a new life.
Yes I will."
~ Everclear ~

In 1997, Art Alexakis, along with his band Everclear, laid the album..."So Much For The Afterglow" on us.
The music was hard, crunchy and catchy.  And for many spinners of the disc, it gave them a feeling of almost absolution.

Melodic lyrics about all-too-familiar personal pains and doubts were delivered with exciting staccato guitar churns...and it felt like a good cleansing.  The songs helped wash away a bit of the crud and the crap and the confusing tangles of life that can be so hard to shake off.
More than anything though, the music gave reassurance that we were not alone in the struggle.  And maybe that helped us see a small break in the clouds.  And for some, that was all we needed to see.

Am I using too much hyperbole?  I don't know.  Maybe.  I'm not declaring this the best album from the 90s.  Hell, I'm not even sure this is Everclear's best album of the 90s!  All I'm trying to say is...I feel a whole lot better when I play it.  Get you some!

Art Alexakis Interview  --  June 2017
Art Alexakis (vocals, guitar)

Casey Chambers:  I'd like to begin with a bit of a curve by asking about the song Everclear recorded for the "Detroit Rock City" soundtrack in 1999.  How did you become involved and how did you decide what song you were going to contribute?

Art Alexakis:  Well, we had already done a couple of shows with Kiss, so I had gotten to know Gene and Paul.  And Gene wanted Everclear to do a song for the soundtrack.  They were leaving it up to us to pick it.  And I wasn't sure I was gonna do it.

I was living up in Portland at the time and it had been raining like hell, as per usual.  But I was in L.A. for something to do with business and was driving a convertible.  I never get convertibles, but that was all they had.  And it was a sunny day.  I'm driving around and what comes on the radio but "The Boys Are Back In Town."  I've always been a huge fan of Thin Lizzy.  Saw them back in '76 at the Santa Monica Civic.  Saw them a couple of times.  Big fan.

And that song came on the radio and I'm like...'Oh my God!  This song!  We need to do this!'  And I could hear in my head how we would do it, right?  'Cause my whole thing with covers's got to keep the integrity of the song and what made the song great in the first place, but it also has to sound like whoever's doing the cover.  In my case, Everclear, of course.  So, I had an idea how I'd do it.

So, I got on the phone the next week with my management and Gene with his management.  And Gene was trying to get me to do it for next to nothing.  For like, free. (laughs)  I remember being on the beach with my family in Hawaii and Gene was haranguing me to do this soundtrack for nothing.  I'm like...'no, that's just not gonna happen.' (laughs)  Gene says, 'Artie, c'mon.  Artie, this is gonna do wonders for your career.  C'mon!'  I'm like...'Gene, it's not gonna happen.  Ya know, what do you care?  It's not coming out of your pocket.  It's coming out of the record company that's putting out the soundtrack that's connected to the movie.  I mean, really?  No,  I'm not doing it for free.' (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  You're killing me! (laughs)

Art Alexakis:  They had wanted us to tour with them in '96 when we were at the height of doing "Sparkle And Fade."  We were planning to headline a tour, which we ultimately did, where we were making thousands of dollars.  But Gene offered us to open up for Kiss through North America.  And I'm like, 'You know what, man?  I'll do it.  I'll do it for a fraction of what we're making.  I need this much.'  Which would've been like five grand a show. And at the time, we were making four or five times that.  Which is really...I mean, we hadn't played for five grand in a long time.  Or even since.  'Then I'll be able to pay for my crew.  I'll be able to pay for the bus.  The hotels.  No problem.  I'll do 20 dates.'  And he wouldn't do it.

The most they offered was $500. Now, who you gonna get for $500 bucks?  You're gonna get a cover band, that's what you're gonna get.  But they got somebody, 'cause the record company paid for it.  And whoever it was, went into debt because record companies don't give you anything for free.  If they pay for it, it's coming out of your royalties.

But anyway, back to the soundtrack. We did finally record it.  We tried mixing it with Andy Wallace who had mixed our album "So Much For The Afterglow", but it just didn't come out right.  Then I mixed it with Neal Avron, who was my main recording guy back then, and it came out pretty good.

"The Boys Are Back In Town" - Everclear / "Detroit Rock City" Soundtrack (1999)

Casey Chambers:  Yeah, it's a nailed cover.  Since we both dig Thin Lizzy, do you have a favorite song?

Art Alexakis:  One of my favorite rock songs of all time is "Cowboy Song."  It's definitely in my top 50.  Could be in my top 20.  I love the dueling guitar leads.  I just love Phil Lynott's vocals.  Their songwriting and rhyme for the time were just great.  And yet they were always considered a mid-level band, ya know?

Casey Chambers:  In America, for sure.

Art Alexakis:  For sure.  Nowhere else, but in America.  But I mean, they were great.  "Jailbreak" is just a great album.  But I go deep.  I like "Johnny The Fox."  I like "Renegade."  My favorite record from them is probably "Black Rose," if you want to go deep.

Do you know what's a trip?  The label that put that soundtrack out was Island Records before they got all swallowed up by Def Jam.  And I met with the president of Island Records about doing that song  He was an Irish guy and he told me he had been a roadie for them back in the day and knew Phil since they were in high school.

He had worked his way up through the music business. From road crew to tour that.  And after listening to the song, he said, 'Phil would have loved the vocal on this.'  And that just meant the world to me right there, ya know?   'Cause when you do a cover, you wanna do it with respect to the song.  You want to do it in your own cadence.  In your own voice.  But you also want to capture the voice of the spirit and vibe of the song, too.   I'm glad you like it.  I love that song.  We're talking about breaking it out and bringing it back into the set.  We haven't played it in awhile.

Casey Chambers:  Yeah, that'd be a great one to hear.  It's the 20th anniversary of Everclear's 3rd album..."So Much For The Afterglow." (1997)  I'd like to ask you about the title track.  It's a killer surprise!  Summer harmonies leading into a crashing wake-up call.

Art Alexakis:  The Beach Boy thing, yeah.

Casey Chambers:  Was that the idea you had for the song going in?

Art Alexakis:  Not really.  When we first made the album in the fall of '96...and I've since stopped using working titles 'cause they never stick...I was calling it "Pure White Evil."  And I wanted it to be really heavy songs.  And really mellow.  Really heavy, really mellow.  It was just me thinking too much.

And I wrote and recorded 15 or 16 songs.  I went and mixed them in New York and then played them for my A&R guy.  And he listens to it twice and he's like, 'Well you know, man, I'm not telling you what to do 'cause you know I can't.  You have creative control.'  That was part of my deal when I signed.  'You can do what you want.  We'll put it out and we'll work it as hard as we can.  But I'm telling you this, as your friend.  This is not a great album.  It's good, but it's not great.  And you can do better.  This is not the album you want to make.  I guarantee it.  You don't want to make this album.'  And that just kind of kicked my ass, ya know?

"So Much For The Afterglow" (1997)

So I spent two or three weeks in New York just walking around the city.  I went and saw "Jerry Maguire" like 10 times.  I don't know why.  There was a song in it.  I wasn't sure who it was.  I think it was Bruce Springsteen.  It was!  It was called, "Secret Garden."  And I wrote a song called, "Song From An American Movie" 'cause that song just made me really emotional.  It made me miss my family.  But while I was there, I was writing songs in my hotel room.

And I wrote about three or four more songs.  One of the songs was "So Much For The Afterglow."  It was just that feeling of...'Okay, well this is what it feels like when you're up high and you get your ass kicked a little bit and how do I put this into a relationship type song?'  I was writing down copious notes in notebooks.  I hope I still have those notebooks somewhere, 'cause it has the notes of what I would do for each song to make them better.

