The Man, The Legend, The Sheer Wordage
In 2003, something called âgarage rockâ 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 clichĂ© âbeen there done thatâ 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 âgarage rockâ 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 youâve got to go back to rock itself, and thatâs an argument of what rock ânâ roll is. Some people think it was the record that Ike Turner produced, âRocket 88,â which to me is a jazz record. And other people say that Louis Jordan did the first rock ânâ roll record in the â40s with his jump music. Then you can have a raging argument for 10 magazine issues about it. Letâs guess that garage rock is an adjective as opposed to a physical state, and letâs guess that itâs 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 donât 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, youâd have to say white rock ânâ roll, Sun was the ultimate white garage sounding stuff. I went to Graceland and Sun Records, on the tour, and it wasnât 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 levelârecords like âOh Julieâ 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 âStayâ by Maurice Williams & the Zodiacsâno, actually the other one, âLittle Darling,â firstâby 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 facilityâfor example âSuzy Qâ 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 âSuzy Q,â later covered by John Fogerty in what sounded like a garage, which was really Fantasy Records studio. And John Fogertyâs one of my heroes, and âBorn On The Bayouâ-era CCR, certainly sounded garage, too. I donât 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, âShh-Boomâ 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 somebodyâs 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 youâre terrified or youâre drunk or youâre stoned or youâre 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 doesnât pay you, and you become immortal for the rest of your life, and then when youâre a fat old piece of garbage at the bowling alley or liquor store, everybody comes by and says âDo you know who that is?â and then everybody who reads MOJO magazine has a wank or a smoke and everybody says, âGod, for one moment in the world this guy or this girl was immortal.â I mean Andy Warhol said 15 minutes, you get 15 minutes in your life of fameâno, in rock ânâ roll you get two-and-a-half minutes. If in fact youâre garage record lasted two-and-half minutes. âŠ
Interesting what you said regarding George Martin. In the â60s 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 didnât 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. Letâs start when I entered garage music. Itâs 1957, itâs West LA, itâs University High School, the student body included Jan and Arnie, later to be Jan & Dean; Bruce Johnston, later to be a Beach Boy; Ryan OâNeal and James Brolin, later to be movie actorsâ 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 garageâhe had a garage, he later made records like âJennie Leeâ by Jan & Arnie, and then he did âBaby Talkâ 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 KJANâKJAN Radio, a station, and was asking for records and then everybody in the music business would send these amazing records and theyâd get there and weâd all go up and listen on weekends. I remember Abner used to send all of their records out there, and youâd here all these amazing black doo-wop records, records like âGet A Jobâ and all this stuff, and then all the white trash stuff like âPoor Boyâ by the Royaltones. I remember then we all started bringing all our records up, and thatâs 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 McDanielsâ (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 âChargeâ 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 âTeenbeatâ 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 Happyâs, which I later became night watchman in. And thatâs where I met Dallas Frazier, who wrote âAlley Oopâ by the Hollywood Argyles, which I co-produced with Gary Paxton. We had 32 dollars and thatâs what it costs us to make âAlley Oop,â and that was in 1960, and we didnât 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. Thatâs what we were doing, thatâs all we could afford, so we made due with it. My next big hit was âNut Rockerâ 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 âMiserlouâ and âLetâs Go Tripping.â It was a magical room, and Rod Pierce, who produced the recordsâI only wrote âNutrockerâ–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 âBurn Baby Burnâ during the L.A. riots, he yelped, banged on a phone book the beat of the records, he used the studio there and said, âThis is like Chicago, this is like Chicago,â 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 thingsâno. 