The stories about Iron Butterfly are wrong, at least the ones in print. Jack Pinney should know. In 1966, he and bassist Greg Willis were Iron Butterfly’s first rhythm section. Pinney was 18. At the time, Willis and Pinney (both had grown up in El Cajon) were members of a band called the Palace Pages, the house band at the long-defunct Palace, an all-ages club that once stood on the ground now occupied by the Home Depot near the Sports Arena. The Pages were in turmoil: the older members wanted to style and play lounges. The younger members, including Pinney, Willis, and a guitarist named Danny Weiss, wanted to grow their hair long and play harder rock. The Pages split. The older guys went with Gary Puckett and started the Union Gap, and the younger guys formed Iron Butterfly. “The name came from San Francisco. We were playing a show with the Friendly Stranger and the Iron Butterfly, but the Iron Butterfly never showed. They broke up on the way down, and we thought it was a pretty good name.”
According to everything I’ve read, Iron Butterfly moved to Los Angeles without you and that was the end of your involvement.
“No, that’s not true. I went to Los Angeles with them for the first year. We played Art Laboe’s, Pandora’s Box, and the Hullabaloo Club with the big revolving stage. Ron Bushy was in a band that played the Hi Ho Club. It was called the Voxmen. We traded places.”
“He was the drummer that was on all their records. He was the drummer that did the Solo.” (He emphasizes “the solo” in reference to Bushy’s iconic drumwork midway through the band’s hit, “In A Gadda Da Vida,” the title track from the Butterfly’s second album that sold upwards of 20 million copies.)
Did the version of Iron Butterfly that you and Willis were in sound like the Iron Butterfly on record?
“We played the same cover songs that were on the first album. I don’t know what we sounded like.”
1966 through 1969 were busy years for you. Back in San Diego, you drummed in the house band at the Cinnamon Cinder on El Cajon Boulevard.
“Every group from the ’50s went through there — the Coasters, the Drifters, the Shirelles — every weekend, we backed up somebody.”
As the Roosters?
“Yes. We wore outfits on stage. This was back in the soul days, when you could get away with wearing sharkskin suits.”
Blues Messenger was your formal introduction to Jerry Raney, a guitarist that you would work with for much of the remainder of your club band career.
“Jerry has a unique style that any musician can pick out. His playing is lyrical and his phrasing is better than anybody’s. Blues Messenger ended up being the Glory band. We never played the Top 40 of anything. We were always digging up the flip sides of records.”
After Glory came Jerry Raney and the Shames, a power trio with you, Raney, and Greg Willis.
“That was one of my favorite bands.”
Post-Shames, Raney would go on to start the Beat Farmers. Later, you landed up with BUddy Blue, who had recently left the Beat Farmers to start a roots-rock band he called The Jacks.
“I was the only Jack in the Jacks.” He laughs. “I played in that band with Chris Sullivan, Buddy, and Mighty Joe Longa. We put out a couple of albums. Jacks are Wild was one of them. Buddy had more feeling than anyone I worked with.”
Jerry Raney brought you in as drummer in almost all of his bands. Was there no place for you in the Beat Farmers?
“I thought the band was a good place for Jerry, but there was no room there for me. I always saw that as Dan’s [McClain, aka Country Dick Montana] band. He played drums, and I played drums. And, it was not my kind of music. I did fill in for Dan, though, when he was undergoing cancer treatments.”
After the Jacks, you seem to have disappeared from the local music scene.
“Not really. I’ve been playing with Modern Rhythm for a number of years. When Jim McGinnis [formerly of KGB FM]was with us we did a lot of KGB events like the Sky Show. We warmed up for national acts, and we played at local clubs.”
Of all things, you found a career in the tile business.
“I’ve been with Arizona Tile for 28 years, and in the tile and stone business for close to 35 years. I’ve always said that I’d play more music if I had more time. I’m going to make that happen. I think playing the drums is like dancing. I’ll never forget how, and I’ll always want to do it.” ■