Neil Merryweather Interview
Neil Merryweather has had a most colorful and interesting career, spanning more than 40 years. The Canadian rock singer, bass player, songwriter and producer has recorded and played with a who’s who of the rock world including Dave Mason, Steve Miller, Rick James, Howard Roberts, Kal David, Randy California, Billy Joel, James Newton Howard, Charlie Musselwhite, Bruce Cockburn, Kim Fowley, Lita Ford and many more.
Who were your major influences?
There was always music in the house I grew up in. My mother had three sisters – my aunts would always be playing records by who was ever popular at the time. I remember my mother took me to a home of a woman she worked with to see the woman’s son and his group rehearse…that group turned out to be The Diamonds. I started getting into records myself and was an early Presley fan and I then got into artists like Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Sam Cooke and Ray Charles. American Bandstand aired about the time I got home from school so I got to watch a lot of them on TV. The first assembly of the students when I went to high school featured a rock band made up of members of various popular Toronto bands. When I heard that loud rock blasing I was hooked. It wasn’t long after that that I put a band together myself. I sang and played some harmonica. I called that band ‘the Night Tricks’.
Your first performances were in Toronto area under moniker of ‘Bobby Neilson’. In 1964 you joined Gary Muir & The Reflections. The band changed their name a few times. You were called The Ookpiks, The Sikusis and finally the The Just Us (early 1965).
Yeah, I used my first two names Robert Neilson because I didn’t like my last name for a stage name. Bobby Neilson sounded better. My band “the Night Tricks” got a booking agent who kept talking about his A-list band ‘Gary Muir and The Reflections’ so I just had to see them. I called the keyboard player Ed Roth and got myself invited to one of their rehearsals at his home. That day Gary Muir didn’t show up and I detected a little friction was going on between him and the band. He was older than the rest of the band and had a lazy attitude about rehearsing and apparently had a big ego. I asked the guys if I could sit in and do a song with them. We end up doing their whole set that afternoon. They liked my energy and singing enough to make me the new singer and I could see the pleasure they had in calling Gary Muir and telling him he was out. We tried to come up with a new name that was different and with the popularity by bands like The Beatles and the Byrds etc. we decided on ‘The Ookpics’ which was the name of a furry little birdlike animal that the Canadian Eskimos made as souvenirs for tourists. The little critter was patented and copy written by the government so we were told we had to drop the name. Ed came up with the name of another Indian creature called Sikusis and it was patented by the Indians. Ed’s mother said why don’t you just be yourselves and she suggested ‘Just Us’ and that’s the name we used. ‘Just Us’ became one of the new hot bands on the circuit playing all around Ontario.
“‘Wolfman’ Jack had just started out on a radio show in Buffalo, New York and he really liked “I Don’t Love You” and played it on his show.”
You released only one single for Quality Records “I Don’t Love You” / “I Can Tell”. What do you remember from recording it?
We recorded that single for Quality Records when we were still trying to settle on a name and I think the record “I Don’t Love You/ “I Can Tell” was pressed with all three names at one time or another. We did local TV shows and I remember making a giant key from a piece of cardboard and painting it gold, sticking it on my back and acting like a mechanical singer on one of the shows. This attracted the attention of the manager of the biggest band in Toronto at the time. Down the road he became our manger too. By the way ‘Wolfman’ Jack had just started out on a radio show in Buffalo, New York and he really liked “I Don’t Love You” and played it on his show. I also did the record on biggest TV variety show in Toronto at the time but I had to do it solo because they had a house band. Ed Roth’s father had to stop for me to throw up a few times before we got to the studio to do the live show. I was so nervous about doing anything without my band I got a raging migraine. I guess Bobby Neilson did ok, my boys liked it!
The Just Us lineup changed and in 1966 you recorded a lot of material.
Yeah, we played all the top spots around Toronto but I think my favorite places were the little Yorkville Village clubs! The line up did change as Bill Ross the guitarist and I had a lot of friction. He was really a hot headed guy….hey we were friends but he made things hard on the band with his head space. We let him go and our bass player decided to go to college. We recruited three new members including a second singer and part time piano man named Jimmiy Livingston. Jimmy and I became best friends and the band went on.
You played around Toronto in clubs like the Hawk’s Nest, the In Crowd and the Gogue Inn as well as in local high schools.
The Hawk’s Nest was a class gig as it was owned by the legendary Ronnie Hawlins. We always did great there. I remember one day we had loaded and set are equipment up early and we were sitting in Ronnies office smoking weed and making crank calls on his desk phone….laughing our asses off when the Hawk walked in and with a loud southern drawl yelled what the fuck is this buzzard shit!!! Scared the hell out of us! He kicked us out of his office. Other places like The Inn Croud and the Gogue in and Club 888 with it’s revolving stage were fun times. I remember in the change room at a place called The Castle we were engaged in a fart lighting competition with a few of the other bands on the bill. I think Stan Endersby our guitarist won but he burned the hair off his ass and had to play the gig with a sore asshole! Are these the kind of memories you had in mind? Ha ha!
