Thursday, April 19, 2018

Horse Head Vinyl...Dig and Spin: "The Snake" - Harvey Mandel (1972)

"The Snake" Harvey Mandel (1972)
blues rock, jazz blues, psych blues
5th album. Gatefold.
On Janus Records (brown, orange)
9 tracks

Horse Head Vinyl..."Dig and Spin" (#3)

I didn't dislike this record.  The music is good.  Mostly instrumental jazzy-blues rock.  Songs segue nicely from one to the next.  And there's a light dusting of psych-blues (if that's a thing)  Very light...and appreciated when you hear it.  But it's an album, when, after you play it that first time, you realize that nothing really stood out.
Don't misunderstand.  It's not boring.  But it took a few spins before the music started to speak to me.  A grower!

"The Snake" - Harvey Mandel (back cover)

Janus Records label

I wasn't familiar with Harvey Mandel when I picked this record up.
But I discovered that this guitarist has a pretty solid smack of cred.
Two things immediately made me smile upon learning more about Mandel.

1) He performed with Canned Heat at Woodstock. And later made three albums with them.
2) During the brief period that Mick Taylor left the Stones and Ron Wood was handed the crown,
Mandel was asked to audition and went on to record two tracks..."Hot Stuff" and "Memory Motel"... for their 1976  "Black and Blue" album.

He didn't get the job, (for whatever reason) but sure left a nice calling card.  That's just cool beans!

"The Snake" - Harvey Mandel (inside gatefold)

For Cherry-Pickers:
"Uno Ino"...should have been the opening track.  Cool vocals, Hip lyrics. In and out before you know it.
"Levitation"...has a bit of flute trippage...and I'm a sucker for bandcamp.  The guitar comes in later to talk to it.  Lost gem.
"Pegasus"...Mandel's guitar is easy to warm up to on this groovy and catchy little journey.  Dig it.

(btw...the album design was courtesy of "sassy" Phil Hartmann. (sp)
And I don't know for sure, but I think the back cover might have better served the front.
The portrait of Harvey Mandel sporting a "lego" haircut is just...weird.

A1.  "The Divining Rod" - 3:04
A2.  "Pegasus" - 3:30
A3.  "Lynda Love" - 2:45
A4.  "Peruvian Flake" - 3:31
A5.  "The Snake" - 3:15
B1.  "Uno Ino" - 2:34
B2.  "Ode to the Owl" - 2:42
B3.  "Levitation" - 5:14
B4.  "Bite the Electric Eel" - 4:15

"Uno Ino" - Harvey Mandel / "The Snake" (1972)


  • Harvey Mandel - lead guitar, vocals 
  • Victor Conte - bass
  • Randy Resnik - rhythm guitar
  • Paul Lagos - drums
  • Don "Sugarcane Harris - strings
  • Others...
Good stuff.

Casey Chambers

Friday, April 13, 2018

Horse Head Reads...Dig and Flip - "Preacher Volume 1: Gone to Texas"

Graphic Novel Find
"Preacher Vol. 1: Gone to Texas"

(Last fall, I stumbled upon a good sized box filled with a variety of graphic novels at an estate sale. No official count yet, as I'm just pulling from the box when I find time to read one.  Afterward, I'll post the book and go from there.)

"Preacher Vol. 1: Gone to Texas"
Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon
1996 by Vertigo
199 pages
(includes issues 1-7 of the original series)

No Spoilers:
"Preacher" is a violent tale that's both original and quirky.
And looks as good as it reads.
Apparently, there was a taboo romp in heaven between an angel and a demon that spawned a rogue angel.  An angel that's...a little bit country, a little bit rock-n-roll.  So to speak.

The angel goes rogue and escapes to Earth and into the body of a young Texas preacher named Jesse.
Meanwhile, archangels in heaven send the "Saint of Killers" to find him and bring him back...or worse.
And off you go.

"Preacher" (inside)

There are a handful of delicious side characters that further the story along, as well.
The artwork throughout is really good.  A few panels are extremely clever!
Suffice to say, the words and drawings are a nice fit.
This graphic novel is volume one in a nine-part series and a dang good springboard.

"Rock ' N ' Roll Preacher" - Slade / "Till Deaf Do Us Part" (1981)

Good stuff.

Casey Chambers

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Interview -- Royston Langdon (Spacehog, LEEDS)

"I'm tired
of being someone 
that I never knew." 
~ Royston Langdon ~

Lost in the shuffle of beaucoup bands that seemed to drop out of the sky in the ‘90s, Spacehog was one of my go-to's.  Spacehog, as I can best describe them, were the best parts of hard glam-pop rock. A refreshing offering of cut loose, infectious tunes. Frontman Royston Langdon's vocals had the qualities of Ziggy-era Bowie and "Preservation" Ray Davies.  He was both hard and fragile.  And the music filled a rock-and-roll sweet-spot while trying to walk the tightropes of high school.

So it's exciting news learning that Royston Langdon is set to release a solo album of new songs.  It's been  20+ years since “Resident Alien” hit our speakers.  He thankfully has survived all the parties and the shim-sham.  He's a grown-up now.  Not a given for anybody these days. And better still, while he was working it out, Royston Langdon gave us the opportunity to grow up a little bit ourselves.
Go get you some.

Royston Langdon Interview -- April 2018
Royston Langdon

Casey Chambers:  I'm really excited to learn you have a new album dropping very soon. A solo album called "Everything's Dandy."  And you're releasing it under the moniker...LEEDS...which is a fistbump to where you grew up in the U.K. This is great news.

Royston Langdon:  Oh, cool. Thanks.  Yeah,  I'm really excited, too.

Casey Chambers:  So, how did this project take flight?

Royston Langdon:  I started working consciously on bringing a record to life about two years ago...Christmastime...when I found myself alone in New York over the holidays.  And I was a little lonely and a little, y'know...there was not much going on for me at that time.  So I thought I'd put my energies into writing some music.  While everybody's on holiday, I'll kinda keep working.

And that's what I did.  Every day.  I just kept trying to add new music and little ideas started forming.  And slowly, I thought,  'Ah, there's something here.'  And it kind of took a course.  I wanted to try to represent my experience in New York.  Through changes.  Through loss.  Through growth.  And put it to music.  So yeah, it started about two years ago.

Casey Chambers:  The album, "Everything's Dandy" sounds very personal.  Very open shirt.  It aches, but not without redemption.  The song..."Someone" especially to that point.  You wrote the line..."I'm tired of being someone that I never knew." That really resonates.  Good stuff.

Royston Langdon:  Oh wow, thanks. Yeah, I think it's one of those universal things.  But for me it was just...'let's get honest and stop bullshitting.'  I think when you get a little bit start to realize there's no real point in keeping up a facade for anybody else.  'Cause you'll be a long time dead in the ground.  And it's not to be morbid or anything...but a call to action.  It's really quite hopeful.  I mean, we all aspire to be the highest form of ourselves, I think.  That's all I'm trying to say.

"Someone" - LEEDS / "Everything's Dandy" (2018)

Casey Chambers:  You also had an opportunity to work with Black Crowes guitarist, Rich Robinson on the song..."Your Day Will Come."  How did your paths cross?

Royston Langdon:  I think we actually met in New York around the time that they brought out their "Lions" record. (2001)  It was at one of those New York City release party kind of things.  Movers and shakers.  Mick Jagger.  Others were there.  Spacehog and The Black Crowes ended up going on tour together, along with those guys from Oasis.  It was called The Brotherly Love Tour.

Rich and I became quite friendly, actually.  Strangely. (laughs)  We shared some common traits.  And after the tour, we kept our friendship going.  At the time, he was living in Greenwich, Connecticut and I would go out there and spend time at his house and we'd just work on music.  We worked on quite a lot of music then.

