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The Velvet Illusion’s Randy Bowles Interviews The Velvet Illusion’s Randy Bowles!

September 5, 2014

The Velvet Illusion’s Randy Bowles Interviews The Velvet Illusion’s Randy Bowles!

Hello, psych music fans! We managed to track down Randy
Bowles, co-founder of Yakima, Washington’s Velvet Illusions, to ask him a
series of probing questions. We found him ensconced in the senior citizens
apartment building he dwells in, in the Lower Queen Anne neighborhood of
Seattle, WA:
Randy, aka ‘Jimmie James’ Bowles, why do you want to
interview yourself regarding your 60’s psych/garage band, The Velvet Illusions?
“Because there are questions I’ve always wanted someone to
ask me. I’m gonna ask them myself.”
By the way, do you like being called ‘aka Jimmie James’?
“No. I loathe it. It sounds like I have a criminal alias.”
Too bad. You’re stuck with it, son! Let’s get started:
Randy, is it true that, when you and the rest of the boys in the band picked a
name, you were influenced by the Velvet Underground? You were just copying
them?
“No! We lived in Yakima, Washington. We had never heard of
them. We were sheltered, highly-innocent, teenaged boys from a back-water town,
who’d never heard of that band, let alone anything they sang about! ‘I’m
waiting for my man’, indeed! — The first time I ever heard of the Velvet
Underground was in the winter of 1967, after I left the Velvet Illusions. I was
in my neighborhood Sprouse Reitz five-and-dime store, desperately combing
through its meager 100-capacity record bin, searching for some fresh tracks,
like a new Mamas and Papas LP. I saw this white album, sporting a banana peel
on its cover. I bought it for three bucks, took it home and played it on the
family console stereo. It scared the hell out of me. I later learned the music
was called, at least by some, ‘proto-punk’, a genre I avoided like the plague.
I was all about peace, love, and long solos, man. — Until 1979, when I became
sick of all that jamming. I then discovered Elvis Costello, Gang Of Four…. I
went back and listened to the ‘banana peel’ LP and said, ‘This is genius!’ But
no, Dude, we named ourselves after our practice of wearing velvet uniforms,
which, by the way, were actually made of upholstery material.
One noted author, Michael Hicks, in his book ‘Sixties
Music’, wrote about groups inventing ‘names that bespoke a retreat into the
private world of drug induced dreams and hallucinations, as well as a defiance
of the prevailing laws’.  I had to write
him and say, I’m sorry. We named ourselves after upholstery material. That’s
all. No hidden meanings, no defiance. In the Velvet Illusions, if we defied, we
died! – Michael was very cool about my writing to correct this. His book has
received some great reviews.
But that’s why the outfits look so good today, 47 years
later. They were made to go on a couch or a sofa. — If we weren’t too fat, or
deceased, we could probably slip into ‘em right now, start playing ‘Acid Head’,
and nobody would know the difference. Well, except for some white hair and
wrinkles.”
Why, since you were less than 200 miles from the huge,
ultra-hip city of Seattle, Washington, did you never play there?
“Well, we travelled to Seattle to make six of those great
sides ya’ll collect. But we were so booked-up and occupied in the
Yakima/Eastern WA area, we just never thought of, or got around to, playing in
Seattle. We were always looking toward the south. Way south. Hollywood.”
Next question. So just what did Patty Hearst have to do with
your band?
“Nothing! I guess someone thought it would be a gas to dream
up a scenario that had our fifteen year-old phenom, Steve Weed, hooking up with
Patty Hearst. Total fabrication. It’s not fair to Steve. He wrote/played/sang
so well that his accomplishments speak for themselves. He doesn’t need anyone
gilding the lily, so to speak. No, if we were to align with an organization it
would have been the Temperance League, not the Symbionese Liberation Army. Oh,
and I’m sure Patty Hearst is sick of hearing about us.”
Even so, it must-a been great to have a guy in the band
named Steve WEED, since you guys were such rad stoners.
“You’re all wet. Steve Weed is a very devout person, and I
would bet my last Dunlop guitar pick that he has never been stoned. We boys
didn’t even drink beer. Had Jimi asked us, ‘Are You Experienced?’, every one of
us would have answered, ‘At what?’. A cursory listen to our lyrics exposes our
complete ignorance regarding the subject of getting high. Take ‘Hippy Town’,
for instance. Even ‘hippie’ is spelled incorrectly. But the song was about
watching hippies, not being hippies.
Oh, by the way, the lyrics of ‘Hippy Town’ are, ‘Long, long
hair, way-out suits. Painted faces, knee-high boots.’ But one website that
posts song lyrics lists them as: ‘Long long hair, without suits. Painted faces,
Indian botts.’ — And then, they try to sell you a ringtone of the song. Gimme
a break! And their stab at the lyrics of ‘Stereo Song’ is even worse. Don’t get
me started…. They say if I don’t like the wrong lyrics, I have to try to fix
them myself. It’s like if someone breaks something beautiful you made, and
looks at you and says, if you don’t like it, fix it.”
I have read many times on internet websites (people on these
websites seem to copy lines from other sites) that you journeyed to Hollywood,
and you ‘released 3 singles in 1967 with little success’.
“Actually we released a total of 5 singles, in 1966 and ‘67.
I’d say we were pretty successful. In 2006, one of our 45’s, ‘Mini
Shimmy’/’Hippy Town’, sold on E-Bay for $907. A copy of ‘Velvet
