Jug-band rock group formed in New York: John Sebastian (voca …
No other rock & roll band has experienced the rollercoaster ups and downs in reputation that Paul Revere & the Raiders have known across 40 years in music. One of the most popular and entertaining groups of the 1960s, they enjoyed 10 years of serious chart action, and during their three biggest years (1966-69) got as much radio play as any group of that decade, sold records in numbers second only to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and received nearly as much coverage in the music press of the period (which included a lot of teen fan magazines) as the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. Yet when most histories of rock started getting written, Paul Revere & the Raiders were scarcely mentioned — at best, they were usually a footnote to the boom years of the late '60s.
By the late '70s, years past their last hit, they were playing lounges with a stage act that was just as steeped in comedy as it was centered on music, and in the 1980s they became a campy oldies act. By then, however, their songs had started acquiring a new luster and credibility. "Steppin' Out," "Just Like Me," "Hungry," "Him or Me-What's It Gonna Be" and "Kicks," in particular, were seen by oldies programmers and compilers as bold, unpretentious pieces of '60s rock & roll with a defiant, punk edge, and a couple — "Sometimes" and "Ups and Downs" — actually entered the repertory of outfits like the Flamin' Groovies and, from there, become part of the musical vocabulary of the so-called "Paisley Underground" psychedelic revival during the 1980s.
The band's roots go back to the late '50s, although musically they can trace their inspiration to the mid-'40s. Paul Revere was born on Jan. 7, 1938 in Harvard, Nebraska, but was raised in Boise, Idaho. He learned to play the piano and fell under the influence of boogie-woogie during the late '40s — he also developed a keen appreciation of the work of Spike Jones & His City Slickers.
Revere was still in his teens, a high-school dropout, trained barber, and restauranteur when rock & roll took over the airwaves and the charts, and it was the early hits of Jerry Lee Lewis, in particular, that became the catalyst that pushed him to join a band. He did just that in 1957, at age 19. Next aboard was 16-year-old Mark Lindsay (b. Mar. 9, 1942), who heard Revere's group play, asked to sing with them, and ended up replacing the band's vocalist. Their group, which became known as the Downbeats, was one of the few, if not the only resident rock & roll band in Idaho, and were popular at local dances. They cut a demo that got them to Gardena Records in Los Angeles, where the company's owner, John Guss, was interested in issuing a record on them — but only if they changed their name. Paul Revere's given name was such a natural as a gimmick, that Guss urged them to use it.
Their debut single, "Beatnick Sticks," was somewhere midway between Spike Jones's general output and Kim Fowley's "Nutrocker" (recorded by B. Bumble & the Stingers), a parody of "Chopsticks" that rocked like a Jerry Lee Lewis number. It never charted but got some airplay and interest locally. The follow-up single, "Paul Revere's Ride," again elicited local interest but little enthusiasm elsewhere. Their third single, the instrumental "Like Long Hair" (co-authored by Kim Fowley), however, made the Top 40 in the spring of 1961. Somewhere midway between Rachmaninoff and Jerry Lee Lewis, the record was fast and hard-hitting as well as very catchy, and it showed off the early '60s Paul Revere & the Raiders. That line-up, in addition to Revere and Lindsay, included Bill Hibbert on bass, Jerry Labrum on drums, Richard White and Robert White on guitars.
The group's national exposure stalled at that point when Revere was drafted. As the son of a pacifist Mennonite family, however, he was granted Conscientious Objector status and spent his alternative service as a cook at a mental hospital in Oregon. The band continued playing concerts for a short time at the outset of his service, with Leon Russell filling in for Revere at the ivories, touring as "Paul Revere's Raiders" in the wake of the success of "Like Long Hair," but by the summer of 1961 this early version of the group had broken up.