It came off as kind of a punk rock song, ya know?  It just started with my vocal going... 'This is a song about...' and it kicks in, right?  But it just didn't fit anywhere on the record.  I thought it'd be a really strong album opener.  And I'm really big into album openers.  Some of my favorite songs..."Rocks Off" on "Exile On Mainstreet."  "Debaser" on The Pixies'..."Doolittle."  I mean, I could give you a list.  I've made mixes for people of just album openers that are just great.

Casey Chambers:  That'd be a really interesting mix to compile.  Note to self.

Art Alexakis:  They just set the tone and get your heart going.  That's what I felt.  As a matter of fact, I've got a show on Sirius XM, and I think I'm gonna do a whole show about album opening songs.

Anyway, so I wanted some sort of intro.  I could do strings.  I could do this.  And then I'm thinking...what about a cool Beach Boys...just a little ripoff.  But not really, it's just a doo-wop thing which they ripped from the doo-wop bands of the '50s. (laughs)

"So Much For The Afterglow" - Everclear (1997)

So I wrote and sang all the parts.  All the harmonies.  I went into a studio in Hollywood and recorded that all in one day.  And this was before ProTools.  Before Auto-Tune.  There was none of that going on.  So every note had to be perfect. Had to just be perfect.  And we quadrupled every track.  I did all the parts myself and then I had the boys double me.  Triple and quadruple me on all the other tracks.  There was like 20 or 30 tracks there.  And that's the way it came out.

Casey Chambers:  It's a great way to kick things off.

Art Alexakis:  And it just goes to show, my A&R guy who was right half the time, was like, 'This is a horrible way to start the record.  People are gonna think it's going to sound a certain way and turn it off.  And then it goes down this punk rock thing which is too typical for you.  It's just a horrible way to start the record.'

But then all these positive reviews of the album came out saying, 'What a great way to start the album.' (laughs)  So I sent about four clippings of those to him and just said, 'Love Art, fuck you.' (laughs)  But it was good natured.  It was good natured.

Casey Chambers:  (laughs) I read that the song..."One Hit Wonder"...initially took a bit of slap and tickle from some record people, too.

Art Alexakis:  Yeah, same thing.  Same guy. (laughs) He's saying, 'Man you're just setting yourself up for failure.'  That was a song I wrote in New York as well.  So obviously, I was pissed off in New York.  There was a lot of 'fuck you's' going on.

The critics, and especially in Portland, were always talking shit.  'Oh, they're just a one hit wonder.  The sophomore slump is gonna get them.'  This and that.  This and that.  And so, I wrote "One Hit Wonder."  It was just kind of a 'fuck you' to them.  And if the record wasn't successful, I guess it would have made me look stupid. I was going out on a limb, but at that point, I didn't really care.  I didn't really care about the success.  I just wanted the record to be great.

"One Hit Wonder" - Everclear / The Late Show with David Letterman 

When I turned in the record, I go, 'This is the best record I can make.'  And my A&R guy agreed.  He said, 'I don't know if this is the best record you can make, but this is a great record.  You did it.  You did what you had to do.'  We had a really good relationship.  We didn't always agree. We'd cuss at each other.  Call each other names.  Hang up the phone, and then we'd work it out.  But that's how an A&R relationship is supposed to be.  They're supposed to be honest and tell you what they think.  Sometimes they're right.  Sometimes they're not.  But it's like any relationship. (laughs)  It worked out well.  We've been playing that song every night, 'cause we've been playing the whole album and it's been fun to play.

Casey Chambers:  I recently watched a clip of Everclear performing "One Hit Wonder" on David Letterman's show.  What was that experience like?

Art Alexakis:  Oh, that was the 3rd time I'd been on his show.  So, it was interesting.  Paul's always great.  David was a big fan, but we never got to talk to David.  No one did.  When David would walk to the would not let you be in the hallway.  I guess he just doesn't want people to look at him from behind.

Casey Chambers:  Was that just a Letterman thing or was that the typical talk show way?

Art Alexakis:  No.  It was just with him.  No one else.  Conan would come backstage and hang out with us and talk to us.  And Jay would always pop into the room.  Always.  Every time.  Just to say, 'Hey guys, how's it going?  What's going on?  You guys okay?  Everything good?  Thanks for being on the show again.'  He wouldn't hang out, but he'd come in just for a few minutes.  It was always really respectful.  Very cool.  Thoughtful.  And Dave's not... not... thoughtful.  It's just...he's his own thing.  And I always accepted that.  Plus, we were born on the same day.  We were both born on April 12.  Me, him, and Claire Danes.  I don't know what that means. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  Slice me a piece of cake. (laughs)  Let me ask you about the song, "Everything To Everyone."  I really dig that strange keyboard thing you have going on.

"Everything To Everyone" - Everclear / "So Much For The Afterglow" (1997)

Art Alexakis:  Yeah, well when I was doing my copious notes, I felt that that song needed a kind of droning...a melodic drone to go through the song.  I thought it would be a cool intro, as well, if I could get the sound right.  I tried synthesizers.  I tried guitars.  And then I was playing a Wurlitzer in the studio and I had the engineer run it through a SansAmp, which is kind of a distortion.  A light distortion.  And through a Chorus and an Octaver, which splits it into a high and low.  Then I did it in three different keys.  Complimentary keys.  And I just sat there for three or four hours and recorded this intro until it sounded right.  And I put it on the song.

Casey Chambers:  It's amazing the details that get fleshed out in the making of a song.  Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't ask about your iconic gem, "I Will Buy You A New Life."

Art Alexakis:  Ya know, it's funny.  Right before Christmas, we went into a studio not far from my house in Portland to do some vocals, add some guitars and other things.  Record a couple of covers.  And while I was up there, I had this idea in my head.  I wrote down all the words, picked up a guitar and pretty much finished the song in an hour.  It's a very personal song.

When I got to the studio the next day, we were pretty much wrapping up, I showed it to the guys.  We worked it out for about an hour and then recorded it.  I did the vocal that night, and the next afternoon we were doing backup vocals.

We had already asked Rami Jaffee, (The Wallflowers, The Foo Fighters) to come out to do "Normal Like You." I had wanted a Farfisa kind of sound on it, so he brought his Vox organ with him.  And while Rami was there, he asked if we had anything else for him to do.  I looked at Neal Avron and told him I'd really like to put some organ on this.  He goes, 'Yeah, that'd be awesome!'

So I played the song for Rami and he's like, 'Yeah, I can get a B3 sound out of this.'  We hooked it up to a Leslie and he got that cool sound and put the organ on it. And it sounded great.

But even at this point, even after mixing it, it still didn't have the intro with that bell sound.  And I go, 'It's almost like a toy kind of piano thing I hear in my head, but I can't get it.'  He goes, 'Okay well let's break for lunch.'  And he leaves and he brings back this kid's toy piano.  One of these little Playschool things.  And he puts it through a SansAmp...just a couple effects...and it came out perfect!  Ya know that was exactly what I wanted.  So that's how that came about.  And that was also in my notes I made while I was in New York.  But it was just finding the bell sound.  It just took some screwing around.

"I Will Buy You A New Life" - Everclear / "Woodstock 99"

Casey Chambers:  "So Much For The Afterglow" is such a special album.  There's almost a spiritual connection between the album and Everclear fans.  It means something.

