Neil Merryweather Interview
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 womans 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 sand and played some harmon ica. I called that band the “Nigh Tricks”.
Ya 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 Refections” 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 then 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 wound up doing their whole set that afternoon. They liked my energy and singing enough to make me the new singer and I could s ee 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 names 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. Eds 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.
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!
Ya 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. I don’t know what accident you are referring to Klemen! You’ll have to refresh my memory!
The Hawk’s Nest was a class gig as it was owned by the legendary Ronnie Hawlins. We always did great there. I reme ber 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!
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 alkl 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 changer 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 an d 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.
I recruited Marty Fisher the keyboardist and Gordy McBain the drummer from Bobby Kriss and the Imperials. I was looking for a guitarist when and 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 minths 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 albums 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. You released your debut in 1968 and a year later second album called Word of Mouth also released by Capitol Records. Would you mind telling us which musicians you had, I know that on the second album features Barry Goldberg, Charlie Musselwhite and Steve Miller. How do you remember recording sessions you had for this two albums and what can you tell me about producing it?
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 ..ha ha! I ran into my old friend Jimmy Livinston…he had gone on with the remaining members of the Trip under the band name “Livingston’s Journey” for a while 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 br ought 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 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 reheased 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 dic 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!
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 Mussleshite, 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 Boy s 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!
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 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 th e 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!
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 Caey” album. Coffi Hall, Ed Roth from Merryweather were recruited to play and a guitarist and fr iend I had made named Kal David. Merrywaether and his band the “Illinois Speed Press” had played amny 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 busines s 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.
From project you did with Lynn, new band was born called Mama Lion. You recorded two albums with this band. Preserve Wildlife in 1972 and Give It Everything I’ve Got in 1973.
How did you came up with that cover artwork?
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 talk ing and laughing and then she was gone….a tragic loss!
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.
After that you released your own solo album called Space Rangers that features some really nice songs and I just love the cover artwork. What can you tell me about producing and recording it?
My favorite albums! 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 add 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!
Kryptonite was another really amazing release by you. Again loving the cover artwork, loving the songs!….what can you tell me about this release?
I took the band into the studio and we cut “Kryptonite” in about four days at Village studios. My managers partner set a meeting up with Don Ricc o 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 i”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.
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 stu por 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 girl friends flat and she was at the air port 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 Hamers mith 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 Harem 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 “Difference’s” 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 Eyes – “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!