The Smack interview with Phil Brown
What can you tell me about your childhood and teen years? Where did you grow up and what were some of your influences as a young kid?
I was born in San Francisco, California in 1950. navy brat – we moved several times San Diego, Chicago wherever the navy wanted my pop that’s where we went. In 1954/55 my pop was transferred to the naval base in Newport, Rhode Island. A year later My father was ‘loaned’ out to Sandia Air Force base in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We spent a year on the Sandia Air Force Base – My mom and dad acquired a 6 string banjo – It had a “cheater” – a small plastic box that attached to the neck with rubber bands. There were buttons you pressed on top of the box that made chords as plastic ‘arms’ pushed down upon the strings. Some how I figured how to keep it tuned. It was my first step into the next world – the world of Immortality and of music – I somehow knew that I could be like a God if i learned how to play. We had folk song books all around the house so I learned a bunch of songs. my whole family sang – like a hootenanny kind of deal. My family soon moved to Santa Fe in ’56 – My mom was a real creative artist herself and encouraged me and signed me up for acting lessons with a retired acting coach out of Los Angeles in Santa Fe. Changed my life. Theatre made such an influence on me. The next year the family moved up to Los Alamos, New Mexico … home of the atomic bomb.
My mom suggested I begin studying violin and arranged for me to take music lessons. What a grand experience…listening and learning to play classical music. When you’re a kid your mind isn’t trained to say ‘no’ to the cultural excesses … not yet anyway. That came later … aha! I always dug the creative bend in everything. At the same time these violin lessons started I’d met some great kids in my neighborhood – We were all in third grade. One of the boys had a 6 string steel guitar that his father had toted around through the armed services in WW il and in Korea. My new friend wanted sell it to me for fifty cents – So, I went out and mowed 5 lawns at a dime a piece and the next day that acoustic guitar was mine all mine. Didn’t have a clue how to play it as I didn’t have that cheater any more – I could only play two strings at a time – imagine if you will, a 2 string 7 year old wanna be blues cat in the making! Wow – divine destiny walked in and never left.
I knew some chords and my cousin taught me more chords – A E C D Em Am and G and C etc – I was off and running. I had already learned some great strumming techniques from records and playing that banjo and violin lessons. We had moved to a new neighborhood in the early 60’s in Los Alamos – Surf music was becoming popular, Elvis was about to make his debut on The Ed Sullivan Show – and the Beatles were not far behind. My music teacher was the wife of the internationally known and revered physicist and president of Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory – Eugene Bradbury – Oppenheimer’s right hand man during the Manhattan Project. Mrs. Bradbury drafted me to bring my guitar to a Glee Club rehearsal – I was 12 years old and a new kid in school and Mrs. Bradbury was the music teacher. She even lent me her Gibson F hole acoustic guitar – beautiful and i guarded it with my life! I got to the Glee club rehearsal early in the morning before the school bell rang … All those girls, girls girls. Wow! Rock’n’roll – what a dream to believe in. I was … hello … the next big thing – Y’know what i’m talking about?
I had great influences, parents of course, President John F Kennedy came to our town – saw him at the high school football field – stood 20 feet away from him as my neighbor Henry Longmire got to shake his hand. Other influences, some cool teachers, Walt Disney, Ed Sullivan, Babe Ruth, Jack Parr and Johnny Carson, Kirk Douglas, the movie Ben Hur, Marilyn Monroe, Red Skelton, Danny Thomas, The Man From Uncle, I Spy, Sid Ceaser, The Marx brothers, the Three Stooges, James Dean, Marlon Brando, John Wayne, many other movie stars, Jean Claude Killy, my grandparents, my parents and my brother and sister. I had this Japanese transistor radio I’d listen to hiding under my covers late at night … There was a radio station – KOMA, Oklahoma City – which would broadcast all these rock’n’roll, R&B and Blues artists – This is pre Beatles/british Invasion.
