Left to right - Jerry McMillen (lead guitar and vocals); Dennis Christensen Swanson(Ludwig drums); Al Pisciotta (Fender bass); Paul Gabrinetti (Fender guitar and vocals); and Bob Holland (Vox organ and backup vocals).
Back in the mid '60s there were lots of garage/psychedelic bands, that only released one or two singles and among them there were kids that apparently found out about psilocybin very soon. Children Of The Mushroom formed in Thousand Oaks, California, which is a small town near Los Angeles. First they were called The Captives and around the summer of love they became Children Of The Mushroom. The band consisted of Jerry McMillen (guitar, vocals, flute), Bob Holland (organ), Al Pisciotta (bass), Dennis Christensen (drums) and Paul Gabrinetti (guitar, vocals). The band was inspired by The Doors, Iron Butterfly and related groups, which appeared around the LA area. In 1968 Soho label out of Hollywood released their incredible single. The A-side, August Mademoiselle, was written by Holland while the B-side, You Can't Erase A Mirror, was written by McMillen and Holland. August Mademoiselle is one of the best garage/psych singles of all time in our opinion and consists of wicked Vox organ playing, huge amount of fuzz and the haunting atmosphere with crazy fast tempo that really blows your brains out. You Can't Erase A Mirror is just the opposite; slow but again very haunting number from the band. It's easy to say, the band represents true garage spirit of the late '60s where there were tons of bands with one or two singles out. Some of them were good, some of them just OK, but mushroom people released the most excellent one, which belongs to every psych/garage collection.
Dennis, you were the drummer. Thank you very much for taking your time to talk about your band. What would you say were some of the influences?
My influences in music began in the 1950s. I had an old am radio in my room & somehow gravitated towards the Rock music that I found on it. I remember hearing such songs as "Rock Around the Clock" "Tonight", "You Aint Nothing But a Hound Dog". At that same time period I was influenced by Cubby of the Micky Mouse Club. That's when I was bitten by the drum bug. I knew deep down that I wanted to play a set of drums. So I expressed this to my parents and they signed me up for accordion lessons. Like a good '50s kid I tried to please my parents and stuck it out with the accordion for as long as I could. Another deep impact for me in the '50s was The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet. I was always taken back with Ricky Nelson's early tunes, they moved me. As I grew into a teen The Beach Boys & many other groups (too many to list) were moving my heart, I just couldn't get away from the radio. Of course when I saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show I was completely blown away. I made up my mind then and there I had to get into a band and play drums.
The Captives and The Mushroom Lady are two names, that appeared in relation with your band. Can you discuss about being in the band prior the Children Of The Mushroom?
My first band was The Captives which evolved into The Children If The Mushroom then evolved into The Mushroom and in 1970 evolved into the group Lady. Jerry McMillen and myself stayed together in all of these groups. I quit the band Lady a few months after it was formed. The lifestyle of being in a band all the dynamics relationships etc. & the price I paid for the excesses of the time all took a heavy toll on me. My life had been for the band but one night I started having a breakdown the only thing I knew to do was get down on my knees and cry out to God for help. I left the band and went on to a new life.
Around 1965 your new band was formed...
The Captives formed in November 1965 and were the first band. Jerry McMillen and I met at Thousand Oaks High when we found each other sitting next to each other in class. Somehow we got on the subject of music and Jerry told me his band was without a bass player and drummer. As my neighbor Mark Mckean and I had been getting together to play Beatles tunes, he on his acoustic guitar and me on a set of books we jumped at the opportunity to be in the band. I ordered my first drum set right away from Montgomery Ward mail order store and off we went. Pat Wilnow (rhythm) left The Captives in May 1966. Mark McKean switched to guitar and Al Pisciotta was asked to play bass. Jerry McMillen played lead and myself drums. We were all very green on the instruments but we had a killer desire to get better. In July of '66 Mark McKean left the group and was replaced by Scott Lee on guitar and vocals. Mark Amparan played keyboard for a short time. In December of '66 the Captives were practicing in the garage at my house (we played so loud with Al's Fender amp and Jerry Vox amp) when a kid with glasses rode up on his bike and stated he wanted to be in the band. So we went over to Bob Hollands home and he proceeded to make our jaws drop when he sat down played "The House Of The Rising Sun", with a bass line on foot pedals. We told him we wanted him in the band. He came with a new Vox keyboard and Silvertone amp. Bob was a musical prodigy, his influence was to play a key part in our future.
The original Children of the Mushroom Pin
You released only one single, which contained "August Mademoiselle" on A side and "You Can't Erase a Mirror" on B side. How did you get in contact with the label and how many pressings were made?
