Entry for October 18, 2006

by

The Man, The Legend, The Sheer Wordage

In 2003, something called “garage rock” happened again everywhere–especially in the UK, where they tend to give things names.

Addressing that theme, the fab British mag MOJO called me back then and asked me to briefly speak with the man for whom the cliché “been there done that” was, tragically, invented.

Kim Fowley then spent a good two hours detailing fascinating events that ultimately wound up being condensed to 200 words at best.

In the interest of sharing his fascinating account of everything that ever happened, I now present a more detailed version of that conversation, split into two parts. Be advised that the album that Fowley speaks of is Impossible But True: The Kim Fowley Story, a dandy collection of everything ever.

***

When do you think “garage rock” as a term came into existence?

Depends on the country. Depends on the decade, depends on the journalist or the industry wag. For all we know it was 100 years ago. Probably you have to identify the first garage rock record, so you’ve got to go back to rock itself, and that’s an argument of what rock ‘n’ roll is. Some people think it was the record that Ike Turner produced, “Rocket 88,” which to me is a jazz record. And other people say that Louis Jordan did the first rock ‘n’ roll record in the ‘40s with his jump music. Then you can have a raging argument for 10 magazine issues about it. Let’s guess that garage rock is an adjective as opposed to a physical state, and let’s guess that it’s white as opposed to black. Arguments would rage that the Slim Harpo records on Excello were garage records, the Chess records of Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry were garage records, but those were done in real studios, which on a pound-for-pound level were the best which were available for those artists. Of course people go into studios in later years trying to duplicate it, but they patronize it and are condescending toward it as opposed to celebrating it, because when you have a hundred dollars, you make the hundred dollars work. You don’t go into a studio and pay 200 dollars an hour to try to emulate a 100-dollar record. So I would guess going way back, you’d have to say white rock ‘n’ roll, Sun was the ultimate white garage sounding stuff. I went to Graceland and Sun Records, on the tour, and it wasn’t a garage, it was a studio, next to a restaurant–at least the Sun records I saw. But after Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis and the white guys, the white rockabilly guys came along, then there was the next level—records like “Oh Julie” by the Crescendos, that was a No. 1 record on Nashboro, the white guys in Nashville, Noel Ball I think was the producer, and that sounded like it was done in a garage. But then “Stay” by Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs—no, actually the other one, “Little Darling,” first—by the Gladiolas, on the same label as the Crescendos, and they were a black group and they sounded garage too. Was it the same garage? Then you can get into the discussion of whether white and black artists of the time used the same facility—for example “Suzy Q” by Dale Hawkins on Checker Records was right at home on Checker with Bo Diddley, yet one was a white artist and one was a black artist. And James Burton, who later played with Elvis, played on “Suzy Q,” later covered by John Fogerty in what sounded like a garage, which was really Fantasy Records studio. And John Fogerty’s one of my heroes, and “Born On The Bayou”-era CCR, certainly sounded garage, too. I don’t think George Martin ever made a garage record because he was layered symphonic pop, Radio 1, BBC, Top Of The Pops. In a studio it would probably be difficult to make a garage-sounding record. And that why garage rock has to be looked at under a microscope. And then some other guy would say, no, “Shh-Boom” is a garage record.

Is the term more accurately used to define a sound, or a set of social/financial circumstances?

Both. White trash morons with bad skin, bad bodies, bad hair, bad intentions jumping up with 100 dollars of somebody’s money to try to get on the radio, get a box of 25 records, and everybody in high school who hated you will suddenly jack off at your feet and then all the girls will want to fuck you. And so you run into a garage somewhere and you’re terrified or you’re drunk or you’re stoned or you’re full of shit and you somehow get it on tape and then it comes out on a crummy record label, or another record label; that doesn’t pay you, and you become immortal for the rest of your life, and then when you’re a fat old piece of garbage at the bowling alley or liquor store, everybody comes by and says “Do you know who that is?” and then everybody who reads MOJO magazine has a wank or a smoke and everybody says, “God, for one moment in the world this guy or this girl was immortal.” I mean Andy Warhol said 15 minutes, you get 15 minutes in your life of fame—no, in rock ‘n’ roll you get two-and-a-half minutes. If in fact you’re garage record lasted two-and-half minutes. …

Interesting what you said regarding George Martin. In the ’60s you had people like Emmitt Rhodes who in fact was recording in his garage, yet he almost seemed to be emulating George Martin by design.

From the Merry-Go-Round. Yeah, but he was Brian Wilson in a garage. He was Todd Rundgren in a garage. Todd Rundgren may have made records in garages, but they didn’t sound like garage records. But Todd Rundgren taking the New York Dolls into a recording studio, that did sound like a garage record.

