The Next Five/Toy Factory interview with Eric Robert Olson

December 30, 2016

The Next Five/Toy Factory interview with Eric Robert Olson

“There was an actual turning point from the 60’s to now, and that was in 1973 when the Teac 3340S entered the commercial market. At an affordable price, the Teac gave you the same multi-track capabilities as those four track studios of the 60’s. Another technology of the time was the Univox SR55 drum machine. Together, the Teac and drum machine started the home recording revolution – the complete self containment for songwriters of which is the norm today. One of the earliest examples of this technology is Springdale ’73.”

Eric Robert Olson was their lead vocalist and songwriter. The Next Five released three singles. Last one being under the name of Toy Factory. A must read for garage-rock fans.

When and where were you born Eric?

I was born on January 8, 1949 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I share birthday’s with Elvis Presley, David Bowie, and Stephen Hawking. 

How old were you when you began playing music and what was the first instrument you played?  
As far back as I can remember I would sing songs I heard on the radio, everything from folk songs to rock songs and even the stuff my mother would play on the piano that originated back in the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. All my earliest years I wanted to play the guitar, my mother wanted me to play the piano, and when I was about 11 or 12 I started banging on coffee cans I set up in my bedroom in hopes of being a drummer, that was around the time my grandmother bought me a plastic Gene Autry guitar for Christmas. Although I was appreciative, I was quite disappointed it wasn’t a real guitar. Sometime around the age 12 my friend let me use an old Maybell acoustic guitar, which the strings were nearly a half inch from the neck and it took a lot of strength to make a chord, I thought at the time, that’s just the way it is until my parents got me a Gibson Melody Maker for Christmas when I was 14. I could not believe how easy it was to play compared to that old Maybell.
What inspired you to start playing music? Do you recall the first song you ever learned to play?
I always knew I wanted to be in some kind of organized group of guys doing music people liked. Before the influences of the Stones and Beatles, I wasn’t quite sure what that was. Most of the artists were individual singers with backup bands and there were so many different styles of Pop music I could never focus in on any one thing. The first songs I ever sang with a band were “Last Kiss” J Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers, “Doo Wah Diddy” Manfred Mann.
What bands were you a member of before forming The Next Five, a.k.a. Toy Factory?
The first time I got together with other musicians was in my garage with friends from the neighbourhood. It was with a drummer, guitar player, and bass player, I was the singer and that’s when I sang “Last Kiss” and “Doo Wah Diddy” for the first time. The first organized band I was in that played gigs was The Variations. The Variations consisted of  guitar, bass, drums, and me on guitar and vocals. We played Social Centers for $20.00 a night. That band morphed into a five piece band when we added another guitar player and I went back to just singing, we probably did 80% Stones songs. I think the last gig I did before joining the Next Five was at the top of the Hotel Schroeder in downtown Milwaukee doing a live radio show called the Dr. Bop show, we answered a last minute call to fill in because of a cancellation. We did that show under the name “Tom Thumb And The Four Fingers”.
Were other members of The Next Five in any bands prior to the formation?
Steve Thomas had a band called The Delta’s, none of the other guys talked much about other bands they were in prier to The Next Five.
The Next Five, were formed in Brookfield Wisconsin in the spring of 1966. What can you tell us about forming the group?
Steve’s band the Delta’s had one of my brothers very close childhood friends playing rhythm guitar. My brother and I went to see them play at Jackson Park and I remember I was impressed with Steve’s guitar playing. The next time I would see Steve was probably a year and a half later when I went to talk to him about starting a band. We talked and he said he already had a four piece band and they were looking for a singer. I went back out to Brookfield on the weekend and he introduced me to the rest of the band and that was the band I joined which became the “Next Five”.
Who were the band’s major influences?  
Being we all listened to the same radio stations, WRIT and WOKY which were the top 40 stations in Milwaukee throughout the 60’s, we were all pretty much influenced by the same music. Everyone in the band had their own personal preferences but none wavered too far from all the others. I think if we all had to give one influence it would have to be the “Rascals”, hard hitting music with great vocals.

