Hailing from Yakima, WA before relocating to Los Angeles in an effort to make their mark in the music industry, a group of teenagers under the tutelage of George Radford, Sr. (father of saxophonist George Radford) recorded a series of incredible singles in rapid succession in 1967 and came oh so close to hitting it big before disillusion among their ranks and distrust of their management led to the implosion of The Velvet Illusions. Recently two members of the band, lead guitarist/vocalist Randy Bowles and vocalist/organist Steve Weed took time out of their busy schedules to share their all too familiar tale of being on the cusp of big time success only to have the situation spiral out of control amid accusations of false promises and managerial impropriety. A tale often implied, but in this case seemingly much too real. Still, the band’s musical legacy of five incredible singles, withstands the test of time, sounding as fresh and innovative in 2014 as they did upon their original release forty seven years prior. Thus follows, in their own words, the incredible tale of these talented teens, known collectively as The Velvet Illusions.
The band was originally called The Illusions, correct? Who were the original members of The Illusions and how did you become acquainted, first, and a band eventually? How was the band name chosen?
Randy: I was 16 in 1965 when I met a boy named Chuck Funk, who was probably 15, in the Fruitvale district of Yakima, WA. We jammed at his house. One day, he said his neighbor, George Radford played sax and we should go jam with him. We did, at the Radford house. They had an upholstery shop with lots of room for playing music. We jammed. I sang and played lead, Chuck played rhythm, and George, played sax. It was or was not decided that very day (I don’t remember), but we decided to form a band. Someone wanted to call it The Illusions, and we did. I think that someone was me. One evening, Mr. Radford, Sr. said he’d manage us, get us good equipment, and make us velvet outfits, and we could be the Velvet Illusions. We would become famous. We agreed. We liked the name/outfit concept and the fact that he wanted to manage us. It sounded exciting. (Now, when people see photos of us in our uniforms, they often laugh. I’m not sure what we were thinking.)
Soon after, the band’s name was changed to the Velvet Illusions. Why the change? Who suggested the name Velvet Illusions? Where did the band hold its first practice? What was the first song played at that first practice? When and where was the band’s first gig? What was the first song you played live? How did it go down with the crowd?
Randy: We continued to practice in the upholstery shop. I don’t know what the first song was but it could have been “Louie, Louie.” We were jamming in genres like “The Northwest Sound” (Ventures/Paul Revere/The Viceroys/The Bossmen/The Wailers – lots of instrumentals) with me playing lead on a cheap Harmony guitar, and Radford taking some solos. We played Beatles, Monkees, and old R&B stuff (it was big in Yakima). We did songs like “For Your Love,” and “Unchained Melody.” I had the voice for ballads, and did pretty well on the fast ones too. We were just jamming. Somewhere along the line we added a drummer, vocalist/keyboard player Steve Weed, and bassist Larry “Lurch”. I don’t know who came first. Chuck Funk and I were the first 2 who jammed together on a regular basis, and we approached George about jamming. Sometime after that, Mr. Radford advertised for a keyboardist and Steve came; he may have advertised for a drummer and bassist. I don’t remember. We wound up with Danny Wagner on drums (super-excellent, lazy away from drumming – he would not work in Hollywood), Larry Lurch on bass (standard in style, but solid; he introduced me to Ravi Shankar’s music [wow!]). Larry was tall, thus the nickname. He was previously in the Chessmen. In 1975, I joined a band formed by another ex-Chessman bassist, Lee Rogers & Stampede Pass, in Seattle. Willie Nelson and his bass player Bea Spears once sat in with us for two hours! When Steve came to audition we loved him immediately. Before Steve came, I was the singer in the VI’s. I had become a rock singer out of necessity (a singer in an earlier band got sick, we had a gig, and I had to sing. Everyone told me to be the singer and guitar player, both.) With Steve, I was more than glad to share vocal duties. He had an Everly Brothers coolness and hipness: a true rock n’ roll voice, attitude and delivery. And man, could he play the organ and put on a show. We were two showmen surrounded by good players, and the focus of the stage show. With Steve, we started doing songs by Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels and James Brown. We played what ALL the Yakima bands played. 70+% of the song lists were the same. We became unique when we introduced material of Steve’s, as well as Jerry Merritt and Gene Vincent tunes. As for our live material, we did the standard material of the NW Sound, with some Stones, Beatles, teeny-bopper songs, ballads, soul, Mitch Ryder. We also played novelty songs like “Snoopy vs The Red Baron,” “Mellow Yellow,” “Winchester Cathedral.” Mr. Radford also had us learn “Danke Schoen,” “Somethin’ Stupid,” “I’m Coming Home Los Angeles” – songs of that ilk that caused young, hip audiences and other bands to make fun of us. Mr. Radford’s idea was for us to be the clean-cut alternative to other bands of the period. He picked our repertoire and uniforms. All I really remember about Steve being coaxed to join was that Mr. Radford said he’d get him an organ. We tried a Farfisa, which Mr. Radford hated. Every New Wave band that had keys had a Farfisa. There’s a name for it: “That Farfisa Sound!”. But the Vox Continental fit in with the Vox theme (I’m assuming we were already doin’ that). It had a deeper voice. If you listen to “Acid Head,” the organ is not reedy-sounding, but deep-voiced, unlike a Farfisa. I don’t remember our first gig, where it was, what we played or how we went over. However, after we got going, we often rented our own hall, the Nob Hill Grange, advertised, and drew large crowds. Often we had another band, The Fluorescents, play with us in a battle of the bands. We always won, and they were good! The Fluorescents, years later, morphed into my hippie blues band, Felix. - Hard to believe there were so many interwoven coincidences. I think we recorded Steve’s original, “She Was The Only Girl,” before “Acid Head.” Mr. Radford made us cut down and cut down the length of the “climax” on “Acid Head”, because we would not get anything played on radio that was longer than three minutes. This happened at least a year before “A Day In The Life,” by The Beatles, came out. When we first worked out the climax it was an awesome thing. It got cut down to where it lost 75% of its length and awesomeness. I’m not saying Mr. Radford cut down or edited the track; he had us shorten the climax in rehearsal, to fit the radio, and we recorded the shortened version, which we also played on stage. It would have been great to leave it long, to play in concert, and to include on an album. The Beatles’ long climax would not have been the first. Somewhere fairly early on, Chuck Funk had to drop out. We added my friend, Danny Wohl, on rhythm guitar. We lived very near each other and went to the same high school. He lasted until he got kicked out for suspicion of drinking. He played on six of our songs, but his contract was voided when he was ousted. Also, bassist Larry “Lurch” left because he was in the military reserves and couldn’t continue. We added Steve’s friend, Dale Larrison, who was absolutely sensational on the bass. He was so beyond basic! At his request, Mr. Radford changed his name to Larry Dale. He is, according to Danny Wohl, still in the Yakima area.
When and how did Steve Weed become a member of the band? Describe if you would please the circumstances surrounding his audition for the band. He brought with him the song “She” written by Mike Hayes who was a member of the Shy Guys with Weed. When did the rest of the band first hear the song? What was their reaction to it? Inspired by Hayes, Weed began writing original tunes. What was the first original you wrote? Was the song recorded? Was it ever released?
Randy: Steve wrote “She Was The Only Girl” either before or after joining, I don’t really recall. However, it’s my favorite among Steve’s songs. I still love it. It’s like the popular song, “Last Kiss”, only Steve’s voice is better than that song’s singer. He was 14 or 15! He had such a classic rock and roll voice. We recorded it along with “Acid Head”, in Seattle, and it was released as side B of “Acid Head.” Too bad! It should have been an A-side release, not our first release, but an A-side, eventually. Our first release should have been something fast. Most of our early recordings are slow to medium. “Town Of Fools” was fast, for us!
