Walter Mencken 12:34 p.m., July 24
Interviews: Corky Laing, Edgar Winter, Wild Man Fischer, Joey Molland/Badfinger, Mojo Nixon
Life Goes On For Corky, plus Edgar Winter, Wild Man, Badfinger, Mojo Nixon, RIP Maharishi
Life Goes On For Corky, plus Edgar Winter, Wild Man, Badfinger, Mojo Nixon, RIP Maharishi
I know, it seems like every day ex-bandmembers are getting together with other ex-members of other ex-bands, to form yet another soon-to-be ex-“supergroup.” When diverse musicians with completely different backgrounds and experiences get together, the results can sometimes be an awful - albeit expensive – noise.
No matter how big-name the players are, you never know what you’ll get, or if you’ll still want it when you get it. The Firm with Jimmy Page and Paul Rodgers was as unexpectedly BAD as Queen with Paul Rogers was surprisingly GOOD.
(Very)occasionally, these musical amalgams can be quite startling, interesting, and even popular, as evidenced by the success of bands like Traffic and Asia. However, for every amazing one-off like Blind Faith, there’s a hundred Power Stations, Tin Machines, and Rock Star: Supernovas.
The shortlived group Cork was one of those rare instances where the music lived up to the musicians, tho they sadly never caught on outside of a small fan cult.
Cork paired-up completely different generations, consisting of drummer Corky Laing (Mountain), bassist Noel Redding (Jimi Hendrix Experience), and comparative youngster Eric Schenkman (Spin Doctors) on guitars.
While they were still recording their first songs, I interviewed Corky Laing about the terrific rehearsal tapes I’d received from Noel Redding, who frequently sent me new music to preview (much of which never ended up being released).
“We’re on the same wavelength is so many ways,” Corky Laing said of Cork’s three members. “It’s going to be a very rhythmic band, manic music. It’s Cork, so hopefully it’ll float!” The band introduced itself in December 1997, playing dates in Canada and doing a whirlwind east coast tour before going into the studio to record.
“I think that’s a healthy way to come up with stuff,” said Laing, “better than just taking a month off to record. When you’re a small trio, you’ve got to get out there and play, break the songs in. You have to suffer the road and the crowds. The key to rock and roll is desperation, denial and hunger. And we’re pretty hungry!”
For their live sets, Cork performed favorites by Mountain, Hendrix and the Spin Doctors, to be sure. When I saw them in New London, Connecticut, the following year, we were regaled by classic staples like “Mississippi Queen,” “Hey Joe,” “Jimmy Olsen Blues” and even “Tomorrow Never Knows” and even “Eight Miles High.”
Three great musicians, jamming on time tested tunes, but Laing was hoping that Cork’s NEW music would catch the crowd as well. “We definitely want to do something that lasts and has direction, but we don’t want to be precious about it. It’s got to be a bit ugly, if you know what I mean. I want it to still sound a little greasy.”
Laing knows about sounding ugly and greasy. The Canadian born drummer began his career as a teenager by playing onstage with The Inkspots at a summer resort. He initially played with jazz based bands, as well as specializing in Latin and cha-cha rhythms. “I used timbales, instead of tom toms. Then, when the bands I was in started to do more rock and roll, I figured what the hell, it’s all in the eighths. I didn’t have a problem turning off the snare. More drummers probably should.”
He met Leslie West while playing in West Hampton, when West was still with a band called the Vagrants. He became close friends with the mercurial, offbeat guitarist, a feat few other musicians seem capable of sustaining for long.
“Our relationship is based on trust and understanding,” Laing told me. “I don’t trust him, and he doesn’t understand me!”
Along with Leslie West and Felix Pappalardi, he and Mountain became the prototypal hard rock trio, coming along to further blaze the trail forged by the disbanded Cream (a band Pappalardi played a great part in shaping). Debuting at the Fillmore West in 1969 right before playing the Woodstock Festival, they stomped and bellowed and blew the doors off for two and a half turbulent and productive years, releasing four bombastic albums.
It was not a smooth ride. “Felix and Leslie had their differences in terms of positioning, and I had to be like the Henry Kissinger of the band, be the mediator.”
Some great songs emerged from their chaotic collaboration: “Nantucket Sleighride,” “The Animal Trainer and the Toad,” “Stormy Monday,” “For Yasgur’s Farm”...the band was unapologetically crude, abnormally loud, and outstandingly adventurous, popular with both hard rock and “progressive” fans.
Laing was involved with much of the writing. “We took melodies I wrote and roughed them up a little bit, made them more dramatic. Basically, Leslie would have these great licks. I would put in the fills and then Felix would come in and direct it musically. He’d make the songs bigger and broader, take care of the voicings.”
