Tuesday, 19 December 2017

The Ramones: This January 1978 Interview With Joey & Johnny Ramone Was The Start Of My So-Called Career In Rock Journalism.

The Ramones - Rocket To Russia (Sire Records 1977)
Admittedly, this is not the greatest interview you'll ever read with the Ramones. Originally published in an obscure San Francisco punk 'zine, which probably nobody saw, it was my second ever interview (I don't like to talk about my first ever interview) and the start of my so-called career in rock journalism. I'm still amazed that Joey and Johnny were so nice about answering the inane questions of a star-struck teenager desperate to know why Rocket To Russia was poppier than their previous two albums.

Originally published in Widows & Orphans #5 (1978)

Interview by Devorah Ostrov
Polaroid Instamatic photos by Devorah Ostrov

Q: I've heard a lot of rumors about your face getting burned with oil recently.

Joey: Yeah, I struck oil.

Q: What happened?

Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Joey: Someone hit me with a stove. No, nothing happened.

Q: Do you guys like playing San Francisco?

Joey: It's alright. It's a little laid-back, you know.

Q: There's a lot of hippies.

Joey: Yeah, the more the merrier.

Q: Where else are you playing?

Joey: We're playing a lot of new cities on this tour. We're gonna cover the whole country. We went to Kansas City, we've never been there before, and sold out two shows. We played the State Theatre in Minneapolis and sold out. It's great!

Q: Rocket To Russia has a more commercial sound than your first two albums...

Joey: We've been into music since rock 'n' roll started and we like everything. It's just press labels. Everything's gotta be labelled, it seems.

Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Q: Is Rocket To Russia selling more than the others?

Joey: Yeah, it's doing really good!

Q: Is it getting more radio airplay?

Joey: Yeah.

There's some incoherent mumbling about the weather...

Joey: We were in the Midwest, you know, all the blizzards and shit. We came out here where it's warm and I got sick.

There's more mumbling and somehow the conversation gets around to comparing the English punk scene to the U.S. scene...

Joey: It wasn't like it is here. Here is like the extreme.

Q: Wait, are you saying that American punks are more extreme than English punks?

Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Joey: Over there nobody looks like that anymore. Everyone has cropped hair, but that's it. Nobody had green hair anymore, or black eyes.

Q: Do you think the Ramones are getting commercialized now?

Joey: It happens, you know, there's nothing you can do about it. But we're not into changing to be commercial. We'll never be Fleetwood Mac. We'll never give free concerts in the park.

Someone asks about most punk groups being serious and the Ramones being more satirical...

Joey: I think groups that are serious are a lot of bullshit! I think most of the punk rock groups suck! They just give punk a bad name. They shouldn't exist in the first place.

Q: Who do you like?

Joey: The only group I like is the Clash. They're the only good English group.

Q: What do you think about the seating arrangement of the club? They seated us when we came in.

Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Joey: I felt like I was at a dinner club, like I was a freak at a circus. It felt like a dinner atmosphere.

Someone comments that the opening band, the Dils, are a political band...

Joey: There's no politics in America. That went out with Joan Baez and Country Joe McDonald.

This led into a long and boring discussion about the current political situation in England, during which Joey commented...

Joey: We don't want to depress anybody, we want to have a good time. The English groups are into being depressed. That's why they call themselves the Depressions and all that crap.

* * *
I wandered off to find Johnny...

Q: Do you find since you're gaining in popularity that you're getting hyped and commercialized?

Johnny: Hype? What does that mean? We're getting more publicity, more attention. I thought that hype was when they rave about you without seeing you, or something.

Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Q: Before the show, there was an airplane flying around the club flashing "Gabba Gabba Hey" in neon lights!

Johnny: Yeah, we heard about that. We didn't really know about it, we just heard about it.

Q: Rocket To Russia seems more pop than punk. Is that something you focused on?

Johnny: I don't think it's any particular direction of any sort. We've always liked pop songs. We're able to write better now. In the beginning, even if we wanted to write pop songs, we were incapable of it. So, it would be more punk. We're punk, we're pop, a little of everything. We wanted a well-balanced album that people could listen to. We keep hearing that everything sounds the same.

Q: Do you like being worshiped by fans?

Johnny: At times it's nice, you know. It makes you feel good, people actually care. Sometimes it gets rough on your nerves. You need to relax sometimes. When we go on, we have to walk through the crowd and everybody starts grabbing onto your arms. That's not much fun.

Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Q: But you enjoy being loved by your fans?

Johnny: Yeah, you want fans! I don't try to let it affect me as far as getting a big ego over it. We're just playing music. It's good, but I don't know how we managed to do it. It just happened.

Q: Do you think that you came along at a time when a change was needed?

Johnny: Yeah, a change was needed. Rock 'n' roll would die if it stayed the same, and it had stayed the same for 10 years. It was just a bunch of old disc jockeys playing soft music. Pretty soon, your parents would start listening to the FM radio and like it.

Q: So, your music is really just good, teenage rock 'n' roll?

Johnny: Yeah, it's new and modern plus it's rock 'n' roll. We'd listened to rock 'n' roll all our lives and we wanted to play rock 'n' roll like it was meant to be. It's supposed to be entertaining and have energy. Nobody was living up to the image of rock 'n' roll.

Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Q: Do you like playing small clubs like the Old Waldorf?

Johnny: No, I like playing big places. The conditions are better, the stage is bigger, you don't have to walk through the crowd to get onstage. This is a nice place, though.

Q: Isn't punk rock supposed to be anti-star trips?

Johnny: No, it wasn't meant to be that. We were the first group they were calling "punk rock" and that's not what we intended, no anti-anything. There's nothing wrong with stars.

Q: Why were you the first band labelled "punk"?

Johnny: Rock 'n' roll was always punk rock since it started with Elvis Presley and Gene Vincent. They just never called it that. That's just a label that they came up with when we started playing three-and-a-half years ago at CBGB's. Some writer just wrote that and that's what they're calling it now.

Q: When I talked to Joey, he said the scene was dying in England. Is that true?

Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Johnny: It wasn't as big as we'd heard. We expected these groups to be enormous and they weren't very big. We were playing bigger places than all of them and drawing more people. There wasn't that much excitement.

Q: You guys just got back from a UK tour with the Rezillos. How did it go?

Johnny: Oh, great! We played London on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day in a 3,000 seat place, and sold out both nights. All the shows were sold out. We played all big theatres. It just went great!

Q: Are the Ramones bigger outside of New York? Does New York tend to take you for granted?

Johnny: It used to be that way, but it's changed now. We used to play CBGB's, and when you're small and everybody comes over and talks to you, those people tend to take you for granted because they feel like they know you. But as soon as you become big enough that all the people don't know you, then they stop taking you for granted. We just played the Palladium and we had over 3,000 people there. The show was great, and they didn't take us for granted.

Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Q: Are there still things you want to achieve?

Johnny: Yeah, I want to get bigger!

Q: How big?

Johnny: As big as you can get! That's what you're in it for. It's fun playing to a lot of kids. You want to feel accepted. You don't really feel accepted till you're bigger.

Q: On KSAN this afternoon, you said that people are asking about your philosophy on punk rock "more than ever." So, what is your philosophy?

Johnny: Joey answered that. He said, "more than ever." I didn't even know what they were talking about. No philosophies. We just want the kids to come and have a good time.

Q: That's a philosophy.

Johnny: Alright, that's it then. We don't try to lay something heavy on them.

My ticket stub for the Ramones at the Old Waldorf
January 31, 1978.
* You can read my other interviews with Joey Ramone here:  devorahostrov.blogspot.co.uk/2017/09/the-last-time-i-talked-to-joey-ramone

Monday, 4 December 2017

Mick Ronson: The Answer To The Question "What Do David Bowie, Ian Hunter, Bob Dylan & T-Bone Burnett Have In Common?"

Slaughter On 10th Avenue
Mick Ronson's debut solo LP (RCA 1974)
Originally published in Rave-Up #6 (1982)

Interview by Devorah Ostrov

A couple of days after they opened for the Who at the Oakland Coliseum, American roots-rocker T-Bone Burnett and his band played a much more intimate set at the Old Waldorf in San Francisco.

Joining T-Bone on this tour was legendary guitar hero Mick Ronson. Once David Bowie's dazzling cohort, Ronson most recently backed-up his old pal Ian Hunter on the Your Never Alone With A Schizophrenic and Welcome To The Club LPs and tours.

In fact, it was only about a year ago that I last saw Ronson and Hunter at the Old Waldorf. (Actually, the very last time I saw Mick, he was slumped on the floor of an elevator drunkenly scrawling his name on my friend's Mott the Hoople records — which he did not play on.)

This time, I found the soft-spoken (and thankfully sober) Yorkshireman backstage shortly before the club opened, and we started the interview by talking about another of his infamous outings.

Mick Ronson - Creem magazine pin-up
Rave-Up: I understand that you met up with T-Bone Burnett in 1975 during Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Review.

Mick: Yes.

Rave-Up: The Rolling Thunder Review seemed like an unlikely tour for you to join.

Mick: It was pretty strange. It was... I dunno, it was all so busy. There were so many people around all the time. It was a pretty hectic tour.