Steve: The individuals who became replacements of the original members of the Velvet Illusions were guys that played in bands with me prior to my joining the group. They were part of two groups that merged together, The Shy Guys and The Techniques. Gene Weed was our manager, Dale Larrison played bass, Jon Juette played drums and Bruce Kitt played rhythm guitar. The reason why I’m mentioning these is because Mike Hayes was also included in that merge and was a good friend of these guys, who later joined the VI’s. They also knew first hand that Mike wrote “She” (the song that was later called “Acid Head”). The first song I ever wrote was: “She Was The Only Girl” and yes it was on the flip side of “Acid Head” and was included in the CD released in 2011 by Tune In Records. Keeping The Shy Guys together was very difficult! For the third time, a couple of the guys decided to take a break. So I decided for a change to close shop. So by that fall, Dale Larrison and I were the only two left of the band, not excluding my brother Gene. So I began to write some songs and we began to work out harmonies together. I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to start up The Shy Guys again, it was such an incredible responsibility for a 14 year old. It felt wonderful to go fishing and then just sit down like everyone else and watch some TV at night. I really enjoyed the break, but only for about a month. I walked into the grocery store one evening to get some things for my mother and noticed this incredible invitation on a poster in the window: A show band was looking for a Keyboardist. I could hardly believe the picture. It was a group of young guys with Vox Super Beatle Amps.… “Nah! There’s no way they would accept me in their band with a 450 pound Baldwin Orgasonic Organ!” But I couldn’t help myself. I dialed the number on the poster. George Radford, the manager’s son and the sax player of the group, introduced himself and told me that the audition was at such and such time on Saturday. I told him I wasn’t sure if I could make it on Saturday because I had to find a group of guys to help me carry my organ to the rehearsal. That’s when he informed me: “You don’t need to bring your organ; we have a brand-new VOX and a VOX amp to power it.” His statement took the air out of me for a second, “Okay!” I said, ”I’ll see you on Saturday.” We met at an older home which was connected to an upholstery shop on 16th Ave. The members were: George Radford/sax, Dewayne Russell/lead guitar, Randy Bowles/lead vocals and guitar, Danny Wohl/rhythm guitar, Danny Wagner/drums and Larry Lurch/bass. After the introduction I followed them into the upholstery shop and I almost had a meltdown when I saw the equipment, especially when I saw the Vox Continental organ; this was the same make ‘Paul Revere’ played on! The audition went very well; I knew most of the songs they played, so I was hired on the spot.
Original bassist, Larry aka “Lurch,” left the band and was replaced by Weed’s co-writer and Shy Guys’ bassist Dale Larrison. Weed, Dewayne Russell and Larrison wrote new material. What songs were written and what was the band’s process of writing and arranging the songs.
Randy: Please note: Dewayne Russell is not given writer’s credit on any of our CD’s 10 songs. So I did not know he was writing new material. He did come up with great guitar lines, especially for “She Was The Only Girl.” Later he wrote a song when we moved to Hollywood. One day in Hollywood, Mr. Radford pointed to Dewayne and me and said you are The Hanky Panky boys. Go write a country song called “I’ll Never Forget What’s Her Name.” (A movie with that title was coming out.) We went under the freeway (Hollywood Freeway?) and Dewayne wrote it. He didn’t want my input. Mr. Radford liked it when Dewayne sang it to him. Soon, Dewayne quit the band and went home. I don’t believe anything happened with the song. It’s ironic that Dewayne never sang on stage, unless we did some kind of unison thing. He wrote and sang the country song, and sang it with ease and confidence. On stage or on recording, he just played (great, great) guitar. For writing songs, or for arranging songs, we worked them out in rehearsal (we rehearsed seven-days-a-week, you know). Mr. Radford, for not being a musician, had a great ear for music and knew how to arrange. We’d play, he’d suggest or tell us what changes to make, what to keep. It worked out at least 90% of the time.
Steve: After the audition I informed Dale that I was going to join the VI's. He and my brother Gene were very disappointed. However, not long after that, I showed Radford and the band some of my original songs as well as “Acid Head.” That’s when George Sr. started talking about making records and going to California. It turned out that they needed to replace Larry Lurch because he was in the reserves and had to bow out of the L.A. excursion. My brother Gene showed up at Dale’s audition and George Sr. hired them both. Now there were three former Shy Guys in the Velvet Illusions. The sound of the VI’s was similar to that of The Shy Guys but with a greater fullness because of the primo Vox amps, the extra guitars, the sax, and of course, the unique, nasally voice of Randy Bowles. I sang in The Shy Guys, but not as much as with the VI’s later on. I now wanted to sing because I was beginning to develop a more mature sounding voice, and between Randy and I, we could just about do anything we put our minds to. Not only did I like performing with these guys, but Dale and I found new friends. In between fishing and hunting, Dale, Dewayne and I would go to my place at night and wrote songs together. These were songs that would have probably been recorded, if the band had stayed together. In addition to the song “Velvet Illusions,” (which I wrote with Dewayne Russell) we wrote: “Here She Comes” (Steve Weed); “Lonely Girl” (Steve Weed, Dale Larrison); “Grow Up Young Man” (Steve Weed, Dwayne Russell); “You've Got To Hide” (Steve Weed, Dwayne Russell); and “Out All Night” (Steve Weed).
Things seemed to happen very quickly for the band. Weed’s brother, Gene, became the band’s assistant manager. He booked gigs for the band. What were some of the venues the band played? At this point, was the band playing cover songs or originals live? How much was the band being paid for gigs? What happened to the money?
Randy: We rented and played at the Nob Hill Grange, mentioned earlier. We played in two large Battles of the Bands. One, circa 1966-1967, was at the Downtown, which was run by Steve Montgomery, host of the TV show on KIMA TV, “Summer Wild Thing”, which we appeared on shortly before leaving for Hollywood, along with the New Yorkers, who later changed their name to The Hudson Brothers. Yes, it was The Hudson Brothers. We shared a dressing room with them. They were friendly, and so professional that they seemed to us like puppets. (We needed to look in the mirror.) I am in touch with Mr. Montgomery. He’s in his 70’s, going strong, with a PR firm he owns. He is also a “voice” of the hydroplanes. He was a folksinger in the 60’s and played in a trio at hootenannies in Yakima, which were usually held in the parking lot of Yakima’s biggest shopping center, Westpark. At the Downtown, we were competing against about five bands. During our set, our power was cut. Someone unplugged us. Mr. Radford told us we had to keep playing and singing with no power. It was so embarrassing. Power was restored; we lost. We played another battle in the Bon Marche’s parking lot, in sunny weather, circa 1966-1967. We played well and lost. We were not popular with the cool kids because we were inexperienced squares. In Yakima you had to drink and act like an ass to be popular. We were squares. And our image was square. We were stodgy for teenage rockers. Many of our gigs were at the Nob Hill Grange. It was a total Do It Yourself (DIY) project and a great learning experience for me. I am totally DIY to this day. We must have played junior and senior high schools, I forget. We wore suits and played for a big (for Yakima) party/dance for the local Democratic Party, which was attended by the Governor or ex-Governor of the State, Albert Rosellini. Mr. Rosellini, D-WA, served from 1957-1965. We met him; he was fake-friendly and fake-invited us to come jam with his sons. We had to play “ballroom dance” material, and it was a bitter pill to swallow. We played in La Grande, OR, hometown of Steve Weed, and somehow received the key to the city. We did an in-store at a cool men’s wear shop. We signed autographs for cute Oregon girls, and pinned ribbons on them that had our name on them. We played that night at a huge auditorium to, I heard, 1,000 people. It was a big event for La Grande. We always played covers and originals. Always! A band would “die” in Yakima if it didn’t play covers and dance tunes. Were we paid? When we rented Nob Hill Grange, we made the door, minus expenses. I did not receive any of this. I didn’t receive payment for any gig in Yakima or Hollywood. We had expenses such as uniforms, equipment, strings, and travel. Whatever was left went where? I don’t know. Were payments made on our guitars/amps/drums? I don’t know. We had to return a lot of gear to Lee’s Music when we returned to Yakima.
