Thursday, 27 December 2018

Lions & Ghosts: Eat Burritos, Talk About "Wild Garden," And Consider Changing Their Name To The Puppet Show

Rick displays the Wild Garden cassette which Chris
 later gives to the interviewers. Meanwhile, Mark tries
to look as much like Nigel Tufnel as possible. 
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Originally published in Rave-Up #17 (1989)

Interview by Devorah Ostrov & Michelle Castro

This story started with a kidnapping. You see, before he joined Lions & Ghosts, Chris McNeal was a homeless waif. Michelle found him wandering the streets of Los Angeles and, much taken with his wacky sense of humor, shoved him in the car and drove him to San Francisco.

After a while Chris found his way back to Los Angeles, watched the house he was staying in burn to the ground, and joined Lions & Ghosts.

The story picks up again in San Francisco. Lions & Ghosts (vocalist Rick Parker, guitarist Chris McNeal, guitarist Michael Lockwood, bassist Mark Gould, and drummer Micheal Murphy) were here to play some shows, but we found them wandering up and down Haight Street. Two days later, we figured burritos and an interview were well in order...

Lions & Ghosts pose backstage at Berkeley Square, 1989.
L-R: Rick Parker, Chris McNeal, Mark Gould, 
Micheal Murphy and Michael Lockwood
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Michelle & Devorah: Hi!

Guys: Hi!

Rick: These interviewers don't have any questions prepared, so we're gonna conduct the interview. What's good to eat here?

Devorah: Why don't you start by telling us about the history of Lions & Ghosts?

Rick: The band's been around for about five years. It started in Los Angeles. We were friends hanging out in this house... It was kinda a party house in Hollywood.

Michelle (who can sense a scandal when she hears one): So, you're saying you party a lot and do drugs!

Rick: No! No! That's just where we met. So, then... we started jamming at THAT house for fun and we started playing some shows around town just for fun. One thing led to another and we started getting a big following down south and ended up with a record deal.

Rick Parker
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Michelle: Okay... So, you have different people in the band now. What happened?

Chris: What kind of burrito is that?

Michelle: Chicken.

Rick: Our original bass player left the band right before we started recording the album [Wild Garden]…

Michelle (scanning the veritable who's who of credits on Wild Garden): What's this Pete Comita business?

Rick: Pete Comita is a friend of our manager. He's a phenomenal musician. He's been in bands like Foghat, Black Oak Arkansas, Cheap Trick... We now have a bass player. Pete had prior obligations and couldn't be the permanent bass player for the band.

Michelle: And Benmont Tench from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers…

Devorah: And Ian McLagan...

Rick: Formerly of the Stones and the Faces, but you can hardly hear any keyboards on the record. We just kinda brought those guys down for inspiration.

Michelle: So, what stuff do you like? I know you don't know much about Iron Maiden, but what are your influences?

The original four-piece lineup with bassist Todd Hoffman
Rick: We grew up listening to the Stones, the Beatles, the Doors, the Kinks, the Who...

Micheal M: The MC5...

Chris: The Partridge Family, the Ohio Players, Hot Chocolate...

Michelle: Where did find Chris? Hanging out on Sunset Strip?

Rick Parker and Mark Gould
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Michael L: He was Bowie's right-hand man and we said, "Dave, listen... We could really use Chris." Bowie has Tin Machine now.

Devorah: We heard a rumor that Chris beat out a guy from Badfinger at your auditions.

Rick: Who told you that?

Devorah: You did! At the soundcheck.

Rick: Oh. Well, there was a guy from Badfinger, a guy named Glenn. He was an amazing musician, a real nice guy. But Chris does hair...

Devorah: So, tell us about Wild Garden. How's it doing? Is there a single?

Rick: The album has been out about two weeks now, and it's getting massive radio play across America. The first single is "Arson in Toyland." We just finished filming the video for it, which MTV should start showing next week.

Chris McNeal
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Michelle: Do you burn stuff down? Tell us about the video.

Rick: We burn down a palm tree. It's sort of an LA icon and we sacrifice it to the Gods! Actually, we got in big trouble for burning it down. We pretended like we didn't do it. We pretended that we were just driving by and saw it burning.

Michael L: We started whistling.

(Rick makes a grab for Michelle's burrito, but is gallantly intercepted by Chris.)

Chris: Hey! That's the lady's food!

(As Rick and Chris argue over the burrito, Micheal Murphy and Michael Lockwood make their exit. Mark seizes the opportunity to join the party.)

Devorah: Did you guys know Mark before he joined the band?

Rick: We auditioned 600 bass players in LA and he won. It was a "cattle call" as they say.

Devorah: And you picked him because he looks like Nigel Tufnel from Spinal Tap.

Another group photo from Berkeley Square.
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Mark: What?!

Rick: He looked the most like Nigel Tufnel, so we had to pick him! We're asking him to change his name to Nigel.

Michelle: The truth comes out! What we've been saying behind your back! We love Nigel, really. You look just like him.

Rick: It's really an honor to have someone say that, y'know.

Michelle: So, what's your most commonly asked interview question?

Rick: How did you find your name?

Michelle: How did you find your name, dudes? Why Lions & Ghosts instead of … Partridges & Peartrees?

Rick: In all seriousness, we wanted to form a band that had a real tangible rock 'n' roll side and a kind of mysterious, ethereal quality — the Lions being the former and the Ghosts being the latter. Lions & Ghosts was the name of a poem I'd written. We were looking for names and it sounded appropriate at the time. In retrospect it might have been a grave mistake.

Michelle: A grave mistake... Why?

