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Fire interview with Jura Havidic

After a few failed attempts we finally found Juraj Havidić, singer/guitarist of the band Fire, power trio from Yugoslavia, formed in 1972, that spent most of their early years touring Holland and Germany. A band that was hand picked by Captain Beefheart to be his opening band, but then the drummer fell ill and was hospitalized for 3 months, so it never happened. Their only LP Could you understand me from 1973 has a cult following among collectors today, but the band is virtually unknown at home and there is generally very little known about them today.
It turns out today Jura has his own studio and is a fairly well known producer; and he recently reformed the band. We met in his favorite bar near his home in Zagreb suburbs and he almost immediately starts telling stories of the band:

I'm glad and a bit surprised young people are interested in this music. You said you're from Celje, right? We played there once in the 70s. I had a cool psychedelic hat made out of rags. It was a Yugoslavian tour and the management was promoting us as a foreign band, so the deal was we're not supposed to talk much to the people and reveal ourselves that we're from Yugoslavia. Anyway, I'm playing with this hat and I heard some guys talking: "Steal his hat, steal his hat!", and I was not supposed to show that I can understand them. So I was playing and singing and waiting for someone to sneak behind me and pull off my hat. Which they did. They ran, and security ran after them, and off they went and I never saw them or my hat again (laughs).

What happened to the other two band members?

Bass player Miljenko Balić lives in Čakovec. He had his own small buisiness, he was a goldsmith and he fixed watches. He retired a couple years ago. He gave up playing music a long time ago, though.

Do you keep in touch?

Yeah, we speak quite often, actually. You should interview him too. I'm pretty sure he'd love to talk about the band. When you go to Čakovec just ask anybody - of the slightly older generation - where can you find Balić who played in the band Fire (laughs). It's a small town and everybody knows him.

What about Emil Vugrinec?

That's a tragic story. He died 3 or 4 years ago in a domestic accident. He fell of a ladder and broke his neck. I loved him dearly, he was a wonderful man and a good friend. We were best men at each other's wedding.

Who influenced you the most?

Mostly Jimi Hendrix, then Cream and in the early days Johnny Winter. He'd influence me a lot, with his guitar playing style, but also singing. I loved Johnny Winter a lot, he would sing with soul and he was full of energy.
But later on, when we started to write our own songs with the band, I paid special attention to that we wouldn't be a copy of anybody, you know… even though it happens in life that you become a copy and you don't even notice, because you're filled with music and, unknowingly, inserts from other songs sneak into your work. For example, I heard that' If you're alone tonight' sounds a lot like that band… what's it called… butterfly something …

Iron Butterfly?

That's right. I never even listened to that band, so I couldn't have taken anything from them. But also stylistically people say, even now that we play again, that we remind them of Cream a lot.

Did you have a band before Fire?

I did. As a high school kid – I finished high school of chemistry - the first band was called Acesal, named after pills (laughs), later us kids formed Pop express, named after a musical newspaper, that was about '67, '68. Anyway, first real band was Fire. Later on, when we returned from Europe, we made a deal with two guys from group Demoni, and we became Demoni – Fire. In 1980, when I was seriously considering to stop playing altogether, we briefly had a group called Izazov (challenge) , which was a very good band from Zagreb; and after that a band Daj, but we didn't record anything.

What about Izazov, did you record anything?

They did have an album, but I didn't record with them. That was a well known Croatian band, with Đimi Matešić who played in "Plava trava zaborava", big bands, etc. Then in 1981 we started a cover band, we played paying gigs, like for example in Bled in winter tourist season, etc. But it wasn't overly commercial music, really. It was more rock'n'roll, meaning it was Top 100 list, but we picked only songs we liked, more guitar based songs.

Did local groups like Time, Pop mašina, influence you?

Well, in a way, they did. I'll put it this way: when we came back from Germany for our first Yugoslavian tour with bands like Time, Smak, Parni valjak, etc., I can't remember them all; the most famous groups in Yugoslavia at the time, me and Dado Topić were talking about doing something together. It was more a joke, but I took it seriously and I wrote a song thinking how to persuade Dado Topić to sing with us. That song is called 'Za tebe, draga'; you can find it on the Internet. So that song sounds like it was written by him. I just hope he doesn't accuse me of stealing his ideas (laughs).

Why did you decide in 1973 to go to Holland, and why Holland?

Actually, we were based in Germany, in a small town near Holland border, it's called Neukirchen-Vluyn, near Moers and Duisburg; so we spent more time in Holland playing; depending on how our manager worked out the gigs. We actually played both small clubs and large gigs more often in Holland than Germany.

How did you start Fire?

Us three were serving the Yugoslav army together. We all played in the military marching band.

You played guitar in a military band too?

Yes, I did. By the time we finished serving the military, the three of us were already firmly decided to form a band as soon as we get out. We went to Germany, Balić and Vugrinec worked in a mine shaft. Balić had a technical education so he worked in the control room, and Vugrinec was actually working underground. They did all this for the sake of the band, and we had money, that wasn't a problem. I was lucky and I didn't have to work. Before the first gig, we rehearsed for a year, every day, twice a day; before noon and in the evening. We got really good and after a year I felt I was going to explode, I was like:' Let me on the stage already!' Once we started playing, we lived off music.

What was the first gig like?

The poster for our first gig read: 'Fire – Yugoslawische hard rock'. And there was a red five point star in one corner, and a hammer with a sickle in the other, symbols of communism. That was our management's idea, and we went:' What are you doing? They're going to kill us!', and the management persuaded us it's going to be great, people will fight each other to get in. And they were right, it was sold out and it was great.

Who was the manager?

Our manager was Horst Schroers, he was pretty well known at the time. He made some financial 'slips', as we found out later. We worked with him for about 3 years, and he owed us money… I guess he didn't give even half of the money he was supposed to. Later on we found out that he had huge debts to the government. Otherwise, he was managing Slade.

How did the name Fire come about?

Oh, that's an easy one. The name comes from Hendrix' song Fire, I always knew the name of the band will be Fire, and there was not gonna be any discussion about it. It was a no-brainer, never even considered any other names.

How did the recording of the LP look like?