Steve: I believe we held off playing originals until we made a rough recording of them. Mr. Radford was paranoid that someone might steal our songs. As far as pay for the gigs, I really don’t have a clue. I remember we made about $50.00 apiece when I played with The Shy Guys. I would imagine that we probably didn’t get more than that when we started, however I’m pretty certain based on what my brother told me we got a lot more than that at the high school graduation dances and proms, as well as at the summer dance halls. None of us were old enough to play in clubs, and there weren’t many non-alcohol clubs back in the day. As far as where the money went this is where the trouble began. At my first meetings with George Sr., I got the impression that he came into a good sum of money and was going to use those funds to take us to the top, so to speak. Everyone in the band drew that same conclusion, with the exception of maybe George the son (he may have known more about the status of his family finances). It’s true because of my age, and not overlooking the fact that I was intoxicated over the equipment as well as the idea of becoming a famous recording artist, those factors might have influenced my conclusions at first. However time would have corrected any wrong assumptions on the part of the group, if our manager would have been straight up with us. My brother Gene didn’t attend a special meeting arranged by George Sr. when he discussed the finances involving the money we were earning at the gigs we played. Everyone got very upset when George informed us that those funds would be used to finance the move to L.A. Okay maybe we drew wrong conclusions about what our part was! We got past it and agreed to go along with this new arrangement. The problem was, we never saw a single piece of paper as to how our funds were being used, and that’s when issues began to blossom between my brother Gene and George Radford, Sr. After Gene found out the details of George’s arrangement he went before Radford during one of our practices, demanded his pay and quit the band. He later told Dale and I that the arrangement would have been okay if George Sr. “would have provided you with paychecks and then after you cashed them, you would pay him an agreed amount, then he provide each one of you with a financial statement on how those funds were spent. Anything short of that is illegal”, he said. Then he suggested Dale and I quit the VI’s and start up The Shy Guys again.
As part of joining the band, it appeared that Vox and George Radford, Sr., were taking care of the gear for the band, including various guitars, three Super Beatle amps, a Continental keyboard, Mosrite guitars including a double neck played by Dewayne Russell, a Fender Stratocaster, etc. What was your understanding as far as ownership/usage of the gear?
Randy: I don’t know that Vox ever provided us with gear. We never met anyone from Vox. I remember no letters or phone calls from Vox other than maybe one letter congratulating us for being a “Vox Band”. But I think we had to buy that moniker. I don’t think they gave us a thing. Mr. Radford just kept bringing in more and more, bigger and bigger, Vox gear. He controlled the volume level on all of our gear except the drums (no knobs). Our amps were capable of blowing windows out, probably, but we were the quietest band in Seattle. You may not have heard this, Kevin, but the huge amps, like everything, were for show. I understood our gear was coming from Lee’s Music in Yakima, and that payments were being made from the band’s earnings. I figured my Mosrite 6-string was mine to keep in return for playing, because I never received any payment. I was shocked when we who had to return gear to Lee’s. We were all shocked, shamed, and hurt. We were unfairly blamed by Lee Sheeley, whom we had revered. We were good boys. Steve may know more…. When a short-termer (don’t remember his name; he never recorded with us) who played rhythm guitar and lived with us in Hollywood left, Bruce Kitt, another Steve Weed friend from Yakima, joined us in Hollywood. There was a short article in the Yakima Herald-Republic circa July 1967 about Kitt joining us. He brought a white Stratocaster with him. Otherwise, I know of no Fender equipment being used. That was Bruce’s own guitar. I haven’t seen Bruce in about 46 years. I quit soon after he joined. By then people were rapidly coming and going.
Steve: I can’t speak for the others, but in my case I was told that the equipment was mine to play on as long as I remained with the band. Months later however, George Sr. approached me and suggested that my mom put the equipment I was using, in her name. I made it crystal clear to him that my mother could not afford to pay for that equipment because her finances were tapped. Sometime after that conversation, George went behind my back and talked my mother into signing for it all and promised her he would make the payments. I didn’t find that out until I arrived home in the winter of 1968. As I got off the bus my mom asked me where my equipment was. Then she told me that the VOX organ, the VOX amp, VOX Mando-guitar and Fender Stratocaster were all mine, everything was in her name. I called my friend Steve Econamus and gave him legal permission to go to Radford's and pick it all up and send it to me. However he said he was told by Radford that I took the equipment when I left L.A. My mother declared bankruptcy not long after that.
Who was Jerry Merritt? Is it true that he came to a band practice and arrangements were made for recording at Seattle’s Sound Recording studios to record the band’s first 45? “Acid Head” c/w “She Was The Only Girl,” one of Steve’s originals, was the result, released in July 1967. Were any other songs recorded? Mike Hayes had written “She” which became “Acid Head” but on the LP, Weed and George Radford, Sr. were listed as composers. Why?
Randy: Jerry Merritt was most famous for being a member of Gene Vincent’s Bluecaps, led by the great rockabilly singer. One evening Mr. Radford said he received a phone call from Jerry Merritt, who had big connections. Jerry was invited to come to our practice space at the Radford’s house to meet us and hear us. Mr. Radford managed to gin up great enthusiasm among us, as he always did. We met Jerry, and he and Mr. Radford apparently made a deal. He became our music director or advisor, songwriter and co-producer. Our first releases were pressed on Jerry’s Tell Records label; his publishing company was used for our earliest releases; he received co-producer credit on some of our records. Later, in Hollywood, Mr. Radford changed our record label to Metro Media, which I believe he started, and most publishing was transitioned to another company (I had left the band so I don’t know: was there a falling-out between Mr. Radford and Jerry?) On the Metro Media records, Jerry lost production credit on songs which he co-produced in Seattle. Co-credit instead went to “Motola”. Buddy Motola, who was said to be related to Tony Motolla, became our music director (or some other title) when we relocated to Hollywood. He received co-producer credit for songs that we recorded before we met him, that Jerry should have been credited for. He also received co-writer credit for the four songs recorded in Hollywood after I left the band. He may have helped write those four songs. There was a George “Buddy” Motola who co-wrote a Jessie Belvin song, among others. That person worked in the same office as Lieber and Stoller, according to music writer Joe Knapp. Merritt taught us to make slinky (light) guitar strings by throwing away the big E, moving the remaining strings over one slot, so that A became E, D became A, etc. We then filled in the high E slot with a thin banjo string. That way, we could bend the strings, which we rarely did. We were not playing the kind of blues or rock which needed much, or any string bending. Jerry wore his guitar so low it practically dragged the ground. Several, if not many, punk rockers incorporated this in the mid-70’s, going forward. We learned and recorded “Town Of Fools,” on which I sang lead, written by Jerry. Jerry taught our drummer, Danny Wagner, how to play a Motown beat for the song. We were probably the only white band in Yakima using that beat. In the studio in Seattle, my voice was not strong enough, according to the studio personnel and Mr. Radford, so they had me sing it twice, and they used both vocal tracks to stack it and give me more power. Never mind that in one version I sang the word “are” instead of “been”, so you can hear me singing two different words simultaneously. Mr. Radford laughed and let it go. Also, the studio was supposed to fade out the ending, and they didn’t. I like the ending now, because it’s different. But it was not done correctly, and the results were accepted and released on record. Please note that we did not record at the relatively famous Sound Recording in Seattle. We recorded at Audio Recording, which is reflected in the Rhino Nuggets box set liner notes. It may be that someone said we recorded at Sound, because it would add glamour to our story. Throughout our history, things have been added; facts have “changed”. I’ve spent many years correcting the record, no pun intended. I prefer to put the straight facts out there. Our music speaks so well for itself that no embellishment is needed. I don’t recall Jerry accompanying us to Seattle when we recorded “Acid Head” and “She Was The Only Girl,” but he must have, as he received co-credit for producer. He was certainly there when we recorded “Town Of Fools.” That may have been the session in which I was forced to record “I’m Coming Home Los Angeles,” which, because we were teens and wanted to play for teens, was the least-appropriate song we could have recorded, other than maybe “Danke Schoen,” which I was made to sing in concert. “I’m Coming Home” was eventually released as the flip side of “Town Of Fools.” It was co-written by a great L.A. songwriter, Bobby Worth, who wrote a song the Ink Spots recorded entitled “Do I Worry.” I wish I could have recorded “Do I Worry.” My Dad’s favorite vocal group was the Ink Spots. I love “Do I Worry.” As for “Acid Head,” I will defer to Steve as to why the writing credits went to “S. Weed - G. Radford” on the Tell label. When the song was rereleased on the Metro Media label, the credit was printed thusly: Steve Weed – George Radford. Mr. Radford did not co-write the song, but he told us it was industry practice for someone in his position to add his name to the credits. He did it on several of our songs. We didn’t like it, but we kept thinking we were going to make it, and it wouldn’t matter in the end. Note that the records don’t say G. Radford, Sr. or George Radford, Sr. Anyway, many years later the son said in print that Mr. Radford put the name on the records so that George the son would be provided for! Please note that on some Metro Media releases, Velvet Illusions Inc. is co-credited as producer. Mr. Radford incorporated the band, and made his family the corporate officers. The corporation and officers were to receive a major portion of any VI income, and the seven members (which included George the son) would receive 1/7 of the remainder, which I think was 35%. So each kid would get 5% in all (except the son). Many mechanisms were put in place to keep the money in the family. How our record label became known as Metro Media: Mr. Radford created it by cutting the name Metromedia into two words. He said it was a huge company, and that our records would do better with that name on them. In Hollywood, we received a cease and desist letter from Metromedia. Mr. Radford changed the record label name to Metro Video.
