So how did it all begin, what where your influences and inspiration to take up guitar?
I had taken piano and trumpet lessons as a kid but they didn't stick, I had always loved R &B and blues, and Rock n Roll when it came out, and I listened to it avidly. As far as guitarist were concerned probably Chet Atkins and Chuck Berry destroyed my soul, Chuck Berry just absolutely pulled me apart, I had never heard anything like that in my life. When I heard that I knew that was what I wanted to do. I started off with an acoustic guitar which was just terrible, I wound up breaking it across my knee after it cut my fingers up real bad, then for $25.00 I bought from a pawn shop a Sears Robuck electric guitar. I played that for a few years until I finally got a Gibson. I was playing with various pick up bands in clubs around Georgia, it was around this time I met up with Dallas Taylor.
So shortly after that time you headed west, and after a period spent in Arizona playing in pick up bands you hooked up with Dallas and made your way to California, eventually meeting Robbie Robison.
Yes, we ended up at Manhattan Beach. If it hadn't been for Robbie there wouldn't have been a Clear Light, I met him in a club and we told him about what we were trying to do and he said "I've got and apartment out there and I'm writing songs with a drummer." So we teamed up, if it hadn't been for that we wouldn't have put the band together the way it was.
You started off as the Garnerfield Sanitarium, what sort of material were you performing, was there anything that you had written then that ended up on the album?
We were just starting to try to write, we knew that what we wanted to do was write our own stuff but at that point we were doing stuff by the Hollies, Mamas and Papas, whatever was happening. We picked things that had good vocals in them, we knew right then that we wanted to have a lot of vocals.
At that point it was just you and Robbie on guitars and Dallas and Mike on drums along with Wanda Watkins on vocals, that must have been an unusual sound you were making then, not having a bassist.
Our first priority was to get a bass. Bud said I've got this kid living in my basement and he plays bass all night to records on the record player and you might want to take a look at him. We did, and although he didn't have the experience level we were looking for, he just had so much musical talent we just went ahead and hired him because he could sing and he was writing and he was a good bass player.
What happened to Wanda Watkins, how did she come to leave the group?
I think we felt like she didn't really write, and we wanted writers. She was a good person and she was willing but she didn't really fit.
Bud Mathis was your manager at that point, how much of an influence was he on the way the group developed at that time?
He was a good guy and he did us some good, he got us an audition with Elektra. One of the saddest things I have ever gone through in this business, they said he's not really heavyweight enough for you guys, you got to get rid of him. They talked us into it and I am still ashamed that I went along with it.
Robbie was quite a character by all accounts; he certainly cut a striking figure on the Clear Light album sleeve.
Robbie could do anything. One time in Sausalito he walked into our apartment and he had these squares of leather he had bought, and he had some scissors and some of that whipcord you make sails with, and needles. He laid that leather out on the floor and took some chalk and he took those scissors and he cut that shit up and he sewed it together in front of us and walked out wearing a leather suit that fit him perfectly. It looked great; it had fringes and everything, all done by eye. There was nobody like him, we found out later he was suffering from a kind of vitamin deficiency that made his nerves go crazy, but except for that he was the sweetest gentlest guy you ever saw in your life. It's just when he got hungry he had a Jekyll and Hyde thing, but he wasn't mean or hurtful, just anxious.
Of course he was married to Barbara Robison from the Peanut Butter Conspiracy during his time with Clear Light.
Barbara was a lovely person and a wonderful singer. The PBC were a great band. We were really good friends with them, in fact it was Alan Brackett that gave us the name Garnerfield Sanitarium
You played the first Love-In at Griffith Park in Easter 1967, which must have been a contrast to the days of playing small clubs like the Sea Witch.
That was quite a gig, 30,000 people there, the Steve Miller Band played along with Lowell George and his group the Factory.
Part of the deal with Elektra was the Clear Light house at 5215 Franklin Avenue, close to the Observatory at Griffith Park. I heard this was a popular place for groups to come by and rehearse and jam due to the soundproofing you guys had made with egg cartons and stuff, can you recall any of the groups that used to hang out there with you?
