TERRY MELCHER.....

 

The Whole Picture

Nothing exists in a vacuum, least of all the infectious and incestuous California music of the early sixties. As fans, we were all well aware of the "infectious" part of that sentence, but with today's CD reissues and the more honest perspective they give, the "incestuous" part is now becoming evident to us. It's now possible to better understand the musical framework in which Terry Melcher worked with Paul Revere and the Raiders.

Although Terry was the Raiders' original assigned producer, he took a brief foray over to Capitol and Bobby Darin, leaving his Columbia job to Bruce Johnston. Bruce, of course, already had a Raider connection from 1961 -- at the last minute, he had decided to stay in California and surf instead of tour as part of the Mark Lindsay-Ben Benay-Rod Schaeffer-Frank James' "Paul Revere's Raiders" in support of "Like Long Hair." Leon Russell saved the day and took his place.

Late in 1964, Bruce took the Raiders in the studio and let them do what they did best -- perform a wild live show, with Mike Holladay on bass. This became the first side of "Here They Come" [and now, the complete session is heard on the newly-issued "Mojo Workout"], and the early pressings of the LP give both Bruce and Mike credit for their efforts in the liner notes. By the way, on the "Essential Ride" CD, that's Bruce's voice you hear from the booth introducing "Crisco Party" -- it came from the same live sessions.

Terry returned to Columbia, where he again assumed responsibility for the Raiders, and in early 1965, he produced the studio side of the Raiders' first Columbia album. There was a new wrinkle for the group -- Terry, as was his usual practice, used studio musicians on the "Sometimes" track -- Hal Blaine on drums, Carol Kaye on bass, and Billy Strange on guitar. The Raiders were on tour in central California, when Terry and Columbia had Mark fly down to put on the lead vocal. It was not a happy moment for the Raiders -- it was a sudden reality check on the power of the record producer. But the end result was that they practiced harder to prove themselves to Terry, and were probably better prepared for the studio on the rest of the tracks that they played on, than they might otherwise have been. Later, as the Raiders got busier touring, and Columbia demanded a recording output that would have been impossible with the travel schedule the group had, Terry resumed the practice of often using his studio musician network to cut or supplement tracks.

Three recent Sundazed releases (The Rip Chords' "Hey Little Cobra" and "Three Window Coupe," and "The Best of Bruce & Terry") have liner notes and interviews which give an excellent perspective on where Terry was coming from musically at that time, especially on the matter of studio musicians. It really wasn't a big deal to Terry, who saw things from the producer's perspective rather than the group's -- he just wanted to make the best records possible in the very limited amount of time that Columbia allotted in the studio. Terry looked up to Brian Wilson, and had learned Bruce's formula well -- the sound of the end result was what really mattered, and you did what was necessary to get that sound.

Earlier, in 1962, Terry had brought Columbia the musicians Phil Stewart and Ernie Bringas, and later Arnie Marcus and Rich Rotkin, where they became the Rip Chords. But soon most of their time was spent touring (does that sound familiar?), and in October 1963, it was Bruce Johnston doing the "Shut 'em down" parts of "Hey Little Cobra", with Terry singing lead. Terry's rationale was that he had cut the track for Bruce and Terry, but since the Rip Chords had some momentum going at that point, they'd put it out as a Rip Chords' record, even though it was technically a Bruce and Terry record. Terry says, "I didn't care whose name was on it...I just wanted to get in that Top Ten..." Terry wanted hits!

Columbia was not happy at first, but relented, and the song became a hit. As a producer, Terry now had carte blanche to do what he wanted at Columbia, because the label wanted hits as much as Terry did.

As you read through the liner notes of all of these Sundazed releases, you have a major urge to get out an organization chart and see how many lines you can draw connecting all of the characters. You'll see the same studio musicians -- many of whom Terry also used on Raiders' recordings - over and over. Pull out the Sony Byrds' releases that were produced by Terry and the same names pop up. It was the way he chose to produce records, and the way worked.

For a little treat, and proof that influence went BOTH ways, listen to the "Like Long Hair"-inspired opening chords on "Roger's Reef" (1964) on "The Best of Bruce & Terry." And no doubt you'll think you're hearing the beginning of the Raiders' "Sometimes" when you first hear "Roger's Reef, Part II." If you’re not confused enough already, these tunes were recorded by Bruce and Terry under the name "The Rogues"! This CD also has wonderful pictures of a very young duo, in my estimation looking no older than twelve, although that wasn't the case. This is a really enjoyable CD that you'll want to play over and over; then put on "Christmas Present" or "Revolution!" and you'll really be able to pick out Terry's part of the background vocals with Mark.

If you want to go a little farther afield, check out the Sundazed "Present Tense" CD by Sagittarius. As mentioned in last month's ARTYFACTS blurb regarding the song "My World Fell Down", participants included Terry Melcher and many of the folks mentioned above. The original project was co-produced by Gary Usher, who had been involved with the California surf scene, had co-written several tunes with Brian Wilson, and produced some of the recordings for the Byrds, and Keith Allison as well. More lines to be drawn on that org chart, and a little more understanding of the production of the Raiders' contemporaneous "Revolution!" CD.

If you can handle that, are you ready for a big "left turn" soundwise? Try to find a copy of Terry Melcher's two solo LP's - "Terry Melcher" (Reprise MS2185, 1974) and "Royal Flush" (BEL1-0948, 1976). Mark describes them as "Beverly Hills Country". But you'll see familiar names credited: Joe Osborne, Larry Knechtel, Ry Cooder (more Raider session folk), plus Hal Blaine, Bruce Johnston, some of the Byrds -- and mom Doris Day even sang back-up on one of the tunes! And one of the covers was designed by Jan and Dean's Dean Torrence. (Thanks to Doug Peterson for the copies. Yes, he DOES have everything.)

And that was the way many records were made in California in the early sixties. Mark describes it as a time of free flow of ideas and musicianship across groups and labels, a practice that is nearly impossible today with all of the legal mumbo-jumbo that has to be negotiated before the business affairs people will agree to anything. It was a kinder, simpler time then, a time when the Beach Boys could go over to Columbia Studio A to record with Capitol's blessing if Brian wanted to do it there.

In fact, the elite group of studio musicians that we've been discussing played on so many of the top hits of the time (including those of Simon and Garfunkel), that there is talk of getting them nominated to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for their contribution to the music of the era. It sure makes sense, and Terry Melcher certainly deserves a nomination as well.

And let's see, the Beach Boys are in, the Byrds are in, how about those Raiders?????!

- DEB LINDSAY

Reprinted from the August 1998 issue of Mark Lindsay's Steppin' Out!


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