In late 1962, Lindsay rejoined Revere in a new incarnation of Paul Revere & the Raiders. Now based in Portland, OR, and with deejay Roger Hart managing and promoting the new band, they took off once again, bigger than ever locally despite not having had a hit record. The early reformed band — which included Charlie Coe, Pierre Oulette, and Steve West on guitars, and Ross Alamang on bass — soon added Mike Smith, who switched from guitar to drums and stayed with the band for the next six years. Guitarist Drake Levin, of the Sir Winston Trio (who also worked as the Surfers), came aboard in a slightly more stripped down Raiders line-up after an offer of an audition by Revere; bassist and fellow Sir Douglas alumnus Mike "Doc" Holiday followed his lead and also joined in 1963. By the middle of that year, the group was one of the major music attractions in the Pacific Northwest, but had been unable to chart a record since the spring of 1961.
They were a formidable outfit, drawing on the best of R&B as their inspiration. One could hear influences ranging from James Brown and King Curtis to Piano Red in their sound, and also the blues of Jimmy Reed and B.B. King, as well as classical and jazz, all rolled into a coherent whole that was irresistable as dance music. There were lots of white bands like that — in the Pacific Northwest alone, the group was in fierce competition with bands like the Kingsmen and the Wailers, to name but two of their major rivals; Los Angeles had the Standells, and on the East Coast, groups like the Unbeatables, fronted by future Rascals guitarist Gene Cornish played around New York, and further south Bill Deal and the Rhondels carved a niche for themselves in Virginia and North Carolina.
What made Paul Revere & the Raiders stand out from the competition was their stage act, which featured astonishing antics by the band: Leaps, dives, and other acrobatics, reminiscent of Bill Haley & His Comets at their wildest (who, in turn, had borrowed a lot of their routine from the Treniers), along with lots of comedy, as well as Revere even setting his piano (a cheap throwaway model brought on for the finale) on fire. Years before the Who, the Move, and Jimi Hendrix attracted audiences with that sort of destruction, Revere was doing the same thing, and also anticipated Keith Emerson's organ pyrotechnics with the Nice. The group was soon earning as much money as it was possible to make concertizing in Oregon.
What they needed was a record that would break them nationally. It was Roger Hart who suggested that the group cut a single of one of its most popular concert numbers, a rendition of Richard Berry's song "Louie, Louie," that he thought he could place with a label, or at least sell at the band's shows and issue locally. Mark Lindsay had first heard the song done by the Kingsmen at one of their shows, and Revere and the Raiders learned it from a borrowed copy of the original. In contrast to the version that the Kingsmen made famous with its heavy organ, bass, and drum sound, Lindsay's tenor-sax dominated the Raiders' version. At the suggestion of a local sales representative, an acetate of the song was sent to Columbia Records, which had virtually no presence in rock & roll. Amazingly to all concerned, Columbia signed the band.
"Louie, Louie" was put out by Columbia late that spring. Unfortunately, the Kingsmen's version of "Louie Louie" was released first on the New York-based Wand label, and topped the charts on its way to immortality. aul Revere and the Raiders lost the race over the song, but had a contract, renewable annually by the company, with what was then the largest pop music label in the United States.
The group's next three singles were regional hits, scoring in the Pacific Northwest. By all rights, the band should have been on borrowed time just then, as an American outfit trying to compete in a marketplace that, since February of 1964, had been dominated by acts from England. They were at a disadvantage, but not a crippling one, because they had their live audience to sustain them while they went about cutting a single every few months.
Columbia assigned the group one of the few producers at the label who was suited to working with rock & roll. Terry Melcher was the son of Doris Day, one the label's top singing stars of the 1940s and '50s, and he was also one of a handful of producers at Columbia who didn't hate rock & roll with a passion. Most of them did, but Melcher had actually played rock & roll professionally as part of Bruce & Terry, a surf-music duo with Bruce Johnston, a fellow producer (and later a member of the Beach Boys).
