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Dennis Rea Interview


1. Let's start at the beginning. How were you first influenced by music?

From a very early age I always felt attracted to ‘weird’ music – weird in the sense of being unconventional, or perhaps a bit eerie or dreamlike. I was fortunate to grow up during the psychedelic ‘60s, a time of unparalleled experimentation in popular music, when it was commonplace to hear extremely odd tunes like Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra’s “Some Velvet Morning” or any number of lysergic-laced Summer of Love nuggets on mainstream radio – it was mold spores like those that bent my budding musical consciousness. But I also count many of the ‘classic’ rock bands of the time as important influences – Hendrix, the Who, Zeppelin, the Allman Brothers, and so on.

The person who had the greatest influence on my developing musical tastes as a youth was my much older brother Woody, who had an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz and other contemporary music (and whose son Michael went on to play guitar with prog-metal legends Queensryche). Woody supplied me with a steady stream of quality records in my early years, giving me a bit of a head start on my peers. Chance encounters with the music of such mavericks as John Cage and Gyorgy Ligeti were also key to shaping my musical thinking. Later, the entire ECM catalog, pioneering jazz-rock bands such as the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and the jazz avant-garde of the 1960s were also hugely influential.

2. Your first band was called Zuir. What can you tell me about ideology of the band? Did you release anything, did you do any touring?

Zuir actually grew out of an earlier band called Atmosphere that had a single public performance, but it was in Zuir that I felt my ideas and musical personality really started to take shape. I formed the band with two close friends from my hometown of Utica, New York – bassist Norm Peach and drummer Daniel Zongrone – when we were still in our mid-teens. By this time (around 1972) we had all become rabid fans of the first wave of (mostly British) progressive rock bands – Crimson, Floyd, Gentle Giant, Soft Machine, Curved Air, the usual suspects – and did our best to emulate them, not so much aping their specific musical styles but rather taking inspiration from their commitment to instrumental excellence and spirit of open-minded inquiry. I was feeling confined by the narrowly restrictive format of the dominant blues-rock of the time, and started writing lengthy pieces that explored unusual scales, harmonies, and time signatures. In hindsight (hindhearing?) our efforts sound very amateurish, but Zuir was nevertheless an important first step on the path that brought me to where I am today.

Zuir was completely out of place in a city that was mostly in the grip of Southern roadhouse rock, so we had to create our own opportunities, renting small halls and utilizing alternative venues for the few shows we played. Although we enjoyed a small but devoted fan base in Utica, we yearned to expand our horizons and jumped at my brother’s offer to manage the band if we were willing to move all the way out to Seattle where he lived. So we pooled our scant resources, bought a badly damaged truck, and relocated to Seattle at the tender age of 18, only to find that audiences there were even less receptive to our weird music than they’d been in Utica. We accomplished little musically in Seattle and ended up back in Utica a short time later, but it was a very important rite of passage for all of us and laid the foundation for my future activities as a Seattle-based musician.

3. Your first well-known band was Earthstar, who released four albums between 1978 and 1983. The music is really interesting ambient electronica. I heard the legendary Klaus Schulze helped you out with producing some of the albums... Could you share a story with us about the beginning of this band and about producing and recording your albums?

Earthstar was the brainchild of keyboardist and composer Craig Wuest, a fellow member of the tiny progressive music minority in Utica who had forged a friendship and musical alliance with Zuir. Craig was one of the earliest people in Utica to own a synthesizer and various other electric keyboards and was the first person to introduce me to the kosmische musik scene then thriving in Germany – Tangerine Dream, Cluster, Popol Vuh, Kraftwerk, Amon Duul, etc. At first, Earthstar was basically Craig’s solo project, but as time passed he enlisted various collaborators to flesh out his vision. The first Earthstar album, the long out-of-print LP Salterbarty Tales, was released by Nashville-based Moontower Records in 1978 and marked my first appearance on record.

Meanwhile, Craig had begun corresponding with one of his favorite electronic musicians, Klaus Schulze, who was impressed with the demos Craig had sent him and encouraged Craig to relocate to Germany, where ears were somewhat more receptive to that sort of music than in retro-rock Utica. Craig decided to try his luck abroad and settled in Hambühren, near Schulze’s base of operations in northern Germany, just as Klaus was launching his Innovative Communications (IC) label. Klaus proposed that Craig record a new Earthstar album for IC, and Craig set about recording tracks at some of Germany’s finest studios. After a time he decided to recruit some of his old hometown collaborators to contribute to the project, so I traveled to Hambühren to take part in the sessions; in all, I spent about a half-year there over the course of two stays.  

