Friday, 15 February 2019

The Ramones Turn 20 & Release An All-Covers CD: A Conversation With Joey About "Acid Eaters" & Rock 'N' Roll

Promotion for the Acid Eaters tour
Denmark - June 25, 1994
Originally published in American Music Press (March 1994)

Interview by Devorah Ostrov

When the Ramones first got together in 1974 rock 'n' roll was, if not dead, at least comatose. The great one-hit wonder garage bands of the mid-sixties were a fading memory, the late-sixties heavy metal attack of the Stooges and MC5 had never caught on in America, and the early-seventies promise of a glam future with the Dolls, T. Rex and Slade had waned.

In '74 turning on the radio was something to think twice about. On the phone from New York, Joey Ramone runs down the list (within a year or two) of what you might have heard...

Radioactive Records publicity pic
"Gloria Gaynor, Donna Summer, Peter Frampton, Foreigner, Journey, Toto, REO Speedwagon… all those wonderful bands. That was our competition. There was us and there was them. We stood alone. There was nobody like us. And there's still nobody like us!"

Joey continues: "We wanted to save rock 'n' roll. We stripped it down to the bone and put the excitement back into it — the attitude, the guts, the fun, the spirit, the raw energy and emotion!"

This year the Ramones — Joey, Johnny, Marky, and newest recruit C.J. — celebrate the group's 20th anniversary with the release of Acid Eaters, an all-covers CD showcasing their love of rock 'n' roll. And with a successful world tour underway, they find themselves in the enviable position of being more popular than ever.

* * *

Not only is Joey Ramone the coolest person on the planet, he's also a huge rock 'n' roll fan and he gets super excited when we talk about his favorite bands. I ask him what it was like the first time he saw the Who...

"It just blew me away!" he exclaims. "I saw them when they first played America in 1966. They were so charismatic and exciting and wild, all this aggression and excitement and great songs!"

Poster for Australia's Big Day Out - January 21, 1994 
And he tells me about a recent meeting with Bob Dylan in Tokyo (where the Hard Rock Café threw a blow-out party for the Ramones' 2000th show)…

"After the party, me and [noted rock photographer] Bob Gruen went to see Dylan at Budokan. We went backstage and Dylan said 'Hello' to me. I freaked out! He said, 'Hey, Joey, how ya doin'?' I gave him a copy of Acid Eaters and said, 'This is for you. We covered one of your songs.'"

Acid Eaters CD
Radioactive Records (1993)
The Ramones' latest CD is a tribute to the music of the 1960s (with one exception: CCR's "Have You Ever Seen the Rain" was released in early '71). A bit strange, you might think. But you'd be wrong, because the group's passion for rock 'n' roll is what makes the concept so appealing.

After two decades of inspiring — by Joey's calculation — millions of bands themselves, the guys get to pay homage to some of their own rock 'n' roll heroes.

And maybe it'll give the MTV generation a rock history lesson to boot. (Although that could be a chore since the liner notes only list who wrote the songs, not who performed them — and how many kids are gonna know what band Reg Presley fronted?)

The Ramones have always been known for choosing the perfect songs to cover — "California Sun" from Leave Home, "Do You Wanna Dance" and "Surfin' Bird" from Rocket to Russia, "Indian Giver" on the B-side of the "Real Cool Time" single — but the idea for Acid Eaters came about when the band recorded "Take It as It Comes" (a lesser-known Doors' tune) for 1992's Mondo Bizarro.

Acid Eaters - All Access pass
"The Doors' song was really well-received," explains Joey, "and our manager, who is also the head of our label [Radioactive Records], said: 'Why don't you guys record five of your favorite songs from that period and we'll make it into an EP. Kind of a treat for the fans.'"

Understandably, with so much material to choose from, the journey from five-song treat to full-length CD didn't take long.

As well as Dylan's 1964 ode to discontentment, many garage-punk nuggets are featured amongst the 12 tracks: the Amboy Dukes' "Journey to the Center of the Mind," Love's "7 and 7 Is," the Seeds' "Can't Seem to Make You Mine," the Troggs' "I Can't Control Myself," and the Animals' "When I Was Young."

And almost everything makes perfect sense within the framework of what one imagines the Ramones listened to as teenagers.

However, the freakish inclusion of an over-played classic-rock standard like the Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love" begs for speculation. Since it's hard to believe that anyone in the band was ever a big Airplane fan, I have to wonder if some nervous record company executive asked, "Don't you guys like anything people might have heard of?"

Promotion for the Acid Eaters tour & the Ramones' 2000th show
Tokyo, Japan - February 9, 1994
"The Jefferson Airplane song was our manager's idea," admits Joey. He diplomatically adds, "But after taking it on, it actually became kind of challenging."

While we're on the subject, "Somebody to Love" also features one of three special guests who pop up on the album. In this case, it's a former porn star who isn't normally associated with the Ramones (or rock 'n' roll).

"7 and 7 Is" promo CD single
"Somebody called from the office and said, 'How about a guest vocalist?' recalls Joey. 'We have this woman and she's great!' I was like, 'Who? Tina Turner?' And they said, 'No... Traci Lords!' I said, 'Oh...'"

He laughs and says, "I'll leave it at that."

Luckily, the two other guests are saner choices: Skid Row's Sebastian Bach does something I haven't yet figured out on "Out of Time" and Pete Townshend joins in on his own "Substitute." Let's talk about Pete first...

Q: So, Joey... recording "Substitute" while Pete Townshend looked on — you must have just died!

