Ultra & Homer interview
Thank you so much for taking your time to answer my questions regarding Ultra.
1. Where did you grow up and what were some of your influences back then?
SCOTT: We’re all native Texans. Being from Texas, music is everywhere. In San Antonio and Austin, on any give night you can listen to tons of rock, country & western, blues, Tejano, classical, you name it. You can’t help but be influenced and bombarded with every type of music known to man in Texas!
TOM: I grew up in San Antonio…some of my early rock influences were Wishbone Ash, The James Gang and Humble Pie.
LARRY: I grew up in San Antonio as well. My early influences were Grand Funk Railroad, Montrose, Blues Image and Mountain/Leslie West.
GALEN: San Antonio here, too. Biggest influences were Jeff Beck, Ritchie Blackmore, and Michael Schenker – as well as some smoking local pickers like Rod Prince, Chris Holzhaus, Chris Geppert and Howard Gloor.
DON: I was born in Ohio and lived there from 1949 to 1959. My first musical influence was my father, Don H. Evans and my grandfather, Robert D. Metcalf. My father was a jazz musician (playing stand-up bass) and that’s the kind of music I heard around the house. At my grandfather’s bar, The Gallow Tavern, he had a jukebox and his Wurlitzer had all of the greatest black pop and early rock as well as Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, etc. It was there that I really got educated. When I moved to Arizona in 1969 I listened to roak and roll exclusively. Around 1962 I got into The Beach Boys, but when The Beatles exploded on the scene, I listened to all of the bands doing the “Mersey Beat”. After a while we were hoping American music would come back with an answer to the Beatle-maina and finally it happened with the Turtles, Sir Douglas Quintet, The Byros and Bob Dylan. Even Phoenix radio (what we listened to in my hometown of Gila Bend) gave us Phil and The Frantics, kaleidoscope and Alice Cooper.
2. What was the scene in your town?
SCOTT: There lots of great bands and great musicians in San Antonio at the time at to this day. Ultra was one of the few bands at the time that played only original music.
TOM: San Antonio was diverse musically and growing up it was not unusual to play a rock gig on Friday then go see a country western band on Saturday. We would go see George Strait play in a small club called “The Shadows” or see Willie Nelson at Floore’s Country Store. Both were local acts then and not known nationally.
LARRY: In one night one could see a rock band, country band, blues band and Tejano/Mexican band. All you had to do was drive around. There were actually great venues to play in. When disco hit, the live music venues all but died out.
GALEN: In the ’70’s, San Antonio and Detroit were, in reality, the two hard-rock capitols of the USA. Many well-known bands from that era first “broke” nationally in San Antonio: Triumph, Rush, Moxy, Legs Diamond, Budgie – and even Judas Priest all got their first taste of nationwide success in San Antonio. This was due in large part to the constant airplay they received from radio stations in San Antonio, and to the local DJ’s who pushed those acts hard…
DON: There wasn’t really any musical scene for me in Arizona until high school when I played in some hometown rock bands, The Exotics and The Contacts. In both bands we played Beatles, Stones, Byrds, etc. I played drums in both bands and didn’t start singing till I went to college in San Antonio, TX in 1967.
3. Were you guys in any other bands before forming Ultra? Any releases from then? I know, that Galen Niles was in Homer and before that in The Outcasts.
SCOTT: Yeah, Tom and myself played in bands together all through high school. Typically, if you got Tom as a drummer, you got me as a bass player. While in high school our band was Iron Rock and while we were attending the University of Texas, we played in a band called Jury. Larry McGuffin played in a band by the name of Emerald. Our vocalist Don Evans, also played drums and sang in Homer and The Water Brothers.
LARRY: I was in a few bands prior to Ultra that went by the name of Eastern Fleet, Magic and Maxine Gas. Later on was Overload and Emerald. There were no releases from any of those bands.
DON: I started my first attempts at singing in Arizona during my senior year. I bought a record in Phoenix called The Paul Butterfield Blues Band and he (Paul Butterfield) became my mentor in the blues.
When I moved to San Antonio I hooked up with some neighborhood musicians led by Joe Estes and we formed The Sugar Bears Blues Band and we played at air base teen clubs doing the blues – Butterfield, Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf and Jimmy Reed. In this band I applied vocally what I had learned from Butterfield. We played for almost 2 years or so and then broke up.
In 1968 I joined The Water Brothers, a psychedelic band made up of John Rogers (guitar), Rickey Kopff (bass), Bucky Payne (drums) and myself on vocals. The music we played was composed of blues (Butterfield, Cream, etc.) as well as original music. We played in San Antonio at the Pusi-Kat and at The Vulcan Gas Company in Austin where we opened up for Poco, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Johnny Winter, Velvet Underground and Freddie King. We also played on a local music show called Swingtime. We eventually disbanded in 1971.
