The Shag Interview with Paul Gordon Elliott
It’s really great to talk about your band, The Shags! Firstly I would like to ask you about your childhood and teen years. What was your inspiration or should I say your influences in that stage of your life?
My influences go back to the earlier days of R&R. Buddy Knox to Marty Robbins, Fats Domino, Elvis, American Bandstand, Little Richard, Chuck Berry. I had a great love of what I knew as R&B, like Bobby Bland, Otis Redding, Jackie Wilson, Major Lance,… it’s a very long and beloved list:) Had a bit of blues creep in too. I listened to everything I could find on the radio. I was a regular visitor at record shops. In 7th grade, I lived in Springfield, Il and I heard about a show/dance advertised on the radio. I arrived early and left late. The live band sound reverberating in the large room, the feel, the excitement of something new that I could immediately and easily relate to. I wanted more!
Were you or others in any bands before The Shags? Any releases from then perhaps?
Toward the end of the 50’s, my family moved to Milwaukee, WI. My Dad brought a guitar home for Xmas 1959, from a Mexican business trip. Soon, an electric guitar, if I promised to take lessons and make payments. Early on in high school, I was fortunate to start a band (“the Outlaws”) with good like minded friends.
old Outlaw biz card
I played in numerous bands through the early and mid sixties such as “4MOR”, “the Notations”, “Saints Five”, “Poor Richards Almanac”. The Outlaws did a record in 1964 w/Steve Dan Mills. I co wrote my first song with Steve called “Nothing to do with love” Leaf Label? Did a bit of unreleased recording. Fell in love with the process.
Saints Five @ Bradford Beach
Jerry Feldman, Gordon Elliott, Tony Kearns, Joe Stadish, Santo Cincotta
Poor Richards Almanac/1967?
Tony Kearns, Gordon Elliott, Dan Halloran, Joe Stadish, Bruce Cole
When and how did you guys came together to form a band?
“Shag” aka as “the Shags” early on, were formed before I joined the group. 1964? The group nucleus stayed the same over their formative years, but I was the 3rd singer/guitar player. Shag was a household word on the artsy east side of Milwaukee. They in fact were an art band, all art school graduates, so there were very few boundaries to their approach. I joined the band in early 1968. In two weeks, we put together two sets of new original material, painted and re decorated our home club (“O’Brad’s”), and started off on a new adventure. We found lots of outside gigs as well. Money and gigs seemed to be plentiful in the area at that time. Play music and make money? OK!!!
Do you have any memories from some of the early sessions you had together?
Shag used to tape almost everything we did. No idea what happened to any of that? The last time we played the Whiskey, we had equipment stolen including our recording set up. The only formal recording I did with the band were the sessions at Pacific High Recording in 1969,… resulting in the 2005 release of “SHAG 1969” on Gear Fab Records. We worked quite a bit, so we were pretty tight as a band. We had a studio ten feet from the ranch house we shared in the Nicasio redwoods. We were well rehearsed and could communicate quite well in open free jamming (“sound paintings”), a favorite pastime for us and the frequent visits of other San Francisco Bay Area players.
What was the scene back then in your home town/state?
Milwaukee was a bit repressive in the late 60’s. A nice clean, small city, but not in a hurry to embrace the peace/love scene in those times. We were long hairs and we were not terribly taken by the establishment back then,… resulting in songs such as “Narc on Wood”, a result of ongoing harassment. When the chance came to move to San Francisco, we did not find it difficult to sign on for the move West.
The Shags recorded Cause I Love You / Dance Woman in 1965 Raynard Records. Would you like to tell me how do you remember those sessions for this two songs? Do you perhaps know how many copies were made?
Paul Greenwald,… known for many years now as Green Greenwald (or simply Green) was the first heartbeat for the group. He and Michael Lamers had too much energy, and what a better way to let it go? See greengreenwald.com He continues working as an artist, as do Michael and Donald in their own right. But Green is/was the archivist of the group and has all the early info that happened before my arrival.
Did you record anything else? Does any unreleased material exist from The Shags?
We did no other formal recording. There used to be some “pirate tapes”? We fully expected to be a signed recording group! All business negotiations were left to management, and even though we had serious interest from several majors, we failed to reach agreements. The band had left too much of the business to management, as did most artists of the era, and we had no hand in business planning. It’s one of those “long stories”.
At what point was your name transformed into Shag?
As it turns out, there were several bands with a similar claim to a slang term. There was an attempt not to step on others feet? At some point after moving west, we contemplated, and it was suggested that a name change might be appropriate? We were a hard partying R&R band and SHAG seemed to fit quite well, thank you!
In 1967 you released Stop and Listen / Melissa single 45’s on Capitol. How did you get a deal with such a major label?
A major feather to be on Capitol! Please refer to Green?
In 1969 you moved to California and have recorded a full album of material at “PHR” at the open hours when Grateful Dead were not recording and creating their “Working Man’s Dead”.
I would like if you could share the whole story from making this LP?