Steve: Jerry was my mentor, when he showed up at our band practice our eyes were on him the whole time during the performance. He was a true showman in every sense of the word! I didn’t get to know him real well before we took off to L.A., it was after my mom’s bankruptcy when we moved back to Yakima in the summer of 1969 when I got to know him well. I and my family continued to record and perform with Jerry all the way up until his death. In fact my family and I were on our way to Jerry’s place in Dayton, WA on the day that he died. Jerry was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame not long after his passing.
The band gained instant notoriety, when the song was released in May, but the anti-drug message of “Acid Head” was lost. The song was banned from local radio, which Radford, Sr. thought this would give band good, free publicity. How did the band feel about this? Did the band ever have an opportunity to point out that “Acid Head” was, in reality, the story of a woman’s descent into drug abuse.
Randy: I think we were happy to have “Acid Head” released. To do so was a bold move for seven Yakima boys and their management, though not necessarily the best move, business-wise. Looking back I will say it made us popular after we disbanded. I can’t say we gained instant notoriety from its release. When a radio station chose not to play a song, it was not the custom to write or call the band and inform them of this decision. I doubt we heard from many stations. Perhaps Mr. Radford contacted our local station(s) before or after “Acid Head” was released, to discuss the matter. I think it was just assumed that the song was banned. Maybe one or two stations actually said it was, and huge exaggerations took place, where “the song was banned all over the world”. Not having it played on the radio definitely hurt sales, because the song remained unknown to the masses. Our potential best song was thrown away! When it did sell was after all but Georgy were left, unfairly, ineligible for any compensation. We were driven to quit, so when the song sold as a cult item, we got no money, because we quit. A real Catch-22. We did appear on the KIMA TV program, “Summer Wild Thing”, hosted by the man whom I am still in contact with, Steve Montgomery, to perform one or two of our songs. After the show was filmed for broadcast, we were interviewed by a KIMA TV newsperson, who discussed “Acid Head” with us. I don’t remember if they played any of the song on TV. We had a chance to point out that “White Rabbit” was being played, while our anti-drug song was banned. It was almost staged. KIMA TV owned the local radio station that banned “Acid Head!” Upon hearing our interview, radio station management could have opted to play the song. They did not. A regretful footnote: my favorite Steve Weed song was the flip side of “Acid Head,” “She Was The Only Girl.” Because Mr. Radford chose to make “Acid Head” the A-side, “She Was” died, along with “Acid Head.” Had it been an A-side, and assuming we had adequate distribution, the song could have, due to its sound, taken its place alongside The Buckinghams’ songs, and/or due to its subject matter, alongside songs which dealt with the death of a boyfriend/girlfriend, such as “Last Kiss,” “Leader Of The Pack,” or “Deadman’s Curve.” Post-breakup, “Acid Head” found its way into the hands of music collectors, who saw to it that it received ongoing worldwide distribution, whether via bootleg, or compilation LP’s, cassettes, CD’s or YouTube. The song and the band gained exposure. Our entire output was distributed in a like manner, articles were written about us, and photos were shared. The legend began and grew. The title, “Acid Head,” totally nailed it! Our song titles boiled-down a whole cultural phenomenon into the shortest, most concise language: “Acid Head”, “Hippy Town,” “Stereo Song,” and “Velvet Illusions.” We laid it out there. I found out in 1987 from mega-collector Neal Skok, of Redmond, WA, that our records were being covered by other bands, collected, sold, bootlegged, and included on comp albums (was any compilation inclusion authorized by our former management?). I began finding articles written about us which contained spurious information. For example, it was written repeatedly that Steve Weed married Patty Hearst! I became serious about getting our true story told in 2006, when I read a short, inaccurate entry which a replacement drummer, Jon Juette, wrote for the Pacific Northwest Bands webpage. I contacted the webmaster, and sent him a long article which I wrote, along with photos, which he published on the website. That article led directly to our being contacted by Rhino Records’ David Ponak, and Tune In’s Gray Newell. That’s when we really took off!
Footnote: Jon Juette told me via phone, circa 2000, that he traveled from Washington State to Hollywood to join the band because he was told he could work with me. I had already left the band. Jon told me he was bitterly disappointed over this deception, as he admired my work.
Steve: As you said it was an anti-drug song so we felt good about it, and yes we did a TV and I believe a radio interview where I was interviewed, explaining that very fact. But it didn’t lift the ban.
When was the band’s trip to Hollywood planned? What was the band’s game plan for breaking into the music industry? Two members, guitarist Chuck Funk and rhythm guitarist Danny Wohl left the band, replaced by rhythm player Bruce Kitt. What affect did this have on the band’s sound?
Randy: I don’t know how or when or why our move to Hollywood was planned. One day Mr. Radford summoned our parents. He set up chairs and stood in front of us and said we were moving to Hollywood. He said, “Hollywood talks, and right now, they’re talking about The Velvet Illusions”. Everyone pretty much bought the plan. Each family had to give Mr. Radford a check for either $200 or $400, I forget. Mr. Radford said we would spend our first night at June Allyson’s home. We drove down there, stayed in a crummy motel, and then Mr. Radford found us a nice house with a large flower garden and avocado tree behind it. I loved sitting out there when I wasn’t busy with the day job which I was told to get, or when I wasn’t working at our office, mailing out our records and records made by other people. Or when I wasn’t cooking seven-days-a-week for eight people (I was the cook). I gave up trying to sleep because drummer Danny Wagner would loudly play a song repeatedly on the record player. Danny refused to get a job, and he prevented those of us who worked from sleeping by playing loud records. He hit me in the eye when I tried to get him to stop; then I had to ride in the back of a pickup truck with him all the way to Yakima, when we quit, circa August 1967. I never did meet June Allyson! I am not sure what the plan for success was. I know Mr. Radford recruited older show business people to assist/advise him, people who seemed out of touch with the times. Lots of schemes were discussed. We were going to provide the background music for a spoken word LP recorded by Cesar Romero. His artist friend was going to do really dumb, childish, outmoded caricatures of us for our album cover. We posed (not for photos, but posed) as a group called “The Escorts”, pretending to be the back-up band for a pretty, youngish female vocalist Mr. Radford must have been getting paid by (perhaps one of his suckers — see below). We mailed out her 45’s. She would stop by the office and say hi. While we worked, she would drop in, but didn’t help with the work. But she was probably paying. She probably didn’t feel like she should help. I’ll never know why we had four rhythm guitarists, none of whom sang, when Dewayne Russell and I could both play lead and rhythm. Original rhythm guitarist, Chuck Funk, helped start the band, so I can see why he was included. However, when he left quite early-on, I don’t know why we replaced him. I will say that I’m glad we gave the rhythm spot to Danny Wohl, because he was one of my best friends. However, when he was dismissed by Mr. Radford right before we left for Hollywood, we added a fellow whose name I cannot recall, who added very little, especially personality-wise. He was just a stranger who was living with us. He bailed very soon after we relocated. Bruce Kitt, another friend of Steve’s, came next. His joining the band generated a small article in the Yakima Daily Herald-Republic. I discarded or lost the clipping. Bruce fit in well with us. He was easy-going and fun. The revolving door aspect rhythm guitar section had no discernable effect on our sound. We could have uncluttered things by simply eliminating that position; plus we would have cut down on expenses. If a band is going to have three guitarists, then I say they should be able to play like Molly Hatchet.