4. Now I would like to talk first about Homer and then about Ultra. So Galen, tell me how did you got together with other guys and formed Homer (what does the name mean?)
GALEN: Chet Himes and I formed Homer while we were in college – we lived in the same apartment complex and just decided to get together one day… We were basically just a bunch of college guys who wanted to play and “party-hardy”. The name “Homer” really means nothing… We just thought it sounded kind of funny – in a “Homer & Jethro” kind of way – so we went with that name… God knows why!
You recorded three 45’s singles and you almost signed with Columbia Records, right? Would you like to share the story about it?
GALEN: The first single was “I Never Cared for You”, which we recorded at Robin “Hood” Brian’s studio in Tyler, Texas – That studio was hot at the time, as ZZ-Top recorded their first 3 albums there. My parents loaned us the money to record it, and amazingly enough, it sold very well. A couple of DJ’s there got behind it, and that helped a lot. After we’d sold about 5,000 units or so, and the record was charting regionally – we signed with a management company. That company took over all of the accounting duties, and paid all of the bills, etc., so we are not sure exactly how many units were ultimately sold of that single. The management company did the Columbia deal, and none of us in the band were privy to the details… (Two lawyers headed up that management company.) What we were told, however, was that Columbia wanted to release the single nationally, and that we were going to receive a $5000 bonus check from them… BUT – the head A&R man at Columbia balked before the final agreement was signed, as he wanted to hear some more Homer material before he cut that check. Well, we had nothing recorded, so the management company sent us back to Robin Hood Brian’s studio and we recorded two more songs: “On the Wall” b/w “Texas Lights” and sent those off to Columbia Records – In the interim, momentum had been lost, and as “I Never Cared for You” began to slowly slip in chart position, Columbia simply killed the deal… Our management company then went on to release “On the Wall” anyway, but it failed to chart…
They didn’t give up after “On the Wall” tanked, and they sent us down to Walt Andrus’ studio in Houston where we recorded our next single: “Sunrise”… But it, too, failed to climb the charts… Shortly after that, our arrangement with that management company simply went on to expire with no further “single” releases…
In 1970 you released Grown in U.S.A., where did you record it and what are some of the strongest memories from producing and recording this LP?
GALEN: That was actually recorded and released in the year of 1972.. Some of it was recorded in Houston at “Soundville” and at “Walt Andrus’” studio there, and some of it was recorded at “Odyssey Sound” in Austin – but the bulk of it was recorded at Chet Himes/Chris Geppert’s Ampex 8-track studio… Chet was the bass-player in Homer, and he and Chris had started a small studio in the back of Chet’s house in San Antonio… We were able to take our time recording there, and a few of our friends – such as the guys from “Christopher Cross” – helped us and contributed their talents to that record… The sum total of time that it took from start to finish to get the record done was about a year.. (Chet Himes is today a successful Grammy-nominated recording engineer in Austin – and just a few of the acts that he’s recorded thru the years are “Ted Nugent”, “Carol King”, and “Christopher Cross”…)
How many copies were made and what can you say about the cover artwork?
GALEN: Initially, only 1000 of the LP’s were pressed, and those were distributed regionally by a Houston company: “Budget Tapes and Records”, which was essentially a chain of record stores… The cover artwork was from the side of an old orange Crate… (We got permission to use it from a national fruit distribution company…)
Was this private release? (How many copies were actually made?)
GALEN: Initially, there were some private investors involved – we had sold those investors on the idea that we would lease that record to a major label, at which time they would “cash-in”… It turned out that neither the original investors nor the band made much profit from that original business venture, however… (Don’t laugh at that “business venture” idea, as ZZ-Top did exactly that with their first album, too – they were just obviously a lot more successful at it than we were!)
Eventually, the LP was re-released on the “Breeder” record label, and re-released later on the “Akarma” record label – but I can’t really say what the total number of copies made and sold were, I really have no idea… It was a heck of a lot more that the original thousand, though! Also – unfortunately – no royalty checks have ever come in the mail… Don Evans and Van Wilks were eventually added to the band, and we recorded a few other songs at Odyssey Sound Studios in Austin, but they were never released… (Come to think of it, one of those songs did make it on the Ultra CD: “Android”…)
5. Let’s return to Ultra. How did you guys came together and form Ultra?
Scott Stephens – Bass, Galen Niles – Guitar
SCOTT: If I recall, Larry got in touch with Niles one day and wanted to see if he might be interested in doing original music together. Needless to say, they were going to need a bass player and a drummer. Given our first time together with Niles and McGuffin, it was obvious that this was going to be a very cool “in your face guitar band” Tom and I were a good fit simply because both of us played as a rhythm section together for years. We realized that our jobs were going to be holding down the rhythm and bottom end while these guys ripped it up! Once we knew it was going to click, Niles got in touch with Don to handle the vocals.