You had a lot of problems with the name of the band and decided to change it to ‘The Tripp’ (in 1966). You supported the Byrds. You never released anything as The Tripp, but you played on The Sunday Show. You also played with other great bands at the Maple Leaf Gardens…
Before I regrouped the band and came up with the name ‘The Tripp’, Wayne Davis quit the ‘Just Us’ to go with Bobby Kriss and the Imperials for fifty dollars more a week. We had a gig at Varsity Stadium with the Byrds coming up in two weeks so rather than look for a new bassist I rented a bass and learned our set. We played the show as ‘Group Therapy’ but yet again had to change our name because some lawyers kid had a basement band with that name. We had played a gig with a band called Richie Knight and the Midnights a month before and I remember admiring the pianist Rick Bell and had left him with my number to call me when the Midnight’s disbanded. He did make that call so I recruited him for the new band and named it ‘The Tripp’. We now had a new name and two keyboard players. I designed some wild flaming red suits and we went out and kicked ass! We played a show with the ‘Mandela’, the top band in Toronto and we blew them away! That’s when we got their manager Riff Marciwitz to manage us also. We played the first live cross Canada broadcast of The Sunday Show and the Toronto sound show at Maple Leaf Gardens. I think we went into Arc Studios and recorded our whole set one day. We signed a deal with them but after we felt we could go farther than Toronto and we faked a break up to get a release. The news even made the paper with a sketch of the band I had drawn posted with the news. It turned out that Randy our great manager was working overtime with the Mandela to get them to the New York and California but we were left waiting for something to happen in Toronto. Rick Bell was disheartened and would up gibing his notice that he was going with Ronnie Hawkin’s new Hawks lineup. About that time Rick James approached me about going with him and signing with Motown Records. The Tripp was a great band but there was only so many times you could play the Southern Ontario circuit.
You joined the Mynah Birds and recorded a demo “It’s My Time”.
The band I joined with Rick James was the new line up of the Mynah Byrds. Neil Young and Bruce Palmer loaded their equipment in the bands hearse and slit the Mynah Byrds to drive down to Los Angeles where we all know they formed the ‘Buffalo Springfield’. Rick had picked up Bill Ross my old ‘Just Us’ guitarist and one of the old ‘Just Us’ drummers Al Morrison to fill out the band. We signed to Motown and started recording at ‘Hitsville’ studio. Among the tunes we did was Neil Young’s “It’s My Time”. I got along with Rick really well but Bill Ross hadn’t changed and before long he and Rick got into blows. The band crumbled and Rick and I returned to Toronto to put a new band together with plans to return to Motown and do the Four Tops and Supremes gig’s that were set before the band broke up. We were in town for only a few days when Rick was busted for and old breaking and entering charge. He and a few friends had broke into a Yorkville clothes store and stole clothes. One of his friends was nabbed and named Rick and the other guy as his break in buddies. Rick went to jail and was waiting for sentencing when it was discovered he was a draft dodger from the US Navy. Rick was held for over a month before being deported back to his home town of Buffalo NY to the serve time for his navy problem. It was during the time Rick was in the Toronto jail that he and I agreed that I would go ahead and form the new Mynah Byrds pending his release.
Later you and Bruce Cockburn started Flying Circus.
I recruited Marty Fisher the keyboardist and Gordy McBain the drummer from Bobby Kriss and the Imperials. I was looking for a guitarist when the drummer from a band that was to became The Five Man Electrical Band told me of Bruce Cockburn, a guitarist from the ‘Children’ out of Ottawa. Bruce moved to Toronto and joined the new band and we began rehearsing Mynah Byrd material in hopes that Rick James would be joining us soon. It was months before we decided to do some of Bruce’s tunes and go out on our own to stay alive and together. I came up with the named ‘The Flying Circus’ and we went out and played gigs. We played places some clubs including The Riverboat in Toronto and opened up for Wilson Picket at Massey Hall and for Roy Orbison at the Capital Theater in Ottawa. We recorded an album worth of mostly Bruce’s material. The band was a good band but the material was weak folk rock and I wanted to play heavier music so I left to form a band to head south to LA with.
What happened next? You went to form your own band called just Merryweather and soon enough you were signed with Capitol Records. You released your debut in 1968 and a year later second album Word of Mouth followed. Second album featured Barry Goldberg, Charlie Musselwhite and Steve Miller. How do you remember recording sessions?
