Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Passing Thought On My Birthday

So much to say.
So glad to still be here, and be where I am.
So thankful for all the good that's happened in the last few years.
Still so much to do,
and I hope to get to them soon.
Here's to another year,
another birthday,
and all that is to come.

November 30, 2014 (my birthday)

Backsliders Photo

Double Door Inn
Charlotte, NC
November 28, 2014
photo copyright 2014 Daniel Coston

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Steve Boone/Lovin' Spoonful interview

Steve Boone: A Spoonful Of Match Heads
Interview by Daniel Coston
Originally published on the Big Takeover Magazine website

For many, the Lovin' Spoonful remain one of the best and most inventive bands of the 1960s. Yet while many know their numerous hit songs, the story of the band’s brief yet colorful career has been largely undocumented. Band bassist and founding member Steve Boone had been looking to fill that void for some time.

"Even in the 1970s, I thought that there was a good story about the Lovin' Spoonful,” says Boone. "Because nobody had told the story, and there were a lot of stories and innuendo out there that wasn’t there. But I felt like that it should also include my time with Blue Seas, my recording studio near Baltimore. In 2009, Tony Moss interviewed me for Baltimore Magazine about Blue Seas Studios. And that came out so well, because Tony really cared about the story."

Working from different cities, Boone and Moss took turns working on the writing for Hotter Than A Match Head, which was released this summer through ECW Press. "It took us three full years. I’d write a chapter, and then we’ve go through what I’d written. It was a great process, but I took a lot longer than I thought it would."

When asked what he learned about himself through writing the book, Boone says, "I have been my own worst critic throughout my whole life. And what I found was that I wasn’t giving myself enough credit. In some situations, I think I set myself back by being too critical of myself, and that was a good release for me.

"One of the things that the band labored under was that it was 'John Sebastian and three sidemen comprised the Lovin' Spoonful'. I’m not diminishing John one iota, but the songs that I contributed to (“Summer In The City”, “Butchie’s Tune”, “Forever”) were far more successful than just being album cuts. I’ve had people come up and say, 'Wow Steve, I didn’t even know that you wrote.' Some of that was the fault of our management, and the record label."

What emerges through Hotter Than A Match Head is the relationships between all four members of the group. "Zally (Vanovsky, guitar) was the onstage firecracker in the band. John (Sebastian, guitar, vocals and primary songwriter) was very introspective, thinking about his music. He was good, he just wasn’t outgoing like Zal. Zally was all over the stage. If he hadn’t been restricted, he would’ve been playing on 13, not even 11. Joe (Butler, drummer) was very much the performer’s performer. He had been doing this since he was six. He sang a few leads, but not of many as he should’ve had. I had huge stage fright. When Zal left, we took on a different dimension. Jerry (Yester, guitar and keyboards) brought to it a bigger dimension for vocals, and more complex arrangements, and made it seem like John, Joe and Jerry were the lead singers. It wasn't just exclusively John."

The Spoonful formed in New York in 1964, just as the British Invasion was sweeping the United States. :All of the record labels turned us down all said, 'This music is great, it’s fabulous. We just wish they had an English accent.' That sounds odd now, but record companies do the same thing now. They run scared, they don’t take chances.

"When we started out, we were looking for electrify jug band music. We wanted to bring bass and drums, and guitars and amplifiers around that good time music that we were centering our music around. So John’s songs at the time were being written for a four-piece group. As John went on, he wrote more songs that were in a singer-songwriter mode, and the rest of the band was not writing enough to stop that direction. There’s no finger of blame here, but the Lovin' Spoonful as I knew it existed for one year in its first incarnation.” 

During that year, the band signed with Elektra Records, only to sign with Kama Sutra Records a short time later. “Kama Sutra had connections with radio stations, and we knew that we had to get our singles on the radio.” The band also dove headlong into a busy touring schedule. “We were working on the road all the time. We had to record the entire Daydream album in three days. That’s just the way it was."