The band's two EMI albums
Velvet Kiss, Lick of the Lime (1987)
Wild Garden (1989)
Rick: Certain radio promoters have said that we should change our name. It's too weird, or something.

Michelle: Satanic, dude!

Devorah: Have they given you any suggestions as to what to call the band?

Rick Parker
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Rick: Actually, one suggested we change our name to the Puppet Show!

Michelle: Like in Spinal Tap! "We've got a bigger dressing room than the puppets!"

Devorah: Since we haven't heard your records, maybe we could discuss...

Rick: You haven't even heard the fucking records?

Devorah: I just found out you're not a death rock band!

(Chris kindly hands us a cassette tape of Wild Garden.)

Michelle (reading some of the song titles): "Farewell in Hell," "Flowers of Evil"... Oh, you're not death rock!

Mark: They got you there, dude.

Chris (making the sign of the cross at Rick): On the softer side of Satan, that's us.

Rick: Read the last line of "Flowers of Evil"... [He sings it for us instead] "I'm in a big field of flowers/Like Satan on ice."

Chris: It's true!

Devorah: Since we obviously haven't got a clue, are there big differences between the first and second albums?

Chris McNeal and Mark Gould
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Rick: Umm... Wild Garden is a little more Satanic. Actually, there is a big difference. Our first album was produced by Tony Visconti and Peter Walsh, who do real English-sounding bands [Simple Minds, Gene Loves Jezebel]. The guy who did Wild Garden [Thom Panunzio] is much more of a straight-ahead, American producer. He'd just finished doing Joan Jett's record.

Devorah: You mentioned that Lions & Ghosts was the title of a poem you'd written. When did you start writing poetry?

Rick: When I was in high school, sitting in the back of the room with my journals. I was one of those "stoner" kids. I just sort of hung out in the back of the room and wrote poetry.

Devorah: Do you remember the first song you wrote?

Rick: No, but I can tell you the first song Lions & Ghosts wrote. It was called "Capture," and it's on this record. We didn't put it on the first record because the producer didn't like it.

Rick Parker
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Devorah: According to your itinerary you were just up in Oregon. Isn't that where you pulled into a gas station in the middle of nowhere and they were playing your record on the local radio station?

Rick: How'd you hear about that?

Michelle: We took a wild guess.

Devorah: You told us about it the other day!

Rick: Oregon's a weird state. We pulled into some town and they wouldn't let us stay at the hotel. They said, "We've had bad luck with rock bands. We don't want any rock bands in this hotel." We found out that back in the '50s Bill Haley and the Comets had caused some problems at the hotel!

(Michelle has somehow, through hysterical laughter, manipulated an ice cube in her mouth in a "suggestive" manner.)

Rick Parker
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Rick: Oh, no! Don't get erotic on me with the ice cubes. There was this girl last night... It seemed like she would do anything! She had this maraschino cherry and she was going like this in front of me...

(Rick demonstrates the erotic maraschino cherry trick.) 

Michelle: What'd you do? Hit her over the head?

Rick: We invited her back to show her the guitars. We have some "special" guitars in the van that we only show to certain people.

Michelle: Yuck! I thought you'd have some good story, but no! You're just like everyone else! Sleazoids!

Rick: We're not sleazy! Actually, we have lots of class. We do! Talk to anyone in LA, we have a spotless reputation.

Chris: We've never talked like this before. It's quite interesting.

Devorah: This interview is pretty hot.

Rick: Steamy!

(At that moment plumes of hot steam rise from the burritos being prepared behind us.)

Chris: Steamy ... It worked! You are the Devil, Rick Parker!

Monday, 17 December 2018

Disneyland After Dark or D.A.D. — As Shakespeare Once Famously Noted, "What's In A Name?"

D.A.D. — Warner Bros. publicity photo
L-R: Stig Pedersen, Jesper Binzer, Peter Jensen, 
and Jacob Binzer
Originally published in Rave-Up #17 (1989)

Interview by Devorah Ostrov

Disneyland After Dark. What a cool band name! Unfortunately, the band who thought of it can no longer use it and are now simply known as D.A.D.

You see, ol' Walt rolled over in his grave when he heard these hard-rocking Danes were taking the name of his amusement park in vain, and a lawsuit from "The Happiest Place On Earth" loomed on the horizon.

"We knew it would be like that," says drummer Peter Jensen about Disney's "request" that the band quickly find itself a new moniker.

"It's kind of sad to have a name like D.A.D," he continues. "It doesn't really say anything; it's just three initials." He sounds genuinely disappointed.

Jesper Binzer
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Peter and his bandmates (vocalist/guitarist Jesper Binzer, guitarist Jacob Binzer, and bassist Stig Pedersen) were in Los Angeles calling music journalists on the last day of a short U.S. promotional tour.

It was America's first chance to get a look at D.A.D. And as Peter jokes, it was the band's first chance to get a look at us!

So, what do they think? "It's been very nice here," he states politely. "We've seen a lot of American television, so we kind of knew what it was like. It's just like being in a movie when you're here!"

Speaking of movies... The story goes that during an early "cow-punk" phase, the group took its cue from cheesy Clint Eastwood westerns.

But before cow-punk, the members of D.A.D. were involved in, and met up through, Copenhagen's early-'80s punk rock scene. According to Peter, he taught himself to play drums after seeing a Sex Pistols show!

"It was a gradual change," he says, explaining the punks to cowboys to rockers progression. "All the people we knew from that scene have changed too. Not really changed... We still think the same things are funny!"

And a keen sense of humor (along with a healthy dose of cynicism) infuses D.A.D.'s new Warner Bros. album, No Fuel Left for the Pilgrims. It's a highly-charged package of 12 tracks that combine the punch of AC/DC, the rhythm of Hanoi Rocks, and the wit of Zodiac Mindwarp.