I was looking to put a band together to go to the States with. About a week after I left Cockburn and his ego circus, haha, I ran into my old friend Jimmy Livinston. He had gone on with the remaining members of the Tripp under the band name ‘Livingston’s Journey’ for awhile before they folded. I think that when Dennis Pendrith the bassist they replaced me with opted to yet again take my place in the Flying Circus they chose not to go on. Jimmy and I rekindled our friendship and one day we ran into Bruce Palmer from the Buffalo Springfield who was back in Toronto following a pot bust and subsequent deportation from LA. He filled our heads with the sixties magic that was happening in LA including some of that great pot. Jimmy joined my quest to put a band together and head down there. He had befriended a drummer and guitarist that we brought into the fold and we went to see our old friend and long time keyboardist Ed Roth and recruited him. We set up in the basement of my grandmother’s house where I had lived and grown up. It was unfortunate that Dave Kindred had auditioned for ‘The Ugly Duckling’ a week before we started rehearsals and he took the gig. We then started looking for a guitarist that would fit the band. We auditioned a few one of which was Danny Marks but none had our desire to leave for California. It was Dave Bingham the singer for the Ugly Ducklings that told us of one of the guitarists David Colin Burt that had tried out for the guitar spot in his band. He said he was the guy for us so we all went to a gig in Hamilton to watch him play in the Spencer Profit band. Jimmy and I talked to him after their show and convinced him to join us. While we rehearsed our drummer Gary Hall was upstairs in the kitchen making instant coffee so much that my grandmother nick named him Coffi… the name stuck! We rehearsed for about two weeks in that basement calling ourselves ‘New King Boiler’ after the furnace that stood next to our rehearsal spot. We did a demo of three songs at Arc studios and had a demo disc cut. Armed with that disc and a tape copy of our demo we all hoped into Coffi Hall’s brothers ’60 Chevy Impala Two and a half days later we were in La La Land!
“We were in Hollywood baby and times were good!!”
We stayed at the Hollywood Center the same motor hotel on Sunset Blvd. that Neil Young and Bruce had stayed at when they arrived there. It turned out that countless entertainers arriving in LA wound up there upon arrival probably because it was the first welcoming sign you see when you get to the corner of Highland and Sunset. The lobby was filled with 8x1o photos of musicians and bands that had stayed there. Paul Revere and the Raiders being one of them. We felt that we had arrived! We didn’t have much money so after a few days we were in Topanga Canyon knocking of doors of friends of Neil’s and Bruce’s that Bruce said would gladly help us out. Linda Steven’s a singer songwriter opened her door to us – put us up and fed us. We called Ed Roth’s dad and he packed up all our gear and shipped it to us and we rehearsed in Linda’s living room. We were set to play the famous Topanga Corral but some local moron burned it down because of the loud rock and roll that would fill the canyon every night. The people that had run it started a new club called Big Pink and we played our first gig there. We had called ourselves ‘Heather Merryweather’ after a song I had wrote from a poem by a friend of the Springfield’s named June Nelson. People like Stephen Stills and members of the Doors and Taj Mahal were in the crowd and Jimmy didn’t perform like we knew he could. It’s like he froze up! He’d gotten into an affair with Linda and was partying all the time but on stage he was a stone. We had picked up a manager that was with the company that managed Van Morrison during that time at the club. I took over the singing duties, we shortened and with in a week we were back in Hollywood staying at a motel with other guests. Iggy and the Stooges and singer Gail Garnet who had a hit called “We’ll Sing In The Sunshine” and we did! I remember she cooked The Stooges and us a great big turkey dinner with all the trimmings. We were in Hollywood baby and times were good!!
Our manager had us booked at the Whiskey with Chicago. Two A&R reps from Capitol Records saw us play and a week later were were in the studio recording a demo for David Axelrod the head of Capitol’s A&R dept. They liked the band and were were signed. I remember siting on the curb in front of the Capital Tower with Linda Ronstadt one afternoon while she was waiting to meet up with her producer. We introduced ourselves and talked while she waited to meet up with her producer. When he arrived she got up and said “it was nice meeting you Neil Merryweather”! I had written the songs we were doing and people would get confused when they found out there was no girl in the band called Heather Merryweather so when it came time to get the album title together the band became ‘Merryweather’ and I became Neil Merryweather. Capitol released two albums Merryweather, the first album and we did a second one with a bunch of guest musicians called Merryweather-Word of Mouth. It was a double jam album with Steve Miller, Dave Mason, Charlie Musselwhite, Howard Roberts and Barry Goldberg jamming with us. I had a hand in the covers of both albums! Robert Lockart was easy to work with as far as taking my ideas and making the covers happen. Ivan Nagy was Roberts go to photographer at the time. He gave us the pictures we needed. I came up with the idea for the oversized legs as the front of the first cover and Word of Mouth being the title of the 2nd album of wanted a big mouth on the front. Robert came up with the day and night thing. It was a picture of his own mouth. He was a talented guy and the head of Capitol’s art Dept at the time. He won a Grammy a year or two later for his B.B. King cover with a guitar plugged into a watermelon. I also got to work with one of the greatest recording engineers around back then Jimmy Lockert. He was incredible. When we wanted to make an edit he’d just grab the tape with his hand and cut it with a pair of scissors in his other hand. He’d splice it together and it never failed to be perfect! He put “Good Vibrations” together for the Beach Boys from many pieces from different takes of the song and made that incredible record happen. Our assigned producer was John Gross one of the guys that found us at the Whiskey. He was a great guy and pretty much let us do what we wanted to do. Jimmy helped make it all happen and really should have gotten some producer creds too. I could come up with production ideas and they made them happen. It was a real good team!