In the book, Boone recalls the band’s first trip to England as one of the band’s high points. "Daydream had gone to number one in England, but that was the extent of our airplay at that point,” recalls Boone. "The first two gigs went okay, but then we played the Marquee in London. George Harrison, John Lennon. Eric Clapton was playing a gig that night with John Mayall, and he told John, 'You’ll have to find someone to replace me. I’m going to London to see the Spoonful.' Eric was a huge Zally fan. At the end of our set, we played this song called “Fishin’ Blues”. On the last verse, our amps blew out, and we just kept playing and singing. And the crowd went nuts. We then got hired to play the 21st birthday party for Tara Browne, at the family mansion. It was a weekend party like you haven’t seen. Everybody that arrived was handed a 3 ounce block of hashish. Keith Richards, Mick Jagger was there. Mick Fleetwood and Peter Green played before us. Tara couldn’t have been a nicer guy. It was chock full of European bluebloods. The word of mouth really got around about us. So when we stepped off the plane from England, we were riding pretty high. And we had "Summer In The City" coming out, which we all felt was going to be a big hit. And a month later, the bust happened."

That bust saw Yanovsky and Boone arrested for marijuana possession is San Francisco. Because Vanovsky was from Canada, the bust eventually led to his return to that country, and his ouster from the band. "When the bust happened, the air started leaking out. In my own opinion, it was just a devastating blow. When you’re not feeling good about yourself, a number one record doesn’t matter. We had a meteoric rise to success, and almost as quickly a fall,” recalls Boone.

The hits continued for Boone and the band, but by 1968, “The album was becoming the thing. And Kama Sutra didn’t know how to promote an album. We were kind of handicapped by our success. But we wouldn’t have had the success we had without being on a singles label. But when it became time to make Huns Of The Lovin Spoonful more of a conceptual type album, the label just wan’t there. Everything Playing was the first album that had recorded by a Rock band on a 16 track machine. The producer quit, and the engineer gave up. If Jerry Yester hadnt gotten involved with the production, I’m not sure that the album would’ve been finished. I wish we could go back and remix the album. The Lovin Spoonful broke a lot of ground, and Everything Playing should have been our album statement. It had the songs."

The book also documents Boone’s life after the breakup of the band. Increasingly frustrated by the band and those around them, Boone began looking for a way out. "I’d read these National Geographic articles about living on a sailboat in the Caribbean, and I was intrigued by that. I tried to record an album after we suspended touring, and it was cut off without explanation. I felt like I was punished for the drug bust. Once I’d finished my obligations, I picked out a boat, and made plans to go sailing."

Boone proceeded to sail in the Caribbean, and elsewhere for the next three years. "When you’re on a sailboat, there’s no time outs. There’s no port of call. You’ve got to be prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws at you. I didn’t have a fear of bad things happening, and it built up my resiliency."

In 1973, Boone stopped into a recording studio in Baltimore to visit a friend. The owner of the studio asked Boone if he would like to get involved, and Boone called the Spoonful’s old manager if he knew of any possible clients. "My manager asked, “Have you heard of Little Feat?” I said, "No, I’ve been in the Caribbean for three and a half years.” I decided to get involved with the studio, and made the deal happen to get the band to record in the studio.

After Little Feat recorded Feats Don’t Fail Me Now at the studio, Boone got more involved with its day-to-day operations, renaming it Blue Seas Studios in the process. In early 1976, Boone was forced to move the studio. "We didn’t know where we were going to move. We just knew that we had to be out of that building,” remembers Boone. "I went to Baltimore’s inner harbor, which was still pretty derelict at the time. In the middle of all of this, there was a beautiful houseboat with a For Rent sign on it”.

Boone moved the entire studio into the houseboat. Over the next two years, numerous national and local acts recorded on the floating studio. "It actually did pretty well”, remembers Boone, "until December, 1977, when it sank. It was actually Christmas Day, and I was visiting my family out on Long Island, and I got a phone call. They had salvaged a good deal of the gear, but we lost the tape library, and that was devastating. That was the end of Blue Seas Studios."

Having reformed the Lovin' Spoonful with Butler and Yester since 1991, Boone and his bandmates have kept up a healthy touring schedule, though nowhere as hectic as it used to be. "It’s a lot more fun now. The only fun that’s not there is the excitement of teenage girls screaming for you. You can’t replace that as a thrill, as a guy,” says Boone about the band, who were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 2000. "But nowadays, the technical end of the show, everything about the gig now is first class. We’re not doing 30,000 seat places. So we’re not making the big bucks, but the shows are a whole lot of fun. I think it compares very favorably to the original Spoonful show. When we started in this business, you considered the age of 30 to be the end of your career. Nowadays, you’re just getting started at 30."

