John Drendall, B. A. Thrower & Friends & Damion interview
Superb privately released album from 1972. John Drendall talks Papa Never Let Me Sing the Blues.
Where did you grow up and what were some of your main influences at the time?
John Drendall: Klemen, I am flattered to do this interview for It’s Psychedelic Baby Magazine. I was born on the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S. in New Castle, Delaware. Born in 1950, it was a great time for music! I remember watching “American Bandstand” on TV based out of Philly and all those great Do-Op groups. Elvis was a big influence early in my listening days as was Clarence “Frogman” Henry, the Everly Brothers and Ricky Nelson. Music was trying to “Bubble Out” of me as I really wanted to be a drummer. I settled for the Trombone and began lessons in the 3rd grade.
I actually became pretty good at it once I broke the code of reading music. But then the Beatles exploded onto the scene and everything changed. The British Invasion gave me a new direction listening to the Stones, the Kinks, the Animals and yes… Tom Jones. I was going to be a Guitar player! This was against everything my Father believed in and he forbid me to play the instrument. I was not allowed to own one and was ridiculed for listening to the new “Rock and Roll”! I was also required to wear a flattop haircut… I was broken hearted.
A friend of mine enlisted in the U.S. Army and let me borrow his Gibson SG while he was away at boot camp. I hide the guitar under my bed and played late at night to keep from being discovered. The issue was that I am left handed and the SG was a righty, so I taught myself to play upside down and still do to this day.
What the story about the Reverbs?
Ahhh, the “Reverbs”, my first shot at being in a BAND! They were established in the area but lost their bass player to “The Adapters”. The premier group in the area that had a promising recording future.
I was 15 years old and did not own a bass or amp…. where there is a will there is a way. I soon owned a rig and was asked to join the “Reverbs”. We played small venues across Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania. I remember my mom covering for me with my dad and at times even slept in my bed to keep him from knowing that I was “on the road”. I don’t want to paint an ugly picture of my relationship with my dad but we had a line drawn in the sand regarding rock and roll and long hair… and so it goes!
Did the Reverbs record?
The Reverbs never released a recording while I was in the band, however, I understand that they had a single released in the 1968-1969 time frame. While I played with the Reverbs we did several radio spots regarding our troops in Vietnam. Several years after I left Delaware for Michigan I returned for a visit. A friend of mine told me that the Reverbs were playing at a local club so we went to listen.
There they were, the original members minus Eddie Day, our lead singer. Eddie died in a train accident a few years earlier. His brother Chas, the lead guitar player, filled in on vocals. Chas had a great voice but was very different from Eddie. Eddie was a true Rock Star but like so many Rock Stars, it caught up with him!
At what point did you left the Reverbs and moved to Michigan?
It was the summer of “67”. My dad was promoted at his job and was transferred to Flint, Michigan. I was up to my ears in music and the Reverbs so you can imagine my determination to stay in Delaware. Well, long story short… we moved to Michigan.
The Midwest was a whole new gig for me. Being the new kid in town I was viewed from afar but through music, sports and new friendships I adapted well. After all, we had Motown, Terri Night and the Pack, Grand Funk and Bob Seager (and the Last Herd )! Musically, I hooked up with a guy named Greg Pappanuaex. A little guy with BIG talent. Incredible voice and could play many, many instruments. We never really put a band together for more than a week or two but looking back he was key to helping me make the musical transition into my new culture.
In 1972 you released Papa Never Let Me Sing the Blues. What are some of the strongest memories from producing and recording this LP?
Well, it’s a long story but I will hit the high points as I remember them.
After High School I attended Ferris State College for a short time. College really didn’t work for me so I moved back home and got a job driving a truck. I had traded my bass for a Rickenbacker clone and an Espana classical guitar. I was back on track with a six string. I experimented with recording and actually was able to do multiple tracks on an eight track cassette…? I got into Hendrix and other things. Bought my first Stratocaster and began to write tunes.
After a year or two I was promoted at my job to an outside sales position and was transferred to East Lansing, Michigan. Now the story begins to unfold.
I was working and had an income, which made me different from most of the college students on campus at Michigan State University. I soon made several friends and moved into a town house with The “Fang” and Roger *MARVEL* Dean. Fang was a very good looking, energetic guy with tons of personality. *Marvel* was a clinical psychologist and spooky smart. It was years after we went our separate ways that I realized *Marvel* had me “on the couch” much of the time. I helped him with music… he helped me with life! We developed quite a diverse click with characters like “The S-Man, “The Bopper”, Tommy Caruso, Ross maxwell, “Meat” and B.A. Thrower. But the most critical personality that entered my life during this period was Dick “DD” Dunham, the “Worlds Greatest Drummer”! That’s my story and I am sticking to it. To this day “DD” is one of my closest friends. We played together before the “PAPA” album and we are still recording together today.