Regarding Mountain’s best known hit “Mississippi Queen,” he says “I was really influenced by the Band, so that one was my impression of ‘Crippled Creek.’ It’s the same backbeat, see, but Leslie took it pretty far, just came in and ripped it up.”
Mountain called it quits 1972. “Nobody did any harm to anybody else. If anything, we did harm to ourselves. There was a lot of self-abuse. Plus it was the old ladies, it was drugs, it was greed, ego - everything the Russians hated about America, we were living it! When Felix wanted to announce a breakup, I never understood why we couldn’t have just gone our different ways for awhile instead. That made no sense to me. We’d worked really hard to build all that up.”
Laing stayed involved with West. “Philosophically, we went in different direction, but musically we were on the same page.” The duo went to Island Studios in London to record, originally with the intention of forming a band along with Paul Rodgers (Free), Mick Ralphs and Overend Watts.
Things were going well until West invited ex-Cream bassist Jack Bruce to come in for a jam. “The next time I talked to Leslie,” Laing says, “he told me that his dream was to be in a band with Jack Bruce. I thought we already had a good band going, especially with Paul singing, but Leslie said that Jack could sing too and off it went.”
Jack Bruce broke up his own jazz band, and thus was born the musical conglomerate clumsily called West, Bruce and Laing. Booted, Ralphs and Rodgers would go on to form Bad Company, with Watts moving into Mott the Hoople.
“Our sound was a lot rougher than Mountain’s,” Laing told me. “Like ‘Why Dontcha,’ I wrote in just twenty minutes, and we jammed fiercely on it. We were flowing with ideas. We actually stayed together longer than Mountain had!”
Laing and West also played together on two Leslie West solo albums, “The Leslie West Band” and “The Great Fatsby,” touring behind both of them.
Then there was the Mountain reunion, initiated by Felix Pappalardi in 1974. Laing joined up, though he couldn’t be present when a live album was recorded in 1975. “I was sick, I got hepatitis in Nantucket. I ate some bad clams or something. It was too much money for them to turn down and they said ‘what the hell, we’ll do it without Cork.’ I was never crazy about that record.” (It was finally released in 1977, to lackluster acclaim).
Laing moved on to numerous projects, including a 1977 solo album “Makin’ It On The Street,” on which he also played guitar and sang. “Eric Clapton came down and played, Dickey Betts, Pete Carr, Clyde King - it was a great experience.” Half of the album was co-written with novelist Frank Conroy
There was also a “lost album” recorded around 1978 with Ian Hunter. They called their short-lived band Pompeii. “We played with people like Mick Ronson [Bowie guitarist], Lee Michaels, Steve Hunter, Paul Butterfield, and we had Todd Rundgren producing.” Their record label back-burnered the album’s release, and it gathered dust on a shelf.
Through the eighties, Laing worked behind the scenes on various projects, including a Broadway show with Don Imus and performing with Kinky Friedman, Meatloaf and others. His band The Mix recorded for Word Of Mouth Records.
There was even another Mountain album with Leslie West, 1983’s “Go For Your Life.” “But we were too generic, trying to be too commercial. I quit in 1987. Leslie was at his worst, doing a lot of drugs. He was all paranoid and becoming a real character so I just walked out on that one. It was getting boring.” Laing also became involved with music publishing, as well as running Polygram’s Canadian A&R department in the late eighties.
In 1993, plans were underway for a Mountain boxed set, with West and Laing set to record several new songs for the project. “We were in London, all ready to go, but we couldn’t find a bass player! Our manager Jim Davis suggested that we bring in Noel Redding, but we were all ready to leave for home. So we left the tape there and Noel came in to play some tracks, and it was just great! A real hip-hop shuffle.”
This new-model Mountain embarked on a U.S. tour, which is where your erstwhile reporter caught up with them in San Diego, at a club just off highway 8 near Mission Valley called Banx (formerly Lehr’s Greenhouse and a bunch of other places --- last I noticed, the building housed a seafood restaurant).
Says Laing, “I got along with Noel very well, but Leslie just tore him up, was really belligerent to him.”
This was obvious to me while I was visiting with Noel after the set. Laing was clearly upset and it was evident that nobody wanted to even be in the same room with West, let along ride up to L.A. with him for the next night’s gig at The House Of Blues.
My girlfriend Heather and I ended up giving Noel and his lovely lady friend Candace a lift to L.A. for what would turn out to be Noel’s last ever Mountain gig. On the way, we stopped at the Rolando house where the local band Collage Menage lives --- it was fun to watch them all completely lose their minds when I walked in the door with Noel Redding, who was featured on a Hendrix wall poster near the couch where we all sat!
“Noel’s a lovely man,” said Laing, “a gentleman. Very easygoing. But Leslie was just really arrogant toward him. Luckily, Noel didn’t hold anything against me and we kept in touch.”