As the Spoonful prepares for their 50th anniversary, Boone has a lot to look forward to in the coming year. "I don’t have any desire to think of myself as somebody with nothing to do. I’m just not that kind of personality. I like to work. I do to things. Whatever I can squeeze out of more to come of a life in music, I plan on doing it."

James Lowe/Electric Prunes interview

Electric Prunes: As It Was, And Is Again
Interview and introduction by Daniel Coston
originally published in the winter 2014 print edition of the Big Takeover Magazine

Of all the Garage Rock/Psychedelic bands of the 1960s that pushed the sonic envelope, few traveled more terrain than the Electric Prunes. Founded in California in 1965, their 1966 smash “I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night” was a call to arms of the new sonic wave to come. When the storied Garage/Psychedelic compilation Nuggets was released in 1972, “Too Much To Dream” opened the album, confirming its importance amongst fans and record collectors. 

In 2010, Electric Prunes founding members James Lowe (vocals) and Mark Tulin (bass) began work on one more Electric Prunes album, simply entitled WaS. This collection of live and studio tracks was nearly derailed in 2011 when Tulin died while assisting in the Avalon Underwater Clean-Up in his native California. However, time and inspiration gave Lowe the chance to finish up WaS, and prepare himself and the Prunes for whatever comes next. 

My thanks to James for this interview, which was done via email.

Daniel Coston: Let's go back to the start. What got you into playing music?

James Lowe: A friend played blues and folk music in Hawaii. I found it fascinating that you could move people with a guitar or banjo. I became hooked playing a few little clubs with him before the idea of a band ever came up.  

Coston: How did the Prunes originally come together?

Lowe: I was looking to form a band and got Mark and Ken Williams right in high school. We rehearsed for a year on our own stuff and tried to get a record deal.

Coston: What were your happiest days with the band?

Lowe: When the single "I Had Too Much To Dream" came out and there was all this buzzzz. And you heard it in the radio. That was cool.

Coston: The Prunes' records sounded like a band that was pushing the envelope. How did you translate those sounds into a live setting?

Lowe: We knew we wanted to sound different. We tried overpowering with a lot of amps but came around to trying to get the sound with smaller stuff and pedals (that had started coming out at that time). Wah Wah.

Coston: What would you say are the definitive documents of what the Prunes sounded like?

Lowe: A garage band, I would say?  We spent a lot of time in the garage. I think the style and sensibility has stayed he same across all our albums. Even this one. “Lost Dream”, “Too Much To Dream”, “Morphine Drip”, “Frozen Winter”, “Circus Freak”, “Tidal Wave”.

Coston: You often played an autoharp on the albums, and on stage. How did pick up the autoharp, and did you have trouble having the autoharp heard onstage?

Lowe: We used the autoharp on the records for shimmer, and I was given a Summit stereo autoharp by that company that plugged into the amps. So I was able to use effects on it, as well. The guitars were usually very loud so I didn't make a blazing impression with it, but it did sound dreamy at times, and it looked kinda cool. I was originally a guitar player in the band, but the management thought it was better to use the autoharp. They must have heard me play the guitar!

Coston: What kind of effects pedals, or amps did the Prunes use onstage back then?

Lowe: Homemade things, in some cases, but we did manage to get the first Wa Wa and Fuzztone units to try. We also used a VOX organ guitar on a few things. We leaned on the vibrato and tremolo mostl,y since we wanted it to sound spacy and a bit time delayed. Mmost of the amps had different versions of these same effects. The Magnatone amp had a watery tremolo, where the Fenders were a little more sawtooth sounding. I would sing into the drum of a Leslie cabinet from time to time. I like that sound a lot. We also had some watery sounding foot pedals Ken's dad made us.

Coston: Talk about some of the bands you toured with, and your favorites to tour with?