Illusions’/’Born To Be A Rolling Stone’ sold there for $413 this June (2014).
So success came late. Still, without a big machine behind us, we’ve managed to
reach the status of ‘highly-collectible band’. Our music was great. It just
took time for it to find the right ears. — Oh, by the way, none of us receives
any of that $907 or $413. That’s OK. If I sold a Bubble Puppy 45 on E-Bay, I
wouldn’t have to give that band any money. I’m not angry about that. That’s how
it works. I’d say the bragging rights are pay enough. — While we were together
and playing in Yakima, we were looked down upon because we weren’t snobby, rich
kids in Paul Revere and the Raiders suits. But now our music is listened to by
connoisseurs on every continent. We came from the middle of nowhere, but our
music is everywhere.” 
Yeah, but Mark Polzen wrote in ClassicRockMusicBlog.com that
you ‘youngsters couldn’t hold it together long enough to wait for fame that
didn’t arrive instantaneously.’ I’ve seen that copied and pasted into so many
websites, where they then make your music available for free downloading!
“Argh! If we were so pathetic, why are they sharing our
entire catalog, for free? Our average age was seventeen. We worked day jobs, we
practiced, we packaged and mailed records day in and day out, and played when
we could. We boys were the glue that was holding it together. We never expected
instantaneous success. We only left Hollywood to get out from under management
that was milking us dry, that had only antiquated ideas on how to promote us.
One of our management team was crediting himself as producer on our singles,
for songs we recorded before we met him. Our publicity agent was a senior citizen
who wanted us to jump out of an ‘aeroplane’ wearing kilts. The least-hip idea
was always the one that was thrust upon us, and we were not allowed to
disagree. We were told that when our LP came out, it would feature little
cartoons of us instead of a real photo. We had to wear suits and ties and meet
(the admittedly charming) ‘Two Ton’ Tessie O’Shea at L.A. International
Airport. She supposedly (and this was written about by the famous New York Post
columnist, Earl Wilson) became our friend when ‘Steve Weed wrote to her asking
for ukulele lessons’. Not! Made up. This was a long, long time before Eddie
Vedder made the uke popular.  We would
not have gone near a uke then. We would have been mocked.”
So, you mentioned earlier that some of the band has passed
on.
“We lost our great, funny, always happy, double-neck Mosrite
player Dewayne Russell, and our incredible, nimble-fingered drummer, Danny
Wagner. They both could-a played jazz, country – you name it. In fact, one of
our singles, which I was so happy to sing (credited to ‘Jimmie James’ on the
label) was a country song. ‘Born To Be A Rolling Stone’ just happened to
feature Steve Weed’s Vox Continental organ solo; otherwise, it was pure
country. – I’m not sure when Dewayne or Danny passed, because when we broke up,
we scattered to the four winds. At present though, several of us have located
each other, and three of us even speak! — We’re in our 60’s now. That’s why
it’s so cool to have people all over the world digging our music. It’s so
comforting in our old age (laughs). People in the senior citizens’ home where I
live have no idea who the hell I am; but I can sit in a coffee shop with a
young person, strike up a conversation, and they tell me that The Velvet
Illusions are on their I-Pod! What more could I want?”
Would you like to reunite the band?
“Sure, if the money is right. I’m sorry! I’ve always wanted
to say that. Seriously, I don’t know where we’d play. Our fans live all over
the globe. – Five here, ten there…. Perhaps we could just do a live webcast
from someone’s basement! I know just the guy to produce a light show for us.
(Hello Gray Newell!)”
We’re getting near the end here, Randy. But I must ask: Were
you really in a band with Alice In Chains founder/drummer, Sean Kinney? ‘Cause
that would be quite a career span: ‘Garage to Grunge’.
“Great title for a future article! Tell ya later. We have
all the time in the world.”
Then that wraps it up. Any final thoughts you’d like to
share, especially with the young folks?
“Yeah. Define success in your own terms. Some people do
become an ‘instantaneous’ success. For most, it takes a while. Don’t give in,
don’t give up. Do it your way, do it yourself. That’s the rock ‘n roll way. Put
your all into it. And, ask yourself: will this hold up, or will it embarrass me
in 20 years? I can honestly say, we Velvet Illusions put everything we had into
making our records nearly 50 years ago, and I am as far from being embarrassed
as a guy could be. Finally, let me thank everyone who cares about our music.
You make my day every time I hear from you.”
“Sixties Rock”, by Michael Hicks, is available on the
internet.
Video: Randy “Jimmie James” Bowles, May, 2014, singing his
original composition, “Elder Hippie” at Black Coffee Coop, Seattle, Washington:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fWlQnxFb9Rw
Contact Randy Bowles on Facebook
Article made by Randy Bowles/2014
© Copyright http://psychedelicbaby.blogspot.com/2014
2 Comments
  1. Kevin Rathert

    Well done Randy Bowles! What creative genius. I love it dude!!

  2. E. R. Bowles

    One photo was too small to post in the article: a 2014 photo of one of our uniforms, which was created circa 1966. Thanks to George Radford's mom, who lovingly took care of the uniforms, they are indeed in wonderful condition.

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