(Redding & friend, Laing, Schenkman)
At New York’s Electric Ladyland Studios, in Fall 1995, Noel introduced Laing to Eric Schenkman of the Spin Doctors, who wrote most of the songs on “Pocketful Of Kryptonite.”
“When he found out who I was,” said Laing, “he was very friendly. I thought maybe it was just sort of a jive thing, but then we ended up staying in contact over the next year. He invited me to jam with him on The H.O.R.D.E. tour. When we jammed in New Jersey, everyone really seemed to get into it, especially the audience.”
While working on a proposed solo album, Laing called in Schenkman to play, and then Noel Redding was invited to join the mix (a recent Noel Redding Band lineup had included another Spin Doctor, Anthony Krizan). Laing says it was soon evident that the trio had the makings of a solid band. “I do a lot of the writing, and Eric’s already put in quite a bit. Plus we’re picking up a few songs from other people. Noel usually comes in afterward to do his bit, but it’s on stage where we really have to boil it all up together and see if it’s soup.”
Unfortunately, the Cork album apparently wasn’t fully cooked, or at least their taste never caught on with the public.
Noel Redding passed away May 11, 2003, at the age of 57.
Laing released an audio book in 2007 containing his memoirs, “Corky Laing - StickIt! Rockin Road Stories.”
AN INTERVIEW WITH EDGAR WINTER
I caught Edgar Winter at his high tech home studio in LA, where he’s lived for around 15 years now. He was busily loading his keyboards and preparing to play in Japan and at Switzerland’s Montreaux Jazz Festival, to play a set of songs from "Winter Blues." "It has most of the people I grew up with and love playing with. My brother Johnny, Rick Derringer, Leon Russell, Dr. John, the legendary White Trash horns. Willie Nelson was going to be on the song ‘Good Old Shoe’ but our touring schedules didn’t match up so Leon did it instead."
"I didn’t want to just record a typical collection of blues songs. People tend to think of blues as something old, that’s already happened. What I wanted to do was show the diversity and variety of blues styles, and to demonstrate how it really has a pervasive impact on virtually every form of contemporary music that exist today.”
“The record starts with ‘Good Old Shoe’ because it’s the most primitive Delta gut-bucket back in the alley style blues, similar to what my brother Johnny plays. ‘New Orleans’ I wrote with Dr. John in mind [who plays on the track], more or less a tribute to Dixieland." The record also has examples of Texas guitar boogie shuffle, progressive jazz, snaky Stones style blues rock and even gospel. "I think gospel is one of the most overlooked influences in music. The whole screaming style of rock vocals, like call and response, is really derived from the charismatic black preacher singers."
Winter has been making all kinds of music since playing with his brother Johnny in the late sixties and then forming the prototypal hard rock band Edgar Winter’s White Trash in 1971 and The Edgar Winter Group (with Ronnie Montrose) in ‘72. Following was a string of FM radio staples like "Keep Playin’ That Rock ‘N’ Roll," "Free Ride," "I Can’t Turn You Loose" (an Otis Redding cover) and of course 1973’s #1 hit, produced by frequent Winter collaborator Rick Derringer, "Frankenstein" (originally the B-side of "Hangin’ Around" until DJs insisted on playing the flipside instead).
The Edgar Winter Album (1979) and "Raisin’ Cain" (1980) retained all the fire and ingenuity of classics like "They Only Come Out At Night" (1973) and "Shock Treatment" (1974), although public attention hasn’t always matched the levels of critical acclaim.
In the early eighties, he shifted his focus to session work with Meat Loaf, Bette Midler, Tina Turner and others. He collaborated with Rhino for the immensely satisfying "Edgar Winter Collection" in 1993 and subsequent overlooked solo gems like "The Real Deal" and "Not A Kid Anymore" have kept him touring practically year ‘round.
Winter reunited with Derringer in the early nineties for a well received tour. "It had been like ten years. That occurred more or less accidentally. We happened to be touring Japan at the same time and we thought, hey, why don’t we do it together? A ‘Live In Japan’ record and video came out in the States that was actually unauthorized. We’d made a deal in Japan and then a separate deal in the U.S. and the record company [Cypress/Goldcastle] put it out here and we ended up having to pull the record."
Another unauthorized trespass occurred when DC comics, in a series called Jonah Hex, drew Winter and his brother Johnny (or at least two albino characters who suspiciously seemed like the Winters) into a comic strip sequence that the Winters found somewhat defamatory, causing a heavily publicized lawsuit. It wasn’t like Edgar Winter needed media press to boost his career. Though his recording output had slowed, his songs were popping up in more and more Hollywood films.
"The first one was ‘My Cousin Vinny.’ I wrote the opening song ‘Way Down South’ [recorded for the soundtrack by The Fabulous Thunderbirds] just for that. And then ‘Air America.’ "Wayne’s World II’ [a re-recording of the instrumental "Frankenstein"], the Tina Turner movie ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It.’” Winter also did a song for the political spoof “Wag The Dog.”