Rave-Up: How did you become a part of it?

Mick: They just asked me to come along and I said, "Yeah, I'd like to."

Rave-Up: Before this tour, had you kept in touch with T-Bone? Or did he call you out of the blue?

Mick: I last saw T-Bone about two years ago, but I hadn't spoken to him since then. He just called me up and asked if I'd like to come out and play with him. And I said, "Yes."

Rave-Up: Are you still technically part of the Ian Hunter Band?

Mick: No.

Mick Ronson joins Mott the Hoople 
CBS publicity photo
Rave-Up: Not at all?

Mick: No.

Rave-Up: The shows you did with Ian for You're Never Alone With A Schizophrenic and Welcome To The Club were so much fun!

Mick: It was good for what it was. I mean, me and Ian are really good friends. Me and Ian are best friends. And we always have been real good friends. But y'know... we can't... we do have our musical differences. I can't just play Ian's music all the time. I wanna do other things too, y'know. Ian's music is Ian's music.

Rave-Up: How long were you actually in Mott the Hoople?

Mick: A period of about three weeks. I only did one short tour with them in Europe. And that was it.

Rave-Up: Will you stay with T-Bone after these shows or are you going to do something else?

Mick: I don't know at this point. It's hard to say. I'd like to because it's something a bit different for me to do. I like that!

Rave-Up: The last time I saw you, you'd passed out drunk in an elevator after the show! I've heard that you've cleaned up a lot lately and you're healthier now.

 Mick autographed this photo for me! ❤  
Mick: Well... I don't do things like pass out all over the place anymore! That was basically out of frustration.

Rave-Up: Because you were playing as back-up to Ian Hunter?

Mick: That had a little bit to do with it, but that wasn't the whole thing. I felt I couldn't sort of say anything that I wanted to say, because it was all his music. It used to sort of bum me out. So I used to get plastered!

Rave-Up: It's been a number of years since your two solo albums were released. Have you thought about putting out a third album?

The Rolling Thunder Review featuring (among others)
Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Roger McGuinn
and Mick Ronson (shown here on the left).
Mick: Oh, yeah! But nobody wants to put one out. (Laughs) They always say things like, "Well... y'know... I really like this stuff, but there's no vocals on it." And I say, "Yeah, you know why that is? It's because I'm a guitar player. I'm not a singer!" And they can't understand that. There's a lot of stuff that I'd like to put out. If a record company won't put out what I want to do, I'm just gonna put it out independently.

Rave-Up: Did it bother you when your voice was compared to Bowie's?

Mick: Yes.

Rave-Up: Is that why you're hesitant to be a lead vocalist?

Mick: Yeah. I mean, I sing the one or two songs that I really feel like singing. But I'm not one of those songwriters that can just go out and sing to people all the time. I'm just not that type of person. Now and again I'll write a lyric... There'll be a lyric there that I'll think to meself, "I really like that and I really feel confident in saying that." And that's the only time that I want to sing. Otherwise, I'd rather keep me mouth shut and play the guitar!

Rave-Up: Were you disappointed when your solo albums didn't take off?

RCA/Mainman advert for 
'Slaughter on 10th Avenue' 
Mick: No, not really. Y'know, when I first finished them I thought, "Wouldn't it be great if they were big albums!" Y'know... that didn't last for very long.

Rave-Up: As you've basically been a guitarist in other people's bands all these years, are you surprised that you have a dedicated fan base that follows everything you do?

Mick: Oh, yeah! A lot of the time, people don't know what I'm doing. But I'm always doing something. And it's nice. I sort of like it like that.

Rave-Up: Do you think that rock 'n' roll was more exciting ten years ago, during the early-'70s?

Mick: No. Well, in some ways it was. It depends on how you look at it. It depends on how you play. I don't see why it couldn't be just as exciting now. It's just that a lot of people are playing and singing the same things, so it's not as exciting.

Rave-Up: It just seems like it was more glamorous back then.

Mick: Well, it was. It sort of went through that phase, didn't it?

Rave-Up: You don't sort of travel in limos and private jets anymore.

Mick: How do you think I got here today? You see that helicopter on the roof, there?

Play Don't Worry (RCA 1975)
Rave-Up: Haha! Is that yours?

Mick: That's mine, yeah. (Laughs) But that was all part of it then, y'know. It was good! It was really exciting and it felt great! But I'm not with a big corporation now. I'm not with a big company that can afford to lay out all the money to do that stuff. I'm just meself. And if I wanna travel in a limousine, I'm the one who pays for it. And to be quite honest with you, I ain't got the money. I just do what I do, y'know. And I like it! I like it as much as I liked that other side of it. The other side is real exciting, but things can go wrong with it — especially afterwards. Especially when you turn around and it's not there anymore. And then you suddenly look at yourself and you think, "Wait a minute... I haven't got anywhere to live. I don't have any money. I don't have anything." I mean, luckily for me, I could go off and work with other people and do other things. But for some people who go through that whole trip, when it ends it finishes them off completely. They get completely messed up and they can't do anything ever again. They end up totally fucked up.

Rave-Up: What about the other Spiders From Mars? How are they?

David Bowie and the Spiders From Mars — publicity photo
L-R: Mick Ronson, Trevor Bolder, David Bowie, Mick Woodmansey
Mick: They're doing alright. Trevor [Bolder], the bass player, is with Wishbone Ash. And he's quite happy playing with them. He has a regular gig to do, and he's quite happy doing that. He does his gig year in and year out. He's a very steady person, is Trevor. A very steady bloke. But I'm not really like that, I wouldn't be able to do that. I couldn't have a steady gig. And then Woody's [drummer Mick Woodmansey] tried several times to get something together, but he's been very unsuccessful.

Rave-Up: Does Bowie keep in touch with you guys?

Mick: I haven't spoken to him in a couple of years. I don't see him.

Mick Ronson pin-up
Rave-Up: Do you still live in London, or are you over here now?

Mick: I live in New York. I have a place upstate.

Rave-Up: How long have you been living in the States?

Mick: Off and on since about 1975. I spent about a year... I spent most of 1977 in London.

Rave-Up: During the start of the punk explosion!

Mick: Yeah! I came back to the States in '78, and I've been here pretty much ever since. I've been back to England a couple of times, but only for like a month.

Rave-Up: Is there a reason you prefer to live over here?

Mick: Not really... I mean, the main thing was I got me green card. And it was like, "Do I give up the green card and stay in London? Or do I move to the States?" And it so happens that I know more people in the States. I have more friends in the States than I do in London. So I thought, "Well, go to the States!" It wasn't sort of a big plan. It wasn't like I was waiting for the day I could live here. It just sort of happened by chance. I have lots of friends over here, and I just ended up being here.

Rave-Up: We mentioned the punk scene a minute ago... Were you surprized that the punks still respected you?

"Slaughter on 10th Avenue"
RCA French issue picture sleeve 45
Mick: Yeah, it was nice. It was flattering.

Rave-Up: You were one of the few people from the previous scene they weren't slagging off!

Mick: Yeah, I know! I was like... alright! I thought, "Whoa! How did I manage to get by that one?" It was really nice. It was a really nice thing for people to say. I was really flattered. I was really thankful. I was really glad that the younger people didn't just pass me up as being a Boring Old Guitar Player. I don't think I am, y'know.

Rave-Up: Do you think there will come a time when you'll want to sit back and retire?

Mick: No! I've done that enough! I mean, I've done that in between doing things. I sit around because I don't know what to do next, y'know. I don't want to go off and just play with any sort of Joe Bloke. So, in between I tend to just sit around a lot. And that drives me up a bloody wall.

Rave-Up: Is there a band that you'd really like to play with right now?

Mick: These guys.

Mick Ronson — Play Don't Worry
RCA/Mainmain publicity photo
Rave-Up: Besides these guys?

Mick: No, not really. I dunno... That's always a really difficult one. Sometimes you fall into things and sometimes you like it and sometimes you don't. You can't sort of plan it. It doesn't work like that. Or that's not the way I work, anyway. A lot of it happens just by accident, which I sort of like. It has an element of surprise to it. One minute I'm thinking, "What the hell am I gonna do?" Like, I don't know what to do next. And then T-Bone calls me up and says, "Do you wanna come out next week?" And I said, "Great!" It was just what I needed to do — go and play! So I put off all the stuff that I was going to be doing. I put it all off for another month and came out on the road. And that was a real nice surprise! Went out and got some champagne; took the guitar out of its box. That was really fun! I got a real good kick out of it! I like that sort of stuff.

Rave-Up: You're playing some big stadium dates during this tour. What's it been like opening for the Who?

Mick: It's not the best position to be in — supporting somebody. That's for sure, y'know. All the people are there to see the Who because they're the main act. But we've been going down really well. And let's face it, it's really good exposure. And it's good for these kids to see T-Bone. The only thing that bothers me about something like that is we don't get long enough to play! That's the only thing, really.

Rave-Up: The audiences aren't shouting, Get off the stage! We wanna see the Who!

Mick Ronson - RCA publicity photo
Mick: Oh, no. No, they don't do that. Which is great, because it could be like that. It could easily be like that. It's like that for a lot of bands.