Under the direction of Melcher and, to a lesser degree, Johnston, the group cut a series of singles on Columbia, and a debut LP that was half-studio and half-live, called Here We Come, cut in the fall of 1964 and issued eight months later. None of these attracted much attention, but the group simply kept on working. In January of 1965, Holiday exited the Raiders, and at Levin's urging, they asked his former Sir Winston Trio/Surfers bandmate Phil Volk (often known as "Fang") to join on bass.
Then, in the summer of 1965, the band hit upon a new, winning musical formula under Melcher's guidance. Recognizing that the music world had changed radically from what it was when "Louie, Louie" had been released, Melcher pushed the group to update their sound. He got them to create music that was a mix of fast-paced, guitar-and-vocal dominated Beach Boys-style rock & roll, and also the more intense and intimidating brand of R&B produced by the Rolling Stones. It wasn't that far of a stretch, especially to reach toward what the Stones were doing. The band had toured with them in the fall of 1964, and both groups were heavily R&B-oriented. It was just a matter of finding a song that gave them a correct angle of approach.
That song was "Steppin' Out," a Revere-Lindsay original that was released during the summer of 1965. It became the group's first nationally charted single in four years. Based on lyrics that Lindsay had written when he was 16, "Steppin' Out" also marked a distinctly new musical phase in the group's music. They would never entirely lose their R&B sound, but the group did become more sophisticated starting with "Steppin' Out. Instead of trying to sound black, they suddenly sounded punk — like cool (yet frustrated) suburban white teenagers, which was the audience they were aiming for. The sax wasn't heard too much anymore, and there was less lead guitar than rhythm — though that was sharply played — and suddenly Revere wasn't playing piano, but a Vox organ; his boogie-woogie piano was replaced by heavy organ chords behind the rhythm guitar and bass, all to startling effect. They suddenly sounded louder and more intense backing Mark Lindsay, whose performance was suddenly more personal and charismatic. In one fell swoop, Paul Revere & the Raiders had come up with their own unique variation on the rhythm-guitar dominated sounds of the British invasion.
"Steppin' Out" could have been the Standells or even Bill Deal and the Rhondels, but for the presence of Mark Lindsay. He was a powerful singer with a personality that surged out from the speakers, whether it was projecting lust, anger, or resentment, and he didn't sound like a teenager. Rather, he sounded the way every frustrated male teen of 14 thru 17 pictured himself looking and acting at the age of 21, free and ready to say what he felt like and make it stick, whether it was to girls on their mind or authority figures in their face.
Steppin' Out's release coincided with another, even more vital event in the band's history. The previous fall, while sharing a bill with the Rolling Stones, the group was spotted by Dick Clark, who was starting to put together a new afternoon music program, a 1960s successor to American Bandstand — the latter was still on the air, but was wilting somewhat in ratings and influence in the face of programs like Shindig and Hullaballoo. He needed a house-band for the new program and, after seeing the antics of Revere and company on stage, knew he had a group that could not only make decent records but also do funny things while miming to them, and could play any current rock & roll hits. His original plan had been to use Revere and company as the resident band and, once the show was a hit, replace them with a major band. He never replaced them.
"Steppin' Out" was released at the same time that Where the Action Is, as the show was named, went on the air, on June 27, 1965. It quickly shot into the top 50 and became the group's first serious hit, and once it was clear just what Paul Revere & the Raiders were capable of doing musically and visually, neither party ever looked back, recognizing that they were good for each other. Clark and the band renegotiated, and they spent the next two years getting network television exposure every afternoon for their songs, off of whatever new album they had out.
Ahead of "Steppin' Out," the band had gone through a period of visual metamorphosis, adding Revolutionary War-style outfits to their look. That began on a whim and became a concerted effort to look as different and distinctive as possible from the competition. In a period when most American bands were either cowering in the shadow of the British invasion, or casting out for new, hybrid sounds like folk-rock, Paul Revere & the Raiders stood out for playing straight ahead rock & roll and having fun doing it. Their name and their look added an element of topical fun to rock & roll, almost a humorous response to the British invasion, and their new sound was different from any of the home-grown competition. Clark's television show gave them entre to the homes of tens of millions of American teenagers every afternoon — the only other group that ever had it remotely so good was the Monkees, who were actor-musicians hired to portray members of a rock & roll group on television, and who didn't get on the air until a year later, and that was only once a week.
