Wednesday, 7 June 2017

The Seeds: "Pushin' Too Hard" Was Only Part Of Their Story. In 1993, I Spoke To Keyboardist Daryl Hooper About The History Of The Band For AMP

Originally published in American Music Press, June 1993 
By Devorah Ostrov

The Seeds - publicity photo
L-R: Jan Savage, Sky Saxon, Daryl Hooper & Rick Andridge
In the liner notes to Nuggets: Original Artifacts from the First Psychedelic Era, rock historian (and Patti Smith Group guitarist) Lenny Kaye termed the Seeds, "one of the most important groups to come out of the Los Angeles area."

He goes on to say that the band "were in the unenviable position of watching their reputation move from that of a crack underground outfit to something akin to the dreaded tag of 'teeny-bopper,' all because of a string of hits (of which 'Pushin' Too Hard' was the biggest and best)..."

In 1965, Daryl Hooper was just out of high school and his friend Rick Andridge had just finished a course in computer programming. Lured by the Beach Boys-inspired promised land of California, the two left Michigan (and their weekend cover band, the Four Sharps, in which Hooper played keyboards and Andridge drummed) for Los Angeles.

But Hooper found that LA Trade Tech, his college of choice, had a year-long waiting list, and Andridge couldn't get a job. So, the two "bummed around" until their money ran out. Fortunately, someone in LA knew that Hooper and Andridge were musicians and was circulating their phone number.

Alternate pic from the photo session for the group's debut album
Shortly after they'd played at a stranger's wedding, a fellow calling himself Sky Saxon phoned them. "He asked if we wanted to make a few dollars and play some music," says Hooper, who now teaches music in a small California community.

Saxon (born Richard Marsh) grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah. He'd started his recording career by releasing a handful of pop singles as Little Richie Marsh. When Hooper and Andridge met him, he was 28 years old and already going by the name Sky Saxon.

The Seeds
GNP/Crescendo publicity photo
According to Hooper, none of the guys shared their pasts with each other. For instance, he was never told (and never inquired) how Saxon came up with the cool appellation.

Of the singer's background, he says, "I know absolutely nothing about his father. He talked a little bit about his mother. At what point in his life he came to Los Angeles, I don't know. It was like, this is happening now, or we would like this to happen in the future — that's what we were concentrating on. It was sort of like the past didn't really matter."

The as-yet-unnamed group, which included Saxon's friend, guitarist Jan Savage, and a temporary second guitarist, began by playing cover tunes during a week's worth of gigs at a "little, tiny bar."

"Everything clicked right into place," says Hooper. He observes that Andridge was ready to go back to Michigan before these shows, but as soon as they started playing, the drummer exclaimed, "Let's keep the band together!"

More small club dates followed, with the group trying on various monikers — the Earls of England (an obvious cash-in on the era's British Invasion) and Sky Saxon & the Savages were two possibilities. A Los Angeles disc jockey who saw them during this early period suggested they call themselves the Seeds.

The Seeds eponymous debut LP - released April 1966
Includes the hit singles "Pushin' Too Hard" and
"Can't Seem to Make You Mine"
As Hooper recalls: "He said, 'You guys have a real earthy sound and a real seedy look about you. You ought to call yourselves the Seeds!' At first, we went, 'Oh, no!' Then we thought about it, and it fit us and sort of stuck."

Their first performance as the Seeds took place at Bido Lito's, LA's hip underground club (literally — you had to go down several steps into a basement-like room).

By then, their usual set of covers was already giving way to original material. "We'd get together," remarks Hooper, "and all of a sudden we'd have a song. It would just happen!"

He adds, "At Bido Lito's we got the best response from the audience when we played our own stuff. So, we worked up a complete set of our own material."

In the meantime, Saxon was attempting to get the group a recording contract, and it was GNP/Crescendo (the GNP stood for Gene Norman Presents) — a label respected in surf and jazz circles, but not especially known for rock 'n' roll — that signed the Seeds.


Hooper explains why they went with the unlikely record company: "Sky had gone around to different labels and the ones that would even bother to talk to him would say, 'Yeah... we'll call ya.' Crescendo was interested in getting started in the [rock 'n' roll] market, so they offered us a contract."

Two of Saxon's compositions, "Can't Seem to Make You Mine" and "Daisy Mae," were issued as a 45 ahead of the first album. Although the A-side was a regional hit in LA (and would later kick off the LP), it failed to do anything nationally and the B-side (a Little Richard-type raver) only resurfaced with later CD reissues.

Poster for The Seeds & The Chocolate Watchband
Recorded on a four-track at LA's Western Studios, the band's eponymous debut album was released in April 1966.