Lowe: We played with Cream, Who, Jefferson Airplane, Buffalo Springfield, Steppenwolf, Turtles, Question Mark, Soft Machine, Kula Shakur, Sunshine Company, Box Tops, Seeds, Beach Boys, Left Banke, Lovin' Spoonfull, Chocolate Watchband, Strawberry Alarm Clock, LOVE, Blues Magoos, Arthur Brown, Pierre Ubu, Damned. People think because you play with someone you become friends, actually many times you don't even speak or get to hear their set. You are preparing for your set as they play and the same holds for them. We have found most of the acts we have shared the stage with have been nice guys. I think the American bands have less attitude than the Euro's but that's just part of their charm. Everyone is in the same boat with you, so any attitudes fade in time. 

Coston: Talk a little bit about touring with the Beach Boys. 

Lowe: We liked touring with them. They were about the business more than most. Quick set ups and tear downs. It was funny to watch the thing tighten up when the wives showed up at a gig. Throw on the brakes! We just played and slept on that one. We wanted to avoid the party if we could. The other band's were cool, all trying to make a mark. Question Mark, Keith, Left Banke. It was a good time.

Coston: How did the Prunes write songs back then? On the road? At home? Do you write songs any differently now?

Lowe: You never had much time in LA to write, so you were forced to lay down ideas on the road, and then try to remember what you meant when you got home to record. We usually took a few days between Mark and I to order and reorder our new things just before we came home. Some things had no lyrics or titles until we put down the basic tracks.
Today we would do the same on the road in a van, but the computer is the way we send ideas back and forth in LA. Mark would add a line, I would add a line, or we would suggest an idea of what the song was about if it had been musically realized first. This led to "what 's this going to be about?" many times. Sometimes we would have a title and a few lines or a very strong idea, like "African Bees" "they peer in your windows and pee in your trees" and then we would come up with some music after the poem was written.

Coston: The Stockholm 1967 recording is a remarkable document of the Prunes at that time. What do you remember from that show, and that tour?

Lowe: We didn't know about the recording for years. They (Swedish Broadcast Network) had asked before the show if they could record it and I said NO. Somehow they pushed the button and red light went on? I found out about it from my son, years later. Simon Edwards championed the record on his Heartbeat label around 2000. The Nice were with us on the bill. Nice guys! It was a beautiful formal venue with red seats and good sound. This was the last night we played in Europe. I remember we didn't have an encore because we NEVER had an encore. We didn't do them. You can hear the audience clapping but we went home.  On the WaS album the live cut of "Bullet Thru The Backseat" from 2001 is the first encore we ever did. When we came back from the dead we decided to play them because everyone else was. This would be no excuse for my mom. If they jumped off a bridge, would you?

Coston: During the Stockholm show, you apologized for what the US government was doing in Vietnam. Was it strange to be an American overseas during that time, while being against what was going on in the US?

Lowe: We ran into a very hostile audience in Amsterdam before this so we were a bit prepared. They stole our fuzztone unit (a cool guy got ahold of me in 2001 and admitted his friend had done it). I flipped them off because they were actin' so crazy and we walked off. We were never a political band and didn't even pay attention to those things to be honest. We were not sure of what was even going on but there was no doubt we were not for war. I felt after Amsterdam I should at least address it. I remember wondering if I would get a visit from the MAN after saying that. I never did.

Coston: Was there a point in working with Dave Hassinger that you realized that he was taking over the band? [Hassinger used session musicians on Mass In F Minor and Release Of An Oath]. 

Lowe: Dave did the first album. If you notice we did the arrangements which in some cases WAS the production. He was distracted with Grateful Dead and we did Underground on our own, though he got producer credit. The Mass was David Axelrod's composition, so the arrangements were the key issue there again. Dave never owned the name, and never took over our sound. We had the ideas and I always ask why he couldn't do it with another group after us if he was that on?  

Coston: Post-Prunes, you did a lot of studio engineering. What did you learn about music from those experiences?

Lowe: Yes. I did albums with Nazz, Todd Rundgren, Sparks, Amanda Shankar, James Cotton, Grapefruit, Limelighters. I learned I loved music from the studio perspective. It was construction and that is always fun. I learned also that the music can be splitting your ears and no one in the band can hear their instruments. Can you bring up the guitar??? Ha ha.

Coston: The Nuggets compilation put "Too Much To Dream" as song number one of the collection, and introduced a lot of people to the Prunes. When did you first hear the Nuggets collection, and what did you think of it?