D.A.D. caricatures used on the promo CD single for
"Sleeping My Day Away" (Warner Bros. 1989)
For these initial stateside shows, the band relied mostly on material from the new album. Only a couple of older tunes, such as "Marlboro Man" (from the 1985 EP "Standing on the Never Never") were worked into the set.

And sadly, it's questionable whether "Standing on the Never Never" or their two European LPs, Call of the Wild and D.A.D. Draws a Circle (both on Mega Records), will ever be released over here.

Stig Pedersen
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
"It's possible," offers Peter, "but it'll be awhile. We don't want to confuse the audience by suddenly having three albums out." Besides, he points out, "it's a very different style on the previous albums."

While D.A.D. might have adjusted their sound over the years, one thing has remained constant: their desire to put on surprising and exciting live shows.

In the old days, they were known for ducking scissor-wielding hairdressers and acting out onstage fights. These days, the band has a reputation for explosives!

At the end of D.A.D.'s San Francisco show, just before the encore, Stig leapt onstage, his helmeted head ablaze with roman candles. While the bassist impressively headbanged away like Angus Young, the fans at the front of the Stone's stage panicked and hurriedly took a few steps back to avoid the cascading sparks.

"It's not that dangerous," assures Peter. "I know the feeling because we've had those fireworks onstage too. At the Roskilde Festival [a three-day rock festival in Denmark which D.A.D. headlined] we had huge fireworks above the stage and it was set up so the sparks would hit me!" He laughs, "It's not that bad."

If you missed seeing D.A.D. on this tour, you can catch the fireworks display in the wonderful video for their single, "Sleeping My Day Away," which incorporates live action with wacky cartoon caricatures of the band.

Peter and Jacob are dwarfed by the D.A.D. stage set-up at the Stone.
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
It's their first video for US MTV, but the cartoons have been used before. As Peter explains, "We did a video for 'ZCMI' [a fast-paced rocker also on No Fuel Left for the Pilgrims], which is totally animated."

"We hand-colored it ourselves," he adds. "The whole dark winter in Denmark, we sat in our cellar and painted..."

Jacob Binzer and Stig Pedersen
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Peter's melancholic musings are touching, but "ZCMI" isn't likely to see the light of day on MTV due to the female cartoon having very large, very naked breasts.

But "Sleeping My Day Away," with its countrified rhythm and goodtime antics is being shown in regular rotation.

When I tell Peter that the combination of D.A.D's Danish good looks and pop sensibilities is guaranteed to cause a sensation with MTV's viewers, he responds with what could either be heartfelt astonishment or sarcastic cheekiness. It's hard to tell over the phone.

"Yeah?" he exclaims. "Wow! It would be a boy's dream come true."

Monday, 26 November 2018

The McCoys: "Hang On Sloopy" Tops The Pop Charts And Kickstarts Rick Derringer's Rock 'N' Roll Career!

The McCoys get ready to take off!
Cover photo from You Make Me Feel so Good 
(Bang Records, 1966)
Originally published in American Music Press (1992)

By Devorah Ostrov

Just out of high school and about to embark on a major tour with the Standells and the Rolling Stones, Rick Zehringer launched his group's debut LP with some cheesy introductions.

"Before we present our first album," the teenager says a little shyly, "I'd like to introduce the McCoys to those of you who don't already know us..."

Rick begins with the band's drummer, Randy Zehringer, who he thinks "is the very best drummer in the whole world." He explains, "Now, the reason I have to tell everyone that is because he's my brother, and when I don't say he's the best drummer in the world I get in an awful lot of trouble when we get home."

Hang on Sloopy (Bang Records, 1965)
Ronny Brandon is next up, but Rick is apparently struggling for an interesting titbit to share about the organist. "Now, he's the only member of the McCoys that doesn't live in the same town as the rest of us," he states and then a bit awkwardly adds, "And he does a real good job for us, too."

The "newest addition to the group," bassist Randy Hobbs is introduced next. "But he does a real good job for us also," remarks Rick. And he makes sure to point out that bassist Randy is "not the same as the Randy on the drums."

Finally, for the benefit of what they must have imagined to be a very young following, Rick announces, "The instrument I play is called the guitar." And he almost apologetically tacks on, "I try my best to play it."

It takes a full two-minutes to "Meet the McCoys" before Randy on the drums kicks into the group's 1965 worldwide smash hit "Hang on Sloopy." Rick would soon change his surname to Derringer, hook up with Johnny and Edgar Winter, write "Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo," and become an international guitar hero. But it all began with the McCoys. (Actually, before they became the McCoys they called themselves the Rick Z Combo and had a fling with the moniker Rick and the Raiders.)

* * *

The Rolling Stones, the McCoys and
the Standells - June 28, 1966 at the
 Buffalo Memorial Auditorium
Fourteen-year-old Rick had already been playing the guitar for five years, and his 12-year-old brother Randy had been drumming for four, when the Zehringer family moved from Fort Recovery, Ohio to Union City, Indiana in 1962.

"I started playing the year Elvis became famous," Rick recalled during an afternoon soundcheck at Nightbreak, where later that night he debuted some fiery new material. "So, I was in awe of that kind of rock 'n' roll. And my uncle played guitar. He played a lot of country music, so I listened to a lot of that. I listened to anybody that played guitar. I watched The Lawrence Welk Show just because he had a great guitar player in those days. And Ozzie and Harriet because Rick Nelson's band had a great guitar player."

The Zehringer's new next door neighbor, 15-year-old Dennis Kelly, expressed a desire to play the bass. So, with Randy on drums and Rick assuming the group's leadership on guitar and vocals, the trio began rehearsing. "I'm  a Leo," he muses. "I guess that automatically made me the leader. I was always telling them what to do."