When the early garage records started to hit, what was the reaction from the major labels? Did they typically want to bring the artists in and clean them up, make them palatable for the masses?

No. Let’s start when I entered garage music. It’s 1957, it’s West LA, it’s University High School, the student body included Jan and Arnie, later to be Jan & Dean; Bruce Johnston, later to be a Beach Boy; Ryan O’Neal and James Brolin, later to be movie actors’ Sandra Dee and Nancy Sinatra, we all know who they are; Henry Vestine, later to be in Canned Heat; and your teenage voodoo boy grandpa supersonic himself, Kim Fowley, all of us there together. Now Jan Berry of Jan & Arnie used to have parties up in his garage—he had a garage, he later made records like “Jennie Lee” by Jan & Arnie, and then he did “Baby Talk” in Jan & Dean, it was him and two separate singing partners, where he actually did the singing and the playing and a couple of friends would help out, and then they would take that tape into Western Recorders, and then they would add session musicians, but the bulk and the pulse of the records were done in that garage. Prior to him recording, he used to have parties. He had this shtick going where he prefabricated KJAN—KJAN Radio, a station, and was asking for records and then everybody in the music business would send these amazing records and they’d get there and we’d all go up and listen on weekends. I remember Abner used to send all of their records out there, and you’d here all these amazing black doo-wop records, records like “Get A Job” and all this stuff, and then all the white trash stuff like “Poor Boy” by the Royaltones. I remember then we all started bringing all our records up, and that’s where our neighborhood first heard those records. And of course Los Angeles was behind New York and Chicago or the south, so we would get these records months later on (disc jockeys) Hunter Hancock or Earl McDaniels’ (radio) shows.

Where was this garage?

Bel-Air, California. Rich white kids in white affluent schools trying to be tacky and moronic, James Dean clones with pimples, butch wax in the hair. Nobody had made records yet, we were just there, listening to black music and white trash. And then of course everybody started making records. And I started professionally making records in 1959, and my first records was “Charge” by the Renegades, written by Nick Venet, produced by Kim Fowley, and my personnel were Richard Podolor, later to be the producer of Steppenwolf and Three Dog Night on bass, Bruce Johnston on piano and Sandy “Teenbeat” Nelson on drums, and Nick yelling the Indian parts. And that got in a movie called Ghost Of Dragstrip Hollow for American International, and that was my first-ever production and was done next to a gas station in 1959 called Happy’s, which I later became night watchman in. And that’s where I met Dallas Frazier, who wrote “Alley Oop” by the Hollywood Argyles, which I co-produced with Gary Paxton. We had 32 dollars and that’s what it costs us to make “Alley Oop,” and that was in 1960, and we didn’t think of it as a garage, it was a studio we could afford. He was sleeping in his car and I was on a cot in the gas station. Keeping guys from breaking in at night. That’s what we were doing, that’s all we could afford, so we made due with it. My next big hit was “Nut Rocker” by Bee Bumble & the Stingers, and that was done in the storeroom of Rendezvous Records, on Selma Avenue. It was the same recording location where Dick Dale did “Miserlou” and “Let’s Go Tripping.” It was a magical room, and Rod Pierce, who produced the records—I only wrote “Nutrocker”–he was going for that Chess sound, and it sounded just like Chess Records in there. Magnificent Montagu, the famous disc jockey from Chicago who came out and invented “Burn Baby Burn” during the L.A. riots, he yelped, banged on a phone book the beat of the records, he used the studio there and said, “This is like Chicago, this is like Chicago,” he hardly had any equipment in there, but it was magical, the room was a magical-sounding room, and that was the whole point.. By the way, both of these songs are featured on my soon-to-be-released new album Impossible But True on Ace Records.