Lowe: Years after it was out. My son, again. I never told people I was in the band after we split so no one knew to tell me, I guess? When friends found out they told me about Nuggets, but I dismissed it as probably not true. I was happy when I actually heard it, and got to thank Lenny Kaye in person in NY.

Coston: At what point did you say, "I want to be in the Electric Prunes again?"

Lowe: Mark and I mixed the Lost Dreams collection for David Katznelson and we liked the sound of the old tapes. I had a studio in my guesthouse so we decided to play a little again. That was 1999. We got kind of hung up. Ha.

Coston: I saw and photographed you at Garagefest at Randall's Island, NY in 2004. You guys only got to play two songs, but you were amazing. Bruce Springsteen cut in front of me to say hello to you! What do you remember about that show?

Lowe: Bruce Springsteen coming up to me afterward. I remember looking at his goetee and wondering who the hell he was? My wife was with me and clued me in. Mark was so pissed that he was not with me after the show, as he was a big Springsteen fan. PS, this guy stopped everything so Pamela could take a few pictures of us. First class person! I wished we could have played more that day. We WaS ready.

Coston: How did this new record come together?

Lowe: Mark Tulin and I were working on collecting some things out of the past recordings, and finishing up things we had started for what WaS to be our last studio effort. His untimely death stopped me in my tracks on this project. I thought it might never be finished up. Then [the Prunes] went to play in Japan and I got inspired to [finish the album] since I knew I would be in LA for a month or so. I went through all the correspondence between Mark and I and found the interesting cuts to finish up. In some cases I left Mark's voice on the demos, I usually replaced him once we had decided on the lyrics. I thought it was more interesting to sing along in some cases and let him have the solo spot. We liked hearing our voices together on cuts so this seemed a natural extension. The order was the hardest part and a lot of early morning walks with the iPod and shuffling the order took place. Mark and I had done two songs Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins had written for us, but I could not get ahold of him in time to include them here. They are good cuts but I like what I ended up with. Steve Kara, our lead guitar player offered to help get this thing in the barn and he was invaluable with his studio and musical talent. Also Ken Eros, a cool engineer/guitarist would lend the special spice to master, play some e-bow and mix the last bit of this with me. Friends make life easier! 

Coston: How much did Mark Tulin's death affect the overall sound, and feel of this record?

Lowe: Mark would let me do most of the decision work on the records, so it was not that different, except if you can't ask your partner how it is going you have to have the guts to push down the accelerator. I knew the cuts he liked and I stuck to the lyrics we had come up with for the demos. Sometimes he would get testy when I changed a favorite word or something, so I left it pretty much as we practiced and started the basic tracks. The hardest was selecting the things we both liked and having to leave some behind. It is always that way.

Coston: Talk about the partnership between you and Mark?

Lowe: We could finish each other's sentences, actually after all these years. Mark was the only other member that wanted to write songs so it was pretty easy to stay tight. Sometimes the song would start with me, sometimes mark. Sometimes just a title would spark it. Then we would get together a few weeks later and combine our ideas. I might say African Bees, then call him up and say, "they peer in your windows and pee in your trees". Mark would laugh and a few day later a line would come back at me. A cool way to work.

Mark had been playing with Billy Corgan and he wrote us a couple of songs that we recorded. I asked Billy if we could include them here but he never got back to me as I assembled the CD so they didn't make it on there. Too bad cuz they are cool songs. 

Coston: What were the inspirations (lyrical, and musically) for this new album?

Lowe: We always are aware of what our sound issues are so it is natural to play it as we always have musically. The band has always tried to take a side track to this stuff and we like it if you know it is us by the sound. The stories are as they have been, little pictures of things. If you don't get an image listening we have not done something right. I think we have some nice cuts on here.

Coston: What's next for you and the band?

Lowe: Probably playing some of this live would be in order if anyone will have us.

Coston: What are the differences between touring now, and in the 1960s?

Lowe: Nothing. You STILL get screwed out of the money. I would have thought this would have ended but it is still the norm. 

Coston: Is it unfair to categorize the garage rock and psychedelic era of Rock & Roll? Looking back, it was a brief, yet fertile and diverse era of music. Did you even think of it as a genre?

