Saturday, December 31, 2011

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Christmas Wish To Everyone

Denver, CO, Dec. 3, 2010
Merry Christmas to everyone, everywhere
photo 2010 Daniel Coston

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Mark Lindsay interview

Mark Lindsay: Just Like Him
Introduction, interview and photos by Daniel Coston
Originally published in the Big Takeover Magazine, December 2011 issue

Be it on TV, or on record, Paul Revere & The Raiders were a band that was always going to get your attention. From the moment that the Raiders stepped on Dick Clark’s “Where The Action Is” TV show in 1965, they commanded the audience’s attention, with their matching Revolutionary War outfits and Marx Brothers-esque humor. But it was their records that have stood the test of mine, a fun, garage-pop sound honed by years of touring the Northwest US. “Hungry,” “Him Or Me,” Kicks,” Just Like Me” and many others still sound great, a testament to the records that were made during those busy times.

At the center of it all was Mark Lindsay, a frontman that had the perfect look and sound to lead the group. Keyboardist Paul Revere may have had the group’s name, but it was Lindsay that took the reins on the group’s sound, becoming an adept songwriter, arranger and producer for many of their hits. After Lindsay left the Raiders in 1975, he was continued to tour, record, and live out the dream that began for him in Boise, Idaho in the late 1950s.

Lindsay is a lot of fun to talk to, as I did via phone earlier this year. Here, we talk about the beginnings of the Raiders, and the band’s evolution through the years.

Daniel: When you look at a collection like this, of these songs and your time in history with The Raiders, what comes to mind?

Mark: Well, if I skim over the different cuts, usually it’s kind of like looking at a menu and each song conjures up visions of either the time of year, or where I was living or what was happening at the studio at that time. Each one is kind of a little vignette of what was happening in my life at that time.
So, it’s all just a bunch of memories compressed in a little bullet there.

[For example], “Him or Me,” that’s one of my favourite songs that Terry [Melcher] and I wrote. And a great studio band that The Raiders played on. I think that some of The Raiders were there, I know that there are a whole bunch of guitars [on that song], Ry Cooder was there. We had three drummers on that cut. It was Jim Keltner, Hal Blaine and Jim Gordon. But we had some of the best studio drummers in the world on that. And then after we cut the tape, I went in with Terry a couple of days later and opened up some more toms. So…(singing), you can really hear that beat!

Daniel: Take me back to the beginning of The Raiders. 

Mark: At the time, I was playing in a group called, “Freddy Chapman and the Idaho Playboys”. It was a country band, and I was the Rockabilly singer. I was billed as, “Mark Allen. He balls and squalls, and crawls up the walls!” (laughter) I didn’t change my name deliberately, but Freddy Chapman, who was the leader of the band said, “What’s your stage name?” And I said, “Mark Lindsay, what do you mean?” And he said, “Well, you gotta have a stage name!” And I said, “Well I don’t.” And he said, well what’s your middle name? And I said, “Allen…Mark Allen Lindsay” And he said, “That’s good! Mark Allen! Yeah, that will work!”

So, I was Mark Allen with Freddy Chapman, and I was having a great time, but there was a new group in town, The Red Hughes band, and they were playing all these dances, and they used to rehearse across the street at [Paul] Revere’s house, next to the Reed N’ Bell Drive-In that he owned at that time.

And I could hear his rock and roll from the door, and I thought, “Man, that’s what I want is to get in is an all-rock-and-roll band, that plays nothing but rock and roll.” Nothing wrong with country, but rock & roll is where it’s at! So, low and behold, time went by and I was reading at McClure’s Bakery, and saw some posters that up the street at the Elks Lodge, they were having a rock & roll dance Saturday night. So Saturday night, I went up there.

At the time, I wore these thick glasses, and I was very shy and insecure about the glasses and about my appearance. So I wanted to sing, but I didn’t have my glasses on, and I couldn’t see a thing. I mean I was legally partially blind without my glasses.

I walked in the door ,and I could hear this band playing over in the corner. So I kind of walked through the crowd to make a bee-line towards the sound, and these people kind of parted the way for me, looking at me like, “God, this kid must be crazy!” Because I wasn’t dancing, just walking through the crowd. So I walked up to the stage, and the band finished the tune, and I said, “Hey, I’d like to sing a song.” And the lead singer, whose band it was, said, “No, no, get out of here. This is MY shot!” 

And Revere, who was the piano player, said, “No, let the kid do it, it might be funny!” So, he said, “What can you sing?” And I said, “Any song that you can name!” Which of course, was not true! I just thought I could! And he said, “Well how about, ‘Crazy Arms’ “ which was the flip-side on one of the early Jerry Lee cuts. I said, “Sure I know that!” And he said, “What key?” And I said, “ANY key!” (laughter!) I didn’t know what a key was!

So, we did “Crazy Arms” and for the time that I was singing the song, for about three minutes, I was totally transformed and transposed to another place, and everything was cool. And as soon as the song was finished, I was back in my body being that geeky Mark Lindsay with the thick glasses. And I said, “OK, bye,” and I kinda ran out the door, and that was it!

The next day, which was Sunday, Revere came to pick up his buns for his drive in, and since McClure’s Bakery where I was working didn’t deliver on Sunday , he came in. I’ve got my thick glasses back on, and I’ve got my baker’s apron on, and my baker’s hat ,and I’m all covered in flour and stuff. And I’m wrapping up his order and he said, “You know a funny thing happened last night, I was playing up the street at the Elk’s Lodge” And I said, “Oh, really? How was it?” And he said, “Oh great, great crowd! But the weirdest thing happened. During the middle of the show, this skinny, weird lookin’ kid came up and walked onto the stage and demanded to sing a song!”

And I said, “Well, how was he?” And he said, “He wasn’t bad!” So I whipped off my hat and my glasses, and I said, “It was me!” So he said, “You need to come and rehearse sometime with us!”
So I did, and one thing led to another and eventually Paul and I started a band that was then called, “The Down Beats” which became “Paul Revere and the Raiders”. And again, as they say, the rest is history!

Daniel: And also, later on, when Paul did his time in the army, you actually kept the band going.

Mark: We had a big hit [with] “Like, Long Hair,” and of course Revere was doing a stint for Uncle Sam. The president of the record company, John Guss, said, “You guys have to do a tour! You’ve got a big hit out there! You’ve got to tour!” And I said, “Sure.” And Revere said,  “You can’t. You can’t without a piano player.” So finally, [the record label] convinced him that he’d get another piano player, and that we’d go out not as, “Paul Revere and the Raiders,” but as, “Paul Revere’s Raiders”.
Of course, all the fliers said, “Paul Revere and The Raiders”, but no one knew who Paul Revere and The Raiders were anyway, so it didn‘t make any difference! At that time, it was our first hit.

So, the band that we put together was a band of studio guys hanging around California. Los Angeles. And the first piano player that we rehearsed with was Bruce Johnston, who was the Bruce who went on to play with The Beach Boys. But on the day of our final rehearsal, before we hit the road, Bruce didn’t show up. 