For various reasons no Earthstar album ever materialized on IC, but the band was instead signed by Sky Records, one of the flagship ‘krautrock’ labels of the day, and released three LPs, one of which, French Skyline, was produced by Schulze. I made contributions to two of these releases, more as a sideman than a core player in what was essentially Craig’s project. But there is also a ‘lost’ Earthstar album, Sleeper the Nightlifer (also produced by Schulze), which was a much more collaborative effort and quite a departure from the sort of flowing space music for which Earthstar is typically known. It’s not likely that Sleeper will ever see the light of day, though. In retrospect I’m very proud of Craig and Earthstar for being probably the only U.S. group to have participated, however marginally, in the German kosmische musik scene during its heyday, but from this distance I have mixed feelings about the music itself – some of it stands the test of time very well, some not so well.

4. Next you joined in a project called Savant. In the 90s you were a member of Land and later a member of Eric Apoe and They, Stackpole, and Ting Bu Dong. It's amazing how many musicians you have worked with! Would you like to comment on this period of your career?

After Zuir and Earthstar evaporated I was somewhat adrift in my musical life for a time. My first collaboration of any consequence during that period was with electronic composer K. Leimer in his Seattle-based project Savant, which resulted in the 1982 LP The Neo-Realist (At Risk). Like Brian Eno, Leimer was interested in the generative possibilities of self-governing systems fed with limited musical inputs. It was a sort of collage sensibility that, in the era just prior to the introduction of digital recording techniques, involved a lot painstaking physical cutting and splicing of tape. Downbeat reviewed the record together with Byrne and Eno’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, and I feel the comparison is apt.

After this second stint in Seattle I moved to New York City for three years, and though my musical activities there were largely confined to the underground, being surrounded by all the groundbreaking music then exploding in Downtown Manhattan, especially musicians situated along the Laswell-Zorn axis and in the modern jazz scene, was crucial to my developing musicianship.

It was only after I moved back to Seattle in 1986 that I started performing in public more regularly, first with an avant-funk unit named Color Anxiety and subsequently with more aggregations than I can remember. It was at this time that I first began to immerse myself in the world of free improvisation, which led to my co-producing the long-running, internationally recognized Seattle Improvised Music Festival for many years.

As you point out, I’ve been blessed to have collaborated with so many supremely talented musicians over the years. In some cases these are relationships that developed over long periods of time, while in others it was simply a matter of being in the right place at the right time. I find that working in the areas of jazz and free improvisation in particular fosters numerous, ever-shifting collaborations. All of these relationships have provided musical inputs that are an integral part of who I am as a musician.

5. Let's go back to your first solo album from 1990 called Shadow in Dreams. What do you remember about producing and recording it?

In 1987 I met my future wife Anne, who had recently graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in China Studies. Anne soon secured a teaching post in China and then arranged a job there for me as well, so in early 1989 I joined her in the city of Chengdu in Sichuan Province for what I expected to be a year of teaching English. Operating under the assumption that China was a repressive authoritarian state, I expected that there would be little if any opportunity for me to perform my type of music there, so no one was more surprised than me when I found myself on a wild musical rollercoaster ride, playing concerts in sports arenas with a Chinese pop star, collaborating with some of the founding figures of Chinese rock, and recording a solo album, Shadow in Dreams, for the state-owned China Record Company that sold an amazing (for me at least) 40,000 units.

Shadow in Dreams came about when I was approached by an unusually open-minded producer at China Records who had seen me perform. He invited me to make a solo record for the label, and of course I jumped at the chance – it’s not every day that a progressive musician is handed an opportunity to break new ground in an exotic communist country. But when it came down to planning the material, the producer suggested that I model it after the wildly successful easy-listening records made by French schlockmeister pianist Richard Clayderman that were then all the rage in China. It appeared that the producer had completely misread my musical personality and was really looking for something more crowd-friendly. I was completely unwilling to compromise my sensibilities, so I told the label that I probably wasn’t their guy. But the producer kept working on me, stressing the need to include at least one piece that was familiar to the Chinese audience, and the compromise we reached was that I would include a version of Beethoven’s “Fur Elise,” a ubiquitous piece of muzak in China at the time. I agreed on the condition that I would be free to arrange the tune however I liked, and with the help of various effects pedals and physical preparations managed to make it the strangest track on the record, much to the label’s chagrin.