Joey: I was in total awe! I mean, Pete Townshend is my HERO! He'll never know just how significantly he's influenced me, how he's enhanced my life. The Who were such a big influence on me as far as song writing. You can't really tell someone that stuff. The best thing was just watching him sing the backing vocals. And I think the song sounds great! It's really exciting!

Japanese advert for Acid Eaters
Q: And Sebastian Bach... Did he get lost on the way to the Guns N' Roses recording session for The Spaghetti Incident?

Joey: Haha! I was talking to him on the phone and I told him what we were doing. He said, "Wow! I'd like to do something." I mentioned it to John, and we tried to find something for him to do. Y'know, some people might think, "Skid Row, yech!" I even thought that myself at one time. But they're cool rock 'n' roll kids.

Q: I have to mention your cover of "7 and 7 Is." Somehow your version is played even faster than the speed-of-sound original! But I wish you'd put in the trippy ending.

Joey: We're not gonna do that shit! It was too psychedelic for us. But I do think our version is exciting and powerful. As a matter of fact, it's gonna be the next single off the album.

Q: I've heard that [Love vocalist] Arthur Lee has written a song especially for the Ramones...

Joey: He wrote a song and he gave me a cassette of it. It was good... it was called... I dunno what it was called. I dunno where I put it. I'm sure it's around here somewhere. Uhmm...

Lux Interior has a starring role in the video for "Substitute"
Q: Okay... There's probably no danger of it turning up on a Ramones' CD anytime soon. So, were there other songs that you wanted to include on Acid Eaters that didn't make it?

Joey: Yeah, I would've liked to have done a Kinks' song, and we listened to "I Had too Much to Dream Last Night" [by the Electric Prunes], but a lot of people have done that song. We also mentioned doing "It's Cold Outside" [by the Choir]. Stiv Bators turned me on to the original and I used to love it. But it didn't sound that great when I went back and listened to it.

Chrysalis advert for Acid Eaters
Q: Did any of the songs on the CD pose a problem for you vocally?

Joey: Y'know, you might think it's easy to just cover someone else's song, but it really isn't — especially the way I went about it. I wasn't just trying to cover the songs. I wanted to bring my own style to them. Some of them I stuck a little closer to, like "Can't Seem to Make You Mine." I love Sky's voice and his mannerisms, the way he utilizes his voice. But then a song like "Out of Time"... I wanted to give that one more of an R&B feel.

Q: Do you hope that kids will be inspired to check out the originals after hearing your versions of these songs?

Joey: Hopefully... I mean, there's so much great music out there. Especially if you're a musician yourself, it's totally inspiring to delve into the past. You have to go backwards in order to go forwards. Y'know what I mean?

Q: It's sad that kids don't know anything about rock 'n' roll history.

Joey: It's really pretty pathetic, people's knowledge of music. They haven't got the slightest idea — especially kids in America for some ridiculous reason.

Q: MTV...

Saint Joey painting by Vicki Berndt
Joey: Maybe. But even before there was MTV it was like this. I don't know what it is. I remember the first time we went to England in 1976, there were all these young kids who knew all about Little Richard, all the '50s artists, everything! I was blown away! They were totally on top of it. But that's why music sucks in America. Well... it doesn't completely.

Q: C.J. is such a young kid, did he know any of these songs beforehand?

Joey: He knew some of them. His father listened to a lot of that stuff.

Q: Great, my dad likes these songs!

Joey: Haha! I know! Things are so different from when I was a kid. My dad listened to Frank Sinatra records.

Q: I noticed that C.J. is making some sneaky inroads into your territory. He sang lead on two songs from Mondo Bizarro and three more on Acid Eaters ["The Shape of Things to Come," "My Back Pages" and "Journey to the Center of the Mind"]. His vocals are great and fit right in, but what gives?

Joey: He's pushing me out. I'm gonna let him be the singer!

Radioactive Records publicity photo
Q: What are you going to do? Play tambourine?

Joey: Nah... I'll get a job at Wendy's, or something. No, actually I think it's great. Initially, I was supposed to sing "My Back Pages," but C.J. was doing it at the rehearsals and it was so perfect. He gave the song so much attitude. I just told him, "You should sing it."

Q: Is it true that Dylan was rehearsing next door while you guys were learning "My Back Pages"?

Joey: I wasn't there, but I called the rehearsal studio and Monty [longtime Ramones' tour manager] told me that Dylan's tour manager was on the phone next to him. Later on, I found out that they were back-to-back rehearsing! Apparently, when John heard that Dylan was right next door he said, "Uh... let's move on to something else."

Q: I know you've only been back home for a few days...

Joey: Yeah, we just got back from a big tour of Australia and Japan. We were co-headlining [with Soundgarden] this major festival that goes all over Australia called Big Day Out. It's something like Lollapalooza, but much larger — a 12-hour day with 50 bands and five stages! There were some really great bands on the show: the Breeders, Smashing Pumpkins, Teenage Fanclub, Urge Overkill... all the new alternative bands.

Promotion for the Acid Eaters tour - Uruguay 1994
Q: Were you aware of how well Acid Eaters was doing while you were away?

Joey: Not really... I came home to find that the album's been #1 for 3 weeks straight on CMJ [a "what's hot" industry report] and it's #1 on all the major college charts. The single ["Substitute"] was #1 the first week too! And this week it went to AOR radio. We've always had a problem with AOR radio, but everybody's playing it. It's really exciting! It feels like something's happening here.