Next Five with Rascals.

You released three singles. “Little Black Egg” / “He Stole My Love” were recorded at Dave Kennedy Studio, Milwaukee and released on the Destination Record label from Chicago. “Mama Said” / “Talk to Me, Girl” were recorded at Cuca Studio, Wisconsin and released on the Wand record label from New York, N.Y. and “Sunny, Sunny Feeling” / “What’s the Melody”, recorded at Chess Studios, Chicago was released on the Jubilee Record label from New York, N.Y. What’s the story behind making those singles?
One of the many DJ’s from WRIT and WOKY that would come to gigs and introduced us to the crowds was Paul Christy. He became close friends with the band and one day came to a rehearsal with a recording of a song called “Little Black Egg” which was done by a group called the Nightcrawlers from Florida. He asked if we would be interested in recording it because it had gotten some regional attention for the Nightcrawlers in the south but was unknown in the north. We agreed to record it.  He asked us to write a B-side for the record so I wrote my first song “He Stole My Love” which was influenced by something I saw on TV. That song was reintroduced on the “Mindrockers” compilation album in the early 80’s. Paul got us our first record deal with Destination Records out of Chicago through Bobby Monaco who later went on to discover Rufus and Chaka Khan. We got some decent airplay with that record which took the band to a new level. The second recording Paul wanted us to do was either “Shop Around” by the Miracles from 1961, “Just Like Romeo And Juliet” by the Reflections from 1964, or “Mama Said” a Shirelles song from from 1961. I believe it was somewhere around this time Paul came to us and asked if we would consider taking over the identity of another Milwaukee band The Messengers. Paul had gotten them signed to USA Records (same people as Destination Records) with their recording of “Midnight Hour”. He said we could still record as the Next Five as well. We had no idea what was going on at the time, but we knew the Messengers and had played many gigs with them so we told Paul that we would not want to assume their identity. He found another band from the east coast and they became known as Michael and the Messengers and recorded “Just Like Romeo And Juliet” as the follow up to “Midnight Hour”. We decided on “Mama Said” and I wrote the flip side “Talk To Me Girl” the night before the session and finished it the next day on the way to record it. 12 years later “Talk To Me Girl” would be featured on the Pebbles compilation album from 1980 as first song on the A-side, and that is where it’s notoriety began. Not long after the session Paul announced we were signed to our first major label, Wand Records out of New York. An A&R representative from Wand came to Milwaukee to meet us, he needed to be sure we were an actual band and not just a recording. Once the record was released we got quite a bit of airplay around the mid-west and things really started to take off for us. Our third record “Sunny Sunny Feeling” was recorded at Chess Studio’s in Chicago on Friday, April 5, 1968. This was the most memorable session for us because it was the same day the riot’s broke out in Chicago because of the assassination of Martin Luther King. Stu Black was the engineer that day, Paul Christy was there, and we were well into the session when a man rushed into the studio and started screaming “get these kids out of here now, this place is going up”. At that moment we had no idea what was going on as we rushed to gather up all our things and headed down to the cars. Paul told us to get down and stay down until we got to the freeway. Once we were safe on the freeway heading back to Milwaukee Paul said “do you know who that was that came into the studio?” None of us knew and he said it was blues legend Muddy Waters. I also remember when we arrived at Chess I said to Paul “why are we recording in this old place” I remember him looking right at me and saying “you don’t know anything about this place”. He was right, I would learn later, the first place the Rolling Stones wanted to go when they came to America was Chess Studio’s where they recorded some of their earliest things and one of my favorite’s “It’s All Over Now”. After the riots were over and things got back to normal we went back to Chess to finish the session. Stu Black went on to engineer Fleetwood Mac and other major acts. Paul had moved to Virginia and it seemed like forever before he called to let us know we were now signed to Jubilee Records in New York. He had worked out a deal with A&R representative Steve Wax. In that deal, Jubilee wanted to change the name of the band for a fresh start. Our new name became The Toy Factory. Paul had used a song I wrote that we recorded in Appleton Wisc. a year or so earlier for the B-side, “What’s That Melody”. This is a link to a YouTube of the band in 1968.