According to Rick, the first song they learned to play was an instrumental by the Ventures called "The McCoy" (from their 1960 LP Walk, Don't Run). "We decided that if we called ourselves the McCoys we would also, coincidentally, have a theme song. It was the only song we knew, but it was our theme song!"

Magazine clipping about the McCoys being named Teen-age Heart Ambassadors 
by the American Heart Association. What's their favorite food? asks the reporter.
 "Give me a nice juicy steak any day," says 18-year-old Rick. 
As they were all underage, the group's first gigs were uneventful affairs: battles of the bands, high school sock hops and proms.

"We played things like Kiwanis Club meetings," laughs Rick. "They'd say, 'Oh, the little kids from down the street would be great entertainment for our meetings.' From that, we got a regular thing every week on a local radio station [WDRK in Winchester, Indiana] where we did a show from the front window of a department store. We went from that to Greenville, Ohio where we got a gig every Saturday night at a local armory. The proceeds from our shows eventually paid for the building of Greenville's community swimming pool."

"Fever" b/w "Sorrow" - German picture sleeve single 
(Atlantic Records, 1966)
However, Rick insists the band never used their youth as a gimmick. "I'm sure that's the way some people looked at it, but the thing that made it not a gimmick was that we were pretty good."

When Dennis graduated high school and went to college, working during the week became difficult. Randy Joe Hobbs eventually replaced him on bass, and they added keyboardist Ronny Brandon.

Fate finally intervened in July 1965 when the McCoys opened (and doubled as the back-up band) for the Strangeloves in Dayton, Ohio.

The Strangeloves weren't really a band as such, but the studio persona of songwriters/ producers Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein and Richard Gottehrer (FGG Productions). In mid-1965 the threesome had released "I Want Candy," a Bo Diddley-inspired tune that became the first big hit for Atlantic's new offshoot Bang Records, headed by Bert Berns (AKA Bert Russell).

A prolific songwriter himself, Berns' impressive catalog includes "Twist and Shout," "Piece of My Heart," and "Here Comes the Night." In 1964, a black vocal group called the Vibrations had taken the Bert Berns/Wes Farrell-penned song "My Girl Sloopy" to the top of the R&B charts.

The Gene Pitney Show 
featuring the McCoys - May 18, 1966
But Berns thought the song, given a breezy beat and played by four young boys with Beatles' haircuts, could become an even bigger hit on the pop charts.

So, while touring the US with "I Want Candy," it became the Strangeloves' quest to find such a band. Dayton was the last stop on the tour, and they hadn't found anyone remotely Beatles-like.

"Not knowing this," says Rick, "we happened to wear our Beatles suits that night!"

One version of the McCoys' backstory suggests that Rick recorded the song's vocals over an already existing backing track. But during our interview he recalls the Strangeloves asking, "You guys wanna come to New York and record 'My Girl Sloopy?'" The boys said something along the lines of, "You betcha!" And the very next day, Rick and Randy's parents drove the group to New York to record the song.

While the original lyrics remained intact, its three verses were cut to two (the third verse would pop up on later Bang compilations) and for obvious reasons the title was altered to "Hang on Sloopy." As Rick observes, "The chorus says 'Hang on Sloopy/Sloopy hang on...' It doesn't say 'My girl Sloopy.' It made sense for us to change it."

Tonight: KNAK presents a Battle Of The Bands
Tomorrow: The Rolling Stones, the McCoys & the Standells
Rick also imprinted the song with a short, but distinctive, guitar solo. "They said, 'Go for it!' And I went for it," he enthuses.

In early October 1965 "Hang on Sloopy" hit #1 on the US Billboard chart. Eventually, the McCoys' version of the song would become a worldwide smash hit. Rick still remembers the thrill he got the night he came back to his hotel room after playing a show in Washington D.C. and turned on the news.

The McCoys - Bang Records promo photo
 "I heard it played over a loudspeaker in Red Square," he says. "Moscow had decided to play rock 'n' roll for the people, and when they turned on the speakers in Red Square 'Hang on Sloopy' was the song that was playing!"

Hang on Sloopy the album quickly followed the single. Produced by the Feldman Goldstein, Gottehrer team, the LP contained three FGG-penned songs, including the excellent pop ballad "Sorrow" (featuring bassist Randy Joe Hobbs on lead vocals and harmonica), which later became a UK hit for the Merseys. (In turn, David Bowie covered the Merseys' version on Pin Ups.)

The remainder were all covers: "I Don't Mind" and "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" were well-known James Brown numbers; "All I Really Want to Do" came from the Bob Dylan catalog; "High Heel Sneakers" and "Stormy Monday Blues" were R&B standards.

Two tracks — "Fever" (perhaps best-known as Peggy Lee's signature song) and Marvin Gaye's "Stubborn Kind of Fellow" — proved resilient enough to withstand FGG's cursory production job and exceled as pure pop. (Released as the follow-up to "Hang on Sloopy," "Fever" became a Top Ten hit in its own right.)

Meanwhile, the photos on the album's back cover (snapped during the McCoys first promotional tour with the Strangeloves) showed four squeaky-clean, happy-go-lucky moptops playing onstage, riding atop a stagecoach, and merrily spending their royalties.

"Hang on Sloopy" b/w "Fever"
Japanese picture sleeve 45 (Stateside Records, 1966)

"Wherever we stopped they'd take photos," reveals Rick. "They'd go, 'Get up on the stagecoach guys! Go ahead! Hold the guns! Perfect! Put on the fur coat! I can see it now!"