“They needed a song immediately,” he says. “Mark Knopfler [Dire Straits] was doing the score and they put out the word to literally hundreds of people to come up with a song called ‘Good Old Shoe.’ They wanted an old twenties style Robert Johnson blues song. I was going on the road the next day so I just put down some slide guitar and some vocals and sent it over, thinking nothing of it, and they said ‘This is it! We love it! We’re not even gonna listen to anything else!’ So I got to watch Willie Nelson and Pops Staple do the song and hang out with Robert Deniro and Dustin Hoffman." Winter’s own version of "Good Old Shoe" is the opening track on "Winter Blues."
Winter’s profile has been unusually high, with him turning up on the Letterman show and, yes, even in commercials. "Free Ride" was used for a Buick spot, but it’s his appearance with actor George Hamilton in a Miller Lite promo which landed the twosome in TV Guide’s Cheers And Jeers section (they got a Cheer). "I’m amazed at the attention that has drawn. Everywhere I go, people say ‘Aren’t you the guy from the beer commercial?’ It’s interesting to be recognized in that way."
So how did the unlikely pairing of the oh-so-white Albino and the prodigiously tanned Movie Star occur? "My wife Monique and I went to The Hamilton Club, an exclusive club near Beverly Hills. We met George one night and I sang a few songs at the piano. We sat around and swapped stories and he regaled us with inside Hollywood stories that were quite amazing and we talked until four in the morning. My wife commented on the chemistry between us, like the Odd Couple. Several weeks later, we got this call to do the beer commercial. We opened up the script and lo and behold there it was, ‘Edgar Winter - Rocker, George Hamilton - Tanner.’ The script was totally different from what it ended up being. We did it a hundred different ways. We knew one another just well enough that it was comfortable and fun and I think that shows in the commercial."
(Winter meets Hamilton)
Winter’s recent setlists usually include new songs, plus mildly aged cuts like "Real Deal." "Plus we’ll go all the way back to ‘Tobacco Road,’ ‘Free Ride,’ things from White Trash and of course the indestructible monster ‘Frankenstein.’ I’ve had younger people come up to me that think I wrote that one for ‘Wayne’s World!’"
Winter is proud of the way his song’s popularity crosses generations. "Part of what I’ve tried to do throughout my career is to broaden musical horizons and to break down some of the musical prejudices. I don’t see why people who love classical can’t appreciate rock or why country fans can’t listen to jazz. We’re seeing more and more blending of influences. I like to see people from different musical backgrounds play. And blues is pretty much the universal music. I had a band with Leon Russell and we went on over to Moscow for an event called the Music Summit, to foster better international relations through music. They love blues in Russia. They think of it as the music of the common people, the proletariat. We’d go to clubs and the guys would know all of the songs in English!"
BADFINGER MEETS JOHN LENNON
As cool as it is to hear the Badfinger/Paul McCartney song "Come & Get It" in that Buick Pontiac commercial every eight minutes, I can't help but laugh at how they leave out the more apropos lyric "Would you walk away from a fool and his money!" Not a ringing endorsement for Buick, at least not to anyone familiar with the song they're (over)using!
I’m a huge Badfinger fan. I was buying their ‘45s long before three of the four pivotal members died over the years (two by suicide). Back in the Stones’ age, in Wales during 1968, they were called the Iveys. Signed to the Beatles’ new record label, Apple, their first single "Maybe Tomorrow" peaked at US #67 in March 1969. The follow-up single "Dear Angie" was only released in Europe. They weren’t exactly taking the world by storm.
In a newspaper interview, original bassist Ron Griffiths once mentioned that being on The Beatles label hadn’t helped the band achieve any real success. Paul McCartney read this and went to 7 Park Avenue, where Badfinger lived and worked together. Giving them a demo of a new song, he said "Record this and you’ll have a hit record." The song was "Come And Get It," which he’d written for Magic Christian, an upcoming Ringo Starr/Peter Sellers film. The group recorded it with Paul playing tambourine and producing, little realizing the song would be used to sell cars 37 years later.
Soon, Griffiths was out and Liverpool guitarist Joey Molland was in. Guitarist Tom Evans (also from Liverpool) switched to bass, and the lineup was rounded out by Mike Gibbins on drums and guitarist Pete Ham. Changing their name to Badfinger (to avoid confusion with a group called the Ivey League), the "Come And Get It" single (from the Magic Christian Music LP) was a huge top ten hit in both England and America. Beatles comparisons were inevitable and some accused them of shamelessly copping the Beatles’ sound.
This constant matching against the Fab Four would prove their greatest boost - and their greatest hindrance. The single "No Matter What" (from No Dice) hit US #8, and suddenly Badfinger was hot. Their business manager Bill Collins (who’d represented Al Kooper and others) told the band that, with his help, they’d all become millionaires. Ironically, only Collins himself would ever approach that.