To answer your question about whether major labels financed these things—no. Major labels would wait for a small label to somehow acquire one of these garage records, and then when the small label started having financial problems, or ignorance problems, they would jump in give a sum of money to the small label and the small label would then become a production company or a distributed-company imprint, and by the time the major label distributed it worldwide, and it was time for the next records, everybody had forgotten the particular happy accident that had caused the damn thing to be a hit in the first place, and generally the next record was horrible and didn’t do anything. That was where “one-hit wonder” came from, these garage records. I did another one of these things, “Popsicle And Icicles” by the Murmaids, where we were trying to imitate “Johnny Angel” by Shelly Fabares. We did it at Gold Star, which Phil Spector also used—that cost $108. The reason it cost more than “Alley Oop” was I went and had ice cream, I stuffed myself with a couple of hot fudge sundaes and I think the price went up at that point. I like hot fudge sundaes when I feel good about myself, I’ll eat one. There’s various little magical garage studios. Frank Zappa used this Paul Buff studio in Cucamonga, and he allegedly produced “Bustin’ Surfboards” by the Tornadoes—not the Tornadoes who did that song “Telstar”– which was later put in the Pulp Fiction–in the same studio Paul Buff produced “Wipeout” by the Surfaris, and then he went to work for Leon Russell later on. There was a brother studio in Southern California in a similar Chicano low-rider neighborhood called S&L Recorders, in El Monte—I must scream about that, that’s home turf for us, because that’s where we did “The Trip”—the Kim Fowley song which has been used all over the world on reissues and stuff—and then the fabulous record by the Rangers, actually the Snowmen—well the Snowmen did “Ski Storm,” and then a few other people joined up and became the Rangers, and then after they went with Murry Wilson they changed their name once again and became the SunRays—but that stuff was done out in El Monte and that place was where Thee Midniters also recorded out there. The Rangers did “Reputation” out there, that’s right. This was stuff that happened pre-Beatles, post-Elvis. American Recording studio again was a place where Larry Verne did “Mr. Custer” and that type of record was done in that place. Western Studios, like Gold Star, kind of had a garage sound. I produced “Falling Off The Edge Of My Mind” by the Seeds at Western, Brian Wilson did those great Beach Boys records pre-Pet Sounds at Western Studios. And the Mamas and Papas, who weren’t garage used the same place. I mean, you start wondering about that. In other words, various bands are using the same studio and getting varying results—and sometime the same musicians, and sometimes the same technicians are in there you know. I mean, “Like Long Hair” by Paul Revere & the Raiders, Gary Paxton and I produced that and that was done at American, and later when Paul Revere & the Raiders had other hits—this was in ’61—they used Columbia just a block away, but it was the same studio that Sly & the Family Stone did all those slick polished layered records, it was only a block away. It was on Sunset Boulevard, it wasn’t in the ghetto or in the barrio, which is interesting—to think that geographically, how far were all these places? Well in some instances they were a block away or only five minutes in the car. Of course I don’t drive a car, I had polio, which means I have a leg that doesn’t work some days, that’s how Gene Vincent and I related to each other, because he had a leg problem, too. Mine wasn’t as severe as his, but I didn’t drive. In my case, and some of the artists I mentioned, we didn’t have licenses, we couldn’t drive, so we would take busses or hitchhike to studios, we were going to have to take all the tapes back, we didn’t want to carry a lot of tape boxes on the bus, so we said, “We better do everything in one take.” I guess the New York bands were hauling their tapes on the subways.

In this era, when one made a record, did one go out and promote it in the manner that we think of it today?

No, no, let me explain. Let me take a record for example. I’m gonna try and give you an example of how you’d make a record. One day, Bobby Ray of the Hollywood Argyles told me these guys in his neighborhood were starting a label, and a Mexican and a white guy and an Italian guy were going to do an instrumental for them. So OK–I was out having a cheeseburger and fries, and I wasn’t terribly interested in participating in that, and then the Innocents walked in off the street, it was a hot day and one guy was drinking orange juice, it was pouring down his shirt, the other guy didn’t have his shirt on, with an acoustic guitar, and they said, “Can we audition?” And I said, “Right now.” So they sang “Honest I Do,” and I said, “Stop the music–you’re a Chicano Fleetwoods!” They were trying to do instrumentals as a favor for this small label, and I said, “Hey, I just discovered the Chicano Fleetwoods. Why don’t we produce it for you guys right now? We’ll put it on your label and we’ll be the producers–Gary Paxton and I and the co-publishers”–and they said OK. So the guys came in and sang “Honest I Do,” and we scrapped the idea of the instrumentals and it was No. 17 in Cashbox or Billboard. I mean, these guys, one of them was in the Marines, he had to go back to the base and that was it. They just walked in and sang and were thrown right into a studio and recorded. Why? Because they had a sound—and in those days, it was if you had a sound and you had a song, you could make a record. And even if you didn’t have a song but you had a sound, we would, as arrangers or producers, turn it into a song….