(Mick starts tuning up...)

Rave-Up: That's an interesting guitar.

Mick: This is a guitar synthesizer. It comes with a special unit that you plug it into.

Rave-Up: Did you have it specially made?

Mick: No, it comes like that. But I don't use it very much with T-Bone. I only use it on a couple of things.

(A woman walks in and picks up a drink from the table...)

Mick: Is that mine?

Woman: What?

Mick: Is that mine?

Woman: I don't understand what you're saying to me.

Advert for Ian Hunter's debut solo LP
and 1975 UK tour dates featuring
Mick Ronson.
Rave-Up: Allow me to translate. Is that his drink?

Woman: No!

Mick: Alright. Just thought I'd ask.

Woman: I wouldn't drink your drink.

Mick: I don't mind if you do. Just thought I'd ask.

Rave-Up: You haven't lost your accent.

Mick: No, I haven't lost me accent at all. A lot of people don't when they move to other places. I dunno, mine's just stuck. When I was a kid and I'd be someplace where they didn't speak Yorkshire, I'd feel really embarrassed. Every time I opened me mouth, I'd feel like a fool.

Rave-Up: At what point did you move from Hull to London?

Mick: Well... I was with David, y'know.

Rave-Up: You didn't move to London until you'd joined David Bowie's band?

Mick: I'd spent time in London before that. I'd moved down to London... lived in London... moved back... moved across to France... moved back... moved to London again... All that stuff is a part of everyone's early career. You hitchhike about and hang about music shops and coffee bars.

Rave-Up: Were you in other groups before you hooked up with Bowie?

Mick: I was in a band in Yorkshire — the Rats!

Mott the Hoople with Mick Ronson
"Saturday Gig(s)" - CBS Netherlands picture sleeve 45
Rave-Up: What kind of music did they play?

Mick: Blues music. Raw blues music.

Rave-Up: Did you audition for Bowie?

Mick: No, I was just sitting in his house one afternoon. He was playing and I picked up a guitar and started playing with him. He said, "Do you want to come and do a radio show with me tonight?" And I said, "Yeah, alright." So, I went down and played on the radio show. And that was it.

Rave-Up: What songs did you play?

Mick: We did... Oh, we did a whole selection of them. I don't know! I didn't know any of his songs when I joined him.

Rave-Up: So, you just faked it?

Mick: Oh, yeah. I just watched him play and played along. That's how the Rolling Thunder thing got started, too. It was like, just get up there and play and hope for the best.

Rave-Up: How could you tell what was going on with that many people onstage?

Turn & Face The Strange - The Story Of
Mick Ronson: The Spider From Hull
After a sold-out run in 2017 the
exhibition/tribute will move to the Hull
Truck Theatre in February 2018.
Mick: Well, by the time it got to that stage at least everybody was familiar with the songs. But at first we just played the songs like... "Alright, this is in the key of B. Ready? One, two, three, four... Here we go!" And that was it. You had to play it, y'know. It was fun! You just had to have your wits about you. Do you want to ask me any other stuff?

Rave-Up: Do you still have the clothes you wore when you were in the Spiders From Mars?

Mick: Some of them, I do. They're all in London.

(Noticing that everything in the vicinity is blue...)

Rave-Up: What's your favorite color?

Mick: It looks like blue, doesn't it! But it's not. It's green.

(The doors have opened and the crowd is starting to filter in for the show. More than a few are middle-aged and many are dressed in office attire.)

Mick: This audience seems...

Rave-Up: ...kind of old and straight?

Mick: It's a bit like a cabaret, isn't it?

Rave-Up: To get a seat at the front, you have to buy dinner and two drinks plus your ticket.

Mick: Well, when I get up there I'm gonna crank it up! Blast them outta their seats! I don't care.

* * *

Follow this link to read my 1988 interview with Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson: devorahostrov.blogspot.com/2018/11/1988-ian-hunter-mick-ronson

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Sid Terror And The Undead: As He Nailed The Coffin Shut On The Band, I Wondered - Is There Life After Death For Sid?

The 1984/1985 Sid Terror and the Undead lineup
L-R: Sid Terror, Hans Hunt, Trent Addams & Joe Dirt
Originally published in Rave-Up
#13 (natch!) 1988

Interview by Devorah Ostrov

Like their namesakes, Sid Terror and the Undead returned to life a year ago to bring some excitement to a decaying local music scene. Now, with their job still incomplete, the Undead have decided to call it quits and quietly slip back into their grave.

While there was still a semblance of life in the band, Rave-Up got together with Sid and bassist Hans Hunt to discuss the task they'd chosen...

Rave-Up: It's interesting that Sid Terror and the Undead is breaking up only a year after reforming. What's the reason behind the split?

Flyer for the last show ever!!!
Sid Terror and the Undead with
The Phantom Creeps - 1/16/1988
 at Chatterbox 
Sid: The band was put back together as a one-year experiment with a self-imposed expiration date of January 16, 1988. The reason being that if we were not signed in that time, then we would move on. We almost made it. There was some interest from a few different labels, but it would have taken a lot more nurturing to get signed and I'm one for weighing my options and sticking to my own promises. Our final show was exactly one year and one day from our "Resurrection Show."

Rave-Up: There was quite a lot of time between the break-up of the original Undead and this new version [of which Sid was the only original member]. What happened during that time?

Sid: I just wanted to take some time off and work on my films. I do a lot of special effects work for films and I wanted to get that better established.

Rave-Up: It seems like the first version of the Undead was a lot more punk, maybe even hardcore, than the new band.

Sid: I don't think we were ever hardcore because I never liked hardcore music, and for a very short time would I even consider it a punk band. We started out making fun of a recently dead rock star [Sid Vicious] who I had a very slight resemblance to. This pissed off a lot of people, so we intensified it, just as a statement to say: "Stop taking yourselves so seriously. Rock 'n' roll is supposed to be fun!" Our sound was based on raw rock 'n' roll with the subject matter being weird horror films. After all, we were horny teenage rock 'n' roll delinquents who loved horror movies!

The 1987 lineup
L-R: Hans Hunt, Sid Terror,
Luis Valentino & Joe Dirt
Rave-Up: Because of the band's name, did promoters tend to book you with "death rock" shows?

Hans: Well, sometimes... Actually, we had a problem on our last tour of getting booked with a lot of hardcore bands opening up for us.

Sid: Which did not go well at all. I'd say half the shows on the tour were misbooked. They really didn't know what to do with us. In Portland, we actually got on the bill with a speed metal band. They came up to us after the show and said, "How do you guys keep playing so long and so hard? " And we're not the kind of band that plays super hard or super fast.

Rave-Up: You mentioned your film work earlier and I know you have a real passion for film and video. Is your music more influenced by films than by other bands?

Sid: Sometimes. I listen to everything and I just assimilate it all. I don't set out to write one particular song, but for some reason I'll see a film and the title will sick with me, or whatever, and I'll use that for a song.

Rave-Up: What were the most influential films for you?

Sid Terror's Undead - Coffin Buster CD reissue
Sid: Vampira films, Marilyn Monroe, Ed Wood films... My favorite film is Brian De Palma's Phantom of the Paradise. (The Undead song "Sinister Urge" is based on an Ed Wood movie, and the group takes its name from a fictitious band that appeared in Phantom of the Paradise.)

Rave-Up: Don't you have a family history of involvement in B-grade horror films?

The Undead
with Social Unrest & the Afflicted
at the Tool and Die - Oct 2, 1982
Flyer artwork by Sid Terror
Sid: My great-grandfather, on my mother's side, was Max Schreck, who played the vampire in the silent version of Nosferatu.

Rave-Up: I want to talk about your video work for a minute. Didn't you do some award-winning work for a Greg Kihn video?

Sid: I was nominated for Best Effects in a Rock Video for "Jeopardy." That was the first video I did with him.

Rave-Up: What kind of special effects did you use in it?

Sid: Tons of zombie stuff. It took place in a church and everyone turned into zombies or mutated Siamese twins!

Rave-Up: Do you have a favorite special effect?

Sid: In this one film I did called Disciple of Dracula [not yet released], at the end of the film, when the vampire finally gets it, we did a lot of things that haven't really been done on film - kind of like a meltdown!

Rave-Up: Is it true that the Undead were asked to do some songs for the Return of the Living Dead Part II soundtrack?

Sid Terror - 1986
Posed with headstone of  
Sophie M. beloved wife of
A. Loser
Sid: They were interested in some songs we had recorded, but because we didn't like the deal we didn't go for it. They wanted all kinds of publishing rights and we wouldn't be able to play the songs live or put them on our own album. So we decided against it.

Rave-Up: Now that you've had a chance to look back on the career of Sid Terror and the Undead, do you have any regrets?

Sid: The Undead was a hell of a fun band to be in. I wouldn't trade all those good times for anything. We may never live down all the stuff we did, but by the same token I don't necessarily want to relive it all either! I mean, who wants to be Sid Terror "Teenage Vampire" forever? Not me!

Rave-Up: Your last show featured the "onstage suicide" of Sid Terror. By that, did you mean to bring an end to the character you've become one with over the years?