The cover showed four scruffy characters resplendent in motorcycle boots, shoulder-length hair, and shades; not one of them was smiling. Inside was some of the toughest garage-punk to ever hit a record, and foremost amongst the lot was "Pushin' Too Hard":

"All I want is to just be free
Live my life the way I wanna be
All I want is to just have fun
Live my life like it just begun
But you're pushin' too hard
Pushin' too hard on me... "

The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock 'n' Roll references the song's "nasty, threatening drive and ominous lyrics" — which it might be added, Saxon delivers with a perfect snarl.

But rock critic Dave Marsh, in his Heart of Rock & Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made, feigns being let down when during its third verse the tune swerves from a whatever-you-got protest to a simple girlfriend chastisement:

Seeds vocalist Sky Saxon
(aka Marcus Tybalt)
"Better listen girl what I'm tellin' you
Better listen girl or we are through
Better stop all your foolin' around
Stop your runnin' all over town
'Cause you're pushin' too hard
Pushin' too hard on me..."

"Oh well," sighs Marsh, "I really only put this one in for its fantastic fuzztone and reverb guitar solo..."

Although Hooper doesn't remember anything exceptional about the recording sessions for the LP, he does offer this insight into how Saxon wrote his lyrics: "We'd go to breakfast after playing some club, and he'd get an idea and start scribbling all these words on a napkin. Throughout our whole career it was, 'Hey! I've got this great song!' and he'd whip out a napkin!"

Mention should also be made of the odd production credits for the first album, which list Saxon as co-producer with one Marcus Tybalt. (On subsequent releases Tybalt alone receives credit.) What's so weird about that? Legend has it that there was no Marcus Tybalt, that the name was a pseudonym for Saxon. Which means that Saxon co-produced the record with himself!

"Exactly!" chuckles Hooper. "Long hours in the studio with the engineer and himself. Sometimes I'd put my two cents in..."

Montgomery Ward advert for The Seeds "fantastic album!"
But why the pseudonym?

"Sky was involved in so many things," says Hooper, "I think he felt a little self-conscious and thought it might be a good idea to have another name in the picture."

While recording the album, the band were introduced to disc jockey Tim Hudson (he later affixed the title Lord to his name), who became their manager.

One of three color inserts included
with the Future LP
"We'd had a few small-time managers," says Hooper, "that really couldn't do anything except get us a few jobs. Tim was really interested in the group. He thought we had a real original sound and that he could do something for us. He helped us out quite a bit, got us a tour..."

"Pushin' Too Hard" was being played sporadically on LA radio stations and was simmering at the bottom of some other markets, when the Seeds began their first major tour on a bill that included Question Mark & the Mysterians, the Shadows of Knight, the Outsiders, and the McCoys.

"It was a tour all through the South and the East Coast," comments Hooper, "ending up in Montreal. All the shows were really good except the last one. Question Mark got sick and didn't show up, and the semi carrying all the equipment was late. The equipment finally did show up, but a couple of the groups had left. I think it ended up being one other group and ourselves. At first, the crowd was a little rowdy, but it turned out really well and they absolutely loved us! We just played three sets instead of one! After the show, we were sitting outside the place. It was snowing and we hadn't gotten paid because the agent had the money and was on his way back to Los Angeles. We got a motel room and were wiring back for money. We had to keep going downtown to the wire service because the money wasn't coming through. I don't know if it was the agent's fault, or what. Finally, Rick's dad wired him some money so we could get out of there!" (Denim Delinquent editor Jim Parrett was at the Montreal show and has kindly shared his recollections at the bottom of this article.)

The Seeds (aka the Warts) perform 
"Pushin' Too Hard" on The Mothers-in-Law.
The Seeds first became aware of their chart-topping status while driving up the East Coast during the tour.

"I think we were somewhere in Massachusetts," muses Hooper, "listening to the radio and all of a sudden we hear 'Pushin' Too Hard' and the DJ says, 'Here's the #15 record this week!' When we got back to Los Angeles, we had a hit record on our hands!"

(Although the song was a regional #1 in a range of areas across the country, including LA, surprisingly it only reached #36 nationally.)

With a hit single, Hudson was able to book the Seeds on national television talk and music programs, such as The Joey Bishop Show and American Bandstand. They became regulars on the LA variety show Groovy. And one episode of the wacky Eve Arden and Kaye Ballard TV sitcom The Mothers-in-Law completely revolved around the guys, who performed their hit under the suitably silly TV-band name of the Warts.

Future-era promo card for the Seeds - the originators of the Flower Generation
GNP/Crescendo responded to the group's newfound popularity by quickly putting them out on larger tours featuring the Beach Boys, Sonny & Cher, and the Doors. (Hooper stresses that the Seeds headlined over Morrison & Co.)

Inevitably, they were plastered all over the teen 'zines of the day, pontificating about their fave colors and what they looked for in a girl. "Are they still asking the same stupid questions?" wonders Hooper. How could I resist?