"Substitute" CD promo single
Photo: George DuBose
Joey is telling me how the video for "Substitute" being shown on MTV is the edited version ("There's a real wild scene at the end. I mean, maybe it is a little over-the-top but...") when his doorbell buzzes. It's an Argentinean journalist who's come to do his interview. But Joey "likes the flow of our conversation" and asks me to call him back later! When we talk again, it's about a range of different topics...

Q: How did the Ramones' sound come about?

Joey: Our sound came about... it came from scratch! At least as far as John and Dee Dee [original bassist] and Tommy [original drummer]. Tommy wasn't even a drummer. He was an advisor and a producer; he was just helping us out. When we were auditioning drummers Tommy would show them what to play, and he'd never played drums in his life! In those days everybody was very, let's say, self-indulgent. Everybody was trying to impress us with their flashiness. But what we wanted was a basic drummer, like a Charlie Watts. So, Tommy just wound up sitting down and playing the drums.

Q: Could you tell me a little about the Resistance, your politically-oriented sideband?

Car 54, Where Are You? starring David 
Johansen & John C. McGinley
Joey: Oh, okay! Initially, I was asked to do three songs for a Rock the Vote benefit at CBGB's. I wanted to create a unique and exciting situation, so I pulled together a bunch of different musicians and artists: Ivan Julian [ex-Voidoid] and Fred Smith [ex-Television], C.J. and Marc, some people from the Living Theater... and each song was played by a different grouping of people.
     Then I was asked to play a benefit for Jerry Brown's campaign. I had just seen a debate between Brown and Clinton, and I was really impressed by Brown; he seemed to be on top of it. So, I said I would do it. It felt really good to do something constructive in support of someone I believed in.
     I got together with Andy Shernoff [ex-Dictators] and Daniel Rey [ex-Shrapnel and writer of cool songs] and did one show in Washington Square Park. Then we played uptown on one of those flatbed trucks for about 50/75,000 people! The last thing we played was a benefit for Rock for Choice on the 20th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
     The Resistance was a stimulating project and it was a lot of fun! I liked getting behind some causes that were important to get behind, like the cause of censorship. The song "Censorshit" [from Mondo Bizarro] was inspired by the Resistance. And I wrote a song for the Rock for Choice benefit called "Fascists Don't Fuck They Just Screw."

Promotion for the Acid Eaters tour
Santiago, Chile - May 16, 1994
Q: Haha! Will the Ramones be recording that song?

Joey: No... John's a Republican! Musically the Ramones are united, politically we're not. We share some views, like John's for a woman's right to an abortion. But we're not in sync with everything.

Q: I understand you've cleaned up your lifestyle lately. Is it true you're a vegetarian these days?

Joey: Yeah, and I stopped drinking and using drugs about four years ago. It was time for a change. I saw the light when I hit...

Q: Forty?

Joey: Ground zero! It wasn't hitting 40. I just got disgusted with my lifestyle, it was becoming a big bore.

The Ramones eat cake and promote Acid Eaters on 
Space Ghost Coast to Coast
Q: Did you do any shopping while you were in Japan?

Joey: Y'know, Japan has the best record stores! They've got everything! Most places you're lucky to find one or two records, but over there I had to choose from like five or six! I got the Best of T. Rex — it has everything on it, all the early stuff. I also found this rock 'n' roll video store. The whole store was just tapes, rare collectable stuff from shows all over the world. I was flippin'! They had a tape of the Who from '66. Pete Townshend's about 18, he's like a rail with a big nose! It's so great!

Promotion for the 1994 Acid Chaos tour
featuring Sepultura and the Ramones.
Q: So, tell me about the film Car 54, Where Are You? starring David Johansen. The Ramones appear in it...

Joey: Did you see it?

Q: Er… no. Entertainment Weekly gave it an "F."

Joey: Haha! I never saw it either. I'll wait for it to come to cable. I just heard that "Rockaway Beach" is going to be used in the new Martin Scorsese film, Naked in New York, and there's a film coming out in March or April called Airheads — we have the title track in that. It's about a band that takes over a radio station. It sounds like it has the makings of a good movie; it's something I've thought about a few times myself!

Q: Did you guys go to, or play at, CBGB's 20th Anniversary party?

Joey: No, we were on tour. We were in Germany at the time. I was kind of pissed off because there were a lot of shows I wanted to see, and we were talking about playing but it didn't come together. Now that it's our own 20th anniversary, we might do something like an off-the-cuff show at CBGB's. It would be an event!

Promo poster for Acid Eaters
Q: Twenty years... Who would've thought?

Joey: When you care about something... What other people think doesn't really matter to us. Y'know what I mean? We work hard. We've always worked our asses off and stuck to our vision!

* You can read my other interviews with Joey here:

Monday, 4 February 2019

Motorhead: It Took Three Of Us To Ask Phil Campbell Four Questions

Motörhead (circa 1988) - Metal Hammer magazine
L-R: Phil Campbell, Phil "Philthy Animal" Taylor, 
Lemmy and Wurzel
Originally published in Rave-Up #16 (1989)

Interview by Devorah, Michelle & Scotty

Before the Motörhead extravaganza at the Omni (December 17, 1988), we met up with lead guitarist Phil Campbell to ask a few (four) spur-of-the-moment questions...

Q: How did you and Wurzel go about joining Motörhead? Did you have to pass any tests?

Phil: Haha! An Olympic endurance test to handle loud volume! No, actually... I read in a music paper that the other guitarist, Brian Robertson [who replaced original guitarist Fast Eddie], had left. I had supported Motörhead with my band, Persian Risk, about four months before that. So, I contacted the record company and auditioned. They got in 80 tapes, auditioned eight of us, and it came down to me and Wurzel. They couldn't decide which of us to pick, so we were both hired.