He showed me a lot about Southern Rock.  Southern American Rock.  And not just rock, but country.  How some of those open tunings happen.  I mean, he helped me invaluably.  I'd never experienced that before, being from England.  I just found it fascinating.  So he definitely shaped the sound of that song into something that was totally different for me.  There's another song on the record called, "You Can't Go Home Again"...and the open tuning thing he was teaching me definitely had an effect on that song, too.  It's basically like the Keith Richards tuning.  An open G is what it is for any guitar people out there. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  Yeah, it gives that song an oddly cool vibe, doesn't it?  I dug it.  Did your parents have a record collection when you were growing up?  Were you exposed to a variety of music?

Royston Langdon:  Yeah, man.  My parent's collection was very different.  My dad's collection was a bit older, I suppose.  He was born in the war...the second World War.  It was more American rock and roll.  Bill Haley and the Comets and all that.  I remember finding 78s of his.  He
had quite a good record collection actually.  A lot of that stuff.  Buddy Holly.  Not so much Elvis, but prior to that.  American '50s rock and roll predominately.  My mom was a bit more like your archetypal Beatles.  And I remember my mum had Abba.  That was something that came up.  I remember listening and seeing Abba's album... "Arrival"...and that cover having quite an effect on me.  You know what I mean?  That one where they show up in the helicopter?

Casey Chambers:  Sure, that was the one that had their monster hit, "Dancing Queen" on it, right?

Royston Langdon:  Yeah, and I thought it was a cool album cover.  Abba was pretty big at that time, I guess.  And then..."Dark Side Of The Moon" and that kind of stuff.  But I wouldn't say my parents were avid music listeners.  I think music was a big part of their lives, but they were working class people.  They certainly weren't hippies or anything.

Casey Chambers:  When did music start to become important to you?

Royston Langdon:  I don't know really.  I started off at a choir school when I was super young.  About seven, I started to learn music.  Some of that choral music was inspirational.  It was incredibly powerful.  But by the time I was 12, I'd seen Queen.  Queen was the first concert I ever saw and that had a big effect on me, for sure.

They played in Birmingham in the U.K. at the NEC Arena.  I was 12.  It was 1984.  It was one of those life-changing moments.  Freddie, and then Brian doing his guitar solos...and all the lights.  I remember I was standing on a chair and somebody behind me telling me to get off, 'cause I was blocking the view. (laughs)  It was all very exciting and a little bit dangerous somehow.  I can't quite explain.  I had never experienced anything like that.

Casey Chambers:  Not too shab for a "first" concert.

Royston Langdon:  Yeah.  So that kind of got me moving away from the choral shit into...'man, I wanna be like Freddie and those guys.' (laughs)  Pretty soon afterward, I went from studying piano to teaching myself how to play the electric guitar.  So, at the age of 12, 13...I was, 'Okay, this is my identity.'

Casey Chambers:  I'm a big fan of your work with Spacehog.  I was onboard from the debut..."Resident Alien" (1995) and the two albums that followed.  And I remember your breakout song, "In The Meantime" just exploding.  Hitting that sweet spot.

"In The Meantime" - Spacehog / "Resident Alien" (Late Show w/David Letterman 1996)

Royston Langdon:  Oh man, yeah, it was a gift.  I can't remember quite specifically.  It was twenty odd years ago now. (laughs)  But it was obviously a life-changing experience.  Hearing your song on the radio for the first time, it's a pivotal moment, I think, for any songwriter.  And it was for me. It's crazy when you recognize a piece of your work having such a profound effect on other people.  I'm very grateful for that time.

Casey Chambers:  It had to have been a buzzsaw promoting "Resident Alien" when it took off like it did.  I remember how excited I was watching Spacehog perform on Letterman for the first time.  Did that period wear your ass out?  What were those times like for you?


Royston Langdon:  Oh man, I really can't remember honestly.  You could show me the footage of it, and I wouldn't recognize myself.  I was a very young, frightened, egomaniac...feeling insecure.  I was a mass of contradictions.

I can't imagine now.  Well, I can imagine.  I have to imagine.  That's all I can do.  I can't put myself in those shoes now.  I have a lot of compassion for that person then.  I don't think he was very easy...given where I was from.  I was from a very parochial, provincial place North of England, y'know?  And within a year and a half of being in New York...I was starting to get a lot of notoriety.  And it's really hard to know what to do with that...when you really have very few life skills generally.  I mean, I didn't have to take care of myself then and I was struggling, I think, to keep up.

I think my talent and my success at writing what turned out to be a pivotal song...or some kind of song that connected...was beyond my abilities to manage the responsibility that came with it at that time.  I can only speak at it from a lateral position as to where I am now.  I can't possibly...other than to feel compassion and empathy for that person...I just can't put myself in those shoes again.  Do you know what I mean?  It was too long ago.

Casey Chambers:  The different faces that we've been.  Who was that guy?  I think I get it. There's a song you wrote with your brother, Antony Langdon..."What Became Of The People"...on your new album that reflects back on some of the past.  Could you talk a bit about that song?

Spotify - "What Became Of The People" - LEEDS / "Everything's Dandy" (2018)

Royston Langdon:  Being brothers, Antony and I have shared these common experiences throughout our lives. That's the beauty of having siblings.  Different people, and yet we have this common thread which is our lives.  There was a television show when we were growing up in England called, "The Likely Lads." (laughs)  And we basically lifted the idea.  It was referential.  It wasn't like we copied the song, it was just our way of looking at our nostalgia.  It's a beautiful thing to be able to say, 'Hey, we went through that.  We went through this.  I can't believe this happened.'  I do feel very fortunate to have him and my other brother Chris to refer to through these trials that we've been through.  And I think the song came out of that idea really.

Casey Chambers:  It's a great song. Very Kinkish. Pulls ya right in.  And your solo Leeds album, "Everything's Dandy"...when is it expected to drop?

Royston Langdon:  Yeah, May 4th.  May the 4th be with you. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  Ludicrous speed! (laughs)  Are you planning to tour the album for a few shows?

Royston Langdon:  I've got a show coming up in Long Island this weekend, but I'd love to do some touring. My throat's a bit fucked from this fucking cough right now, the bastard...but hopefully, that will come about. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  Better get some tea in ya...and fast.

Royston Langdon:  I am, man.  Right now.  I'm having the Chaga Tea.

Casey Chambers:  I'm having a spot of Reverie Coffee myself.  I'll drink to your health if you'll drink to mine. (laughs)  Thank you for all the good music.  And thanks again for hangin' out with me this morning.

Royston Langdon:  It's my pleasure, Casey.  Thank you.  Take it easy.  Peace and love.

Royston Langdon Official Website
Royston Langdon Facebook

Good stuff.

Casey Chambers

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Horse Head Vinyl...Dig and Spin - "Getting To This" Blodwyn Pig (1970)

"Getting To This"  -  Blodwyn Pig (1970)
Brit blues rock, a bit of prog/jog 
2nd (and final) album 
Gatefold w/tracks, credits, board game
A&M Records-Chrysalis (gold) 
9 tracks

Horse Head Vinyl..."Dig and Spin" (#2)

Blodwyn Pig was formed by Mick Abrahams (guitarist, vocals) after doing a sudden 23-skidoo from Jethro Tull after Tull's debut album, "This Was." (1968)

I found this Blodwyn Pig album loitering in the "P" section, misfiled or misplaced by somebody.  It was an album I'd had on my want list for some time...but for whatever reason...was never quite ready to pull the trigger.  Either something else would catch my eye or the green paper in my pocket was being shy.'s mine now.

"Getting To This" - Blodwyn Pig (back cover)

"Getting To This" is an okay album. Nothing will blow you away, but it does have its moments.  This was Brit blues rock, for sure...but there were flashes of prog and tangents of jazz that I had not expected.