Art Alexakis:  It really does.  I always knew people really connected with that record.  Of course, they did or it wouldn't have sold three million records.  But I didn't know, until I started this tour, what a catharsis this album has been for a lot of people and how personal it was.  It's been very intense.  I'll have grown men, women too, but especially grown men, come in line and they'll tell me stories with tears in their eyes.  They're about to break down.

Apparently, this record made it easier for some people to get through high school, which is really a miserable time for everybody.  If you're having a good time in high school, the rest of your life is probably going to suck. (laughs)  I'm telling my daughter now, 'Have fun.  Concentrate on the fun times.  You're going to feel weird.  People are gonna be weird.  Little things that are really little're going to think are huge at the time.  Just remind yourself.  Your daddy told you it was going to be okay.  It's gonna get better.  I promise.' (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  No doubt. No doubt. (laughs)  Well, I'd like to thank you again, Art, for all the great music you have given us.  And for hanging out with me this morning.  It's been a pleasure.

Art Alexakis:  Well, my pleasure too, Casey.  It's been great.

"I Will Buy You A New Life" - Everclear / "So Much For The Afterglow" (1997)

Good stuff.

Go visit...
The Art Alexakis Show on Sirius Radio

Casey Chambers
Follow Me On FACEBOOK.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Horsehead Five: Another List of Favorite Story Songs

Story songs can be a tough sell.  They're like a juggling elephant.  You believe it when you see it.  Or in this case...hear it.  One too many forced or telegraphed rhymes and the listener will bail.

A story song requires a bit more commitment from the listener.  It has to maintain a comfortable balance of words and melody in the telling...without forfeiting the point of the tale.  Plus, and this is a biggie for me, the song must ring with a modicum of truth.  And I don't mean the song has to be truthful.  It just needs to sound believable.  Sincerity never hurts.  I mean, Jim Stafford's "Wildwood Weed" may not be literal truth, but we believe it.

Finding that sweet spot is tricky.  And can be risky time spent in the studio.  The replay value for a story song decreases much faster.  The majority, but for the treasured ones, is played a few times and then quickly relegated to the blue moon bin.

But when a story song captures the genie, the listener will give it up.  They will tune in, appreciating the effort the singer and songwriter take keeping their balance on the beam.  Because's just hard.

I'm going to skip the giants like "The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald" or "Taxi" or any number of Dylan and Springsteen tunes.  On this mini-trip, I'm just gonna mention a few other songs that scratch my itch.  (part 1)

"The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia" - Vicki Lawrence (1973)

"...little sister don't miss when she aims her gun."

By the time the first five notes reach your ears, the table of tension has been set.  A little southern-noir crime of passion.

"Randall Knife" - Guy Clark / "Better Days" (1983)
"When we got back to the house, they asked me what I wanted.
Not the lawbooks. Not the watch. I need the things he's haunted."

I think our memories are filled up less with grand fireworks and more of the perplexing minutiae of life.

"John Wayne Gacy, Jr." - Sufjan Stevens / Illinois (2005)

"And in my best behavior 
I am really just like him.
Look beneath the floor boards 
for the secrets I have hid."

Sometimes a feather is more frightening than a hammer.
Sufjan's ethereal voice singing about such a dark and sad character creates a conflict of emotions that is truly disturbing.

"The Road Goes On Forever" - Joe Ely / Love and Danger (1993)

"Sonny's playin' 8-ball at the joint where Sherry works
When some drunken outta towner put his hand up Sherry's skirt.
Sonny took his pool cue laid the drunk out on the floor
Stuffed a dollar in her tip jar and walked on out the door."

Joe Ely didn't write this, but I like his version.  By the time Ely finishes the song, you're out of breath with a head-shaking...'ain't that the shit'...feeling.

"Operator" - Jim Croce / You Don't Mess Around With Jim (1972)

"She's living in L.A. with my best old ex-friend Ray.
a guy she said she knew well and sometimes hated."

It's a dark night, but I can see a lonely man in a dimly lit, beat-up phone booth on the corner of Anywhere, USA.
Like Adele, this is Jim’s way of saying, "...don't forget me, I beg."

"The Ballad of Curtis Loew" - Lynyrd Skynyrd / "Second Helping" (1974)

"He used to own an old dobro, used to play it across his knee.  
I'd give old Curt my money, he'd play all day for me."

People often forget how good this song is.  I don't care if it's true or not.  I'm seeing lots of barefeet running up the holler, eyes peeled for tossed-off bottles of orange crush in the weeds.  Play it and sing it like you mean it and they will come.

"Highway 17" - Rodney Crowell / The Houston Kid (2001)

"He made his mistake out on Airline Drive, you know those North Houston cops are quick.
They blew a hole in J.D. the size of Dallas and put a lump on my head with the brunt of a nightstick."

Rodney sells the story to the nines. Sings it like he lived it. I can see, smell, taste and feel everything nasty about these characters. Perfect!

Well, that's it.  On another day, I could easily have listed another batch of favorites.  And I will.

Good stuff.

Casey Chambers

Monday, June 12, 2017

Interview -- Frank Marino (Mahogany Rush)

"From a land where dragons stood,
a young boy dared what no man could."
~ Mahogany Rush ~

At a time when classic rock fans practically pull their hair out waiting to hear something/anything apart from the same overplayed radio songs...I give you Mahogany Rush.  During the '70s, Mahogany Rush, led by Frank Marino... recorded a surprising number of wonderful amp-blowing albums.  Each one filled with jams and burners and crankers begging for a radio spin. Yet his music has been almost virtually ignored.  It is what it is, I guess, but I don't get it.

Frank Marino was only 16 when he recorded his first Mahogany Rush album..."Maxoom" 1972.  He was a hard-blues, psych-rock guitarist with a young man's heart and an old man's soul.  His music immediately awakened similarities to the better parts of Hendrix, while unleashing his own blistering guitar style.  He wailed and burned and cranked and thrashed his way through the '70s and '80s with a boundless speaker-exploding, car-starting energy.  If you missed out on any of these albums the first time around...Go out and get you some.

Frank Marino Interview  --  June 2017
Frank Marino (vocals, guitars) 

Casey Chambers:  I'd like to start off by asking about the song..."Strange Dreams"...the classic opener from your 2nd solo album "Juggernaut." (1982)  It's a little different from most of your earlier stuff.  How did that song emerge?

Frank Marino:  Well, believe it or not, in a dream. (laughs)  I mean it's just one of those things.  But pretty much all the songs come together the same way.  I get an idea...sometimes in my sleep.  And I'll think, 'Hey, that's a pretty cool number,' and get up...put it together and do it.

Most of the tunes are done pretty quickly.  What ends up taking most of the time is getting the lyrics together.  Because I usually complete the songs as instrumentals first.  Then I'll sit there and look at it and say, 'Okay, this is what the melody will be doing.  What exactly do I want it to say and how do I make the words fit?'  It's really not a tricky process.  But that's how it's always worked for almost 50 years.

Casey Chambers:  The song "Strange Dreams" is a great "only-car-on-the-road" night driving song.  It's road crankage, and it also throws a hypnotic zen in the air. Would you take me through a little bit of your studio process?

Frank Marino:  I'm pretty much a stickler when I record tunes, in that, I control much of how they're going to go down.  A lot of guys don't like to do that.  They may say, 'Gee, I've got these chords.  What do you think you should play to it?'  But I will pretty much already have an idea.  I was a drummer, as well as a guitar player, so I always hear songs in their total.

I'll get into the studio and lay down the main structure for it with the guys.  And then I'll sit around and look at what techniques I can use to get the song to go in the direction I want it to go.  I build electronic gear, too, so I'm either going to use a certain type of gear that I've built or maybe a certain type of distortion or pedal.