There are no photos of Phil Campbell from our interview,
but here's a pic of me (L) and Michelle (R) with Lemmy (obviously!)
Q: We've heard that this has been a real zig-zag tour. One night you're in the South, next you're up North, then back down South again...

Phil: It's been a crazy schedule! It's also been a real party tour. Last night we played in Santa Monica and hired a British pub for a drinking party!

Scotty bonded with Wurzel!
Q: You guys took over a whole pub?

Phil: Yeah, we were there for hours and drank ourselves stupid! I think everyone is hung over today. I think I can just about get through this show. It's the last one in America.

Q: Now that people over here have FINALLY discovered Motörhead, are you guys more serious about conquering the States?

Phil: We've got a new record company [Enigma] who seem to be pushing the new album [Nö Sleep at All]. We've always wanted to break America; start selling more albums so we can tour less often, play bigger places and bring the whole stage show out here.

Friday, 25 January 2019

The Strawberry Alarm Clock: The Story Behind "Incense and Peppermints" & The Band That Recorded It

The Strawberry Alarm Clock
circa 1967 publicity photo
Originally published in American Music Press (December 1993)

By Devorah Ostrov

In the fall of 1967 Lulu's theme from the film To Sir With Love had been the #1 song in the country for an astounding five weeks, successfully holding off both the Association's "Never My Love" and the Young Rascals' "How Can I be Sure." But the week ending November 25 saw Lulu knocked to #2 by six Southern California teenagers dressed in "psychedelic pajamas" with an absurd moniker: The Strawberry Alarm Clock.

"Incense and Peppermints," SAC's loopy "flower-power anthem" (as it was later termed), was released in May 1967 on Uni Records. It entered the Billboard Hot 100 in September and hit #1 eight weeks later. But the song for which the group is best known actually started out earlier that year on the All-American label as the B-side of the gimmicky "Birdman of Alkatrash" by Thee Sixpence.

* * *

Uni Records promo poster
In the mid-sixties the suburban Southern California music scene revolved around teenagers, and Thee Sixpence — a talented British Invasion/garage/surf cover band — ruled the teen clubs and pizza joints from Glendale to Santa Barbara.

The members of the group initially included vocalist Michael Luciano, guitarist Ed King, vocalist/guitarist Lee Freeman, guitarist Steve Rabe, bassist Gary Lovetro, and drummer Gene Gunnels. Their manager, Bill Holmes, also owned All-American Records, the small-time label for which the band recorded.

By the time they went into Original Sound studios in early 1967, Thee Sixpence had already released several singles, including covers of "Fortune Teller" and "Hey Joe," without garnering much attention.

This time, the plan was to record "The Birdman of Alkatrash" — a garage-punk nugget written and sung by the group's new keyboardist Mark Weitz — as the A-side of their next 45. Without giving it much thought, they also laid down a bouncy untitled instrumental written by Weitz and King for the B-side.

In the meantime, the group's producer, Frank Slay, contacted John Carter (co-writer of the minor hit "That Acapulco Gold" for psych band the Rainy Daze) to ask if he was working on anything new. This was the moment that Carter mentioned an idea he had for a song title: "Incense and Peppermints."

The Strawberry Alarm Clock with the Voxmobile
Slay loved the title and thought Thee Sixpence's instrumental track would be perfect for the melody. So, he asked Carter and his song-writing partner Tim Gilbert to put some lyrics to it. Sadly, due to a disagreement between the group's manager and their producer, Weitz and King never received writer's credit for their part in the creation of the song; only Carter and Gilbert were credited on the million-selling record. (Some recent comments by Mark Weitz regarding the writing of "Incense and Peppermints" and the erroneous credits can be found at the end of this article.)

Legend has it that Carter and Gilbert used a rhyming dictionary to string together the (as stated in the lyrics) "meaningless nouns" that make up the bulk of the tune:

Advert for the 1st Annual Sacramento Pop 
Festival with the Jefferson Airplane, the
Strawberry Alarm Clock & Spirit
October 15, 1967
Good sense, innocence crippling mankind
Dead kings, many things I can't define
Occasions, persuasions clutter your mind
Incense and peppermints the color of time...

While the verses really are just a nifty jumble of words that don't actually mean anything, the world-weary hook ("Who cares what games we choose/Little to win, but nothing to lose") gives the song some gravitas and is probably what elevates it to "anthem" status.

Shortly thereafter Carter was invited to hear Thee Sixpence record "Incense and Peppermints," and that's when things get a little convoluted.

Of this historic get-together, Carter has been quoted as saying: "It was the first time I met the band, and they resented the fact that someone had written a song to their track."

However, when I recently interviewed SAC bassist George Bunnell (who joined after the recording of "Incense and Peppermints") about the group's history, he related a very different scenario.

"They were all friends with John Carter," he insists. "The guys all knew him. Lee and Ed thought ['That Acapulco Gold'] was a great song and it would be great if [Carter and Gilbert] wrote lyrics."

14-year-old Sara Zito calls the Alarm Clock's music
"fire-rock" in this teen 'zine article.
(Of course, at that point it's likely the guys didn't resent the lyrics being penned by outside writers because they thought "Incense and Peppermints" would end up as the largely ignored B-side of their single.)

The story continues with a dilemma over who would actually sing the song. One report says Carter had originally recorded the vocals himself, but the band were dissatisfied with that version.

Another says Carter flatly told Freeman he was wrong for the song. Other accounts describe how various band members also gave it a go but struggled to get it right.

