The Wizards From Kansas Interview
I have been searching for you to get in contact for a long time now. I’m really proud we can talk about the history of one of the most impressive psychedelic bands. My first question is about your childhood. What were some of your first influences?
John Paul Coffin: My early childhood memories of music were of the radio playing when I was really young. It was late forties early fifties, and I heard Les Paul and Mary Ford around then. Early rock and roll came in, Elvis, Fats Domino, then the Ventures, who really brought in the guitar instrumental group concept. I also heard Corsican music from my grandfather, who was from there, and quite a bit of jazz from my French cousins. And being from Kansas City, I head Count Basie, and swing music.
Rob Crain: Little Walter…when I was 7. My aunt told me I shouldn’t listen to the devil’s music.
Hal Pierce: Rock music influences included Dion, Chuck Berry, Elvis, and phil spector.
Were you in any bands before forming The Wizards From Kansas. Any releases with that perhaps?
John Paul Coffin: I was in several bands before the Wizards. There was one song of mine that was released recorded by a KC group called the Fab Four, and the song was called “I’m Always Doing Something Wrong” and it was a 45. It was re-released on a compilation of “Garage” bands from the sixties. (I’ll try to find it and send it)
I played in a band with Hal Pierce, for a couple of years called “In Black and White”, and that was the first Psychedelic band I was in. We listenend to a lot of Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Cream, Jimi, and also blues like Jimmy Reed, and Muddy Waters.
Rob Crain: Gothic Lamb at KU, Garage bands in San Jose California.
Hal Pierce: Several garage bands in the mid-60’s but no releases
When and where did you form the band? How did you guys meet and come together?
John Paul Coffin: The others can do a better job with this one, but everyone mostly got together in Lawrence Kansas, at the University.
Rob Crain: Spring of 69. I came through Linda Holett (sp) a mutual friend of Marc and Rob.
Hal Pierce: It was an amalgamation of local muscians from differant bands and we liked each others playing.
I heard you played at a lot of festivals with many great bands before making your debut album. Pig Newton & the Wizards From Kansas – Still in Kansas compilation from 2003 is a proof how good you were live.
Rob Crain: Thank you!
You did an excellent version of All Along the Watchtower…How do you remember this shows and with what bands and what festivals did you play? Who recorded this live shows for you?
Rob Crain: Play Louie Louie again for the 17th time tonight!
Hal Pierce: We played at a festival in philidelphia; we played at the fillmore east.
Well I would like if you could share some interesting concert experiences you have.
Hal Pierce: One memorable experience was a huge full-tilt bar fight in new haven, conn. regular goodfellas establishment.
If I’m not wrong you were first known as Pig Newton and, later, as Pig Newton & the Wizards from Kansas?
John Paul Coffin: Pig Newton was a tounge in cheek reference to two things, one was that “pig” was a reference to police, and Fig Newton was a kind of sweet cookie. Later the record company made us drop that part because they feared getting sued by Nabisco. Of course the Wizard part goes back to the Wizard of OZ which starts and ends in Kansas.
Rob Crain: We felt we could make more money and have a better shot if we were somebody and the sombodies so we invented the name. That’s what I remember.
Hal Pierce: Yes, and then just the wizards from kansas because mercury records could do without the pig newton part.
Did you release any 45’s with these name or later as The Wizard from Kansas?
Hal Pierce: Country dawn was released as a 45 from our wizards from kansas album.
Why did you choose the name Pig Newton & the Wizards from Kansas?
Hal Pierce: don’t recall…. i think somebody just thought it was catchy.
Around late 1969 you started recording your first LP. It was released by Mercury. How did you come in contact with them?
Rob Crain: Marc you can tell this one.
Hal Pierce: My recollection is that lonnie mack was an a & r man for mercury.
You released LP in 1970. In my opinion is one of the very best psych rock albums ever released and is very sad, that it is not more well known. How did it sell?
John Paul Coffin: Our deal with Mercury came about as a result of our producer, this young guy from New York, named Jake Fleder, going around to these different labels with our demo. We even had Lonnie Mack come and listen to us.