What was the writing and arranging process within the band?
There was no process, most of the original songs we did were rehearsed, ripped apart, rehearsed again, and then recorded, pretty much like we did with all the songs. “Talk to Me, Girl” was a little bit different, no one knew the song when we went in to record it and we had 45 minutes to lay down the tracks, I started playing the piano part and everyone just picked up on it and played whatever came to their minds first. There was no time to go over it or to contemplate something different then what we did spontaneously. Looking back, we should have done all the original songs that way.
Why was “Sunny, Sunny Feeling” / “What’s the Melody” released under the name of Toy Factory?
We had waited a long time for the release of “Sunny, Sunny Feeling”, Paul and Jubilee Records wanted us to change our name and start fresh. I personally didn’t think that was going to be a good idea being the smaller markets or radio stations weren’t going to know who we were and all the DJ’s that played Next Five records wouldn’t know who the Toy Factory was. I think after time I realized it was probably something more then starting fresh, like perhaps the ownership of the name, if something really big were to have happened we wouldn’t have had much to say about the future of the band.
Did singles garner much airplay or chart in any markets?
Yes, we got airplay from both Milwaukee stations and smaller stations around the mid-west. I recently found a specially labeled copy of “Mama Said” and “Talk To Me Girl” that was released for the Canadian market. Early on I did receive royalties for writing the flip sides.

Did you play many gigs? What were some of the venues you played? Who were some of the artists you appeared with?  
Con Merten was our manager and he kept us booked for at least 3 years consistently. We played all kinds of different school venues around the mid-west, many CYO dances, radio station events, fairs, TV shows, and colleges, although we were pretty young we still played some bars, I remember one bar we played, the vice squad had to be there to chaperone us from the stage to the dressing room. We did armory’s, theaters, auditoriums, and private events, some of the other groups we played with were, Rascals, Tommy James and the Shondells, Moby Grape, (they broke a couple of our microphones), Herman’s Hermits, American Breed, Royal Guardsmen, Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels, New Colony Six, Shadows Of Night, Cryin’ Shames, the Robbs, and more. The only time I can recall anyone in the band missing a gig was Steve Thomas our guitar player, he had important finals he needed to do in order to be accepted into Med School and we were booked on the Art Roberts TV show in Chicago, we took my brother Chris along to stand in because we needed 5 guys. 

Eric at 15 with his brother Chris.

Also, I should mention more about the Robbs, we shared the same manager Con Merten. When we hooked up with Con, the Robbs were already out in Los Angeles as regulars on Dick Clarks “Where The Action Is”. In the early 70’s the Robb brothers bought the old MGM recording studio’s in Hollywood and transformed it into one of the most popular studio’s in the world. Cherokee Recording Studio’s went on for over 30 years and recorded every icon you can think of. For the first 10 years Con Merten was the GM and I had the privilege of working there from 1977 to 1980.

Only member that was replaced was your drummer…

Tom “Ashbolt” Stewart is an incredible drummer, and I say “is” because he is still playing with his own band in Oregon. He played on all of the Next Five recordings except “Sunny Sunny Feeling” and a few acetates I have. I really don’t remember exactly what happened as to why he left the band. I do know however, having a band of five teenage boy’s who end up together in a rigorous schedule that’s controlled by other people will cause tension, and eventually personality clashes.

The Next Five with Tommy James.
Summer Fest 68.

What happened to the group after the third single was released?