In the case of "Strange Dreams," quite honestly, it's one of the few tracks that I did where I used keyboards.  Ya know, I thought...Moog synthesizer would sound really cool playing the bassline.  And because I had the Moog out, I thought, 'Well, why don't I develop a spacey kind of keyboard line that goes with it?'  I did that by overdubbing a couple of notes with the Moog.  It's really a process of listening to the song as you're recording and letting the song suggest what you need to do next.

Musicians will understand this, because many times they'll be in the studio recording and they'll turn around and go, 'Hey, why don't we put a tambourine or a cowbell on this?'  And that's sort of how a song speaks to musicians.  While they're recording them.  That's the symbiosis that happens between the artist and their work.  I think you have to let the song speak to you and tell you what you should be doing.

Casey Chambers:  And it was great hearing the song get some radio love.

"Strange Dreams"  - Frank Marino / "Juggernaut" (1982)

Frank Marino:  Actually, it was a #1! (laughs)  It was a #1 hit for awhile.  Yeah, it was the only time I ever had that kind of success with a song.

Casey Chambers:  You had already built up a fine catalog of wall-shaking Mahogany Rush albums by that point.  With plenty of good songs to taste.  Any idea that "Strange Dreams" was going to be the one?

Frank Marino:  Absolutely not.  And I'll tell you why.  Because if you notice...anyone who really knows all the work I've done, will say, 'Isn't it funny that he's known as being a guitar player, and yet there's really no guitar solo in that song?'  It's the only song I've ever recorded that does not have a guitar solo in it. (laughs)  But it's the one song that really, really reached radio...and they played it a lot!  'Cause radio ordinarily wouldn't play my stuff.

Casey Chambers:  I know!  It's a guitar-shred conspiracy! (laughs)

Frank Marino:  It's unbelievable!  There's not a single other tune anywhere where there's not a guitar solo.  A long solo or even a short solo.  And "Strange Dreams" just has none.  I mean zero solo.  So, I thought...'That's amazing.  I leave out the one thing that I've always done and that's how I get the hit record.' (laughs)  But yeah, it was totally a surprise.  Totally a surprise.

Casey Chambers:  And that song was the lead-off track.  How difficult is it deciding what the opening track is going to be on an album?

Frank Marino:  Well, I have a method that I've always used.  Now, remember CDs are different because they're not two sided.  But with albums, you have two beginnings and two endings.  So I needed to find two opening tracks and two ending tracks.  And that's basically the system that I would use.

I would first take a look at all the tunes.  And just by feel...I would get the number down to two or three.  And then I'd think about which ones would make you want to play the record over again.  And those will be the ending tracks.  So, out of the 9, 10, twelve tracks I've done for an album, I've pretty much grouped certain ones to be possible candidates to open and to close the album.  And by the way, some of those candidates could be both.

"Juggernaut" / Frank Marino (1982)

Once I've done that, they're like bookends and I can eliminate those from the pile.  Then the next thing I would do is look at the songs as a musician.  I would think, 'Well...if that song is in the key of G, or the key of let's say E, I don't want that second song to be in the key of E.'  So that limits me as to what I can use to follow that tune.  And I work through the songs that way.

I work backwards from the end making sure the keys don't match up.  And I work forwards from the beginning making sure they don't match up.  And I basically juggle things around until I get something that flows really nice.  That's sort of the method that I've used as a producer of the albums that I did.  Whether I was producing my own albums or others.

Casey Chambers:  I'd never thought about the energy involved in getting the sequencing just right, but I absolutely get it.  And appreciate it when it's done right.

Frank Marino:  Yeah, because you've got to understand that when you're listening to a record, you want every song to make you want to hear the next one, right?  And one thing you don't want to do is have too many songs in a row that are either the same rhythm...or the same key.  And because you have that limitation, it actually helps you structure the album in a way that works out well.  It's the very limitations you have that helps you.

And what I would do, and a lot of guys can try this, I'd literally take a bunch of business cards.  You know, typical business cards.  And I'd turn the cards over to the blank side and write the name of a track in the middle of each card.  On the left side, I'd write the key it starts in.  And on the right side, I'd write the key that it ends in...'cause sometimes songs change key in the middle.   And then at the bottom, I'd write a little comment.  A little two-word, is it a slow ballad?  Is it hard rock?

Now, all these cards can be laid out on the table and you can put asterisks on the ones that could be openers.  You put double asterisks on the ones that could be closers.  You can flip the cards around on the table and start putting this in the middle of that.  Move this over to here.  'Uh-oh, I have two Gs in a row.  I'm gonna have to move this one over to here.'  Sort of like a puzzle.  And you start to see the layout and can do it pretty fast that way.  For producers who are out there doing records for people, that's a very helpful procedure.

"Child of the Novelty" / Mahogany Rush (1974)

Casey Chambers:  What a great share. Thank you.  In 1974, your band...Mahogany Rush...released their second album...."Child Of The Novelty."  This was my introduction to your music and the album will always hold a special place.  And the title track is an especially moving piece.  It follows your classic stormbringer "Talkin' 'Bout A Feelin" and knocks me out every time.

Frank Marino:  Well, look, I don't know if you know much about my history, but when I started doing music early, early on, I was very much associated with Jimi Hendrix.  He had just recently died and I was doing that kind of music.  I was pretty much one of the only people doing that kind of music.  And from a fan's point of view it worked out great.  But I was like anathema to the press.  They really hated me.  People in the industry...all they did was say, 'What a clone. What a copy.  What a this or what a that.'  It was very, very hard on me.

"Talkin' 'Bout A Feelin'" / Mahogany Rush (1974)

I was only 16 when I did my first album ("Maxoom" - 1972) and this stuff was constantly following me around.  So when I did my second album, I was becoming a little tongue in cheek about it all.  There's songs on "Child Of The Novelty" and even on "Strange Universe" (1975) that refers to this ridiculous media thing that was going on around me at the time and "Child Of The Novelty" is kind of that.  It's kind of talking about myself.

And how the press were all talking...not the public, mind you...about what a real "novelty" this kid was.  That this kid was doing this, ya know?  And "He took them by surprise."  That's what the line is.  That's really what it's about.  And there are other songs too, like..."Makin' My Wave" and "Talkin' 'Bout A Feelin."  Those are all really tongue in cheek "digs" if you want to put it that the writers at the time who were saying all these things like, 'He's the reincarnation of Jimi Hendrix.  He saw spirits.'  And all kinds of nonsense that I had nothing to do with...and that they invented to sell papers.

If you listen to some of the lyrics on those very, very early tunes I did, what you heard is a 16 or 17-year-old kid just basically trying to find a way to tell these people to leave him alone.  When I was 19 or 20, it didn't bother me anymore.  But just imagine when you were 16.  If you tried to do something that you were having fun with and everyone was calling you names. (laughs)  It would just kind of make you mad.  So those songs were my only way to sort of talk back at what they were doing at the time.  That's what you have there.

"Child of the Novelty" / Mahogany Rush (1974)

Casey Chambers:  With the number of music sources today, it would've been much harder to gang up. I mean, what did you have back then...Rolling Stone and Creem...and that's about it, right?

Frank Marino:  Well, when I did my very, very first album, I wrote a song called, "Buddy" which was about Hendrix 'cause he had just died.  And I literally said, 'Dedicated to Jimi Hendrix' on the album.  That was, in hindsight, a terrible mistake because that gave them fodder to use. And they piled on.