SHAG moved to the San Francisco area in May of 1968, and soon settled into Marin County at “San Geet Kuteer” in the Nicasio redwoods. Bob Weir and family moved in across the road at one point, and named the dusty old horse ranch the Rucka Rucka. Just a great bunch of nice old regular people and good nieghbors! The Grateful Dead were working on their “Working Man’s Dead” album at PHR. An aspiring producer staying across the street was able to get us some time in the off hours in the studio. It was a bit rushed unfortunately. The band got to go back and re mix the 1st 3 songs of the CD, but we had money restrictions of course. PHR was a funky, non traditional room. The room was fitted with a “rigged” Scully 12 track, 1 inch machine. Wow! The work was never intended to be an album. It was thought of more as a demo tape, so it languished for years. For about seven years in the 80’s, I worked as a mastering engineer and production mgr for a local cassette/CD replicator. I had the gear to transfer the 1/4 inch masters to digital. It had Dolby A encoding and had to be decoded while transferring. I then sat for years with a digital copy. I was introduced to Gear Fab Records through an old associate, and the ensuing CD gained life. Recorded in 1969 and thus entitled “SHAG 1969”. Additional mastering was done at the “COOP” in Olema, CA and sent off for replication. SHAG had a lot of other unique material and unfortunately, much of it is gone and forgotten and forever lost.
I will wrote down all songs from the album and I would really appreciate if you could comment each one in a few words:
Gypsies in the forest was great live song. Michael played an unrelenting rock 5/4 drum part to Green’s stylistic flute. We listened to a lot of music including jazz, and we frequently tried to use different time signatures. Jeremy and the Satyrs opened the door for us in the use of the flute. Green played other wind instruments including soprano sax, and some Wurlitzer piano. We often tried other avenues of expression………………….
Many of the tunes carried insider themes. Mad Hatter was a result of communal living.
Riddle was a personal observation.
Anyone’s Song was as close as SHAG would get to a Motown feel:)
Cold Duck Wino is an example of boredom leading to silliness
Lavender Tab is about,… well, a lavender tab. Another excursion into time signatures.
Lovely Lady was perhaps about………………. Hmmmmmmmmmmmm
Why wasn’t the LP released in it’s time, but now in 2005 by Gear Fab Records?
As mentioned before, “it” was never intended to be an album. The group really could have used a seasoned, journeyed producer, who was in line with the musical times. We had too many ideas and too much energy and some structure might have helped. The era, mood and tastes changed very quickly as the 70’s gave birth. Negotiations seemed to break down and a disillusioned group (killed by the business of music) eventually took different paths.
Did you play at any shows or festivals? I would love if you could share some interesting stories from back then?
SHAG played at most all available venues in the SF Bay Area. Played numerous times in Golden Gate Park. Played at many outdoor shows. Commuted to and played a lot in the LA area as well. The crowds enjoyed the costumes, the face paint, the props, the smoke machines, the theater provided at every performance. We had the small clubs, the major venues, the showcases and were open to any chance to entertain. Playing in that era provided the opportunity to be on many varied bills with major acts of the time. We returned to Milwaukee on a couple of occasions. They had a great festival at the State Fair Park in 1969. It was a 3 day fest and we played all 3 days. Blind Faith, Bob Seger, Led Zeppelin, Delanie & Bonnie, John Mayall, MC5, Jeff Beck,Joe Cocker and many more. We played a number of big shows through the years and got to share the stage with some great acts!
What happened next for you?
After the end of SHAG, I met George Edwards from HP Lovecraft. We put together a group called ELIXIR. Don Luther & I from SHAG and Michael Tegza and George Edwards (aka Ethan Kenning) of Lovecraft, along with keyboardist Ted Ashford made up that roster. Another story of things not working out. I think I may have a couple songs recorded live at Winterland when ELIXIR opened for Ten Years After. After that group ended, George and I played around as an acoustic duo. I went on to play for several SF name groups, but as a latter entrant. I’ve built and designed studios, I’ve produced, engineered, written songs and crossed paths with most every position available in the band/music world. I met the right woman, raised a family, pounded nails, drove a truck and tried my best in that other world. Music was and still is a great passion. As for many,… not the greatest love story! But then, that’s love for you!
I know you recorded your solo album in 2009 and if you would like to tell us more about it, that would be really great!
Recording has always been of great interest to me. I just really enjoy the process! Several years ago, I helped gather equipment for the COOP in Olema, CA, with old friend Ethan Kenning. One of our trial runs was my project now available on Cd Baby, etc., called “Gordon Elliott”. It’s 5 songs that went so well, we followed the whole process to finished CD. There are of course, stellar players available locally to help us sound as good as possible:) I helped Ethan (some playing and engineering) with his project “Reflections”, recorded at the COOP and available as well on CD Baby, etc. Music has come full circle. I started because it seemed fun and enjoyable. Those elements survive today! I’m glad to have had a taste!
So what are some of your future plans?
Future plans are in the works,… trying to lay some new tracks. I have to work things around the day gig these days of course. I have a website at: gordon-elliott.com Growing old with music beats growing old!
Thanks a lot for your time, would you like to add something else, perhaps?
The interest of this genre is great. It was a once in a lifetime experience, not to be duplicated. Rah Kahn!
Interview made by Klemen Breznikar / 2011
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