By the time our 3rd record was released Paul Christy was living in Virginia and Con Merten had moved to New York. The band was still living in the farm house we had been renting in Muskego Wisc. for over a year and the money was running out fast. Con had managed to keep some bookings coming in while he was in New York and then suggested we might consider moving there. I did go to New York to meet with him and Denny Randell who had written some of the early Four Seasons songs. Con and Denny were opening up an office to start a new production and record company. It was a nice trip and everything, but I knew I’d never get the band to pack up and move there. We were well into 1969 now and I was calling Steve Wax at Jubilee Records constantly asking when the record was going to be released. Steve Thomas (our guitar player) announced he would be leaving the band for Med School and Mark “Hastings” Buscaglia (our keyboard player) and our current drummer at the time John Kruck had started jamming with other bands around town. Gordy Wayne Olski (our bass player) and myself knew everything now was contingent upon the release of “Sunny Sunny Feeling” and also getting strong airplay under the name Toy Factory or we were literally going to loose the farm. The record finally came out and the radio stations did start playing it, I’m sure Paul Christy had made a few calls to his old friends at the stations to get it played. It wasn’t long before we realized there was little distribution of the record and the stations had stopped playing it. Gordy and I locked up the farm house and joined a band that was booked in Charleston South Carolina at the Army Navy Club, it was one of those gigs where you would play for six weeks, six nights a week and six sets a night. I’ve always thought of that gig as the 666 gig, something I didn’t want to do and after a few weeks I hopped on an airplane and went back to Milwaukee. I called Con in New York only to find out that he and Denny had a falling out and Con moved to Los Angeles. It was now 1970 and the 60’s were officially over and I found myself back at square one.

Did any band members further pursue musical career?

Gordy stayed with the band we went to South Carolina with for awhile and then went on to play with Bobby Vee’s band with some other friends of mine during 70’s. He has never stopped playing and is currently playing in Wisconsin with his wife in “Andrea and the Mods”. Steve Thomas did some recording while he was in med school and he became a doctor and is now retired and lives in Texas, although he travels a lot he still has a studio he spends time in. Mark “Hastings” Busgcaglia played keys with local bands in Wisconsin before moving to Los Angeles where I ran into him in the late 70’s, he switched from keyboards and was playing drums in a progressive rock band. His cousin got in touch with me a few years back to let me know the sad news he had passed away in 2005. As I had mentioned before, Tom “Ashbolt” Stewart continued playing with groups in Wisconsin until he moved to Oregon where he is still playing today with his wife and their band “Bolt Upright”. John Kruck our 2nd drummer continued to play and became a psychologist, he is now retired and living in Wisconsin. I played in numerous bands in Wisconsin from the early 70’s until I moved to Los Angeles in 1977. I worked at Cherokee recording studio’s until 1980 and had bands that played around the Los Angeles area through the 80’s. In the late 80’s my band hooked up with radio personality and actor M.G.Kelly and KCBS radio to open up oldies concerts for the station, that went on for a few years even after M.G.Kelly moved to Phoenix Arizona and was at COOL FM. I continue to play today and I’m enjoying it. There is one more persons I should mention. In the early days of the band we would have friends help with the equipment. But when things got serious and we had a ton of equipment we could only rely on our road manager Randy “Spider” Schneider to take care of it. He would haul the Hammond organ and Leslie, gigantic Eros amps, P.A., drums, wardrobe, and everything else it took to put on a show. He was in charge the truck and everything in it. He would have it all set up perfectly by the time we got there no matter where it was. Dependability was essential and he never missed a beat. No one in the band ever questioned the stage setup and he also protected us from outside sources. He is now retired and living in Wisconsin.

New recording technology came out in the 1970s and gave opportunity to many musicians to record their music in their bedrooms. You recorded an album long material, which we can hear on Springdale ’73. Would you like to share what’s the story behind those recording?