I remember one article in Creem or Circus magazine and the headline was..."The Band The Critics Love To Hate."  That was actually the headline. (laughs)  And that followed me for all of the '70s.  When I did "Roadhouse Blues"...a cover of a Doors tune in the late '70s, the headline was, "Frank Marino Robs Fresh Graves."

Casey Chambers:  That's just brutal!

Frank Marino:  Plus, I was a religious kid which didn't help.  I didn't do drugs anymore.  And I didn't drink.  And I didn't go to parties.  I didn't do all that stuff that was expected of rock and roll stars in the '70s.  So, here was this sort of John-Boy Walton playing psychedelic guitar and talking about Jesus.  That didn't endear me to some of the media. (laughs)  I've made my career mostly by going directly to fans and playing live.  We played a lot of schools, a lot of colleges and whatever we could.  A lot of outdoor shows.  And that's how we developed our following.

Casey Chambers:  I'm glad you continue to embrace your influences. Your name often comes up when discussing rock's underrated guitarists.  Who were a few guitarists you got in to growing up and who were some you felt were underrated?

"Strange Universe" / Mahogany Rush (1975)

Frank Marino:  When I was growing up, I liked a lot of guitar players.  But I didn't like them just because they were guitar players, I liked their music.  I liked Quicksilver (Messenger Service) which had John Cipollina.  I liked the music of Santana.  I liked Hendrix.  I liked Johnny Winter.  I liked Duane Allman.  But it's not like I liked them and went, 'Wow!  They're great guitar players!'  I just liked that music.  Later on though, when I became a guitar player myself, it was, in fact, their music I first tried playing.

In the rock and roll world, no one was really going crazy over guitarists until much, much later in the '70s when they started to have magazines like Guitar Player and Guitar World.  Then you started seeing what technical guitar players were doing.

But if you look at those magazines, you'll notice that they pretty much focus on the same six or eight guys.  And over and over again, they talk about these same people.  I think to answer your question, it's really everybody else they didn't focus on who were underrated. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  Truth! (laughs) Lastly, I'd like to ask about playing California Jam II in '78.

Frank Marino:  I always tell people that it was one of the worst experiences of my life. (laughs)  Not because of the gig.  The gig was great...when I finally got to play at 1:00 in the morning.  It was really great.  But the time I spent from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m...look, I'm very much a holdover from the Woodstock generation.  I like music to be music.  Backstage at Cal Jam, the whole day was all about lights, camera, action!  It became more about what the lights look like.  Or what the personalities look like.  Or what wild clothes everyone was going to wear.  It was almost like a TV show or something, ya know?  And I thought we'd lost something.  It didn't feel like rock and roll.  So I didn't really like it.  But, once I got on stage... man, I was home.  Then it was okay.

I used to look at the crowds screaming and cheering for things and thinking sometimes they can't even hear the music...but they're screaming and cheering.  It's almost like a form of cheap psychiatry or something.  Pay your eight bucks and go stand on a chair and scream your head off.  Like going to the train yards and screaming at the trains.

Casey Chambers:  Concert psychiatry ain't cheap anymore! (laughs)

Cal Jam II  / "Purple Haze" - Mahogany Rush (1978)

Frank Marino:  (laughs)  Like, wow, man!  I waited a long, long time.  I thought Cal Jam would be like Woodstock and it was anything but Woodstock.  You know in "The Wizard Of Oz" when they say, "this isn't Kansas?"  Like, all of a sudden things have changed?  That's sort of the feeling I had.  And as the '70s slowly wore on, I was becoming less and less enamoured with being in the music business. And consequently, in 1982 or '83...I just walked away from major labels and said I'm never going to do this again.  And I never did. (laughs)

But man, I enjoyed watching most all of the acts. In fact, I've always watched the other acts at every show I've ever played.  And I loved seeing Santana.  And Dave Mason.  I liked a lot of the acts.  Don't get me wrong. They were fine.  I'm just saying, the way the whole thing was being promoted...the Entertainment Tonight there and stuff like that.  All of a sudden, the '70s were morphing into this thing that was almost anything, but the music.

One of the things that used to make my managers very mad...and I first saw it happening with the record company people and the management people.   When I wasn't headlining, I would finish my act and then go out into the crowd to watch the other bands.  And people inside the industry and even from other bands were telling me, ''You shouldn't do that.  Don't do that.  People will think you're just like them.  And they won't look up to you.'  And I'm like...'Okay.  So what?  I am just like them.'  It didn't make any sense to me.

"Maxoom" / Mahogany Rush (1972 - debut album)

Because look, let's face it.  Getting in a limousine and getting out of a're not curing cancer.  We're just musicians playing music and making people have fun.  No need to take ourselves too seriously.  And I don't.  And I never did.  I always did everything exactly the way I wanted. It's almost like a Grateful Dead thing with us.  We have these fans who have been with us since the beginning.  We've grown old together.  And their kids are liking us now.  So, it doesn't have to be big.  It just has to be real.

Casey Chambers:  Well Frank, thank you for taking the time to hang with me today.  I think I'll grab one of your CDs and go for a drive.

Frank Marino:  Well listen, it was my pleasure.

Go visit...
Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush Website

Good stuff.

Casey Chambers

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Interview - Don Dannemann (The Cyrkle)

"It's a
turn-down day ...and I dig it."
~ The Cyrkle ~

For a few brief and wonderful moments in time, the 60's group...The Cyrkle, led by Don Dannemann...held the transient talisman of rock-n-roll.

They were good musicians with good voices playing weekends hard wherever they could....and by twists and turns of that talisman...landed beneath the wings of manager...Brian Epstein.  Yeah, that guy!

Mr. Lennon himself offered them the band moniker ...The Cyrkle (with a y)...if they cared for it.  And if that wasn't enough, they opened every show on The Beatles last American tour.  Along the way, the Cyrkle found time to make two albums.  Three if you count the excellent lost gem soundtrack for "The Minx."  And at least two songs which will forever remain radio-staples.  Get you some.

Don Dannemann Interview - May 2017
Don Dannemann (vocals, guitar)

Casey Chambers:  It was 1966 and The Cyrkle decide to join the party by releasing their first single..."Red Rubber Ball."  A song penned by Paul Simon, but you guys absolutely owned it. How did that song get into your hands, anyway?

Don Dannemann:  That song was discovered by Tommy Dawes. (guitar, bass, vocals)  He was friendly with a guy named Barry Kornfeld, who I think might have had a publishing company with Paul Simon or some kind of relationship.  And he heard this guitar-voice demo of Paul doing "Red Rubber Ball" and brought it in for us to kick around because we were looking for stuff to record.

To be honest with you, my first feeling's no great shakes. (laughs)  But everybody else seemed to think, 'yeah there's something here.  Let's try it.'  So we did.  And the song became a big hit for us. It's really funny, but I never thought much about it at the time.

But I will tell you the moment when it really did hit me. There was this little record company that got the license from Columbia.  Ya know, one that deals with oldies stuff.  Sundazed is what it's called.  They were re-releasing The Cyrkle stuff.  I'm guessing maybe in the mid-'80s when this occurred.  And at that was on cassettes.  They sent me what they were putting out and they wanted comments from Tommy and I and our drummer, Marty Fried.

Now understand, after the band broke up (late 1967) I got involved in advertising and had a nice career doing commercials and things.  I had a production company.  So I had really left that part behind.

Anyway, I was on a plane and had nothing to do, so I pulled out my Walkman and listened to the cassette. When "Red Rubber Ball" came soon as I heard the first two seconds, it was like...''Wow!  There's magic in that.  That really was a special hit.'  I had just never thought about it like that.