Sid: "Sid" committed suicide when he stepped off the stage at the end of the final show. He no longer exists except in our fond memories and worst nightmares. There is a lot of Sid still in my personality, naturally. It's like Bruce Wayne and Batman. But from now on, you'll see only me onstage and I'll be using my real name which is... *

* In the original article, I transcribed what I heard as "Bobby Omen." I've since found out what Sid's real name actually is, and it seems I got it slightly wrong. But I still prefer Bobby Omen!

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Dwight Twilley: The Story Of What Happened Before, Between, And After The Hits

Promo poster for Twilley's 1984 Jungle LP
featuring the Top 20 hit "Girls."
(I've recently updated this interview from 1996 with information that wasn't available at the time.)

By Devorah Ostrov

"Someday, Dwight Twilley will be a star," insisted Greg Shaw in the March 1978 "special power pop issue" of Bomp! magazine.

By that point, Twilley and his best friend Phil Seymour had already been playing together for eleven years; they'd released two finely crafted albums and scored a Top 20 hit with the brilliant "I'm on Fire." So, Shaw's optimistic prediction wasn't far-fetched. What's weird is that despite his best efforts over the ensuing years, a run of bad luck meant that Twilley's career stubbornly stalled at revered cult hero.

Recently, The Right Stuff (part of the EMI-Capitol Music Group) issued XXI, a CD compilation featuring 21 songs (including two new tunes) that Twilley felt showcased the best material of his recording career. And next year, the label plans to reissue both albums by the Dwight Twilley Band with bonus tracks and annotated booklets written by Twilley. It seemed like a good reason to have a chat about his history and find out what he's been up to lately. I found him living in Tulsa and working on some new material.

* * *

Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1951, Dwight Twilley was the middle-child in a family of five brothers. "I had to fight my way from both sides," he quips. His father was a mechanical engineer and his mother was "just a housewife." He quickly corrects himself and laughs, "I shouldn't say just a housewife - with five boys!"

Twilley attended Tulsa's prestigious Thomas Edison Preparatory School where the popular students played football and participated in social clubs. "I was more sort of the artist guy," he says. "I was in the artist/musician clique."

Phil Seymour and Dwight Twilley
Shelter Records promo photo
Inspired by seeing the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, Twilley formed his first band - a three-piece outfit called the Intruders where he was the drummer/singer - while in junior high school. "We all wore pink striped shirts," he recalls.

The Intruders setlist included covers of chart hits such as "Little Honda" and "Kansas City," as well as popular instrumentals of the day, like the Ventures' "Walk, Don't Run." After winning a Battle of the Bands competition, the Intruders were engaged to play a set during the school assembly. It was the highlight of the band's career. "We must have been pretty good," muses Twilley.

Although they didn't officially meet until 1967 at a matinĂ©e showing of A Hard Day's Night, Phil Seymour lived "just around the block" from Twilley, and the boys had occasionally seen each other.

In his exhaustive biography of Twilley, Kent Benjamin terms their encounter: "One of the most fortuitous meetings since the church picnic at which Paul McCartney met John Lennon." (You can read Kent's full bio here.)

The members of the Dwight Twilley Band 
pose in the pages of Germany's
Bravo magazine.
Recalling the meeting during this interview, Twilley notes that the Beatles' feature film debut had been released three years earlier. "So, it wasn't like people were rushing to go see it. But they had this special deal - if you brought a kid with you, you got in for free. I brought my little brother and Phil brought somebody. So, it's like, here's this line of little tiny toddlers and there's only two people that are tall enough to pass through the turnstile. It was kind of obvious!"

"After the movie," says Twilley, " we went directly over to my house and started recording that very day."

He can't remember what they recorded that afternoon. ("God only knows!" he exclaims when I ask.) And he claims not to recall the first song he wrote. But he knows exactly what equipment he used: "I had a Stella guitar, which I put pickups in. It was something you could get at Sears for like $29. And I had a Silvertone amp. And I think Phil already had a set of Ludwig drums." 

The teenagers called themselves Oister, signifying that their two halves made up a whole. According to Kent Benjamin's bio: "From the beginning, they conceived a partnership with both singing lead vocals that would take them to the top of the charts." 

Although their first hit record was still a few years away, over the next several months the duo perfected their two-part harmonies while Twilley wrote dozens of songs, which they recorded and pressed onto cheap acetates for their friends.

In an interview with Terry Hermon for the fanzine Bucketfull of Brains, Twilley talked about one of the acetates: "Oister Presents Swirling Clouds was the first LP Phil and I recorded. It was done mostly in Phil's bedroom & my garage. We had twelve acetates made at the local radio station. We couldn't afford to put it on vinyl. I still have one and I think a couple more are still in existence. However, I'm not sure if they would still play." 

* * *

So smitten were Twilley and Seymour with the Fab Four, no other music really mattered to them. "We were right in the middle of the country, so we probably heard a lot of everything that passed by," Twilley answered vaguely when I asked what else they listened to.

Collect them all!
One of a series of punk/new wave
bubblegum cards.
"Wkind of thought that the Beatles invented rock 'n' roll and Elvis was just a guy in movies," he states proudly.

Which is what makes the next part of the story so ironic.

By 1969, their musical ambitions had outgrown the confines of their Midwestern bedrooms, so Twilley and Seymour decided Memphis was the place to go. "We couldn't afford to go to New York or Los Angeles," explains Twilley matter-of-factly.

"So, we packed up my '58 Chevy and took our tapes to Memphis. We were driving down the street and just thought we'd pick the first record company that we saw - and it happened to be this company called Sun Records. We walked in and met some guy named Phillips..." He pauses for a second to let the name sink in. "...and this meant nothing to us. He listened to our tape and he liked it."

According to one report, the boys had met Jerry Phillips the son of label founder Sam Phillips, but Kent Benjamin's bio says it was his brother Judd. Whichever Phillips it was, he quickly dispatched them to the Tupelo, Mississippi studio of Ray Harris, a former Sun recording artist and co-owner of Hi Records.

"It was really funny," laughs Twilley, "because we thought the Beatles had invented everything. And when he started playing us these old Sun records we were like, 'Wow! That snare drum sounds a lot like Ringo's snare drum. And that guitar part sounds like something George did.' Pretty soon, we got a full education!"

The rockabilly pioneer (who Twilley once described as "scary") also told the two boys, "Y'all sing like pussies."

"Why you fell in love with rock 'n' roll
in the first place" - Arista Records
advert for Twilley Don't Mind.
"Which we did," agrees Twilley. "At the time, we were kind of folky, kind of like Simon & Garfunkel."

Twilley has always credited Harris for toughing up their sound, and adding elements of swaggering Southern rockabilly to their clean British pop influences. "We had kind of a late Elvis renaissance," he says, "and our music became a mixture of the Beatles and Elvis-type rockabilly."

Twilley and Seymour made a few trips to Tupelo, and they recorded several tracks with Harris - although none have surfaced. "I have some of them," says Twilley. "Some of them might see the light of day one of these days."

Back in Tulsa, the boys recruited local guitarist Bill Pitcock IV - although Twilley's a bit hazy on the details of exactly how that came about. "I think I met Bill through Phil," he offers. "They'd played in some bands together, or something."

Pitcock's grandfather let the fledgling group use a small room above his shop, which was turned into a home recording studio with a Teac 4-track and a little Shure PA mixing board. "We put carpets on the walls and insulated it," recalls Twilley, "and we lugged a piano up the stairs."

They "recorded like crazy" above Pitcock Electric. "That's where we really sort of homed in on our sort of sound and what we were doing," says Twilley.

Twilley and Seymour were also involved in a couple of interesting side-projects around this time. To make some money, Twilley formed a cover band called 1950 with Pitcock and Jerry Naifeh. "We just played songs from the '50s real fast," he says. "We'd play sororities and fraternities. We'd do the gig and eat as much of their food as we could, but it wasn't anything we were trying to do anything with."

Oister - released in 2017 on HoZac Records
Pre-Dwight Twilley Band 1973-74 Teac Tapes

And while Twilley appeased his parents (who only "occasionally" supported his desire to be a musician) and followed up high school with a semester or two at college, Seymour hooked up with El Roacho, a group of Tulsa crazies that producer Steve Katz once described as an "old-fashioned stoner medicine show of a band." According to Kent Benjamin's biography, Seymour bailed on El Roacho on the eve of the group's recording date.

By the fall of 1974, Oister was ready to go to Los Angeles and get a record deal. "It was just that simple," laughs Twilley. "We were so naive. It wasn't like we were big-headed, or anything. We just didn't know that it was supposed to be hard to get a record deal."

"And the funny thing was," he continues, "it only took us about a week to get signed!"

Promo poster for the Sincerely album
In an odd twist of fate, the boys drove 1,400 miles and signed to Tulsa-based Shelter Records almost before they'd unpacked. It wasn't that Twilley had been unaware of his hometown record label; he'd just studiously avoided it.

"Everybody in Tulsa wanted to get onto Shelter," he notes. "And every band in town was trying to sound like Leon Russell. We felt like complete outcasts. And we'd heard that they were kind of confused by us. You know, 'What's this English rockabilly thing doing in the middle of Tulsa?'"