Lowe: No. I thought we were playing Rock and Roll. It was what we grew up on and thought it was the music of freedom and you could say or play it any way you wanted. People were trying to hang a name on it to make it seem fresh but it was just Rock to us. Maybe we were wrong?

Coston: There are now multiple generations of Prunes fans. What is that like?

Lowe: Nothing is cooler than a dad bringing his son to a concert, or a letter from a young kid playing the guitar who wants to know about it all. Or getting input from people on the social media networks. I never expected anyone to even remember this stuff, so it has been my wonderful surprise from the past. We got a shot, that is what counts. I am happy I was in the band. Some good, some bad, like LIFE. Lemons or lemonade, what you make of it!

Coston: Looking back, what is the legacy of the band?

Lowe: Noise is OK. That's it! Come on by and give the new WaS CD a listen. You might be surprised at how little things have changed. 

North Carolina Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Kannapolis, NC, October 16, 2014

North Carolina Music Hall Of Fame
induction ceremony
Gem Theater
Kannapolis, NC
October 16, 2014
all photos copyright 2014 Daniel Coston

Monday, November 17, 2014

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Another Random Thought

Every time that I hear Peter Wingfield's "18 With A Bullet", I start singing "Basketball Jones", by Cheech & Chong.

Ooo baby ooo.
November 16, 2014

A Random Thought

Some are leaves, and know that they are leaves. Others are leaves, and believe that they are rocks.

November 16, 2014

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

RIP Tim Tatum of the Stowaways

Tim Tatum, lead singer of the Stowaways, has passed away. Tim and the Stowaways recorded their lone album In Our Time for Justice Records in 1966, and is available via Collectibles Music. I interviewed Tim and bandmate Ken Knight for the There Was A Time book. A fine album, fronted by a very fine gentleman, and one that all of us who knew him will miss.
November 12, 2014

My Upcoming Book Talk and Signing Schedule

Happy holidays! There’s a lot going on here. I’ve got a few book signings and discussions coming up throughout North Carolina. Here’s the schedule. Email me if you would like more info on any of these events. Thanks, and see you on the road.
November 12, 2014

November 15th- Double Door Inn, Charlotte, NC. MC’ing and playing with the Mannish Boys, and Shelia and Max of Arhooly. 9pm showtime. Books will be available at the show.

November 19th- Southern Christmas Show, Charlotte, NC. Christmas stage, 2pm to 3pm. 

November 22nd- Book talk! I’ll be talking about both my NC Musicians book, and my NC 1960s Rock & Roll book. Photos, and copies of all my books will be a available. 11:30am to 1pm. University City Library, Charlotte, NC, near UNCC. See flyer for more details.

November 29th- Literary Bookpost bookstore, Salisbury, NC, from 3 to 5pm. All of my books will be available for purchase.

December 20th- Mast General Store, Boone, NC, from 11am to 4pm. Talking about and signing my North Carolina Musicians book. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Ian Hunter/Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby photos, Charlotte, NC, November 5th, 2014

Ian Hunter & The Rant Band
Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby
Neighborhood Theatre
Charlotte, NC
November 5th, 2014
all photos copyright 2014 Daniel Coston

Monday, November 3, 2014

Mannish Boys/Max & Shelia of Arhooly show on November 15th

Spread the word! November 15th at 9pm. The grand return of Max Drake and Shelia Carlisle of Arhooly to the Double Door Inn stage, with the fabulous Mannish Boys! The Boys will be on at 9pm, and will join in with Max & Shelia's set. Tickets are available at the door, and at the website. See you on the 15th!
November 3, 2014

Milk Carton Kids/Sarah Jarosz pic

Milk Carton Kids/Sarah Jarosz
Knight Theater
Charlotte, NC
October 29, 2014
photo copyright 2014 Daniel Coston

FB post about my past few days

Photos for Sommore at a TV taping at the Knight Theater, photos of Colby Dobbs at Old House Studio, one gala, and photos of one concert in Tryon, NC. After years of searching, I've located someone that served in my grandfather's Army company. To my cousins, if you have info, or questions about George King, please contact me. The story will be told, and the story continues to go on. Safe travels to all, and see you on the road.
November 3, 2014