"Red Rubber Ball" - The Cyrkle / "Red Rubber Ball" (1966)

Then I listened to the rest of it.  "Turn-Down Day" came on and I could hear the magic in that song, too!  And as I listened to the chronological order of our songs, you could hear how we got better.  We were learning better recording techniques.  Our musicianship got better.  And the songs were really good.  But there wasn't any magic.  Not like with "Red Rubber Ball" and "Turn-Down Day."

My conclusion can take the best producers, the best musicians, the best writers, and the best artists and bring them all together and you might make a good record.  But you can't guarantee the magic. It may or may not happen.

But it did happen for us with "Red Rubber Ball" and "Turn-Down Day."  So there, that's what I think about it.  (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  After shaking the jukebox with that monster, did Paul Simon try pitching other songs to you guys?

Don Dannemann:  Let me tell you this story. (laughs) We were going into the studio. And this was after "Red Rubber Ball." And Simon & Garfunkel were just walking out.  So we overlapped a little bit.  And of course, we knew each other from "Red Rubber Ball."  And we played them what we were working on.  I don't remember which one it was.  But everybody went, 'Oh okay!  Yeah, that's nice.'

Anyway, Paul came up to us and said, 'Hey, one of the songs on this album we're working on ("Parsley, Sage, Rosemary And Thyme") I think is perfect for you guys. The album won't come out for awhile.  So if you want to record it immediately and put it out, it'll be like...your song.  It's perfect for you.'

So we all listened to it and we're like, 'Wow, that's great.'  And for some reason, we chose not to do it at that time. We just sort of let it go.

And I'm guessing it was maybe five or six months later, we heard it by Harpers Bizarre.  It was, "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)."  It would have been perfect for us and we didn't do it. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  Oh man, ain't that the way it goes. And you guys would've killed it.

Don Dannemann:  But we did end up doing another Paul Simon song...wait...I'm trying to recollect this.  (singing)  "Lookin' from my window / at the freshly fallen snow / that sparkles as it tumbles / upon the street below / and the crackle of the fire / is laughing in my ear..."  "I Wish You Could Be Here" is what it was called.

Casey Chambers:  Sure, I just heard that one the other day.  That's some of the groovy stuff.  Very nice.  And that was on your 2nd album..."Neon." (1967)  I'll add a YT for readers to check it out.

"I Wish You Could Be Here" - The Cyrkle / "Neon" (1967)

Casey Chambers:  Earlier, you mentioned the song, "Turn-Down Day." That's a wonderful, strange phrase. It means everything and nothing.  And it's perfect.  I hear that song and I totally get it.  And there's a strange chord or two thrown in that really gives it a nice trippy vibe.

Don Dannemann:  We were constantly previewing demos in those days.  I don't remember the details of how we decided to record it, but one thing I do remember about "Turn-Down Day"...and I really get a kick out of was written by Jerry Keller and a jazz pianist named David Blume.

Now Jerry Keller had a 1950s hit called, "Here Comes Summer."  And it goes sort of like... (singing) "Here comes summer / school is out oh happy day /  here comes summer / gonna grab my girl and run away."  But he just had that one hit.  And so one might think that he went into obscurity.  But he didn't go into obscurity.  What he went into was...commercials.

Jerry became the premier male soloist for commercials in the 1970s.  I was aware of this because I had a commercial production company and we were recording commercials.  That was what I did as an adult after the group broke up.   And every other commercial was Jerry Keller and he made...a lot, a lot, a lot...of money because he was getting residuals.  They paid big bucks in those days.  Bigger than what they pay now, I think.  So yeah, he had a really successful commercial career.

Casey Chambers:  You and him both.  Very cool.  Did you enjoy making the TV rounds on shows like Hollywood Palace and Hullabaloo?

Don Dannemann:  Oh yeah, it was a thrill.  We really liked doing those.  We performed "Turn-Down Day" on an episode of The Hollywood Palace.

One of the things we used to do really well in our 'in person stuff' was doing Beatles and Beach Boys and Four Seasons.  Like, ya know, imitating them.  We did a really good job of sounding like them.  And when we went on Hollywood Palace they wanted us to put together a medley and we rejected doing that.  We just didn't think it would translate very well doing it live on a TV set.  And so we all agreed to do our second hit..."Turn-Down Day."

"Turn-Down Day" - The Cyrkle / "Red Rubber Ball" (1966)

We recently did a promo where they begin using footage of "Turn-Down Day" when we were on Hollywood Palace 50 years ago.  You see Mike Losekamp playing the piano.  You see me.  You see Tommy Dawes off on the side.  And then they segued into a live concert that we recently did beginning with a close-up of me as I am now.  And then...there we are.  Pat McLaughlin, who's kind of the go-getter guy of the band now, booked a small theatre, hired a professional video crew and sound guy...and I thought it was really a magic piece of video.  It worked really well.  And if you go on...'s there. You can see it.

Casey Chambers:  How did The Cyrkle get signed?

Don Dannemann:  Well, before we became The Cyrkle, we were known as The Rhondells at Lafayette College. And the last summer when we were basically going to break up and go our separate ways...right at the end of the summer, Nat Weiss, a matrimonial lawyer and friend of Brian Epstein, walked in and heard us and liked us.

And he introduced himself and told us he and Brian were going to be partners in a management company in the United States to manage bands.  And he told us to get in touch with him and maybe we could get something going. And, basically, that's how we got signed.

Casey Chambers:  When did you actually meet Brian Epstein?

(L-R) John Simon, Marty Fried, Don Dannemann, Tom Dawes, Nat Weiss and Brian Epstein

Don Dannemann:  I was working for my dad in a sheet metal manufacturing company and Tom and Marty and I were still playing on weekends at Lafayette.  And Nat told me to go to a party that somebody he knew was having on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.  So I went and when Nat saw me he says, 'C'mon, I'll introduce you to Brian.'

He took me back downstairs, and there was a limo outside.  He opens the limo door and there's Brian sitting right there.  And he introduced me.  I still remember this like it's a video...ya know...this one moment.  He says, 'Brian Epstein, I'd like you to meet Don Dannemann.  One of the finest musicians I know.'  Now I know I'm not one of the finest musicians. (laughs)  I'm okay.  I know my level of musicianship.  But that's how he introduced me.  So anyway, I shook his hand and said, 'Well Brian, it's lovely to meet you.'  And there were a few little exchanges back and forth.  And then Nat kind of motioned for me to get out of the car.  And then the limo took off and I stood there on the street with a buddy of mine that I had brought with me.  Sort of with my mouth open as the limo went off down the street.  And that's how I met Brian.

Casey Chambers:  Just like that!  What an incredible and important moment. That's awesome.

Don Dannemann:  Oh yeah.  So obviously I called the guys and said, 'Hey, I just met Brian Epstein.  Let's try to do something to get him to sign us.'  And basically, that was the beginning.

Casey Chambers:  And you guys wound up doing a few shows with another band Brian Epstein managed.

Don Dannemann:  Yeah, we played at every venue on the Beatles tour in the summer of 1966.  But here's one thing that I really get a kick out of.  It's not a story of what happened on the tour.  It's a story about what happened before it.

Casey Chambers:  Okay, lay it on me.