Working with the other musicians on the jam record was really fun. We worked with Howard Roberts first and being a fan of his jass quartet made it a thrill. Being our first jam with a great musician we were a little nervous but when Howard opened a gold cigarette case filled with joints we relaxed and had a blast. Howard was tuning up and he played a chord pattern that I liked and I asked him what it was. He said it was a thing his young son was playing on an electric organ when he was leaving his house that morning. I said let’s turn it into a song and we did. Every time I ran into him after that he always thanked me for giving his son writer’s credits. He was a great guy a great musician and I was very sad when he died. We worked with Dave Mason and Charlie Musselwhite together at the sessions that followed there at Western and United Studios on Sunset. Morey our manager had handled Charlie in the past and that’s how he got involved in the album. I was driving with the band a few days before we started the album and I saw Dave Mason walking down the street. I rolled my window down and yelled “Hey are you Dave Mason” and he said “I think so”. I was a big fan of Traffic and when he came over and talked to me it was really cool. I asked him if he would jam with us and he said he’d love to and he showed as promised. Those sessions were a blast! Dave got a little stoned and you can hear it in his voice on the record but hey it was so much fun with him and Charlie. Days later were were in a different studio with Barry Goldberg and Steve Miller. Morey had managed them when they played together in The Miller Goldberg Blues Band back in Chicago so it was a reunion of sorts! We had a good time playing with them but it was a different mood from the more loose and fun sessions we had with Dave and Charlie and Howard. It was more serious maybe because Barry and Steve had played in the past in a band that had broken up. But hey it was all good and we got to play with some of the greats! Bobby Notkoff jammed with us on one of our songs on the record. He was one of the greatest electric violin players around. He played with the LA Philharmonic and later with Neil Young. Great musician! That album was a stone freakin’ blast to do!!
“I turned down the bass job with Crosby Stills and Nash”
You went back to Toronto and recorded Neil Merryweather, John Richardson and Boers for Kent label.
All good things sooner or later come to an end and Merryweather, the band did too. There was some friction building up between Dave and I that finally came to a head one night after were had played a great set at Balboa Stadium in concert with Chicago, Country Joe and The Fish and Poco. I was with my then girlfriend Lynn Carey and Dave decided to hang out with the band and us for the first time in ages. He had been staying a distance away with a girlfriend for months, showing up late for rehearsals and not jelling with the rest of the band. That night he pushed his way into a spat I was having with my girlfriend and we came to blows. The other guys didn’t help the situation and I just got up and quit. Thinking back on it I let my feeling for him and his detachment fester for a long time and I just let it go too far. I was walking out the door when Rick James (who had found out from Capitol where were were staying) was just about to knock on the door. He was coming to see me and all I said to him was “you want a band/ ..There yours”! The real bad thing about the breakup was a month or so before I turned down the bass job with Crosby, Stills and Nash to stay with my band. Rick had come to La with a bass player named Greg Reeve and he took the job. I had to start all over again!
I did by going with Morey the bands manager back to Toronto to hand pick a few musicians and bring them back to LA. I made the rounds in Yorkville and liked the Ugly Ducklings drummer Robin Boers enough to ask him to join me and I then found my guitarist John Richardson playing with his band Nucleus. He signed on and we all flew back to LA. Morey was working at Kent Records in A&R and was able to put together session time for me and my new guys to record. It was a way to get some cash to float the new band. I was so used to going into a studio and jamming out tracks that we were able to do that. I’d found a keyboardist that was in LA just at the time we arrived from Toronto and he was heading back to Vancouver. His band the 49th Parallel had just folded in LA. I brought him into the sessions at Kent and the album Neil Merryweather, John Richardson and Boers came out of it. It was just a jam session that I happened to write a few tunes on the spot for. It was just a fast thing to make some support money. It was a one off fast thing that a lot of people like… I should have just kept that concept going. Glad you like it Klemen! It has its moments!
What happened next? Ivar Avenue Reunion was you next project. How did you come up with that name? RCA Victor release followed.