There lies the small rub. The album was enjoyable, if a little helter-skelter.  And it benefits from repeat listens.  Once I went through the deck a few times, my mind found its happy place and relaxed.  In other words, it's a grower.
A&M Records / Chrysalis

The gatefold is bright and fun, too.
It has a strange boardgame inside with vintage b/w photos of naked ladies in the middle. (I'm guessing from the '20s.)
No instructions, however, you are required to "throw up" before you can start the game.
There is also a dot-to-dot of an obvious pig and a box maze to entertain the messed-up mind.

"Getting To This" - Blodwyn Pig 
(inside gatefold)
For Cherry-pickers:
"Meanie Mornay"...Rocks balls with tasty bottleneck thrown in. (added to U.S. copy)
"Variations on Nainos"... might be a thumb-nose to ex-band mate Ian Anderson. With the flute work and "time will tell" refrain...who the flip knows. Doesn't matter. It's fantastic.
"Toys"...a sweet look-back on childhood siblings. Acoustic little gem...and I dug it.
"San Francisco Sketches" the 8 min. prog jazz snowball.

This was my first taste of Blodwyn Pig.  Glad I picked it up.  I'm still waiting to find their '69 debut, "Ahead Rings Out" which many fans consider to be the stronger album.

A1.  "Drive Me" – 3:19
A2.  "Variations on Nainos" – 3:47
A3.  "Meanie Mornay" – 4:45
A4.  "Long Bomb Blues" – 1:07
A5.  "The Squirreling Must Go On" – 4:22
B1:  "San Francisco Sketches" – 8:11
B2.  "Worry" – 3:43
B3.  "Toys" – 3:03
B4.  "Send Your Son to Die" – 4:25

"Variations on Nainos" - Blodwyn Pig / "Getting To This" (1970)

  • Mick Abrahams – guitar, vocals, seven-string guitar, tenor guitar
  • Jack Lancaster – flute, violin, electric violin, tenor sax, baritone sax, soprano sax, phoon horn, cornet
  • Andy Pyle – electric bass, six-string bass
  • Ron Berg – drums, tympani
  • Graham Waller – piano ("Drive Me", "Beach Scape")

Good stuff.


Sunday, March 11, 2018

Horse Head Vinyl...Dig and Spin - "Shamal" Gong (1975)

"Shamal"  -  Gong (1975)
prog jazz, prog rock, fusion
6th album.
Virgin Records
6 tracks. 

Horse Head Vinyl..."Dig and Spin" (#1)

Co-founder and gnome-king Daevid Allen had flown the coop at this point...and he took his trippy, space-psych with him.

On Gong's sixth album..."Shamal"...the band flies into a more proggier jazz direction.  This time, the music is being guided, in no small part, by percussionist Pierre Moerlen.

And here's a scary word for you.  "Fusion."
Fusion is a musical fence that's very hard to walk without losing your balance.
Sure, it looks easy.  Starting out.  But it's extremely hard to stay up and your friends will get bored watching, if not careful.

"Shamal"  -  Gong (back cover)

Fortunately, Gong succeeds on this offering.
There's lots of nice flute, vibraphone, xylophone. Quite a bit of tasty percussive tinkerings. An occasional sax.
And just a wee bit of guitar. So little, in fact, the instrument really stands out when it joins the fray. I wish there had been more.

Virgin Records (colored twins w/serpent)

It's doubtful you will ever hear any of this album on "The Psychedelic Experience." Not like their earlier stuff.
But this is pretty good...for what it is.
Knowing that going in and you stumble upon this cheap. Pick it up.

For Cherry-pickers:
"Chandra"...Lots of things going on. Very Zappa-esque.
"Bambooji"...flavors of the Orient abound before a welcome (if short) Steve Hillage guitar break midway. Fantastic tone.  Sadly, he only appears on 2 tracks.
"Mandrake"...this one spoke to me. Felt like I took a complete journey in 5 minutes.

I picked up this album simply because it was Gong.
And I didn't own any.
This wasn't exactly what I was expecting.
But get what you need.

A1.  "Wingful of Eyes"  -- 6:20
A2.  "Chandra"  -- 7:18
A3.  "Bombooji"  -- 5:13
B1.  "Cat in Clark's Shoes"  -- 7:43
B2.  "Mandrake"  -- 5:04
B3.  "Shamal"  -- 9:00

"Bambooji" - Gong / "Shamal" (1975)


  • Mike Howlett – bass guitar, vocals
  • Didier Malherbe – tenor sax, soprano sax, flute, bansuri, gongs
  • Mireille Bauer – marimba, glockenspiel, xylophone, percussion, gongs
  • Pierre Moerlen – drums, vibraphone, tubular bells
  • Patrice Lemoine – organ, piano, synthesizer


  • Steve Hillage – guitars ("Bambooji" & "Wingful of Eyes")
  • Miquette Giraudy – vocals ("Bambooji")
  • Jorge Pinchevsky – violin
  • Sandy Colley – vocals ("Shamal")
Good stuff.

Casey Chambers

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Interview -- Joe Vitale (Classic Rock Drummer, Musician, Singer-songwriter)

"We played every
nook and cranny
in America."
~ Joe Vitale ~

I've been a fan of drummer/songwriter, Joe Vitale, since his...“Rocky Mountain Way”...Barnstorm days.  Co-writing the classic song with his longtime friend and bandmate, Joe Walsh...”RMW” has made summer day road trips better for everyone since 1973.

Joe Vitale has also provided drums and other skills for dozens of other artists.  Sessioning on their albums and working on their tours. Along the way, Joe Vitale has recorded 3 albums of his own and has no shortage of music friends ready to lend a hand.

After almost 50 years in the business, it gives me no small measure of joy and comfort...knowing that at any rock and roll moment...Joe Vitale might still grab a piece of seat and begin wailing the loving bejesus out of his drums.  Go get you some.

Joe Vitale Interview -- Feb. 2018
Joe Vitale

Casey Chambers:  I'd like to begin by asking you about the song..."Lady On The Rock" from your album  "Plantation Harbor." (1981)  I heard that song the other evening on KSHE radio and was reminded what a great song that is.  How did that tune come together?

Joe Vitale:  Oh, I was in New York City.  And for the first time, I decided to go see the Statue Of Liberty.  And at that time, there had just been all kinds of terrible junk going on in the world.  It was a sad time. But then...there was the Statue of Liberty.  Right there.  If you've ever been, it's a pretty awesome sight.  And it just made me appreciate being in America.

And we got quite a bit of airplay with it.  We even got some play at the Olympics.  Both "Lady On The Rock" and another song called, "I'm Flyin'" off the same album.  They used that for some downhill skiing in must have been the '84 Olympics.

Casey Chambers:  That'd make you spit your coffee.  How very cool!

Joe Vitale:  Yeah, it was awesome.

Casey Chambers:  Now about the ending of that song with the telephone operator...

Joe Vitale:  Well, that was a real phone call.  I was calling Joe Walsh.  Actually, it was Joe's idea.  He says, 'Call me up and I'll refuse the charges.'  We just did goofy things like that.  But that's very typical of Joe. And the operator wasn't very happy with us. (laughs)  Just silly stuff.

"Lady On The Rock"  -  Joe Vitale / "Plantation Harbor" (1981)

Casey Chambers:  For over 40 years, you've been rockin' the drums and it's a lot of fun for fans to cherry-pick.  So I'd like to do just that.  You were the drummer on the song ..."In The City." A song Joe Walsh had written for the cult film, "The Warriors." What do you recall about that session?

Joe Vitale:  Well, I got a call from Joe, and he said we're going to go to a studio to record a song for some movie.   I didn't know what the movie was or anything.  And when we got to the studio, there were Hollywood people everywhere.  Hollywood producers and movie people.  It wasn't like a normal rock and roll session.