Founded in 1969 by Oklahoma native Leon Russell and British record producer Denny Cordell, Shelter took pride in its relatively small roster and laid-back workshop atmosphere. With recording facilities in LA and Tulsa, Shelter had developed into one of the most unique and successful independent record companies of the early '70s. Sharing his hippie-infused business philosophy with Billboard magazine in 1973, Cordell said: "I'm looking for universal music that will reach people be it rock, gospel, country, blues or what have you. I want the kind of music that transcends categories and appeals to the emotions."

The Oister demo that caught Cordell's attention contained early versions of "You Were so Warm" and "Rock Yourself, Son" as well as some tracks that would appear on Twilley's later solo LPs. And Cordell only heard the demo by chance.

"We'd recorded our songs on a Teac 4-track," says Twilley, "and we needed to mix them down to stereo to be able to play somebody a tape." Tulsa singer Dean Grider made them an offer: he would loan them his Teac 2-track deck in exchange for putting his voice onto a Twilley composition he liked called "Love is a Train."

"I'm on Fire"
Japanese picture sleeve 45
"So, we took off our vocals and put his vocals on it," continues Twilley. "He got that, we mixed down our tapes, and a couple of weeks later we went to Los Angeles."

Grider was right behind them, and for some ridiculous reason his first stop in LA was Shelter Records.

"We hadn't even considered going to Shelter Records in LA!" exclaims Twilley. "Why would we go to Shelter in LA when it was down the street in Tulsa? So, he played them 'Love is a Train' and they loved the song. Then he made a big mistake. He said, 'Well, hell... they've got 14 or 15 more of 'em!' So, the first thing you know, they're screaming at us to please come over. They heard our tape and were just knocked out by it, and they signed us."

 No one knows what happened to Dean Grider. "I owe him some thanks," states Twilley.

* * *

One of the first things their label did was change the band's name. "We were Oister all the way up until we got signed," states Twilley, "but Denny Cordell thought my name was so wacky that it had to be the name of the band." In a 1982 Trouser Press interview, Twilley told Jon Young: "I always thought 'Dwight Twilley' was a creepy name, but it was catchy."

Although the new appellation (which seemed to minimize Seymour's role to that of a back-up musician) would cause hurt feelings down the line, Twilley asserts: "Actually, Phil had to talk me into it." He points out that they used Oister for the group's production credit and adds, "We hoped it would eventually be understood that it was a partnership."

Sincerely LP - back cover photo
The second thing Shelter did was send them back to Tulsa where they were instructed to get familiar with the studio's 16-track deck housed in a renovated church, and perhaps demo some material. According to Twilley, "The very first night we walked in, Phil took me aside and said, 'Dwight, let's make a hit single.' And the first recording we made was 'I'm on Fire.'"

Did they have any idea that the song was going to be such a big hit?

"You know what?" he nearly shouts. "We thought they were all going to be big hits!"

entered on an incredibly catchy hook line ("You ain't, you ain't, you ain't got no lover"), the deceptively simple three-minute tune was recorded at The Church on November 27, 1974. Reminiscing about the song in the notes to XXI, Twilley writes: "Since the apartment where we had been staying had no furniture, I remember Phil and I sitting on the floor working out the harmonies. Fortunately, there was an old radio that Bill was able to plug his guitar into. I think that the sound of his guitar through that old radio played a role in how we treated the song in the studio."

The Dwight Twilley Band's debut single, "I'm on Fire" b/w "Did You See What Happened?" was issued the following April with surprisingly little fanfare. But the lack of promotion didn't really matter, as radio stations coast to coast picked up on it and the song quickly climbed the charts to #16. Bomp! magazine enthused that it "cut through the AM dross like a hot knife." And The San Francisco Chronicle termed it "the best debut single by an American rock 'n' roll band ever."

"That impressed us," notes Twilley. 

In his review for the May 1975 issue of Phonograph Record magazine, Marty Cerf raved: "For the moment there are but two titles that have any meaning for me. One is 'Tell Her No' by Del Shannon. The other is the first release by the Dwight Twilley Band. 'I'm On Fire' is surely one of the most interesting pop releases I've come across since 'September Gruls' and 'When My Baby's Beside Me' by Alex Chilton and Big Star."

Advert for the "Could be Love" single
According to Twilley, Shelter's plan was to issue three 45s before the first album came out, and during a performance on American Bandstand the group introduced "Shark" as their next single. But the song, which Greg Shaw described as a "charming pop number with a hard-edged guitar sound," wouldn't materialize until years later when it was included on a Del Rack "best of" CD. 

The official line was that "Shark" was scrapped for fear of it being perceived as an attempt to cash-in on that year's Jaws craze. In Trouser Press, Twilley brushed it off as "a company freak-out." 

But things were beginning to unravel at Shelter. Russell and Cordell dissolved their partnership, which resulted in a legal quagmire. Meanwhile, MCA ended its distribution deal with the label.

The follow-up to "I'm on Fire" was delayed while Cordell looked for a new deal and by the time "You Were so Warm" b/w "Sincerely" was finally released, Shelter was going down. 

In an interview with Jordan Oakes in his fanzine Yellow Pills, Twilley recalled: "The week when 'You Were so Warm' hit the charts, the record company disappeared. I remember calling up the promotion department, and I was told that there was no longer a promotional department." 

"It was a whole big train wreck," Twilley states during this interview. And it held up the release of Sincerely, the band's debut album, for more than a year.

Still, for most of 1975 the Dwight Twilley Band carried on recording ... and recording ... and recording some more. "We had a period where nothing was going to be released," explains Twilley, and Cordell basically said, 'Keep recording.'"

Autographed promo poster for Twilley Don't Mind
(Found on ETSY)
"In the end," says Twilley, "we had way more than two albums worth of stuff for Sincerely." Even fan favorites like "Did You See What Happened?" and "Rock Yourself, Son" were bumped from the LP's final track listing - giving rise to the mystique of the "B album."

No less than four different studios were used in the making of Sincerely. Some songs, such as "I'm on Fire," were recorded at The Church in Tulsa; "TV" was done at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles; and the haunting title track (which Twilley confides was "probably inspired by some steamy little Tulsa girl") was completed in Leon Russell's 40-track home studio outside Tulsa.

Meanwhile, enough material to fill a second album was recorded with producer Robin Cable at London's Trident Studios - although only one track from the sessions (the appropriately titled "England") ultimately made it onto the album.

"What difference did it make?" inquired Trouser Press writer Jim Green about recording in the UK.

Phil Seymour and Dwight Twilley
LP insert photo for Sincerely 
"Gave me a cold," replied Twilley.

Cordell finally worked out a new licensing/distribution deal with ABC Records, and the album (which featured a blurry cover pic of Twilley taken in a photo booth) was released in July 1976. And apparently determined to issue three 45s, "Could be Love" b/w "Feeling in the Dark" soon followed. 

But by then, the momentum of "I'm on Fire" had been lost. Even though Rolling Stone called it the "debut album of the year," Sincerely didn't enter the Top 100 and the single disappeared without causing much fuss.

The time spent recording in England meant the band hadn't been able to fully capitalize on their hit single. "That was a real set-back for us," says Twilley. "We didn't realize what was happening until we got home, and it was all over the radio." 

And there weren't many live gigs to promote Sincerely; just a handful of dates during October and November 1976 took in Southern California, the Midwest and a corner of the East Coast. In his review of the album, Robert Christgau remarked that Twilley's "natural habitat seems to be the studio (a forty-track when he has his druthers)." Likewise, Jim Green theorized: "Living up to the unusual production ideas on their discs must have presented a problem or two." 

When I ask him what the group's early shows were like, Twilley chuckles and simply says: "Confused."

"I probably was more confident in the studio when I was younger," he reflects. "We knew a lot more about recording because we'd done it more than getting out and performing. So, it took us awhile. But regardless of that, we got good reviews. Some of the shows I thought were terrible got great reviews! So, who knows?"

Twilley Don't Mind - The Right Stuff CD reissue (1997)
features three bonus tracks produced by Noah Shark
and reinstates the LP cover preferred by the band.
Unlike its predecessor the band's sophomore effort, Twilley Don't Mind, was completed and for sale in record stores in what most people would consider a reasonable amount of time. And this time, the guys stayed put during the recording process.

"We did it in LA," says Twilley. "After we'd bounced all over the country and all over the world doing Sincerely, we decided that Twilley Don't Mind should be like a studio album. So, it was all done in one place at one time over a period of a couple of months instead of a year."

There was no messing around or heaps of unused material with Twilley Don't Mind; only one track ("Falling in Love") was left off due to a recording glitch. According to Kent Benjamin's bio: "They had decided in advance exactly what was going to be on it, and that's just what they recorded."

Perhaps because of these restrictions, the album (released in September 1977, through Shelter's latest deal with Arista Records) presented a more conventional sounding pop band than their first LP. For LA Times music critic Robert Hilburn, it "lacked the biting edge of the debut." And Twilley once told Trouser Press readers: "Of all the albums, it's my least favorite, because it's the only album done academically." 