The group recorded in the big studio at Abbey Road, where The Beatles worked. "They had a cupboard in the corner and the Beatles’ stuff was in there," Joey Molland told me when I interviewed him in Mission Valley at a local BeatleFair. "When there was nobody in the studio, we’d open up the cupboard with their stuff. Rub their anvil for luck."
Besides their obvious musicianship, Badfinger’s vocal harmonies were sublime. They recorded themselves singing together instead of piecing together tracks. "We’d all be around the mike singing,” says Molland. “We learned each other’s phrasing. Pete’s phrasing was a bit stiffer than, say, mine was. And Tommy had this kind of nice lilt. We knew where to step back and where to move forward. George Harrison taught us a lot about that when he produced the Straight Up record. He actually forced us to do that stuff, to stay in the studio for hours on end doing oooohs and ahhhs. He’s a remarkable man I was such a complete Beatles fan. He talked to you very natural, you know...he was really regular and I was, like, well it was like talking to Jesus! I’m losing me mind and he’s being all cool."
Among Straight Up’s highlights is Molland’s tender slice of perfection , the love ballad "Sweet Tuesday Morning." "In those days, for a guy to sing that kind of song, I don’t know. I never saw Humphrey Bogart do that, you know what I mean? Or John Wayne or Clint Eastwood, none of them ever sang a love song. So it was kind of embarrassing."
Pete Ham was also crafting indelible pop gems, like "Baby Blue." "Pete was funny guy, very attracted to women. He never wore underwear on stage! Brilliant writer, so many great tunes. He was a worker as well. He’d be in that studio day in and day out. That’s really what he focused on, writing songs. He’d pull practical jokes. He’d eat blood capsules and run down the stairs making noise and then lay down at the bottom and he’d have blood on him."
At the time, Harrison was planning the Concert For Bangladesh benefit and had to drop out of the Badfinger project. Todd Rundgren came in to finish the album. "Oh, the heebie jeebies,” recalls Molland. “It was really weird, this fellow with red and yellow hair. He did make a big hit record, though, I’ll give him that." Their association with Harrison continued, as Badfinger played rhythm guitars for George’s All Things Must Pass album, as well as being invited to play at the Bangladesh show in August 1971.
"When you stand up in front of 20,000 people doing ‘Here Comes The Sun’ with George Harrison,” says Molland, “I don’t know what Pete was thinking, but I bet he wished he had underpants on that day!"
"One day," remembers Molland, "we get a call at the house on Park Avenue. It was Joe, John Lennon’s driver. He said ‘John’s recording tonight and he was wondering if you’d do him a favor and come down and play some guitar on a couple of songs.’ Of course we said yes...we went in [Lennon’s house] and there was the ladder in the vestibule, the one you climb up with the magnifying glass. So we go into the foyer and there’s a big staircase going up and the carpet was all black, the walls were all white. On the walls going up the stairway were these empty picture frames. Big beautiful gilt portrait frames. I remember a hammer hanging in this frame. I’m going, yeah, this is definitely Johnny’s house, isn’t it!"
"So we go down the hallway and into this billiard room...the door closes behind us and there’s no door there! It was all library books, like one of those secret doors, so we were in there walking around for a half an hour. Finally one of the panels with the books swings open and we go into another room and that’s full of Dr. Pepper. Crates and crates of it."
They finally got to Lennon’s home studio. "We sit down and tune up and in comes Mr. Lennon and Yoko. He sits down on his stool, says hello to everyone and says ‘The first song we’re going to do is Jealous Guy.’ He told everyone to keep it together, nice and simple. I put the headphones on and there’s John Lennon sitting five feet away from me playing Jealous Guy, and it was unbelievable. We did the session, he said ‘These Badfinger guys aren’t bad now, are they?’ He said we could f-off for awhile if we wanted to but we said no that’s okay, we’ll stay! So he did ‘I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier,’ and we banged around on that for awhile."
"Day After Day" was a million selling single (US #4). At the same time, Harry Nilssons’s version of Badfinger’s "Without You" went to US #1. But in 1973, their record deal with Apple ran out and they signed with Warner Brothers. Apple, as a business, was falling apart anyway and would soon collapse. When the label went into receivership and the Beatles started suing each other, publishing rights and royalties to Badfinger’s songs were held up in the same court proceedings.
In 1974, WB released the group’s new LP, Badfinger, just as Apple released Ass, a compilation of material left off Straight up and tracks rejected by Apple. With two records out at same time, sales on both were poor. Then in March 1974, WB removed all Badfinger LPs from stores, filing a lawsuit against Badfinger Enterprises. Their business manager was accused of mishandling their affairs and the band would sue him (he’d sue them back).