Tandyn Almer, the guy who wrote Along Comes Mary, used to come round often, Flo and Eddie from the Turtles and The Peanut Butter Conspiracy, of course. The Doors used to come by a lot, mostly it was just John Densmore on a regular basis, and sometimes Ray and Robbie and sometimes all of them would come and jam with us at the house. Those guys were good guys, with Jim it depended on whether he had been drinking or not, but they were good to be around. Robbie was a real sweet kid; he played with his fingers he didn't use a pick, he just had so much talent.
It must have been a great place to live in.
Yeah it was. We used to have this great mini jungle in the front yard off to one side of the house where the photograph for the album cover was taken.
It was also around this time that you filmed your appearance in the movie "The President's Analyst," how did that come about?
We knew agent who used to work for Bob Hope and that led us to getting an audition for the President's Analyst; we beat out 400 bands to get that part.
I heard that the Grateful Dead were the main group you were up against for that part.
I love the Dead; I loved Jerry Garcia he was a great classy act. I played several hours with him at the Avalon one time. We had played the Fillmore and I had gone out on the town and I came in that night-club and I had my guitar. He was up there with Spencer Dryden and Phil Lesh and they were just jamming and he invited me up to play with them. We started playing and I noticed the people who were sweeping the floor stopped sweeping and came up and clustered around the front of the stage and started watching. Jerry was just so giving and supportive I couldn't believe it, he just got underneath me and made me play like I didn't even know I could play. A sweet guy if ever there was one.
I also heard the Dead were influenced into getting a double drummer set up after hearing Clear Light play.
So did the Allman Brothers too.
You must have begun recording the album then too, how did you feel about being with Elektra and Paul Rothchild taking over as manager and producer?
We were very proud to be on Elektra, with the Doors, Paul Butterfield and Judy Collins. But we ended up with Paul Rothchild, talk about the fox guarding the hen house! That's why I had to go in the end.
You had problems working with him?
He was rather power mad. I remember once I was trying to do an overdub on a song I had written and he was making me so uptight I couldn't do it. There were people like Neil Young in the control room, and all these girls that liked us, and I heard this voice come over the intercom "You know, there are 10,000 guitar players in this town that can do this track if you can't do it" it was just devastating.
Is it right that you originally recorded some of the album with Robbie but his parts were later overdubbed by Ralph when he came in after Robbie had been sacked by Paul Rothchild?
We had to redo some stuff that Robbie had played on because Ralph and Cliff changed the band a lot just by the nature of Ralph being a keyboard player. Paul was here and there dissatisfied with some of the stuff and made us do it over. But he was also trying to select material for us, trying to find songwriters, he didn't think that what we had was strong enough. He gradually had more and more to do with the composition of the album and the direction of the band.
Doug Hastings also auditioned, unsuccessfully, for the group at this point as a replacement for Robbie, what do you remember about him?
He was a wonderful guitarist with the Daily Flash and a fine, fine player. I really rated him along side Ron Morgan from the West Coast Pop Art Experimental band and Danny Weiss from Iron Butterfly, under rated players.
Although Robbie wasn't a part of the group anymore he remained close to you guys, what was the light guitar he invented?
He invented a thing that he could carry around with him that lit up corresponding to where he put his fingers on the neck. He was such a great brother and an amazing fellow he invented a way to contribute even though he wasn't in the band anymore.
There was a real diversity of material on the album it sounds very eclectic. All the songs have a very individual character, your songs contrast very well with Doug Lubahn's compositions.
Doug was a damn good songwriter in his own right, Night Sounds Loud and Sand are great tracks and he was just starting out writing then. A wonderful musician, he played bass left-handed and upside down, a wonderful musician who could play and write. I always thought Doug had the best potential of any of us, he didn't write as much but everything he wrote was very powerful and very unique. We really used to enjoy playing Night Sounds Loud and Sand; sometimes we closed the set with Sand.