I’ve been criticized for making weird records and strange records and unimportant records, but as Joe Smith, who was once the president of Warner Brothers Records told me, “Even your stiffs sound like records.” Meaning that some days Elvis doesn’t walk in the door, but if three fat girls walk in and they have a sound, they get to make a record—just like punk. “We’re here.” “Good, then you must be the band.” You know. And if you aren’t, go up on the stage anyway, it’s OK. Rap is the same thing—you’re here, we’re all here, let’s make some noise, and let’s reproduce the noise. Later in the ’60s when the drugs started, you’d go to a club, “Listen, we’re all going to the studio, you want to be in the band?” It was a little different then. We’re going to just jam for a while and then we’ll edit it later. So you’d have a case of my record “Animal Man” and “Bubble Gum”—and “Bubble Gum” was later covered by Sonic Youth and Alan McGee’s wife—so I got Three Dog Night, the band, who showed up along with Mars Bonfire who wrote “Born To Be Wild,” ex-Steppenwolf and Sparrow person, and Wayne Talbert, who later committed suicide, I think—and then Fast Eddie Hoh on drums, because the drummer Chuck Steele just yelled on the record, he didn’t play drums, and he was the drummer and Kim Fowley was the singer, and we did the whole album in four hours. The Outrageous album. And then Fast Eddie Hoh went into the mental hospital the following Monday. He did get out, though. And that was nice. And during that same time I did “Space Odyssey”—not “Space Oddity”—and that was with Larry Knechtel pretending to be Kim Fowley, Larry Knechtel later played piano on “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and was in Bread. I said, “You be me, you play better keyboard than I do,” it was an instrumental. That was in Liberty Studios, which is now owned by Neil Diamond. In the same place I did “Wild Thing” by Kathy Rich, who was Buddy Rich’s daughter, and that was St. John Green guys and Michael Lloyd, the famous bubble gum king, doing some arrangement–and while we were there during that time we did “Louisiana Teardrops” by Elfstone, who I met hitchhiking. They gave me a ride, I saw an acoustic guitar and they played “Louisiana Teardrops” and I said, “You get to make a record right now—I’m going to the studio—you want to make a record? Let’s go make one.”

I just listened to Love Is Alive And Well earlier today, which I think was made even earlier than that?

Oh, that one. Yeah, that was called in a garage studio called LWG, which was also called the house for homeless groups, and it was the rehearsal studio cum recording studio cum place where people lived. Steppenwolf rehearsed there, October Country–who had a regional hit on Epic—was recorded there, and we made a record by the Wailers there, the actual Wailers, produced by Kim and engineered by Michael was there, and I thought that was fascinating.

Well, I went to England, I have an interesting thing, my father was Irish and my mother was American, so I’m lovely dual national. Without doubt, and Andrew Loog Oldham agrees with me on this, the greatest garage-sounding studio ever in England was what Andrew called Impact Sound—because he didn’t want people to know it was Regent Sound on Denmark Street. Engineer Bill Farley–what a genius he was, he engineered the great-sounding Rolling Stones records, all the way up to when the Stones and Andrew started going to Sunset Blvd RCA studio with Dave Hassinger. “Time is On My Side” and all that…

I saw on your website that you and Andrew did a record together…

We did a record under the name Bo and Peep, it was a Mods & Rockers thing, called “Rise Of The Brighton Surf” and the musicians were Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, pre-Led Zeppelin—on the track that we did—and Mick Jagger’s on that album, it was Andrew’s album, he also sang “Young Love”—and of course Andrew Loog Oldham’s instrumental turned into the basis of the Verve track. So back to that studio—I took the In-Betweens in there, later to become Slade, and we recorded there these various songs, nine in one day, for Columbia UK, and I was their producer and the song we did was “Security,” we covered the Thane Russell version that was No. 1 in Australia, and Thane Russell was the tea boy over at what became Immediate Records later. I’m trying to show you how we all knew each other. We did “Gloria’s Dream” by the Belfast Gypsies—that was Them minus Van Morrison, with Bill Farley as engineer again in that same studio. This is all on that Ace record that’s coming out. Then under the name Freaks Of Nature—listen to this—we had the same group, the Belfast Gypsies, and then the guys from Soft Machine came in and they put weird sound effects on that stuff. It’s all coming out on Ace–“People Let’s Freak Out.” I don’t even have a copy of it. Soft Machine and Them in the same studio minus Van Morrison. And at the same time I produced “Feelin’ Squealin Reelin,” with Daevid Allen and Robert Wyatt and Mike Ratledge and Kevin Ayers. We did that at CBS studios with Mike Trevor Ross engineering, who later became the engineer of Van Morrison which proved… The other genius song we did in that studio was “The Comedown Song” by Spider—who was PJ Proby’s hairdresser, but he wasn’t gay, which was in itself a miracle in 1964, but he wasn’t. It’s a pattern, between American Recording Studios, Jan and Arnie/Jan & Dean’s garage, Rendezvous Studio, Impact Sound, S&L, Regent Sound–when you hear it on the album, it’s all interchangeable. Like you could say did this guy do all this crap in one room? No, I took the room from one country to another, from one neighborhood to another. The idea was, how we made those records, was none of us knew anything electronically. You get a bunch of guys, as many people at the same time to do music, and then you don’t go by whether it’s in tune or not—you just go by whether it’s authentic—authentic to the kids who’d want to hear it, or the disc jockey who’d want to play it, or the record store that would want to sell it. You weren’t doing it for rock critics—they didn’t have any then—you were doing it for kids, because even though we were in our late teens and early 20s, in our minds a 22-year-old guy isn’t that much different from an 18-year-old. There’s a vast difference, but in another way, we all kind of looked stupid together, you couldn’t tell the audience and the producers from the musicians and the audience.