That was all made in one night. We were supposed to open for the Rolling Stones. Our manager Horst and Stones' manager were making a deal, and their manager obviously wanted to hear how the band sounds like. So Horst says:"We're gonna give them our LP now." "But we don't have an LP," He says: "We'll record it tonight." (laughs). So we entered the studio in the evening and in the morning the recordings were done.
Unfortunately, there was some kind of error on the vinyl stamper and the first pressings were late, so we failed to secure the deal to be the opening band for the Stones. I'm really bummed out about that because I always wanted to play with a band of that magnitude and in front of such a huge crowd, because that's when you can really put out everything you've got.

How many takes of each song did you take?

What takes? (laughs) There was no time, it was all first takes, all live.
We were in the studio for the first time. Somewhere on the album I'm playing slightly out of time for a little while. The thing was, the headphones slipped off my ears and I tried to pull them back on while playing and singing the whole time . I fell out of tempo slightly, but somehow managed to put them back and on we went with the song…

What places did you play in Germany?

We played hundreds of clubs all over Germany, small clubs from 200 people up to a 1,000. Same in Holland. There were a lot of those clubs.

What bands did you play with?

In larger clubs and concert halls, in front of 5,000 – 10,000 people, we played mostly with German bands, like Birth Control, Guru Guru, Amon Düül II, UFO… There was this electronic band, I can't recall their name, they were unknown at the time, but later on they were no. 1 in the world…

Kluster? Neu?

No, no. They played in Zagreb a couple of years ago…


Yeah, yeah, Kraftwerk, that's it, you got it. We laughed at them, they played 'la-la-la' on their little computers, while we were the real rockers (laughs). But we've played with all sorts of groups. We played a number of smaller disco clubs and opening for us was this singer who was singing to pre-recorded background music, his name was Frank Farian. He'd later claim world fame with Boney M.

Did hallucinogenic drugs like LSD influence you, did you have access to them?



No. You see, as a young kid I was an athlete, I loved martial arts, karate, stuff like that. I took care of myself and my health. But I hung out with people who used drugs in abundance. I've seen all that. I don't really know, maybe it's because I came from this, maybe a bit more 'primitive' place, all of that seemed like science fiction to me. I didn't even want to try it. But many people here in Yugoslavia thought I was using, because of the progressive image, long hair, etc. But in reality, it was just the opposite.

What about the rest of the band?

They felt the same way, yeah.

What kind of gear did you use in studio?

Well, that's interesting. I played an Orange amp; I had two guitars at that time: one was Klira, a german made guitar. It wasn't a top notch product, but it suited me really well. And I had a Gibson as a spare (laughs) , despite it's a much better guitar. I wanted to record something with the Gibson, so I played one blues song. That was because I wasn't used to Gibson yet; it was brand new and it takes a while for a guitar to break in, takes a year or two before it really starts to suit you. So the funny thing is, I recorded the album on some cheap guitar and the real one was in the reserve.

Did you have this gear before you left for Germany?

No, I bought Gibson and Orange in Germany. 

What did you have before that?

I had a Vox AC30. My dad used to work in Germany and he brought me one. That was already in 1968. Not many people had that. I used both, Vox for smaller gigs and Orange for big stages.
(He opens the case and shows us his Gibson SG standard): I had a couple of guitars, they came and went, but this is the only one that stayed with me since the early days. People ask me to sell it, but I tell them there's no way. This guitar suits me really well because it's so easy to play. You see, I have quite small hands and short fingers, and this guitar is really soft, look at this: (he bends the G string right off the fretboard). I can bend the strings two steps with ease. Bigsby is factory original, everything is.

Was the neck ever broken and repaired? It's quite typical for SG…

No, it was never broken. But the headstock is pretty beaten, see? I used to throw it down and toss it around on stage quite often (laughs). Yes, I did that.

What about Balić and Vugrinec? What did they use?

Balić had a Marshall amp for bass, and Vugrinec had a Ludwig Big beat drumset. That was top of the line drumset at the time; we specifically searched for Ludwig.

And Jazz bass, I presume? 

And Jazz bass. I have that bass in this studio, I can show it to you.
Here it is. It's 1973. It's all original, except Balić swapped the potentiometer knobs with some poorly made Chinese ones. Look at this. Why would he do that? It's stupid. I'm gonna buy some original ones and send it to him...
I wanted to buy this bass from him, since he wasn't playing anymore. But he said OK, let it be here in your studio, since you're still fiddling with music, but one day I'm gonna ask you to give it back! (laughs) But I'm glad that the original bass from the group Fire is here. I was actually searching for those Ludwig's as well, I wanted to buy them for the studio. They were sold somewhere in Međimurje near Čakovec, but I couldn't locate them.

(the phone rings and the ringtone is Hendrix' All along the watchtower. The lyrics to the song are hanging off a radiator in the studio as well) You still like Hendrix a lot?

Yes, this song is one of my favorites. We used to play it live back then, too.

What covers did you play?

We had a few Hendrix songs; we played "Inside Looking Out" by Grand Funk Railroad; then Cream, Yardbirds etc. But we really played mostly our own material. A typical night would be our own songs and maybe one or two covers. In smaller clubs where we had to play more time, we would of course play more covers. But the focus was on our songs, we weren't a cover band. 

So what happened….

Can I light a cigarette?

Sure. So, what happened when you returned? You recorded 'Message' and 'If you are alone tonight'.

We recorded "Message" and "If You're Alone Tonight" in Germany and we brought them to Zagreb to be released as a single. But this gentleman in Croatia records, some smart ass he only liked classical music, he didn't want to listen to rock'n'roll.
We came in and he made us sit down and be quiet. We would sit quietly for 20 minutes and he was listening to Mozart, like this (makes a snobby face), and after 20 minutes he says: "THIS is music, not that garbage of yours." And he wouldn't even listen to our songs. What an asshole. I think he still works there, or at least he was until recently. I can't remember his name right now… I'll remember it though. Man, I'm still angry. If I see him again, I'll say: "Hey, let me buy you a whiskey. Splat! Into his face!" (laughs). Yeah, you can quote me on that… "This is music", he says. Well, I never said there's anything wrong with classical, but why put other music down?
Then a producer, a friend of ours made a deal for our singe to be released in Aleksandrovac. Diskos it's called, I think. And that single was played a lot in Yugoslavia, on jukeboxes. When we were on tour, we could come in a pizza place or a coffe shop and we would hear "If You Are Alone Tonight" being played five times in a row, people would be putting money in the jukebox constantly. It was very popular. And I think people thought we were from Europe, they didn't know we were from around here.

