Thursday, January 5, 2023

Music Explosion Interview


The Music Explosion: Sunshine Games

by Daniel Coston

Big Takeover Magazine 

Issue 91, out now

In the fall of 1967, the Music Explosion rode the wave of “Little Bit O’ Soul”. The catchy song sold over a million copies, launched the careers of Jerry Kasenetz and Jeffry Katz of Super K Productions as bubblegum svengalis, and put the band’s hometown of Mansfield, Ohio on the map for spawning great Garage Rock.

After many years away, bassist Burton Stahl and the Music Explosion returned to the stage last year, touring with the Cyrkle, the Outsiders, and fellow Mansfield legends, Dean Kastran and Dale Powers of the Ohio Express. “Little Bit O’ Soul” may have only lasted for two minutes and eighteen seconds, but all of these years later, Burton and guitarist Rick Nesta are still thankful to ride that wave.

Coston: The Mansfield, Ohio area produced three hit bands during the 1960s. The Music Explosion, Ohio Express, and Crazy Elephant. It’s amazing, the amount of talent that was around that area.

RICK NESTA: In Ohio, there’s a small ski area called Snow Trails, and they used to have shows there every night with the Mark Three Trio, and the sax player of the group was Grover Washington, Jr.. They were a little more smooth jazz, but they were trying to extend into some Rock & Roll clubs. Our lead guitar player, Don “Tudor” Adkins, Tudor and myself would sit in with the Mark Three Trio at these smoky basement clubs. 

There was a lot of inspiration that came from them, because they were all accomplished musicians, and they were at least ten years older than us. We got schooling from some of the guys that had already polished their trade as musicians. 

Coston: Your first single was a cover of “Little Black Egg”.

BUTON STAHL: When we went to New York to record “Little Bit O’Soul”, we recorded five songs. One of the others was “Little Black Egg”, so were recorded both songs at the same time. Jeff and Jerry liked that one, so they released “Little Black Egg” on Attack Records, which was their own record label that they had come up with. Jamie [Lyons], our singer, did such a great rendition of that. Jeff and Jerry then worked out a deal with Laurie Records for “Little Bit O’Soul”. 

Coston: When you recorded “Little Bit O’ Soul”, did you think it was a hit? 

Stahl: The one thing that stuck in my mind, was I wanted things more like a Rolling Stones song. The song was a little more melodic and pop, but when Jamie and I came back to the hotel room, we worked on doing the intro to the song, with more staccato, and a lot faster. Then we went back in and played it for Jeff and Jerry, and everybody was just on top of it. We had a whole lot of great people that worked with us. Ritchie Cordell, he was playing congas, and keyboards. They put it all together, and we heard it put together in the studio, it was like, “Wow! That’s pretty good!” 

Coston: Were you aware that “Little Bit O’ Soul” was going up the charts?

Stahl: Our managers had a marketing plan for the West Coast. Rick’s mom and dad started calling long distance to radio stations, saying “We’d like to hear Little Bit O’Soul” again.” You get enough people doing that, the music producers and going, “Hmmm.” That’s what happened. We were getting picked up, and all different parts of California, and Arizona.

Coston: You then toured with several groups, including the Easybeats. 

Stahl: We all became really good friends with the Easybeats. Their bass player, Dick Diamonde, taught me more on bass than I had ever known before. I stayed in touch with him for a long time.

Nesta: We toured with the Easybeats for five weeks on the Gene Pitney tour. Gene Pitney had six or seven acts that he toured with. He was a great guy. The Easybeats were definitely an inspiration. When we started the tour, they had two tour buses to take care of all of us that were on the tour. The congregation point was at 55th and 7th Avenue, in New York City. As we walked on the tour bus, WABC announced, “The number one song this week, for the second week in a row, is “Little Bit O’ Soul!”” Half the bus booed!