Joe wrote this song for it called, "In The City."  Really killer song.  We watched some of the footage from the movie...which turned out to be "The Warriors(1979) ... and we cut that tune.  And at the end of the day, I was like, 'Wow! That was pretty cool.'  He just called and said we're gonna do a song for some movie.  So I was just thinking it was maybe going to be an instrumental or something like that.  But it was a full blown song.

I didn't really know where the song was gonna be used.  I was watching the movie, and it was nearing the end and we still hadn't heard the song.  I was like, 'What happened to our song?' (laughs)  Then all of a sudden, there it was.  Playing over the end credits.  It was really exciting.  It sounded really good with the big audio systems they have in the theaters.

"In The City" - Joe Walsh / "The Warriors" (1979)

Casey Chambers:  It does. It really does! You were also the drummer on the Stills-Young album..."Long May You Run." (1976)

Joe Vitale:  Right.  That was an exciting time.  It was supposed to be Crosby Stills Nash & Young.  I've made records with Crosby Stills Nash & Young.  But David Crosby and Graham Nash had just recorded a duet album.  And they actually were literally out of songs.  They had put all of the songs they had written toward this duet album.  They still showed up at the studio.  The four guys talked about it.  And they said, 'Man, we don't have any more songs.  We're not ready.  We need to wait for awhile so we can write some songs for this.'  Neil Young said, 'Nope.  We're gonna do it.  Let's do a Stills-Young album.'

And just like that, there was a duo that had never happened.  Stills and Young.  They were together in Buffalo Springfield, but...  And that record..."Long May You Run"...was so fun to make.  Neil Young is awesome to work with.  That record was great to work on.  It was so laid back and fun and we were in Miami.  And a lot of Neil's songs were about Miami.  Like a sunny, tropical zone.  The album did quite well.  It went Gold.  And we got, "Long May You Run" out of it.  We did pretty good on it.

"Long May You Run"  -  Stills-Young Band / "Long May You Run" (1976)

Casey Chambers:  In the 70s, you were a member of the band...Barnstorm.  And you co-wrote one of the signature rock songs of that era...."Rocky Mountain Way."

Joe Vitale:  Yes, I did.

Casey Chambers:  What was the genesis for that song?  It's so much fun to crank.

Joe Vitale:  Well, let's go back a little bit.  Joe Walsh loved Duane Allman.  He was just an amazing slide guitar player and was Joe's idol.  And when Duane died in '71, Joe said, 'I'm gonna pick up the reins for Duane and I'm gonna learn how to play slide guitar.'

So long story short.  He did learn and he got quite good, quite quick.  He was really good.  So when we were doing our second album..."The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get" (1973)...we all decided that we needed one more song.  So Joe came to me and said, 'We need to write something so I can show off my new slide talents.'  (laughs)  And what better could purpose that, than a slow blues in E, ya know? (laughs)

So we wrote a slow shuffle blues in E, and we wrote the song and recorded it in record time.  Like, the same day.  We almost finished it in one day.  It's just funny how things happen.  It wasn't that it was a throwaway.  It was a serious song, but we just did it really quick and Joe played great.  We had so much fun with it.  And it turned out to be his flagship song. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  Hell yeah!  What was touring like for you guys during those Barnstorm days?

Joe Vitale:  Oh, those were the days.  In those days, jeez, we did about 250 shows a year.  That's unheard of now.  We'd leave home and we'd be gone for eight months.  GONE!  I mean, never going back home.  We would play a city and then 60 miles away, we'd play another city.  And another 60 miles away, we'd play another city.  We played every nook and cranny in America.

We did that for three or four years.  We played every place that had rock and roll.  And back then, in the '70s especially, there were a lot of rock and roll clubs.  We didn't just only play big arenas and places like that.  There were all these cool clubs where the people could get right up next to you by the stage.  They were smaller and more intimate.  We liked playing those places, 'cause we were real close to the audience.  They were like two feet in front of us.  And they'd behave themselves, even if they were drinking. (laughs) They didn't rush the stage or anything.  That's silly.  But they'd have a good time.  It's just fun to play when you can actually see the people.

Casey Chambers:  Who was warming up for you guys while on the road?  Or vice versa?

"Rocky Mountain Way" - Barnstorm / "The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get" (1973)

Joe Vitale:  We toured a lot with REO Speedwagon.  We toured a lot with Jimmy Buffett.  We toured a lot with The J. Geils Band.  And believe it or not, The Eagles opened for us.  Sometimes we remind them of that, but they don't like it. (laughs)  But they did open a few shows for us.  They were just getting started.  We were too, but we happened to be gathering a few more fans at the time as far as just...the timing of it all goes.  Obviously, they went on to become mega-stars.

But there were tons of bands we played with because back then, you'd pay three or four bucks for a ticket, and you could see three bands.  We played with Kiss.  Oh man, you name them, we played with them.  We did shows with The Who.  We opened for them of course.  But we played for everybody.  We even played at the same show as The Stones.  Back then, there were smaller places where we headlined, and then we played bigger places where we opened for a much bigger group.  But we played nonstop.  All year round, we would work.  And that was good because we were having fun, we made a few bucks, and we were gathering fans.  And that's what it's all about.

Casey Chambers:  How important was FM radio in the early '70s for Barnstorm?

Joe Vitale:  Well, FM radio was it all.  There were still AM stations back then that were playing rock and roll.  They would play singles and stuff.  But FM radio...we depended on them to play the rest of the album.  Of course, they'd play the singles too, but also some of the obscure, cool little tracks on different bands' albums.  Ones you'd never hear on AM.  And FM...sometimes they dedicated whole evenings to...'We're going to play the entire new Eric Clapton album.'  It was like...awesome!  You could hear the whole album.  So yeah, we really depended on FM radio.

Everything's totally different now.  I'm not crazy about the way it is, but you just deal with it.  Ya got Sirius Radio and classic rock radio, but it's not the same.  There's a lot of classic rock artists...I mean, put Paul McCartney in that category...all of these people make records and sometimes you hardly get to hear them.  So they make their records and they make their CDs and downloads and whatever they sell at gigs and shows, but I can radio NOT want to play a new McCartney record?  I mean, c'mon! (laughs)  So, it's different, but we're surviving.  We can deal with the whole new technology and we sell a ton of CDs at shows, but it's a little different.

I really miss the record stores, though.  Not that everything has to be on vinyl, but I miss stores where what they sold in the entire store...was music.  I remember how fun it when a new Zeppelin album would come out.  And we'd be in a line that would go halfway around the block to get into the record store.  And that's all gone and it's sad because that was exciting, ya know?  Times have changed.

Casey Chambers:  You mentioned The Eagles earlier.  The last time I flew down to Dallas-Fort Worth, I heard "Pretty Maids All In A Row" piping through the airport.  What a wonderful song.  You helped write that song.  Could you talk a little bit about that one?

Joe Vitale:  Well, they were making "Hotel California," and Joe Walsh was writing this song.  And he didn't quite have a title for it yet   He had a couple verses of  lyrics and he had verse music.  He had a beautiful start.  And Joe called and asked if I'd help him finish writing this song.  We wrote all kinds of stuff together.

So I went over to his house.  I heard what he had and I sat down at his piano and I threw a few things at him.  We were there for two or three hours, until we finally arrived at it.  I wrote the chorus and added changes in the chorus.  And then he added the words.  And in a matter of two or three hours, we finished it.  And it became a beautiful song.  We were so proud of it.  Don Henley and Glenn Frey...they totally loved the song.  And it went on "Hotel California."  And that was an honor because they were screening songs very carefully for that album.  I'm sure there was probably 50 songs written for that album and they screened them all and they narrowed it down to however many songs they were going to put on it.  To have made the cut and get a song on that record was a pretty awesome honor.  That was cool.

"Pretty Maids All In A Row" - The Eagles / "Hotel California" (1976)

Casey Chambers:  And I believe "Pretty Maids..." was also tagged as the B-side for the 45 of "Hotel California."  That's a nice ride.