Don Dannemann:  I was in the Coast Guard Reserve and I was serving my six months of active duty.  During that time period, and this was after boot camp, I was based on Staten Island.  And I would take the ferry at night when we (The Cyrkle) would be recording.  And I was able to get off a lot of weekends when we were actually playing. But The Beatles tour was coming up and I was going to have to miss it because I had this six months of active duty and it wasn't going to end until too late.  And they were thinking of replacing me for the tour.  But out of the blue, the United States government, realising my dilemma, decided to change the six month active duty requirement to five months.  And I got out in time to do the tour.  And that was just amazing to me.

Casey Chambers:  Things like that only happen in the movies, right?

Don Dannemann:  Oh yeah!  Yeah, that was awesome. It was just an amazing little piece of luck. (laughs)  They changed six months to five months.

Casey Chambers:  These have been wonderful stories, Don.  Thank you for the good music and for taking the time to speak with me.  Much appreciated.

Don Dannemann:  Lovely to talk to you.  Thank you for your interest in The Cyrkle.

Go visit...
The Cyrkle Official Website

Good stuff.

Casey Chambers

Monday, April 3, 2017

Interview: -- Felix Cavaliere (The Rascals)

" and me
endlessly groovin'"
~The Rascals ~

In the '60s, The Rascals, led by Felix Cavaliere, filled our airwaves with a unique blend of joyful rock and blue-eyed soulness.  They could play with a garage grit that could make your fingernails dirty and back sweaty.  And then just as quickly, refresh your mind and body like a naked run through a warm spring rain.  The Rascals were different, in the fact that they could sell it from both sides of the street.

From the raucous "Good Lovin'" to the introspective "How Can I Be Sure," the band was a perfect radio companion.

And also along the way, Felix Cavaliere tapped into that elusive, mysterious, rarely-found, cosmic songwriter's well...and gave us "A Beautiful Morning" and "Groovin'"...two of the most timeless, calming, feel-good songs ever.  Just try to stay mad!

And though The Rascals have been recognized by their peers for their contributions to rock-n-roll...and rightfully so...their music may still be undervalued.  Go get you some.

Felix Cavaliere Interview  -  April  2017
Felix Cavaliere (vocals, keyboards)

Casey Chambers:  Let's begin with one of your signature songs..."A Beautiful Morning." Talk about timeless.  How did that song come to life?

Felix Cavaliere:  At that time, we were really flying high on the charts. We had number one records.  And at that particular time, we were out on the island of Waiehu.  I was madly, madly in love.  I had met this woman who was the inspiration for almost every one of those love songs.  And here we were in Hawaii finding ourselves as big as The Beatles and I said, 'Let me write something that reflects this feeling so that other people can kinda feel like this whenever they hear it.'  And that's what came out.

Casey Chambers:  When The Rascals hit the studio in 1968 to record, "A Beautiful Morning" ...were you already toying with the idea of adding wind chimes?

Felix Cavaliere:  Well yeah, I basically had that idea. At that time, The Beatles had a song called, "Yellow Submarine" and it had bells and underwater sounds.  They were creating an environment for their songs to fit into.  I said, 'What a great idea, man.  Create an environment.'  So obviously, our song was a morning kinda situation.  The Beatles were just phenomenal writers and they started so many different things.

"A Beautiful Morning" - The Rascals / "Time Peace" (1968)

Casey Chambers:  "A Beautiful Morning" peaked at #3 while "Mrs. Robinson" was riding the coattails of "The Graduate" at #1.  Did you ever happen to cross paths with those..."old friends?"

Felix Cavaliere:  Oh sure.  Many times. And when I'm traveling, I still run into Paul a lot in New York City because he goes to one of the restaurants I really enjoy.  As for Art, I see him once in awhile.  He lives at the place I stay at when I'm in New York.

And whether a song reaches #1, 2, 3, whatever... you really can't just go by the number. There are so many outside influences that can affect a record's status.  For example, having a song tied into a movie is obviously going to get a hell of a lot of attention.  And there's a lot of politics involved. There's a lot of marketing involved.  There's a lot of good luck involved.  But, I believe that the longevity of a song, how often you still hear it, is important as well.  "A Beautiful Morning" has survived the test of time for over 50 years now and that has its own value, I think.

Casey Chambers:  Absolutely.  That's a very good point. Now The Rascals first big hit was a cover of "Good Lovin'" by The Olympics.  How did you get turned on to that burner?

Felix Cavaliere:  You're going way back, now.  In the very beginning, we were working in nightclubs.  And clubs, at that time, demanded that you do covers.  Covers meant you didn't write it.  You may not have recorded it. But someone did and it was on the radio.

Well, that could be very difficult, especially if you didn't really like what was on your radio.  You had to kind of explore other avenues.  Fortunately, we had a number of R&B stations in the New York area.  And a lot of the songs that were on those stations were really great but had never crossed over to the pop charts.  They were either too ethnic or too whatever you want to call it.

So what I would do, I would go and listen and listen and if I heard something that really rang my bell, I'd take it back to the band and we'd try it out.  And the beauty of that is when you have a live audience, you get immediate reaction to...well...they like it or they hate it.  And with that song, people got up and danced as soon as we started playing it the first night.  So we knew we had something here, ya know what I'm saying?

"Good Lovin'" - The Young Rascals / The Young Rascals (1966)

Casey Chambers:  Yeah, instant feedback.

Felix Cavaliere:  Absolutely.  And vice versa.

Casey Chambers:  Was "Good Lovin" the song that got The Rascals their record deal with Atlantic?

Felix Cavaliere:  I don't know that it was any particular song.  What was happening, was that we were the house band at this place in Long Island called The Barge.  And The Barge was in The Hamptons which, as you well know, is still one of the major, major kind of highlights of everybody in New York who can afford it.  I have to put that little bit of note in there because the Hamptons is just an expensive place to be.

Casey Chambers:  I know The Hamptons from my George Costanza Seinfeld binges.

Felix Cavaliere: (laughs) And so anyway, we went out there, I believe, in the summer of '65.  And we created quite a stir because, well frankly, because we were really a good band.  We had four members, at least three of which had been leaders of their own bands.  So it was kind of like...headliner, headliner, headliner, headliner.  You know what I'm saying?  And Atlantic heard about us along with a lot of other record companies.  And they sent people out to hear us.

Casey Chambers:  Exciting life-changing times for The Rascals.

Felix Cavaliere:  It was extremely exciting and especially with the fact that we had only been a group since February and it was now July.  So that's pretty darn good.  I'm really proud of that.

Casey Chambers:  Hard to believe, but we're coming upon the 50th anniversary of The Rascals' 3rd album... "Groovin'." (1967)  I'm kind of jealous I wasn't around to experience this music first hand.

Felix Cavaliere:  I think one of the things about the '60s that I really enjoyed, and still do enjoy, is the link that we have with each other.  We didn't have internet or Facebook...but we did have a tremendous amount of communication through the music.

All of us were linked to each other by what we heard on the radio.  And we kind of grew up together.  We fell in love together.  We got divorced together.  We got into drugs together.  We got into trouble together.  Everyone felt a  connection.  And I'm happy to say that it was because of the music.

And when I do a concert today, those are the people, young and old, that come and tune back into that frequency.  And man, they all understand what I'm saying because that's the beauty of it.

Casey Chambers:  When The Rascals began incorporating some psyche into their music, was Atlantic supportive of that musical shift?  Did they encourage that?

Felix Cavaliere:  Ya know, we had a phenomenal record deal in that we had complete control.  One of the reasons that we went with Atlantic is because I demanded that we produce ourselves.  I was very, very, very adamant about that.  And the good fortune was, that while they contractually gave us complete control, they also gave us two geniuses to work with in the studio.  And those people were Tom Dowd and Arif Mardin.  And when I use the word geniuses, I don't use that loosely.