Shadow in Dreams was recorded under rather primitive conditions (balky equipment, numerous power outages) at the label’s Chengdu studio and involved a lot of overdubbing, as there were few local musicians who could relate to my music. The material ranged from jazz ballads to adapted Chinese folk tunes to pieces that were vaguely prog-rock. I did the best I could under the circumstances, and am proud of the accomplishment but not so much the music itself, though it has its moments.

That and many other wacky adventures are recounted in my book Live at the Forbidden City: Musical Encounters in China and Taiwan, which also provides some background on the emergent Chinese rock, jazz, and experimental music scenes.

6. Let’s talk about some of your amazing recent projects released by MoonJune Records. Let's start with Moraine. How did you guys come together?

Moraine has come a long way since its origins as a casual improvising duo made up of myself and cellist Ruth Davidson. Eventually we each brought some of our tunes to the project and the focus gradually shifted from improvisation to composed pieces. To bring out the potential of the compositions, we expanded the group over time to include violin (Alicia DeJoie), drums (Jay Jaskot), and bass (currently Kevin Millard). When Ruth and Jay left Seattle for the East Coast a couple of years later, they were replaced by James DeJoie on woodwinds and Stephen Cavit on drums. With the change in personnel, Moraine’s approach evolved from the chamber-like ‘string quartet plus drums’ format heard on Manifest Density to the much more forceful sound captured on our new CD Metamorphic Rock: Live at NEARfest.

7. I listened to your album a couple of times now and I'm really impressed at how you range from math-rock to Zeuhl to hard bop jazz, even to Chinese folk music. The most amazing part is how you connect all these different genres into one incredible soundscape.

Moraine’s music is the sum of all its members’ widely varying musical interests and experiences, which span all kinds of rock music, jazz, avant-garde classical and experimental music, various world musics, noise, even country. We feel no compunction to adhere to any specific stylistic parameters, and revel in exploring any musical direction that suits our instrumentation and musical personalities. Despite this stylistic variety, I think we’ve reached a point where whatever style we choose to play, the result sounds like Moraine.

We never considered ourselves a ‘prog rock’ band but simply a wide-ranging electric instrumental unit, as likely to play jazz or Chinese folk music as anything resembling prog. Indeed, I’m the only member of the band who has a background in and much familiarity with progressive rock. It was only after we hooked up with MoonJune Records that we found ourselves labeled ‘prog’ by listeners from that world. Our attitude is that if the progressive community wants to embrace us, we’re very happy with that, but our music goes well beyond that genre description.

I think listeners will agree that our new CD, Metamorphic Rock: Live at NEARfest, is a huge leap forward from Manifest Density. We had the incredible privilege of being invited to play the major progressive music festival NEARfest last year, quite an honor for a relatively new, mostly unknown band. Fortunately we proved to be up to the challenge and turned in one of our finest sets ever, with a lot of energy and inspired soloing. The track list includes new pieces and some selections from Manifest Density, which show just how much the band has grown since the previous CD was recorded. We hope your readers will take a chance on it, and trust that they won’t be disappointed.

8. Iron Kim Style was your next CD project after Moraine’s Manifest Density. This is some intensive listening! It's one of the most interesting jazz-rock albums I’ve heard lately. I bet you were inspired a lot by Miles Davis’ electric era?

Many listeners have noted similarities to Miles’ electric period, no doubt due to the presence of trumpet. While we weren’t consciously emulating the great man’s music, we are of course thrilled to be mentioned in the same breath. The key thing to know about Iron Kim Style – and this seems to have escaped many reviewers – is that the music on the disc is 100-percent improvised, even though it may not sound that way in places. Unlike the more ideologically driven free improvisers who pathologically avoid playing in a fixed key or settling into periodic rhythms, we embrace grooves and harmonic progressions as keenly as we do abstraction and noise.

Iron Kim Style was never a ‘band’ per se, and we’re very surprised and pleased at the positive responses the CD generated, but we have no explicit future agenda. The group is dormant at the moment but could rear its beastly head again anytime the spirit moves us.

9. Your latest solo album is called Views from Chicheng Precipice and it's a very unique album.

Together with my book Live at the Forbidden City, Views from Chicheng Precipice is one of the two end products of my years living in China and Taiwan and is a way of repaying my debt to that musical culture. Unlike most expatriates I encountered during my stay in Asia, who avoided their host countries’ traditional music as if it were poison ivy, I developed a great enthusiasm for the music of East Asia and early on started adapting selected traditional pieces for my instrument. For Views, I had the good fortune to enlist some of the finest instrumentalists in all the Pacific Northwest, whose amazing contributions enriched the music far beyond my most optimistic hopes. The idea was to approach the source material with respect while incorporating the full range of my musical influences, from free jazz to electronics, highlighting intriguing similarities between the two cultures.