Steve: I’m not positive of the exact date; I think June of 1967 is correct. George Radford had connections already set up. (Thanks to Jerry Merritt) We had a promotional manager, (Buddy Motola) and a publicity agent, Jack Oliphant, who was Sophie Tucker and Tessie O’Shea’s publicity agent. Chuck Funk was long gone when I joined the band. I can’t recall if Danny Wohl even went to L.A.! I think he fell away just before we took off, and that’s why Bruce arrived on a plane shortly after we got there. Bruce was a good addition to the band, a true showman! Up on stage he always looked like he was having big fun.
The band left for LA in June of 1967. What was the mood of the band? What was LA like? Where did you live? What did teenagers from Yakima do for fun in LA?
Randy: The mood of the band was ready, confident, excited. We felt we would be very successful, thought we’d be stars. I felt that way because we were going to meet June Allyson, as I mentioned. Mr. Radford said her production company, Four Star Productions, was going to become involved. She was the widow of Dick Powell, who was 1/4th of Four Star when he passed, so I imagine she inherited his portion. However, I know of no involvement by her or Four Star. But again, the promise of that happening is absolutely what got me excited (and maybe the other boys, as well). L.A. was rainy that summer! Not excessively hot and dry, which was how I thought it would be. It was a very large place. We saw hippies with hair past their shoulders, hippies selling buttons in downtown Hollywood. Georgy and Dewayne worked at The Hollywood Palladium Theater as ushers. They came home and acted-out various scenes ad nauseam! (It was fun.) I worked at Hodie’s Hollywood and Vine Restaurant as a busboy, and was promoted to soda fountain person. This was a very good thing, because I had to bring food home to feed some of the boys when Mr. Radford would leave town without leaving enough food or money. On more than one occasion, we tried to make “pancakes” from flour and water, frying them in mayo, and spreading mustard on them. When food was bought, I got to make real pancakes for the boys; but the syrup which was provided for us was almost inedible.
The cops were mean. They stopped, frisked and searched me one night when I was walking home from work. I was 100% innocent, and they were not friendly at all. I was dressed in black slacks and a white shirt. We lived within walking distance of downtown Hollywood, on Hobart Blvd. We had some fun, but we looked for day jobs, then we worked day jobs. When we had time off we hung out at The Stash, a head shop. They put our song on their jukebox! Mr. Radford found out we were going there and he made us stop. We had a small fan club made up of neighborhood girls. They also gave us food when Mr. Radford left us without enough food or money. We hung out with them, and one of the boys kissed one of the cutest girls — he may not want to be named…. We walked down Hollywood Blvd. dressed like “hippies”, and waived at passersby. We were sort of like seven Monkees. Danny Wagner wouldn’t work. He said he went to the ocean, maybe with one of the others. I never once saw the ocean. I was from Yakima, and had never seen it. I never, ever saw it. We were never taken on an outing. Danny claimed he saw The Grateful Dead at Griffith Park. We began to lose excitement immediately, when our promised stay at June Allyson’s didn’t happen and never happened.
Steve: Even though we had some doubts because of the legal issues regarding our manager, we were there to get people’s attention! We lived at 1260 N. Hobart Blvd., just a few blocks from the Playboy Club on the Sunset Strip. I heard an expression recently in a movie that explains the change we were facing; “You’re not in Kansas anymore!” I think what kept us from getting into too much trouble is we loved our music and we pretty much stayed together as a group, even when we weren’t performing. We were told not long after we got there that funds were getting low and some of us needed to work to keep things afloat. I knew after that, that some of the guys were about ready to walk away from the group. Me? I was mailing out records. I licked so many stamps one day, my tongue swelled up so bad I couldn't even talk. I decided after that to use a sponge to get the stamps wet. As far as where the money went, I haven’t got a clue.
The band practiced and recorded in studio space in a building on El Cerrito Avenue. Describe if you would the practice facility you used and the recording studio you were booked in. What brought the change from Tell Records to Radford, Sr.’s Metro Media label? “Acid Head” was re-released in July, 1967. Did it get radio airplay? How were sales?
Randy: I explained the label name change earlier. I remember having a suite of offices, but they were on El Centro Avenue, not El Cerrito. We auditioned and practiced with a guitarist when Dewayne quit and went home, in a big building. Maybe that was on El Cerrito. The guitarist was great (don’t know his name). He played one show with us, at Ventura Ballroom. The hippies who paid to see us (we did a DIY thing again) just stood and laughed at us, then it was over. Afterwards, the guitarist told us he felt sorry for us. I was there when he said it. I quit very, very soon after that. While I was in Hollywood, we played once at L.A. International airport for free, and the Ventura gig, and that was all! That ends my story as far as being able to say for sure what happened after that.
Steve: The El Centro Avenue Boulevard was incredible! It was known for its music studios. Ray Charles was just a few doors down from us. I think the recording studio was called Sunset Recording. When we got there Donovan was just finishing up “Sunshine Superman” I was told that other big names recorded there as well. As far as the new record label and any money made from it, I haven’t a clue. We did get radio play, how much I’m not sure.
For the band’s second 45, Radford, Sr. insisted on cover songs. He brought in Buddy Motola, whose “I’m Coming Home To Los Angeles” c/w “Jerry Merritt’s “Town Of Fools,” constituted the single. Why the insistence on cover songs when the band had plenty of originals? How did the band feel about this dictate? Can you describe the sessions for the single?
Randy: Bobby Worth co-wrote “I’m Coming Home Los Angeles” with a person named Sanicola (probably Henry Sanicola -- I never met him), not Buddy Motola. Buddy Motola is credited as co-producer, even though that is impossible. (Why was he credited? Mr. Radford would not make that kind of mistake, so it wasn’t a mistake.) If anyone co-produced it, it was Jerry Merritt. We recorded the two sides in Seattle, before we moved to Hollywood. I was happy to release “Town Of Fools,” because I loved it. I hated the flip side, “I’m Coming Home”, with a passion.
Mr. Radford had another scheme: Oldest one in the book. He wrote and placed ads targeting songwriters, saying Record Your Songs! A few suckers replied. The idea was, we would record any shitty song, take the person’s money, send a few copies out, and move on to the next sucker. I felt terrible about Mr. Radford wanting to cheat people. (The name Fagin comes to mind.) I think most of us did. And when we boys met these people, we were nice to them. The first sucker, or the main one, had a decent voice, and he brought a not-bad song with him. The idea was to screw him. When I quit, Mr. Radford had to put him in the band!
Steve: We were honored to play any song of Jerry’s. I still very much like “Town Of Fools” As far as Bobby’s song, well I thought it was a joke. However I now feel different about it. It was gutsy and with Randy singing lead on it, it gave it that old way back feel. I know we did “Town Of Fools” while we still lived in Yakima, I don’t remember much about recording the other one.
For the band’s third single, Radford changed the label name to, Metro Video. The 45 featured the band’s theme (in following band’s like The Monkees and predating Iron Butterfly), “Velvet Illusions” c/w “Born To Be A Rolling Stone.” Why the change in the name of the label? Who wrote the band’s theme? Who was given credit on the single?
Randy: Steve wrote “Velvet Illusions.” Maybe Dale Larrison helped. On the 45, Steve Weed and George Radford are given song writing credit.
Steve: Radford had to change the name of the label for legal reasons, I’m not sure of the details. I think Randy knows a lot more about that than I do. Dewayne Russell and I wrote “Velvet Illusions” while we were still in Yakima. George Sr. kept on in the practice of messing with the credits regarding who the true writers were. George the son had nothing to do with the writing of the theme.
Is it true that in the fall of 1967, Gene Weed came to the band and told you guys you could never make any money even if you hit it big due to the terms of the contract with George Radford, Sr.? Did you believe him? How did the band react?
Randy: I think I was gone; I don’t know. But we knew all along that the six non-Radford boys would each get 5% (which we never got.)
Steve: That’s true. My big brother was always looking out for me, and I believe the rest of the guys had respect for him. Gene’s suggestion was to approach Radford, tell him we know about the contract and request him to change it so that it was fair.
In the fall of 1967, Randy, Dewayne and Danny left LA, returning to Yakima. Randy’s departure, in part due to his vocal efforts being credited to “Jimmy James,” changing credits without consulting Randy. Randy, how did it feel to be credited under an alias due to your name? What did you guys do after The Velvet Illusions?
Randy: Dewayne left first, by himself, when it was probably still summer. Danny Wagner and I were driven home by Mr. Radford, and to this day I don’t know if it was late summer, or fall. I did not leave because my name was changed, not at all. I hated it; but I dealt with that months earlier in Yakima, and gave in. I was a nice young guy. Please note the spelling for my aka is Jimmie James. I think Mr. Radford knew it could be mispronounced bowels. It was spelled Bowles, and Sally Bowles was world famous. Chester Bowles was a high ranking US government official at the time. So I don’t think that was the reason at all! Mr. Radford said regarding the change to Jimmie James, “There’s a lot of money behind that name”. It would be great to know what that meant. My parents were way upset over the name change. Not only was I being insulted by the insinuation that there was something wrong with my name; so was my family. But I quit because I was an honest, hard-working young man who felt like he was in a criminal enterprise. After the VI’s, we went home, had the gear repossessed, cobbled together some gear and played one great gig as Peppermint Tea.
Steve: Actually Dale Larrison also left when Randy and the others vacated L.A. Randy can tell you the details.
Steve remained, the three departed members replaced by Jon Juette, drummer from The Techniques and Shy Guys, and Rolando Battista on guitar. What was the mood of the band now? Were you still practicing every day? How often did you gig? What about recordings?
Steve: When Jon showed up we didn’t have a replacement for Dale yet, but that didn’t stop us from recording not long after that. We also did the Mayor Yorty press conference and at some point we had the privilege of performing at the Scottish Rite Temple for the Annual “Hiroshima, Nagasaki” festival where we performed before an audience of 14,000 Japanese. We opened for Kyu Sakamoto, of Japan. He had a big hit in the US called “Sukiyaki.”
Steve co-wrote “Lazy” with Bobby Worth for the band’s fourth single, recorded at Sunset Recorders. Three other titles were recorded, “The Stereo Song” (the B-side of “Lazy”), “Mini Shimmy” and “Hippy Town.” However, none of the songs were officially released as the majority of copies were retained by the pressing plant for lack of payment. Did the band intend to release fourth and fifth singles? Who plays on these tracks?
Steve: These songs were done after the replacements Jon and Roland arrived. I played bass guitar on them because we still hadn’t replaced Dale yet. Again I was in the dark about what happened regarding the financial end of it. I know we were working on other songs to record, but we never got around to that. I was told Bobby Worth wrote the words to “Lazy,” now I wonder if the whole thing was a lie to set me up. I will give you more details at the end of the interview.
The fourth single “Lazy” c/w “The Stereo Song” is credited to Georgy and the Velvet Illusions. Why this crediting? What was the band’s reaction? Was the band still gigging, minus two lead guitarists and their original drummer? Did the band enter the recording studio again, ever?
Randy: Before I even left, Mr. Radford told us we were going to be called Georgy and the Velvet Illusions. That contributed to my leaving. For the most (or he was tied with the rhythm guitarist) expendable person in the band to have his name out in front made no sense to us non-Radfords. Supposedly young George didn’t like it either, but I forget.
Steve: I think the Georgy thing was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The band leader name thing was a thing of the past. Bands had pretty much stopped that, unless the one named out in front was the star of the show. Even Paul Revere and the Raiders had a go in with it, because Mark Lindsey was the guy out in front; however they got past it because the name wouldn’t work at all if it would have changed to Mark Lindsey and the Raiders. We were told that the name change was Jack Oliphant’s idea. Sorry but I don’t buy that! Don’t get me wrong, George the son contributed well as a member. He just simply wasn’t the star of the show, so in my opinion his name shouldn’t have been put there.
At this point drummer Juette and rhythm guitarist Bruce Kitt exited the band. How did the affect a possible tour of Japan and an appearance on the Joey Bishop television show? Was there any will to live left in The Velvet Illusions?
Steve: Not really, I told Bruce and Jon I wasn’t far behind them. Everyone knows that when a band breaks up the chances that they will have a comeback is next to zip. That’s why I was puzzled that Radford didn’t agree to re-write his contract. Maybe he couldn’t because of his contracts with Motola and Oliphant? All I know is you can’t fly without a plane!
”Minnie Shimmy” c/w “Hippy Town” was released on Metro Video in November, 1967. Was there a band to tour the last two singles if either had hit? What marked the end of The Velvet Illusion?
Steve: There was a band, the only thing missing was a bass player; as I said I played bass at the recording studio on those two songs, and if either one of them would of hit it wouldn't have been a problem locating a bass player in L.A., the problem was the constant BS the members had to deal with. I think the straw that broke the camel's back was when Georgy ended up on the labels of our newest releases. After that stunt everybody was ready to walk away. I believe Bruce and Jon were gone shortly after that. I think I left in December.
One story I would appreciate if you would share with our readers. At some point near the end you played a gig with The Zombies, and showed them a couple of songs on guitar and they said they really liked the songs and were going to record them on their next album and were already playing them live. Would you please tell our readers the rest of the story?
Steve: I sent this information to Gray Newel of In Tune Records so he could put it in the liner notes of “Acid Head.” Keep in mind that when I sent this to Gray in June of 2010, I had no idea that The Zombies that I met in Eugene, Oregon in 1969 were fakes. My Mother had moved from Yakima to The Dalles, OR while I was in L.A. So my bus took me there, but after my mom filed bankruptcy we moved back to Yakima. That’s when I saw Jerry Merritt again for the first time since L.A. To say the least I felt like throwing in the towel. But Jerry put a fire back under me; he told me “Don’t let this get you down, you’re a great writer, and someone’s going to discover that, so it’s just a matter of time.” So I did rekindle my love for music again and since my mother was responsible for much of that love, I invited her to join me and we performed as a duet. We did quite a few shows together. Our most memorable one was when we opened for the rockabilly star Buddy Knox (“Party Doll”) at the Central County fair in Washington. Not long after the performance with Buddy, Jerry had me set up with a special meeting. I didn’t have to do much, I got on a bus and arrived in Eugene, OR where I was picked up and driven to the Lemon Tree Club where I would meet up with a famous group, who already had a number of US hit songs. “Tell Her No” and “She’s Not There” were two of their past hits but now they were touring with a number one song; “The Time Of The Season.” I’m of course talking about The Zombies. I met them in a summer house behind the Lemon Tree Club owned by one of the biggest booking agents in the Northwest: Pat Mason. He was also a very good friend of Jerry Merritt’s and told Jerry The Zombies were looking for some new songs for their next album. When I was putting this information together I realized I didn’t remember the band leader’s name, so I looked ‘'The Zombies' up in the internet. Funny! They didn’t look familiar to me. I thought maybe they had some replacements along the way. I finally I settled with the name Colin Blunstone because he sang lead on “The Time Of The Season.” So here I was standing with a box guitar, in front of them feeling as though I was stark naked. That is until Colin Blunstone, the lead singer approached me and introduced himself and the rest of the group. Anyway The Zombies and The Archies were going to perform that night at the Lemon Tree Club, so we had to get down to business. The Archies left and I showed The Zombies two songs which I wrote a month earlier. I had to play them on my guitar because this meeting was set up on short notice and I didn’t have them recorded yet. So they recorded them on a reel to reel which they brought to the summer house. “Gretchen” and “Crashing” were the two songs that I played for them. They said they liked them, but I wasn’t given any promises because they had more material to listen to. I went back home and for months I wondered. And then I got a call from Colin telling me that not only were they going to put the songs on their new album but they were already performing them at their concerts. And then they told me another bit of good news, they were booked to perform at “The Downtown” a concert hall on 2nd street in Yakima, Washington. And sure enough I got a free pass into the concert and I was ecstatic when I saw their posters all over town. Finally the day arrived and there I was standing in the audience grooving as they played one of their famous tunes. I felt like I was able to fly up to the ceiling when they called my name and asked me to step forward each time they played my songs! After the concert some of my friends and I were allowed backstage and we even had a party with them later that night. I thought this was my time! I thought I was on my way as a successful songwriter. But I waited and waited. Months later I learned from Pat Mason through Jerry that the group split up and lost their contract. I wasn't that surprised because at the party they got real messed up on drugs and alcohol. I thought at the time; "I sure hope these guys keep it together until they get this album out." I can’t describe the disappointment I was experiencing when I heard the news. Jerry tried to cheer me up but I felt like the rug was pulled out from under my feet again. Oh don’t get me wrong, I never quit playing music and writing songs. I just viewed it more like a hobby after that.
Are there additional tapes of The Velvet Illusions in the tape vaults anywhere or in the possession of a band member or management? If so, where are they and why haven’t they been released?
Randy: There were other songs, but according to Mr. Radford’s son George, our sax player, they were destroyed when an attempt was made to copy them from the master tapes. -- I remember recording “Grow Up Young Man”, in Seattle. I also remember that we recorded a song Jerry Merritt sat-in on, where he played the Vox Mando-Guitar. That’s the guitar I’m holding in our CD cover photo.
Steve: I’m pretty sure that there are no other tapes.
What brought about the 2010 release of “The Velvet Illusions” on Tune In Records, UK, which compiled the ten single sides?
Steve: George the son licensed a number of compilation releases starting from the 1980’s: Compilation appearances have included: “Velvet Illusions” on Pebbles Vol. 9 (CD); Acid Trip From The Psychedelic Sixties (LP), Garagelands Vol. 2 (CD) and Sixties Archive Vol. 8 (CD); “Acid Head” and “Velvet Illusions” on Psychedelic Unknowns, Vol. 5 (LP & CD), 60's Punk E.P., Vol. 2 (7" EP), Acid Dreams - The Complete 3 LP Set (3-LP), Acid Dreams Testament (CD) and Acid Dreams, Vol. 1 (LP). It’s interesting the Acid Dreams Liner Notes had only five paragraphs and yet one of those paragraphs was devoted to our band. Randy also found on the Pacific Northwest Bands website, our band was in the top 20 twice in the last few years. That didn't make any since at first because we are almost virtually unknown here, but then I found out the chart was international.
Randy: Then I found out that David Ponak of Rhino Records was putting the 4-CD box set together called “Where the Action Is!: Los Angeles Nuggets 1965-1968”, which had “Acid Head” on it along with songs from 49 other bands that were recorded in L.A. Ironic that Warner Music included “Acid Head” on the box set in 2009, since they had shown no interest in The Velvet Illusions forty years earlier when some members of the band approached the label and had a meeting hoping Warner’s would offer help, financial or otherwise, to the, by then, disheartened members of the band, who were feeling abandoned and abused by their management. Ironically, the royalties from “Acid Heads” inclusion in this project went to the very same management. The CD was nominated for a Grammy in 2010. Anyway, after that Gray Newell contacted me requesting the re-release of the VI’s 1966 and1967 Recordings. The end result was “Acid Head” released in 2011 on the Tune In Records imprint of Cherry Red Records, UK.
Have the members of The Velvet Illusions stayed in touch over these 45 plus years since the release of the band’s final 45? I noticed a post by Randy seeking out Steve in 2012 and according to the website you found him very quickly. How did it feel to be back In touch with each other after all these years?
Steve: I endeavored to reach everyone but the one’s I have had regular contact with are first and foremost Randy, Jon and Bruce.
Have all the legal issues surrounding The Velvet Illusions been resolved at this point? Have the songwriting credits been corrected so that credit is given where credit is due?
Steve: No, it would take money to resolve that. As long as I know the truth that’s all that matters. I’ve gotten on to things ahead, instead of throwing good money after bad.
When is the vinyl edition of “The Velvet Illusions” due out? What label is releasing it? I know you guys want to thank Gray Newell for his help in both the cd and vinyl releases of the five singles released by the band in 1967.
Randy: I’ve been told that the record label is shooting for a September/October, 2014 release of “Acid Head” on LP.
Steve: I’m not sure of the time factor, I guess I should start finding out. Yes Gray is a real Trooper! And he’s put his neck out for us more than once.
Some people were affected very negatively by the terms of contracts signed by youngsters feeling trapped, by parents trying to help the kids, etc. If you would care to share a story of how you and your family were affected by the contracts please, if you are comfortable, share your story.
Steve: It’s real simple. Parents should never do something only because their children want them to. The best friend I ever had was my mom, because I knew she would sacrifice herself for me. But she did wrong when she signed for the equipment, and the contract, without having it checked over, or discussing it with me. She meant well because she knew how much I wanted it. But what she did was harm both of us. If she would have at least told me about the music equipment, I would have never left without it. But I was never mad at her for what she did.
On the album I see the name Radford credited as writer or co-writer of seven of the albums ten tracks. Who does this refer to, George, Jr. or George, Sr.? Were either or both of them actually involved in the writing of the tracks? How did they come to be credited?
Steve: I briefly mentioned that earlier. I guess it was George the son and no, neither one of them had anything to do with the writing.
Share with our readers the moment that stands out as the highlight of your time in the band, if you would please. On the other hand, share the moment that stands out as the low point of your time in The Velvet Illusions.
Randy: My favorite Velvet Illusions moment happened after I left the band, and moved back to Yakima. I was having fun with friends in a local hippie hangout, when “Town Of Fools” came on the radio. The disc jockey spinning the tune was Randy Pugsley, one of my faves. The song was great, and I was singing it! Everything stopped while we listened. I was so happy. The low point for me was when we boys were expected to go along with Mr. Radford’s scheme to lure innocent, would-be “stars” to pay us to record and/or promote their music, whether it was good or bad. The motive was not to help the respondents, but to take their money. I realized that the grownup I was counting on had a different interpretation of ethics and morally than that which I had been taught by my parents, teachers and pastors. I knew then that I would be leaving. My relationship with our sax player George was a casualty. As I expressed to him recently, I didn't quit him. I have never stopped working to share our music.
Steve: After we performed at the Hiroshima Nagasaki festival the Japanese girls came back stage to meet us! I had no idea that they were so beautiful! We signed a lot of autographs, the strange thing is they didn’t bring any paper with them!
Is there anything we haven’t touched on that you would like to share with our readers? Anything you would like to clarify or parting shots?
Randy: I’d like to say hello to each and every Velvet Illusions fan who is reading this. We surviving members care, and are so happy that you like our music. We worked very hard to craft it. When we broke up, it appeared our mission had failed. It took years to realize just how successful we were. In the end, it wasn’t about getting rich; it was about making good music. I’d like to thank the bands that cover our songs, and the collectors who wouldn’t let the Velvet Illusions die. Also, a shout out goes to you who have made and posted YouTube videos incorporating our music. From skateboarders to animators, to regular music lovers, you’ve made some tres’ cool videos, taking our music into the 21st century! I still play our songs in concert, and proudly mention that I was part of The Velvet Illusions.
Steve: I mentioned to you that I was going to give you some additional details concerning the Bobby Worth thing. First I want say that I wasn’t as cooperative as George Sr. expected me to be. In fact I even got into a physical altercation with him in Los Angeles because he was trying to force me to wear flowered shirts and pleated pants. He thought that because he bought them, I was under obligation to wear them. He was dead wrong about that! This attitude of mine was not just privy to L.A. either. If there was something going on that I didn’t like I quickly protested. For instance, I was the one who complained the loudest about the velvet uniforms. I was tickled pink when replacements came and they couldn’t fit in that ridiculous attire! Also I protested certain songs George Sr. was demanding that we play: “Strangers in the Night,” “Winchester Cathedral,” and “Hey There Georgy Girl,” just to name a few. When we performed in La Grande, OR, which was one of our last gigs prior to California, I was the one who read the song sheet that night and I passed those songs up. Boy was Radford upset! But after the gig I told him exactly what I felt about those songs, and made it clear they should never be played by a rock ‘n roll band! The group supported me on that. On and around the time when Radford had to go back to Yakima to fetch his daughter and wife, something really strange happened. First I was informed that Bruce and I were going to remain in L.A. while the rest of the band returned to Yakima. Just prior to this, right out of the blue Radford handed me words to a song with the name Bobby Worth on it. The composition was called “Lazy.” Radford explained to me that Bobby desired me to be a co-writer on this song, which I thought was cool, especially after I learned that Bobby was a successful songwriter. He wrote “Do I Worry” by the Ink Spots as well other memorable songs. I believe that Radford and the other network of managers suspected that if I went back to Yakima with Radford and the group, I most likely would not be returning, so they had to find an appealing reason for me to stay behind. They also knew I would never remain there by myself. Someone decided that Bruce would be the best one to stay behind with me. I remember protesting the idea until George informed us that we couldn’t go because Bruce and I were invited to a celebrity party at Bobby Worth’s million dollar condo which had a kidney shaped pool off the back deck. He also said that we were going to meet movie stars there! I didn’t figure this entire matter out until decades later when I was informed by Gray Newell that the label on the “Lazy” 45 mysteriously attributed the writing credits to Sandra Carr, George Radford and Buddy Motola, with no mention of Bobby or me anywhere, which led me to a shocking realization. I want to make you aware of something before I go any further with this: At no time did George Sr. do anything suggestive sexually to cause me or Bruce to distrust him in that area. However, it was George’s job as our legal guardian to protect us both physically and morally when we were absent from our parents, or in my case parent. The fact is he should have never left us without any supervision. My brother kept trying to talk my mom into having George prosecuted for abandonment, and I believe George would have served time for that if my mom would have pursued it legally. I now knew that Bruce and I had been set up like a piece of meat! And now I understand why I couldn't find Bobby Worth's name on “Lazy” in the ASCAP archives. The whole thing with Bobby Worth as my co-writer had to have been a scam; otherwise a professional writer like him would have gone after Radford and others for stealing his work. I’m not positive about this, but I think Motola wrote the words to “Lazy” and got Worth to go along with the whole thing, including setting up the party, which would convince me not to leave, and finally what would happen to Bruce and I on that night might knock the spunk right out of both of us. I can’t think of anything else that would explain why things ended up the way they did. So there we were, all alone in L.A. and sure enough when Bruce and I arrived at Bobby’s place, there were lots of celebrities present, including Steve Lawrence of the Carol Burnett show, and his famous singer wife, Eydie Gorme, and the star of the Tarzan movies, Johnny Weissmuller. Later on after having quite a conversation with Eydie and Steve, a group of gorgeous girls showed up and if I remember correctly, Bobby was the one who introduced to us the Malibu Beach girls from the series being aired on TV at the time. After the greeting period, the girls sat across from Bruce and I, in very skimpy miniskirts, and by the way, they didn't sit very lady like either. Bruce and I kept looking at each other, as they tormented us with their voluptuous beauty and alluring eye contact. I think Eydie caught on to what was really going down, because it was about that time that she started up a conversation with me again. She asked me how long I had lived in L.A. and where I was from and then she asked me something really peculiar! "So you probably like girls then, huh?" Not long after that, Steve and Eydie left, and soon after, everyone else disappeared too, except Bobby and his buddy Hy. By that time Bruce and I had consumed at least a couple of strong drinks, and we were definitely feeling a buzz. Immediately after everyone was gone, we were invited to go swimming in their fancy pool. "We don't have our swimming suits with us", I replied. Bobby then informed me that he had extra swimming trunks in the top drawer of his guest bedroom and he showed us the room and the chest of drawers where he stored them. As we were starting to get undressed I opened the top drawer and began to examine the contents. There were swimming trunks of various sizes. And then it dawned on me why Eydie asked me the question: "So you probably like girls huh?" There were only male trunks in the drawer. So I told Bruce what I thought was going down and he agreed that we should “get out of Dodge.” When we got to the front door, Hy tried to stop us saying, “I can’t let you leave because you’ve been drinking!” Bruce was the first one to get mad and I warned Hy that we were prepared to defend ourselves, if he didn’t remove himself from the doorway! We thought we were going to have to fight our way out of there, until Bobby showed up and told Hy to let us go. It's quite evident that someone set Bruce and I up to be molested that night. Exactly who the instigator was I can't be sure. The fact that Bobby’s name never arrived on the label as a co-writer, points a finger at Motola, because he was the only songwriter of the three mentioned on the record, and a friend of Worth’s. Bobby may have owed Buddy a debt. After we got home that night, someone tried to break into our house, and whoever it was, knew we were home! We warned the would be intruder to quit trying to lift the door chain, Just before Bruce and I ran and slammed our bodies up against door which would have crushed their arm, they gave up. I guess the guy didn’t want in that bad after all! It wouldn't surprise me if the stranger was Hy. He was really disappointed when we left. I never saw Bobby or his friend after that night. Bruce and I were relieved knowing that when we left L.A., we walked away without that kind of a scratch! If you are young and talented, do not get into compromising situations. Avoid being alone, try to take a friend with you. Jesus provided us with a simple principal; “You are sheep amidst wolves, therefore be as cautious as serpents, and innocent as doves.” After I found out all of these details I decided to redo “Lazy” in a Doors’ like version and change it enough so I could rightly put the song in my name! I even changed the title to ‘”Crazy in Love”. I finished recording it in 2011.
Rhythm guitarist Danny Wohl sent the following comments via Randy Bowles: "You can speak for me on Velvet Illusion history. I have no pictures or advertisements, just one 45, “Acid Head.” I do remember a song I hated to play was “Strangers In The Night.” Barf!! I do remember going through the E-burg canyon riding in Gene Weed’s hot rod 1957 Ford pickup, raining like a cow pissing on a flat rock trying to pass a semi-tractor trailer: I was a little nervous. And one other time I was riding in Dewayne Russell’s 1957 Chevy when he was not paying attention and I had to grab the steering wheel and turn hard left to keep from hitting parked car. He thanked me for saving us and his car."
Thank you so much, Randy and Steve, for taking the time to share the story of The Velvet Illusions with our It’s Psychedelic Baby Magazine readers. Thanks also to rhythm guitarist Danny Wohl, for his much appreciated comments regarding the band. I can only hope that this interview has succeeded in capturing the youthful hopes and dreadful disappointments that befell the band, lo these nearly fifty years on.
Special thanks to Gray Newell of Tune In Records, UK, for all his encouragement and efforts on my (Kevin Rathert) behalf in getting this interview completed and for his kind sharing of photos and memorabilia regarding The Velvet Illusions. As Steve put it so succinctly, Gray is “a real trooper!”
The Velvet Illusions were: Steve Weed (vocals, Vox organ); Randy Bowles (vocals, lead guitar); Danny Wohl (rhythm guitar); Dale Larrison (bass, backing vocals); George Radford, Jr. (saxophone, backing vocals); Dewayne Russell (lead double-neck Mosrite guitar); Danny Wagner (drums).
Velvet Illusions Discography:
“Acid Head” c/w “She Was The Only Girl” Tell Records T 700, May 1967
“Acid Head” c/w “She Was The Only Girl” Metro-Media 307, July 1967
“I’m Coming Home Los Angeles”c/w “Town Of Fools” Metro-Media 308, July 1967
“I’m Coming Home Los Angeles” c/w “Town Of Fools” Metro-Video 308, July 1967
“Velvet Illusions” c/w “Born To Be A Rolling Stone” Metro-Media 309, July 1967
“Velvet Illusions” c/w “Born To Be A Rolling Stone” Metro-Video 309, July 1967
“Lazy” c/w “The Stereo Song” Metro-Video 310, November 1967
“Minnie Shimmy” c/w “Hippie Town” Metro-Video 311, November 1967
Compilation:“Acid Head” Tune In Records, Tune In 004, 2011
Interview made by Kevin Rathert/2014
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