The last album with all four pivotal members, Wish You Were Here, never even cracked the US top 100 (more’s the pity, since it’s merely fabulous). Personal problems also plagued the group, and they’d seen almost no income from their hard work. At one point, Ham quit the band (and then rejoined). Molland also quit, and Gibbins announced that he wanted to spend more time at home with his son Owen.
On April 24 1975, Pete Ham hung himself in the garage of his London home. He was 27.
"He believed in the people around him,” says Molland. “He trusted people implicitly but unfortunately he put his trust in the wrong people. When he died, he was broke, his phone was going to be cut off, his wife was pregnant and she was going into the hospital. It was a really bad scene and there was nobody there to help him. He would not accept the fact that these people were doing this to him. You know, the manager was shopping him a solo deal. Like he was planning on the band breaking up."
"It’s frustrating," says Molland. "You can’t turn back the hands of time. The lawyers couldn’t help, it was contractual interference. The management company couldn’t help, the record company couldn’t help because the last two records hadn’t sold very well. And there was the Warner Brothers lawsuit going on. The manager was hopeless - he freely admits it now, he admits riding around in a limousine in New York and not reading our contracts. It’s just stunning. These people to this day still kind of fob it off to some kind of gray area over there but the reality of it is that they were directly responsible for it."
After Ham’s suicide, the band fell apart. Mike Gibbins moved back to Wales while Molland formed Blue Goose, then Natural Gas (I saw Natural Gas backing up Frampton on the Comes Alive tour - one of the only times I ever saw an opening band so thoroughly blow away the headliner!). Tommy Evans and Bob Jackson (who’d played keys with Badfinger on tour) formed the Dodgers and released several singles.
In 1978, Molland was working in LA, laying carpet. Evans was doing pipe insulation in England and the two of them decided to reform Badfinger. The resulting LP Airwaves is a minor masterpiece and they were back in 1981 for Say No More, recorded with Tony Kaye on keys (ex of Yes). But after a 1983 US tour, the group splintered once more.
Gibbins was married and living in South Wales. Evans was having severe financial problems and going to court, attempting to finally get royalty money from songs like "Without You." He told his wife Marianne that he was convinced the entire world was aligned against him.
On Nov. 19th, 1983, Tommy Evans was found dead in his Surrey England home. He’d hanged himself.
For the 1984 British Invasion tour with Herman’s Hermits, The Troggs and others, Badfinger consisted of Molland and Gibbins, plus Bob Jackson, Al Wodke (bass) and Randy Anderson (guitar).
Molland moved to Minneapolis and put out a hard rocking solo album in 1985, After The Pearl. When I caught Badfinger live in ‘86, their amazing set list included a wonderful segue from "Without You" into John Lennon’s "Mind Games." The poignant moment brought me near to tears, thinking about the great losses we’ve all suffered - Pete Ham, Tommy Evans, Lennon and so many others.
On October 4th, 2005, Mike Gibbins died in his sleep, at his home in Oviedo, Florida. Three of his sons play together in the Orlando-based band the Seven Sisters. Today, there’s more Badfinger available than ever, and the group is finally getting the attention and acclaim it’s long deserved. Rhino’s Best Of Badfinger Vol. II was a hit, as was Rykodisc’s Day After Day, a 1974 concert recording. Joey Molland formed his own label (Independent Records), releasing Timeless in 1989 (Gibbins appears on drums).
Molland still tours with a band he calls Badfinger. His 1992 solo record the Pilgrim may not a top seller, but I highly recommend it to anyone who loves Oasis, Jellyfish, Tears For Fears, Klaatu, or of course Badfinger (and I’ve never steered you wrong yet, have I?).
AN INTERVIEW WITH WILD MAN FISCHER
I have dozens of answering-machine messages from Larry "Wild Man" Fischer, onetime Frank Zappa protégé and Doctor Demento perennial. We became friends while he lived at various downtown flophouses in the late '80s and early '90s.
Fischer made occasional public appearances, including a 1988 performance at the San Diego Comic-Con with Bill "Lost in Space" Mumy's band. I helped the filmmakers behind DeRailroaded, a new documentary about Fischer, track down film footage of the concert. I was thanked for my efforts with a (collect) call from Fischer, whom I hadn't heard from in several years.
"They made a comic book about me," Fischer announced. (The Legend of Wild Man Fischer, released last year, immortalized tales such as the time Fischer supposedly took a dump in a fan's closet.) We chatted about mutual friends, and then Fischer asked if I've played any of his records for anyone lately.
I reassured him that, yes, I spin his stuff a lot and, yes, my guests are always amazed. Okay, sometimes horrified, but always amazed.
DeRailroaded recently aired on the IFC Channel and is now available on DVD. YouTube clip below is a bit of animation created for the cartoon, set to audio clips of Larry. All the imagery relates to his life and career. This is actually the full, unedited cartoon - only a portion of it appears in the DeRailroaded film.
