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Opus 1 interview with John Chris Christensen


I’d like to take the time and thank you for this interview.  You’re a veteran in the music business and you have an active career that spans more than four decades.  I’d like to talk with you about your earliest musical influences that inspired you to create music.  Tell me how that began…

It started in 1957.  I was an avid record and comic book collector.  I was into the Progenitors of Rock: Fats Domino, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, The Everly Brothers, R&B and Rockabilly. I also listened to the music of my parents, Frank Sinatra and the Big Band sound.  I always wanted to play music so in my freshman year of high school, I took up the drums.  During that time, it was Surf and I started listening to The Ventures, Dick Dale, The Champs and some instrumental holdovers from the 50’s.  During my sophomore year, I constructed a rudimentary drum set in band room and eventually asked my great grandfather, George Ainsworth for a loan to purchase my first drum kit.  I started playing in '61.  I had my first paid gig in Dec of '62, ten days after buying a used Ludwig kit with that loan.  My first band was called The Sunsets.  They later became Adrian Lloyd and The Sunsets after I was replaced.
After the Sunsets, I played in numerous groups.  I was a member of  The Surfriders, The Intruders (Surf, R&B, R&R), The Reveres (Everything), The Town Criers, Time Of Your Life (British Psyche and Garage), and then Opus 1.  The Town Criers did some local concerts and stuff, and had real management.  We were signed by Ionic Records.  Our manager Barry Campbell owned Mod Street West (Later renamed the New Delhi Bath House, where I played with a later band River Om). The headliners for the opening Barry’s club was The Electric Prunes.

Singer Chris Morgan worked with Pete Parker and Doug and Brian Decker in The Togas and they were signed to Challenge Records.  I played with The Togas once or twice before we decided to split from Chris Morgan and form our own band - Opus 1.  We signed with Bob Keane and a young Barry White at Mustang Del-fi.  Barry was working as an A&R man before he became an R&B/Soul singer.

Opus 1, had an original and unique sound for the time.  What would you categorize your sound as being?

I would say our sound was forward looking, but informed by the experience and personalities of all of its members. We came out of Surf/R&B/R&R/and some Country, but we were very conscious of the British bands as well.  We were just four long haired White guys.  We were doing our own thing and we didn’t really sound like anyone.  Lots of bands were copying the British sound with nasally vocals.  We didn’t want to be those guys.  We didn’t consider ourselves to be a Garage band.  No. No. No. You have to understand, in our day a Garage band meant amateurs that played in the garage and never went anywhere.  It was considered a negative thing in the 60’s.  The other thing was that we were listening to some Avant-Garde music (Stockhausen, etc) and because of the Decker Brothers father James, (first call LA session player on French Horn) we met Beaver and Krause (Electronic music pioneers) and heard Ravi Shankar, etc; way before the public knew anything about them.

The story behind your song “Backseat 38 Dodge” was taken from a banned art display if I recall correctly?

Yes, that’s right.  It was an Art show in L.A. based on artwork by Ed Keinholz, which was heavily protested for obscenity.  The exhibit was a Dodge that had beer cans scattered around.  In the back was a man and woman made out of chicken wire having sex.  I believe you had to be 21 to see the exhibit.  We were trying to come up with some material. A couple of things we had run by Bob Keane he didn’t really dig.  He bought us some beer as we were all under age at the time and said to us “what if you all write about something controversial”.   We thought of the exhibit. “Why can’t I see what’s in the 38 Dodge”, that’s where we got the idea to write the song.  Keane loved it! We recorded it, it was released and we got a great response when we played it live.  Some Dj’s got a hold of it and the song went through the roof in Orange County.  Right as the record was starting to go, it was chopped off at the knees and pulled from the airwaves due to a crusading L.A. councilman named Warren Dorm, because of the controversy surrounding the explicit art display.   Some things should make you more famous, right? That was the nuke that took us out.

What are the names of the some of the venues you all played and can you recall any bands you shared a bill with/or met back then?

Opus 1 played at The Cinnimon Cinder, The Revelaire, Retail Clerks, city dances and stuff, lots of casual gigs.  It's Boss, Mod Street A Go Go, The NOF Club, The Brass Lantern, The Grand Theater, The Fox West Coast Theater.  The drag for me is that sort of large-scale concert thing was just beginning to happen when I was drafted. Concerts as we know them, really started in mid '67 with S.F. and Monterey Pop. I had tickets for Monterey Pop and spent that time in basic training instead!  I did however, play on the same bill as Gary Lewis and The Playboys, The Sunrays, Bobby Sherman, Mel Carter, and The Turtles, and played in the same venues as The Doors, Them, Iron Butterfly, Buffalo Springfield, Love, Thee Midnighters, West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, Warren Zevon, Percy Sledge, and Ike the Tina Turner Revue, and The Electric Prunes.  Between '65 -'66 we made a few television and movie appearances. We were on The Perry Mason TV show, the Dean Martin movie "Murderer’s Row" and on the Joe Pyne TV show.

So what happened to Opus 1? Were you active musically after the dissolution of the band?

Well, we left Bob Keane, Barry White and Mustang Del-fi because of a disagreement over our material, and then I got drafted - even though I didn't actually get taken until the next year. Pete was offered the gig with Randy Fuller after Bobby Fuller was murdered/committed suicide, but decided to go solo, and Doug Decker and I spent some time with Time Of Your Life before forming our own trio "A New Delhi Abstrackt Three Pyce Band" which became River Om when Opus 1 member Brian Decker came back into the group.  In the early 70’s we formed Laser Pace.  The group was essentially a trio. Doug, Maureen O’Conner, and I rehearsed, crafted, recorded, and wrote for a year.  We recorded “Granfalloon.” Larry Parsons from my group “Steepfleet” played a lot of the keyboards and some synth tracks.  All the other folks listed in the album credits were brought in at the very end to flesh things out.  Granfalloon" was in the can and still it didn't come out until a year later on John Fahey’s Takoma Records. Prior to that Capitol Records said they loved it, but "we already have Pink Floyd." Ha! I'm very proud of the Laser Pace album, but it was very hard. A couple of good friendships were damaged in the process, but there are a lot of great forward looking concepts in the music and I very proud about my contributions. In the 80’s, I continued to play in bands, releasing records with my Band “Hot Food To Go!,” produce and engineer Future Rock for K.R.O.Q, and place songs on The Dr. Demento Show. My recording of “I Get Weird” was the most requested songs from the “Dementos Mementos” album.

Musically, What are you doing now?

I’m still active and recording; I’m currently playing with Midnight Flyer. Midnight Flyer lasted from '74 to '98, and regrouped about two years ago. A club band par-excellence! We won the Gong Show in '78, and the group was/is a terrific band. I have two recording projects in the works. “Ecclecti-schizm” - which is an album of new music that contains the “Modern Blues” single I released last year; and “Lost Time,” a collection of recordings from the 60s and 70s that will include many of the bands I have played in, including some un-released songs by Opus 1.

I make my living playing music, so sometimes there's "paying the bills" music, sometimes there’s, “I like this but it won't pay the bills," and sometimes there's "Damn, I love this, now if I could only get a record deal" music.  I’m just hoping to have the opportunity to continue to write and record music and that I find a wider audience.  My love of music is about communicating with people.  If I wanted a career that was lucrative, I would have picked a better one.  I never cared about money, I just want to make music and hopefully someone will discover it and put it out after I’m gone.

Interview made by The Psychedelic Prissy Pie / 2012
© Copyright / 2012

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