Ruth McCartney interviews Neil Merryweather
Ruth: How did the second Merryweather record, "Word of Mouth" come about?Neil: It's kind of funny because it was my big mouth that started it off. I was driving our car with the guys in the band to our rehearsal facility in Hollywood and came to a stop sign. I had to make a left onto Sunset Boulevard. I looked over and recognized Dave Mason walking down the sidewalk. I was a big fan of "Traffic", so I immediately knew it was him. I yelled out the window "Hey, is your name Dave Mason?" He stopped and shrugged and said "I think so". He came over to the car. I introduced myself and told him our band was on Capitol Records, and asked if he'd like to get together to jam. That was the beginning of it.
I came up with the title "Word of Mouth". Robert Lockert and I came up with the mouth design on the cover. Also, at the time, one of the records getting airplay on the radio was the supersession album with Stephen Stills and Al Kooper, so I thought jamming with other musicians was a good idea. I was shopping in Hughes Market one day and even asked Mickey Dolenz from "The Monkeys" if he'd like to join the jam. He was all for it, but I lost his number. As for the other musicians on the record, Morey was working with Charlie Musselwhite and Barry Goldberg, and Steve Miller was on Capitol.
Ruth: How were songs generated at the jam?
Neil: When we got together in the studio to do the record, there was nothing written. The only thing I had written previously to the sessions was a song called "Dr. Mason" for Dave to do. "Teach You How To Fly" was a song that came about when Howard Roberts (jazz guitarist) came to the session. He started playing a chord pattern, and I asked him about it. He said it was a chord change that his 12-year old son was playing on the organ when he left to come to the session. I said let's turn it into a song. I saw Howard many times years later and he always thanked me because his son got credit on the album! He was a cool guy and a great guitar player. The album was also an occasion for Steve Miller and Barry Goldberg to play together again since their band broke up years before.
It was a fun album. Charlie opened his briefcase that he carried with him everywhere. He pulled out his harmonicas, his little microphone, and 2 bottles of vermouth. I remember Charlie and Dave drinking the vermouth when Howard Roberts opened up the cigarette case, I thought to smoke a cigarette, and there were all these pre-rolled joints in it. We had a great time!
The concept of the album was jamming with guests. The band did some of our own material as well. After all, it was our second album. The band was tight enough to put something together quickly. Really, how do you jam? You call out a key, the drummer establishes a beat, you lock into some changes, and you jam. We came up with some changes and basically took it from there it wasn't like we did ten takes. There was a review of the record in Rolling Stone Magazine by someone who said we used gimmicks, like singing through a megaphone. What really happened was Charlie was singing through his green bullet microphone. He played harmonica and sang into the microphone, and both came out of this little amp that he had. That's the free world we live in people are allowed to make statements, express their opinions and criticize such as this instance, but without basis, or any understanding of what they're talking about.
When Steve Miller showed up the next day, a reunion between him and Barry took place, the first time they'd played together since the Miller Goldberg Blues Band broke up. There was a different kind of vibe in the air, not as loose as the Mason, Musselwhite, Roberts session. Steve brought a new song he'd written and we did some blues-rock. It was a good night.
Ruth: You mentioned Stephen Stills I heard you had a shot at playing bass with CSN what happened?
Neil: When Merryweather was living in Topanga Canyon, I remember Taj Mahal coming by the house where we were staying, and other musicians as well. It was a family oriented vibe in Topanga during those times. Chris Sarns, the road manager for Buffalo Springfield came by a lot. He even got me a bass amp from Sun Music. He was staying at Stephen's cabin while Stephen was away in London. Chris showed me where the key was stashed, and told me that if I needed to get away to write, I should come over and let myself in. So one day I did. I picked up one of Stephen's bass guitars. It was a left-handed Fender jazz bass, but he had strung it right-handed. I picked it up and played it for a minute. I heard a noise, looked around, and there was Stephen just out of bed, wearing just a pair of underwear with a guitar strapped on. We jammed for awhile. Then, Chris showed up and we all jumped into a Volkswagon bus. Stephen was driving, and we bee-lined it to the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Stephen ran into the lobby and called up to Judy Collins room and told her to come to the window. We were standing in the parking lot and Stephen was yelling up to her to come down. He was crazy about her it was like a scene from Romeo and Juliette.
A short time later, Merryweather stayed at a variety of motels in Hollywood to be closer to the music scene. CSN was in the studio. Chris Sarns came over to the motel where we were staying and invited me to go to a session. They were playing "Suite for Judy Blue Eyes" that Stephen had written for Judy. Sarns said Stephen had sent him to ask me if I was interested in joining CSN. I had to think long and hard about this offer because I really liked Stephen. I thought he was one of the finest singers/songwriters/musicians around. To me, the Buffalo Springfield was a great band, but Stephen's stuff was the best. I was really honored to get the invitation, but I turned it down. It was a couple weeks before the "Word of Mouth" album came out and I wanted to be loyal to "Merryweather".