How did you write the songs for the LP? You all wrote, right?

Well, I did most of the songwriting, about 80%, 90% and we all wrote the lyrics together, although the bass player Balić now says:' No, those are all your lyrics. The drummer wrote some, "Where Are You" is completely his, music and lyrics. Then there was… just a minute… I'm looking if it's on the reissue LP… not, it's not. "Sunny day", "My life"; he wrote the lyrics and I wrote the music. We will release this song this year when we make the album.

What can you tell us about "Flames", the last song on the album? There were a lot of effects used on that song.

Aha. You see, this song was created by coincidence, we didn't plan it at all. We recorded the songs and the Man says 'You don't have enough material'. So we said, 3 -4, let's go, and we made that song in the studio. We didn't rehearse much so there are a lot of mistakes in it, but some people actually like those mistakes (laughs). But the song was created in the spur of the moment.

(later on, when asked about the effects used on album, he explains):

I was never much of a pedal guy. I only used one in the studio, it was called Verzerrer, by… ah yes, Schaller (author's note: Verzerrer simply means 'distortion effect' in german). And I had a wah, but I used in an unconventional way, like another distortion pedal; I just jammed it in a certain position and left it there for a while. Nowadays, I use a Holy Fire pedal – see, there's 'Fire' in the name; and an OCD overdrive.

You said you're not satisfied with the way LP turned out?

No, I'm proud that we were so inspired in the early 70s, at this young age, to play this kind of material. But looking back now, from a mature point of view and being a producer, I have to say it sounds a bit ridiculous at certain moments, especially my poor English pronunciation. In those days, at 21, 22, we were full of energy and we didn't even slightly bother to think about details. But you play inspired, and with energy. We had a terrifying amount of energy.

I think that's the most important thing in music, not so much production, and you guys were very raw sounding.

That's still the most important thing for me: energy, and to have a way of transmitting that energy to the audience, so they feel it.
In the past 2 years, since I reformed the band Fire and we played for the audiences, a lot of well known musicians came after the show to sincerely congratulate us, they said that they felt the energy, and that's the ultimate thing for me.

When you came back, you were called Demoni –Fire. You put out a single in 1979, right?

Yes, that single was called 'Šarena mačka', and on the other side was a translation of ''If you are alone tonight', i think it was called 'Kad priđem, tad se osveti.'

Did you have anything to do with the band Horoskop?

No. After I left Demoni – Fire in 1980 – there was a split in creative ideas in the band – I left for Zagreb and everybody else was from Čakovec. They didn't want to use the Demoni – Fire name anymore so they named themselves Horoskop. But it's basically the same band, without me.

What did you do after that?

I played in a good band from Zagreb called Izazov. After that, for a brief time, we had a group called Daj. We wanted to make a well produced album in Jugoton with that band, but again there were creative differences among us. We had a good keyboard player, he was young, 19 years old. And we had a drummer called Pišta, he's a famous session musician. Keyboard player was Rajko Puclin from Varaždin. I think he plays jazz now, he's a good musician. Then, from 1981 to 1985, we had a cover band called Biseri. Lots of famous musicians played in that band.

Balić and Vugrinec were from Čakovec, and you were originally from Zagreb, right?


How often did you play Yugoslavia?

We did one tour a year. I had to come home at least once per 3 months because I was officially a tourist in Germany, so I had to come home every once in a while.

You told us the story with the hat earlier. So people here didn't know you were Yugoslavian?

No, that was a one off thing. It was our management's idea, we didn't like it, we thought it was a fraud, which it was, on out management's behalf. But they paid us well so we went along with it. Our English was too poor to pass us off as a British band, but we could get away with being Scandinavian or from Holland.

Do you know any other bands from Čakovec, since it's such a small town? Were there any others?

Well, there were some tiny little bands, as I call them. Demoni were the legends of Čakovec, the oldest band from there, but I can't really recall any others.

Did you ever have trouble with Yugoslavian authorities?

No, not at all. Except with customs officers at the border. They pulled us out every time and searched everything, checked all of our equipment But those customs officers were not too bright. For example, we modified the standard 4x12 guitar box so it held 8 speakers. It was so heavy nobody could lift it. But they never figured out stuff like that, all they were interested in were serial numbers, haha.
Later on, I would come home to visit, with trendy ripped jeans and huge hair and beard, driving a brand new Mercedes. And I always had a couple of thousand German marks in my pocket. And everybody would be staring at me: what is this? You know how people were then, western imports were cool, and domestic was not. And I'd pretend I was German and asked the doorman to park the car for me, and he would bow, 'Yes, sir!', and I gave him 20 marks. And I thought to myself, 'What a dumbass!' (laughs). That car was actually Balić's and I shouldn't legally drive it across the border as a tourist.

You now own a studio. Do you want to tell us about it?

Well, finally my dreams came true. Since I was young, I always wanted to have a studio so I can do what I love. I work here myself, and my son works here a lot, too. My son is a guitarist, so I have a good successor, a great guitarist. He plays in the band Aerodrom and he's a professional musician. He finished musical high school, classical music. But one day he said he's had enough of piano, he wants to play guitar. He found my old Gibson behind the closet and started playing. And I asked: 'Who's gonna teach you?' And he said he'll do it himself. He found lessons and tabs on the internet and he had a good classical background from school, playing piano. And he learned to play guitar very quickly. He's 25 now, he plays for 12 years, but he plays as good as he was playing for 40 years.

I have to ask you about the LP cover.

Cover was made by a dutch painter named Jan Tilln. By coincidence, we lived for a while at our producers' Jupps van Heys' place, and Jupps aked him to give us an idea for a cover. So he gave us this thing, which is in fact a huge painting in some black and white technique, I don't know how you call it. They put this on the cover and that was it. It's a really interesting painting. (smiles): this painting is really fitting nowadays, for this dirty world and politics. (stares at the cover for a while): Man, it's a really perverse cover.

Do you have a message for Fire fans around the world?

I would like it if somebody from the 70s that I know would contact me. You can put my e-mail address there (, I would really like that. Thank you.

- Matija Štumberger & Klemen Breznikar
© Copyright

Psychedelic Attic #2

Purple Overdose - Gemineye - The Last Ever Recordings (Anazitisi Records, 2013)
One of the best Greek psych bands and among the best in the neo-psych genre. They released a lot of albums influenced by Jefferson Airplane, 13th Floor Elevators and the likes. Gemineye is like the title says the last recording of the band and is for sure worth having if you like to hear something originally inspired by your favourite bands of the 60's.

