“I can still rock,” says Danny Weis, co-founder of Iron Butterfly. The guitarist, who lives in Canada, spent the majority of his youth in El Cajon. The founding band members included Greg Willis and Jack Pinney, who like Weis came from a San Diego band called the Palace Pages.
“I fondly remember the years I would go see my dad, Johnny Weis, play guitar, backing people from the Grand Ole Opry at Bostonia Ballroom in El Cajon,” says Weis. “I was age 9 to 12, and I used to stand right in front of the stage and lean on it with my elbows. I wasn’t too tall then, I guess. I remember Johnny Cash playing right in front of me with my dad backing him on guitar with the band. [Cash] always remembered me and would stoop right in front of me, saying, ‘Folsom Prison?’ I said yes, with joy.”
Weis picked up a guitar at around age 12 and by 13 was playing with local bands. “I was always the youngest musician, as the others were all 18 to 21. I had trouble with club managers, as I looked so very young. They wanted me to dye my hair black and put on a fake mustache to look older. I didn’t.”
Drummer Jack Pinney and bassist Greg Willis were Iron Butterfly’s first rhythm section, having played with Weis in the Palace Pages. Pinney was 18. At the time, Willis and Pinney (both had grown up in El Cajon) and Weis were still 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.
By 1966, the Pages were in turmoil: the older members wanted to style and play lounges. The younger members, including Pinney, Willis, and Weis, wanted to grow their hair long and play harder rock. The Pages split. The older guys (including Kerry Chater) went with Gary Puckett and started the Union Gap, and the younger guys formed Iron Butterfly.
According to Pinney, “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.”
Says Weis, “We sought a band name that was heavy, so to speak, and also beautiful. Not long after, we all got into [the late] Darryl DeLoach’s…black hearse and moved to Hollywood.”
The band earned its bones by making frequent trips to L.A., to play at legendary Sunset Boulevard venues with other rising talents like Spirit, the Doors, Love, and Jefferson Airplane. They eventually moved to L.A., though drummer Jack Pinney found himself being phased out.
“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.” Bushy ended up being the drummer whose infamous In A Gadda Da Vida drum solo failed to keep Butterfly’s second album from selling upwards of 20 million copies.
Legend has it that Iron Butterfly ALMOST played at the 1969 Woodstock music festival. According to festival co-creator Michael Lang in his 2009 book The Road to Woodstock:
“Iron Butterfly was booked for Sunday afternoon, but John Morris [production coordinator and stage MC] told me that their agent had called with a last-minute demand for a helicopter to pick them up...apparently, the agent had a real attitude, and we were up to our eyeballs in problems. So I told John to tell him to forget it; we had more important things to deal with.”
Weis quit Iron Butterfly soon after recording their Heavy in Hollywood album. He went on to play with the Rascals, Lou Reed, Alice Cooper, and the Everly Brothers. “My early musical experiences in San Diego County would shape my entire career...there was a lot of jazz, country, and R&B.”
Jack Pinney spent the late 1960s drumming in the house band at the Cinnamon Cinder on El Cajon Boulevard, and is currently the longtime beatman for Modern Rhythm. Greg Willis and Pinney would later team up with Jerry Raney, to play in bands like Jerry Raney & the Shames. Raney and Pinney's group Blues Messenger ended up being the Glory band. Says Pinney, “We never played the Top 40 of anything. We were always digging up the flip sides of records.”
On October 3, 2002, original guitarist/vocalist Darryl DeLoach died of liver cancer at the age of 56.
On July 31, 2003 Erik Brann died of cardiac failure at the age of 52. He was working on a new solo album at the time of his death. The album remains unreleased, although friends and family are working on seeing its release.
In 2004, the group was re-formed and touring with early members Ron Bushy and Lee Dorman. Weis’s solo album Sweet Spot was released in June, 2006.
The band was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the September 2010 San Diego Music Awards ceremony, accepted by bassist Dorman. Mayor Sanders and longtime local DJ Jim McInnes presented the Award. They embarked on a European tour September 22, 2010.
As of 2011, the son of Doug Ingle, Doug Ingle Jr. (Patrick Henry High class of 1982), was a musician and recording engineer based in Rancho Bernardo.
Guitarist Larry Rhino Reinhardt died on January 2, 2012, at the age of 63, due to sclerosis of the liver. The band then embarked on a European tour, running through March 18.
In April 2012, Greg Willis suffered a stroke, most likely caused by high blood pressure. "I didn't have any idea I had high blood pressure," he says. "I'm completely surprised."
A Halloween benefit show for Willis was staged on October 28, 2012, at the Moose Lodge in Spring Valley, featuring the Farmers, a Glory reunion, Joey Harris and the Mentals, the Swingin' Kings, and Modern Rhythm. Bassist Lee Dorman passed away in December 2012.
Live in Texas, a concert album recorded in 1973 featuring Captain Beyond, co-founded by former Iron Butterfly guitarist Larry 'Rhino' Reinhardt and bassist Lee Dorman, dropped May 21, 2013, on CD and double-disc vinyl via Purple Pyramid Records.
In a 2013 Gibson.com interview, Boston's Tom Scholz cited IB's Heavy among his 10 Essential Albums. “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida is hideous, but this album was really cool. The last cut was called the 'Iron Butterfly Theme.' It was an instrumental, in a very strange time signature. That was the song that got me interested in playing guitar.”
In late 2014, guitarist Mike Pinera reformed Iron Butterfly with original co-founding drummer Ron Bushy, along with 1982 Patrick Henry High grad Doug Ingle, Jr., son of original singer Doug Ingle.
Their early album Ball was reissued in June 2015 an expanded edition featuring two bonus singles and improved sound compared to previous reissues, plus new liner notes by Bill Kopp. They played the Fair in Del Mar on June 17.
2016 saw the UK release of a five CD set containing a quintet of albums housed in mini LP sleeves and packaged together in a slip case, including Heavy, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, Ball, Live, and Metamorphosis.
Founding bassist Greg Willis, who suffered a stroke in April 2012, passed away November 11, 2016. A tribute concert was staged November 30 at Nicky Rottens in El Cajon.
As of 2019, the lineup featured co-founder Ron Bushy backed by Michael Green (percussion, vocals), Dave Meros (bass, vocals), Eric Barnett (lead guitar, vocals), Martin Gerschwitz (keys, vocals), and Ray Weston (drums).