10. What are some of your future plans?

Happily, Moraine’s appearance at NEARfest, exposure to a worldwide community of like-minded listeners through MoonJune, and recent U.S. East Coast tour are opening doors to a lot of exciting opportunities for the band, including the possibility of performing in Brazil, Korea, and Europe within the next year or so. And we’ve already assembled nearly enough material for a third CD, which will be a studio effort. I see plenty of potential for Moraine for years to come.

Apart from Moraine and the currently inactive Iron Kim Style, I’m still involved in the electronically processed kalimba trio Tempered Steel; we have a recording in the can that we’d like to get out soon. I continue to work in various improvising situations including a guitar trio with Brian Heaney (Ask the Ages, Sunship) and Stephen Parris (Monktail Creative Music Concern). I contributed to forthcoming CDs by Jeff Greinke and the Jim Cutler Jazz Orchestra that should appear soon. An improvised trio outing with saxophonist Wally Shoup and drummer Tom Zgonc will likely see release in the coming year. And Leonardo Pavkovic of MoonJune has suggested a ‘power trio’ made up of myself, former Moraine and Iron Kim Style drummer Jay Jaskot, and Clint Bahr, bassist for Tripod, who released a disc on MoonJune a few years back. It’s a very enticing prospect and we’ll likely do some sessions this fall in NYC for a hopeful MoonJune release. Meanwhile, I’ve been co-presenting two monthly progressive/jazz-rock concert series at small Seattle venues, showcasing the abundance of remarkable local talent that, as in most places, seldom get their due in the press or among various trendy scenes.

11. What inspires you most these days?

For me, nonmusical inspirations have always been at least as important as musical ones. My single greatest inspiration is the natural world – landscapes, terrain, geology, wildlife… Note that the name Moraine is itself a geological term denoting the debris deposited by glaciers. Ruth Davidson came up with name, but as a bit of a mountaineer, it felt perfect to me.

Recent musical inspirations include numerous Norwegian musicians such as Arve Hendriksen, Trygve Seim, Jon Balke, and Christian Wallumrod, who all record for ECM – I think some of the most interesting music in the world nowadays is coming from Norway, and there’s an incredible amount of variety as well. I’ve also been rather obsessed with Scott Walker’s solo albums of the late 60s – staggering creativity. I’ve been listening to a lot of ‘60s and ‘70s British jazz records that feature vocalist Norma Winstone. Jon Hassell’s Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street has been exerting a strange, lasting fascination on me. Sunn O)))’s recent Monoliths and Dimensions really blew my mind. And I continue to be amazed at the strange contemporary ethnic artifacts unearthed by the fabulous Seattle-based Sublime Frequencies label. As for live performances, I recently had the dream of a lifetime fulfilled when I saw the great Milton Nascimento in a relatively intimate venue here in Seattle – his performance brought me to tears.

12. I would like to thank you for your time and wish you all the best in the future...Would you like to add something else, perhaps?

I’d just like to offer heartfelt thanks from myself and the members of Moraine and my other projects for your kind interest in our music, and for giving me this chance to share my thoughts with your readers. One of the best things about hooking up with MoonJune is that it has introduced us to a wonderful community of like-minded listeners worldwide, and we all need allies in times like these. Hope to play somewhere near you soon!

Interview made by Klemen Breznikar / 2011

© Copyright 2011

Bang interview with Frank Ferrara

Surely one of the most unsung bands in the history of American hard rock music, BANG released three full-length albums for Capitol Records in the early 70’s, that criminally sank without a trace. Capitol artist development at the time just did not know what to do with the band that was often called America’s answer to Black Sabbath.

Leigh Stephens interview

Hi Leigh! I'm really pleased to have you on my magazine. How are you these days?

I am fine. I am recording a new Leigh Stephens cd for the first in 7 years. I just finished recording, producing, arranging and playing all the guitar and bass on Tracey Adamis new CD “Sometimes Life Is Fair”

First I would like to talk about some of your projects from these days. You are senior digital media designer, illustrator and you just produced a brand new CD for artist, Tracey Adamis. You also provided all the guitar parts on the album. Would you like to talk about your current occupations and perhaps a few words about new CD you just produced?