Mike Neys "A Child's Smile" always struck me as being a very delicate piece of psychedelia, not what you would really expect from a drummer.
Michael was a sensitive guy and an underrated drummer, he was kinda overshadowed by Dallas he's a very solid drummer in his own right. When Dallas and Michael were on it was like the heavens opened up. They actually worked on parts, it may not sound like it but they actually worked I'll do this high hat, you do this tom tom ride, they worked out things to stay out of each others way and to contribute to the overall sound.
The two covers work very well with Cliff's dramatic delivery, especially Mr Blue.
We completely turned that inside out, Tom Paxton told us he liked what we did with that, he told us in New York that he was quite happy with what we had done with it. We used to get pretty crazy by the time we got to that one when we played live. I never forget one time we played that and I ended up with just one string, the A string. Cliff brought something to it that we wouldn't otherwise have had. Cliff was amazing, one time we were playing in New York and the power in the club went out and all the amplifiers died. Cliff stood up there, without his microphone, and he started from memory performing stuff from Edgar Allen Poe and he went on with that for about 20 minutes until the power came back. It was riveting, it was spellbinding, and the rest of us were standing there with our thumbs up our ass!
Tell me about the incident at the Steve Paul Scene East club.
We had just finished our set and were walking down the staircase that exited off the stage when we heard a voice over theP Asystem saying "what's the matter with you people, didn't you come here to hear the music? We're not up here beating our meat! If you don't want to hear the music get the fuck out of here." So we're all looking around saying, "Who is that?" We counted noses and realised it was Ralph and he had just joined the band two days earlier in time for the tour. And we're all cheering "Go ahead Ralphie, tell them off." He continued haranguing the audience:"We've got our life in these songs and if all you can do is stand around, look at yourselves in the mirrors clink glasses and talk, get the fuck out of here." The management came right across the dance floor as we were coming off stage and said "OK, pack up your stuff, you're fired," so fired us right off the stage. Word spread in the underground press about this long haired band from California who came in and told everyone to kiss their ass and we got a bit of notoriety from that and actually got a better gig out of it!
I heard Hendrix would sometimes jam with you guys in New York, taking over Doug's bass.
Yeah that was true, but he kept to himself most of the time. More often I remember jamming with his backing guys, Noel and Mitch; they would often be hanging around.
You found out you were being kicked out of the band after you had sat in on the auditions to replace you.
It broke my heart, I was thinking it was a jam session and I was doing the best I could to support these people and then I found out they were auditioning for my job, it was terrible.
They decided to go with Danny Kortchmar, and it's rumoured a second album was recorded in mid 68.
I heard it; it's actually a pretty good album. It had some good moments on it. I heard an acetate of it at the time. Danny was a great guitar player and a great songwriter. He was little more polished than me, a little more pro.
You then relocated to Berkeley in San Francisco and later moved to a houseboat in Sausalito, what did you get up to there?
The first thing I got into when I left Berkeley wound up playing bass with Gale Garnet and the Gentle Reign. It was a good little band and we played around coffee-houses and rock joints up in Sausalito. She was a great singer and a wonderful person too. She was a great gal, and quite a babe I might add.
Then I hooked up with a local original music rock band called Transatlantic Railroad, I replaced the original guitar player, we played around for a couple of years, we would play up and down from Marin to Eureka, parties and that kinda thing. We may have recorded a few live things and studio demos. I kept on working trying to find ways to contribute. I played with another songwriter in Sausalito a guy called Joe Tate, who had been in Salvation, in a band called The Redlegs. We played a lot around San Francisco and Sausalito. That was a good band too, Joe was a fine songwriter.
What was the bluegrass band you played in sometime during the 90's?
The Homebillies, very aggressive and very frantic bluegrass, I played bass and we had a guy who played drums standing up. The lead instrument was a mandolin. We had a couple of great songwriters and we were a romping stomping kinda band. We did a lot of early bluegrass and Celtic songs too.