Supposedly, Carter finally chose a young guy he thought was a band member to sing lead on the track. But when he returned the following day and asked where the singer was, the band had a good laugh. "Oh, him? He was just a friend of ours," they guffawed.

The tale concludes with the mystery vocalist conveniently disappearing off the face of the earth.

Of course, that's not what really happened. Bunnell calls the above narrative a "nice" depiction of the day's events and hints at an Alarm Clock scandal when he reveals: "Lee thought the session was over and he disappeared with a couple of girls. Our manager was really upset with him and had Greg Munford sing it."

Incense and Peppermints LP (Uni Records 1967)
Wake Up…It's Tomorrow LP (Uni Records 1968)
Munford was the 16-year-old singer for Shapes of Sound, another band managed by Holmes. Interestingly, even though he sang the group's signature song, Munford never became an official member of the Strawberry Alarm Clock and never sang "Incense and Peppermints" onstage with the band.

(Mark Weitz wants to ensure that the "Incense and Peppermints" vocalist receives some long overdue recognition. According to Weitz: "If it wasn't for Greg Munford's lead vocal track, the song never would've made it. His voice fit the part perfectly. We all tried to sing the lead, but none of us sounded right on the playback. Greg's voice was unique and I think he deserves a lot of credit!" And Munford didn't quite disappear off the face of the earth. The Shapes of Sound 45, "Lost Weekend" b/w "Twisted Conversation" issued on All-American, is now a sought-after collector's item.)

Advert for the Beach Boys, the Strawberry 
Alarm Clock & Buffalo Springfield at Lamar 
Tech in Beaumont, Texas - April 21, 1968
In April 1967, Thee Sixpence's new single was issued locally on All-American (there are rumors of an early pressing where Peppermints is misspelled). And thanks in large part to KIST music director Johnny Fairchild who flipped it over, the band soon found themselves with a regional #1 record.

"He played 'Incense and Peppermints' like it was the biggest hit in the country!" enthuses Bunnell of the Santa Barbara DJ.

On the strength of the song's local success, the band was quickly signed to Uni Records, a then-new subsidiary of MCA. But with the signing came the realization that there were other groups working under variations of Thee Sixpence, so finding a new band name became a priority.

The most repeated version of how they became the Strawberry Alarm Clock begins with Weitz turning to the Billboard Hot 100, closing his eyes and putting his finger down on the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever." Which may or may not be true.

"It's one of those things I've never asked Mark," says Bunnell. "We used to make up different stories all the time just for fun!"

"Incense and Peppermints" picture sleeve 45 
released on the German Hit-ton label (1967)
The finger on the Hot 100 anecdote has some possible holes that need researching.

"I'm not sure if 'Incense and Peppermints' came out before or after 'Strawberry Fields Forever,'" admits Bunnell. (And was it in the Hot 100 during the necessary time frame?)

(Mark Weitz has confirmed that Strawberry did indeed come from "Strawberry Fields Forever." He says, "It's one of my favorite Beatles songs.")

At least the inspiration for the Alarm Clock portion is straightforward. "The whole group was sitting in Mark's bedroom trying to think of something to go with Strawberry," explains Bunnell. "Mark had an alarm clock that made a swishing sound when the second hand went across the 12, which you couldn't hear unless it was deadly silent. They'd all been throwing out names [Strawberry Toilet was allegedly rejected] and finally they were all quiet for a while, and everyone heard the swish of his clock. They all looked up at the same time and said, 'Alarm Clock!'"

In May, Uni reissued "Incense and Peppermints" as the A-side of the new Strawberry Alarm Clock 45. Almost instantly it became the most requested song (two weeks running) in Los Angeles, at which point it went national.

Lobby card for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
featuring the Strawberry Alarm Clock
It's a bit of an understatement when Bunnell raves, "It started to go crazy all over the place!"

On September 23, 1967, the band performed the song on American Bandstand, immediately after which it entered the Billboard charts at #88.

By late November it was the #1 song in the country, and by December it had gone gold.

But Uni didn't wait that long to capitalize on the success of the single. As soon as "Incense and Peppermints" began to take off in LA, studio time was booked for the Alarm Clock to record a full-length album.

This might have posed a problem for a group whose setlist was packed with covers, but prior to the band changing its name, several alterations were made to the lineup — one of which netted them a second bassist who was a prolific lyricist and his flute-playing co-writer.

All aboard the Strawberry Alarm Clock Special!
Vocalist Michael Luciano and guitarist Steve Rabe left Thee Sixpence around the same time that Mark Weitz joined, sometime prior to the initial All-American recording session. (Bunnell notes that Rabe went on to found SWR Engineering, a specialist manufacturer of bass guitar amps and speaker cabinets.)

And as soon as he'd finished recording the drum track for "Incense and Peppermints," Gene Gunnels quit the band. One account says his father insisted he go to college; another says his girlfriend insisted he get a job.

Poster for the Jimi Hendrix Experience, 
Country Joe & the Fish, and the Strawberry 
Alarm Clock at the Earl Warren Showgrounds
July 1, 1967
Either way, Gunnels replacement was a blond teenager named Randy Seol who would prove crucial to the Alarm Clock's future.

Seol and his friend Bunnell were seniors at Taft High School in Woodland Hills, where they had a band called Waterfyrd Traene (which included freshman Steve Bartek on flute).

The drummer had first met his future SAC bandmates when Waterfyrd Traene shared a bill with Thee Sixpence at a party in Northridge. He was recruited into the band in time to add some background harmonies on "Incense and Peppermints."