Some of these studios, we’d always be on the lookout for a new cheap room, because when you start having hits in these little toilet places, then they’d start cranking up the prices. “Your record went to No. 1, so we have to charge you more money,” or “So and so used the studio and it’s No. 18 this week on the national charts.” Suddenly we had to find a new cheap place. And we would find either an old guy who wasn’t too cool, and he wouldn’t charge much, or we’d find a young guy who was trying to be cool—and either way it was the same thing, because the old guy would work hard to prove he could still do it, and the young guy would work hard to prove it he could do it the first time. And back to my little album Impossible But True on Ace Records–we marched in with the Bush–later some of them were in Juicy Lucy and the Misunderstood–and that was done in a Christian studio where there was all religious sorts of paraphernalia and you couldn’t swear in there.

Would you say you considered yourselves hippies then?

We weren’t hippies—we were guys who had long hair so girls would want to have sex with us. We didn’t have a name. We were just assholes. We were unwashed psychedelic creeps. Watch somebody call a band the Psychedelic Creeps, I want to do it—don’t you dare do it, if so, mail it to me and I’ll put you in a garage and make a record.

But listen, the surfers and the R&B guys were all friends, which a lot of people don’t realize. For instance. the Rangers, the Snowmen, the Sunrays, they were all the same people in different combinations, they brought me Little Victor & the Vistas, and I brought them over to Rendezvous and they covered “No More” by Ebb-Tones. And guess who produced the Ebb-tones? I did, and I wasn’t getting my royalties and I decided to do it a second time. And “No More” was in Elvis Presley’s jukebox up in Bel-Air. Now sometimes the record companies wouldn’t allow you to do garage. When I produced Gene Vincent for Elektra—“You’ve got to use this place because it’s our studio”—and it was so hippy-dippy. And poor Gene was saying, “I want some trash in this, where’s the fucking trash?” They put us in this artsy-fartsy studio. Our food-runner was Linda Ronstadt. She called up and said, “Hey listen, I want to study Gene.” And one day Paul Rothchild and the drummer from the Doors and the guitarist were on a triple date with three surf goddesses, they walk in the studio and Gene Vincent says, “Who are these people—the Doors? Bet you the guy with the leather pants isn’t there, he wouldn’t walk into my studio uninvited. Tell these guys—Linda Ronstadt is more rock ‘n’ roll than the Doors currently in front of me, if you don’t get out of here I’m going to shoot you with the gun I have in my boot.” And he pulled the gun out and they all took off. And then he sang his ass off. You can hear all of this on the same album, “Rainbow At Midnight” is on this, too. And when Sky Saxon came up to me at Newport in ’68 or ’69 and said, “I want you to produce my next record, but I don’t have a bass player,” I got Jerry Scheff, who actually played on the last Doors album, he came in and was the bass player on that. He came in and played on “Falling Off The Edge Of My Mind,” and Red Rhodes, may he rest in peace, he was the original guy from the Fraternity Of Man, and he plays steel on that record. It’s the first time that country, garage and punk were all mixed together on that record. And Don and Dewey, remember the twin guys who were like Little Richard? They got covered by the Rangers on “Justine.” Once again at S&L Recorders. The great record done in a shoe store–which is as good as a garage–is called “Pink Dominoes” by the Crescents, Jim Jarmusch is sending me emails, it’s probably gonna be in his new movie Coffee And Cigarettes, one you haven’t seen, that was done in a shoestore up in Oxnard. As I said before, you’re always looking for another place to do stuff. Richard Berry, he wrote “Louie Louie,” he had the group called the Pharoahs, Gary Paxton, Bruce Johnston and I and Richard went in and recorded the Pharoahs, “Head Up, High Hopes Over You,” which is also on the album. So I’m plugging this album, but one of the songs is on the CD that’s on the issue of this article—the “Die Alone” Bush record.

[TAPE SIDE ONE OVER]

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