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 didnât do anything. That was where âone-hit wonderâ came from, these garage records. I did another one of these things, âPopsicle And Iciclesâ by the Murmaids, where we were trying to imitate âJohnny Angelâ by Shelly Fabares. We did it at Gold Star, which Phil Spector also usedâthat cost $108. The reason it cost more than âAlley Oopâ 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, Iâll eat one. Thereâs various little magical garage studios. Frank Zappa used this Paul Buff studio in Cucamonga, and he allegedly produced âBustinâ Surfboardsâ by the Tornadoesânot the Tornadoes who did that song âTelstarâ– which was later put in the Pulp Fictionâin the same studio Paul Buff produced âWipeoutâ 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 MonteâI must scream about that, thatâs home turf for us, because thatâs where we did âThe Tripââthe Kim Fowley song which has been used all over the world on reissues and stuffâand then the fabulous record by the Rangers, actually the Snowmenâwell the Snowmen did âSki Storm,â 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 SunRaysâbut that stuff was done out in El Monte and that place was where Thee Midniters also recorded out there. The Rangers did âReputationâ out there, thatâs right. This was stuff that happened pre-Beatles, post-Elvis. American Recording studio again was a place where Larry Verne did âMr. Custerâ and that type of record was done in that place. Western Studios, like Gold Star, kind of had a garage sound. I produced âFalling Off The Edge Of My Mindâ 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 werenât 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 resultsâand sometime the same musicians, and sometimes the same technicians are in there you know. I mean, âLike Long Hairâ 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 hitsâthis was in â61âthey 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 wasnât in the ghetto or in the barrio, which is interestingâto 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 donât drive a car, I had polio, which means I have a leg that doesnât work some days, thatâs how Gene Vincent and I related to each other, because he had a leg problem, too. Mine wasnât as severe as his, but I didnât drive. In my case, and some of the artists I mentioned, we didnât have licenses, we couldnât drive, so we would take busses or hitchhike to studios, we were going to have to take all the tapes back, we didnât want to carry a lot of tape boxes on the bus, so we said, âWe better do everything in one take.â 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. Iâm gonna try and give you an example of how youâd 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 wasnât 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 didnât have his shirt on, with an acoustic guitar, and they said, âCan we audition?â And I said, âRight now.â So they sang âHonest I Do,â and I said, âStop the music–youâre a Chicano Fleetwoods!â They were trying to do instrumentals as a favor for this small label, and I said, âHey, I just discovered the Chicano Fleetwoods. Why donât we produce it for you guys right now? Weâll put it on your label and weâll be the producers–Gary Paxton and I and the co-publishersâ–and they said OK. So the guys came in and sang âHonest I Do,â 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 soundâand in those days, it was if you had a sound and you had a song, you could make a record. And even if you didnât have a song but you had a sound, we would, as arrangers or producers, turn it into a songâŠ.
Iâve 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, âEven your stiffs sound like records.â Meaning that some days Elvis doesnât walk in the door, but if three fat girls walk in and they have a sound, they get to make a recordâjust like punk. âWeâre here.â âGood, then you must be the band.â You know. And if you arenât, go up on the stage anyway, itâs OK. Rap is the same thingâyouâre here, weâre all here, letâs make some noise, and letâs reproduce the noise. Later in the â60s when the drugs started, youâd go to a club, âListen, weâre all going to the studio, you want to be in the band?â It was a little different then. Weâre going to just jam for a while and then weâll edit it later. So youâd have a case of my record âAnimal Manâ and âBubble Gumââand âBubble Gumâ was later covered by Sonic Youth and Alan McGeeâs wifeâso I got Three Dog Night, the band, who showed up along with Mars Bonfire who wrote âBorn To Be Wild,â ex-Steppenwolf and Sparrow person, and Wayne Talbert, who later committed suicide, I thinkâand then Fast Eddie Hoh on drums, because the drummer Chuck Steele just yelled on the record, he didnât 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 âSpace Odysseyâânot âSpace Oddityââand that was with Larry Knechtel pretending to be Kim Fowley, Larry Knechtel later played piano on âBridge Over Troubled Waterâ and was in Bread. I said, âYou be me, you play better keyboard than I do,â it was an instrumental. That was in Liberty Studios, which is now owned by Neil Diamond. In the same place I did âWild Thingâ by Kathy Rich, who was Buddy Richâs 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 âLouisiana Teardropsâ by Elfstone, who I met hitchhiking. They gave me a ride, I saw an acoustic guitar and they played âLouisiana Teardropsâ and I said, âYou get to make a record right nowâIâm going to the studioâyou want to make a record? Letâs go make one.â
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 Epicâwas 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 Iâm 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 Soundâbecause he didnât 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. âTime is On My Sideâ and all thatâŠ
I saw on your website that you and Andrew did a record togetherâŠ