Music made me dream big to bigger – it became my heaven. I got a bass guitar when i was 13 and listened to The Beatles, The Ventures, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Dave Clark Five, The Yardbirds, The Frantics, The Blues Image, Sinatra & The Rat Pack, Barbara Streisand, Buffy St .Marie, Bessie Smith, Billy Holliday, Janis Joplin, Motown, Dinah Washington, all of The Big Bands, The Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, The Doors, James Brown, Moby Grape to The Byrds, Chet Atkins, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Animals, The Who, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Howling Wolf, John lee Hooker, The Kingston Trio, Peter-Paul and Mary, Louie Armstrong, Al Hirt, Miles Davis – Aaron Copland, Robert Heinlein, Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone, Star Trek, Alfred Hitchcock, Tarzan and all these once a week music shows, Ted mack’s Amateur Hour, What’s My Line, Dick Clark, Where the Action Is, Shindig – and who could forget about Bob Dylan …?
What was the scene back in Lawrence, Kansas?
Lawrence was a thriving hometown to the campus of the University of Kansas – some 26,000 students during school time … There were also any number of great mid west bands all advertised on the KOMA radio station playing in Lawrence, Kansas at the Red Dog Inn – like The Apostles, The Fabulous Flippers (2 of the most incredible horn bands whose members became part of Chicago Transit Authority years later) and The Blue Things among many other bands all playing the Red Dog Inn in Lawrence. I got a scholarship summer session invitation to attend the KU music program. I was accepted. I was playing tuba at the time and in 1968 I attended the KU summer music session. About 2700 kids – 1800 girls and 900 guys … 3 to one … whoa … and all on scholarship for the arts programs, music, dance, art, writing and theatre.
Were you or others in any bands before Smack? Any releases from then perhaps?
There were a few bands I was in as a guitarist but I originally was more of a bassist in Santa Fe and in Los Alamos. (Everybody played guitar … and there weren’t that many bassists.) These bands helped pave the way for me. The bassist in Smack, Alvin Heywood was from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and was in a local band called The Mutton Hill Gathering. Lee Overstreet, Smack’s drummer was from Oklahoma City and he played in some cool bands in his area. Jim Uhl was from Port Jeff, NY – What a great guitarist – He knew so many of the cool songs AND the solo’s too – we all had our growing up times playing in bands.
So how and when was Smack born? Why did you decide for the name Smack?
We all were accepted on scholarships at KU. We all met one night at a welcome dance – There was a local band from Lawrence performing … They were good – But we thought we could be better. One of the counselors at the university arranged to get some gear for us to rehearse – drums, bass and guitar amps and PA system – in the 1st five minutes we KNEW something was happening. Alvin, the bassist came up with the name SMACK – It was quite a controversial name at the time – There was a gig arranged two weeks later… We gave an outdoor performance – EVERYBODY showed up. It was complete pandemonium! Alvin and I traded off on bass … Since all three of us sang lead – oh boy! We would all three of us sit in an empty stairwell at school sing and harmonize on everything from Cream to motion songs – What an incredible feeling to work with friends that love music as much as you do! it was a magical time.
How did you get a contract to record LP?
There was no contract per se. One of the university advisors helped create the opportunity for us to go into and record these 9 songs. Originally, there were 2,000 LP’s pressed and they sold for $6.00 – and extraordinary amount of money for an LP in those days – We had to purchase our own record as i remember. We never knew we were entitled to receive a royalty from sales. We were 17 year old kids, we didn’t know anything except that we loved music. Who knew that years later … ??
Did you perhaps release any singles before LP?
No singles were released to my knowledge. Just the album which sold out in days if not hours. All 2000 gone, gone, gone. I have one somewhere …
If I’m not wrong you recorded the album in Lawrence Recorders studios. What are some of the strongest memories from recording and producing your LP?