Acid Baby Jesus & Hellshowel Present - Voyager 8 (Slovenly, 2013)
Weird punkadelick EP featuring both groups. Fans of lo-fi make sure to check this weirdness. You will dig it.
Tyler Jakes - Evil (2013)
Twelve songs deep, Evil covers a whole lot of territory; seamlessly blending garage rock, heavy blues/punk, and a tinge of dark gypsy folk that has no doubt came from Jakes’ time spent in Eastern Europe. It is as delectably varied album as any of his releases and yet, it stands as his most cohesive work to date.

The Bad Joke That Ended Well (Stole Body Records, 2013)
Mixture of garage blues rock with psych and alcohol influences. This is their second release.

39th and The Nortons - On Trial (EvilHoodoo, 2012)
Let's just say, that I love the album. It has everything I love about the garage rock...

What Now Again Records are doing is something very special. Here we have WITCH box set, which is in my opinion one of the most important music pieces released in the last 15 years. Other albums include compilation of rare heavy psych and Indian most well known rock band called Atomic Forrest. We featured both interviews with WITCH and Atomic Forest on the magazine. I strongly recommend this if you are in a search for forgotten sounds of the past.

We are really glad, we found out about this label, cos they are putting out some things, that no one else would. You can find from Russian psych scene compilation album to Sky Cries Mary live recordings.

One of the last space rockers, that are not generic. Highly recommend.

Joseph Byrd (New World Records, 2013)
More known for his work with pioneers of psych; United State Of America. Here is a great introspection of his early work as a composer. 

Marbin - Last Chapter of Dreaming (MoonJune Records, 2013)
Very hard to describe, it's modern, refreshing and full of energy. Highly recommended.

Dewa Budjana -  Dawai in Paradise (MoonJune Records, 2013)
An amazing release by MoonJune Records. Here we have an incredible Indonesian artist who is playing a mixture of  Fripp and McLaughlin...

Language of Shapes - Language of Shapes(2013)
Mixing folk and pop together on a very special way. Definitely not commercial sounds. They are for sure with those who are caring the new vibe...

Obscured By Echoes - Black Matter Manifesto (2013)
Modern quality psych rock from Austin. Recommend. 

Chris Vallilo - The Last Day Of Winter (2013)
American roots music. Truly a heaven for fans of guitars...

A small label dedicated to quality pop psych music releasing vinyl and CD's in limited quantities. 

Vibravoid - "Delirio Dei Sensi" (2013) review with interview

New upcoming album by German psychedelic rockers Vibravoid is their ninth career album and studio release in three years. Released in good old traditions on vinyl, “Delirio dei sensi” opens the door to new sound by Vibravoid provided with great songs. Although album has band`s well-known retro-vintage atmosphere, the song selection and production approach make it sound fresh and new.
As usual, their music sounds unique. They are the keepers of good psychedelic and acid rock tradition, that after 12 years since their debut, don`t ramble with sound but keep it typically “vibravoided”.
Album opens with cover of Serge Gainsbourg`s song “Poupée De Cire” that was introduced to the wide audience on Eurovision song contest in 1965 by French singer France Gall.  Ten minutes of groovy “Listen can`t you hear” is a great trip through this erotic-inspired song, with rocking instruments in the best manners of the genre. “Color Your Mind” is a great cover of 1986 song by Australian band Tyrnaround.
B1 track “The empty sky” is atmospherically closest to their earlier work like “Politics of Ecstasy” but with some sort of progressive touch in it. “Magic Mirror” continues the psychedelic vibes and introduces the master-piece instrumental “The Golden Escalator” that concludes the vinyl version.
Album comes with bonus CD with five bonus tracks, two of which have been previously released on Fruits De Mer Records, UK. The CD offers longer playing time, so the band stuffs it with songs! The rest of the tracks are leftovers from various sessions.

In order to introduce the album to the readers of “It's Psychedelic Baby Magazine”, Vibravoid`s guitarist and singer Christian Koch agreed to answer a couple of questions...

First of all, is it true that you recorded the entire album in just two days, while you toured Italy? Has the recording been planned or has it happened spontaneously?

We had 2 days off and needed a place to sleep, so Go Down Record offered to stay at their studio and record some tracks for an album indented to contain some studio and some live tracks from the show… well, it turned out to be a full studio album, yes, it was very spontaneously as we made half of the songs at that time.

What inspired you to make such an album?

The need to fill it! You know, there was some blank space that we had to fill with music, so we picked 2 of the most recent cover songs we played live on shows and started recording the album.

Here you experimented with your own stuff and with some covers. How the choice came to "Colour Your Mind" by Tyrnaround and French chanson "Poupée De Cire"?

"Colour Your Mind" is an all-time favorite track and one of the best psychedelic tracks ever to emerge from the 80s - it was at the time that we started to play it live, now we even got it on an album, I think that´s cool! > Well, the same with “Poupée De Cire”. Serge Gainsbourg was one of the best composers and an extremely cool guy, so it was at the time to pick up something from him!

What is "Listen Can´t You Hear" about? What inspired you to write and record this song?

It is a love song about a boy and girl and basically – can I say it? …about a blow job!

Do songs like “The Golden Escalator" came as a result of directly recorded jams?

Yes, the track is recorded as we played it – it actually is an improvised music that follows some basic layouts and structures. We had the idea to make a song like this and put it together in a very short time, so a lot of it is first take recordings and some little overdubs.

This album sounds less aggressive and yet more sophisticated and progressive than the previous ones. It`s been twelve years since your debut "2001", do you think that you grew up as band and started to upgrade your music by each new album?

I think we did the biggest achievements in production, Gravity Zero led us to a good way that probably prospered on the re-master of the Politics album to full bloom… and Delirio benefits from that a lot, apart I must say, that the equipment at Go Down Studio is very good and Epi is a very good engineer to work with and also records a very good sound. I guess a lot of things come together and surely the Italian atmosphere and climate, the studio is near Rimini and you feel a bit blessed that you can record under such good circumstances. 

What were the major things that happened to the band since last year`s "Gravity Zero" album?