So we cancelled the rehearsal and we said, “We gotta find a piano player.” And I said, “What’s wrong with Bruce? We can reschedule it.” So I drove out to Beverly Hills, and I knocked on the door and the maid said, “Oh, he’s not here. He’s out at Sunset Beach surfing.” And so I drove out to the beach and I spotted his car, and I waited there, and pretty soon he paddled in, surfed in. And I said, “Bruce! You know we had a rehearsal this morning, what’s going on? We gotta go out on the road tomorrow!” And he said, “Oh, I decided I’m not gonna do it.” I said, “Oh no! Why didn’t you TELL me?!” And he said, “I was gonna. I just haven’t gotten around to it.” So I was fuming. So I went back in and told the manager, and he said, “There’s a new kid who just came into town, Leon Russell, from Oklahoma, we’ll see if he wants to do it.”

So the next day, with very little rehearsal, we hit the road with Leon Russell on keys. And I was really out of my element. It was the first time that I hadn’t played in the northwest. We were playing in Nebraska and Kansas and all these places, where The Raiders weren’t known, nobody knew my name, and I was totally panicked. I go out on stage the first night and after intermission, we did the first half and at intermission I went backstage with the guys and I said, “God this is a tough crowd. I don’t know what to do.”

And Leon said, “Look, kid,” and Leon was a couple of years older than I was. He said, “When you get back onstage, just kick it to me and I’ll get ‘em going for ya.” So we get back on stage and Leon walked up to the piano, and he kind of steps back like 2-3 feet, and he kicks the top off of this upright piano! And it goes flying and spinning, plop! Lands in the crowd! They got out of the way just in time! And he jumps up on top of the piano and screams, “Do you wanna fuckin’ rock and roll, or what?!!!” (laughter!) And the crowd goes, “YEAHHHHHHH!!!!!” And then he then jumps on the piano and does his best  Jerry Lee and, of course, the crowd starts rockin’ !!! And I thought, “WOW! So THAT’S how it’s done!” So, when we got back to Portland and reformed the band, I told Revere, “Look, it’s not good enough for us to just stand up there and play. We have to be a show band.”
That’s where some of those things developed. I decided that every night I was gonna try to be more outrageous than I was the night before. So we got a reputation of, or I got a reputation anyway of, being an insane guy who was either gonna commit suicide or die on stage. (laughter!)
So that was the early days. But I have to give the credit to Leon for giving me that little …INSIGHT into, you have to perform FOR the crowd.

Daniel: I knew that when you went back to Portland, you found Smitty, first. And then eventually you found Drake and Fang. What did those guys individually bring to the band, that finally made that first classic Raiders lineup that we know?
Mark: We decided to put the band back together, and I came up from California, and Revere was almost through with his stint at the state hospital, where he worked as a cook! (Laughter) But that is how he was working off his service to Uncle Sam, because he was C.O., Conscientious Objector.
He was almost through, and we put the band together.

So we heard from The Headless Horseman, which was this teenage nightclub in downtown Portland. So we went up there, and I had to go in, because Paul couldn’t go in, because he was over 21. And I wasn’t, so I went in. And I was looking for a guitar player. But the band that was supposed to be there, with this incredible guitar player named Steve West, wasn’t there that night. They had cancelled, or something.

So they had this guy up on stage playing guitar, just solo, just playing the blues or whatever, and I walked up, and he wasn’t bad, I mean he could play a little bit. I didn’t have my glasses on, so I walked up on the stage, looking at him. And later, Smitty said, “At first I thought you wanted to fight me or something from the way you kept staring at me and you got right in my face!” (laughter!)
But I just wanted to see what he looked like! To see if he was cute enough to be in the band, if you know what I mean! (laughter!) Anyway…not “cute” enough, but you know, if he had that “female appeal”.

We invited him out to rehearsal and he shows up and it turns out that what he was playing on stage, the blues, that was about all he knew,one or two songs, but he really wasn’t a guitar player.
So we were very discouraged. I said, “Smitty, do you know any other musicians, or do you play anything else?” And he said, “Actually, I played some drums.” And I said, “Let’s try that!”

And so we had a rehearsal with drums and he came in and it was perfect! I mean, he wasn’t the BEST drummer in the world, he didn’t do a lot of frills, but he kept this incredible funky beat and it was PERFECT. So Steve West, who was the original guitar player that we were looking for, we found him , but he was only sixteen so he didn’t last that long. So we got Drake Levin in. And the bass player that we had at that time had left, so Drake said, “I went to school with this kid, in high school in Boise, and I think he’d be a good bass player. He can play a little guitar, and I think he could learn bass.” So, we got him in, taught him all the songs and in two weeks he learned how to play bass! And of course he was very effusive! He wasn’t the best bass player in the world when he first started, but he turned into a GREAT bass player!

And Drake and he would dance and they were great buddies! The chemistry was just perfect! Smitty was just right on the drums, Drake was an incredible guitar player, Phil was just over the top with enthusiasm, and Revere was, of course, just pounding with the boogie-woogie piano and the Vox organ, and it worked out just real well!

Daniel: Later on, You guys were the first band signed to Columbia. What kind of presssure did you feel on that label? Obviously, it was great to be with Columbia, but also to be the first rock band on that label, and then succeed?
Mark: Actually being on CBS as the very first rock band really didn’t register. It was just, to me, we were just in competition with all the rock bands, on all of the labels.
Daniel: Was television and Dick Clark the right thing, at the right time for you guys? Because it seemed like it just came to you guys at the right point, when you were just starting to make headway on the charts.
Mark: It was the PERFECT vehicle. The formula for The Raiders’ success up til that time was, since we were only known in a small pocket in Idaho, and then eventually branched out to Utah, and Northern California, the formula was, we’d show up in a town and put up a bunch of posters and we’d have a curious crowd. Or half-crowd, or quarter-crowd the first time, but we’d put on such a show that word of mouth was so positive for us, that the next time we came to town it was full. But that would take a long time to break in to each little market that way.

By the time we got to CBS AND got signed to Dick Clark’s show, we were a working band and had been for a couple of years. Several years. So, we already had a lot of experience under our belt. We weren’t just like some new group out of high school stumbling onto the stage going, “What do we do now?” We were pretty confident. So when we got on television, it didn’t deter us, in fact it encouraged us, and it was, as I have said before, kind of a precursor to MTV. After the 80’s and MTV, you couldn’t get arrested with a record unless you had a video to go with it. And with us, since we were on five days a week, we had a video to go with each song we released! And it was great!

We were definitely unique, we didn’t look like any other band, and didn’t SOUND like any other band. And luckily the country took us to its heart, and I would say that Mr. Clark, and the medium of television were extremely instrumental in our success, and very timely.
Daniel: How many shows did you guys do a week, or what was your shooting schedule for, “Where the Action Is” ?
Mark: It was five days a week. And we would get to a location and just shoot all day, and maybe for two or three days. We’d put a lot of shows in the can because we were touring fairly extensively at that time.

Mark: But when we weren’t doing “Action”, we were doing a lot of other television shows. As a matter of fact, I guess I’m the most televised lead singer, based on the number of shows we did, than anybody in the U.S. and maybe the U.K., I don’t know. We did almost 1,000 television appearances.