But Jordan Oakes was still a big fan. "To me, that album gave birth to the true Twilley style," he stated in Yellow Pills. For some fans, it was the little things that made Twilley Don't Mind so wonderful. For instance, Greg Shaw loved "the way they sing 'so get outta my way...'" on "Trying to Find My Baby."

And Twilley laughs when I confide that his breathy "Oh, mercy" and deep sigh at the start of "Looking for the Magic" made my teenage knees go weak. "It was just a spontaneous thing," he reveals. "It was a live track and we were just having a good time that night." He points out, "And Tom was playing on that, too."

Top students Phil & Dwight show off their
gold stars in this promo photo.
Twilley first met labelmate Tom Petty when the Heartbreakers were working on their debut album at Shelter's LA recording studio, and they became pals. "We sort of helped each other out along the way," acknowledges Twilley.

Twilley contributed backing vocals to "Strangered in the Night" while Seymour featured on "Breakdown" and "American Girl." In return, Petty played guitar on "Looking for the Magic."

There was a short tour to promote Twilley Don't Mind, with dates at the Roxy in LA and the Old Waldorf in San Francisco. After which, they headed to the Midwest to open for Brand X (the Phil Collins-led jazz-fusion project) and Wishbone Ash at the Fox Theater in St. Louis. Writing about the '77 tour in his biography, Kent Benjamin notes that "the band turned in some remarkable shows, in spite of sometimes being booked as the opening act to some extremely ill-suited punk acts and over-the-hill rockers."

Besides the tour, a bit of novel promotion was arranged for Twilley Don't Mind. If you were a child in 1977, you might have seen the Dwight Twilley Band (with guest bassist Tom Petty making his TV debut) on the short-lived Saturday morning kids' show Wacko. If you were old enough to be a fan of the Dwight Twilley Band, you probably slept through it.

"It was like a Laugh-In kind of thing," explains Twilley, "and the band was a regular feature." During the show's ten-episode run, the guys lip-synced their way through four songs off Twilley Don't Mind. (Some of the group's Wacko performances can be found on YouTube. Here's a link to "That I Remember": www.youtube.com)

Although Twilley Don't Mind did better chart-wise than Sincerely, it wasn't considered a success. Still, sticking to the plan that didn't work for the first album, Shelter/Arista issued three singles from the LP, including "Trying to Find My Baby" and "Looking for the Magic" - both of which should have been sure-fire hits, but for some reason weren't.

Photo: Marc Mayco
From Trouser Press (November 1977)
"The singles didn't do well," says Twilley. "We couldn't quite figure it out." 

In early 1978, apparently fed up with the group's lack of success and his own anonymity, Seymour ended his tenure with Twilley and embarked on a solo career. 

In Trouser Press, Jon Young noted that Seymour "had been much more of a contributor than the billing indicated." He added: "An outsider might have surmised that Seymour was upset at not getting his share of the credit." To which Twilley replied: "I think Phil felt a little bad about that, that it was unfair to him. I was the leader of the band and I wrote the songs, but we did work together equally. We were definitely 50-50 partners."

"I think Phil wanted to get out from behind the drums," Twilley tells me, "and he was such a great singer. It probably seemed like we only lasted a minute, but we'd worked together for a long time. So, he wanted to do a solo thing and we'd done so much up to that point, it sort of made sense."

Twilley insists there was no rift between the two friends. "We helped each other out. I wrote songs for Phil's solo albums and sang on some of the records, and he sang on some of mine. We were always in contact. And also, if anything good happened in Phil's career, it helped me. And anything in my career helped Phil. Whenever they talked about me, they'd talk about Phil. Whenever they talked about Phil, they'd talk about me." 

Seymour released two solo albums, and in 1981 he had a hit single with "Precious to Me." In 1984 he joined the Textones, but shortly afterwards he was diagnosed with lymphoma. Seymour fought the disease for eight years, but passed away in 1993 at the age of 41 - sadly ending the speculation that he and Twilley might get back together again.  "We really wanted to," confirms Twilley. "Even in the last few years we had talked seriously about getting together and doing a reunion. But unfortunately, Phil's health really didn't permit it." 

"Phil was my best friend," reflects Twilley. "He was my partner. He was an extremely talented person and he had a terrific sense of humor. It was really unfortunate."

* * *

Advert for Dwight Twilley's self-titled solo LP.
"Rock 'n' roll immortality would seem to be a
matter of predestination." -- Mikal Gilmore 
"Boy, that's a good question," responds Twilley when I ask how long it took to put together his self-titled solo debut. "I think we spent quite a while on that. It might have been like six months, or something."

Still operating under the Shelter/Arista deal, Twilley was recorded at Shelter Studios in LA and released in 1979. Although old friends Bill Pitcock IV and Jerry Naifeh were on board, it was the first time Twilley had worked with co-producer Noah Shark - who had just finished You're Gonna Get It for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

While Shark and Twilley continued their partnership for the next few years, the friction between Shelter and Arista was already evident.

In the Trouser Press interview with Jon Young, Twilley stated: "There was a bit of a problem between Arista and Shelter. Arista, to my mind, is a big, pretty straight company. Shelter was a small, stoned company. Their philosophies didn't get along at all. They argued a lot, so from the start it didn't look too optimistic as far as being successful."

Twilley tells me a favorite story about these recording sessions, which illustrates the differing attitudes: "For atmosphere, we put up 150 strands of twinkling Christmas lights and coated the entire studio in aluminum foil. And that's the way the studio looked while we were recording!" He thought it was "pretty trippy!" But in Trouser Press the same tale ends with Arista head Clive Davis taking one look and asking, "Doesn't this confuse you?"

Twilley had an overall more melodic AOR sound than the previous two albums, with a liberal dose of strings and violins applied on some songs. And although only composer/ arranger Jimmy Haskell is credited on the LP, the notes for XXI mention that a 22-piece orchestra was employed on "Out of My Hands." 

Dwight Twilley with Susan Cowsill
& Carla Olson
Photo: Gary Nichamin
"For the songs that [the strings and violins] were used on, it just seemed like the right thing to do," asserts Twilley. "It was fun."

While the orchestra did imbue "Out of My Hands" with an elegant late-period Beatles feel, not everyone appreciated this new direction. Creem reviewer J.M. Bridgewater took Twilley to task over the tune, suggesting there was "obviously a sensibility screw loose somewhere - leading off a pop album with a Genesis in search of Badfinger dirge..."

On the other hand
, an Arista advert for the LP pinched an impressive-sounding line from Rolling Stone scribe Mikal Gilmore, who said: "Rock 'n' roll immortality would seem to be a matter of predestination." 

In his biography, Kent Benjamin notes that only seven of the ten songs included on Twilley were new compositions. According to Benjamin: "'Runaway' was originally written for Phil to sing, and contained an extra verse. 'Alone in my Room' was also a latter-day Dwight Twilley Band song. 'Betsy Sue' had always been a highlight of the band's few live shows as far back as 1976."

"'Betsy Sue' was really old," confirms Twilley. Referring back to one of my earlier questions, he adds, "Now, that might have been one of my first songs. I wrote that when I was 15."

"Betsy Sue," a rockabilly raver in the style of "TV" would have been an obvious choice for a 45. Or perhaps "Alone in my Room," which Robert Hilburn singled out for its "shadowy, sexy Tom Petty-like lure." I'd even make an argument for "Darlin" - a gorgeous song that featured Seymour on backing vocals - although that would no doubt defeat the purpose of a solo album.

Dwight Twilley - promo photo circa 1982
Instead, the label issued "Out of my Hands" b/w "Nothing's Ever Gonna Change so Fast," followed by "Runaway" b/w "Burnin' Sand" (a non-LP track that marked Susan and John Cowsill's first recording with Twilley). Neither single charted, but a rarely seen promotional video was made for "Out of my Hands." Although with MTV still a couple of years away, the need for this kind of marketing tool was limited and according to Kent Benjamin: "Dwight hated the video and it's never been seen since, so its very existence is unknown to most fans."

"It was pretty bad," recalls Twilley, when I ask about the video's concept. "It was just me standing there with a light and some twinkly things behind me singing the song. And then the logo of my name lights up at the end of it."

According to Robert Hilburn's LA Times column, Arista had invited the press and "industry bigwigs" to the Whisky in March "to formally unveil the new Twilley." Hilburn wrote that Twilley was also preparing for a national tour with a series of low-profile warm-up dates, the first of which had just taken place at the Woodsound in Monrovia, California.

Twilley and his backing band are the
subject of a Jungle-era Creem Profile.
"It was the typical first show," Twilley told Hilburn. "Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. The monitors didn't work, the guitar fuzz boxes didn't come on. But it really turned out well because it made everybody in the band more determined. We just poured it on. The audience really reacted well. We got encore after encore."

Was it scary the first time he went onstage without Phil, I wonder?

"No. Actually, I was more concerned about recording. My main concern was the harmonies. Even though somebody might be a great singer, that doesn't mean they'll have the blend that you need. I was just fortunate enough to have had a relationship with Susan Cowsill."