When we started making records, and they started becoming hits, the record company eased off for the most part.  It was kind of like...'if it ain't broke, don't fix it.'  So they really didn't have much to say about what went on unless they did it through Arif and Tom...who were Atlantic employees, no doubt about it.  But we never had much static.  The only static we had from the so-called hierarchy was when we decided on a single.  At certain times, they disagreed with our choice.

Casey Chambers:  I recall reading that Atlantic was wanting to sandbag the song..."Groovin" at first.  And that song, of course, went on to become a number one record for you guys.

"Groovin'" - The Young Rascals / "Groovin'" (1967)

Felix Cavaliere:  It's really interesting because no one really knows the answer to...what's a hit and what's not a hit?  I guess a record company tries to use as many formulas as they can to market a group.  But this was all new territory for Atlantic.  We were the first white group on Atlantic Records.  Their experience was mostly with R&B artists and jazz artists.  So it was a new world for them.  And it's like anything else.  Look, their judgment was good.  Their judgment was bad.

As for "Groovin," what they were really concerned with was the fact that there was no drum on it.  It was done in a Latin vein which is conga. And I knew because I lived in New York, that the Latin influence in New York City was immense.  And look at it now.  It's even more huge.   They just weren't tuned into that as much as I was.

Casey Chambers:  Didn't Murray The K fight like a cat to get that song played?

Felix Cavaliere:  He certainly did.  He certainly did.  He happened to be in the studio and he literally took it upon himself to go into Atlantic and speak to Jerry Wexler.  And he said, 'Look, man, not only is this a hit, but I'll play it now!' (laughs)  He was a great guy, man.  We used to go to football games together.  Miss him.  And in those days, there was a little bit of freedom of movement with these disc jockeys in that they had a lot of say about what was played on the air.

Those days are long gone I'm sorry to say.  Now it's all corporate.  It comes from headquarters. And then you play it. That didn't really start until Zeppelin came along. That and Woodstock of course.  And then the Wall Street people started taking a little bit more notice.

But prior to that, we were little cottage industries as far as everybody else was concerned.  And the disc jockeys had a lot of power.  Cousin Brucie.  And of course, Murray the K.  The Good Guys at WMCA.  People like that all around the United States.  They could actually choose a song that they liked and play it.  But those days are over.  Gone.  That's the way it is, man.  Corporate.

Casey Chambers:  This is kind of a fun fact...Jimi Hendrix warmed up for The Rascals at a show in Central Park one time.

Felix Cavaliere:  I knew Jimi from America prior to him going over to England and becoming "discovered" so to speak.  He had been a sideman for some really great groups.  Like The Isley Brothers.  I believe he was also part of Joey Dee And The Starlighters at one time, which I was as well.  So he had gone to England and literally had been discovered.

So anyway, he had procured a record deal and had just come back from England.  And that show with The Rascals was one of the first concerts that he did.  And I believe he opened up for The Monkees, too, if I'm not mistaken.  But we were one of the first.

Casey Chambers:  In 1997, The Rascals were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

Felix Cavaliere:  Oh sure.  Yeah, it was a great night for us.  Being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a wonderful thing.  I certainly would not belittle it in any way, but as with most awards, it's pretty political.  We really needed a lot of help getting in there.  I mean, there are great people that I know who are not in and they're kind of like...they just don't know what to do about it.

Eddie Money, for example, and this is funny.  He calls me up and says, 'Felix, you gotta get me into the Hall Of Fame.  My kids don't think I mean anything.'  I tell him, 'I really have nothing to do with that.  I vote.  We vote.  But we don't nominate.'  He says, 'Sometimes I feel like the Pete Rose of rock and roll.' (laughs)  But there's a lot of people not in.  Chubby Checker's not in there.  A lot of people have had problems.  I mean, there's just so many talented and interesting people that should be in there.

The induction that really stands out for me is the Songwriters Hall Of Fame.  I just adored that.  That really meant a lot.  It's not as well known...but I mean, the people who are in the Songwriters Hall Of Fame are really the best.  You find people from all generations.  All the way back to Johnny Mercer.  Phenomenal talents.  Hal David, rest his soul.  Burt Bacharach and Hal David.  Gamble and Huff. Of course, McCartney and Lennon.  They're the cream of the crop.  And it's an honor just to be mentioned in that category.  It really is.

Casey Chambers:  It had to have been especially a see your original compositions begin paying off.  Your classic..."(I've Been) Lonely Too Long" began a string of fan favorites.

"(I've Been) Lonely Too Long" - The Young Rascals / "Collections" (1967)

Felix Cavaliere:  That was a huge, huge thing for me, yes.  Basically, when you put out a record like "Good Lovin," and it hits number's very difficult to re-achieve that.  And with everyone else, all our peers from England, doing their own music, ya know, we really wanted to do that too.

However, it's much easier said than done.  And let me tell you, I think "Lonely Too Long" was our third try.  And when that song took off and charted, it really made a huge difference in our career.  Because if we hadn't of scored pretty soon, I got a feeling the label would have stepped in and said, 'we gotta get outside people to write.'  So that was huge.

Casey Chambers:  Yeah, it was a great way of telling the label...'Hey, smell it!  The Rascals got this."

Felix Cavaliere:  (laughs) Yeah ya know, as I say I'm proud of that because the competition was really very high level.  You basically had to reach that level to survive.  And we did.  The nice thing is that a lot of that music is still around.

Casey Chambers: "Lonely Too Long" was also featured in an episode of "The Sopranos." ("Down Neck"-S1:E7)  It was the scene where Tony's having flashbacks and The Rascals appear on the TV set performing on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Felix Cavaliere:  Well, you know our link to "The Sopranos", don't you?  I don't know if you're aware of what that is, but when we did get into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, we were inducted by Steve Van Zandt.   His induction speech got him his part in "The Sopranos."

Casey Chambers:  I'd never heard that!

Felix Cavaliere:  If you look at it, it was brilliant.  And as a result, he got a phone call out of the blue from David Chase, the fella who created The Sopranos.  And Steve was asked to audition.  That's how he got it.  So we have a direct link to "The Sopranos" from day one.  It's an amazing little bit of trivia.  But it's true.

Casey Chambers:  "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in."  Like they say, every performance is an audition.

Felix Cavaliere:  There is nothing more true than that, Casey.  You never know who's out there watching.  And Steve was also very instrumental in helping us get into the Hall of Fame.  He was, and probably still is, on the nominating board.  He and Phil Spector and a lot of other people really came to bat for us.  Getting nominated is the hardest part.  Getting voted in, well, that's also not so easy.  But first, you have to be nominated.  Otherwise, you can't get in.

Casey Chambers:  Sounds like a whole lot of chutes and ladders.

Felix Cavaliere:  (laughs) Well, like everything else, it's not as easy as it looks.

Casey Chambers:  Well, I've only scratched the surface of your career, but as a longtime fan, I'm very happy The Rascals are in. They certainly deserve to be.   Come out and do a show for us sometime!

Felix Cavaliere:  That's very nice of you.  March Madness.  Wichita State.  Yeah, we've worked out there.  I hope to get the chance to come out again.

Casey Chambers:  Mr. Cavaliere, thank you very much for hanging out with me today.

Felix Cavaliere:  Alright, my friend.  Thank you, Casey.

The Rascals Hall of Fame Induction (1997)

Felix Cavaliere Website                                                                
Good stuff.

Casey Chambers
Follow Me On  FACEBOOK