Meet the Seeds:
Daryl hates "phonies of all kinds!"
Q: What's your favorite color?

Hooper: Green.

Q: What kind of girls do you like?

Hooper: Sincere girls who like to talk!

With their second LP, the group seemed determined not to be pigeon-holed as mere teenybopper fodder and continued to relate in many ways to their original underground fans.

Issued just six months after their initial offering, A Web of Sound featured a Saxon-designed cover with the band members trapped in a giant spider's web, as well as nonsensical Tybalt-authored liner notes which began: "Sticks, sticks and eight are ten..."

Although side two showcased fourteen minutes of crazed psychedelic fuzz and distortion called "Up in Her Room," for the most part, A Web of Sound contained three-minute-long, slightly trippy rockers.

A 45 featuring the album's opening organ-driven track, "The Farmer" (b/w an extremely condensed version of "Up in Her Room"), garnered the Seeds another entry into the Billboard Top 100, but it stalled in the lower echelons at #86.

A Web of Sound - the second Seeds' LP
Released in October 1966
Hooper reveals that the song's real title is "Mr. Farmer" — a slip corrected with Crescendo's CD release. He also mentions that the single was banned in the Midwest because "Mr. Farmer" was allegedly growing marijuana! And he contends that the record doesn't do justice to "Up in Her Room."

"Sometimes when we played live, it would last for half-an-hour," he says, "and it would just be this wild frenzy by the end!"

The Seeds' next two albums were issued almost simultaneously. One, A Full Spoon of Seedy Blues, released in November 1967, was a legitimate heavy-duty blues LP featuring several Saxon-penned originals and one track written by Muddy Waters. (Apparently, Waters also contributed harmonica but couldn't be credited because of contractual obligations.)

While Crescendo appeared to like the concept of a blues record, in an effort not to confuse their teenybopper following, it was made to look like a side-project and was issued as the Sky Saxon Blues Band. "The name was still there," points out Hooper, "so that our real fans, if they liked blues music, they'd at least give it a listen."

As for confusing their younger fans, Future — the group's third official album, released just three months earlier — did enough of that all by itself.

Four-song EP released by the French label Disques
Vogue, featuring "The Farmer," "I Tell Myself,"
"Rollin' Machine" and "Pictures and Designs."
It was the Summer of Love, and flower power had hit the Seeds over the head. Future is filled with bouncing psychedelic/pop ditties about flowers, flower ladies, and flower children.

Saxon's spoken-word intro leading into "March of the Flower Children," the LP's signature track, positively gushes with hippie clichés: "The flower children are the garden of today/And the rain is the tears falling down from the angels above/ To let them grow in peace and love..."

Hooper states that the term "Flower Power" was actually coined by the Seeds. "Sky came up with the name Flower Music, and one of the other guys said something about Flower Power. We were referring to our following as Flower Children. It was a whole idea that we as a group came up with."

Hooper says Future was a fun album to record and he notes the influence of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper, which had been released that May: "Although the music is nothing like that, it influenced us to bring in different instruments — a tuba, a couple of violin players, a flute, a harp... We were sort of experimenting, making spur of the moment changes. A couple of the songs were written in the studio."

A Full Spoon of Seedy Blues is available at Thrifty!
(Image borrowed from the collection of Jeff Jarema)
And again, there were ridiculous liner notes — cryptic personality profiles of the band members written by manager Hudson — for which a Seeds' Decoder Ring was evidently required. Hooper explains that his profile was part of a publicity gimmick that claimed he was a reincarnation of Beethoven!

Neither A Full Spoon of Seedy Blues or Future yielded a hit single, although a 45 of "A Thousand Shadows" b/w "March of the Flower Children" managed to climb to #72 on the national charts, and a re-release of "Can't Seem to Make You Mine" from the first album b/w "I Tell Myself" from A Web of Sound got to a respectable #41.

Future - released August 1967
It's probably an understatement when Hooper says Future "didn't do as well as our other material."

As for reviews, he allows: "Most of them were really good ... until Future, which got mixed reviews. I remember reading some reviews about the blues album where people just didn't understand. 'Why is this band doing blues?' Which was a bit of a disappointment."

Ironically, even though their chart action was now virtually nil, as a live act, the group was at the peak of its career.

Hooper particularly recalls one show in Hawaii, where the audience numbered 25,000 - 30,000 people. "Sky was throwing flowers out to the audience and the girls were just going crazy trying to grab them! There was this one policeman on the edge of the stage... Sky threw out a lei he'd been wearing and it went over this cop's head, and all you saw was ten girls jump on him and just crush him! And that was the last we saw of him."

Released in 1968, Raw & Alive: The Seeds in Concert at Merlin's Music Box, demonstrated just how powerful the band was (although it was supposedly recorded live in a studio with applause added later). And that same year, "Two Fingers Pointin' on You" from the Future LP was featured in the Dick Clark-produced teensploitation flick Psych-Out.