Joe Vitale:  Well, that blew my mind.  Ya know...B sides...they weren't that important, but ya didn't just throw anything on there.  Especially a group like The Eagles.  They wouldn't throw just anything on a B side because first of all, everything they cut was awesome.  They didn't make any bad recordings.  They were all great.  To get that on the B side of their biggest hit....I think their biggest hit of all time...was quite amazing.  It blew me away.  I remember the phone call.  Joe said, 'I've got a surprise for ya. I'm not gonna tell ya.  I'm just gonna mail your surprise to you.' (laughs)  I went, 'Okay.'  And knowing Joe Walsh, you never knew what that meant.  (laughs)  But he had sent me a 45.  I looked at it.  And I was...'Oh, "Hotel California."'  And I didn't think anything.  And then I turned it over, and there's "Pretty Maids All In A Row."  I couldn't believe it.

Casey Chambers:  I want to jump back to your "Plantation Harbor" album.  The song, "Sailor Man" is such a feel-good track.  And the brass really works on that song.

Joe Vitale:  Yeah, that's the Chicago guys.

Casey Chambers:  Did you know those guys pretty well?

Joe Vitale:  Yes, I did.   The reason I got to know those guys is because of Don Felder.  Don and Jimmy Pankow were neighbors.  Jimmy Pankow is the trombone player and leader of the horn section in Chicago.  And we were at Don's studio once working on Don's record and I met Jimmy.  Such a great band, Chicago.  I got a lot of respect for that band.

And Bill Szymczyk, our producer, said, 'Ya know what this song ("Sailor Man") needs?  We should put some horns on this.'  Because I had been using horns that were synthesized on the demo.  And Bill said, 'That's nice.  But if we're going to do this, we're going to use real horns.  Of course we are.  Let's get the Chicago guys.'  And I go, 'Oh wow, I've met that guy.'  He said, 'Yeah, let's try to  find him.'  I didn't even know if Jimmy'd  remember me, but he told Bill, 'Yeah we'll come down and play on Joe's record.'

"Sailor Man" - Joe Vitale / "Plantation Harbor" (1981)

And they were fabulous to work with.  They were in and out of there in like...twenty minutes.  They were perfect.  They played so good.  Timothy B. Schmit sang on that album and on that song actually, I think.  He sang on a couple of others, too.  We had Stephen Stills and Graham Nash there.  Anyway, that was exciting.  We recorded the L.A. version of all that stuff when we did the overdubs.  We recorded it at Graham Nash's studio.  Years later, Crosby, Stills & Nash and Chicago went and did an entire year's tour together.

Casey Chambers:  You mentioned you were a Chicago fan.  I am, too.  What are a couple of their songs that you really dig?

Joe Vitale:  Oh man, jeez.  I love their version of "I'm A Man."  Because of the drums and percussion break in it.  I've always loved that.  I love the Peter Cetera ballads.  They're beautiful.  But I loved..."Beginnings."  Love that song.  They had such an...almost Latin flavor to their jazz.  So for a drummer like myself to hear the drums and the percussion be that dominant in a song was really exciting.  I became really good friends with Danny Seraphine, their original drummer.  And I knew Tris Imboden, their other drummer...for years.

Casey Chambers:  Who are some of your favorite drummers?

Joe Vitale:  Some of my favorite drummers.  Ringo Starr. Keith Moon. John Bonham.  Let's see.  Vinnie Colaiuta.  Jeez, it goes on and on.  Let me think.  I love Jimi Hendrix, so I love Mitch Mitchell.  And who else?  Jimmy Gordon.  But my favorite, favorite, favorite drummer is Ringo because he technically didn't do anything that was flashy or anything, but that stuff gets real boring.  Ringo played songs on the drums.  That's what I loved about him.

Casey Chambers:  I see you have a book out called "Backstage Pass." Great name, by the way!  Is this about the rock and roll world you've been swimming in for most of your life?

Joe and Susie Vitale

Joe Vitale:  It's about my life and career, but it's also about my involvement with all the groups and people that I've worked with and recorded with.  And toured with.  All the hilarious stuff that went on backstage.  In the studio.  On the road.  On the tour bus.  On airplanes.  You name it.  It's about everybody I've ever worked with.  There's no dirt.  Just good times and a lot of funny stories. Plus there's tons of pictures. 750 pictures.

Casey Chambers:  I'm all about that!  That's gonna hit the sweet spot.  Music fans are gonna love it.

Joe Vitale:  Fans and any band will love it.  I did a movie with Meryl Streep in 2015 called "Ricki And The Flash"...and before we did the movie, she wanted a copy of that book.  
She was playing a rocker and she had never done that kind of role. A rock and roll chick.  Which is what she called herself.  'I'm a rock and roll chick.' (laughs)  I think Meryl just wanted to read about...'Oh okay, this is what happens when that happens. And that is what you do, when this happens.'  Just to prepare for it.  I would do the same thing if I was playing the role of a doctor or a priest or something. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  And in a movie with Meryl Streep, too!  Note to self:  Learn to play the drums. (laughs)  Joe, this has been terrific.  Very special to get to talk with you today.  I really appreciate it.

Joe Vitale:  I appreciate the interview.  It was very good, man. 

Casey Chambers

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Interview -- Larry Hankin (Actor, Director, Writer)

"...I wanted to be in on all that goodness going on too."
~ Larry Hankin ~

I like character actors.  I always have.  The ones that make you point your finger at the screen like Spicoli, and say, "I know that dude!"  They are the actors that make TV shows and movies better simply by being in them.  The ones you might not necessarily know by name, but you never forget their face. 

Larry Hankin is one of those actors who steal the screen.  And when I see him in a show, I stick around awhile.  Whether playing Old Joe, the junkyard magnet lender in "Breaking Bad" or Mr. Heckles, the downstairs neighbor in "Friends" or a host of other "there he is" appearances.  Larry makes the most with the face time he gets.

And I'm aware he's not just a one-trick pony.  He's also a comedian, a writer and a director with an Oscar nomination checked off his bucket-list.  Larry Hankin is like one of those fine spices that chefs reach for to make their dishes extra-special.  Go out and get you some.

Larry Hankin Interview  --  DEC. 2017
Larry Hankin

Casey Chambers:  Some might not realize that you wrote, directed, and starred in the film short..."Solly's Diner." (1980)  And received an Academy Award Nomination for your effort.  Could we talk a little bit about the film?

Larry Hankin:  At that time I had just moved to L.A. and I was living in a seedy part of Hollywood near Western and Hollywood Blvd.  It was a lot of hookers and stuff.  And there was this diner and a guy named Solly ran it.  Every time I went in the place, I was the only customer there.  And because of the slow business, he wanted to keep me as one of his regular customers. (laughs)  He would always give me more food than what I saw him give others.  He would just pile it on.  And I thought that was really cool because I was broke.  I was starving.  So  obviously I kept going there.

The actual instigation of me doing this film...I got a call from an actress friend (Anna Mathias) who said her husband was wanting to move up to cinematographer.    Harry Mathias was working big time movies as a camera operator and needed something on a reel with his name as cinematographer.  And she asked me if I would write something for her husband.  A movie.  I could direct it.  I could be in it.  And Harry'd be the cinematographer.  That was the start of it.  I've always wanted to do movies.  To make them.  A film short.  It was something I really wanted to do.  So I took the money and thought about "Solly's Diner."

That wasn't actually the name of the place, but that's what I called it.  And since there was hardly anybody in the place...ever...I was betting I could rent it real cheap to shoot a movie for a day or two. (laughs)  So I approached him about it and I was right.  He gave me the place for three days at, I think, $300 a day. Which is pretty cheap, if you're making a movie.

He tried to negotiate with me.  He said, 'Well, ya know, they're shooting a movie on this block on the same week that you're gonna shoot and I've been approached by several movie companies for $1,000 a day to shoot in my place here.' (laughs)  Now, I had never really negotiated any kind of deal on my own.  But I was starving and I didn't have an agent then, so I told him, 'No.  I only have this much.'  And I got the place.