For this question I would like to give you something I have already written to explain Springdale ’73. The title is simply about the place and the time. Every teenage band in the 60’s knew how hard it was to get a song recorded. You needed an established band, a producer, a manager, a recording studio and engineer, a good song, and lots of money, just to get 7 or 8 parts recorded together into a song. Today’s songwriters enjoy the convenience of computers, multi-track digital recorders, drum loops, instrument sounds, everything at the touch of a button, to record one track at a time in the comfort of their own home, and whenever they feel inspired to manifest their vision. There was an actual turning point from the 60’s to now, and that was in 1973 when the Teac 3340S entered the commercial market. At an affordable price, the Teac gave you the same multi-track capabilities as those four track studios of the 60’s. Another technology of the time was the Univox SR55 drum machine. Together, the Teac and drum machine started the home recording revolution – the complete self containment for songwriters of which is the norm today. One of the earliest examples of this technology is Springdale ’73. It is a catalog of about 30 original songs recorded in a bedroom at Springdale Apartments in Waukesha Wisconsin in 1973. All tracks were recorded one at a time into a Teac 3340s using a Univox drum machine as the foundation, achieving the same basic results as today’s songwriters using multi-track digital tools and drum loops. The Teac and drum machine together opened up creative doors for songwriters everywhere. I released 12 songs on CD Baby some years back and here video of the actual machine playing one of those songs. 

Is there any other unreleased material from you or The Next Five/Toy Factory?

I have three songs on two acetates of the Next Five that will never be released due to the quality of the sound. Two songs I wrote and one cover of “Not Fade Away” written by Buddy Holly. Recently I discovered that the 8 track master tape of “Not Fade Away” may still exist because the engineer Ed Cody from Stereo-Sonic Studio’s in Chicago kept copies of everything he had recorded and were found in a storage locker in Chicago after he had passed away. We were the first one’s to record on their new 8 track machine back in 1968. Paul Christy told me to call Ed Cody and we would get some cheap rates to help them tweak their new studio. From what I understand there were some 500 tapes and acetates in that locker and many were unmarked. It would be fun to find that tape and digitize it.

The sixties were a very special period of time for various of reasons. How do you remember those times?

Everyone remembers where they were the day JFK was assassinated, I remember the period of time right after the assassination, Dec. of ’63 and Jan. of ’64, and what I remember is nothing, those 2 months were dark and grim for a young teenager and there was nothing for their memories to grab onto. I can only speak for myself but my teenage years began in Feb. of ’64 with the British Invasion, everything after that left memories because of the music. Even with Vietnam, political and racial turmoil teenagers would cling to their music and it seemed that everything was going to be OK. 1968 would bring even more troubling events with the assassinations of MLK and RFK, more political and racial rioting and the continuation of Vietnam, but the music would still allow us to maintain memories weather they were good or bad. For me the 60’s would represent the highest highs and the lowest lows and everything in between, I suppose all generations have their own version of that, because that’s what life is all about.

Your group’s music appeared on popular 1960s compilation called Pebbles and Mindrocker too…

Back in 1980 I was living in Burbank, Ca. and got a call from someone who said a mutual friend had just bought an album in Chicago with “Talk To Me Girl” on the A-side first cut, that was the Pebbles album. Another friend of mine was coming over that day and I asked if he could stop at Tower Records in Hollywood to see if it was being sold there as well. When he arrived he had two of the albums, I looked at the credits and realized it was some kind of a bootleg. I called Paul Christy who was now living in Detroit and he told me to call the manager of Jim Peterik who was co-writer and singer of Survivors “Eye of the Tiger”, Peterik also had a song on the same Pebbles album from when he was with the Ides Of March in the 60’s. Paul gave me the guy’s number (I don’t remember his name) and he told me he had a little knowledge of the people who created the album and I might want to just let it go because they were some kind of shady characters. I decided to put the album away thinking not much was going to become of it anyway. The album was on the BDF label and morphed from being a bootleg into a legitimate product that was then sold to the AIP label who kept it in print for many years according to Wikipedia. I never knew the whole scope of the thing until the internet. The publishing for “Talk To Me Girl” was owned by Flo-Mar, the owner of Scepter-Wand records Florence Greenberg, she must have sold the publishing to someone who never filed it, so therefor when the Pebbles album was released no one was responsible to pay royalties to the writers. My new publishers (Trail O The Snail Music (BM), who just released 12 of my newer songs on YouTube and has secured ownership for me. The Mindrocker album with “He Stole My Love” on it wasn’t known to me until the internet. In fact after getting on the internet I discovered 5 of the Next Five recordings were on at least 14 Compilation albums and MP3 downloads, some were legitimate and some were bootlegged, “Talk To Me Girl” and “He Stole My Love” were on nine of those albums.