Probably that we started Stoned Karma Records, our own label. At the moment we spend most attention on it and I am working on the next releases. Yes, it really is a lot of work and I am absolutely not able to say where it all will lead to, but it is a good feeling to do it and maybe the most exciting phase of our band career. 

You are among the most popular European psychedelic bands, but what are the plans for Vibravoid to tour other continents and make a breakthrough there?

Oh, yes, why not – at the moment it is difficult enough to get the shows going at places around Germany. We stage a big event with our lightshow and sound equipment, so we have to ask for a lot of money to play shows. I know that it is very difficult to get that money when you are unknown at the place you play – so I think the first step is to increase our popularity outside of Europe.

How would You describe modern psychedelic rock scene in Europe?

There is really not a lot what I can consider as a psychedelic scene – especially most of the new music sucks and has got nothing to do with psychedelia. I think that through the exploitive use of the term “psychedelic” and of the optical style. I mean how ridiculous is it to mix “dead-metal-skulls-and-skeletons” with hippie imagery – this  is absolute rubbish and only shows that these people do not understand what psychedelia is about and are best forgotten!!! …but there is something growing: I am really happy that there are some new bands around that play really great music, the last ones I discovered are Giobia from Italy and Fogbound from Spain. I think the UK is doing great at the moment as they re-discover that psychedelic is not stoner rock… and with pop groups like Temples they really got something to offer!

What music inspires you lately?

At the moment my power rotation contains Group 1850 (as always,sorry), Os Mutantes and the Music Machine! Lately I got again into some good old Seeds tracks and really liked the bonus tracks from the> new Yellow Sunshine Explosion CD – unfortunately not on vinyl!!!!

Tracklist (vinyl):

A1 Poupée De Cire

A2 Listen Can´t Your Hear

A3 Colour Your Mind

B1 The Empty Sky

B2 Magic Mirror

B3 The Golden Escalator

CD bonus tracks: All Stars Have Gone To Sleep, Optical Sounds, Neaby Shiras, La Poupée Qui Fait Non, Black And White (Live)

Album “Delirio dei sensi” will be officially out 30th March 2013 on Go Down  Records, Italy.

Review & interview made by Andrija Babovic/2013
© Copyright

Tommy James interview

“I can just hear Sinatra mumbling, “Fucking kids,” while he cooled his heels in the lobby waiting for Tommy James, who had stiffed him.”

The man, the legend, who`s career last almost 50 years and by that time sold over 100 million copies of records with many high-rated songs like “Crimson and Clover”, “Crystal Blue Persuasion”, “I think we`re alone now” and many other, speaks openly about his rises and falls. He remembers and tells quite picturesque about the roots and beginnings of psychedelic rock, back in the 60s, how the music changed during the time, why he refused to play on Woodstock in `69 and why he was banned on BBC.
One of the main topics we discussed is of course his book “Me, the Mob and the Music”, that he co-wrote with Mark Fitzpatrick and released in 2010, where he honestly describes his relationships with famous music industry executive Morris Levy and his controversial associates from the New York underground.
In this in-depth interview Tommy James speaks openly about his life, music career and why he pissed off Frank Sinatra.

Tommy, Your career is lasting more than forty years and You released over twenty albums with many popular and high-rated songs. Do You feel that You have more to say? Do You plan to record more songs and make more hits?

Well, we definitely plan to bring more songs! I have this very thankful kind of career I had to play rock `n roll and I never expected that it will last so long when I first started out. I`m really lucky to have three generations of fans that I see in concert crowed, and it is really quite amazing. I have my own record company now called “Aura Records” and we are touring all over North America every year. So, I`m gonna be recording some new material both for, You know, retail stores and radio, but also we are doing new music for a movie, that is going to be taken from the book “Me, the Mob and the Music”. And so, on a lot of different fronts we are gonna be making new music.

It has been three years since You released the book. Did You expected it to be so popular?

I was very pleasantly surprised. You know, I had never been an author before and so this was the first time for me. The book is actually in its seventh printing and I`m real amazed with that! And of course there`s going to be a movie produced by Barbara De Fina who did Goodfellas, Hugo, Casino and many others. We are very glad that she is taking on our project and is going to be at least two years since the movie is going to be released, because that`s the period when we gonna get the director for it, screenplay writer and a lot of other people on board. So I`m very thrilled with the acceptance of the book and the whole story.

There were some news that Martin Scorsese was interested in directing the movie?

Barbara De Fina is Martin Scorsese`s producer and she is going to be producing the movie. Martin Scorsese at the beginning, at the first moment we were speaking about it, was doing I believe seven other films before he was to get able to do ours. We basically didn`t want to wait for so long, about five years. We are in the process of talking with three directors right now and we`ll be making announcement soon.

Let`s discuss a little bit about the book. The book You wrote describes how music industry functioned back in the sixties and seventies. Do You feel that now is maybe the same? I mean industry run by mobsters and a lot of them involved in this money making machine?

Well, I think that a lot has changed since then. When I first got in record business in 1966, Roulette Records was what we decided when we came to New York. We didn`t know that Roulette was ground zero of the mob activities in record business. Of course we learned that step by step. You know, we would meet somebody in Morris Levy`s office and a week later we would see him on TV on the news being taken for a warehouse in New Jersey, wearing handcuffs. We would say “But that was the guy we just met at Morris`s office!”, and of course that kept happening. So we basically learned incrementally who we were rubbing shoulders with. I must say that Roulette was the fund for Genovese crime family in New York City, and we didn`t realized that of course when we first signed with them. And of course we couldn`t talk about it. As the matter of fact, when my co-author Mark Fitzpatrick and I started this book, it was almost eight years ago. We were gonna call it “Crimson and Clover” and make it a nice book about the music business, the hits, writing songs and being in the studio. But we didn`t really wanted is talking about the mob stuff going on. When we got about third of the book, we realized that if we don`t tell the whole story - we are really cheating ourselves and everybody else. I was very uncomfortable talking about all this, because some of these guys were still walking around. So we basically waited another year for the last of the Roulette regulars, as I call them, to pass on. And so finally when the last one did in`06, we felt that we could finish the book. It took for three years to do it properly. So as we got finished with the book “Simon and Schuster” wrapped it and put it out. Immediately as the book came out we started getting calls for the movie and the Broadway rights. It is going to be a film and shortly after that is going to be a musical, a Broadway show. So that`s what we are looking at right now and I`m really amazed how the thing has taken off.