Right now I am working on my first instrumental CD ever. It will be done this summer. I will let you know exactly when and where soon. The Tracey Adamis CD “Sometimes Life Is Fair” is available online at and

I really had a good time with this CD because she let me interpret her songs in my style and totally trusted me with her project.

There has been so much said about Blue Cheer, and I would like to ask a few questions regarding some of your other works. Perhaps if we can start with the very beginning. Were you in any bands before Blue Cheer, any releases from then perhaps?

No releases before Blue Cheer.

Where did you later meet Dickie and Paul?

I met Paul in and around Fairfield, Ca and Davis, Ca. He was in a band called the Oxford Circle. Dickie the same thing. He was in a band called Group B.

So after Blue Cheer you recorded your solo album called Red Weather. The album has really atmospheric leads and it's full with mysterious lyrics. I would like if you could share some memories from producing and recording this LP? What can you say about the cover artwork?

This LP was recorded at Trident Studios in London by Robin Cable. The artwork was taken from a photo at the old Sutro Baths in San Francisco, ca and incorporated into an original artwork. I forget who did that.

Your next project was called Silver Metre. Beside you, there were also Pete Sears on bass, keyboards, Jack Reynolds on vocals and Mick Waller on drums. It's pretty interesting record with cover of the theme from Jesus Christ...I heard you played only one show together?

No we did a tour of the states with Traffic pretty much. We only did one show in England.

Would you like to tell me how did you come together and what can you say about production and recordings?

I was living in London and Mickey Waller just appeared having been part of Jeff Beck Group. He introduced me to Ronnie Wood and we started to rehearse at the Stones studio in Bermoundsey. Woodie ended up going with the Faces and Pete and I ended up meeting Harry Reynolds that had a friend with a lot of good songs to yet be recorded. Turns out his friend was Elton John and we took around 4 or 5 songs of his and did them on the Silver Metre album.

I would be also very glad to know how did you come up with the name and cover artwork?

Silver Metre is a song by renowned B3 player who’s name escapes me at the moment. Heard it over at Keith Emerson’s place and really loved the name. The artwork was a working maching by a local artist.

Pilot was a new band formed by you and Mick Waller (ex-John Mayall's Bluesbreakers and Jeff Beck Group) who already played on your own solo album and in Silver Metre. The line-up also included Bruce Stephens (of no relation to you but did replace you in Blue Cheer for a while and he was also in Mint Tattoo) plus Martin Quittenton from Steamhammer. Would you like to share a story behind the band formation and some experiences that happened to you?

I just did the session work on that album then went back to the states to rehearse for next one but it didn’t work out.

Cast of Thousands is your next album. I heard from some interview, that you don't like it very much. I don't know why, because in my opinion horns, backing vocals, guitars and all the rest are mixed together very good...

Anyway later you were signed to Motown with a band called Foxtrot and you recorded an album, but It was never released, do you know if the recordings still exists, cos I would love to hear them!

Cast of Thousands sucks in my estimation. Should never have been recorded. Foxtrot on the other hand is quite good but never released by Motown.

What were you doing thru '80s, '90s and till now?
I know you recorded Chronic album and in 2004 you released High Strung / Low Key. Would you like to talk about it? What were some of your inspirations?

Chronic was very good. I am proud of that CD. High Strung should never have been released. As a matter of fact when the supply runs out you will never hear it again.

I hope this interview didn't bothered you too much. I'm really happy you took your time and answered a few questions. Would you like to share anything else with your fans? 

Yeah for all the faithful out there, the new CD coming up is really going to be a good one. I like to call it Nouveau Surf for now. A new genre of instrumental music.

Interview made by Klemen Breznikar/2011
© Copyright

Michael Turner in Session Interview


1. Thanks a lot for agreeing to this interview, Michael! I would like to ask you first where did you grow up and what are some of the early influences you had back then as a young kid and later as a teenager?

I grew up in a place called Innisfail in far north Queensland and was around before rock started . As a child I could sing, I came from a family of singers but was pushed into choral play type stuff ,then one day I heard Elvis Presley and then Little Richard who really blew my mind and that was that. At Sixteen I joined my first band in Cairns just north of my home town, it was called Michael and the Mustangs we were the top band up there but just playing hit parade covers at dances etc. then finally I found direction as Jimi Hendrix and Cream and others came along.