KRLA presents: The Monster
Halloween Freak-Off, featuring The Seeds
Saturday, October 29, 1966
If not for two crucial factors — Saxon's insistence on taking an extended break and the escalation of his well-known LSD habit — the Seeds might have recovered from their slump and continued their recording career.

"We would've ventured back into the style of the second album," asserts Hooper. Instead, they hurtled toward oblivion.

"Sky wanted to take all this time off," says Hooper, "not work for a while, just write and fool around. He was making more money than the rest of us because he was the producer and he was the writer, so he could kick back more easily than we could. We had wives by that time and some of us had families."

"But besides that," he adds, "time is such an important thing in the music business. If you're not right on top of it with the next hit record, people forget about you. If there's a lull, they're on to the next group. That was part of the friction. Sky was also getting really bizarre..."

In Heart of Rock & Soul, Dave Marsh depicts the singer as going "off the deep end into Tim Leary-land." However, Hooper maintains that prior to Future, Saxon was more or less clean and sober: "And he was still coming up with far-out stuff!"

Hooper also states that even when Saxon did begin "tripping" regularly, "it was never a problem like it became with [Jim] Morrison — falling off the stage and not showing up. He kept it under control. Until later..."

Another of the three color inserts included with Future  
When asked if he, Andridge and Savage were also dropping acid, Hooper emphatically declares, "We weren't! We really weren't into drugs." He emphasizes that while they clicked musically, "As far as lifestyles, we were quite a bit different. Sky was the far-out one, the true hippie. The rest of us were down-to-earth and sort of average."

In 1968, Andridge became the first to leave. "He just wanted out of the music business," says Hooper. Today, Andridge lives half-an-hour away from Hooper and drives a truck. Andridge was replaced by 17-year-old Don Boomer and they carried on gigging. "Not big concerts," admits Hooper, "but large clubs."

Jan Savage was the next to leave. He too was replaced, and for the first time, a real bassist was added to the lineup.

Although Saxon is credited with playing bass on the albums, according to Hooper, "He didn't really play except in our very early days." More often a session player was brought in for the recordings and Hooper would use a keyboard bass for live shows.

Hooper called it quits in 1970; his final gig was at a small auditorium in Pasadena. "A lot of people were there," he reflects. "It was a good show. But I was disgusted with the whole business. There was a lot of friction with Sky and I said, 'This is it. I'm outta here!'"

Rumor has it that following the Seeds break-up, Saxon moved to Hawaii where he taught a jungle tribe to worship dogs (because dog is God spelled backwards). Is there any truth to that?

"I've heard him say that kind of thing," laughs Hooper, "and you're going, 'What!?' I know for a fact that he did live in Hawaii, but what actually occurred there has always been a little sketchy."

Promotion for the GNP/Crescendo documentary
The Seeds: Pushin' Too Hard
Update 1: In 2014, GNP/Crescendo released a documentary charting the rise and fall of the Seeds. Directed by Neil Norman (son of label founder Gene Norman) and produced by Alec Palao, The Seeds: Pushin' Too Hard nicely chronicles both the group's history and its lasting legacy.

Sadly, Saxon passed away in 2009 followed by Rick Andridge in 2011. However, a reunited version of the group — which includes Daryl Hooper and drummer Don Boomer, along with Alec Palao on bass, the fabulous Paul Kopf on vocals, and occasionally Jan Savage on guitar (as his health allows, from what I understand) — is currently on tour.

Update 2: Denim Delinquent editor Jim Parrett was at the Seeds '66 show in Montreal, and has very kindly shared his recollections of the gig and the following days: "The Seeds' equipment didn't arrive in time so instead of opening as they were supposed to, they closed the show. The local teen rag wrote, 'Half the audience loved them, the other half didn't know what to make of them.' A few days later the band was interviewed on TV when they played in Ottawa. During their stay in Montreal, Sky hung with the Haunted who were put off by his arrogant nature. 'Pushin' Too Hard' was still hot in the charts and the first album had just been released. I was already hooked but the music was still too new. Already the band had changed to a more psychedelic sound. I was a little surprised by how trippy the keyboards sounded, dominating the overall vibe. The band wore the outfits shown on Full Spoon. Every song finished with a complete massive build-up to orgasmic frenzy. It drove the crowd wild. The local rag Frag! covered the show with photos, but that mag has disappeared, and no one seems to remember it but me. Pity."

2 comments:

  1. Finally!! A bit of history about one of my favorite groups! This was very informative and I am glad someone finally interviewed Daryl Hooper about the band. Thank you so much for this well written, very informative piece.

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    Replies
    1. Many thanks, Steve. So glad you enjoyed the interview!

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