You wrote the great story of getting successful and yet You showed the dark side of it. In one interview You said that the book was like a therapy to You?

True! (laughing) That`s right. It was because, You know, I was caring this around for 40 years and I couldn`t talk about it. It was a great relief to tell about this story that was a part of my life for all this time, that I wasn`t able to discuss - until now.

Your book breaks the barriers and convictions that rock and roll was created from the masses. It actually shows that the whole thing was built on money, well in Your case it was built on the money form the underground.


Beside “Roulette” there were probably other record companies, made with mob money that converted many boys and girls into real rock stars we know today. Where are many of them now? Do You think that there were other people whose road was so hard and rocky as Yours?

Well I`m pretty sure it`s true. In fact I think that there are a lot of others who had it worse than I did. Even though Roulette was the center of mob activity in record business, there was a lot of it going on in other places. Some of it wasn`t quite so out in the open, but you know, mob basically ran a great deal in entertainment business during the 50s, 60s and 70s. So it was like Las Vegas: after the 80s, corporations pretty much took that over, but until that time for example - the mob ran Las Vegas! They used to run all kinds of businesses like jukebox business, vending machine business… They really had their hands in everything and it was pretty hard to get away from it, especially back in the 50s and 60s. We were kids form the Mid-West and we walked right into it, and of course that makes it exciting, you know – it’s hard to be rock `n roller and the mob together!

Talking about the mob, where all those gangsters fans of rock `n roll at all, or were they doing it only for the money?

Roulette for example was the part of Genovese family who were into all kinds of other things... Record business was just one of many that they were in to. I remember when I first joined the Roulette Records, Morris`s partner Tommy Eboli was the head of the Genovese family. Several people who came up to Roulette fairly often, four of them as the matter of fact, ended up as the heads of the Genovese family. They made a little secret about it. You know I felt frankly threat joining the Roullete. Basically They weren`t paying mechanical royalties, and the good thing that we were making many for other areas of getting royalties like commercials, BMI and radio airplays. But they made it very clear that if we got too loud about it, like go to court or create problems, you know… it could end badly for us.

Then I assume that in that period You weren`t doing music for money, because You were not getting any royalties. You only earned money from the gigs?

There were concerts, but also we were making money from radio airplays and commercials. You know, there`s a lot of other ways to make money besides royalties. However, the royalties were the biggest part of that and in the end we were cheated out of nearly 40 million dollars! We got a part of that back, but that`s how much we were cheated out.

Speaking about Morris Levy, has the book helped You to overcome Your relationship with him, because he influenced a lot on You and Your career?

Well, Morris passed away in 1990, I guess You know that from the book, but honestly it was very good to get this off chest and talk about it. This was the biggest project I was involved in, beside the movie and the Broadway show that are going. So I have to say that it`s ironic that the biggest project I was ever involved in is gonna be the re-telling about this story.

I would like to switch to the periods of music, about which You wrote in Your book – 50s, 60s and 70s. Our readers are always keen to read about the golden age of psychedelic music form the 60s, especially from someone who was not just a listener, but one of the many contributors. Do You remember first psychedelic songs that left big mark in Your mind?

Sure! I first became aware of the changing in music scene, especially psychedelic music, in 1967. Strangely enough it started with “Strawberry fields” by the Beatles and I remember listening to AM Top 40 radio, like everybody else. In the February of 1967, I remember I was going to a rehearsal and all the radios played “Happy together” by The Turtles which was about as AM pop as you can get and right after it I heard “Strawberry fields” by the Beatles. That really left an impression on me because I realized that the pop music is being divided into two different categories. Within a month you got Cream, Big Brother and The Holding Company (with Janis Joplin) and just a lot of other artists came on the scene. Album sales became to increase and within a year you had FM radio, which up to that time played jazz and classical music, and now played rock n roll! Suddenly there was this huge change in the music and psychedelic sort of became just a part of the landscape. Everybody really changed the record sales from singles to albums. You know it’s funny because the following year we were out with Hubert Humphrey on 1968 Presidential campaign and when we left in August of `68 to go on the road with him, I remember distinctly that all the acts on the radio were all “single acts” – the The Rascals, the Beatles of course, Gary Puckett and whole other acts who were selling singles. When I came back, ninety days later, it was all albums – Blood, Sweat & Tears, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Led Zeppelin… It was amazing that in only ninety days the whole industry was turned upside-down and we were very lucky to be working on “Crimson and Clover” at that very moment, because that album allowed us to make that jump from AM Top 40 singles to FM Progressive Album Rock. I don` t think that there is any other record, that we ever made, that would allowed us to do that in one shot, like that. I have always been grateful that “Crimson and Clover” became our biggest selling single and also the second half of our career.  I think my career could ended right that moment with “Mony Mony” if there wasn`t “Crimson and Clover”.

At the end of the 60s, as the songwriter who lived in the period of economic changes, Vietnam War, hippy movement and social songs, which of Your songs were written to support directly or indirectly the whole peace movement back then?

There were two of them that immediately became that - one is “Sweet Cherry Wine” and the other one was “Crystal Blue Persuasion” which were written immediately after the “Crimson and Clover”. Basically they sounded like what I believed in that moment and I still do. I was very glad that those records became as big hits as they became, because they were truly very different type of music than what we started out with. You know, we started as the garage band and we ended up selling albums with a lot of different kinds of music. One thing I must say is that we felt our records were like chameleons for a while, because we literally went from “Mony Mony” to “Crimson and Clover”, “Crystal Blue Persuasion” and “Sweet Cherry Wine” and we kept dragging the line and changing the sound! It wasn`t that we were trying to do that, it`s just we were writing so many different kinds of songs and we just picked the best one of them, and each of them was a snap shot of what we were writing in that moment.

Ed Sullivan & Tommy James

What can You say, as the spectator and contributor, what happened to the hippy movement back in the 70s? Have the hippies grown up?

Yes! (laughing) And they started losing their hair! But what basically happened is that music changes with the times and it`s a generational thing. We were lucky to keep going to as long as we did. We had hits from 1966 to 1981 and we were very fortunate to have that long run. That allowed us to have a big fan base. But I must say that the whole hippy movement was always pretty silly. You know, most of the people that were involved in hippy movement were really full of shit! But the bottom line is that music and the times will always be remembered by anybody who loves music, and I`m one of them!