2. Were you in any bands before forming Michael Turner in Session? Any releases perhaps?

I left north Queensland in 1969 and brought a band with me to Brisbane called Force V we were playing covers but it was more blues and power house rock we had come from the country to the city to find bubblegum music was raging we created quite a storm playing blues and wearing far out clothes we became a bit cult the pop bands hated us .Unfortunately it folded and there were no recordings done.

3. When and how did you start your band? Any memories from some of the early sessions you had?

I wanted to try a solo career but was enticed to join this band and they said just put your name in front of it , they were called Session and that's how it began.I have great memories of those early days as Led Zeppelin had just taken the world by storm and I had the band to play it and I had the voice to sing it , we became very popular fast ,I know we were only covering but no other bands could manage it in those days and it really kick started us (my thanks to them especially Robert Plant).

4. I would like if you could tell me about your releases as the band. You never released an LP, just one single 45's called Pattern of My Life / Just Around Midnight on Havoc Records, right? Would you like to share some of the strongest memories from producing this single?

I moved the band to Melbourne in 1970 as it was the music capital of Australia and it was all happening we were playing along side the top bands in the country and got signed up with Havoc records, Just Around Midnight / Patten of my Life
were written to suit what the record company wanted they didn't think they could sell what we were playing live which was heavy rock blues  and then the labels were attached back the front which stuffed it for air play .It ended up on a copulation album called Australian Rock 71-72 Collectors Album which had big name band names like Billy Thorpe and Wild Cheeries and was a hit. My strongest memory of producing it was working with great engineers and I was very deaf and how they helped me get it done thanks to modern technology I have some of my hearing back which Iam grateful for.

Does any unreleased material exists?

Unfortunately no unreleased material exists.

5. I saw footage taken at Sunbury festival in 1972. I have to say you did an amazing show!!!!! Would you like to share your experience from playing there?

The Sunbury Rock festival was known as the Woodstock of Australia and was the first big festival of it's kind here and
being the opening band was a privilege as it has become legend in Australia .50,000 people attended which was big for those days and even people who were not born then have heard of it .I guess for me it became the hit record I never had.I never got to see the whole festival as we had to go to Adelaide to do another one the same weekend there was 10,000 there .

6. Where did you tour and again if you have some interesting touring/concert stories to share, that would be really great to hear too!

Being based in Melbourne our main touring was to the other capital cities in our country not many stories to tell but one night Robert Plant and John Bonham turned up at our gig after their concert ,I think my legs went to jelly it was great to meet them . In later years played with Johnnie Johnson and 10cc . In 1972 also I won Australian best Vocalist in an event called Hoadley's National Battle of the Sounds. I had a wife and young family and in 1973 called it quits and came back to Brisbane to raise my family.

7. What happened next?

In 1995 I started a blues band with the same name which went till about 2000 and also toured back to my home towns in north Queensland as a solo artist , have been doing that until last year 2010.

8. What are you doing these days?

Currently I am preparing to do what will probably be an EP recording of about six songs I have my original drummer Paul Olsen who is on the You tube films . Have had a lot of response to our version of Southbound Train even though it's not ours may redo that as it was recorded studio live ,and add a few orignals . I'm getting on in years but the voice is still the same and blues has no age limit so I'm still battleing on.
Thanks and Cheers  Michael.

Interview made by Klemen Breznikar / 2011

© Copyright 2011

Michael Fennelly Interview about The Millennium and Crabby Appleton


1. Thank you for taking your time to do this interview for our magazine. You had a really rich carrier and I would like to start at the beginning. What were some of the first influences you had when you were a little kid?

I was raised on Everly Brothers, Dion, Ricky Nelson, Gene Pitney - all the great singers captured my imagination, as a youngster. Did my stint with folk and led too many campfire singalongs with the same 5 folk standards. Beach Boys (my first live concert), Del Shannon, Motown, Tamla. I was 14 - 15 years old when the British invasion changed everything. All of it was magical. Yardbirds, Beatles, Who, Stones (saw them on their 2nd American tour - amazing...), Pretty Things. I had a job after school at the town record store and took home most of my pay in albums. 

I had been playing guitar and singing and writing songs from a very early age. It was at age 13 that I began to get positive attention from my peers from songs I'd written. So, by the time I hitchhiked to LA at age 17, I could hold my own. I was living in Coffee Houses (the first was on the Sunset Strip, down the street from Pandora's Box, the center of the disputes that were to be labeled riots. The second was in the heart of Hollywood, a place called "The Omnibus".

2. Were you in any bands, when you were a teenager. I know that when you were 17 or so you hitchhiked to Los Angeles and began performing in clubs there. Where did you meet Curt Boettcher?