Stahl: The Buckinghams, the Easybeats, the Happenings. Everybody started booing us as soon as we walked in, because we didn’t know them, and they didn’t know us. It was like, “What are we in for?” 

Nesta: Do you know the name Ronnie James Dio? That was Gene Pitney’s bandleader, at the time. Gene had seven or eight guys that backed him up for his performance, and Ronnie was the leader of the Pitney band. He was a great musician, but he was also a schoolteacher. 

When we were in New York, we would hang out at Steve Paul’s Scene. The first time there, we walked down the steps, and Steve Paul said, “You gotta be somebody for them to get in here!” We said, “We’re the Music Explosion!” and he let us in.

Coston: Tell me about playing American Bandstand in February of 1968.

Stahl: It was phenomenal. We had to pantomime the record, but the people just loved it. We had our stuff that we had bought on the Sunset Strip. People are looking at me like, “Who is this?” And then they heard the song, and they’re like, “Yeah! We love this song.” 

The song was already a hit when we did that taping in February of ’68, but people still loved the song. We had a new song coming out, so we played that. It was so much fun to stand on a stage that you’d seen every Saturday afternoon since you were a little kid, and all of the sudden, you’re part of the scene. 

Nesta: That might have been my first time in California. We did the show with Blue Cheer. It was a thrill, because growing up, and watching Rock & Roll with Dick Clark, that was a bridge that you crossed only when you’re able to climb the mountain. 

Coston: Tell me about the singles that followed “Little Bit O’Soul”.

Nesta: “Sunshine Games” had great energy in the studio. Tight recording, lots of rhythmic things.

They had all of this great equipment, but then you take it down to these little speakers that you have in the dash of your car, and then mix it, so that it sounds good when you’re driving around, listening to the radio. That was just around the beginning of eight-track. I never thought that “Sunshine Games” came out with the right dynamics on a car radio. But I think that Burton will agree, we were all excited about “Sunshine Games”. We thought it might have been a little better than “Little Bit O’Soul.” 

It kind of stalled out around 45 on the Hot 100, and Kasenetz and Katz made a strategic move to pull the record while it was still going up, and put out the song “We Gotta Go Home”, which was a good song. And who knows what a good song is until the public hears it, and they have the final decision if it will sell a million copies, or not. 

Stahl: Our B-side of “Little Bit O’ Soul” was “I See The Light”, and when people heard that, they loved it. It was just a great song. We thought that that one might hit. 

Nest: On the West Coast, there were some stations that played “I See The Light”, instead of the A-side. In some markets, it was a double hit. 

Stahl: People didn’t know what side to play! The B-side sounded like something it would sell. If it had gotten a push, it could have been a really good follow-up. 

Coston: How did the band end? 

Stahl: For me, I was ready to get out of it. I wound up not as happy with everybody. Rick was still in the band, but we wound up with some other players. Our guitarist, Don got drafted, and had to go to Vietnam. All this stuff was going on, and it was hard to find out what our niche was. I thought, “Maybe it’s time for me to get a job.” 

Nesta: I was invested in the band with Tudor. Losing him was like losing the inspiration.

We were doing a show in Akron, Ohio, and Jeff and Jerry came. They hardly ever came to any shows. They said, “This is going to be the last show of the Music Explosion. The name is going to be Crazy Elephant.” And that was my stepping off point.

Coston: How was it to take part in last year’s Re-Livin' The Dream tour?

Stahl: That was a lot of fun. The Cyrkle headlined the show, and backed us up. The Cyrkle is a great band. Our friend Jamie Lynch came along with us, as well. I couldn’t believe that there were two thousand people out there in the audience with gray hair, but they still knew how to clap their hands, and have a good time.

Coston: What is it like to be able to play with your friends for fifty-five years?

Nesta: Fifty-five years go by in a hurry. Every day, you turn on the news, and some other musician has left us. So it’s great that the friendships survived, and the music survived. I’ve guess you’ve got to count your blessings. 

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