We did a record under the name Bo and Peep, it was a Mods & Rockers thing, called âRise Of The Brighton Surfâ and the musicians were Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, pre-Led Zeppelinâon the track that we didâand Mick Jaggerâs on that album, it was Andrewâs album, he also sang âYoung Loveââand of course Andrew Loog Oldhamâs instrumental turned into the basis of the Verve track. So back to that studioâI 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 âSecurity,â 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. Iâm trying to show you how we all knew each other. We did âGloriaâs Dreamâ by the Belfast Gypsiesâthat was Them minus Van Morrison, with Bill Farley as engineer again in that same studio. This is all on that Ace record thatâs coming out. Then under the name Freaks Of Natureâlisten to thisâwe 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. Itâs all coming out on Ace–âPeople Letâs Freak Out.â I donât even have a copy of it. Soft Machine and Them in the same studio minus Van Morrison. And at the same time I produced âFeelinâ Squealin Reelin,â 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 provedâŠ The other genius song we did in that studio was âThe Comedown Songâ by Spiderâwho was PJ Probyâs hairdresser, but he wasnât gay, which was in itself a miracle in 1964, but he wasnât. Itâs a pattern, between American Recording Studios, Jan and Arnie/Jan & Deanâs garage, Rendezvous Studio, Impact Sound, S&L, Regent Sound–when you hear it on the album, itâs 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 donât go by whether itâs in tune or notâyou just go by whether itâs authenticâauthentic to the kids whoâd want to hear it, or the disc jockey whoâd want to play it, or the record store that would want to sell it. You werenât doing it for rock criticsâthey didnât have any thenâyou 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 isnât that much different from an 18-year-old. Thereâs a vast difference, but in another way, we all kind of looked stupid together, you couldnât tell the audience and the producers from the musicians and the audience.
Some of these studios, weâd always be on the lookout for a new cheap room, because when you start having hits in these little toilet places, then theyâd start cranking up the prices. âYour record went to No. 1, so we have to charge you more money,â or âSo and so used the studio and itâs No. 18 this week on the national charts.â Suddenly we had to find a new cheap place. And we would find either an old guy who wasnât too cool, and he wouldnât charge much, or weâd find a young guy who was trying to be coolâand 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 couldnât swear in there.
Would you say you considered yourselves hippies then?
We werenât hippiesâwe were guys who had long hair so girls would want to have sex with us. We didnât have a name. We were just assholes. We were unwashed psychedelic creeps. Watch somebody call a band the Psychedelic Creeps, I want to do itâdonât you dare do it, if so, mail it to me and Iâll 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 donât 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 âNo Moreâ by Ebb-Tones. And guess who produced the Ebb-tones? I did, and I wasnât getting my royalties and I decided to do it a second time. And âNo Moreâ was in Elvis Presleyâs jukebox up in Bel-Air. Now sometimes the record companies wouldnât allow you to do garage. When I produced Gene Vincent for ElektraââYouâve got to use this place because itâs our studioââand it was so hippy-dippy. And poor Gene was saying, âI want some trash in this, whereâs the fucking trash?â They put us in this artsy-fartsy studio. Our food-runner was Linda Ronstadt. She called up and said, âHey listen, I want to study Gene.â 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, âWho are these peopleâthe Doors? Bet you the guy with the leather pants isnât there, he wouldnât walk into my studio uninvited. Tell these guysâLinda Ronstadt is more rock ânâ roll than the Doors currently in front of me, if you donât get out of here Iâm going to shoot you with the gun I have in my boot.â 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, âRainbow At Midnightâ is on this, too. And when Sky Saxon came up to me at Newport in â68 or â69 and said, âI want you to produce my next record, but I donât have a bass player,â 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 âFalling Off The Edge Of My Mind,â 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. Itâs 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 âJustine.â Once again at S&L Recorders. The great record done in a shoe store–which is as good as a garage–is called âPink Dominoesâ by the Crescents, Jim Jarmusch is sending me emails, itâs probably gonna be in his new movie Coffee And Cigarettes, one you havenât seen, that was done in a shoestore up in Oxnard. As I said before, youâre always looking for another place to do stuff. Richard Berry, he wrote âLouie Louie,â he had the group called the Pharoahs, Gary Paxton, Bruce Johnston and I and Richard went in and recorded the Pharoahs, âHead Up, High Hopes Over You,â which is also on the album. So Iâm plugging this album, but one of the songs is on the CD thatâs on the issue of this articleâthe âDie Aloneâ Bush record.
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