You contributed electric sitar and vocals to the album Present Tense by Sagittarius, and then became one of the five singer/guitarist/songwriters included in The Millennium assembled by Boettcher. How do you remember sessions for Present Tense and what can you tell me about the start of The Millennium?

I'd sleep during the day and help out with the coffee house chores at night and play guitar and sing. A base player I was working with said he knew where we could smoke some great pot. He took me up to Curt Boettcher's house (he lived in Laurel Canyon at the time). Somehow, I ended up playing and singing some of my songs for Curt. He subsequently signed me to his publishing company. They paid me to write songs! How cool was that? Shortly thereafter, I joined the Millennium. I was taken under the wings of Doug Rhodes and Ron Edgar, late of the Music Machine. They schooled this "green" kid pretty hard, on how to swing and how to work with a rhythm section. Next thing you know, we're living in CBS studios, making an uber expensive album, under the brilliant guidance of Curt Boettcher and Keith Olsen. That's chapter one...

Los Angeles in the mid to late 60's was amazing. Very freewheeling, compared to the conservative East Coast from which I'd come. I revelled in the fredoms that were all around me, and loved my new life and new surroundings. I felt totally at home in the world of Hollywood hippies and long-hairs. And there was a prevailing sense of rebellion and try anything that was invigorating.

I  was already a member of the Millennium when I was asked to do session work on the Sagittarius project.  Members of the Millennium, along with many other singers and musicians contributed to that project - but it was simply session work - we were not attached in any particular way to the Saggittarius project, other than through our affiliation with Curt Boettcher and Gary Usher.

3. Soon you started recording Begin, which is an absolutely beautiful album. I would like to know what are some of the strongest memories of producing and recording this LP?

We spent an extraordinary amount of time in the recording studio, experimenting, and fussing with equipmet to get sounds just right.  It was a very creative and colaborative environment.  All of us gathered in a circle around a mic to sing harmonies - that I remember well.  The whole process of recording Begin was an educational experience for me.

How was working with Curt?

I  would describe working with Curt as exhilerating and frustrating.  He was very charismatic and energtic and brilliant, and his creative leadership was a real force that inspired those around him.  But Curt was also not above using the talents of those around him, and placing his personal stamp over it.  Sometimes, he'd double a vocal sung by another member, and then mix his voice higher, to place himself in the forefront.  Members of the Millennium grew weary of being used thusly.

What can you tell me about the cover artwork?

It's an antique German woodcut.  We felt it conveyed the positive philosophy of the Millennium  - hope for a better time and place.

4. Where did you tour and if you can share some interesting stories, that would be great too.

The Millennium never toured.  We played one gig - at a college in Southern California.  We were really only a studio group.

5. You also recorded material for your second album, but it never came out. In 2003 Pieces came out with some of the songs, that would be on the second album. Why was it never released at the time?

We did not record songs for a second album.  We recorded one single, after the Begin album, Just About the Same, b/w Blight (a song I wrote about the Millennium's demise).  All the Millennium material released in recent years is comprised of demos we recorded for our publishing company.

6. What happened next for you? I know you joined Stonehenge, which later become known as Crabby Appleton. There you recorded two albums and I would like if you could share a story about this two releases and also about the whole experience with Crabby Appleton?

I didn't join Stonehenge.  Rather, I joined foreces with the members of the band Stonehenge, after they let their guitarist and their singer go.  Together, we formed Crabby Appleton, and rehearsed and recorded material I had written before meeting the guys in Stonehenge.

We were treated well, from a personal standpoint. Folks at Elektra were nice. But, there was too much turnover at the label to know who our champion was, at any given time. It's always been hard to sort out the shortcomings we had in personal management from the delivery on Elektra's part. But, we often found ourselves playing in cities where our record was not in stores. That was disturbing, to say the least. And there were little things that were troubling, such as the insistance by Elektra's art department to have the Crabby Appleton logo at the top of our first album be on a clear sticker, that was removable, when one peeled off the shrink wrap. It wasn't long before we found albums being shipped without the sticker - rendering the lps nameless in the record bins. It's hard for me to single out Elektra as the culprit for the seeming lack of a hard push, when our first single was halfway up the charts.