From the beginning Feldman, Goldstein and Gottehrer viewed the McCoys as little more than puppets, and whether the band liked it or not, their image had already been decided upon: they were to be marketed as a teenybopper's dream date.

"We didn't have much say about anything," states Rick. "They pretty much chose what we did and where we went." (To this day, he bristles when asked his favorite color. "I don't remember what I said in those days," he grumbles.)

Touring with Dick Clark's "Caravan of Stars" (a buss full of chart-toppers driving cross-country; something Stiff Records would later revive) assured plenty of adolescent adoration. As part of "The Gene Pitney Show" they played alongside Bobby Goldsboro, B.J. Thomas, the Outsiders, and Chad & Jeremy. While the "Pop Music Festival" in Ft. Worth, Texas paired them with the Doors, the Box Tops, the Standells, the Seeds, and the Electric Prunes.

Back cover photo for the Infinite McCoys LP
(Mercury Records, 1968)
"No one played a full set," says Rick about the Caravan of Stars shows. "Each band would play for 20-minutes or half-an-hour." As far as sorting out who headlined and who opened, he adds, "We weren't too concerned about it; everybody had big hits. There wasn't much jostling around about who was the biggest."

More so than details about the individual shows, he remembers one night's long bus ride: "The bass player from Freddy and the Dreamers was sitting next to me. He started telling me about his life from the day he was born, and he was pretty much charting his life on a daily basis. At about year six I was falling asleep. Everybody else on the bus had long since fallen asleep. I fought for hours and hours to stay awake."

Poster for the Jimi Hendrix Experience
with the McCoys and the Soft Machine 
November 16, 1968
Rick later discovered that his conversation with the British bassist was an introduction to the effects of speed! "I was such an innocent," he exclaims. "This guy was on bennies, and I was trying to listen to him all night!"

In 1966 the McCoys (along with the Standells) opened several shows on the Rolling Stones tour. Immediate Records, headed by Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham, had issued "Hang on Sloopy" in the UK and Rick figures the tour offer was made to cover their bet. "They wanted to make sure it became a hit," he says, "and one way to ensure that was to put us on the road with them."

So, what was it like? Again, it's an offstage incident that Rick most clearly recalls: "We all rode in the same charted airplane with the Stones every day. And everybody had compartmentalized food trays. There was the entrée section, and another section for the salad, and a dessert section. One night, the Stones were all up in the front of the cabin, in a big booth area. Us and the Standells were sitting around, and everybody's having their dinner. We all got done about the same time and the Standells and the McCoys are looking at each other going, 'You guys got any dessert?' At about that time, the stewardess came in from the front of the cabin by the Stones' booth, and she had a tray piled high with cups of ice cream. As she entered the room the Stones turned to everybody else going, 'You don't get no dessert! You don't get no dessert!'"

* * *

Autographed McCoys poster for a
show at the Springbrook Gardens 
Teen Club - August 15, 1967
With success came the realization that keyboardist Ronny Brandon couldn't actually play and needed to go. "In the beginning it was fun 'cause he happened to have his own organ," acknowledges Rick. "Nobody else owned keyboards in those days! So, we could put up with the fact that he couldn't play by showing him what to do and laughing about it. But all of a sudden we were getting paid a lot of money to be good."

The keyboardist was fired, but "he turned around and sued us," chuckles Rick. "He said his job in the band wasn't 'musician.' He was the heartthrob of the McCoys!" Ronny lost his court case and was replaced by Bobby Peterson.

However, the band had other things to be unhappy about. As Rick points out: "We had been writing our own songs before we did 'Hang on Sloopy,'  but we went into a situation where these producers had an agenda of their own which included them finding songs and them writing songs."

"We were also disenchanted with what was happening to our image," he continues. "There was a kind of music coming in that people started calling 'bubblegum.' It included groups like the 1910 Fruitgum Co. and the Ohio Express; all the bands from that era got lumped together, and with 'Hang on Sloopy' we became one of those. We were labelled as teenyboppers, and it bummed us out because it had no relationship to the music, in reality, that we were doing."

According to Rick, the McCoys were by nature an R&B band. "We had been playing songs like 'Papa's Got a Brand New Bag,' 'I Don't Mind,' and 'Hi-Heel Sneakers' in our set. That's why, after the McCoys, we were able to become Johnny Winter's back-up band. That's why we were able to become the house band at The Scene in New York City. That's why we were able to have Jimi Hendrix come down and jam with us three or four nights a week while we were playing there. We were basically an R&B band. People just didn't know that."

The McCoys — Mercury Records promo photo
L-R: Randy Zehringer, Rick Zehringer, Bobby Peterson & Randy Hobbs
In 1966, the McCoys released a second (and final) album on Bang. Featuring a cover photo of the boys boarding a teeny airplane, You Make Me Feel so Good yielded one single (a cover of the Richie Valens' classic "C'mon Let's Go") which very nearly cracked the Top 20. Not bad, but not nearly the phenomenon "Hang on Sloopy" had been.

As disenchanted as the band was with the record company, so was Bang now with the McCoys. "We were disposable as far as they looked at it," says Rick. "To this day, record companies look at young musicians as exploitable, and they exploit them as long as the records sell. And when those records stop selling, they feel they can dispose of the band. We were kind of at that stage."

Advert for a Pop Music Festival in
 Ft. Worth, Texas featuring the McCoys
Although Bang would continue to issue McCoys 45s (sometimes combining non-album cuts with random tunes from the second LP) well into 1967, only the title track b/w "Runaway" would come close to troubling Billboard's Top 50.

Timing wise, it couldn't have been better for band. "We were looking for the first opportunity to get away from Bang Records," asserts Rick.