LARRY: Actually, I was a student of Galen’s at the time. He was teaching at Dellview Music. To me, Galen had too much talent not to be playing. I finally got up enough nerve to ask him if he wanted to play again and play all original music. The rest is history…so to speak. Scott and Tom (Budda) are really a great team. They have been playing together for so long, they think alike. They lay a really solid foundation and without a solid foundation…well there’s nothing to build on. In other words – why bother.
DON: Next, I played with Galen Niles in Homer and eventually formed Ultra in 1975. Joseph Pugliese, who was with Stone City Attractions at the time, put us on as an opening act for Be Bop Deluxe, Pat Travers and Legs Diamond just to name a few. Eventually we broke up. For my part in that I was doing too much at the time. I was getting a masters degree at UTSA in art and was curating shows for The San Antonio Museum of Modern Art (of which I was a founder along with Norman Avila and George Horner). After Ultra I did another 13 years (as drummer) for the original Los Number 2 Dinners. Today I play in an art/music group called El Even with Norman Avila and James Borrego. You can see El Even as well as Ultra on You-Tube. Check it out?
6. What year did you record the whole LP and release 100 demo copies? I want to talk more about this recording sessions you had…what are some of the strongest memories and where did you record it? Why was it never officially released?
SCOTT: At that point, it was my first time in the studio. This was back in the day of the huge 16 track Ampex tape machines and tube-type outboard equipment. In the 70’s this was state-of-the-art stuff! All of the recordings were recorded by Bob Bruce at United Audio Recording (UAR) studio.
TOM: Recording was fun….it was definitely a different process back then. Years later I ended up running a record label at Universal and saw first-hand how the technology had evolved as well as experiencing how the industry had changed focus.
LARRY: I believe that may have been in 1976 or 1977. Like Scott said, we recorded it at a studio called United Audio Recording. Robert (Bob) Bruce was the owner and engineer. My most vivid memory is that before we went in to record the song 10 Years Since, Galen had a few words of wisdom for this harmony guitar part in the intro – “Listen, you have 1 chance to get it right or I’m doing it. We’re paying for this and we don’t want to run up a huge bill waiting on you to get it right”. LOL!! I got it right the first time!! Also, what we gave in the amps with volume, Bob Bruce took away. LOL!! There was a lot of compression. It was all good. All of the studios prior to that we all 4 tracks, not really professional like United Audio Recording.
DON: The lyrics which I sang in the Ultra recordings came from a notebook I carried with me at the time which had the title Wings Thru Sorrow on its cover. I don’t remember too much about the recording sessions at that time, because I was going through a psychological crisis at that moment which is perhaps best expressed by the lyrics I wrote to Compass. I can remember that fro a few of the songs I wrote lyrics at the studio.
Don Evans – Vocals
7. What gear did you guys use?
SCOTT: Vintage Marshall guitar amps and vintage Sunn Bass amps and lots of them… We still do. To this day, when Ultra takes the stage it gets really loud really quick…Thank you Jim Marshall and Conrad Sundholm! LOL!
TOM: As far as drums, I had a double base Rogers set starting out then got a great Ludwig set that I loved.
Tom Schleuning – Drums
LARRY: Like Scott says, vintage Marshall amps Sunn Bass amps and lots of guitars. Some of them were a 2nd edition Gibson Flying V, Gibson Explorer, a white Gibson SG/Les Paul (Scott, correct the SG/Les Paul if incorrect) and a Hamer to name but a few. When we played we usually had more equipment than the headliner. That was true then and still is today. Galen built this rolling guitar rack that held up to 10 to 12 guitars on it and Scott had at least 4 to 6 Gibson Thunderbird basses on his side of the stage. It was really impressive.
GALEN: I started out playing thru Ampeg V-4 stacks, but soon switched over to Marshalls. Those old non-master volume Marshalls were unbeatable for hard-rock.
DON: As far the gear that I used – I’m pretty inept when it comes to that…I couldn’t even tell you.
Don Evans – Vocals
8. Did you do any shows? Perhaps any touring?
SCOTT: About 95 percent of our gigs were concert venues. We played very few clubs. We did gigs with Moxy, Legs Diamond, Pat Travers, Black Foot, Be Bop Deluxe, Alvin Lee, and many others. Probably one of our most famous shows that we did was when we opened for the Sex Pistols at the famous Randy’s Rodeo gig in San Antonio. As you might know, this show was the ground zero gig for the entire US punk movement back in 1976. What a trip that was!!! The audience was comprised of Rockers, Punks, and Texas Cowboys… A lethal combination to say the least! LOL!