Our roots were in the Blues so it only seemed fitting that we start a Blues Band. Yours truly on guitar and vocal, “DD” on drum, Mike Skory on piano and *Marvel* on bass. We were the “Shagraison Blues Band”. This project was really the start of the “PAPA” album as we played and jammed with many of our friends. We would always have folks sit in at our gigs as we played around the Southern Michigan area. As our taste for music expanded we began jamming more and more… experimenting with other styles and compositions.
At one point B.A. through out the idea of finding a studio that would record the tunes / jams we had been working on for the past year or so. It was a great idea, however no one knew what was involved in recording an LP. Certainly not me, but ignorance is bliss.
The first thing we needed to do was to find that studio, this was B.A.’s job and it didn’t take him long. He and I went on a road trip to Kalamazoo, home of the Gibson Guitar factory. We met with Bryce Robinson at his Sound Machine Studio! Bryce was a prick! He assured us that we didn’t know what we were doing, that the project would sound like crap… If we ever completed it, and made it very clear that his studio was run his way. A very loud BARK… and I believe he had some teeth in his bite.
I clearly remember the ride back from Kalamazoo to East Lansing… What are we getting into? Was Bryce right or did we have the Magic to pull this off? One thing was clear, we were not going to jam our way through it! We needed to prepare in a different way, after all, the tape don’t lie!
We cut our deal with the “Sound Machine Studio” and went to work. We all had day jobs and stole as much time as we could to rehearse. All of our friends were involved. From Vern (The Bopper) Albaugh on flute to Nelson Wood on Harp. From Tommy Caruso on slide to Mike Skory on Keyboards and Jimmy Spillane on his Angelic background Vocals. We also leaned heavily on Ross maxwell, a well versed music critic, harp player and charter member.
I don’t remember how many sessions we booked to complete the project but it was more than two. On more than one occasion Bryce would shut it down and send us home to rethink what we were doing. Not everyone were at all the sessions , but B.A. and I were. I recall blowing into one of Bryce’s mic’s as a test… BIG mistake. He often questioned if we were in tune! We had about half the LP written as we were in the studio. A lot of the music was written on the fly… I don’t even think B.A. was aware! The fact that we had a group of very talented musicians and friends all on the same page was the key ingredient for the magic that unfolded in this LP.
The “PAPA” album or the “Blue” album as it was referred to was truly a magical mystery tour.
The “PAPA” album or the “Blue” album as it was referred to was truly a magical mystery tour. The freedom to write parts, place textures and tones and build dynamics over and over again was insane. We also noticed that Bryce was tapping his toe… so to speak. He got involved in the production of several tunes and actually played bass on “Get Too Heavy”! He was a monster guitar player. If you look him up he spent many years playing with Chess Records . I have a copy of a Howlin’ Wolf LP with Bryce playing guitar.
We spent many nights (ALL Night) at the Sound Machine only to drive back to our day jobs in the early hours. A work of love / pain / and education!
We finally finished the L.P. although you never feel as though it is complete… We built a bond between all of the Friends… and this included Bryce!
What gear did you guys use?
I played a 1968 Gibson Dove on the acoustic tracks, I still play her to this day! B.A. also played the Dove on the “Papa Never Let Me Sing The Blues” track. I also used a 1970 Fender Stratocaster (right handed ) as well as a Mid 60’s Gibson 335. B.A. played an awesome X500 Guild and he could make her cry! “DD” had a set of Vintage 60″s Ludwig’s but I believe he mostly played the studio trap set.
We used an old tear drop VOX bass as well as the studio Hammond B-3.
Tommy Caruso played his parts on “I Feel” and Get Too Heavy” on his 60’s Gibson Hummingbird.
Bryce’s Sound Machine used an MCI deck with a switchable 8 / 16 track head. Neuman U87’s for vocals, Shure SM 57’s / 58’s for amps, etc and I believe KM 184’s for over heads and acoustic stuff.
What can you say about the cover artwork?
B.A handled all the art work. He came up with the overall concept, hired Jesse Arrnet to do the photography and dealt with the printing, colors, etc. B.A. had / has a very artistic talent the includes more than music. He runs a very successful photography company to this day. Check him out here.
Where was it all recorded?
The L.P. was recorded at “Uncle Dirty’s Sound Machine Studios” in Kalamazoo, Michigan. 1971-72. The pressing was at “Queen City” in Cincinnati, Ohio. They did a huge Gospel business at the time and were very interested in getting into the “ROCK” market. I remember we had to make a decision on the grade of vinyl we would use. If you recall the oil embargo was under way at the time and the vinyl was made from petro. The higher the quality, the the better the sound… less popping, etc. We settled on a mid range quality.
How many copies were made?