So, when the McCoys contract with Bang ended after the second album, the group didn't ask to renew it. "I think the record company was pretty surprised!" he laughs.

Although Rick didn't reveal the specifics of the Bang contract — which their parents had to sign as the boys were all underage — he did state: "Our parents sold us down the river without realizing it. We read it, and we realized it didn't look very good, but we had nothing to compare it to."

Mercury Records offered them the freedom to write and produce their own material, and in 1968 the band released Infinite McCoys, the first of two (shall we say unconventional) albums for that label. "It was the height of the psychedelic period," says Rick, "and we jumped right on that bandwagon. Our stuff was pretty psychedelic, pretty avant-garde, pretty experimental."

Hang on Sloopy: The Best of the McCoys CD
 (Columbia/Epic Records 1995)
Rick admits that the Mercury albums "didn't sell at all." But he proudly states, "It's good stuff. John Lennon had both of those records in his collection."

And he points out that what those LPs accomplished was more important to the band than sales figures: "They broke the mold and showed people that we weren't teenyboppers."

In 1969 the group shed any remnants of their teen-dream image when Texas blues-guitarist Johnny Winter hired them as his band. Of the four McCoys, only keyboardist Bobby Peterson didn't the make the move. "He chose that moment to have a nervous breakdown," notes Rick.

However, Winter was obviously still apprehensive about their teenybopper past. "Our bubblegum image wasn't very pleasant for Johnny to think about," allows Rick. So, rather than call the collaboration Johnny Winter and the McCoys, the group oddly became Johnny Winter And. "That way we didn't say — And The McCoys," observes Rick.

By the time the Zehringer brothers hooked up with Winter, Randy had shortened his surname to Z and Rick had altered his to Derringer. Why the change?

Advert for the All American Boy LP
Rick Derringer's solo debut on Blue Sky Records
"When I started working with Johnny on that first album, I thought it would be an opportunity to do a better record for more numbers," says Rick. "And I thought it would be a good opportunity to unleash a new name. Zehringer was always hard for people to pronounce. At the supermarket, my family will answer to any page that starts with Z! So, I was looking for a professional name, but then your family feels bad: 'What? Isn't my name good enough for him?' So, it's very hard to find a name that you can justify to your family as well as yourself."

His inspiration might have come from the pistol used on the Bang Records label, but a more interesting story says he saw the name in a dream — a scenario Rick is happy to support during our interview: "I saw the possibilities in a dream. My middle initial is D, and somehow the Z fell off and the D moved over, and I became Derringer! I thought, 'This is great! My family will dig it 'cause it's almost Zehringer. It sounds almost the same.'"

Following incredibly successful collaborations with both Johnny and Edgar Winter, Rick finally launched his decades-long solo career with 1973's All American Boy on Blue Sky Records. You can find out more about Rick Derringer by visiting his official website:

* Many thanks to Dyan Derringer for her help with arranging this interview.
* Thanks also to Jørgen Gram Christensen for finding many of the images that I've included here.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

The Cunninghams: Nice Guys Who Just Want You To Be As Comfortable As Possible

Seven Pearson
Photo from the Zeroed Out CD
Originally published in Teenage Kicks #2 (Fall 1997)

By Devorah Ostrov

After our pre-soundcheck, hour-long interview with the Cunninghams was over, Michael and I were out in the Warfield's glitzy lobby, chatting informally and comparing fingernail polish with the group's impossibly cute frontman, Seven Pearson.

"So, who are your favorite bands?" he asks me.

"The Replacements..."

"We've been compared to them," he says with a smile.

I can understand why. Both groups play/played an appealingly chaotic brand of brash pop-punk that sounds/sounded as if they just might explode at any second (or in the case of the Replacements, fall off the stage). And Seven delivers his angst-ridden lyrics of alienation, drug abuse and dissatisfaction (with the odd uplifting number like "Bottle Rockets" thrown in for good measure) with the same raspy, "I'm-so-pissed-off," impassioned intensity Westerberg (and for that matter Joe Strummer) was so good at.

Seven and Eric onstage at the Warfield
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
(Seven also says that they've been compared to Redd Kross, one of my other fave groups, but I can't see that at all.)

Anyway, what it all boils down to is, the Cunninghams have a lot in common with many of the bands that you already know and love.

And that's OK, because as Seven and guitarist Eric Craig (sporting faded blue hair and the smeared remnants of the previous night's makeup) stress during the interview, seemingly in all earnestness, is that they want people to feel comfortable with the Cunninghams.

Hence, taking their name from the '50s-based sitcom featuring the Fonz. "We wanted a name that was really common and familiar," explains Seven. "An icon-type thing. I mean, we could've been called Charlie's Angels!"

Hence, throwing random pop music references into their lyrics: "Ruby Tuesday got a second wind," sings Seven in "Narcolepsy;" "Junior's Farm" can be spotted on the right in "Generic Song;" the antagonist of "Wannabe" is warned Police-style, "Don't stand so close..."

Seven Pearson
Cover pic for Teenage Kicks #2
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
"It's a Where's Waldo kind of thing," quips Seven. "And it goes back to making things familiar to people. When you're familiar, you're comfortable. We just want you to be as comfortable as possible."

Later that evening, as openers for INXS, the Cunninghams blasted ever so confidently and energetically through a 30-minute set, acquainting the largely indifferent audience (with the exception of myself and Michael, I think it's safe to say that no one was there specifically to see the Cunninghams) with just about everything on their debut CD, Zeroed Out.

And Seven (looking like a classic punk with short-cropped, jet-black hair and tight PVC trousers, but sans his trademark heavy eyeliner) made one member of the audience feel particularly comfortable when he stood at the very edge of the stage, leant over the barricade and shouted the lyrics from "Wannabe" in the guy's face.