Ruth: It seemed that everything was going well why did you leave the band?
Neil: Everything was going well in some ways, but in other ways, there was somewhat of a band implosion as I mentioned earlier. While Dave Burt was living out in the Valley with a girl, we were staying in motel rooms, at our rehearsal facility, and at times even had to sleep in the car. Some nights were really cold, and the three of us along with our roadie, were sleeping in our car, but not Dave he was sleeping in a nice warm bed, and then showing up to rehearsals late, copping attitudes, and I started to really dislike him. I was contemplating replacing him and I had talked with a few guitarists that were ready to jump right in, but I let it slide.
On one of the rare occasions after a show at Balboa Stadium, Dave decided to stay with the band at the motel where we were staying. I was with my girlfriend at the time, Lynn Carey, whom I had been seeing and writing some songs with. She was the singer in a group called "C.K. Strong" on Epic Records. We played on a bill together with the "Blues Magoos", hit it off, and became an item. Lynn was a drinker, and could be very loud, and we had a spat. That night at the motel, Dave Burt stuck his macho self into the mix and that was basically it. At the same time, another band member sided with Dave out of jealousy of me as the leader of the band, which happens in almost every band. The situation came to a head and I told Lynn we were leaving. Just as I opened the door, Rick James was about to knock. He found out where we were staying, and came over to see me. I didn't even get a chance to talk to him because of what was going on, and I said to him "Here Rick, you want a band, they're yours." In the heat of the moment, I quit and walked away.
Ruth: Looking back on the situation, how do you feel about that decision now?
Neil: Under the circumstances, this was OK for the band because at least they weren't stranded. Rick did a thing called "Salt 'N Pepper" with them. I think back on it now and wish that level heads would have prevailed because I think "Merryweather" had a future. Our name was getting around, we were playing big gigs, and getting airplay and reviews. We heard that the promoter Bill Graham in San Francisco really liked our album. It was only a matter of time until we would pick up a tour and that's all it took to break an act. When we played live, we used a lot of the jam premise and really got into some exciting musical moments. It definitely had some energy to it. Our influences were different for acts in those days. Eddie and I came from a heavy rhythm and blues oriented situation which we incorporated into the band's sound. Coffi Hall was into the jazz thing, and Dave Burt was able to crossover all those genres. The writing and arrangements were unique and created some odd music. I think we could have gone pretty far, but unfortunately, that's the way Merryweather ended. But, Neil Merryweather didn't.
Another ironic thing that came out of this was a couple of weeks before I turned down the Crosby Stills & Nash bass job, Rick hit town with Greg Reeves, a bass played that he was going to work with to form an act, and Greg wound up getting the job with CSN, and Rick got my band out of it.
Ruth: Merryweather, Richardson & Boers was your next recording tell me about it.
Neil: Well, there I was without a group and I thought I'd go back to Toronto because they had some great players up there. I felt comfortable going back there and knew I'd find some new band members and that it would work. So, Morey Alexander, my manager and I flew to Toronto. We hit the Village scene that we all played on during the 60s and found a couple of guys I knew of. Robin Boers had been the drummer for the "Ugly Ducklings", who had a hit single a few years before up in Canada, and they were a good blues band, and I knew he was a real solid drummer. We found John Richardson who played with "Lords of London" and "Nucleus". I liked his playing too, and liked him as a person. We bought them tickets and flew them back to LA with us. JJ Velker was a keyboardist from Calgary. He was in a group called the "49th Parallel" and they had just broken up. I brought him into the sessions and it worked out fine.
l to r - Neil, John Richardson, Robin Boers
Morey was working with Kent Records, the old Bihari Brothers label in downtown LA. Morey suggested that a way to get the new band going was to do an album for Kent Records. I thought it was a good idea because I would get an advance and could support the band. We went into the studio. I had a couple of ideas for songs, and the record turned into an all out jam. We even covered the Lou Rawls song "Your Good Thing (Is About to End", and a funky version of Stephen Stills "Hot Dusty Roads" that I re-vamped using some of his lyrics.
We did the whole record in one night set up, jammed the tracks, did the vocals. I took the money for the job to stay alive which allowed us to rent a house in the Valley. We rehearsed there and Lynn and I worked out some harmonies and did a couple cover tunes. Morey liked them and suggested that we do an act for Kent Records. We called it "Mama and Papa Rockin' Family". We went back into the studio and cut "Shop Around" and Little Richard's "Lucille". Even though I think Kent pressed a single under that title, we didn't sign as an act.
Ruth: The next project was Ivar Avenue Reunion with Barry Goldberg and Charlie Musselwhite tell me about that.