LARRY: Scott pretty much summed it all up rather accurately. However, I’d like to add a quick footnote; all of the concerts we played were produced by long time promoter Jack Orbin, President and Executive Producer of Stone City Attractions here in San Antonio. Jack started Stone City Attractions in 1972 and to this day remains an influential INDEPENDENT promoter.
DON: As far as the shows, the other guys pretty much said the essentials. One of my favorite gigs was as open air concert played somewhere in the hill country outside San Antonio. The Audience was really receptive to what we were doing on stage.
9. Would you like to talk about your song-writing?
SCOTT: As you know Niles and McGuffin are superb and amazing guitar players. Typically, they’ll come up the basic direction and melody. Tom and I come in after that and lay down the rhythm foundation. In the mean time, Don puts the vocals together.
LARRY: I was a team effort and it all just clicked.
DON: When we put together these songs I didn’t really thing to much about them. Don’t get me wrong – I was proud of what we did – but it took looking at them now to really appreciate our accomplishment. Listening to the music now I am amazed at how good it was. Niles and McGuffin were doing incredible guitar work, very anticipatory of what was to come. Their work on one song reminds me of the dual guitars on Hotel California by the Eagles – the only difference being that the guitarists of Ultra did it years before the Eagles. Scott’s bass is very inventive and solid and Bubba’s drums are amazing. I didn’t really hear what they (Scott and Bubba) were doing intil I heard it again with “New Ears” much later. As for my lyrics and vocals, I was quite surprised. It’s better than I thought. I’ve always had a hard time listening to my vocals, I don’t know why! Can any other vocalists out there relate to this?
10. What happened next in the 80’s, 90’s….
SCOTT: Disco…and yes it still sucks out loud! At end of the 70’s, the writing was on the wall (at least temporarily). We were never going to give in to the Disco crap so we just took a long sabbatical.
LARRY: What can I say…DISCO SUCKS! After that I went on to form Emerald.
DON: The 80’s and 90’s for me musically meant: Los No. 2 Dinners a band that sang songs about San Antonio during the years 1979 to 1992. In 1983 to 1988 I played with Joe Pugliese and Norman Avila in the art band, Batteries Not Included, and El Even formed (with Avila and Borrego) in 1988 and is still playing today (2012).
11. In 2000 Monster Records released your material and it is still in print on Rockadrome. Are you satisfied with it?
SCOTT: I think they did a great job with it. Naturally, there’s always something that you wished you could change, but all in all it’s still a great and very unique album.
LARRY: I agree.
DON: It was a very welcome moment since it finally seemed like we might be appreciated for what we did way back then.
12. You had reunion not so long ago. How was it to play live again? What are some of the best memories?
SCOTT: What a rush! When we got up on stage, nobody in the band was sure what kind of response that we were going to get. After the first few notes it was apparent that we not only still had it, it was truly better than ever! To compound that, the crowd was really into it and we fed off of that. In a word, we “nailed” it! In addition, we were also just inducted into the Texas Music Legacy Hall of Fame. That was quite an honor for us.
TOM: Playing live at the reunion show was great. It was definitely an adrenalin rush. There’s nothing quite like feeding off the energy from the crowd when you’re doing it live.
GALEN: I’d forgotten how truly LOUD we played… No 18-watt amps balanced on little-bitty chairs for us!
LARRY: It was WONDERFUL!! Scott and I stared working on the tunes and then Tom (Bubba) moved back from Los Angeles. When we finally all rehearsed together, I could tell good things were about to happen. The energy of the audience was great but the energy on stage between all the guys was absolutely overwhelming. It was like we never stopped and hopefully never will!!
DON: The reunion was tremendous, that’s all I can say. It was great playing with the guys again. One of the wonderful highlights of my life.
13. Thank you so much guys! Would you like to share something else with your fans and the readers of It’s Psychedelic Baby Magazine?
SCOTT: Based upon the “over the top” positive reviews from our fans and blogs, we’ve decided to start playing again. Being that so many of our CD and online sales have come from overseas, we’re really interested in touring in Europe, Asia, and other countries in the near future.
Oh… and thanks for listening to our music!
LARRY: Thank you for this opportunity and for listening to our music. The only other thing is….”Give me some juice Bruce and turn me loose”.
GALEN: Yes – thanks to you and to Psychedelic Baby Magazine… Hey – It’s an honor to be remembered for anything after this long!
DON: making music is one thing but it’s not complete without a listener. On Behalf of Rock and roll, I want to thank all those of you who listen out there. Thank you for your support.
Interview made by Klemen Breznikar / 2012
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