The "mean bee" and "happy bee" drawings are by Larry himself. He drew the comic characters for me when he pitched a comic book series featuring his bi-polar bees (I think Flaming Carrot creator Bob Burden, a friend of Larry's considered publishing it). I lent the drawing to Rhino Records for a CD set I wrote liner notes for, only they never returned the art to me. I knew I shoulda sent them a Xerox.....
Long before David Peel, Weird Al, Mojo Nixon and The Rugburns, Larry "Wild Man" Fischer was carving out his own distinctive niche in the history of rock 'n' roll novelty and cult music. A street singer living on the obscure fringes of the L.A. subculture, in early 1968, Wild Man would sing anyone an original song for a dime. He offered these improvised and somewhat off-key ditties to anybody who'd listen, serenading unsuspecting passerbys with his most singular brand of certifiable loonyness.
Wild Man had been in and out of a few mental institutions, but he cut a charismatic figure, barely keeping his voice below a shout as he sang about his life, his dreams, his girlfriends, his family disowning him and any other subject that came into his head at any given moment. Disturbing and introspective songs, with lyrics which made it frighteningly easy to understand the sadness and desperation of Wild Man's merry-go-round world.
Already a cult figure among the city's rock 'n' roll intelligentsia, Wild Man came to the attention of another musical madman with an eye toward the satiric and outrageous: Frank Zappa.
Zappa had just recently begun his own record label, Bizarre, and something about Wild Man's rants intrigued him. In a move which seems strange even for Zappa, he put Wild Man in a recording studio. And let the tape roll. And roll.
Wild Man couldn't play any instruments, though he'd occasionally pick up a guitar and pound on it for sonic punctuation. He rapped and sang to empty air, about his mother and mental hospitals, about fame and circles and how he could move so fast that not even a cat could see him. Zappa filled up a double album of material and then brought in The Mothers to record some musical accompaniment for a few cuts. The GTO's (Zappa's groupies-turned-rock-stars) and wunderkind producer Kim Fowley helped out, and thus was born the album "An Evening With Wild Man Fischer."
Released in late 1968, "Evening With" was somewhat of a sensation, with songs like the a cappella "Merry Go Round" destined to become Doctor Demento staples. "Circle," with The Mothers, was even put out as a single, and Wild Man began playing fairs and clubs all over the country. Rolling Stone even lent credibility to Wild Man's growing rep with a positive review of "Evening With," saying that the double album "captures the total being of one strange member of the human community."
Wild Man would sing about his relationship with Zappa in later songs. He still complains that he never made money from the album and he can't recover the rights to his own masters, which are currently controlled by the late Zappa's wife, Gail. Yet he surprised most everyone by bouncing back in a big way. Then-fledgling Rhino Records was just working toward their first album release, and it was decided that an LP of new Wild Man music would be their premier project. Wild Man had already penned their theme song, "Go To Rhino Records," and next came the full length stream-of-consciousness experiment known as the "Wildmania" LP.
A comprehensive overview of Wild Man's recorded output is unlikely, since Gail Zappa has publicly proclaimed her unwillingness to release the "Evening With" masters, citing it as a poor example of Frank's work. Wild Man kept landing in off the wall projects, however. One new friend and compatriot named Mark Mothersbough, then of those robotic spudmeisters known as Devo, recruited him for an afternoon, to record a song (still unreleased) called "Fun With Your Body."
Except for the occasional concert, Wild Man withdrew almost completely from the music industry around 1985, and he's still disputing royalties owed by Rhino and Paramount (his lawsuit against Paramount was covered in Variety and elsewhere). He moved to San Diego to get away from the city where almost everyone seemed to know who he was.
Moving around between low key and low budget downtown hotels, he quietly became a San Diego street fixture, though he introduced himself only as "Larry" so people wouldn't connect him with his still somewhat famous Wild Man persona. In August 1988, Bill Mumy came to town for the big San Diego Comic Book Convention, along with a few musician friends, all of whom were also moonlighting as comic book creators. Their new band was called Seduction Of The Innocent, after a famous 1950's book which had tried to cite comics as the source of all juvenile delinquency.
Wild Man was coerced onto the stage long enough for an incandescent set which included his doo wop ditty "The Taster" and an a cappella rendering of "Merry Go Round" ("I'm getting a little sick of that song" he now says about his best known tune). The crowd was rowdy and responsive, even those who weren't familiar with Wild Man. His ever increasing volume, enthusiasm and his spasmodic on-stage body language proved infectious, and the audience handed Wild Man the most earnest and sustained applause of the evening. It was a rare performance, one of only two dozen or so "pro" gigs Wild Man can recall playing (he'd backed out on many more, becoming so undependable that few bookings were offered to him after so many no-shows).