We released it under the “Deacon Productions” Label. This is our own label and we still use this to release our DAMION material. I believe we released 100 copies but I honestly do not recall as we really didn’t sell them.
It really didn’t sell. I think we only had a hundred or so copies made. One of our “Friends” Uncle Meat was going on a national road trip and we gave most of them to him to sprinkle across the country… kind of like “Johnny Appleseed”! But nearly 40 years later we have been contracted to re release the “Papa” album on CD by Riverman Music and LP by Guerssen Records. The “Papa Never Let me Sing The Blues” Album was voted one of the top 25 re releases in 2010 by UReview, along with some heavy hitters such as – The Beatles, Neil Young, King Crimson and others… Go figure!
Did you play any live shows to promote the album?
We played lot’s of gigs and featured the “Papa” album tunes sprinkled in our repertoire but never really did a production. We did include “Cold Nite In August” on our latest DAMION CD, “Stormy Night In Texas”… was pretty cool to do a remake. If you go to our Damion website, you can hear a sample of the “Cold Nite In August” remake. You can also download the entire CD. We are looking at doing more tunes from the blue album. The next Damion CD, “Burden Of Life” is due out in the next few months and we are looking at reissuing “Throw Off Your Troubled Past” from the “Blue album”.
Would you share your insight on the albums’ tracks?
“Cold Nite in August”
Our shot at a traditional blues cut by some young white musicians. I tried to incorporate the exaggerated painful lyrics with a 1-4-5 chord progression. Check out Elmo on the keyboards! This cat can play! Nelson Wood kills the harmonica part and Tommy does a non traditional slide to boot!
“Old Man Gibbs”
This tune is about an old man that was in fact a customer of mine during my outside sales gig. He was part or most Cherokee Indian and was very opinionated. He didn’t really purchase much but I found him captivating and returned to his small farm in the guise of a sales call to spend time with him.
He gave me comfort in a relationship that I knew would be short lived. Check out B.A.’s B-3 organ part… along with the vocal from “DD”. Kind of has a Neil Young flavor… but not really!
We took the opportunity to do a short piece and jam as we had done so many times in the past. All of our friends involved in a piece that was maybe meant to reflect the “John Lee Hooker” influence on our musical lives!
“Papa Never Let Me Sing the Blues”
Ahhhh, the title tune. I wrote this song to try and expunge the conflict I had with my father regarding my interest / path in music. Notice I try to resolve the issue in that he “Finally Found A Way”… he never did! I love the touch B.A. has on the Dove… along with the background vocal of “DD” and Jimmy Spillane! The song builds nicely and has a tasteful amount of harmonica and electric guitar through out.
“Get Too Heavy”
Oddly written about my brother Mike… He was / is very intense and insecure, but also very talented. He never seemed to be able to keep things in perspective. I love him dearly but needed to exclaim concern to him! Partly in fun, partly serious. Check out the rim work by “DD” that adds to the guitar work by Tommy Caruso on his Hummingbird. Of Course you get the bass line by Bryce!!!
This is a mosaic of emotions inspired by “Hermann Hesse” regarding a young man seeking parental approval while moving forward with his life. Note B.A. on the Violin Bow with the Bopper on flute in the back ground. The song is rounded off by the guitar work of Tommy Caruso on his Hum. Hummingbird in an esoteric lead part. Looking for Tera Firma with determination to expose one’s self at great risk. Inspired by the writings of Herman Hesse.
“Throw Off Your Troubled Past”
Once again a “Hermann Hesse” inspired tune. Kind of the next step from “I Feel”… Some but not all of the answers are coming to light! Pretty heavy huh? You have got to appreciate the key board work by Mike Skory… as I said before, this cat can play. This tune also features our esoteric or fluid mode. The middle jam goes completely out of time and allows for colors and textures outside the bounds of the song only to return on time for the finale. We have carried this esoteric concept on with many of our DAMION works… lot’s of fun!
“Black River Lady”
This tune was written by B.A… I believe it was written about his Guitar, a Guild X500 (sweet) that was named after a one night stand on the Black River… we may never know! Check out how sweet B.A. plays this chord pattern. The lead was almost an after thought.
“Bye Bye Mr. Jones”
A sad affair, the song was inspired by the death of my pet, Deacon Jones… an English Bulldog that had the personality of any three men. He was hit by a car as we rehearsed in our Garage / Studio in Okemos, Michigan. We all grieved for days but decided that he should go out with an up tempo tune.
He was a snaggle toothed con man that brought much joy to all of our Friends!
You formed Damion. What happened next?
We took the name Damion from a Hermann Hesse novel correctly spelled “Demian”. This was long before the horror movie and the content of the name was intended to represent quite the opposite. We felt funny using his title at first but after all… Steppenwolf did it!