Because I did the jam thing for Capitol and Stills had a super jam thing out before that the idea of such a recording caught the interest of the new A&R team at RCA – Gary Usher and Dick Morland. They wanted to do something that would be good for FM radio so they contacted Morey and asked him if I would do a jam thing for them. I was reunited with Barry Goldberg and Charlie Musselwhite and brought my band in to make it happen. My girlfriend at the time Lynn Carey had a band on Epic records called C K Strong that was getting a little following so I thought lets make it different and add a girl singer to the mix so I brought her into the sessions. I came up with the name Ivar Ave Reunion because it was a reunion between Charlie, Barry and myself. The RCA building was on the corner of Ivar Ave. and Sunset Blvd. and that’s where the studios were where we did the thing so I thought here’s the name! Dean Torrence of ‘Jan and Dean’ did the cover. The band never performed live as It was just supposed to be a one off record.
How about Lynn Carey & Neil Merryweather?
Merryweather and Carey came out of the Ivar Ave. thing due to the way Lynn and I were able to harmonize together. Gary Usher and Dick Morland were a breath of fresh air for RCA a great team that were music based guys. Gary had produced Canned Heat and Dick came from Radio. They liked what I did with Lynn and signed us to RCA as a new act. I went with that label because I believed in those guys. They bought a few tracks that I’d done at Kent after the Merryweather, Richardson and Boes thing. I had brought Lynn into one of our sessions and we recorded the songs “Shop Around” and “Lucille” under the named Mama and Pappa Rock ‘n’ Family. It was a one off single to make more cash. It was good enough to kick off the Merryweather and Carey album. Coffi Hall, Ed Roth from Merryweather were recruited to play and a guitarist and friend I had made named Kal David. His band the ‘Illinois Speed Press’ had played many gigs on the same bill in the past. I loved his playing and was happy to get him involved in the sessions. The album was fun to do and RCA even had the side of the Whiskey painted with our cover. We were getting some press. I thought things were going good! Then wham!! RCA hired the guy that had been the head of Epic. He had done nothing for Lynn’s band while they were on Epic and now he was the boss at RCA. The first thing he did was fire Gary Usher and Dick Morland and brings in a real asshole to take there place. I met with the new head honcho and expressed my concerns about what was happening and he flies us to NY to meet the RCA people that he tells me are going to make us happen. We get there and I meet a collection of the most unmusical, disconnected from reality people you can imagine! All business and no musical sense! Plastic heartless people that are more interested in themselves than the music scene. Needless to say the only thing that flew was Lynn and I away from RCA and back to LA.
Mama Lion formation. You recorded two albums with this band. Preserve Wildlife in 1972 and Give It Everything I’ve Got in 1973.
I had the idea of putting a band together around Lynn for a while. I had met Janis sometime before and was set to meet her for dinner at the Magic Castle in Hollywood. My old piano player Rick Bell from the Tripp was in her ‘Full Tilt Boogie Band’. I was rehearsing across the hall from them and met Janis in the parking lot and she lit up a joint and we talked and laughed. She was a cool lady! That’s when she invited me to dinner. I called the Landmark Hotel about an hour before we were all to meet and Rick took the phone from who ever answered and told me they had just found Janis on the floor in her room. Bad heroin they said! A lot of people don’t know that eight other people died that night from the same batch of heroin. It was one of the most shocking moments of my life – to think that just hours before we were talking and laughing and then she was gone….a tragic loss!
After the RCA fiasco I did put that band together! I was driving downtown in LA one day with Lynn and saw a sign on a Chinese restaurant it said Mama Lion and I thought that would be a great name for a band with a girl singer. I took the group into Paramount recording studio right away we cut a hot version of “Gimme Some Lovin'”. I took it to a friend Russ Raegan the head of Uni Records and asked what he thought and he said to keep it going and that was good enough for me! I’d got back together with Coffi Hall again! His girlfriend played the demo for Ken Mansfield a record man who used to head up Verve Records A&R in NY. He became our manager and played the few tracks we had done for a record guy named Artie Ripp. Ripp had an independent label deal with Famous Music and had just moved his new company to LA. He flipped out for Lynn and the Band! He set us up with salaries and allowed us to get all the equipment we needed and we even had a personal rehearsal room attached to The Record Plant Studios. With in a few weeks after signing with Ripp our keyboard player pot his hand and arm through a shower door and couldn’t use it so I found James Newton Howard and replaced him. James has become the biggest movie music guy these days by the way! Mama Lion was a really good band but getting mixed up with Artie Ripp was a major mistake. Ken Mansfield didn’t last long because he was offered the A&R job at Andy William’s label. Ripp produced the first Mama Lion album Preserve Wildlife and did a bad job as far as I was concerned but he was in charge and we were living well so I didn’t make waves. The problem was he pumped Lynn’s voice to high in the mix and rolled on too many hi’s. The band was cooking when you could hear it! The story of the Mama Lion days is not made of many good memories for me. Alice Cooper came to a Heavy Cruiser mix session one night and he liked what he heard. His manger Shep Gordon turned up at our rehearsal one day and talked to Ripp about managing the band. He offered us the Alice Cooper World tour and greedy Artie Ripp fucked it all up. That’s when things started to smell bad and go bad with Ripp’s input and bullshit.