Daniel: Along with that, too, you guys came out with, “Midnight Ride” and “Just like Us.” Those are two really strong records, that solidified what you guys were doing live. You could see it on TV,  but you also had the songs to back it up. It seems like you guys really focused on what you wanted the band to sound like in the studio, when the TV thing came along, as well.
Mark: Pretty much. And I would say that the lens of that focus has got to give a lot of credit to Terry Melcher, because he was really the “6th Raider,” because he and I did a lot the backgrounds ourselves. The group did a lot of them with us, but Terry was ALWAYS in the background, except on “Steppin’ Out” , when Bruce Johnston was in the background!
Daniel: He came back!
Mark: But he actually produced that record. Yeah, if you look on some of the early copies of, “Here they Come”, on some of them it says, “produced by Bruce Johnston and Roger Hart”. And they are pretty rare. I think they only pressed like about 25,000 or 50,000 copies of that. And then the other ones that came later than that, the next re-printing, give Terry Melcher the exclusive credit.

When I first met Terry, he was recording The Ripchords. “Shut ‘Em Down”. And Bruce was out in the studio with his head in a wastebasket, with a microphone INSIDE the wastebasket to get the resonance. And I met the two of them at the same time, and they of course were “Bruce and Terry,” a partnership, and Terry worked with us for a little bit, and I don’t think he really knew what to do with us at that time, early on. It was still mainly just spouting forth our repertoire of stuff that we already knew. And we had very few original songs.

So, he gave us to Bruce, but after, “Steppin’ Out”, which I wrote, I know Paul’s name is on it, but that’s OK, I wrote the song! (laughter!) And Terry found out about that. So he kinda took me aside and said, “Look, I think we can write some songs together.”
And sure enough we did.So he took us back under his wing and away we went!

Daniel: So you evolved more into a songwriter with both Terry, and on your own as the band progressed. It seems like you took more a hand in the writing all the material, and how the groups’, particularly the singles, were gonna sound.
Mark: Yeah, I guess so. I loved writing, and I was a voracious writer. And a lot of times we would finish a song, usually Terry and I would start a song, and then he’d get bored and go off, and I’d finish it (laughter). And we’d cut the track. And then in the studio, probably like fifteen minutes before I had to do my vocals, I’d suddenly get inspired, and I’d go in and I’d rewrite all the lyrics! But usually they were better than the original ones, so Terry went along with it!

Daniel: How did the sound of the band evolve over the latter part of the Sixties? The second lineup of The Raiders is also pretty well known, as well, and they played on a lot of hits.
Mark: It changed for two reasons. One, the sound was based on what we were hearing on our a.m. radios. And two, what was within the band, how we could temper and coalesce the sound of all the guys and their individual strengths and weaknesses and make that into a sound that would be commerical with what was happening on the radio. And so it was kind of like both.

The sound could change quite considerably when Keith [Allison], and Freddy [Weller] and Joe [Corroco], Jr. got in the band in the second wave. But because of Joe’s kind of jazz background, and we were heavier on guitars, I think, and a little bit different, and plus, Keith and Freddy were both pretty “country”. And so the band was pretty big at that time. And I think some of the band’s kind of, I wouldn’t say essence, but maybe their ambiance (laughter!) crept up on us a little bit, and it was very natural for us to kind of go there with a funky, country, semi-country kind of rock thing. And go for it. With a little touch of soul.
Daniel: What are your favorite records of that second era of The Raiders?
Mark: I think , “Let Me” is still a pretty good record. Joe played both drums and congas on it and he did just great drum breaks on it, it just rocks along. Keith’s doing a bassline and playing as well as Joe Osborn did. Well, ALMOST as well as Joe Osborn did, and Joe, of course, was part of “The Wrecking Crew,” and played on a lot of stuff , including some later Raider recordings.
Daniel: Backtracking for one question. The bio for this collection mentions that you and Drake were watching a Byrds session, and Drake saw The Byrds playing 12-string, and then got the idea to play 12-string on “Kicks.”  Is that true?

Mark: Yeah, that’s true. We were watching McGuinn do some overdub,s and I’m not sure whether it was on, “Tambourine Man” or what.  But, you know, he played 12-string on everything. He had that Rickenbacker, and I think that Drake even borrowed the “Ricky” on, you know, one afternoon to try out from Roger, and he liked it so much that he went out and bought one himself. And that appeared on the next record we cut, which was, “Kicks”.

Daniel: That was pretty heavy subject matter, for you guys or any band to cover, especially in 1966.  Did Terry find that song, or did you guys find that song?

Mark: Terry was looking for material for the group and he kinda sent out an APB, and Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil sent hi, “Kicks”. As a matter of fact, we had just cut, “Steppin’ Stone” and were ready to release it as a single, and then Terry got “Kicks” in the mail and he played it for me, and he said, “What do you think?” And I said, “Man, we gotta cut this NOW!”

So we did, and it came out great. And that same day we were driving back from the session, Terry and I, because we lived together, we were sharing this house, so we were both either in my Ferrari ,or his XKE, I’m not sure which, but we were on the way up to the house, and we stopped by the Whiskey A Go Go. We were having an adult beverage as I recall (laughs), and we ran into Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart,  who, of course were the authors or the writers of, “Stepping Stone” and they said, “When’s [“Stepping Stone”] coming out, man, when’s it coming out?!”

And Terry said, “Well, um, we got some pressure from CBS to put out this other song, so [“Stepping Stone”] be the next single [after “Kicks.]” And they really got pissed. And so they took our version, we’d given them an acetate of our version of  “Stepping Stone” and they took it over to The Monkees,  and said, “Here’s a demo of our new song!”

And so that is why, if you listen to The Monkees version, you’ll hear Micky doing MY adlibs, you know, like word-for-word in the end, they cut it, like in those days, it was the accepted thing to cut the song, as much like the demo as possible, because they figured that the writers knew how they wanted it to sound, and how it should be cut. So most groups didn’t take too much license, and they cut it pretty much, you know, they had their own sound, of course, but they cut it pretty much down the lines of the demo. And The Monkees  were following The Raiders so-called demo, just really closely. That’s why they sound so much the same. And I think that it would have been a hit by The Raiders, it certainly was a big hit by The Monkees. Hey, you know, we both got a hit record, theirs just sold more than ours. (laughter)
Daniel: What do you think about your life during the Sixties and just that whole time from ‘64 on, what comes to mind, what feelings come to mind when you think about that period in your life?
Mark: Well I remember the year, my favourite year, and someone said, “Would you like to relive one of your favourite years again?” It would be 1967. Everything was REALLY poppin’. It was just before,  ‘68, Haight Ashbury kinda collapsed and became the “non-love” Haight Ashbury, and more the “hate hate” Haight Ashbury, and the whole scene got really nasty up there. And rock & roll began to develop a sad, dark undercurrent.

Before that it was just great. I mean, Terry and my house, it was unfortunately, later became the infamous “house on Cielo Drive” that Charles Manson hit. But before then, it was kind of a party-pad. And everybody that was in the business dropped by. And I met Jimi Hendrix up there, and some of the Stones, and some of The Beatles. Everybody came by, and hung out. And it was just a great time.