Well, the truth is that the “PAPA” album was the launching pad for “DAMION”. “DD” and I knew we had to move on musically and would have taken the whole friends band with us if they wanted to go. The only takers were me, “DD” and “Tommy Caruso”.
We sold all that was not absolutely necessary (including several vintage guitars) and moved to Key West, Florida. We played on Mallory Square for tips and food stamps, got a seasonal gig at the “Boat Bar” for a couple of years and jammed with many great musicians. We played with a great conga player, Conga Jim. He taught “DD” the fundamentals of the instrument and gave him the foundation to become the conga player he is today… Mostly African style as opposed to the more traditional Cuban style.
But the Key ingredient that we added to Damion was our bass played, Sid Seymour… Sid was a young, cocky, bantam rooster! He had an artful ear and eye, but most importantly he gave the band its bottom end, and he gave it with a passion! Sid, (Charlie Hugh to some) brought a dimension to the band that enabled us to soar… keeping the pulse, he and “DD” developed a true rhythm section that gave me a ton of freedom. As a three piece band we were playing songs such as Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”, Les McCann’s “Compared to What” and Jimi’s “1983”. Sid brought the power to DAMION and is still slamming it today. DAMION also made a trip back to Kalamazoo to record a single. “Never Been In Love Before” was the “A” side and and “Peaceful State” was the “B” side. I think this was some of our best work. We were embraced by Bryce for this project… we never released it!
We toured the country, from Key West, to Colorado, to New York to California to Michigan, playing gigs that were prescheduled as well as pick up gigs as we went. But Key West was our home base. We developed relationships with most of the musicians in town and cross gigged when ever possible.
Life was good! I developed a close relationship with Sandy Allen, a transplant from Chicago the had an extreme resume. From the Rockets to George Carlin to Stan Getz. He had a Dixieland Band going on and was playing every night. But Sandy needed more. We hooked up, wrote a Rock Opera, combined bands in addition to several other players and came up with the “BAND OF FOOLS”! We did the whole production in Key West including choreography and dancers. We actually were invited to NYC to interview with Bret Adams, agent as well as Sammy Bays, choreographer for “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Gospel”.
The big company production company wanted some one else to perform our piece, we wanted to do it our selves… not too smart on our part, the deal feel apart. But please note that shortly afterward “All That Jazz” was released and was a huge success as well as very similar to the “Foolish Fantasy”. We took the “Band Of Fools” to guess who… Bryce Robinson and his Sound Machine Studio. We recorded about 10 tunes not related to the fantasy. We actually lived in the studio building with wives, kids and girl friends. Shortly after the band broke up. We re-gathered DAMION and played for several years in the Michigan area, but family commitment eventually broke us apart. In 2000 I got a call from Sid who was living in Las Vegas. He was telling me about a recording program that was computer based (PRO TOOLS) that he had purchased. One thing led to another and we were back together as a recording band. DAMION lives on… we have recorded over 6 CD’s since then and are working on our seventh, “Burden Of Life”. We have twin studio’s at our home’s and get together 3-4 times a year to record our new tune. Some are written individually but all are recorded collaboratively. We have not performed live at all but have enjoyed the creative freedom that a studio setting brings. You can hear our latest works here.
Any future plans?
We would very much like to have some of our music published and used in film or re recorded by other artists. We keep talking about playing a live concert or something along those lines, but remember we are not kids anymore.
In the mean time we continue to write music, record and enjoy our times together doing what we love. Sid actually has a working recording studio (Mother Note Studios) and has a few clients working. Sid is the engineer of the group… without a doubt! I try to keep my studio (Ladyland West) up to date with his so that when we get together in Texas he has the tools he needs.
Thank you very much! Would you like to send a message to It’s Psychedelic Baby Magazine readers?
Well, as I said in the beginning of this interview, I am flattered to be asked to share our musical history. I feel as though I have been a little long winded but believe me I have left a lot of details out…
It brings a smile to my face to know that there is a population of listeners / players who seek out and appreciate recordings of small, private pressings of material such as the Papa LP and more…
I would also like to thank Douglas McGowan of YOGA Records for guiding me through the re release process.
As a final note; B.A. runs a successful photography Business. Jimmy Spillane’s son, Johnny, just won a Silver Metal in the Olympics. Mike “Elmo” Skory is still playing in the Michigan area with the “Root Doctor Band“. Tommy Caruso is selling oriental rugs in New England. Vern “The BOPPER” Albaugh is un accounted for… Ross maxwell is a Park Ranger in the Michigan U.P. Nelson Wood has a wood Working Company and doing well. Bryce Robinson… RIP. “DD” Dunham, Sid Seymour and Guitar Johnnie Dee are still “ROCKIN” as DAMION!!!! “And Just In Case You Really Didn’t Know…. The Music Deep Inside You Makes You Glow”!