After you disbanded you formed Heavy Cruiser and released two albums. If I’m correct, Heavy Cruiser is actually the third Mama Lion album minus Lynn?
The one good thing about all that time signed to Ripp was I was able to take the guys in the band into a studio and cut demos of anything I made up. Two albums came out of those sessions Heavy Cruiser and Heavy Cruiser’s Lucky Dog! Just me and the guys with a few tunes with Lynn on background vocals. I produced the second Mama Lion album and then pretty much gave up on the band when Lynn and her coke inflamed ego started to refer to herself as Mama Lion. After I left Ripp got his fingers into the project and ruined some of it but the 2nd album did get released and wouldn’t you know it – no band on the cover. The first cover by the way was my idea but it was too good of an idea for Ripp to let me have the credit. The lion’s name was Kim and he was the son of Major the lion from the Tarzan TV series. The second album cover was to be a big hunk of meat and was to be a double album. None of that happened and I was gone only about a month when the band fell apart in Paris. The story behind that is typical of what Lynn had become and I don’t want to even get into it. All I can say is I saw it coming and left in time to not have to go through what the other guys went through. Prior to leaving the Lion I started James Newton Howard on a solo keyboard album that he eventually finish and I think it came out on Ripp’s old Buddah Records label.
I used James on a few more of my song demos when he returned from Europe. I played them for a friend that told me Elton John was looking for a keyboard player for his new band. I gave him Jim’s number and two weeks later he was playing at Dodger Stadium with Elton. Like I said earlier James Newton Howard is the biggest movie music guy in the business now.
There are a lot of parts to this Mama Lion/Heavy Cruiser story that I could go on about but it is like I said Klemen – not good memories for me and it would be way too long with so many more details. Sex, drugs, rock’n’roll, blackmail and just plain old dirt! Ha ha!
After that you released your own solo album Space Rangers.
My favorite album! I was wondering what to do next as far as what direction I wanted to go musically. My friend and the road manager from Mama Lion Robbie Randal took me to see Bowie and the Ziggy Stardust concert. I thought that was Bowie at his peak! After that he got more commercial and as much as I always like David as far as I’m concerned that was his best period! The next day Robbie came by my place and we talked about the Bowie show and he said that I should write that kind of music. I picked up an acoustic guitar and wrote “Hollywood Blvd.” in five minutes probably just to show him I could. I ran an ad in Music Connection magazine for a guitarist. I audition a handful and then this little Finish guy showed up with his Les Paul and a shit load of EFX pedals and an echo-plex all plugged into a twin reverb and he proceeded to dazzle me with guitar sounds I hadn’t heard before. He had a friend that he played in bar bands with that had a Chamberlin keyboard. The Chamberlin was invented by Robert Chamberlin her in LA and it’s the same as a Mellotron but was the first of it’s kind. A sales rep for Chamberlin stole the idea and went to England and started Mellotron. It took years but Robert Chamberlin got a big payoff from Mellotron for stealing his patent – just a little musical instrument trivia! Ha ha!
“We cut the Space Rangers album in three days!”
Timo Laine was the name of the guitarist and Robert Silvert was his keyboard friend. I called Timmy McGovern a drummer friend that had filled in for Coffi Hall for a few weeks in Mama Lion in the past. He was my first choice for the new band because he was probably the best drummer I had the pleasure to play bass with. I took the guys into a little eight track studio and I recorded “Hollywood Blvd.” and what came out of the session was my new band ‘Space Rangers’. There was a show on TV when I was a kid called ‘Rocky Jones Space Ranger’ and I always liked the sound of that. With the spaced out guitar and Chamberlin strings and sound effects it seemed to fit perfect. I used what little money I had left to acquire time at Mars rehearsal Studio’s in Hollywood – hey it all seemed to fit! We rehearsed a set of tunes that came out of bass riffs that the guys complimented perfectly. The lyrics and melodies just came out of me almost instantly. We were really good and really different! I called Morey Lathower at Capitol records – he was A&R there. I told him about my new band and he said he would give me a block of studio time at Capitol Records studios but he was leaving the company. I took him up on the free recording time and the band went in to the studio. We recorded the handful of songs we rehearsed and jammed more of my ideas on the spot. Out of a few of those jams I got the idea to do a cover of “Eight Miles High” and “Sunshine Superman” – I remember running down the street to Wallach’s Music City to buy the the music sheets for the lyrics. We cut the Space Rangers album in three days! I started to try and find some backing or a label deal and reunited with Merryweather’s manager Morey Alexander. We got a few nibbles from a few labels but couldn’t make ant deals. I had been supporting the guys as best I could and I payed for all the rehearsals but I ran out of money and that’s basically when the band ran out on me. The keyboardist sold his Chamberlin and equipment packed up his shit and flew back to his home in the mid-west and got into his fathers dry cleaning business. The guitarist Timo Laine just up and disappeared to somewhere in Orange County to live with his constantly nagging girlfriend and drove a forklift in a warehouse for money to shut her up an d keep her happy! Ha ha! I didn’t know how to contact him!