So why after the resignation of Nixon everything stopped? Although USA fought a lot of wars in decades after and many soldiers died just because of the same ideals and money profit the Government had then? Have those hippies become the Government now? For example Hilary Clinton declared herself a hippy back then…

Right! I gotta tell you that one thing I continuously being against is all the war hunger. And it never seems to stop! This is one area that I feel very strongly about. For almost 45-50 years we had been involved in a war after war after war, and absolutely for no reason and I`m sick of it and so are the American people. To tell You the truth, in some point here the line is going to get crossed and people are going to have their say. You know in many ways I`m very conservative guy from the Mid-West, I`m Christian, I believe in God and I feel very strongly that about ninety percent, of what we are doing as a country is just all wrong! I feel that for a very long time! We have a lot of rights in this country, a lot of wonderful people, but it almost seems that the Government and the people are bumping heads…

I have read very interesting stuff about You refusing to play on Woodstock. Your agent told You that it`s a “pig farm”, so it didn`t sound tempting? Do You think that it might have changed Your career to some other way, if You played there?

Well it`s hard to say… You know we were at the Hawaii and I got asked if I would like to play this “pig farm” in upstate New York. I was like: “What did you just say?!” Finally I said to forget about it. Of course by that Friday we all knew that we screwed that pretty bad because Woodstock was going to be a historical moment and nobody dreamed that! I really wish that I made the effort gone, but listen you cannot make up for things. The funny part is that last year we played on Woodstock that they have in a large outdoor theater and I announced to the people that we got lost and we needed forty-three years to get us there! (laughing)

Actually we can say that Your destiny was the same as John Lennon`s, Joni Mitchel`s, Rolling Stone`s … They all refused to play on pig farm in order to do something else. Bob Dylan actually refused to play because he hated hippies?

Yeah, that`s right! (laughing) But everybody wishes that they had gone, believe me!

I surely do. What about modern day albums? Do You listen to new albums of Bob Dylan, or Neil Young, or anybody of Your colleagues who releases something new? Do You follow their work now?

Sure! Sure I do. It`s always interesting to hear how people`s music changes with time. Because every record that we made was the snap shot of what we were feeling right that moment. So I`m always very intrigued to hear what kind of music artists from the past are making now. It`s a real insight into a people`s soul.

I would like to discuss about the period You were banned on BBC. That was in the end of 60s and the beginning of 70s. You know, many people, especially in Europe, think that “Mony Mony” is actually Billy Idol`s song?

Yeah, you know, “Mony Mony” was put out in the States just before it did in England and it was one of the big records of the decade in England. Well what happened was, I was supposed to come over and do the “Top of the Pops” but I was asked by the vice-president (of USA) Hubert Humphrey if I would go on the road with him. So I decided to go on the road with him and I had to cancel my appearance on “Top of the Pops”. Well, BBC never really forgave me for that. My next four records weren`t played in Britain, as the result, or in Europe. I had number one records over here but no play over there because the BBC was very upset with me. That`s how that happened. Gradually, that all works itself out and all of the records ended up being heard and I was happy about that.

Do you tour in Europe?

I haven`t toured in Europe for a very long time. The last time it was the early eighties when I came over, and I was with PolyGram and I did television, Holland and Germany. So that was the last time I was in Europe and I would definitely love to come over again!

Are there any particular reasons, why man who wrote “Mony Mony”, “Crimson and Clover”, “Crystal Blue Persuasion” and many other hits, hasn`t played in Europe for thirty years?

Well I wish there was a good reason, but there really isn`t except that schedules never worked out. I would like to come over, I truly would and I think it would be really great to come and play in Europe!

On Your concerts You play many of Your hits. Which of them is like THE special one for You? Maybe Your favorite? Maybe a song that`s not even a big hit, but You just like to play it because You love it?

Oh boy, that`s tough one! I have two of them, probably I have to say it`s “Crystal Blue Persuasion” just because of the type of song it is, and “Mony Mony” is how we end the show. There`s not much air left in the room after we do “Mony Mony”…

You wrote in Your book, that the tittle of the “Crystal Blue Persuasion” was inspired from the “Book of Revelation”?

That`s true. I believe it was Revelation twenty-one… It`s funny how that song was written. It was just about the time when I became a Christian, so that`s really what the song was about. Whoever thought it was about drugs – no it wasn`t, it`s about becoming a Christian.

I read that in Your childhood You were a huge vinyl collector. What about now?

Yes and I still do it! You know, one of the things we are doing this year is releasing the Christmas album on vinyl. So we are really looking forward for it, because I haven`t released vinyl album since 1980. That`s how long it’s been. I love vinyl! I always have fact, that half of the experience of playing recorded music is watching the record go around and seeing the colors of the labels. You know a CD sort of goes away into a drawer and that`s the last that anybody sees it, but the vinyl record has something live about it. I have always felt that way and of course that`s coming from a guy who`s a sixty-five years old. But believe me, if I was thirty I probably wouldn`t be saying that!

OK, just I`m around thirty and I`m a huge vinyl collector myself.

(Laughing) Well you know, the truth is that vinyl is making a big comeback, in the States anyway. College kids are buying vinyl and it`s really amazing. And so all of our albums were gonna be releasing on vinyl. We have a new distribution deal and it is worldwide now.  I just signed it with LA Company called Allegra and they not only service North America, but they service Europe, Asia, South America and all around the globe. Finally our entire catalogue is going to be out all over the world. In addition to the CDs we want to put out a large amount of vinyl too.

That`s surly a good news for vinyl collectors. But do You follow modern rock `n roll scene? Do You have maybe some new artists that inspire You now?

Well I like anybody who`s on scene right now. I love Adele and I think she is very talented. I`m a big jazz freak! I love modern jazz and smooth jazz. Of course I listen to a lot of rock n roll today, but I like to listen to a lot of different kinds of music.

What do You think – is it harder for rock n roll bands today to breakthrough?  On one hand you have internet that is available to everybody, but on the other hand there is so much information there on the internet, that you can`t even grab everything?

The funny part is that it`s both good and bad for artists today. In the old days of course it all went on the radio and tens of millions of people heard rock n roll on the radio. Today it`s a very different market. Terrestrial radio has only a small piece in the action and internet radio is gained ground every day. The digital market place has never been bigger and is getting bigger and bigger. You have to do a lot of things to get the music in front of the public today, that You didn`t have to do twenty, thirty of forty years ago. We are going from one major technology to another and we are in a really strange place right now because not all the rules have been made up. We are still learning things as we go along, and it will probably take another three, four, five years before all the dust will be settled. But more and more digital is taking over of course, so everybody has to gear their music for the internet.