Daniel: One last thing I wanted to ask you, about the ‘98 Reunion, with Drake and Smitty and Fang. How did that came about, and what that was like.
Mark: Well, everybody else was getting together, and we asked Paul , and he didn’t want to do it, so the four of us got together and went to Portland, which is kinda where we broke out, the second time. It was an interesting and a very great show, and I’m glad that we did it because now, as you know, Smitty is gone and Drake’s gone, so it’ll never happen again!

It wasn’t as good a show. I’m sure to the fans it was an okay show, but to me it wasn’t as good as the last show we played, so therefore, to me, it could have been better. But then again, I’ve always been a kind of perfectionist, anyway.

Daniel: Well, lastly, what do you want to say to the fans who have been following you and your music for all of these years?
Mark: Oh, I’d like to say, first of all, they’re probably crazy, but I appreciate that kind of insanity as far as it applies to me (laughing!) and the group, and I want to thank them for being faithful. And to stay tuned because we’ve got some stuff comin’ out that is gonna blow their little minds!
Daniel: So you’ve got some new stuff coming out!
Mark: You bet! I’m working on it right now. I’m writing it as we speak.

Uncle Vin and Uncle Jim

In speaking at Rodney Lanier's memorial service tonight, I made mention of my Uncles Vin and Jim, and realized that I'd left out their context. Father Vincent P. Collins, and Father James Collins were my grandmother's brothers, and were both prominent Catholic priests in upstate New York. Vincent was also the best-selling author of the self-help book "Me, Myself and You," as well as other books. When I was young, I was told that Vincent was the one in the family that I was most like, somewhat because I was writing all the time.

Sadly, I only have vague memories of uncle Vin, as he passed away when I was young, and we lived in different parts of New York. I knew uncle Jim a little better, and we always ended up talking about baseball (he was a Cardinals fan, like my grandfather). If you knew uncle Vin or Jim, I'd love to hear from you. I've wanted to know more about both for a long time.
Dec. 18, 2011

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Charlotte Observer profiles my photos in the House Of Cash book

Short interview with yours truly, and one of my Cash photos,

I photographed a new Chad & Jeremy record!

Check it out here-

Full-length story about shooting this CD coming soon.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Rodney Lanier

Rodney, I could have known you for a hundred years, and yesterday would have still come too soon. A few weeks ago, you were in good spirits, and enjoying the Jayhawks show at McGlohon with the rest of us. Now, you are gone from this place, and this world seems a little emptier, without you.

I first met you in 1997, when I was an upstart photographer, and you were in one of the biggest bands in the area, Jolene. Through all those years, and ups and downs, you never stopped being you. A funny, talented, and laidback guy, which I (along with many others) liked about you. There is no rhyme or reason when bad things and illness befalls good people, but I'm glad that before you left, you saw how people cared about you, and counted you as your friend. And that, sooner or later, is all we can ever hope for.

As I knew you once, so I will know you again. And I look forward to that. Safe travels, kid.
Dec. 10, 2011

Friday, December 9, 2011

A showing for one of my new Avett Brothers pics

I'll be exhibiting one of my photos from the Avett Brothers' show in Greensboro this past October, at Gallery Twenty Two, in Charlotte, throughout the month of December. ( The show is part of a group of local artists. And yes, the photo is for sale. I'll be at the opening night party on December 10th, so come by and say hello.
Dec. 9, 2011

What It Is

Today I taped several episodes of WNCW's What It Is radio show, which airs on Friday mornings at 10am. (, or 88.7FM, over the air.) These episodes should air over the next several weeks. I reference everything from Jandek, to Chicago Cubs star Ron Santo. The shows are also podcasted. Keep checking back for further updates, and check out the What It Is episodes I taped in March.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Left Banke interviews, part two, 2011

Left Banke Part Two: The Laughter And The Rain
introduction, interviews and photos by Daniel Coston
Originally published in winter 2011 issue of the Big Takeover Magazine

In part one of my interviews with the Left Banke, we talked about the band’s original formation in 1965, as well as their recent reformation. Now, we go into the studio with the band, to talk about their sensational first two albums, Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina [1967], and The Left Banke Too [1968], as well as the band’s current plans for recording new songs.

Formed in 1965 after a chance meeting by Tom Finn and Michael Brown, the Left Banke burst onto the scene in 1966 with a sound that was too easily labeled as “baroque pop.” Their sound encompassed rock, pop, lush string arrangements, and a stunning three-part harmony sound. But the success changed the formula. Brown and his father, Harry Lookofsky, fired the rest of the band, and tried to form their own version of the group. Eventually, the rest of the band (Finn, George Cameron and Steve Martin-Caro) regained the rights to the Left Banke’s name, and the trio soldiered on.

In March of 2011, Finn and Cameron debuted a new edition of the Left Banke,  and wowed sold out crowds over two nights at Joe’s Pub in New York City. Speaking as someone who attended both nights, Finn and Cameron have found the lineup that can capture on stage what the band originally did in the studio, and can finally continue the sound, and story that they first created in 1966.

BT: How is it to talk about the Left Banke as a living, breathing band again?

George Cameron: It’s kind of weird. It’s like, you don’t quite believe it. Doing that first show was like, “Wow.” That’s the way we should have gone out, in the first place. Not the way we did get thrown out to the ring, with nothing. But this time, it’s even better.

The people that managed us before were products of the 1950s. They threw the groups out on the road, and they kept all the money, and the band made their living off the road. They [the managers] didn’t think it through. They didn’t about what kind of product they had, and that it would have been viable to put a quartet with us. So this time, we have more control over our situation, and we’re being smarter.

For me, it was like an unfinished product. We just dropped out of sight. We never really got to show our potential, to keep going, and show what else we can do. And hopefully, we’ll be recording an album soon, and you’ll see the progression. New songs, new stuff, and go on. 

BT: Tell me about the new songs, and Ralph Affoumado, who will be producing the new record.

Tom Finn: His name is Ralph Affoumado, he is a Julliard graduate In conducting. He has a rich history of conducting orchestras, and is currently the Choirmaster at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. Ralph fell in love with The Left Banke back in the 60's, and he actually tried to help us get back together in 1969. He convinced Michael Brown and the rest of us to try working together by doing something, that wouldn't create a lot if pressure, so he suggested that we all write a commercial, and come together and help one another record them. We did that, and I think what's floating around today known as The Left Banke's commercials are actually those sessions, which Ralph acted as producer and engineer. 

Right now, I've been writing some new songs and I fully intend to get ahold of some of Michael Brown's unrecorded...songs, and re-do them with this newly constituted Left Banke. We're also listening to some songs from Tom Feher, and Feher and Ralph have written some new songs together. I also have my ears open to new material by songwriters that I know, and like. 

BT: Describe World United Studios. What was the building like?

Cameron: It was in, a ten story building. [Lookofsky] was on the third floor. It was hidden away. The office was downstairs, in a duplex, and the upstairs was the studio, and we hung out there all the time.