Neil: Right after we did the record at Kent Studios, Morey got a call from RCA Records. The new A&R team Gary Usher and Dick Moreland wanted to put out another jam-oriented record to get RCA more involved in FM airplay. We contacted Barry Goldberg and Charlie Musselwhite again, and I got Lynn in on the sessions. We went into RCA Studios. To be able to do that, I did something that was probably the most stupid thing you could do as far as record deals go where I should have received permission from my label Capitol Records to participate in this album for RCA as a guest artist, I got a release instead. This killed the seven year deal I had with Capitol. In hind-sight, it would have been great to have kept that going.
As it was, we went into the RCA Studios and took the guys from Merryweather, Richardson and Boers, and JJ Velker, and included Lynn. When you're working with Barry Goldberg, you're working with a very serious guy. He's worked with some of the music giants and I was thrilled to be working with him. Charlie Musselwhite was such as pleasure to work with too, so laid back, a sweet guy. He really is the blues he lives it, what a harp player. We did a bunch of songs using ideas that Barry had, and some ideas that Lynn and I had put together. We jammed on a couple of blues songs "After While" by Otis Spann and one of Charlie's songs, "My Daddy Was A Jockey". Another interesting bit of trivia involving Ivar Avenue Reunion was the cover art was done by Dean Torrance of "Jan and Dean" fame.
Ruth: After the Ivar project, you stayed with RCA and did the Merryweather & Carey Vacuum Cleaner record. There was an interesting array of musicians on that record, even some of the Merryweather crew.
Neil: Gary Usher and Dick Moreland heard the Kent Record and liked my singing duet with Lynn, so they signed us as "Merryweather & Carey". They bought the stuff we did with Richardson & Boers & Velker, and that got the album started. I don't even know how it came about, but Eddie and Coffi were playing on some of the cuts as well. One of my favorite guitar players and people in the music business at the time was Kal David who came to LA from Chicago with Paul Cotton as the "Illinois Speed Press". He used to play the old "Experience Club" with us on Sunset Boulevard. They had albums out on Columbia Records. I liked Kal's playing and he was a great singer. I got him involved on the record. He came on board and played guitar on some of the cuts. I ran into Huey Sullivan from the "Mandela" at a movie theater and he wasn't working, so he played keyboards on some of the sessions before returning to Toronto. RCA paid for a billboard on Sunset Boulevard, with the entire side of the Whisky painted with the Merryweather & Carey Vacuum Cleaner album cover. I don't have a picture of it, and never have been able to find one. If anyone out there has a photo of it, please email it to me! That's about all that RCA did. We would have liked to put a permanent band together, but we didn't get the chance.
We also got an opportunity to appear in a movie. Lynn had worked with Stu Phillips, the music director for director/producer Russ Meyer cult movie classic "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" in which Lynn sang all the lead vocals for the star in the movie. Meyer liked our sound and featured us in a club scene for his second movie "The Seven Minutes". I put a band together for the shoot I played bass and sang along with Lynn, Kal was on guitar, Coffi on drums. Ed Roth was ill that day, so I asked Dave Burt to sit in on the organ how ironic that was.
On the movie set of "The Seven Minutes"
l to r - Neil, Lynn Carey, Coffi Hall, Kal David, David Colin Burt
Around the same time, Hal Blaine was doing some sessions with Elvis he was in one of the RCA studios, and Harry Nilsson was in another studio, and we were in the middle! Hal came in and listened to some of our sessions and told manager Bobby Roberts of Landers & Roberts about us. For a brief moment, he became our manager. Our involvement with Bobby really didn't help us that much. He gave us a few dollars until our advance came through. We finally received our advance, but waited until two days later to pay him back. He went ballistic because we didn't bring him his money right away. He started screaming at us and throwing things around his office. It was like a scene from a sick movie. We immediately left the management deal and years later, I saw a story about him on television and his speed-freak days, and it all made sense.
Another friend of mine at the time was Kim Fowley. When I got the deal with RCA, he asked me to help him get a deal too. I like Kim he was Hollywood strange, was plugged into the scene, and always had the most interesting insight on music and the people involved in it. He had a top ten hit in the earlier days and also wrote some great lyrics. I spoke to Usher and Moreland about Kim, and they signed him to an album deal. I was supposed to produce, but moved onto other things as you'll hear later.
Ruth: What happened to Merryweather and Carey?
Neil: Usher and Moreland, the A&R guys that signed us to RCA, were trumped by the arrival of the new President who had left Epic and came to RCA. When Lynn's band "C.K. Strong" was on Epic, he didn't do anything for her. So, I was worried because he started the change from personnel who cared about the artist and the music to the "suits". Don Grearson, an Australian came in as the new promotion guy for RCA. I was in his office one day and some albums were on his desk that still remained from the previous promotion man. In the pile was the Ivar Avenue Reunion record. He threw them into the garbage and said "This is old news". I immediately knew we were in a label situation that wasn't artist friendly any longer. I complained a bit and they flew us to New York to reassure us that RCA was behind Merryweather & Carey.
