Michael Fennelly Interview about The Millennium and Crabby Appleton
1. Thank you for taking your time to do this interview for our magazine. You had a really rich carrier and I would like to start at the beginning. What were some of the first influences you had when you were a little kid?
I was raised on Everly Brothers, Dion, Ricky Nelson, Gene Pitney – all the great singers captured my imagination, as a youngster. Did my stint with folk and led too many campfire singalongs with the same 5 folk standards. Beach Boys (my first live concert), Del Shannon, Motown, Tamla. I was 14 – 15 years old when the British invasion changed everything. All of it was magical. Yardbirds, Beatles, Who, Stones (saw them on their 2nd American tour – amazing…), Pretty Things. I had a job after school at the town record store and took home most of my pay in albums.
I had been playing guitar and singing and writing songs from a very early age. It was at age 13 that I began to get positive attention from my peers from songs I’d written. So, by the time I hitchhiked to LA at age 17, I could hold my own. I was living in Coffee Houses (the first was on the Sunset Strip, down the street from Pandora’s Box, the center of the disputes that were to be labeled riots. The second was in the heart of Hollywood, a place called “The Omnibus”.
2. Were you in any bands, when you were a teenager. I know that when you were 17 or so you hitchhiked to Los Angeles and began performing in clubs there. Where did you meet Curt Boettcher?
You contributed electric sitar and vocals to the album Present Tense by Sagittarius, and then became one of the five singer/guitarist/songwriters included in The Millennium assembled by Boettcher. How do you remember sessions for Present Tense and what can you tell me about the start of The Millennium?
I’d sleep during the day and help out with the coffee house chores at night and play guitar and sing. A base player I was working with said he knew where we could smoke some great pot. He took me up to Curt Boettcher’s house (he lived in Laurel Canyon at the time). Somehow, I ended up playing and singing some of my songs for Curt. He subsequently signed me to his publishing company. They paid me to write songs! How cool was that? Shortly thereafter, I joined the Millennium. I was taken under the wings of Doug Rhodes and Ron Edgar, late of the Music Machine. They schooled this “green” kid pretty hard, on how to swing and how to work with a rhythm section. Next thing you know, we’re living in CBS studios, making an uber expensive album, under the brilliant guidance of Curt Boettcher and Keith Olsen. That’s chapter one…
Los Angeles in the mid to late 60’s was amazing. Very freewheeling, compared to the conservative East Coast from which I’d come. I revelled in the fredoms that were all around me, and loved my new life and new surroundings. I felt totally at home in the world of Hollywood hippies and long-hairs. And there was a prevailing sense of rebellion and try anything that was invigorating.
I was already a member of the Millennium when I was asked to do session work on the Sagittarius project. Members of the Millennium, along with many other singers and musicians contributed to that project – but it was simply session work – we were not attached in any particular way to the Saggittarius project, other than through our affiliation with Curt Boettcher and Gary Usher.
3. Soon you started recording Begin, which is an absolutely beautiful album. I would like to know what are some of the strongest memories of producing and recording this LP?
We spent an extraordinary amount of time in the recording studio, experimenting, and fussing with equipmet to get sounds just right. It was a very creative and colaborative environment. All of us gathered in a circle around a mic to sing harmonies – that I remember well. The whole process of recording Begin was an educational experience for me.
How was working with Curt?
I would describe working with Curt as exhilerating and frustrating. He was very charismatic and energtic and brilliant, and his creative leadership was a real force that inspired those around him. But Curt was also not above using the talents of those around him, and placing his personal stamp over it. Sometimes, he’d double a vocal sung by another member, and then mix his voice higher, to place himself in the forefront. Members of the Millennium grew weary of being used thusly.
What can you tell me about the cover artwork?
It’s an antique German woodcut. We felt it conveyed the positive philosophy of the Millennium – hope for a better time and place.
4. Where did you tour and if you can share some interesting stories, that would be great too.
The Millennium never toured. We played one gig – at a college in Southern California. We were really only a studio group.
5. You also recorded material for your second album, but it never came out. In 2003 Pieces came out with some of the songs, that would be on the second album. Why was it never released at the time?
We did not record songs for a second album. We recorded one single, after the Begin album, Just About the Same, b/w Blight (a song I wrote about the Millennium’s demise). All the Millennium material released in recent years is comprised of demos we recorded for our publishing company.
6. What happened next for you? I know you joined Stonehenge, which later become known as Crabby Appleton. There you recorded two albums and I would like if you could share a story about this two releases and also about the whole experience with Crabby Appleton?
I didn’t join Stonehenge. Rather, I joined foreces with the members of the band Stonehenge, after they let their guitarist and their singer go. Together, we formed Crabby Appleton, and rehearsed and recorded material I had written before meeting the guys in Stonehenge.