Prior to 1979, the last time most of us had seen Susan Cowsill she was a cute-as-a-button 9 year old, playing tambourine and singing "The Rain, the Park, and Other Things" next to her identically dressed mother and brothers on national television. When a mutual road manager mentioned her to Twilley, the now accomplished musician and vocalist had reunited with some of her siblings to work on an album of new material called Cocaine Drain (which remained unreleased until 2008).

"I was interested in Susan," says Twilley. "So, I decided to come down to one of their shows and meet her." Thanks to Twilley, the question "Whatever happened to the Cowsills?" was answered. And for almost a decade Susan took over as his harmony/backing vocalist while her brother John often joined them on drums.

Meanwhile, Twilley's career hit a snag that kept his next album in limbo for three years. So, what was going on between 1979 and 1982?

Concert poster for Dwight Twilley
at the Love Garden - March 7, 2015
"Oh, it was just another one of the things I kept getting into," he says nonchalantly. I imagine him casually waving the unpleasant question away on the other end of the phone line. 

Recording for the follow-up to Twilley began ordinarily enough in 1979. Before the end of the year, Arista issued a single featuring the Twilley-penned tune "Somebody to Love" b/w a cover of the Barrett Strong classic "Money." At this stage, both songs were scheduled to be included on the forthcoming LP called Blueprint

t one point in 1980, Blueprint actually appeared on Arista's release sheets, but neither Twilley nor the label were entirely happy with it and that version was shelved.

According to Kent Benjamin: "Twilley continued to work on Blueprint through 1980, recording new songs, revisiting some old Dwight Twilley Band material, and cutting new versions of some of the tracks. At least twice, the album came close to being released again before being pulled."

While Twilley struggled to finish Blueprint, his contractual option with Shelter slipped through the cracks and expired. The question of which label he was signed to then became a legal issue that stopped him being able to work at all for some time. 

"Was I on Arista? Was I on Shelter? Or was I free? It took a couple of years and 100 lawyers to get it figured out," says Twilley. "Some genius lawyer finally said, 'Look, you're on Arista.' And then EMI stepped in and bought me out of Arista."

By then it was 1982, and much of Blueprint was scrapped as Twilley began work on Scuba Divers - his first album for EMI.

Scuba Divers - EMI (1982)
A reworked version of "Somebody to Love" (the A-side of the 1979 Arista 45), made the final track listing for Scuba Divers, and was reissued as an EMI single. "I wrote a new verse," says Twilley, "and I think we over-dubbed a couple of guitars and remixed it." 

But his cover of "Money," included in early Blueprint track listings, ultimately didn't make it. "It wasn't a Dwight Twilley song, that was probably the main reason," he says.

Two Blueprint songs, "Then We Go Up" and "I Love You So Much," were given to Seymour to re-record for his first solo album. Other songs dropped along the way included "Rock Yourself, Son" and "Tiger Eyes" (both had been kicking around since the sessions for the first Dwight Twilley Band LP); a solo version of "Shark (In the Dark);" and "Sky Blue" - which had roots dating back to the original Teac tapes.

In fact, "Sky Blue" was the first of Twilley's songs to be played on the radio (KGOU), but one of the last to see the light of day.

"It was Phil's cousin in Oklahoma City who played it," recalls Twilley. "We probably had some really funky tape of it. It was a song that we recorded all the time. We were never really quite happy with it; we always wanted to record it again. We recorded it everywhere! We recorded it in Tulsa. We recorded it in London. We recorded it in LA. We recorded it in Tupelo. We probably recorded it more times than any other song!"

Twilley terms Scuba Divers a "scrapbook" album. "I had tracks that I'd cut for Arista, tracks I'd cut for EMI, and tracks I'd cut on my own," he says. "I was walking around with tapes under my arms to different studios. I had so many different things going on."

Dwight Twilley 
Back cover photo from XXI.
A plethora of co-producers, including Geoff Workman, Chuck Plotkin, and Noah Shark & Max, worked with Twilley on the final 10 songs, which somehow still managed to sound like a coherent LP. And tracks like the hook-happy "I Think It's That Girl" and the lovely ballad "Touchin' the Wind" easily stand alongside Twilley's best work.

Twilley toured in promotion of Scuba Divers through the summer of '82 with a band that included Susan and John Cowsill, as well as Bill Pitcock IV (who could also be found backing up Phil Seymour. According to Twilley, "Bill was kind of in both camps.")

During the tour, MTV aired a special hour-long set filmed at Rockabilly's in Houston, and a clip from the show remained in heavy rotation on the music channel for several months.

According to the July 1982 issue of Trouser Press, Twilley termed himself "basically a pretty happy guy these days."

* * *

"Girls" - Japanese picture sleeve 45
The word dilapidated could be used to describe the hole-in-the-wall building Twilley nicknamed "Studio No." Located in La Cresenta a few minutes north of LA, in 1983 it became Twilley's hang-out while he worked on material for Jungle - his next (and most commercially successful) album.

"I'd go there by myself and write songs," he says. "And later in the evening some musicians would come over and we'd record 'em. The thing about Studio No was they'd say, 'Did you guys get anything done last night?' And we'd say, 'No.' They'd say, 'Did the equipment work okay?' 'No.' 'Well, did it sound good?' 'No.' The great thing about Studio No was you knew that no matter what you did, it would always sound better somewhere else. A lot of times, you'll do a demo and it'll sound better than the record. And that bums you out. But at Studio No, you were always assured that no matter what you did, if you took it somewhere else it would sound better."

According to the notes for XXI, most of the material for Jungle was written and demoed at Studio No. The album's irresistible power-pop hit "Girls," Twilley tells me, "was demoed a couple of times in different little studios. I kind of had that one real well prepared when I went in to record it."

Adding his old Shelter labelmate Tom Petty's "distinctive twang" (as Kent Benjamin terms it) on the song's counterpoint vocals was a later stroke of genius. "We had been talking about having Tom come down," says Twilley. "Once I had the song, it seemed obvious that it would be a good one for him."

Co-produced by Noah Shark, Mark Smith and John Hug, Jungle was released in early 1984, and "Girls" peaked at #16 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart in April (it was #2 on the separate Top Tracks chart).

Dwight Twilley 
"Look Ma No Band" - 2017 acoustic tour poster
"I was always looking for something like that," says Twilley about the song's inspiration. "It's just that stupid little thing that nobody had thought of. As far as I know, before that no one had ever had a hit song called 'Girls.' It was just so obvious. I went around for a couple of weeks while I was working on the song and I just asked people, 'What's the deal? You know, this whole thing about girls?' And somebody would say one thing, and somebody would say the classic thing: 'You can't live with 'em, you can't live without 'em.' So, I just collected a whole bunch of information about... the whole thing."

Director Mark Robinson (whose résumé included Tina Turner's "What's Love Got to do With It?") based the song's fondly-remembered video on the silly teensploitation flick Porky's. Twilley stared as the football coach, Playboy bunnies were cast as cheerleaders, and Textones' singer Carla Olson filled in for Petty - a clever ruse that Twilley takes credit for.

Dwight Twilley - The Right Stuff promo pic
Photo: Zox
He told goldenageofmusicvideo.com: "That was the great thing about working with Mark. He let us bring in some of our own ideas. The shaving cream and the flip were mine. And the football player out on the field playing for the little cheerleader? My idea! Yeah, and the squeal too!"

(As well as the MTV-friendly version of the video, there's also a rarely-seen R-rated version paid for by the Playboy channel!)

In his review of Jungle for Star Hits magazine, David Sprague noted that Twilley's "original Beatles-rockabilly fixations have given way to a soulfully metallic edge more like that of Bryan Adams." And nowhere is Twilley's ease and confidence with this style more apparent than on the LP's lead track, "Little Bit of Love," which again featured Susan Cowsill on harmonies.

EMI issued "Little Bit of Love" as the follow-up single to "Girls," but without the same promotional push, the song stalled at #77 in the charts. A third single from Jungle - a remixed version of "Why You Wanna Break My Heart" - was released as part of the soundtrack for the movie Body Rock. The film flopped and took the 45 down with it. (These days, the soaring ballad is probably better known as the song Tia Carrere sings in Wayne's World.)

By 1985, it was apparent that EMI was no longer interested in Twilley. So, when a fast-talking independent radio promoter (who should probably remain nameless) with a custom label said, "I can make you a star!" Twilley listened. He was bought out of his contract with EMI and work began on Wild Dogs, his final studio album prior to this interview.

I've never actually seen a copy of Wild Dogs, I admit.

The elusive Wild Dogs LP - CBS Associated (1986)
Twilley's not surprised. "Hardly anybody did," he says.

The Right Stuff press release that came with XXI jokingly referred to the album as having "mysteriously vanished in the Jersey swamplands when one of the label's chief executives was indicted on payola charges."

But it was no laughing matter.

"Basically," says Twilley, "I was sort of romanced away from EMI with the idea that there was going to be this terrific promotion department. So, I spent about a year writing the songs and putting together what I thought was going to be the big follow-up to the Jungle album. About two weeks before the album came out, I was watching television and on NBC news they were showing FBI footage of the president of my record company with the Gambino brothers. And the next day, every artist on the label was dropped - except me, of course. Probably because the record was already in the pipeline. And the day after that, I'm on some other label called CBS Associated. Nobody knew me. I didn't know anybody there. They just basically buried the album. You know, there was supposed to be a video and the whole thing. It was all just swept under the table. It was really a drag."