Do You think that things like iTunes, downloading and everything are good or bad? You know on one hand now on the internet people can find all of Your albums just for free and can hear them. On the other hand it is affecting not only You as the creator, but the whole music industry, everybody who stood behind for all this time printing and releasing albums…

There is a lot of truth in that and that`s one of the things that`s very difficult right now for an artist to decide what is more important: to be heard or to get paid. Basically it gets to fifty-fifty split, because you can`t get money from something people don`t know about, but yet you don`t want to do everything for free and I`m kind in the middle with that. Although I think that all those rules are coming around… You see things more clearly as the internet is getting bigger, I think there`s going to be plenty of money for everybody. You know this was the first year that digital really paid! Up until this twelve – eighteen months, You didn`t make a lot of money digitally as an artist, but all of a sudden it`s beginning to change. All the new mobile gadgets and all of the new toys are allowing artists and songwriters to get paid now. Well they didn`t two or three years ago…

OK, then let`s go back to the 60s… There was a funny story You wrote in Your book, when Frank Sinatra was waiting for You at the hotel lobby and You skipped that meeting! Do You now feel sorry for that?

Yeah, that was another big mistake! (laughing) I was playing the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles and I was supposed to just go back home and I forgot that I had an appointment with Ed McMahon from “Tonight`s Show” who brought Frank Sinatra with him to the hotel. I went to recording studio instead and I forgot all about the appointment. I got home about 3 AM and the hotel clerk said that Frank Sinatra had been there and I couldn`t believe that I blew it! So that was another missed-out opportunity and I got a plenty of them!

You quoted that he said “Fucking kids” or something like that?

Yeah, that`s right! (laughing)

Is there some others artist`s song that You wished that You had written?

Oh sure, there are so many records that I love, because before I`m anything else - I`m a fan! I listen to very carefully to what other people are doing. You know, they say that in songwriting you get to steal from everybody. So, that`s what I do! (laughing) I mean, I`ve been listening to the radio since I was, oh God, four years old! I got a catalogue of music in my mind that You wouldn`t believe and I listen very carefully to anybody. Music is my life and there`s nothing else in this world I want to do, any more than make music!

Do You contact with Your old friends and band mates from Your first bands?

Sure I do. But about half of them are dead. From the very original group that I made “Hanky Panky” with, in the early 60s, I have one very close friend – the drummer Nelson Shepard.  He and I remained best friends all these years and all the rest of them are gone unfortunately…

Actually “Hanky Panky” wasn`t Your song in the first place? 

No, it wasn`t. It was a song I heard another band play. And I was fifteen years old. We went into the studio when we had a small record deal with the company called Snap Records back in my hometown in Niles, Michigan. When I was in high school I was listening to songs I can do, I can record, and I heard this song “Hanky Panky” and I saw what it did to the crowd! Everybody hit the dance floor and they must had around six requests for it! They played it five to six times that night and every time they did, they had a bigger reaction from the crowd! So I said: “Boy, there`s one that we gonna do!” and we went to the studio and recorded it. It turns out that it was written by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich who first recorded it. They called themselves “The Raindrops” and they recorded it for Jubilee Records on the flip side of the record called “That boy John” which was about John Kennedy. After the Kennedy assassination that record was taken of the market, and of course “Hanky Panky” was on it and so nobody ever heard the record. So we recorded it in the studio and it went number one locally in six to eight counties where we had distribution. Finally I forgot about the record and year and a half later I graduated from high school and I took my band on the road. In the early 1966 we were playing a dumpy little night club in Wisconsin and right in the middle of two weeks the guy goes broke! IRS shut it down and we got all send back home. And that`s how the good Lord works, because I went back home and immediately got a call that changed my life. “Hanky Panky” that was over two years old – got bootlegged in Pittsburg and they sold 80.000 copies in ten days and it was number one! That`s when my career started and it was just a miracle.

Tommy James and the Shondells -- Ron Rosman, left, George Magura, Tommy James, Vinnie Pietropoli, Mike Vale and Joe Kessler -- receive their first gold record for "Hanky Panky" from Morris Levy in 1966.

Well it definitely was a miracle to become popular with a pop rock song and then to change Your music from period to period. You played many types of rock n roll – psychedelic, hard rock, pop rock and other rock n roll sub genres.

Yeah, we went through all kinds of changes but we were also very lucky to have public`s attention for so long, because today you don`t have public`s attention long at all. This is a business that maybe gets you two years, if you`re lucky, and we`ve been doing it for almost fifty, so I got to tell you I`m very blessed.

Your last solo album “Hold the fire” has been released in 2006. Are You planning new solo album, maybe writing songs or recording it?

Yes we are. Actually right now we are writing songs for the movie. We are going to be writing new music for the movie, but also I brought the original three surviving members of the original Shondells, up to New York and recorded them on brand new version of “I think we`re alone now”. It`s slow and very different from the original record and it just came up beautiful. That`s probably going to be our first single released from the movie.  It`s gonna be the closing credits for the movie, and we can`t wait to put it out because it really turned out beautiful!

To conclude our interview I must ask You: what is the most valuable thing You learned from rock n roll?

Well it`s got to be the relationship with the fans. Because the relationship with the fans is what makes everything go and work. It`s so lucky to have three generations of fans. You reach a point when You feel like it`s an extended family! They are the ones who`ve been putting food on my table for like forty-five years and have stuck with me for all this time. We are lucky because on the concerts we keep making new fans. So I really believe that relationship with the fans is really the only thing that`s important. I mean you can have a lot of global records and statistics and everything, but if you don`t have relationship with the fans you don`t have anything. So, that`s what I`ve learned...

Tommy, thank You for the interview and the fabulous book You wrote. I hope our readers will buy and read Your fantastic story.  Also good luck with the movie and the musical!

Thank You. By the way if anybody wants to check out what we are doing just come to the website  Thanks and take care my friend!

Andrija Babovic and “It's Psychedelic Baby” crew would like to thank to Tommy and his associates Carol Ross-Durborow and Ira Leslie for arranging and helping this interview to happen!

Interview made by Andrija Babovic/2013
© Copyright