You’re still active and are currently in a band with W. Michael Lewis who played keys for Quicksilver Messenger Service and Terry Rangno who was the bass player for The We Five. Could you tell us more about your latest music project and maybe where we can check it out?

I met Terry Rangno at a popular sports bar restaurant in Culver City Ca., we started talking about the music biz and he told me he was in the We Five for over 42 years, he said they were still playing around the L.A. area but didn’t go out on the road much anymore. He also told me he was a child actor and was on Maverick, Ossie and Harriet, The Rifleman and many other TV shows and movies. When I saw “The Day After Christmas” episode of Ozzie and Harriet on the internet, I got a kick out of the fact I could remember seeing him as a kid. I hadn’t played in a band for awhile and was getting antsy to do something other then write songs by myself. It turned out that Terry had a studio in his house and he only lived a couple of miles from me. I had called my old friend Glenn Stacey, a sax player I had been working with back in 2000 to see what he was up to. He told me he was playing periodically, but wanted to play more often. We went over to Terry’s after rounding up some other musicians to do some jamming on anything we could think of. Terry is also a lead singer like myself and we decided to do material neither one of us had ever done before. We went through different musicians looking for the right people and came to the consensuses we needed to work with people our age and also lived close by. Terry, Glenn and I lived within a few miles of each other and would get together twice a week to learn new material weather we had anyone else come down or not. We had gone through many different drummers until one day Tim Shea came over and we knew he was the right guy for what we were doing. He had been playing on Cruise Ships for quite awhile and still had a few commitments with them but he met the criterion of being our age and living close by and he was a first class drummer. After a few weeks he came to a rehearsal and had a sling on his arm. He had been playing golf and threw out his shoulder but thought he could still play with one arm. We were all amazed that he could, and he never missed a beat or a rehearsal and even played a few gigs that way. The four of us would rehearse and learn new songs while trying to find a keyboard player who could commit. We did have keyboard players come down but couldn’t get anyone to commit because they lived to far away and there wasn’t a lot of money being generated. One day Terry said we might have enough stuff going on now to call his old friend W. Michael Lewis who had played with Quicksilver Messenger Service for years and was in groups like the Standells, Grass Roots, Spirit and had songs on the disco charts for over four years, He had also played with Terry in the We Five and was still currently playing with the Four Preps and other 60’s acts but not as often as he would like. Turns out he also has a publishing company and had just published some of Terry’s stuff. Michael came to a rehearsal and we told him to play what ever he felt like playing around the songs we were doing. He fit like a glove and was exactly what we needed to complete the band. He’s also my publisher now for the newer stuff I wrote and is the guy who secured the rights for “Talk To Me Girl”. Right now we play private events and places close by in L.A., but there are people in the band that want to secure an agent and take the show on the road. We all have a sense of humor and you can see that in the bands name if you go to our Facebook page. Michael is our Facebook director and has a little bit of everyone on there from over the years, it’s like a magazine. https://www.facebook.com/gumdropsoflove/?pnref=story

Eric Robert Olson
Thank you for taking your time. Last word is yours.

Thank you Klemen, and thanks to all your younger readers who take an interest in the 60’s garage bands and their experiences. It was definitely a time that could only happen once and anyone who was involved with it knows how special those days were. I continue to be surprised at the interest people have taken in The Next Five and all the other bands from that time period. Just for another time perspective, as I finish this interview today November 3rd, 2016, I would like to congratulate all the Chicago 60’s bands enthusiasts on the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series last night for the first time in 108 years. 

– Klemen Breznikar
© Copyright http://www.psychedelicbabymag.com/2016

One Comment
  1. Bill Bernico says:

    Eric, I’m sure you don’t remember, but my band (The Dimensions) opened for the Next Five at Batavia Hall (in the little hamlet of Batavia, WI) on March 16, 1968. We were just starting out back then and I remember really being impressed by your band. Aah, the memories.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *