Valhalla & Yesterday’s Children Interview with Don Howard Krantz
Hi Don, how are you? I would like to thank you for taking your time to answer a few questions about Valhala and roots of it. First I would like to ask you about your childhood and teen years…what were some of your influences back then?
Well I started playing guitar at age 9 and by the time I was in my early teens my best friend “Eppy” Epstein & I had a band called The Vibratones & we played many hotels in the Catskill Mts of New York. By the wayMy early influences were many…my parents loved to dance , so I heard alot of Latin music like Tito Puenti & Charlie Rodreguize. My dad worked his way thru college playing sax & clarinet so he was a big help in my early years. When I heard Rock “N” Roll ….Bill Haley , Elvis , The Ventures…..I knew what I wanted to do.
By the way Eppy Epstein went on to own & manage a famous club on Long Island called My Fathers Place….they just released a book called Fun & Dangerous…our old band photo is in there.
Before Valhala you were in a band called Yesterday’s Children. You released only one single in 1966 called Wanna Be With You / Feelings.
Pickwick Records released it. Did you release anything else with these band? I would also like to know the lineup from Yesterday’s Childred and how did you get signed up with Pickwick Record?
A few years ago I did an interview for GarageHangover.com about Yesterdays Children…..if you Google it you can read up on it. We only did the one 45rpm (I wrote both sides) on Pickwick Records. The band had Bobby Huling (lead singer in Valhalla) on vocals , Fred Davenport on drums , Joe D’Leio on bass , Rich D’Benedetto on guitar.We got signed on Pickwick thru my manager Ronnie Eden who had heard us at a club & because I was the songwriter & leader Ronnie got to me first.
When was Valhala formed? Tell us something more about the beginning, how did you come together etc. You were first called Euphoria, did you releated anything with Euphoria?
Actually Valhalla was first called The Iron Butterfly …for real…& we had to change it to Euphoria & then to Valhalla. We never released any tracks untill Valhalla. I don’t remember how Mark Mangold & I met ..perhaps at a jam session…but we got together with Bobby on vocals & went thru a few players on bass & drums untill we found Eddie Livingston & Rick Ambrose. Mark had a house in Long Beach,NY & that was our main home base. We wrote & played all the time & gig’d all over the New York area.
Do you perhaps remember some of the early sessions you had?
One very early rehersal session was recorded on a Sony stero tape deck 1/4″ tape with one mic in the middle of the room. I still have the best of that tape mixed down to a CD. Later on I remember a recording session we had where David Claton Thomas (from Blood Sweat & Tears)was in the studio booth(trying to run things) and Mark almost got into a fist to cuffs with him…I think we finally thru him out. The sessions for the Valhalla album were strange due to the fact that Bobby married my girl friend Karla & I didn’t want to see them in the studio or record at all. Jim (our manager) finally got to me & I went along with the sessions. Another issue we had was that Mark recorded some songs he wrote with strings backing him up & I was never told this was going on. When I found out(after the album was released) I was pissed…also I was never asked to be apart of the final mix down.
United Artists released your only LP in 1969. How did you come in contact with them?
Our manager Jim got us to do a showcase in NYC for about a dozen major record labels. I guess United Artists offered us the best deal but looking back on it U.A. never put a whole lot of marketing & advertising into the band. Though I was suprised to find a full page ad of Valhalla (in either Billboard or Cashbox) magazine a few years ago on eBay (I bought & framed) that had photos & two full reviews of gigs we had played.
I would also like if you could tell me what do you remember from producing and recording your album.
My role in production with Valhalla was all in the rehersal sessions not in the recording studio. I don’t really remember much about the actual recording sessions…..we were very busy with photo sessions & getting ready to tour. I think we did go back in & record a bunch of tunes for a second album but they never got released.
Do you perhaps know how many copies were made?
No I don’t recall how many albums were printed.
I really love the cover artwork. It’s a sinking burning Viking ship. The name Valhalla is the paradise of the Vikings who died honorably, right? Who did the cover artwork?
Yes the art work was awesome…when the Vikings died in battle they went to Valhalla. Remo Bramenti was the artist & he did alot of research before he started the project. I think Mark has the original art work.
How about touring? What do you remember from touring as Valhala. Did you play at any festivals?
Can you share some interesting stories that happened while touring?
One gig we played…Eddie our drummer had a splean burst & we had to call an ambulance to take him to the hospital. Everyone probably thought it was a drug related thing & we had to switch around the lineup to cover the gig. We were booked to play Powder Ridge Festival & then Altamont went down & the festival got cancelled. I remember one night Eddie hit his cymbol so hard it fell ovwer & like a sharp knife cut my a/c wire to my amp & my guitar went dead. We had to stop & splice it all up.
We used to choose who would sleep on the mattress or on the box spring…take 1st shower or last. It was like being married to 4 other guys. One gig we flew out to Detroit to play East Town Theater & that was cool with the limo picking us up & the roadies drive’n the truck.
I might ad at this point there was alot of drugs going on in those days with most of the band except Mark. In all those years I never even seen him smoke a joint. I had the worst reputation of the whole band…going to gigs really messed up. I have way over 20 years clean & sober now.
Well, I would also like to ask you about song writing. I will wrote songs you did on your only LP and if you could share a few words about every song…
To talk about all the songs on the album would take way to long but J.B.T. stands for June Bird Terd …an inside joke at the time. We were all writing & co-writing…..I had alot of songs done but was never asked to work them out with the band. I really wanted to see if we could get some folk-rock-bluesy sounds. A big inspiration to me was Mike Bloomfiled from The Paul Butterfield Blues Band as well as Hendrix , Clapton & John Mayall , Jeff Beck etc. also Lenny Breau was a favorite of mine.
What did you do after Valhala? I know you recorded an album in mid 90’s called Poets Road…
After Valhalla I moved up near the town of Woodstock ,N.Y. & jamed with some various musicians , played a few gigs but the business end of the music killed it for me so I went underground & got back to my roots as a folk-blues-rock-jazz player & did the unplug thing before it had that name. I met some fine players & yes I did another album on my own(paid for it all) in the mid 90’s called The Don Howard Band “Poets Road”. My friend Jack Douglas (produced John Lennons last album & Aerosmith et.) came in to mix & master it. I used my middle name back then & now the band is just Poets Road & we will soon start a new album.
What are you doing these days, Don?
For the past 12 years I have been teaching guitar , trying to finish a book on how to teach guitar, working on new tunes , still collecting guitars….enjoying the mellow country life of upstate New York.
I would like to thank you for taking your time. Would you like to share anything else?
Thanks for your interest in the old band , I think that the Valhalla, album sounds better now then it did all those years ago. My friend Eppy told me a few weeks ago if we had stayed together we probably would have made it real “big” …..we broke up before he opened up My Fathers Place.
Interview made by Klemen Breznikar / 2011
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