The story of the Cunninghams begins, not as Seven likes to say, "in the Amazon jungle," but in San Diego and Seattle. Seven spent his adolescence in the former, listening to his parent's soul and Motown record collection. "For me, that was good," he says. "That kind of music is all about vocals."

As a teenager, he discovered Queen ("Freddie Mercury was amazing!"), the Police ("They had a lot of harmony, a lot of melody"), and AC/DC. "The first record I ever bought was Highway to Hell," he gushes.

The Cunninghams: Scott Bickham, Eric Craig, Seven Pearson & Eliot Freed
Photos from the Zeroed Out CD
"That was the first record I ever bought, too!" exclaims Eric, who grew up in Seattle. "I bought it used from a little record store a block from my house. I think the first five records I bought were AC/DC."

"I bought it from a kid at school," says Seven, marvelling at this new-found bond. "That and Judas Priest. What was the live one?"

"Unleashed in the East," fills in Eric. These guys were obviously heavy metal geeks in high school.

Seven Pearson
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
"Yeah," nods Seven. "And I stole Kiss' Destroyer from a kid down the street. I borrowed it from him and kept it. That one and Hotter than Hell."

Eric was also fond of Eddie Van Halen. But before he became just another flashy guitar hero, his teacher instilled in him the idea that anybody could be a great guitar player, but not everybody could write a great song.

At that point, he says, "I became more interested in changes and chord structuring and arranging. That was more interesting to me than playing the guitar."

A few years later, Eric had formed the grunge-era Jesus Headtrip. He recruited the by-then relocated Seven, who recruited second guitarist Scott Bickham. But that band "just wasn't happening," says Seven. "We came close to getting deals, but it just wasn't what we wanted to do."

About two years ago Jesus Headtrip morphed into the poppier/punkier Cunninghams. With the addition of Eliot Freed on drums, and an assortment of bass players, the group began recording demo tapes with producer Don Gilmore. Their last demo featured a good portion of the material included on Zeroed Out: "Bottle Rockets," "No Complaints," "Narcolepsy," "Wannabe," "Can't Wait" and "Alienate."

Scott and Johnny at the soundcheck
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Gilmore — who made a name for himself in some famous Seattle band which neither Eric or Seven can remember the name of — "knew some people in LA" and was instrumental (along with a series of live shows which created the proverbial "buzz") in getting the group signed to Warner Bros. offshoot Revolution Records.

"Without him, none of this would have happened," states Seven. "Thank you very much, Don Gilmore."

Still lacking a permanent bassist, the Cunninghams entered Seattle's Stepping Stone Studios at the end of last year, emerging with Zeroed Out. Its 13 brilliant tracks zig zag from the pop-fuelled nostalgia of "Days Gone By" and "Bottle Rockets" to the gritty reality of "No Complaints" and "Narcolepsy."

Between sips of water, Seven filled us in on the inspiration behind some of his well-turned lyrics, beginning with "Days Gone By": Ain't it funny how the time seems to slip away/What was cool before is now cliché...

Eric Craig at the soundcheck
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
"It's kinda about scenes," he says. "They just come and go. Not necessarily the Seattle scene. Just all scenes."

Meanwhile, "Bottle Rockets" takes its cue from Seven's own childhood memories:

We were young and out for kicks
We were million dollar babies
Knievel was crazy
Bubblicious on your lips
We were all out of control
Always believed in the rock and roll...

"The happiest times of my life were when I was a little kid," he states. "I was really naïve and stupid, just starting to learn about life — you're first kiss, smoking your first joint, taking your first drink. And everybody chewed bubblegum!"

Meanwhile, it turns out that the adrenaline rush of "Wannabe," was the productive result of a "bad mood": Your circle closed to me made to feel like something/Less not enough for you well who needs those kind of/Friends when all I need is me — my life's a mess...

"When we do 'Wannabe' live," says Seven, "it's usually the last song. So, sometimes when I get off stage I'm still pissed off."

And the unhappy tale related in "Narcolepsy" is true:

Zeroed Out
(Revolution Records 1997)
Zeroed out on Vicodin
Sugar smack your only friend
Peel away your face on a Saturday night
Where do you get the appetite?

"That person was really sweet," offers Seven, "and to see her get into that scene, to see her literally lose her mind and have to go dry out... It was just sad."

But the most personally revealing lyrics belong to "Take It or Leave It":

Hold on tight, take a ride till you're scared
Jump off
I'm a creep, never sleep and I
Don't need anyone...

"I've been sober for eight or nine months now," acknowledges Seven, "but at that point I was just starting to get sober. I was trying to come to grips with it. Drugs and alcohol, man! For me, it wasn't good. I was a totally different person. I was a creep. I'm still a creep some days, but at least now I know it doesn't have to do with being on drugs or alcohol."

In all, the recording process took about four-and-a-half months (two months pre-production, two months actual recording, two weeks mastering). That's a coffee break for Queen, but a fairly long time by punk standards.

The Cunninghams pose backstage at the Warfield 
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
"We just wanted to get it right," explains Seven.

"We worked really hard," says Eric.

Seven: "We didn't wanna put out a record thinking, 'We could've done this better.' Could've/should've... There was no way that was gonna happen."

Eric: "Every second that we were involved in it, we were constantly thinking, 'Is it good enough?' But now that we're away from all that, we can sit back and go, 'Yeah, it's good!'"

My photo pass for the INXS show. The
Cunninghams were the "suport" band.
With the CD completed, the search for a bass player began in earnest. "It's difficult to put together a band that has what it takes to go to the next level," contends Eric. "It takes years to find the different elements. You just have to slowly gather people together. You can't just put an ad in the paper."