From the beginning Seol lobbied to bring Bunnell in on bass, but the group wasn't keen to replace Lovetro. However, he was able to bring in several original Waterfyrd Traene tunes co-written by Bunnell and Bartek.

Perhaps Waterfyrd Traene's most important asset, the Bunnell/Bartek team had been collaborating for three years, amassing an impressive catalog of over 100 songs.

"We read dictionaries, encyclopaedias, novels and poetry to find ideas," notes Bunnell, explaining how the two youngsters came up with such inspired weirdness as "Paxton's Back Street Carnival":

"Incense and Peppermints" picture sleeve 45
released on the Mexican Gamma label (1967)
Ferris wheels spinning round
From the sky to the ground
While your mind's swirling down
Caught within all the sounds
Of the joy at the back street carnival...

Bunnell is adamant there was no LSD involved ("We didn't even know about that!") and claims, "We didn't even know what we were writing about!"

(There's a funny story about a girl at Taft High who approached Bartek and gushed, "I really know what you're talking about in these songs." To which he replied, "You do?")

When it came time to record the LP, Bunnell and Bartek were asked to play on the songs they'd written, and then invited to join the band. Both boys said "Okay," but Bartek's mom said "No!"

"He came back and said, 'My mother says I can't do it,'" chuckles Bunnell. (Although the 15-year-old wasn't allowed to join the group, Bartek did play flute on several album tracks. And when he grew up, he became the lead guitarist and producer of Oingo Boingo.)

The Strawberry Alarm Clock on the
 cover of Cash Box - July 20, 1968
Curiously, at this point Bunnell didn't replace Lovetro. The album credits list Lovetro as first bassist and Bunnell as second bassist — something which must be peculiar only to the Alarm Clock's lineup. But while they did sometimes play dual bass parts, Bunnell describes himself as more of a "utility guy."

He reels off a long list of job duties: "I was singing, playing guitar and a minimando [small mandolin], maracas, tambourine..." Bunnell also mastered the art of banging wood blocks together, which falls under the mysterious album credit of "special effects."

Titled after their hit single, the band's debut LP (which reached #11 on the Billboard album charts) was recorded in just two weeks. "The record company had to have it right away," emphasises Bunnell.

The album featured nine originals, most credited to the band as a whole, although four — "Birds in my Tree," "Strawberries Mean Love," "Paxton's Back Street Carnival" and "Rainy Day Mushroom Pillow" — also singled out Bunnell and Bartek. One tune, "Hummin' Happy," (a charming ditty about squished dead birds and ladies falling into manholes) gives credit to Bunnell and Seol who wrote the song when they were (to quote Bunnell) "teenage sadists."

Almost all the tracks can be classified as "psychedelic," but in a way you won't hear elsewhere. For instance, the "weird sounding guitar thing" (as Bunnell calls it) at the beginning of "Rainy Day Mushroom Pillow" was achieved by Seol picking out the guitar chords with his drumsticks!

The World in a Sea Shell LP (Uni Records 1968)
Good Morning Starshine LP (Uni Records 1969)
Bunnell partially attributes the album's unique trippiness to the spontaneity of working quickly in the studio. "We were rehearsing and recording at the same time," he says, "inventing while we went along, bouncing ideas off each other, and we were real open!" However, he also acknowledges the varied influences each band member contributed: "Mark's background was mostly classical; Randy's was jazz..."

Surprisingly, although Bunnell states that Uni exercised typical total creative control over the band ("They said what went and what didn't"), the label was pretty lax about the placement of the LP's title cut.

The Strawberry Alarm Clock circa 1967
If Weitz and King weren't upset by ripped-off royalties, outside writers and a non-band singer before, they were certainly smarting now that the song was a massive hit.

Or maybe they were just trying to be cool when they buried "Incense and Peppermints" deep into side 2 and opened the album with "The World's on Fire," an almost 8⅟² minute epic — something even Dick Clark mentioned during the group's American Bandstand appearance. "It's kind of an oddball thing," agrees Bunnell, "but that was what we wanted to do."

Once they'd finished recording the album, all that remained was finding a suitable image — apparently Uni didn't dig the "long-haired, rock 'n' roll, garage band-type thing" the group already had going on.

Bunnell recounts how they came upon the colorful East Indian attire which became the group's trademark look: "We took a photographer and went to a bunch of different clothing stores and tried on stuff — silk shirts, shirts with big collars... Everything looked horrible! We thought, we're not gonna do this; we're not gonna wear uniforms. We just couldn't deal with it."

Uni ad for "Incense and Peppermints"
Bunnell continues: "But then Mark came upon this shop called Sat Purush and they had what they call Kurtas, a traditional East Indian dress — psychedelic pajamas! The whole outfit was really funny... drawstring pants. Nobody wore drawstring pants! Nobody wore the Nehru collars yet either, except for East Indians. So, we put all this stuff on. We were laughing hysterically! But we liked it, the clothes were real comfortable."

The LP's cover pic was snapped by noted rock photographer Ed Caraeff during a photo session at the Sat Purush shop in Westwood.

"They put us all over these pillows," remembers Bunnell, "and they had these rattan chairs, fans... all this weird stuff that we sat amongst. They took our picture in the store, and that was the album cover!"

On the minus side, Caraeff's iconic photo firmly cemented the group's psychedelic-chic image, and the band that hated the idea of uniforms now had uniforms (albeit super comfy ones). "And we did it to ourselves," laughs Bunnell.