So I wrote about this little restaurant.  It was 20 pages.  A minute a page for filming.  And 20 minutes...I didn't know how much that'd be.  I had no idea about costs.  I think I had about $10,000 leftover for this film, 'cause the rest of the money I used to pay off debts.

I shot the thing in three days.  At night.  It was always at night.  So instead of losing the light, we were always gaining the light.  The dawn would come up right through the front window of this restaurant.  We couldn't afford any huge blankets to cover up the front window, so we were stuck.  We started shooting late at night and had to finish by 4:30 or 5:00.

On the last day of the shoot, the sun was starting to come up and we had three shots to get.  We were just totally rushed.  When we saw the rushes of that final day, the camera was out of line.  They had changed lenses and it was not screwed in properly.  So it was all blurred. (laughs)  It was the final shot...which is actually the opening pan shot around the counter.  We had to go back for one more day of shooting.  And now Solly knew he had us.  'Ahhh!  Now it's going to cost you.' (laughs)  So we had to just pay.  And we did it.  That was the big adventure of how the film "Solly's Diner" all came about.

"Solly's Diner" (1980)

Casey Chambers:  When you finally finished the film, did you feel like you got it right? That it was going to garner attention?

Larry Hankin:  Completely the opposite.  I had never written or directed anything.  And I was looking for a director, but Harry kept insisting, 'You direct.  You direct.'  He convinced me that it wasn't going to be that hard and that he had a lot of help, but I was scared.  Me, being the director...that threw a wrench into the whole thing.  I was already the lead and I wrote it.  I figured a really good director could help me. And protect the writing.

So I became the director.  I was skittish the whole time.  I rehearsed my two actors and when we began shooting, everything was going fine.  Harry would sometimes say, 'Well, why don't we put the camera here instead of there' and we would talk about it.  And we were mostly on the same page until that last night when we were rushed to get three shots and then we had a huge shouting match in front of everybody. (laughs)

That argument was a very heated, awful argument.  Finally, he told me...'Okay, look.  This is my crew and we're both freaking them out.  And we got to get this done.  And we're gaining the light.  So, you walk around the block.  Cool out.  When you come back, we'll get the shot we agreed on, set up and we'll just shoot it and get the hell out of here.'  So I did.

And it was a big block, the one I walked around. (laughs)  When I came back, Harry had set up the one shot we needed in the exact opposite way that we had talked about.  He said, 'It looks better this way.'  And I said, 'No, no.'  And Harry said, 'Well, it's too late to change it now. Here comes the light.  Are we gonna shoot it or not?' (laughs)  I mean, it was a done deal.  Fait accompli.  But as it turned out, Harry was right.  I just couldn't see it until the thing was edited.  That shot was perfect. Looking at the finished product...yeah, thank God he told me to get out of there and walk around the block. (laughs)  And we got an Academy Award nomination for "Best Short Film."

Casey Chambers:  That's a nice feather.  Congratulations again.

Larry Hankin:  When I directed "Solly's Diner," I didn't have an agent or manager and I had no long term experience of being an actor in movies or in directing myself.  So there were doubts.  Am I doing this right?  Can I do this again? Thankfully, I've directed a lot of films since then, and I think I'm finally getting a sense.

I was talking to this well-known director one time, asking him about being in charge of so many people. Making decisions. On your feet. And about problems that come up that you can't plan on.  Stuff like that.

I told him about this one thing I did when I was directing "Solly's Diner."  It was about another shot I wanted to get.  A little experiment I had in my head about putting the camera in a certain place to capture a shot.  Harry didn't think it would work and said I shouldn't waste time.  It was always about the "losing the light" thing.  I wanted it, so I lied about why it was necessary to do this particular shot.  It was a blatant, artistic lie and he bought it.  We did it.  It always bothered me and I never told him.

So we're talking, and he says, 'Well what do you think?  Have you gotten over it?  What's your take on it now that you're a grown man and you've directed things?'  And I said, 'Well, I've kind of come to the conclusion...Cool man.' (laughs)  And he just slapped my hand and he said, 'Right on!' (laughs)  The great thing is you're standing on the shoulders of giants going in.

With directing, it's "the kid stays in the picture" thing.  Like that famous Jackie Coogan story.  Some stories are just pop folk, but this one isn't.  Jackie Coogan was a kid actor who'd worked with Chaplin and those guys.  And one time, and I don't know who the famous director was, but he had a crying scene.  And the kid wasn't crying right.  He was fake crying.  He was acting crying.  And so the director called him aside and said, 'Kid, listen we gotta stop production here for a second.  Some bad news has come down.'  He took Jackie aside and said, 'Listen your pet dog, Spot...well, he just got hit by a car.  He's dead.' (laughs)  And Jackie Coogan started to cry.  And the director rushed him in front of the camera and he said, 'Get this!  Get this!' (laughs)  And they got it.  And then he told him the dog was fine.  He's okay.  And that's a famous story.

Casey Chambers:  And if that didn't work, he'd tell him a nice plane crash story. (laughs)

Larry Hankin:  It's a story director's tell. (laughs) You gotta get the shot, man.  You gotta get it.

Casey Chambers:  At all costs.

Larry Hankin:  Yeah, at all costs.  On the set.  The sacred circle of the artists is there on the set.  And that's what I did.  I didn't realize that was what I'd done at the time.  I was very naive.  I still am. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  You have a body of work that stretches as far back as the 60's, so I'm just going to cherry-pick a few things.  John Hughes liked your work.  You appeared in a few of his movies.  "Planes Trains And Automobiles" (1987) is certainly a classic.

Larry Hankin:  Right!  We also did "She's Having A Baby." (1988)  And we did "Home Alone." (1990)

Casey Chambers:  Let's talk a little bit about "Planes Trains And Automobiles."  You were the cab driver named Dooby.  What do you recall about shooting that particular scene?

Larry Hankin:  Let me preface this story by saying I have ADHD.  I've had it all my life.  It's basically the way information is absorbed and how you process it.  It shuns information that should go to the left brain, to the right and takes information from the right brain and shuns it to the left.  So reading linear instructions to set up your internet, how to set up your very difficult for me.  And on that particular shoot, it came into play.

"Planes, Trains and Automobiles" (1987)

Sometimes I'm okay, but then ya give me just a little too much information and it gets scrambled.  And then I just lose the thread.  Anyway, he really liked me, yes...and liked me in that role.  He was favoring me in that whole thing.  I was the taxi driver and I drive Candy and Martin to their motel.  I get out and help them with their luggage.  And now, you don't see this next scene, but John (Hughes) says, 'Larry, why don't you carry the luggage inside with them?'

So, I'm inside now.  The scene is at the desk.  And I don't know what he said to me, but I didn't do it right, whatever it was.  And John Hughes is very on or off.  And I've heard this on all three of the sets I was doing when I worked with him.  He's either very easygoing or he's cold as...I don't know.

Casey Chambers:  That can put some edgy in the air.

Larry Hankin:  Yeah, and he could get angry and...what he'd do is fire you. On the spot. I remember once, 'Where's so-and-so?'  Oh, he got fired?  Why?  I don't know.  John didn't like what he did and just got rid of him.'  Just...boom.  I remember he invited us, me and about four or five other actors, in his stretch limo to a big soiree the suburbs were throwing.  And I saw that happen in front of me.  Going there, he was great.  Coming back he was...we didn't even know who he was.

So anyway, in the scene, we're inside this motel at the desk, and all of a sudden he goes, 'Larry, just get out of here.  Just get out.  No, out.  Get Hankin out of there!'  (laughs)  And to this day, I don't know why.

Casey Chambers:  Out of the blue.