Crabby's touring life was bi-polar. Not sure if other bands expericed the road in the same way. But our hit record was sporatic, as far as location/popularity. We'd have the number 3 record in some markets and be unknown in others. So, we were Gods in Salt Lake City and nobodies in Ogden. One night, we'd be playing to 18,000 enthusiastic fans in Miami and then the next we'd play to five bored guys, more interested in their beer than us, in 'Mr. JB's' on the highway. It was schitzo - but it kept us humble. We flew, some of the time, and drove others. Kinda all over the map, literally and figuratively. One of our early gigs, after GO Back was climbing up the charts, was opening for the Doors (just two acts on the bill). We had a hit in San Diego, and before we went on stage, we pulled back the stage curtains to get a peek at what all the crowd noise was about. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 20,000 people were cheering, every time someone in the crowd gave a good punch or shove to a giant inflated ball that was being batted around the auditorium. This was more noise than had ever been made for us... (gulp). We played like demons, felt we had a great show, and felt that "power invested in you" thing, where, if the crowd had chanted "fly! fly! fly!", we could have flapped our arms and hovered in the air... We played many pop festivals, popular venues at the time. Played gigs with Guess Who, Sly & the Family Stone, Bob Segar, MC5, Alvin Lee, Jethro Tull, Spirit, Steve Miller, Tin Lizzie, Chuck Berry, Albert Collins, to name a few...
Festivals were kinda fun, when they were the rage. One, though, stands out, for other reasons. It was at Devonshire Downs, a dusty race track outside of LA. Ten Years After, Jethro Tull, etc. It was hot, and the Santa Anna winds were blowing dry electricity.
We were indulging in some flavor of the month substance in the trailor, and, when we went on stage, I had a big wad of bubble gum in my mouth. (bad idea). As I stepped up to the mic, to sing the first number, the dry wind blew my hair into my mouth, where it melded with the bubble gum. At the same time, my guitar came unstrapped. As I'm playing/holding it up, and trying to decide whether to spit out the gum and have it dangle from my hair, or sing with gum and hair in mouth, I get a shock from the ungrounded mic that popped me like a right from Mohammad Ali. It got better after that... Roadies drove our rented vans or trucks with our gear - PAs were provided by the promoters. We had a special challenge to find Hammond B3 repair in every second town. Casey was rough on the poor thing...

7. In 1973 you released your first solo album called Lane Changer. This one is really an amazing album. What can you tell me about it?
Is that true, that Jeff Beck also appeared on the album?

I traveled to London with Crabby Appleton's keyboardist, Casy Foutz, to record with Chris White as producer (Chris was the bass player and a primary writer in The Zombies, and the producer of the group Argent).  The engineer at CBS' London studios was great to work with, as was Chris, for they had no fear of loud, distorted sounds, as some of the engineers I'd previously worked with had.  The rhythm section from Argent played on the more up-tempo rock material, and we had some great musicians come in for various contributions.  Jeff Beck played the lead guitar on the song Watch Yerself.

Chris White was a joy to work with, making suggestions, but never isistant or overbearing.  Producers never drew me one way or the other - with the possible exception of Curt Boettcher, whose charisma and creative direction influenced everyone around him. But after that, I was rather self-contained. I had the songs and a definite idea of how they should sound. The better producers I worked with either added influence or left me alone...

8. Stranger's Bed is another great album you did. What can you tell about this one and what happened next for you?

I put together a band for the recording of Stranger's Bed, back in the United States, and had Krith Olsen engineer (Keith was one half of the production duo of Curt Boettcher/Keith Olsen for the Millennium's Begin lp - Keith was the genius behind the electronic wizardry that enabled us to achieve sounds not yet discovered in 1968).  We had a great time making the record, but the label just put it out, with little promotion or follow-up.

9. What are you doing these days?

I continued writing songs and performing with my bands through the late 1980s, but didn't secure a record deal.  The Los Angeles music scene had changed considerably.  Cookie-cutter bands, all looking and sounding alike.  There wasn't much interest in artists who strayed from that formula.  I retired in 1989 and moved to Oregon, where I began my second career, raising funds for progressive non-profit organizations.  I do have quite a collection of unreleased material - demos in various states of quality and completion.  I hope to release some of that material soon.  I'm working with Sundazed Records on just such a project.

10. I would like to thank you again. I'm really proud you shared your history for my magazine. Would you like to add something else, perhaps?

I'd only add that I feel tremendously fortunate to have made music during one of the great eras in popular music history.  I worked with many great musicians and producers, had amazing adventures, and left some music behind for people to enjoy, hopefully.  I enjoyed some success and am grateful I had the chance to live my dream...

Interview made by Klemen Breznikar / 2011

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