Timmy and I stayed in touch but basically it was over. I had no money left and didn’t know how or what I was going to do next. Months went by and then Robbie Randal called and set up a meeting with a guy named Jim Taylor. He was Skip Taylor’s brother. Skip was a producer that produced Canned Heat and had an office in Hollywood. Robbie played my Space Rangers tape for Skip and his brother Jim was there and he flipped for the music. I met with Jim and he said he wanted to manage me and with in a week he had a deal with Mercury records. It wasn’t a great deal and it almost didn’t happen because I had no band. They signed me as a solo artist and just bought the album for little money but I was happy that I could survive and have enough to start a new Space Rangers. I found an old movie serial poster for Satan’s Satellites in a junk store and reworked it into the cover for the album. I reconnected with Timmy McGovern and through a friend of my manager I found Jamie Herndon a great musician to play keyboard and he also was a excellent guitarist. My girlfriend’s foster sister said that her boyfriend was the guitarist I was looking for and she was right. Michael Willis was seventeen years old but was already playing fusion leads and was spaced out enough to get the job. I had my new Space Rangers and we started rehearsing. News of the signing got into some trade magazines and I guess the long lost Timo Laine saw I had landed a label deal so he turned up at my managers door. Hey I wasn’t too happy with him running out on me and disappearing but I was willing to add him to the band. He said he wanted half of my deal! I offered him an equal share of the money I had to support the band but he refused and kept insisting on half of everything. I said no and he called Robert Silvert and the two of them tried to steal my songs and make trouble for me at my label. My manager then insisted that we give them no credits for the playing they did on the album for fear that they could stop the release and that we would loose the deal. The new Space Rangers went on and the album came out. I had remixed a few of the songs and put Michael Willis on a few solo spots and a friend that was nicknamed Edgemont dropped a few synth licks on a track for me. Their names plus Timmy McGovern’s were in the album credits but it was Timo Laine and Robert Silvert that played on the tracks. It never ever sat right with me but it was either no credits or no album ever released and consequently there would have never been a Space Rangers band or a Kryptonite album either. The Space Rangers album went to number five on the most added chart in Billboard in two weeks. The records weren’t in the stores and Mercury did a terrible job doing anything to sell the record. We went on to headline the Whiskey and the Starwood locally. “Hollywood Blvd.” and the album was getting airplay on KSHE radio in St. Louis and the station liked us so much that they requested that we play their annual birthday party concert at the Keel Auditorium there. We played the show with Kiss, Pure Prairie League and Marc Bolan’s T-Rex. It was our first and only concert and we killed. After our set Marc Bolan and his girlfriend Gloria Jones came running into our dressing room! Marc said it was the best band he had ever seen and couldn’t believe it was our first concert. We returned to LA and found we had a big fan in the top publicity agency Wartoke. They came to our rehearsals and took us on as a new client. They handled the publicity for Stevie Wonder, ELO and David Bowie. I was really happy about this so I called the promotion guy at Mercury’s head office in Chicago to tell him the good news. He went crazy and started yelling at me and said he was going to flush my album down the toilet… he took it personal that we had an publicity agency and thought that we were saying he was not good enough! They really weren’t but after that they did even less. We had a meeting with ELO’s manager Dave Arden about opening for them on their new tour. We played him the Space Rangers album and it scared him off! We then got a sixty city tour opening for BTO. Bruce Allen their manager got the album and after hearing it said we were too strong an act to open for BTO. He thought we would blow ’em away and I guess he would have been right! So much for Canadians sticking together! I had the sixty city list in my hands and then we were dropped.
Kryptonite was another really amazing release.