Finn: I clearly remember the way we did things at the beginning of our recording career. We would play our instruments all night long, Mike had the keys, so there was a lot of ideas being tossed around, nobody was pushing us, we had the studio all to ourselves. George and Steve used to work out their songs together. George played his guitar, and he and Steve played songs like "Nerve," "Something on my Mind," and "Let Go Of You Girl." I'd jump in on the high harmony notes, and Mike would play piano, and he also started to write bridges for two of those songs. That was Mike's first attempt at writing for, or with us.

Steve was the most vocal, but, we all would scream at Mike stuff like, “No, not that”, or “Yeah, That's it, that's it.” Finally, Mike would have some ideas on tape and he'd go away, and next time we got together, he'd play what we had come up with the last time. Then we'd continue and add our harmonies to the melody that we now had pretty much worked out.

Cameron: We had a great arranger in Johnny Abbott. We had our own studio to play in, and that was fun. So we’d be in there for 24 hours a day, and all we did was sing, and write songs.

BT: The first thing that you recorded was, “I’ve Got Something On My Mind,” which you co-wrote, George. How did that song come about?

Cameron: I originally started it, in the Village, with Steve. I didn’t really think much of it, until we brought it up into the studio, and that originally was going to be the single. Now, what person in their right mind, who writes a song, says, “No, ‘Renee’ is the single.” And that’s what I did! It could’ve been a hit, too, but something told me that “Renee” would make it. It was that weird a song. 

BT: What was the inspiration for that song, as well as “Haven’t Got The Nerve”?

Cameron: Women are complicated.

BT: George, when you first came to the group, you were playing guitar, and Warren David was playing drums.

Cameron: Right. And Warren David was a great drummer, an innovative drummer. What happens was, he was a transsexual. He wanted to be a woman, and he didn’t want to play drums, anymore. And they said, “George, do you want to play drums?” And I said, “I don’t know.” And I got on the drums, and I fell in love. I said, “Oh, this is where I can throw all my anger and everything at.” I finally found an instrument that worked for me, and I got into it.  

I played drums on everything else on the first album, except for “Renee,” and “Pretty Ballerina,” [and “Something On My Mind”], and that’s because Mike Brown went out and hired studio guys.

Tom Finn: On "She May Call You Up Tonight," I clearly recall that I was playing the bass with the band and I wanted to use a bass line that I heard Paul McCartney play on The Beatles song "You Won"t See Me," and Michael loved the bass line, So, when John Abbott our arranger came in, I played him the part and he wrote it out for Joe Mack, the studio bass player, to play. This was the way most of our songs were done.

The group would come up with the drum parts and bass parts. We didn't have a guitarist until Jeff Winfield came into the group, so whatever guitar parts we had were done by a new studio guitarist named Hugh McCracken. We gave him his first sessions in New York.

With “Renee” and “Ballerina”, we did demos on both of them, at least a week before the master sessions. When it came time for the recording, John Abbott was conducting the strings and woodwinds, and Mike was at piano, or harpsichord. and we all were there singing, or waiting to sing. These tracks went very quickly, with the exception if “Pretty Ballerina.” John Abbott had written in a harp part, so this lady was there with her gigantic harp and we tried and tried to get it sounding good but, after about a half hour, Harry Lookofsky said, “Let's forget it.” It just had too many overtones, it was hard to record. 

The reason our parts were played by studio musicians was, WE WERE SINGERS THAT WERE VERY YOUNG, EXCEPT FOR MIKE, WHO WASN'T A SINGER. HE WAS TAKING MUSIC LESSONS SINCE HE WAS 6 YEARS OLD, ON PIANO. THE REST OF US WERE LEARNING. WE WERE VERY,VERY YOUNG KIDS, SO WHEN THERE WERE SESSIONS WITH STRINGS AND WOODWINDS, THEY HAD TO BE DONE LIVE. THERE WAS NO PUNCHING IN OR OVERDUBBING. THERE WAS NO ROOM FOR MISTAKES. THESE SESSIONS WERE UNION SCALE, AND COST A LOT OF MONEY. THEY HAD TO BE DONE IN ONE OR TWO TAKES. NOT LIKE TODAY, WHEN PEOPLE TAKE WEEKS OR MONTHS TO DO ONE PART. It was for this reason that George and I were not playing instruments on all the tracks on our first album. You can read quotes from Michael about how we had to de-tune these studio musicians from their common work-a-day attitudes, and learn to play like a band. We don't want any of our fans, or other musicians to think we were just another studio thought up product. That's not the way it was. We, the band members called the shots, along with our arranger John Abbott. 

Cameron: We did that every day. That was our life. We didn’t think about money in those days. We just thought about girls, and playing.

BT: And how old were you guys, at the time?

Cameron: Seventeen. But that’s what a normal 17 year old thinks about, except for playing.

The first time we ever got excited was when we heard [“Renee”] on the radio, going to some show! I’m going, “Holy shit, this is real!” Everybody started cracking up!

Tom Finn: I’m in the Taft Hotel, or the Wellington Hotel, in Michael Brown’s room. And he’s getting ready, we’re goin’ somewhere, I think we were getting ready to do the Clay Cole TV show. And the radio is on. And, “Pretty Ballerina” comes on the radio. So I said, “Hey , Mike!” And he said, “Yeah, yeah, I hear it!” And so it’s playing, and I’m listening to it. And it hits me like a ton of bricks, all of a sudden. And I said to myself, “Holy Shit! Will you listen to what we are putting on the radio here?” I said, There’s nothing LIKE this on the radio, man!  There was NOTHING on the radio that was so sophisticated as that. I thought to myself, “MY GOD! We are actually doing something that is completely different! We are changing the face of the music business here!”

Cameron: Leonard Bernstein toadying “Pretty Ballerina,” didn’t hurt, either [on a 1967 CBS TV special, “Inside Pop.”]. I saw it when it aired, I didn’t know it was coming. And I said, “Holy shit.”

Finn: Generally, the first album was done pretty quickly, and we all felt involved in every aspect of the record. Although, I don't think Steve, George or I were very happy with the way things started changing during the second half of our first album. After the big hit, Mike and his father started to call all the shots, but we didn't like the way things were going. 

In hindsight, I really wholeheartedly believe that "She May Call You Up Tonight" should have been the follow up to “Walk Away Renee.” “Ballerina” was great, but “She May Call” had more of an uptempo group sound to it. Ballerina should have followed [“She May Call]. But after the hit, Mike and Steve were fighting, and Mike wanted to show the world that he was the only writer. He had co-written “She May Call” with Steve. Stupid egotistical behavior. 

When the original lineup broke up, that was the end of a family. I mean, we had it all, a good writer, although he wouldn't, or couldn't stick to the way we first did things. With everybody having a say, and everybody doing their own songs, too. Every one of us knew what we wanted to accomplish, but we were too young to know how to protect ourselves, and our producer/manager/publisher should have sent us for music lessons on our chosen instruments, not throw us out of the group. 