The latter part of 1965 saw the group move to Los Angeles as its new home base. Where the Action Is became a major part of their activities, and was shot in different locales around the country, and they finished work on their second album. Just Like Us, released on January 3, 1966, was a landmark record, filled with great songs and even better performances. Like the debut album of the Rascals, or the Shadows of Knight's second album, it stands as a monument to a moment in American music when a hard, lean, punkish R&B-inspired sound took root. They were rewarded, as well — spurred by the presence of the Top 20 hit "Just Like Me," Just Like Us earned a Gold Record award for sales, granted a year after its release. Perhaps the cover of "Satisfaction" didn't add anything to the Rolling Stones' original, but it was a pretty hard and impressive performance, and damn courageous of Lindsay, Revere and company. Among the teenagers of the period, they were even known, informally, as "America's Rolling Stones."
The group also learned quickly from the recording of Just Like Us just how far they could go in the studio. Their earlier records had essentially been cut live in the studio, the band members playing their basic instruments, but under Melcher's guidance, they soon found their musical range extended vastly. Their sound blossomed in much the same way that the Beatles' music had when they got accustomed to working in the studio, and it opened a golden, glowing cooperative era in the band's history.
By the time of their next album, Midnight Ride, released three months later, and its follow-up, Spirit of '67, issued at the end of November of 1966, the group members were playing multiple instruments — Lindsay was playing three kinds of sax on the same track — and everyone in the group was singing. Spirit of '67 was virtually the Raiders' answer to the Beatles' Revolver album, complete with some very lightly and tastefully orchestrated music, proto-psychedelic tracks, and other musical developments of that year. Those albums went gold, lofted high and long into the charts by the hit singles "Kicks" — a great song that managed to be cool and anti-drug — "Hungry," "Good Thing," and "Him or Me-What's It Gonna Be," which were all Top 10 hits in 1966 and 1967.
The classic Raiders line-up was broken up in the spring of 1966 when Drake Levin was drafted. He joined the National Guard, which took him out of the touring version of the group, though he was able to record with them. To replace him, the group recruited Jim Valley (often referred to as "Harpo"), late of Don and the Goodtimes, who'd been a fan of the Raiders from their days in Oregon. These line-up changes were not as important as the changes that took place in the studio. Increasingly, Mark Lindsay and Terry Melcher took responsibility for (and control of) what songs the group recorded, and how their records sounded.
Additionally, the band played a decreasing role on their actual records — in a sense, Paul Revere & the Raiders became victims of their own success, and early beneficiaries of the revolution that swept over Columbia Records in 1966 when the new, rock-oriented regime under Clive Davis took over. Their records were making money, the label was willing to devote more studio time to those recordings, and with access to players like Ry Cooder, Jerry Cole, and Van Dyke Parks, among other ace studio musicians, all the band had to do was record the rhythm tracks on a lot of their records, beginning in 1967.
Their fortunes also took a downturn when Where the Action Is went off the air in the spring of 1967. Although Dick Clark would put them into a new Saturday afternnoon musical showcase called Happening '68, the group never got back the audience it had enjoyed. By 1967, their comedic antics and Revolutionary War uniforms also seemed dated. "Good Thing" was the last single on which the classic line-up played together, and it was a graceful way to bow out, reaching the top five. Gradually, the group's sound had changed as Melcher and Lindsay tried to keep up with the shifting shape of music and the taste of the public around them. Levin, Volk, and Smith decided to exit in late 1967 — they went off to found the group edit this info
Jug-band rock group formed in New York: John Sebastian (voca …
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