As it happens, the Cunninghams put ads in papers all the way down the West Coast, then held auditions in LA. The first few hopefuls were dismissed outright. "We'd explain to them what we were shooting for," says Seven. "That the band was, y'know... poppy. And we had guys coming in who were bald-headed, buffed and tattooed. We were like, 'Ah... no.'"

"There were guys with hair down to their waist," chuckles Eric.

Seven can barely contain himself. "And they would send pictures to us where they would scribble out their hair with a marking pen. And we were like, 'So, this is what you would look like if you got in the band?'"

When cool-looking Johnny Martin, bassist for LA ska band Cousin Oliver showed up, the Cunninghams breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Seven messing around at the photo session
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Seven: "We kind of knew right when he walked in."

Eric: "We'd seen his band one night at the Whisky."

Seven: "We found him quite entertaining."

Eric: "He was really off the wall, and strange, and peculiar!"

Seven: "He definitely adds to our live show!"

Johnny joined just in time to be in the video for "Bottle Rockets," a simple concept featuring the group playing the song in the window of an LA furniture store ("They moved a bunch of stuff out and moved a bunch of crappy stuff in"), while various hired actors ogle them.

It took about 15 hours to film and caused one traffic collision ("This lady was driving along and she was looking at us, and she ran into the back of another car"). Maybe you've seen it on MTV's 120 Minutes; the Cunninghams haven't!

"The other night we were driving through Barstow," says Seven, "and I heard 'Bottle Rockets' on the radio for the first time! I was like, 'Jesus Christ!' But we haven't seen the video on MTV. Our friends are taping 120 Minutes for us."

According to Eric, "Bottle Rockets" was the obvious choice for the first video. "It's an easy song to bop your head to," he points out, "and it has catchy lyrics that everybody can identify with."

Johnny and Seven onstage at the Warfield
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
"What songs do you like off there?" queries Seven.

I tell him that I really like "Wannabe," apparently just like everyone before me.

Seven: "Everybody likes 'Wannabe.'"

Eric: "It's our oldest song. We almost didn't put it on the record because we were writing all these new songs. But the record company wanted it on, so we worked on it and Don helped us with it a little bit. So, it made the record, and everybody really likes it. It's probably gonna be our next single."

Seven: "Everywhere we've played, it's like, 'Man! That song rocks!' And we're like, 'Yeah, okay...' But after a while, it's like..."

Eric: "It's like that record 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't be Wrong. If they would've asked us, 'What do you want your next single to be?' We might not have picked 'Wannabe.' But everybody can't be wrong. It's not for us anyway. It's for the kids and the punters!"

"Bottle Rockets" CD promo single
(Revolution Records 1997)
"Punters..." He picked that up from INXS.

Before hooking up with INXS, the Cunninghams headlined their own cross-country club tour, which included a two-night stint in New York.

"We played CBGB's," says Seven with the proper amount of awe, "and the Mercury Lounge. It was cool!"

"Historic," agrees Eric.

Still, it was a decidedly low-budget affair, that seems to define the word "gruelling."

"I think in the whole eight weeks we had three days off," says Seven, "real days off when we weren't actually driving."

One day off was spent sightseeing at Graceland. But most of the time, "we saw a lot of truck stops," grumbles Seven. "We'd do a show, shake hands with people, then we'd all pile into the van, all sweaty and shit, and it was off to the next city."

The support slot for INXS came about through a mutual booking agent. And other than some embarrassing car trouble in Phoenix ("We were right in front of the place, getting ready to pull into the parking lot, and the van broke down.") everything is going smoothly.

Johnny, Eliot and Seven at the soundcheck
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
"INXS are really nice guys!" enthuses Seven. "I'll be sitting there, and it's like: I'm sitting next to Michael Hutchence! He's talking to me! He's stealing my french fries!"

"When I was in high school, I used to see them on MTV every day," says Eric. "And now I have the opportunity to sit down and have a conversation with him. And they've been really cool to us."

Does the INXS audience know who the Cunninghams are?

"No," admits Seven, "for the most part they don't. They don't even know that there's a warm-up act. There's this music before we go on, the lights go down and they think it's INXS. Then they're like, 'Hey! Wait a minute...' But midway through the set they're like, 'This is cool.' We're winning them over. Nothing's flying up on stage, so I guess we're doing all right!"

Seven takes his own photos backstage at the Warfield
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
How is the band doing back in Seattle? Are they hometown superstars? Other than opening for the Screaming Trees at one of those Miller Light Blind Date shows ("We couldn't even tell our friends that we were playing that night.") and a one-off opening slot for Third Eye Blind, they haven't been back to find out!

"We've been on tour since the album came out," laughs Eric. "We haven't had the opportunity to go home and headline our own show since all this happened. That'll be the fun thing! That's when we'll get to gauge how far we've gone in our hometown."

Johnny and Seven at the soundcheck
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Before Michael and I take our leave, I mention that the band members don't seem nearly as alienated as their lyrics make them seem.

"Did you get that vibe from the CD?" asks Seven, all innocent.

Uhmm... yeah. From "Wannabe" and "Losing Team," and the song actually called "Alienate":

I don't make much for company these days
Keep my thoughts all locked away
I'm ashamed
I'm ashamed

"Well, y'know," says Seven, "it's not a constant thing. You have your days... Even though life has changed now, I still have days where I think that nobody understands; nobody gets it."

* * *
R.I.P. Seven Pearson, who hanged himself in February 2001.

Here's a link to the Cunninghams single, "Bottle Rockets"...