On the plus side, the guys got to go barefoot! "We were the only band playing barefoot," points out Bunnell. "The clothes looked funny if you wore shoes with them."

"Tomorrow" picture sleeve 45
released on the Italian Durium label (1968)
Around Southern California the Alarm Clock earned a reputation as the best support band for the big touring acts of the day. They opened for the Jimi Hendrix Experience at the Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara, the Yardbirds at the Santa Monica Civic, and for the Herman's Hermits/Who concert at the Anaheim Convention Center (where they were famously carried through the audience while sat on Persian rugs).

But when "Incense and Peppermints" went national so did they, playing 120 shows across the country on a bill with the Beach Boys and the Buffalo Springfield, which kept them busy for several weeks during November 1967 and April 1968.

"It was the biggest thing we ever did," says Bunnell excitedly. "We were flying in Lear jets and riding in limos, doing TV shows, staying in suites. It was unbelievable!"

"Unbelievable" is also the adjective rock writers began to throw at the band about this time. While the thousands of screaming teenyboppers at their shows probably didn't notice, it didn't escape the critics' attention that the vocalist on the group's television appearances wasn't the one who sang on the hit single.

Uni advert for "Tomorrow" b/w "Birds in My Tree"
"There were all kinds of rumors that the band wasn't the band," confirms Bunnell. "It was a very confusing mess."

According to Bunnell, reproducing "Incense and Peppermints" live wasn't a problem, at least musically. "And vocally it wasn't really a problem either," he adds, "because Lee sang the song just like Greg Munford. But our manager decided that on these TV shows Randy should lip-sync the song because he was cute, and all the girls would go crazy. So, everybody thought that the drummer sang the song."

Poster for the 1968 film Psych-Out
 featuring the Strawberry Alarm Clock
Seol might have been the group's designated sex symbol — "Every girl screamed his name everywhere we went," grumbles Bunnell — but the drummer was also famous for playing with his hands ablaze!

Publicity reports made it sound like he did it all the time, but Bunnell says the stunt was only done once and only during one song.

"It was at the Who show," he says. "Randy had gas jets coming down his sleeves, and when he played the bongos during 'The World's on Fire' flames would come up through the vibes. It almost became something he had to do at every show, but the gas jets got real hot and left pipe burns on his wrists, so physically he couldn't do it."

While "Incense and Peppermints" was in the charts, teen 'zines ran "Win A Date With The Band" competitions. ("Some girl got to go on a Universal Studios tour with me and Randy," vaguely recalls Bunnell.) There were "Win the Kurtas Off Their Backs" contests. ("To tell you the truth, I don't know whose clothes they gave the winner," he states.) And there was a lot of fan mail. ("Most of it was about Randy," sighs Bunnell.)

Throughout 1968 the group guested on several TV variety shows including Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In and The Jonathan Winters Show; Seol won an episode of The Dating Game; and they even popped up in the Dick Clark-produced hippy/teensploitation flick Psych-Out.

The group meet Jonathan Winters during an
appearance on his TV variety show
But the hysteria was relatively short-lived. The week after it hit #1, "Incense and Peppermints" fell to #3, displaced by the Monkees' "Daydream Believer" and the Cowsills' "The Rain, the Park & Other Things." And it was all downhill from there.

In early 1968, the band's second album was issued with surprisingly little fanfare. Wake Up...It's Tomorrow found the group not only whittled down to a five-piece lineup with the departure of Gary Lovetro, but also taking a more polished almost easy-listening approach to their music.

Although many now consider this LP to be the Strawberry Alarm Clock's finest achievement, at the time it didn't trouble the charts.

To make matters worse, in a bid to capitalize on the success of "Incense and Peppermints," Uni rush-released the (sort of) title track 45. "Tomorrow" — a breezy pop tune with mild psychedelic leanings — preceded the LP by several months and reached a respectable #23 on the Billboard Hot 100. But by the time the album was released, the single had exited the charts and taken any momentum with it.

According to Bunnell, the group's stylistic shift with Wake Up...It's Tomorrow was an "experiment."

Magazine pin-up of the band circa 1967
"The first album was an experiment and so was the second," he says, "it was just a different experiment. We were more crafty about the studio. By that time, we could come up with incredible effects and we were trying to use them, sort of leaving song writing in the dust at least for me, and mostly coming up with instrumental-type things. It threw everybody off."

You could say that. With most of their audience having wandered away to listen to "Honey" and "Lady Madonna," Uni showed amazing fortitude and continued to issue SAC records.

Uni advert for "Sit with the Guru"
A second single from Wake Up...It's Tomorrow — "Sit with the Guru" b/w "Pretty Song from Psych-Out" — was released in March 1968, but it only climbed to #65 in the charts.

Bunnell and Seol stayed for a third album, The World in a Sea Shell, which once again saw the involvement of outside songwriters, including Carter and Gilbert, on several tracks.

Following their departure, Bunnell and Seol joined up with some friends to form Buffington Rhodes, although they don't seem to have released anything.

Meanwhile, the Alarm Clock reorganized and kept going. Ed King switched from guitar to bass, original drummer Gene Gunnels returned, and former Nighcrawler vocalist/guitarist Jimmy Pitman was brought in.

In 1969 they released Good Morning Starshine, SAC's fourth and final album on Uni. The LP went mostly unnoticed, and the title track single — the same song released at the same time as Oliver's version — peaked at #87 in the Hot 100. It was a dark day for the Strawberry Alarm Clock when Oliver soared to #3.