BT: What is your recollection of the “Desiree” session?
Cameron: I didn’t play drums on that. That was all studio cats. I thought it was over-produced. I like the song, but I didn’t like the horns, but it just sounded like there was too much going on. It was a great song, but Mike wanted more, and more.
Finn: After Michael tried and failed to throw out the three singers, he realized that his father screwed everything up, and he really wanted to give it another try. So, we said okay, and we did “Desiree,” which Mike had written With Tom Feher. “Desiree” bombed because it was too blaring as a production, and because radio DJ's were confused about who was, and who was not The Left Banke.

BT: On the second album, it seems like you expanded the singing more, and all three of you took on lead vocals.

Cameron: We liked the idea of doing different things. Steve never wanted to be the only lead singer. When we first outlined this, we were all going to sing. This was always a group that had three singers, and that’s what we started to do on the second album. 
Finn: Now I realized I had to step up and do this album, Brown was gone, so I took the best elements we had left were Steve Martin-Caro's voice, and Tom Feher's songs, and our harmonies. And I decided to flex my songwriting abilities and try to pull a rabbit out of the hat. I even brought in a young Steven Tyler to help us strengthen our harmonies. We heard hundreds of songs that writers had sent us like "Sunday Will Never Be The Same" I thought it had a nice melody, and I almost said, “Okay.” But when I heard the lyric, "I remember children feeding flocks of pigeons," I said, “WHAT?” And to this day, I'm glad we didn't do that song. 
BT: Tell me about “Dark Is The Bark,” and “My Friend Today?”
Finn: I wrote "Dark Is The Bark" with Steve Martin. He said, “Here's the title,” and I said, Dark Is The WHAT?” What does that mean? I wrote the rest of the song about darkness, and about a lovely girl that couldn't experience love. So, in the end all ends well, and she's saved by my special power of transforming her lonely empty life into something good. Sounds pretty omnipotent, huh?

Then, I got more serious, and penned "My Friend Today," which Steve sang, I wrote it about all the disappointment I felt about Mike Brown, and The Left Banke. Also, I threw in all of the pain I felt from my childhood, and all the times I was made to feel unwanted, unworthy and unloved. I then decided to do an about face, and wrote "Nice To See You" and There's Gonna Be A Storm," about the current 1968 vibe that was in the air, cosmic psychedelic tunes that sounded better if you took some LSD. I also sang lead on those two.
When we did the second album, Mercury figured okay, they’re gonna stick us with some talented producers. And they did! One was Artie Schroeck who did, “Dark is the Bark” and “My Friend Today”.  See we wanted, “Dark Is The Bark” (singing the song),  we wanted like classical violins, and we were going with like a Beatley, early Bee Gees type of sound. And what the guy came up with, because he was a jazz guy, he makes it into a jazz waltz, and he puts a funk bass-player on it.  Now today, I have a different opinion of it, I think it’s a lot better than I thought it was, but we had no idea of what to say, what to do.

It was really nice when we finished “Dark Is The Bark,” and “My Friend Today,” because we rented a rehearsal space in the Greenwich Village area of NYC, and we got busy being a band. We had me on bass and various guitars, Tom Feher on piano, George on drums, and we had a ball working on the rest of the album. We rehearsed for about two weeks, and then we went in to the studio and played all the instruments ourselves, and at last, we felt like we were going somewhere. But unfortunately, Smash Mercury gave us a producer [Paul Leka] that gummed up the arrangements, and added loads of strings and orchestrations. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't his fault, I don't think we had a great album’s worth of original songs either. So, it is what it is. Although it sounds better now than it did then.

Our album tanked like a big fish on the beach. I remember taking those albums and THROWING them out my window. You know, like Frisbees. (laughter) You know, they gave me a couple of cases of them. You know if I had them today, they’re worth like several hundred dollars each, you know? And I’m sort of glad, though, that people today look at that second album as something that is good. Because, hey, maybe it is good! Maybe I was too critical! Maybe if you look back at it now, it doesn’t sound quite that bad after all! 

Our second album had some really nice songs on there, and most importantly, WE DIDN'T SELL OUT. We did our own songs and sang and played them and we had fun doing it. 

BT: How did “Goodbye Holly” come about?

Cameron: Oh, now that’s a story! We were in the studio, and they were fixing something on another track. So Steve and I went out and had a couple of beers. So we came back, and Tom Feher asked me to sing “Holly,” And I said, “What?”  (laughs) So I said, “Okay,” and Steve jumped on the drums. That’s Steve on drums, and when you hear the reissue, you’ll really hear what the drums sounded like. There’s a lot of drums on there. It’s like Keith Moon on “Goodbye Holly.” Steve got into it, and then I got into it. I changed a little bit of the melody. We had fun. That was a fun, fun, fun session, because Steve was back there pounding away. He could play a little bit of everything.

“Bryant Hotel” was a Feher song, as well. He got me to do that one, and I said “Yeah,” because the Bryant Hotel  was a special memory for all of us. We all lived there, partied there. It was like the Chelsea Hotel, but only on 53rd Street. All the uptown musicians would hang out there. The key was weird for me, and I tried to get them to change it, but they couldn’t do that without ruining something else. It’s a fun song to sing. When you read the lyrics to that song, it’s hilarious. Tom Feher is a good songwriter. There’s a really good story there.

BT: Looking back, some people may find it surprising that Tom Feher stayed with you guys, despite writing a number of songs with Mike Brown.

Cameron: He was there with us, 24/7. He would make us crack up, goof on us when we did something stupid. He was a part of the band. He shared everything, lyrics, music. Feher  kept everybody in a good mood. He deserves the credit. 

BT: How did you feel when you first realized that so many people still followed the Left Banke? 

Cameron: When I first saw the page on Facebook, I was floored. I had forgotten about it, but people were still staying how much they loved it, and how much they missed it. And I was like, “Oh man, we’ve got to do this.” The fans are behind you, and you did something that somebody else likes. 

You don’t always realize that you’re different, and it takes someone else to see you, for you to see it yourself, in a way. Because it was just music to us. We just went for the music that the four of us wanted to write, and it turned out to be great.

Left Banke interviews, part one, 2011

Left Banke: Everything Returns Again
introduction, interview and photos by Daniel Coston

For longtime fans, the dream of the Left Banke’s return to the spotlight has been something that many thought would never happen. Despite numerous attempts to reform over the past thirty years, the band had not taken the stage since 1968. Given the fact that even the band’s music had been out of print for many years, it seemed that the band would never have the chance to shine again.

But early this year, the nearly improbable took place. Original bassist and vocalist Tom Finn, and drummer and vocalist George Cameron reformed the band, pulling in with them the sizable talents of vocalist Mike Fornatale, Grip Weeds guitarist Rick Riel  (who switched over to drums and vocals for the band), and keyboardist Joe McGinty. The new band debuted in March with two stunning shows at Joe’s Pub in New City, proving that all these years later, the band could pull off their eclectic sound in a live setting. The band has also left the door open for original vocalist Steve Martin, and keyboardist Mike Brown to return, ensuring that the band’s story will continue to rewrite itself in the months to come. Couple all of this with the reissue of the band’s first two albums (1967’s Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina, and 1968’s Left Banke Too) on Sundazed Records in May, and it seems that the Left Banke were indeed 45 years ahead of their time. Tom Finn leads us through the band’s past, and present. 