Few are aware that, while in San Diego, Wild Man appeared in Rugburns video - the clip was only televised once, on local public access TV, and remains virtually unseen.
Wild Man was offered the chance to appear in the Rugburns promotional video by Bob Duffy, a friend of the band that Wild Man met at the local record store Garage Rock. The video project was being cooked up for the band's major label debut on Priority Records, "Taking The World By Donkey."
The longform promo was shot in various locations around San Diego, interspersed with live clips and interview sound bites with the group, but it is Wild Man's running narrative which propels the oddball project. After airing the one time, nobody at MTV or VH1 was clamoring to show the video, and it was shelved.
Today, Wild Man can't decide whether he wants to ever record again. There is, in fact, some question as to who would even offer to do the recording. His fan base was never large enough to give him hit records, though his notoriety and fame was and is widespread, especially among Zappa's legion of admirers. His psychological problems, like those suffered by Arthur Lee of Love and other Wild Man contemporaries who've never quite adjusted to the world around them, make it difficult for him to deal with the idea of getting back into the music industry.
I asked him if he was happier then or now. "That's a hard question to answer," he offers after a rare and thoughtful pause (Wild Man's non-stop verbal barrage is, by his own admission, overwhelming to many). "I was younger. But now I don't have all the pressure, I'm not always trying to track down royalties and get work. My fame kind of subsided after the seventies. Now I don't get depressed as much."
He did enjoy San Diego and says "I'd like to spend the rest of my life here!" He also likes San Diego 's yearly comic book convention, and even hopes to become involved in comics some day, perhaps with his good friend and biggest rah-rah supporter Bob Burden (creator of the well known Flaming Carrot comic book). He's been drawing primitive cartoons all his life, including illustrations for the jacket of his own "Evening With" debut.
To Wild Man, finding kindred souls in the cliquish comic book community was like finally finding himself a home on the Island of Misfit Toys, with all the other social outcasts and decidedly quirky comic fans and creators.
"I like the people in the comic business," he says. "They take me for who I am and I feel like I can relax at a place like the comic con. They're different from people involved in the music industry. I like them better because...because I'm not doing business with them!"
If he were to record another album, Wild Man does have new material. "I wrote this song the other day, about this guy James, he used to be in The Penetrators. I met him at a bookstore." He then sings me the verse of another new composition, "Nobody's Happy":
"I'm walking down the street and nobody's happy
Yes they are, yes they are
No they're not, they're not happy."
He sings with alternating glee ("yes they are") and glum ("no they're not"). Up and down, back and forth, from depression to manic joy and back again.
Another autobiographical insight from a man who wears his heart, his emotions, and his entire self on his sleeve like perhaps no other performer in rock history.
Wild Man Fischer is happy.
No he's not.
Yes he is.
(Rare unedited version of Wild Man cartoon from “DeRailroaded”)
(Wild Man Fischer)
THE MOJO NIXON STORY
Elsewhere on this site, we just loaded a nearly complete collection of every Famous Former Neighbors comic strip to run in the Reader since the strip’s inception (on the mainpage, click “stories” and choose Famous Neighbors from the menu).
The first Famous Neighbors comic was on rockabilly rioter Mojo Nixon. Few realize that the original idea for the comic strip was to do a series of actual comic book style stories on celebs with local connections. That concept was abandoned for the more versatile (and challenging) comic strip format. Below is the original full-length Mojo Nixon comic story, co-written with the Mojo man himself.
RIP MAHARISHI: Meatless Maharishi Meets the Beatles, or Yogi Makes a Boo-Boo
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is dead.
BBC reports: The Indian guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who is credited with setting the Beatles and other stars on the path to spiritual enlightenment, has died. The Maharishi, thought to have been 91 years old, died in his sleep on Tuesday evening, February 5th, at his home in the Netherlands.
Sometimes called the Giggling Guru and the Meatless Maharishi, he introduced the Transcendental Meditation movement to the West in 1959, with the intention of creating individual peace and enlightenment. By the time of his death, it had grown into a multi-million dollar empire.
Here are some Maharishi Comics & Stories from the locally-produced Beatles Experience comic book series, with caption narration paraphrased from published John Lennon interviews.
More like this:
- RIP Reader cover artist and underground comix legend Spain Rodriguez — Nov. 28, 2012
- What's YOUR Favorite Twilight Zone? — March 2, 2010
- Painting Rock Stars, plus Behind the Scenes: Overheard in San Diego & Famous Former Neighbors — May 8, 2008
- 25 Local Musicians Reveal “My Favorite Twilight Zone,” plus Local-Produced Zone Comic Books — April 3, 2008
- Secrets of Overheard in San Diego & Famous Former Neighbors, Mojo & Zappa Comix, [Paint]Brushes With Fame — April 2, 2008