By 1970 it was pretty much over. A regional tour of the South (as replacements for an imitation SAC put together by the band's ex-manager) introduced King to his future bandmates in Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Advert for the Strawberry Alarm Clock
at the Cheetah in Venice, California, circa 1967
And that same year, the group (now a foursome fronted by vocalist Paul Marshall) appeared in the Russ Meyer-directed trashy cult classic Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. "I've been to parties where they dance to records by the Strawberry Alarm Clock," announces Dolly Read's character Kelly McNamara, "but this is the first time the Strawberry Alarm Clock have ever been to the party!"

And other than a couple of "best of" compilations, everyone thought that was it. Until 1982 when the Music Machine club in LA advertised an upcoming Strawberry Alarm Clock show, which came as a complete surprise to the former band members! "So we called," says Bunnell. "They said, 'We figured we'd get you. We want you to play.'" And various incarnations of the group have been playing the rock revival circuit ever since!

* * *

Wake Up Where You Are
released by Global Recording Artists (2012)
But wait! There's more...

In 2012 — a full forty-three years after their final Uni LP and nineteen years after this interview — the Strawberry Alarm Clock released a new album! Produced by Steve Bartek, Wake Up Where You Are (subtitled "It's About Time") combines new songs with reinterpretations of the group's classic tracks and side project material.

As well as "new" guitarist Howie Anderson (who joined the band in 1986), original SAC members George Bunnell and Mark Weitz were involved with the project. And as a funny foot note, Bunnell points out, "This time around we have two drummers!"

Yep, both Randy Seol and Gene Gunnels took part in the recording. After all, it just wouldn't be the Strawberry Alarm Clock without two of something!

Bunnell notes that he, Weitz, Anderson and Bartek have continuously performed as SAC since 2006. He adds that, "Lee Freeman was also with us till early 2008 when he became too ill to continue."

The band pose for an updated pic of their 1967 LP cover
To bring the story fully up-to-date, Bunnell says: "Last year we recorded a new version of 'Incense and Peppermints.' We haven't released it yet because we did it for licensing purposes. The cool thing is we had all the original [band members]: Ed King, Greg Munford, Gene Gunnels, Mark Stephen Weitz, Randy Seol and myself. Bartek's schedule didn't allow him to participate. (His day job as Danny Elfman's chief orchestrator and then some, takes precedence.)"

* * *

Also, many thanks to Mark Weitz for supplying the following information about the creation of "Incense and Peppermints" and some important details surrounding the song's erroneous credits. Mark writes...

A couple of fine points that somehow never get reported properly that I'd like to clear the air on... The musical idea for the yet unnamed song "Incense and Peppermints" was solely mine. I sat down at the piano one day and knocked out the majority of the music.

"Heart Full of Rain" 45
All-American Records (1966)
It was the second original song that I wrote. The first one was titled "Heart Full of Rain" (which was recorded and released on the All-American label that our manager Bill Holmes owned).

When the label [for "Heart Full of Rain"] was pressed and I saw the 45, I asked [Holmes], "Where is my name on this record? I wrote the music and the lyrics and sang it!"

He put his name on as the writer and told me he was paying for the session and all the costs of making the record — so that's what you have to do. I couldn't believe it!

Back to the story: I got stuck on the "bridge" of ["Incense and Peppermints"] and I asked Ed King to drive over and help me come up with some chords. We knocked it out in about 45 minutes and the basic music was finished.

For some reason (and I know this is a small detail to some people), I always see song credit going to Ed King's name first, then mine, like it was his idea. The intro, verse and ending were written solely by me. Ed came up with the bridge, that was it!

"Incense and Peppermints" picture sleeve 45
released in Japan on MCA Records (1970)
Anyway, I will always be sensitive to the credit given for writing "Incense and Peppermints." Especially since I never received a penny on it. Over $500,000 in royalties went to Carter and Gilbert due to that infamous argument between Frank Slay and Bill Holmes over who exactly the writers should be on the song.

Holmes insisted his name should be on the song, too. Slay turned him down and said, "I need four names only," which should have been Mark Weitz, Ed King, John Carter and Tim Gilbert.

But Holmes disagreed and Frank Slay went ahead on his own (for some reason which I will never know) and put Carter and Gilbert's names only as writers and released it — never expecting that track would go to number one!

(At least I got my name on the B-side, and I made a small amount of money on "The Birdman of Alkatrash" — which I wrote in the studio in about an hour! Lee Freeman helped with the lyrics on that song.)

The Strawberry Alarm Clock - publicity photo
The process was similar on the songs "Tomorrow," "Sit with the Guru" and "Barefoot in Baltimore." I had the idea for a song (the majority of the music) and would ask Ed to help come up with some chords that I was missing. In essence, Ed and I were co-songwriters — a team so to speak.

But I wanted to bring attention [to the fact] that the four songs which charted on the Billboard Top 100 were all musically my ideas. Ed King helped me complete the songs. Without Ed helping me, those songs probably would've never been completed. Ed was great to work with. He always seemed to come up with the music to help finish the songs! He was very talented musically, and remember he was only 18 years old (I was 21 at the time). I miss him a lot. I had this fantasy of getting back together and writing some new songs, but we know the rest of the story and that's not going to happen.

For the record, only three of us played on the basic music track [for "Incense and Peppermints"]. I played organ and piano; Ed played bass and lead and rhythm guitar; and Gene played drums. The rest of the band performs the vocal harmonies. Ed pointed this out to me about a year ago. I'd completely forgotten about it.

* R.I.P. Lee Freeman who passed away February 14, 2010
* R.I.P. Ed King who passed away August 22, 2018

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