I remember walking into a room with a huge Grey theatre curtain hanging from the ceiling to the floor. I( surmised that it was there to deaden the room. There was a control room behind a big glass window – I think there was some kind of a Revox or Teac 4 track recorder, an engineer and the university advisor acting as producer – it all seemed unreal and natural at the same time but we were prepared – We set up mid morning – drums in the corner – I believe we recorded with an Ampeg B-15 amp for bass (a 4 string Hagstrom with black nylon strings and lots of knobs) – a Fender Super Reverb amplifier for guitar – Jim had a fuzz tone – a Gibson Maestro Fuzz Tone to go along with his SG Les Paul with 2 silver/chrome plated covers over Humbucking pick ups – We all had headphones – First time for any of us in the studio – The engineer gave us the “go ahead” and we cut all the instruments and songs “live” on 2 tracks stereo, one song after another. We went back and over dubbed all the lead vocals and sang background vocals at the same time. Maybe six to 8 hours later we were done and exhausted – none of us having a clue what we had accomplished.
How many pressings were made and how did they sold? What can you say about the label it’s self, that released your LP?
I never heard anything more about the SMACK record. There were some stories circulating years afterwards that there was a seminal garage band recording that was considered the first real garage band. Never in our wildest imaginings did I think it would be credited to us. i don’t think any of us imagined that this recording would eventually sell for thousands of dollars and sought after by collectors the world over. Through the internet I learned recently that there were many bands that used the SMACK name to no end but we were the first.
What can you tell me about the cover artwork?
I think one of the art students came up with the cover. i remember the artwork as very sparse with a pink like original cover with leaves and vines drawn upon it. i don’t remember if our names were ever printed upon the cover. No song tittles but here were titles upon the stickers on the A and B sides of the album. And the name SMACK stood out in green letters against a pink background.
Ahh, psychedelia –
Did you ever toured? Where and with who did you play shows? Perhaps Any festivals?
The bassist Alvin and I met up after I attended a year of high school at New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, New Mexico. I had a band there. Played a lot of gigs off campus. Alvin and i hung out for a few weeks up in Madison, Wisconsin and then we both traveled Sandusky, Ohio to meet up with some other kids we knew from Lawrence before parting company. i passed through Chicago for a hot minute on my way to St. Louis, Missouri the summer of Woodstock in 1969.
I bet you have some interesting experiences from playing live and you would like to share them with us?
I traveled around the midwest USA picking up gigs, playing in hundreds of bands chasing the dream. Growing up in the arts is a process … an amazing soulful experience. I eventually ended up in Los Angeles in 1970. I became a songwriter singer and a guitarist by default … just had to happen. It’s been a life well lived with a great dream that I followed and it has chased me – relentlessly. I’ve lived in at least 500 places throughout various cities in the USA – Denver, Kansas City, New Orleans, Denver San Diego to name a few always moving – and later Europe, Germany, Paris, Sweden etc etc – but made my home LA for 35 years. Six almost 7 years ago i made a move to Denver and then back to Santa Fe onto Austin, Texas and now Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Did you also write your own material?
I’ve written and had any number of songs published for several major publishing companies – Warner Bros. Music and A&M Music as a staff writer – I have written hit songs that charted for artists such as Cher, Pat Benatar, Ace Frehley, Bonnie Tyler, Kix, Fiona, Andy Curran, Willie Dee and Tower of Power, Steve Perry, Paul Barrere’ of Little Feat as well as others.
What were you and others doing in the 70’s, 80’s and years till now?
Alvin disappeared and last known activity I heard about was that he became a minister. Jim Uhl is a violin/school teacher in upstate NY and Lee Dixon lives in Oklahoma City.
What are you doing these days?
I have a new record i’ve just finished
“Phil Brown -Imagine This” – my newest release.
“Phil Brown & Apaches From Paris “Cruel Inventions” –
“Phil Brown – [the jimi project] “
– Interest via press is coming in from all over the world for music I’ve written and recorded – Radio play lists continue to play my music via NPR, ITunes, Spotify, XM and Sirius subscription radio along with several Clear Channel stations and many “Triple A” and “Classic Rock” radio stations throughout the USA, Europe and the rest of the world. I perform as a solo acoustic/singer artiste’ along with great electric trio and quartet.
Check my websites for dates.
Would you like to add something else, perhaps?
If you have a dream – keep believing … never ever give up.
Interview made by Klemen Breznikar/2011
© Copyright http://psychedelicbaby.blogspot.com/2011