I took the band into the studio and we cut Kryptonite in about four days at Village studios. My manager’s partner set a meeting up with Don Ricco one of the artists that did the Captain America comic books. We came up with the cover. My friend Herbert Worthington III did all the photos and I handed it all in to Mercury and they released Krytonite. Again they did nothing to promote us and Jim Taylor turned out to be a weak manager so when the money I got for the 2nd album was used up he quit and the band broke up for lack of any support. That’s the sad story of my favorite band the Space Rangers. Another sad piece of the story is I moved to London shortly after that and was going to call Marc Bolan up to get together and I was going to ask him to help me reunite the band. The day before I was going to call him he was killed in that horrible auto accident. Gloria Jones was driving the Mini Cooper and smashed into a tree.
My writing and playing partner through the years since then has been Jamie Herndon. After the Space Rangers Jamie went on to play with Nick Guilder from ‘Hot Child In The City’ and on six albums. Last year Jamie and I reunited with Michael Willis and record about eight new Space Rangers tracks. Everything but the lyrics are done but it’s on the shelf for now as Mike got throat cancer and had to go through radiation and chemo and is still in recovery. Maybe later this year I’ll finish what is to be called Space Rangers III featuring three original members.
Differences was your last album. What happened next?
As I said I went to London. I flew there with a friend and song writer Peter Anders as he had been there years before working as A&R for Motown in London. When we got to customs at Heathrow Peter found out he was on a list of people banned from entering England. When he was with Motown he partied way too much and found himself locked out of his hotel room for not paying his bill. In a stupor he broke the fire axe from the wall and smashed the brass lock the hotel had attached to his room door handle. He was arrested and deported back to NY. He didn’t realize that he was on a no entry black list, I was alone in a city I had never been to before, Peter had arranged for us to stay at an old girlfriend’s flat and she was at the airport waiting and took me in. I had recorded an albums worth of material in LA before I’d left for London. I shopped it around and landed a publishing deal with Chrysalis Music. Ann Mundy the dead of the company liked my material and with the signing I received a bi-weekly amount of money to jeep me alive. I had met Richard Cowley years before when he and Black Sabbath’s manager came to a Mama Lion rehearsal in LA. He had a thriving agency in London called Cowbell and not only handled Sabbath but a new band at the time. I met with him and he took me to see his new band at the Hamersmith Odeon. The band was AC/DC. He had a solo act on Decca Records named Johnnie Angel and asked me to produce his first single. I produced the single but it never turned into anything. I tried to put a band together there and sent for Michael Willis my Space Rangers guitarist and I recruited David Sinclaire from the band Camel and the drummer from Procol Harum but aside from demos of some new songs for Chrysalis it didn’t work out. Willis flew back to LA. It was around that time that Ann Munday had sent my songs to Chrysalis’s Dutch publishing affiliate in Amsterdam.
They were also a label named Dereco Records. Upon hearing my songs they immediately wanted to buy them and release them on an album. I called the album Differences and it came out in Holland. I moved there and Dureco sign me as a producer and gave me a hand full of their acts to produce. It was fun at first but I wanted to play again. I remembered meeting Kees Wessel’s who was the head of Phonogram in Europe when he had flown to LA to see the me and the Space Rangers when we played the Whisky. I remember him telling me that it was one of his favorite albums and he also commented on how bad Mercury was handling the album. Kees had just become head of the new RCA label there so I called him and he agreed to sign me as an artist. I sent for my Space Rangers guitarist Michael Willis again and recruited Herman Brood’s drummer who brought a sax player from Nina Hagen’s band. I called the group ‘Eyes’ and we did an album for RCA called Radical Genes. It was a rock/pop album and Kess Wessel’s was expecting a Space Rangers sound. It was a nice little record but didn’t go any where. We played the local clubs around Amsterdam and even played the Hell’s Angels annual Jamboree. The Hell’s Angels like us and we built us a little following but not enough to sustain the band for long. I left the band and flew back to LA. I became Lita Ford’s manager, producer and bass player soon after I got back. I got her a great deal with PolyGram and produced her first album Out For Blood. She then stabbed me in the back and screwed me out of a lot of time and a shit load of money that I was owed but that’s another story!
What are you doing these days?
I walked away from the music thing after the Lita Ford crap and got married and started doing photography and creative model projects for the City of LA bureau of engineering as a member of a consulting company that my wife worked for. When the internet started to get big my wife found that there were pages and pages of stuff on me and all kinds of bootleg CD’s for sale. I found I had a following after all so I built a little studio in my house and reconnected with Jamie Herndon and Dusty Watson the drummer I played with in the Lita Ford band. I hooked up with Paul McCartney’s sister Ruth and she built my website and I signed with her label iFanz records on iTunes. Dusty, Jamie and I have an on going thing we call ‘Hundred Watt Head’. The first album is on iTunes and we are currently finishing the lyrics and vocals on the 2nd one.
We also have a blues/rock CD called The La La Land Blues Band that we are looking to release this summer and Klemen as I mentioned earlier there is the Space Rangers II project waiting to be completed.
– Klemen Breznikar