Larry Hankin:  Yeah, and it wasn't like, hey we don't need you. He was just angry. Up until that point, we were getting along fine. But here's an interesting part to that cab scene.  I guess, now that I'm talking about it, I remember.  That scene wasn't shot on the road at all.  What happened was...we pulled into this snow covered driveway and there was a motel.  I mean, that was a real thing.  Driving up, letting them off, getting the suitcases out, and going inside.  We shot at the motel first.

Casey Chambers:  No city driving?

Larry Hankin:  I thought the entire ride to the motel would be shot traveling in a car.  But no. We went inside a Chicago soundstage.  And there was a taxi with no wheels in the middle of this huge empty soundstage.  All black.  I mean, ya know, not lit.  And in the middle was a taxi set up on four boxes.  To the height of...ya if it had wheels.  There was just two or three lights around it.  And a soda box.  A wooden soda box sitting next to it.  And John would sit on the soda box outside the cab's door.  If a passenger was sitting in the front seat, he would be sitting right next to them on the outside of the door.  And Candy and Steve were in the back and I was in the front.

John would say, 'Okay, do the lines.'  And we would do the lines and yeah, there would be kind of lights flashing and a crew member would run a tree branch if we were passing something.  It was really dinky.  I didn't think it looked real at all.  He had us run through it once.  And then he would disappear.  He went upstairs and I guess that's where the TV city was.  You know what a TV city is, right?  It's where the camera is attached to a TV set so they can watch what the camera is doing.

So this was upstairs somewhere up in the heavens of this soundstage.  He was gone.  We didn't know where he was.  But there was a microphone inside of the cab so he talked to us that way.  And obviously he was watching us because he would go, 'Alright, now do it again.  But this time, Steve...improvise.  Everybody else do the lines.  Steve, you improvise it.'  And then we'd do that.  And he'd say, 'John, improvise it.  Steve improvise it.  Larry, you just do your lines.'  And then we'd go around again.  'Larry, you improvise it.'  And we would just do this for the whole day.  I mean...three hours in the morning and about three hours in the afternoon.  Just that.

And sometimes he would come down and he would say, 'Improvise it.'  And he would watch us.  Now, here's the weird thing why he was who he was...John Hughes.  We must have improvised it maybe 20 times.  I'm not kidding.  Even more, obviously.  Sometimes you'd just do little sections.  He would remember every goddamn thing we said.  Like, he'd say, 'Okay do it again only Larry, remember in that improv where John asks which way you're going and you said...what did you say?'  I'm like, 'I don't remember what I said.'   He'd say, 'You said...'  and he would quote it to me.  And he would go up into the booth and he would say, 'No, John, you said blah blah blah in that scene.  So, just keep that line.'  So then we were finished.  And that was the most amazing piece of directing in one day that I've ever witnessed in my life.

So we did it.  It comes out.  I see the movie.  And there we are.  It's great.  I'm fine.  But about two years later, I'm working for Christopher Columbus in the movie, "Home Alone."  He says, 'Oh, by the way, I saw that film that you did with John Candy and Steve Martin.  Ya know, that cab thing you did.  I saw that movie.  Really funny.'  I go, 'Oh you mean "Planes Trains And Automobiles?"  He goes, 'No, no, the short.'  And I asked him, 'What short?'  He said, 'You know, where you were Doobie in the cab.'  I go, 'Yeah, yeah that was "Planes Trains And Automobiles."'  He says, 'No, no.  It was a film short.'  And I go, 'What film short?'  Chris said, 'I went to John Hughes house.  It was at a party.  Some birthday or something.  And he showed everybody a 20 minute...a 10 minute film short of you and John and Steve in a cab.  It was a short.  Just the three of you in a cab.'  And I go, 'Holy...that's what that soundstage stuff was all about.' (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  A-ha! (laughs)

Larry Hankin:  He took all the footage that wasn't used in the movie...and there was quite a bunch of footage.

Casey Chambers:  He saved all that!

Larry Hankin:  He saved all that and made a film short.  I would love to see it.

Casey Chambers:  Oh yeah, I would too!

Larry Hankin:  (laughs) It must be incredible.

Casey Chambers:  It would make for some great footage to add to the bonus features on Blu-ray.

Larry Hankin:  Oh, yeah!  He was taking all of that improv...writing and cutting it together...and using us as the typewriter, I guess.  So it just occurs to me...that's how Shakespeare wrote.  You know he had the actors improvise, too.  He didn't just sit at home and write out those plays in longhand.  He had a company of actors that were incredible improvisers.  I mean he would come in with written pieces exactly like John Hughes did.

Casey Chambers:  That actually makes a lot of sense.  You could have Shakespeare outtakes like, "Hamlet, drop the skull on the floor next time." (laughs)

Larry Hankin:  And he would say, "Come on, play with this.  Let's go.  Try it with Thee instead of Thou.' (laughs) Something like that.  So I can see how John could have constructed a really cool film short.  I mean...Steve Martin and John Candy... those two guys are pretty freaking funny, man.  I mean, I was a witness. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  No doubt.  I loved your Mr. Heckles character in "Friends."  Could we talk about that?

Larry Hankin:  Oh, okay!  Yeah!

Casey Chambers:  Every time your Mr. Heckles made an appearance, it was gold.  Was Mr. Heckles written to be a recurring character?

Larry Hankin:  No.  And again, my ADHD was in full blown mood on that shoot.  I didn't get along with...anybody.  I was Mr. "you're not really here, but you'll do this part guy."  It was my fault.  I mean, I just didn't get along with them.  I just didn't understand, socially, how to...Okay, what happened was, I got the job as Mr. Heckles before "Friends" went on the air.

Mr. Heckles on "Friends"

So, there was no clue to me or to anybody else what this was really about.  I just showed up with a script.  But I didn't know these people.  Nobody was famous yet.  And when I got to the soundstage where they were shooting, they were already in the middle of a scene.  And it wasn't even in the (apartment) set, it was a bank set.  I had no clue as to what the overlying idea of the show was.  I just sat there and watched and when it was my turn to do my piece, everybody else had left.  The rehearsal was just me and the two girls,  (Jennifer Aniston and Lisa Kudrow) and a cat. And the director.

Casey Chambers:  That would have been kind of weird.

Larry Hankin:  Well, on the day of the actual shoot, we couldn't do it in front of an audience because there was no room for that part of the set.  The girls were in the hall with a cat and I was just opening the door and looking out.  They had to build a little hallway off to the side where nobody could see us.  But there was no camaraderie in that first scene.  I didn't get along, because there was nobody to get along with.  The girls didn't know me.  They said, 'Hello. Goodbye.'  Boom.  Then I went home.  And that was my thing.

But the hookup was that the show wasn't on the air yet and I didn't know if it was ever going to go on.  When it did come out, it wasn't until the next year.  The second time I was on the show, they were already stars.  They were pretty famous and they had their own little group.  And they had been working together for a year now, so I was a total interloper.  And I rankled at the fact that after each shot, they would huddle up and I was left out. (laughs)

And by the way, when I did "Seinfeld," the same thing happened with them.  We'd do the scene and Michael and Jerry and the cast...they would all go off in the corner and just giggle together. (laughs)  The same thing with "Friends."  Hey, I guess if I was them, I'd do the same thing, but I took umbrage.  'Cause, hey man, I wanted to be in on all that goodness going on too.  The producers would talk with them.  The director would talk with them.  But nobody was talking to me.  So I was just...'Fuck you, guys.' (laughs)  And that's how it kind of went.

Before doing my fourth episode, my agent called me and said, 'Hey, I got some good news and some bad news.'  Now here's the rule.  The rule is, you do five, you get an incredible bump up.  Where you can buy a house if you do five.  Not that on the fifth one you get that amount of money.  But if you do five, you become a recurring.  It's called a recurring.  And if you are a recurring, you're going to do at least six, seven, or eight.  They don't hire anyone for five because when you're recurring, they have to pay you for several.  So, if you're hired for a fifth, you are going to get a lot of money down the line.