Tom Finn: What [George] did was, gather a couple of guys down on the Lower East Side along with our old friend, Charly Cazalet, who plays bass. We’ve known Charlie forever, since The Left Banke began. He played bass on our third album, Strangers on a Train [recorded in 1978].

And so he got Charly and he got a guitar player named Paul Alves, and a piano player named Mickey Finn, who auditioned for them, and they rented some space down on the Lower East Side in a basement. And George got inspired. And his vision was to do a band that could back up Steve, myself and him, so we could be more like a vocal group and just sing. And we wouldn’t be held back by having to be super musicians. Because the thing was always our vocals, and he figured that this way there would be a nice production behind us, and actually SOUND like The Left Banke. So, with that in mind he started this band up.

Big Takeover: You decided to move forward after realizing that Steve Martin wouldn’t be available, at least for a while. How did you find Mike Fornatale?

Finn: He called me, or actually, he sent me a Facebook message. And he said, “Hey, I wanna just offer my services, I don’t ordinarily do this, but being that it’s The Left Banke, if you need anybody, please , you know, I’m available.” So I brought him in. And he sang, and he nearly blew my mind! And so I’m saying to myself, wow! This guy is really GOOD!

So then George and I started to fall in in back of him. In other words, put him on the Steve Martin part. We’d sing the songs that WE sang the lead on on the second album. George sang two, I sang two. And then let Mike take the Steve Martin part. And so that is what we’ve been doing! So we had Mike Fornatale on lead, George and I doing backgrounds, and we had a very credible trio like we had with The Left Banke!

Well, I think people are gonna be a little surprised. at how good it sounds. Because we’ve been working hard [at this]. And I don’t think the Left Banke ever… I know they never sounded this good before on stage
Big Takeover: You guys kind of got thrown out there on stage when “Walk Away Renee” hit. I know you didn’t play…
Finn: No, we couldn’t play. I think I was playing bass for six months. When that happened, it was ridiculous! George wasn’t even our drummer when that happened. Our drummer was Warren [David]. And then he got thrown out of the group, and George was thrown on the drums. I was put on bass because there was nothing else for me to play! I couldn’t play guitar! And so I played the bass. It was easier! That’s why we never had a guitar player, really. And so we used Hugh McCracken most of the time [on studio sessions]. At least we used the same guitar player.

Big Takeover: How is it to hear those Left Banke songs again? Not only hear them but in a live setting as you have been rehearsing them the last few months?

Finn: It’s been unbelievable because, like I said, we’ve never ever done that! Not even in the 60's. First of all, when we went out on stage with Mike Brown and Steve Martin in the early days, nobody had monitors! I couldn’t hear the vocals! And George behind the drums, he couldn’t hear anything at all. As a matter if fact he just stopped singing, it was pointless.

I mean, we didn’t even do our own songs on stage, that’s how bad it got. Because, you know, when you are in front of an audience, they want to rock and they want to dance and they want to have fun! And The Left Banke material, what are we gonna do, “Barterers and Their Wives” ? So Steve started doing music by black groups. Like The Temptations, and James Brown, and things like that.

So, as incongruous as it sounds, it’s like oil and vinegar, but The Left Banke on stage was like a... black r&b group. (Laughter from both.) And so as far as our songs, the only songs we did were, “Walk Away Renee”, “Pretty Ballerina”, “Desiree” and “She May Call You Up Tonight” and everything else was, cover songs, we never did any other Left Banke material. And for the second album, we NEVER played any song  on stage. So when you ask me how it feels to be doing both full albums live, with vocals, and hear it through monitors, I gotta say that it sounds great, because I’ve never heard it before!

Big Takeover: Well, let’s go back to the beginning of the group itself. Now I know you had been playing in a couple of bands in New York before The Left Banke. Tell me a little bit about The Magic Plants. I know the name, but I don’t know very much about their history.

Finn: The Magic Plants were, WAS, one person actually, named Michael Wexler, nicknamed Mick Wexler. And he got the name Mick, from Mick Jagger. Because he actually had a complex and he walked around like and pretended that he was Mick Jagger. He actually did that.

So, I had a drummer named Warren David Scherhorst, who was actually The Left Banke’s first drummer. I figured the three of us should hook up and become The Magic Plants. In other words, Mick Wexler was looking to put together a band, to support his record. The A-side was called, “I’m A Nothing” And the B side was, "I Know She's Waiting There" which was the better song of the two. Oh, God! “I’m A Nothing”, what a bad song that is! After a few months Warren and I decided to put our own band together. So, we started looking for musicians to audition for us.

How it ties into The Left Banke is, see Mick was a guy who ran around with long hair, was a songwriter and was a good guitar player. So he ends up at one point with an audition for Harry Lookofsky. Don’t ask me how he got that audition, but he did it.

Harry Lookofsky, was a professional studio violinist,  and he was Michael Brown’s father, he owned a small recording studio, (World United) and he was very ambitious. On the business side,  he was almost like Colonel Parker (Elvis's manager). You know, he was almost a carnival huckster in a way. In other words, to him, it was like, “Here’s this guy with long hair and he sings like in that new style, so I think I‘ll sign him up to a quick single deal, and see if we can throw some of my musician friends on there, and see if we can back him up, and I‘ll put out a record.” So that’s what he did. And they put out a record on World Artists Records. And I think that they were associated with MGM/Verve Records, or something like that.

But the interesting thing about this is that because of his association with Harry Lookofsky and World United Studios, you know where Mike Brown was working as an assistant there, you know, cleaning up and setting up things, I went up there and I actually met Mike Brown. I got the idea that Harry Lookofsky was holding auditions, so I started looking for band members for my group.

I had met Steve Martin on the street corner on Broadway. The Rolling Stones were staying at this hotel called The City Squire, and I was coming from World United Studios, and I was walking up to get the subway to go down to The Village, and I saw all these girls screaming their heads off, and running down the street. And so I sort of ducked into a doorway. I had hair almost down to my shoulders. And I ducked into this doorway, and there in the doorway was Steve Martin standing there! And he had short hair.

And all these girls ran by screaming by, and they looked at me for a second and they thought that I was one of them, and they came around me. And I said, “No no no!” And then they went by and ran around. And then the Rolling Stones pulled up in a limo, and they screamed and ran over there. And I said to Steve, who I didn’t know, I said, “Hey, isn’t that a great way to make a living?” And he said, “Yeah, it sure is, man!” And that’s how we met!

When I met Steve on the street, I felt really sorry for him, because his father had just died, and he was in New York, and he was lonely as hell. And I would go uptown to watch. You see, all the girls from The Village went uptown to hang outside the hotels. To watch the Rolling Stones. So I went up there.

And every time I went up there I saw Steve, haunting around, watching it, too, because he had no friends, nowhere to go, nothing to do. So I went back up there and there were guys from The Village hanging around, too! And so, it became like a little mini-scene up there outside the City Squire Hotel.