We were treated well, from a personal standpoint. Folks at Elektra were nice. But, there was too much turnover at the label to know who our champion was, at any given time. It’s always been hard to sort out the shortcomings we had in personal management from the delivery on Elektra’s part. But, we often found ourselves playing in cities where our record was not in stores. That was disturbing, to say the least. And there were little things that were troubling, such as the insistance by Elektra’s art department to have the Crabby Appleton logo at the top of our first album be on a clear sticker, that was removable, when one peeled off the shrink wrap. It wasn’t long before we found albums being shipped without the sticker – rendering the lps nameless in the record bins. It’s hard for me to single out Elektra as the culprit for the seeming lack of a hard push, when our first single was halfway up the charts.
Crabby’s touring life was bi-polar. Not sure if other bands expericed the road in the same way. But our hit record was sporatic, as far as location/popularity. We’d have the number 3 record in some markets and be unknown in others. So, we were Gods in Salt Lake City and nobodies in Ogden. One night, we’d be playing to 18,000 enthusiastic fans in Miami and then the next we’d play to five bored guys, more interested in their beer than us, in ‘Mr. JB’s’ on the highway. It was schitzo – but it kept us humble. We flew, some of the time, and drove others. Kinda all over the map, literally and figuratively. One of our early gigs, after GO Back was climbing up the charts, was opening for the Doors (just two acts on the bill). We had a hit in San Diego, and before we went on stage, we pulled back the stage curtains to get a peek at what all the crowd noise was about. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 20,000 people were cheering, every time someone in the crowd gave a good punch or shove to a giant inflated ball that was being batted around the auditorium. This was more noise than had ever been made for us… (gulp). We played like demons, felt we had a great show, and felt that “power invested in you” thing, where, if the crowd had chanted “fly! fly! fly!”, we could have flapped our arms and hovered in the air… We played many pop festivals, popular venues at the time. Played gigs with Guess Who, Sly & the Family Stone, Bob Segar, MC5, Alvin Lee, Jethro Tull, Spirit, Steve Miller, Tin Lizzie, Chuck Berry, Albert Collins, to name a few…
Festivals were kinda fun, when they were the rage. One, though, stands out, for other reasons. It was at Devonshire Downs, a dusty race track outside of LA. Ten Years After, Jethro Tull, etc. It was hot, and the Santa Anna winds were blowing dry electricity.
We were indulging in some flavor of the month substance in the trailor, and, when we went on stage, I had a big wad of bubble gum in my mouth. (bad idea). As I stepped up to the mic, to sing the first number, the dry wind blew my hair into my mouth, where it melded with the bubble gum. At the same time, my guitar came unstrapped. As I’m playing/holding it up, and trying to decide whether to spit out the gum and have it dangle from my hair, or sing with gum and hair in mouth, I get a shock from the ungrounded mic that popped me like a right from Mohammad Ali. It got better after that… Roadies drove our rented vans or trucks with our gear – PAs were provided by the promoters. We had a special challenge to find Hammond B3 repair in every second town. Casey was rough on the poor thing…
7. In 1973 you released your first solo album called Lane Changer. This one is really an amazing album. What can you tell me about it?
I traveled to London with Crabby Appleton’s keyboardist, Casy Foutz, to record with Chris White as producer (Chris was the bass player and a primary writer in The Zombies, and the producer of the group Argent). The engineer at CBS’ London studios was great to work with, as was Chris, for they had no fear of loud, distorted sounds, as some of the engineers I’d previously worked with had. The rhythm section from Argent played on the more up-tempo rock material, and we had some great musicians come in for various contributions. Jeff Beck played the lead guitar on the song Watch Yerself.
Chris White was a joy to work with, making suggestions, but never isistant or overbearing. Producers never drew me one way or the other – with the possible exception of Curt Boettcher, whose charisma and creative direction influenced everyone around him. But after that, I was rather self-contained. I had the songs and a definite idea of how they should sound. The better producers I worked with either added influence or left me alone…
8. Stranger’s Bed is another great album you did. What can you tell about this one and what happened next for you?
I put together a band for the recording of Stranger’s Bed, back in the United States, and had Krith Olsen engineer (Keith was one half of the production duo of Curt Boettcher/Keith Olsen for the Millennium’s Begin lp – Keith was the genius behind the electronic wizardry that enabled us to achieve sounds not yet discovered in 1968). We had a great time making the record, but the label just put it out, with little promotion or follow-up.
9. What are you doing these days?
I continued writing songs and performing with my bands through the late 1980s, but didn’t secure a record deal. The Los Angeles music scene had changed considerably. Cookie-cutter bands, all looking and sounding alike. There wasn’t much interest in artists who strayed from that formula. I retired in 1989 and moved to Oregon, where I began my second career, raising funds for progressive non-profit organizations. I do have quite a collection of unreleased material – demos in various states of quality and completion. I hope to release some of that material soon. I’m working with Sundazed Records on just such a project.
10. I would like to thank you again. I’m really proud you shared your history for my magazine. Would you like to add something else, perhaps?
I’d only add that I feel tremendously fortunate to have made music during one of the great eras in popular music history. I worked with many great musicians and producers, had amazing adventures, and left some music behind for people to enjoy, hopefully. I enjoyed some success and am grateful I had the chance to live my dream…
Interview made by Klemen Breznikar / 2011
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