And so my agent says, 'I've got good news and I've got bad news.'  I said, 'Well, what's the good news?'  He said, '"Friends" just called.  You got a fourth show.'  And that was like...'Cool man.'  I'm going towards the fifth.  I can see a driveway and a house.  I can see it.  What's the bad news?'  He says, 'You have a heart attack and die.' (laughs)  And that really pissed me off.  Between the time I got a call from my agent telling me about a fourth show and then telling me I have a heart attack...there was like 15 seconds.  And in-between, I had already bought a house.  In those 15 seconds, I had bought a house and then they took it away from me.  So going in on the first day of my fourth show, in my mindset, I was going in to people who had taken a house away from me. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  First off, I would have sworn you did a dozen shows.  I loved Mr. Heckles.  You must've been steamin'!

Larry Hankin:  I was going in angry.  That, I know.  I remember I was just like...'goddamn it, man.'  So I get there.  And I didn't know it was the first day of the new season.  I didn't know that there was going to be this celebration.  They invited everybody that morning at eight o'clock for a big, huge brunch.  The cast and the crew and the guest people who are gonna come for the rest of the year.  The people from last year.  All the suits.  There was about 100 people in a special place where they have these breakfasts.  Ya know, sausage and eggs and champagne.

And I just burst into this thing and I'm looking for the producers because I want to complain.  'Hey man, that was really underhanded.' was what I thought I was gonna say.  'Hey man, that's really a cheap shot.'  That's what I was gonna say.  And in this room... everybody...I mean...there's no chairs and tables.  There's these little stand-up round tables that you just put your drink on and stand around it.

Casey Chambers:  The smaller the tables, the bigger the billfolds, right?

Larry Hankin:  Well, it was that kind of thing. So then here's the three producers huddled together.  Just standing alone.  Not around a table, just talking to each other in a little group.  Like a cocktail group.  And I rush over to them and they turn to me and they go, 'Oh Larry, hi,  welcome to our next season.'  And I go, 'What the fuck did you people do, man?'  I just started shouting at them.  'What the fuck did you people do man?'  I went nuts.  I just fucking went nuts, man.  Just lost it.

Casey Chambers:  I totally get it.

Larry Hankin:  Okay.  All of a sudden, the place goes quiet. (laughs)  And I heard it.  And I just shut up, but it was too late.  They just said, 'I think we should talk about this a little while later.  Don't you think so, Larry?'  And I just walked over to one of the food tables.  And as I walked over, everybody walked away.  This one actor comes over to me...(laughs)...I guess he was an extra.  He said, 'Hey man, that was really cool.' (laughs)

But when I showed up later to do the show and to rehearse and do the work...nobody would come near me.  And every time I went to the Kraft Services table to get a carrot stick or a cup of coffee, the people who were there would walk away and nobody would come over until I left.  So that was my last show.  That's how that went.  So you might get the feeling that I've got an attitude problem.  And I did.  It took me a year or two to kind of calm down.

Larry Hankin on "Seinfeld"

Casey Chambers:  But you did get a 5th episode at some point, didn't you?

Larry Hankin:  No.  No, no.  Because that was the show my character had the heart attack on.  I don't have it in the show.  It was the show where I'm in my new apartment and there's a cutaway to me sitting in a chair reading a newspaper.  It's kind of a medium close-up of me sitting in a Moorish chair reading a newspaper, and one of the girls was hanging upside down outside my window and was yelling, 'Help! Help! Mr. Heckles!  Mr. Heckles!'  'Cause the setup was she fell while she was hanging Christmas lights. And she was hanging by her foot swinging past my window.  A very funny shot!

Casey Chambers:  (laughs) I remember that one!  It was Jennifer Aniston swinging in the wind.  Very funny!

Larry Hankin:  We were talking about directing...let me tell you a quick story.  I did a movie called, "Viva Max." (1969)  It was directed by Jerry Paris.  He also directed some "Laverne And Shirley" and "Happy Days."  And we were doing a picture out in Italy.  In Rome.  At Cinecitta, which was where Fellini was shooting "Satyricon" at the time.  And one of the things I did was sneak onto Fellini's set.  Just to watch Fellini direct.  It was amazing.

Casey Chambers:  Now that would've been a cool memory to burn.

Larry Hankin:  Oh yeah, because when he directed, he was the whole movie right there.  In other words, he would act it out.  I saw him directing a crowd of people in the stands watching a bullfight. This was Roman mythology.  We were there watching the bullfighter fighting Minotaur which is a half man-half bull.  And he was directing the crowd in the stands.  He wanted them to cheer and then sigh and then boo and...he was doing it all.  He was standing in the middle of the arena...nothing around...talking up to this stadium and he was acting...not like a single person...but like he was a crowd. (laughs)  It was just amazing to watch him direct.

And there were these little old men all around his set.  A big set, obviously.   And these little old men were dressed in black suits and white shirts and black ties and none of them were younger than 80.  White hair.  Short guys.  They looked like they were from Sicily.  Like from some Mario Puzo script.

They were all around, but they didn't do anything.  I would be there the whole day and I never saw them do anything but stand around and watch.  Okay!  So I had this fight with my director one day.  Yelling match right in front of everyone.  Well, he was yelling.  My director was yelling and I would just whisper.  He'd say, 'Look, ya gotta do it this way.  I don't care what blah blah blah!'  And I'd say, (in soft voice) 'Hey, please don't...c'mon man, I don't want to do this blah blah blah.'  There was like hundreds of extras around watching.  After the whole thing was over, I was so unnerved I went into the production office in Cinecitta.  I just was standing there thinking...what am I gonna do?  And there was a secretary sitting there and she asked...what's the matter?  So I laid out the whole story about the argument and I turn around and there's one of these little old men from Fellini's set standing in the doorway just listening to me.  I had my back to him talking to the secretary.  He's standing in the doorway listening...and he says, (Larry using an Italian accent) 'You going to be going to be a director.'  And I go, 'Really?  Why do you say that?'  And he goes, 'Because you can't take direction.'  And then he walked away. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  Truer words, no? (laughs)

Larry Hankin:  Yeah, that was kind of right. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  Well, I'd like to ask one last question.  What kind of music have you been listening to?

"Bob Dylan 1966 Live"

Larry Hankin:  Blues and Bob Dylan.  That's about it.  I'm from the '60s and I was just listening the other day to the soundtrack from the Scorsese documentary about Dylan,  "No Direction Home" (2005)  That album and that 1966 concert...I guess it's a bootleg...Bob Dylan and The Band in England where he says, 'You're a liar.'   'Judas!'  Ya know, that concert is probably the livest, realest, musical concert I've ever heard.  It's amazing. And I like some of the old Delta Blues.  Stuff like that.  I'm trying to learn the blues on guitar right now.  But that's it.  And after that, it's just sounds. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  Yeah, that's good stuff.

Larry Hankin:  One other thing.  Bill Hader from Saturday Night Live got his own TV pilot coming up called "Barry"...and I got a call out to do the show.  Bill plays a hitman who turns detective.  An ex-hitman becomes an outlaw for the police.  But it's a comedy.  It's an hour show on HBO.  The guy who's producing it is the same guy who produces and writes and created..."Silicon Valley."  Anyway, one of the first three shows in January I'm gonna be on.

Casey Chambers:  That's some great news.  You and Bill Hader both. That'll give fans something to look forward to.  Mr. Hankin, thank you very much for speaking with me this morning.  I hope your holidays are happy and thank you very much.

Larry Hankin:  Okay, thanks a lot, Casey.  This has been really cool.  Talk to you soon.

"Did You Have A Nice Christmas?" - Larry Hankin / Emmett's Dysfunctional Greeting Cards 

Good stuff.

Casey Chambers