Well I believe our future producers, Dick (Wayne) Parker and Dick Torst (2D Productions) saw us perform at a venue. They approached us about doing a record. I remember they met with all of our parents about the record contract. I believe Bob Holland our keyboard player and Jerry Mcmillen wrote the music for the two songs. The A-side, "August Mademoiselle", was written by Bob Holland while the B-side, "You Can't Erase A Mirror", was written by Jerry McMillen and Bob Holland. I believe we had a regional charting of our song "You Cant Erase a Mirror" in the El Paso area of Texas in 1968. There was talk of us going on tour but it didn't happen. It was an awesome experience for me while driving in the car one day to hear our record playing on a local AM radio station.
On the number of actual 45s that were pressed, I have no idea. Our 45 later became a record collectors prize. They consider us as an obscure psychedelic garage band. One of the 45s this last year fetched over $500.00 on eBay.
What can you tell me about the songs?
As a rock drummer I was always more interested in the feel and dynamics of the songs more than the words. We played so loud, I could never hear all of the words anyway. I believe I heard Jerry indicate on a radio interview he gave 2 years ago that Bob Holland had my mother in mind when he wrote "August Mademoiselle".
What are some of the strongest memories from recording and producing the 45?
I have a distinct memory of having some very intense practices at Bob Hollands home getting ready to record. His parents were very gracious to allow us to practice in their living room. Bob's father was very creative in coming up with a mushroom pin for promotional purposes. They can be seen on Jerry and myself in the bands B/W photo. On the Saturday we recorded and drove down to a studio in Hollywood called Nashville West. I remember being told that the Iron Butterfly had recorded there as well. I don't remember how long it took, but I was able to make it back in time to take my girlfriend out to a movie that night. It was a our crowning glory, so to speak, to be able to record even one 45 rpm record. One distinct memory I have of that session was watching Jerry McMillen create some awesome feedback. Actually we were a very young group. I believe Bob Holland was 15 (the youngest) and I was 18 (the oldest) when we made the record.
Did your release anything else? Does any unreleased material exist?
Paul Gabrinetti left in the spring of 1968 and was replaced with Jim Rolfe. At that time we decided to shorten the name to The Mushroom. Jim's creative abilities helped us to move forward with more original songs. Sad to say, we were never invited back into the studio to record these tunes. We did perform them in puplic though. A garage recording of some of these does exists. On my personal MySpace page I have a link of The Mushroom Theme one of these home recordings.
Then you were called Lady?
After Bob Holland left the group (The Mushroom) we invited Larry Weisman aboard with his keyboard and bass. Jerry picked up a flute and we began working on a new music influenced by Jethro Tull. At that time we changed the name to Lady.
What can you tell us about concerts?
Well, we played so many places. A few area battle of the bands on to many area High School dances. Actually too many places to easily remember. We were mostly comfortable in concert type settings. Our music was not easily danced too. One of the songs we covered before we became completely original was "In A Gadda Da Vida" by the Iron Butterfly. Some kids liked my rendition of the drum solo and some were frustrated because they just wanted to dance. We were not a dance band. I used to play my drums like a maniac. A couple of time I was rocketed of the stage complete with the drums following me at the ending a one of our songs.
What happened in the '70s onwards?
In 1970 I left the band and never looked back. I became the Church drummer for Ventura Peoples church choir. We traveled to London, England with the Bill Severn Evangelistic Organization in 1973. The choir performed all over London. I remember playing next to a giant statue of a lion in Trafalgar Square. I then became the Christs Church of Venturas Worship drummer for a number of years. I lost contact with the band for almost 35 years until one night at work a few years ago I typed in "Children Of The Mushroom 1967" in an internet search engine and was very surprised to find out our songs had been picked up on several comp albums and were being played around the clock on various internet stations. That led to an invitation from Hans of "Beyond The Beat Generation" arranging for an interview. In a short time all of the members of Children Of The Mushroom were back in touch. Our lead player Jim Rolfe organized the Thousand Oaks Band Tree. Children of the Mushroom along with various local period bands performed once again. I raised five kids in the '70s & '80s, remarried and began raising three more kids in the '90s.
What are you doing these days?
I spend a lot of time on the internet. It brings me great joy to be in touch with young music friends around the world sharing my band experiences. Its kind of my hobby.
I would like to thank you for taking your time. Would you like to add something else perhaps?
I would like to thank you Klemen for the opportunity to share a little about Children Of The Mushroom. What a great opportunity we had to be one of the thousands of 1960s groups to cut a 45. Being in a garage band gave us a fantastic place to express our creative abilities. A real life school of rock.
Dennis Christensen Swanson
Drummer, Children Of The Mushroom
Interview made by Klemen Breznikar/2011
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