The original lp didn’t sell very much, partly because they record company didn’t push it, and partly because we were’nt able to tour without backing.
Hal Pierce: Originally, 5,000 – 10,000 i think. it’s been released severl times since, but we don’t know how many.
I really love the cover artwork, what can you tell me about it?
John Paul Coffin: The artwork is by John Michael Chippendale, a great London artist, and our friend Alan Calan got us hooked up with that.
Hal Pierce: It was by an artist named john chippendale (since deceased)… we all like his art… there were several to choose from. we contacted his estate in england about using his artwork for the reunion album but were not able to get it worked out.
Since you released only this LP I would really be happy if you could tell me a bit about every song. Got to say that High Flying Bird is an absolute killer!!!! Same goes for Codine and She Rides With Witches….
John Paul Coffin: Most everything was written by Rob Crane, (aka Mance Roberts). Hal wrote at least one of the others. “Hey Mister” was written by Hal.
Rob Crain: I used to go to the Fillmore in San Francisco and I heard the song there and liked it. I also heard from someone that Judy Henske had recorded it so i went out and bought her LP. My and my buddies in high School would get together to jam and that was one of the songs we would jam on. I think I saw Paul Cantner of the Jefferson Airplane, before the Airplane band was formed, play it at a folk club in San Jose, CA called the Off Stage. I was into Buffy Saint Marie during that period and really liked they way she played Codiene. She Rides with Witches was the result of a witches brew from my girlfriend Trish and the Psychodelia of the time. I liked 6/8 time and wanted to experiment with it. 912 1/2 Mass was my address in Lawrence for 6 months one time. We painted it lime green with purple trim and got high there…a lot.
What do you remember from producing and recording in the studio?
John Paul Coffin: The studio was in San Francisco. We would have intense rehearsals on alternate days, then go in and track the next day. It was hard at first, because it had to be done mostly live, no pro tools, but we did have 16 tracks to work with. I did get to overdub my solo on High Flyin’ Bird. I think I did two passes, and they took the best bits from that. I had my amp on 10 in the studio for that.
Also it was great having Mark Naftalin in the studio for two tunes, Misty Mountainside and Hey Mister. (He was the piano player for Paul Butterfield).
Hal Pierce: Awesome experience for us being in a big-time major studio with a real engineer…we were fortunate.
What happened after that?
Hal Pierce: Band members developed different musical interests and our base was lawrence, kansas not san francisco.
John Paul Coffin: After we were done recording, we only had a couple of gigs in San Francisco, and eventually went our separate ways. First I went back to KC, then to France and Germany, and finally back to KC. I’ve always kept my hand in music, and write a lot of my own stuff.
*Mark Caplan: He has played with a wide range of variety of blues, jazz, rock and Americana artist including Jimmy Witherspoon, Hubert Sumlin, Lowell Fulson, Eric Burdon, Steve Young and many others. After leaving The Wizards from Kansas, Marc stayed in San Francisco Bay Area for several years playing in the bands of such diverse musicians as Bob Dylan’s favorite Bluegrass Music icon, Eddie Adcock of the Country Gentlemen, Vanguard Records recording artist, Lisa Kindred; and Northern California brown-eyed sould favorite, Frank Aguliar.
What did you do in the late 70’s, 80’s and 90′?
Hal Pierce: Practicing law ! i never would have thought it in 1970 !
I know you are preparing a new album. What can we expect, I’m really excited…
John Paul Coffin: The new album for the Wizards from Kansas is finished, and out, it’s called “Reunion” You can go to CD BABY to find it, or our website from facebook, will get you there.
Hal Pierce: It’scalled “reunion” and it’s done. it’s quite a story…. the 5 of us had not been in the same room togather for 40 yrs. we had 2 practice sessions and into the studio we went. all original material. i think it’s great. 40th anniversary of our wizards album… all of us still speaking and still vertical so we did it. please give it a listen and tell us what you think !
Thank you so much for your time and effort. I’m really happy we are finally in contact. Would you like to add something else?
John Paul Coffin: Thanks very much, and best of luck to you,
Hal Pierce: Klemen, thank you very much for your interest !!!
Interview made by Klemen Breznikar / 2011
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