The two Wild Dogs songs Twilley chose to include on XXI seemingly take him full circle, back to the beginning in Tulsa and his friendship with Seymour.

The title track (which features Bill Pitcock IV on acoustic guitar) "is kind of like a tribute to the days above the shop - the wackiness and the echo," says Twilley. He was inspired to write the second song, an incredibly moving ballad called "Shooting Stars," after learning that Seymour had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. "I asked him to come to the session and sing on the record," Twilley writes in the CD's booklet. "I never told him or anyone about the origin of the tune."

"Out in the Rain"
Twilley's first lithograph is available at:
Twilley seemed to disappear after the Wild Dogs fiasco - although there were reissues aplenty of his back catalog as well as the 1993 DCC release of the Great Lost Twilley Album. According to Kent Benjamin's bio, due to the payola/mafia scandal, "Twilley found himself effectively blackballed from the music business."

Artwork (Twilley's first lithograph, titled "Out in the Rain," is now for sale) and demoing material for a yet to be released album called The Luck kept him busy.

He also wrote a parenting book based on his long-distance relationship with his daughter (born to his first wife Linda in 1980, she's the subject of the song "Dion Baby" from Scuba Divers). Questions From Dad won an award from the Children's Rights Council and found Twilley being interviewed on The Today Show and speaking in Washington. "It seemed like a good thing to do at the time," he says about writing the book. "But I'm glad it's over and done and out of the way. It was really strange to go on TV with no guitar. I just didn't like it!"

The 1994 Northridge earthquake prompted Twilley to return to Tulsa. "My studio and the house were so badly damaged, I had to move out," he says. "I had to move everything I owned out of my house. At that point, you think, 'Do I really wanna move down the block?'"

But not much else has changed. Twilley mentions that there's been some record company interest following his SXSW show last year. "I'm recording some demos right now," he says. "I've got a great new live show, and I'm really back in the swing of things. I plan on making a lot of music, walking around on stages, and going into recording studios. And I hope people will be hearing from me."

* * *

Dwight Twilley & Phil Seymour
Cover of the Live From Agora CD
Q: I'm so happy that you included "TV" on XXI! It's always been one of my favorite songs.

Twilley: You know what's funny about that? That song is so popular with little kids. A lot of our friends have XXI and their kids crank up the CD and dance to it in the yard.

Q: In the CD notes you mention that you've updated the lyrics to allow for VCRs and cable channels...

Twilley: Yeah, 'cause I do it live a lot. A few years back, I said: "Hold me close/We've got the VCR/It's better than our parents had it/At a drive-in in a car." And in the last year I've added: "Pay per view/Four or five channels/Where they're dancing in the nude."

Q: I want to ask about some of the songs from Sincerely that you didn't include on XXI

Twilley: Okay.

Q: Like some of my favorites...

Twilley: I know. It was hard to just take a couple of songs from each album. There were ones I wanted... I had a lot of different, weird reasons for what I picked.

Q: Why didn't you chose "Could be Love" and "You Were so Warm"?

Sincerely LP - Shelter/ABC Records (1976)
Twilley: I didn't use any songs that had Phil on lead vocals. I wrote those songs personally for Phil, and I consider them to be his songs. For me to do a Best Of Dwight Twilley CD and put one of Phil's songs on it... I don't think I should be taking advantage of Phil's talent. Hopefully, in the near future there'll be a Best Of Phil Seymour CD and those will be part of that package. 

What about "Three Persons"?

Twilley: Love that song! It's one of my faves! 

Q: So, why didn't you didn't include it on XXI?

Twilley: There were a lot of songs that were real hard to decide on. Some of the decisions were based on having too many sort of acoustic rock songs. If there's a Best Of Dwight Twilley 2, it will surely be on there.

Q: In the booklet for XXI, you mention that you hadn't met Leon Russell before you started recording for Shelter.

Twilley: No, we didn't meet Leon until after "I'm On Fire" was a hit. Because we were from Tulsa, a lot of people thought, "They must have gotten in with Leon!" It was exactly the opposite! But it turned out to be cool. He invited us up to his home studio and we cut some things with him. We had a great time!

"I'm on Fire" - German picture sleeve 45
Q: Before I read the booklet, I was going to ask about the recording technique you used for the vocals on "Looking for the Magic." But apparently, you didn't use any technique! In the booklet you said it was a "scratch vocal."

Twilley: Yeah... I even tried to do a real vocal, but I liked the live one better.

Q: Will you ever release the version with the proper vocals?

Twilley: I doubt if it exists. I'd have to go back to the multi-track. You never know, it might be on there. 

Q: What's the story behind the blurry photo you used for the cover of Sincerely?

Twilley: It's funny because The Right Stuff is reissuing that album and Twilley Don't Mind, and I talk about this in the liner notes. What happened was... It was really Denny Cordell's idea. We had a real nice professional photo, and it was slated to be the cover before all the stuff went down. One day, Phil and I put grease in our hair... There was this old miniature golf course, it was probably off Hollywood Boulevard. I'm sure Errol Flynn probably played golf there. We went over there and got in the photo booth machine and took all these wacky pictures. When we showed them to Cordell, he just loved them. He used two of them for the "I'm On Fire" single. He thought they looked like something from the Museum of Modern Art. Basically, he said, "If you put a normal good-looking photo on the cover, no one will pay any attention to it. But if you put this on the cover, people will never forget it." And I think he was right. 

Q: I've always wondered, is "Trying to Find My Baby" a true story? You're very specific about the time of day that you're stuck on the freeway.

HoZac Records concert poster
Dwight Twilley with Pezband
at Reggie's Music Joint
Twilley: As far as I remember, there wasn't any actual event. But it sounds like it, doesn't it! It is a driving kind of song. I like songs like that. When you hear the song, you can almost imagine yourself behind the wheel. That was also our first song that was in an actual motion picture. It was in Up The Academy.

Q: I remember that film!

Twilley: It was pretty bad!

Q: Was there supposed to be a third Dwight Twilley Band album?

Twilley: Yeah, there would have been if we'd stayed together. 

Q: Would any of the songs from your first solo album have been on it?

Twilley: "Darlin" would probably have been a Twilley Band song. 

Q: In the press release that came with XXI, you say something to the effect of "back then they called it rock 'n' roll and now they call it power pop." 

Twilley: Yeah, it was just rock 'n' roll back then.

Q: It sounds like you're unhappy with the term power pop.

Twilley: You know, it doesn't really matter to me. I was also the "father of new wave" a few years back. I'm new wave one day and power pop the other and rock 'n' roll sometimes. You know, whatever. In a way, I don't like the way that music has gotten so segmented. It's like there's so many different kinds of things. It was a lot more fun when everybody was just trying to make great rock records.

Twilley Don't Mind - Shelter/Arista Records (1977)
with the Clive Davis-approved cover photo
Q: In his review of Twilley, Robert Christgau wrote that you "obsessively synthesized the Southern and pop-rock traditions - like a cool Alex Chilton." Were you aware of Big Star?

Twilley: No. I'd heard about them, but I'd never heard their records. I never listened to records, hardly.

Q: What about the Raspberries?

Twilley: Yeah. You could hear the Raspberries on the radio.

Q: I guess what I'm trying to get at is, the music you were making in 1975 wasn't the norm for that time period.

Twilley: No, it wasn't.

Q: But there were a few scattered bands across the country, and I just wondered if everyone was aware of each other.

Twilley: I know I wasn't (laughs). If it wasn't on the radio...  and I didn't even listen to the radio very much. I was never one of those guys that had to rush out to hear what everybody else was doing. I always thought that if an important record came along, it would always be put in my face. And I think it usually was. 

Q: I've read that there's a line in "Looking for the Magic" which is the beginning of a sort of theme on nuclear war.

Twilley: Yeah... "Stay a while til the city is a desert." 

Q: And you continue that theme with "Out of My Hands."

Old Waldorf listing from
the 1977 tour (Sept 9 & 10). 

Twilley: "When the walls around you melt/You can't pretend." (Laughs) It's funny too, 'cause I'm recording a song right now called "No World."

Q: Is nuclear war something that you're real concerned about?

Twilley: No, not at all. It's just an interesting mental picture. Just something to kind of poke at people about 'cause it's such a bizarre concept. It's just a goofy little thing. 

Q: Do you keep in touch with Susan Cowsill?

Twilley: Yeah, in fact on New Year's Eve I did a show here with Leon Russell at Cain's Ballroom. One of my players had a contract he couldn't get out of, so Susan flew in and did the show with me - and it was just terrific!

Q: Tell me about your show at SXSW last year.

Twilley: You know, I didn't know if anybody was going to come to my show. Did they remember me? Would they like it? Had everything changed? About 30 minutes before I went on, there were like 25 people standing around in this huge area. And I'm thinking, "hmmm..." But sure enough, 15 or 20 minutes before we went on, it was packed. And the audience was just great. And I knew when I saw people singing along that everything was okay.