And so of course I wasn’t trying to get to see The Rolling Stones or anything like that, but I was watching the girls. And so Steve and I would stand in doorways there a lot, and I would teach him how to sing, you know, like two-part harmony. In other words, the two of us would go into a corner and sing, “If I fell in love with you,” and he’d sing, “If I give my heart….” and we’d harmonize.

And he took the high note, of course, little did I know that he was a better singer than me! You couldn’t have told ME that back then! We sang, and sang. So, to make a long story short, I took him down to Greenwich Village with me. And I said to him, “Listen man, I can’t keep on coming uptown. So hang out down here, this is at Downstairs Figaro’s, there’s a lot of kids down here, you’re gonna make friends.” And I said, “Here’s one,” and I saw George Cameron, and I said, “Hey, this is my friend, Steve. He’s new in New York,” and George was friendly so, he and Steve became good friends and started singing and writing songs together. It was pretty obvious that the two of them were very special, because whenever they sang, a lot of kids would gather around them.

About a month later, or two months later, they started singing together. Because George was a singer, too. That’s where I met him, I met him a year earlier at a rock and roll show that we were both doing. I was in a singing group, and he was in a singing group. Only his singing group had long hair. They were called The In-sects and my group was called The Castels, and we were more like a doo-wop group. This was like late ‘64, or something like that, and that is when I met George.

And [George and Steve] started singing, and they tried to get a group together. So I invited them up to World United Studios to audition for Harry Lookofsky. Because I knew that they were looking to get a deal. And so I said, “There’s a guy uptown that I know. I tell you what, I’ll meet you there.” And we made a date. And I brought Warren with me, my drummer.

And so  the four of us, Steve, George, Warren and I we all met there and I introduced these guys to Mike Brown, who was setting up a session.  We had no intention, none, not a single thought that [Brown] would be in the group with us, Because we were all stylish and hep (nobody used the word hip) and we could sing,  and we were hanging out down in the Village. And Mike Brown was really not into any of that. He was very conservative, even nerdy. But I think he really wanted to be like us. At this point you have to remember that we were just a bunch of kids.  

And so what happened is that we realized that Mike Brown had the keys to his father’s studio there, so you know, we played him a little bit. In other words, it was like, “So, do you want to play piano with us? You’ve got the keys, let us in.” So, we’d go up there afterhours, and plug in and jam, play the drums, and Mike Brown eventually fell in on the piano. And that happened because none of us were great musicians, but our drummer could sort of play. And [Brown] could play the piano, so we would tell him the tune that we were interested in, and sort of what the chords were, and he would pick it up. And then we ended up singing around the piano, because we were all good singers. And that is the beginning of The Left Banke right there.

Big Takeover: Going back to the first couple of records, how much arranging input of those songs did you guys have on those first two records? 

Finn: We had 100 percent input on those records. The arranger, John Abbott, who ended up choosing what instruments went on what, listened to everything we said. And when we were adamant about something, he listened closely and he did what we wanted. He wasn’t the type of guy who went home with a demo, closed the door and then came out with his own vision of things. It wasn’t that way at all. 

As a matter of fact, John Abbott told me that he felt that I was the creator of The Left Banke, not Mike Brown. I swear to God he said that, I’m not trying to be egotistical here. There’s something you’ve got to remember, it was my group to begin with. I was the one that brought everyone together.  And you better believe Mike Brown listened to me, and us. Especially on the first album. Well, that was his only involvement. And that is part of the reason why he left, too, he didn’t like to listen to anybody. But, George, Steve and myself had a big input. None of us ever kissed Brown's ass. There were constant disagreements and arguments, but, in the early days we just loved singing and recording, and we got along very well.

I wrote the bass line to “She May Call You Up Tonight.” And the way I wrote it was, I was looking for a bass line, and if I couldn’t do a bass line, I would go to any lengths to get one.  I remember on the second album, I asked Charly Cazalet to help me with bass lines. He helped me to come up with two bass lines for that album, and we worked together until we got it, and I played it.

But on the first album, my playing was not up to par.  But I wrote the notes out with Johnny Abbott standing right there, and he wrote it and that’s what was played. Note for note with maybe I would say 85 percent me, and maybe 15 percent the bass player in the studio on that. Where I got the bass line is from listening to Paul McCartney playing, “You Won’t See Me.” (sings the Beatles song) Now if you listen to that, and you listen to “She May Call You Up Tonight”, you are gonna hear the same bass line. Except the chords are different. They don’t come out to be note for note, but it’s the exact same thing. And Mike Brown, when I played it for him, he liked it right away. He nodded, and everything was fine with my bass part there. I was new to the bass and had to learn fast.

And with “Walk Away Renee” , that was even earlier, basically I didn’t even play the bass then! I had just started. But I went up to the A note on the top of it and I just walked it down a half-step at a time. That’s it. It’s a chromatic descending half-step bass line all the way down in the verses. So, basically that’s what I always played, and that’s what was used on the record, at least 50 percent of it, anyway.

Warren David, he played on “I’ve Got Something On My Mind,” and he played on the demo to “Walk Away Renee”. And the demo to “Walk Away Renee”, I wish somebody had it, was done about a week or two before the actual session. And Warren was still around, and he played on it. Now Warren’s part was taken by John Abbott off of the demo, and that’s the part that the studio man, Al Rogers, played on “Walk Away Renee”. The same foot pattern, the same build, the same crash, that’s Warren’s part. That was his field, that was his part. So, to answer your question, we had very strong input on the first album. And I would say that 80-90 percent of our ideas were used.

You also have to remember that when Mike was doing, “Walk Away Renee” and “Pretty Ballerina,” Mike was surrounded by three singers that were giving their all in stereo around him. So the way that he would work is he would set up a cassette recorder, he would play a new song that he was working on, a fragment, and then he would say, “Sing along with me, boys,” and Steve went, “OK,” and Tommy, you take this, and I’ll take that. And then we’d sing, and a week or two later the song is finished. So in other words, he is getting a lot of ideas from us, you know?

I would even say, “Walk Away Renee”, melodically and musically he wrote a very limited amount of. If you really wanted to break it down, I think he wrote maybe fifty percent of that song. And Tony Sansone, the lyricist wrote about maybe 25 percent of it, and the other 25 percent was written by John Abbott, the arranger and us thrown together as a group. A mixture.

John Abbott changed some chords in the hook for, “Walk Away Renee.” I gotta tell you this, I was there, I saw it, I have no reason to lie. Mike Brown played in the key of A,  and he didn’t make any chord changes on the chorus.  In other words the hook is (sings the chorus in one key), he’s going along  the same key, on the same chord, one note, one song, no changes. There was no melody, and there was no minor chord underneath there. John Abbott put those chords in the arrangement.  John Abbott put that beautiful F#-minor in there that gives that song the tug. Without that, it would never have been a hit! That was the biggest chord change in the whole song! John Abbott wrote that! John Abbott wrote some of the chords for that song, and he was never credited as a writer. He just looked at it as, “Oh, that’s what arrangers do.”
Maybe so, but there us no doubt that John Abbott was our George Martin.

Stay tuned for part two of our Left Banke, with stories from the band’s past, and their future plans.