When we arrived in New York, the woman in charge of promotions was an out-of-her-mind pregnant chick. She had set up a few interviews with Circus Magazine and some other publications. I started to notice right away that this was not the kind of label I wanted to be involved with. I made some comments about this, and the President took me aside and asked me what I wanted. I told him I wanted a release, and we got it within an hour. They went out of their way to cancel all the interviews which backed up my feeling that these people were not artist friendly. I made calls to the writers that were going to do the interviews, and arranged for us to do them anyway. The next day, we were on a plane back to LA.
Ruth: How did "Merryweather & Carey evolve into the "Mama Lion" Band?
Neil: "Mama Lion" was an extension of "Merryweather & Carey," but I had a change in mind for awhile. A few months before the Ivar Avenue Reunion sessions, I was rehearsing at Studio Instrument Rentals and across the hall, Janis Joplin and Full Tilt Boogie were rehearsing there as well. After rehearsal, I was talking to my old keyboard player Rick Bell who was playing with Janis' band. I walked out to the parking lot, and Janis came out and asked me if I wanted to smoke a joint. I briefly got to know her for the flamboyant great person she was her laugh was infectious, just like her singing. She told me they were going to the Magic Castle for dinner, and asked me to join them. Later that evening, I called the hotel where Rick was staying to finalize the dinner arrangements, and the first thing he told me was that Janis was dead. This was an awful shock. Full Tilt Boogie broke up after this, and I always had it my mind to work with Rick again. So, the Mama Lion idea of a band with a woman up front kind of stemmed from Janis and Full Tilt Boogie. I was going to call Rick up and ask him if he wanted to be part of it, but he flew back to Toronto before I had a chance to talk to him. It took him awhile to get over Janis's death.
I put a band together with Coffi Hall on drums, and we auditioned for a guitarist and found Rick Gaxiola. The keyboard player was a guy named Charlie that played in a band we had met when Merryweather played out in San Bernardino. This was the nucleus of Mama Lion. We were rehearsing at Studio Instrument Rentals, and next door was a studio called Paramount. The owner Brian Bruderlin was a friend. He let me come in to do a demo on spec. We did "Gimme Some Lovin' " which I took to Russ Regan (who was instrumental in the careers of some of the biggest names in the music business when he headed up labels such as UNI, 20th Century and Polygram). He liked it, and when Russ said he liked it, I knew I had something. I realized I was part of the band and shouldn't be shopping the act. It was time to get a manager.
Coffi's wife had mentioned that she knew someone who was interested in getting involved in management, and his name was Ken Mansfield. He had worked with Verve Records. I went to see him at Family Productions which was headed up by Artie Ripp, who came from the early New York rock scene. He started Kama Sutra Records with some other partners, signed the Lovin' Spoonful, and started Buddah Records. After that, he got backing from Famous Music, the old Paramount label, and came out to LA to start this new production company. He heard the tape, met Lynn, and fell in love with the whole idea. Ken Mansfield went on to head up Andy Williams' label and later became Waylon Jennings' manager.
We signed with Family Productions, made some good money out of it, and were able to rent apartments on Sunset Boulevard. One day, Charlie was taking a shower, got mad and punched the shower door cutting his arm from the elbow down to the wrist, and was unable to play keyboards. When we were rehearsing at the Record Plant, this kid kept coming by talking about his band, and he played me a tape. The keyboard player was amazing, and I was told that his name was Jim Howard (more on James Newton Howard later in the interview). I got his number and asked him to join our band, and Jim became our keyboard player. With Jim on board, we started rehearsals for our first album. We were based at Family Productions which was attached to the Record Plant studios, so it was easy to move our equipment into the studio from our rehearsal room. We started recording with Artie Ripp at the helm.
l to r - Rik Gaxiola, Coffi Hall, James Newton Howard, Lynn Carey, Neil
Ruth: The album cover was quite risky for the time, with Lynn "breast feeding" a lion cub. Who thought of that?
Neil: The cover was my idea. Artie liked the idea and found a place north of LA called "Africa USA", a private game preserve where Hollywood-types would house pet tigers and lions when they got too big to handle. "Major" from the Tarzan television series was living at the preserve and had sired some cubs. One of the cubs named "Kimo" was used for the shot with Lynn. Lynn's girlfriend, "Maria Del Re", did the photo.
Neil with "Kimo"
Ruth: How did "Heavy Cruiser" come to be at the same time as "Mama Lion"?
Neil: This was kind of a fluke. Because of the publishing agreement I had with Family Productions, I was able to go into the studio when I had a song idea. I found a little 8-track studio called Hollywood Spectrum Studios. It was some dental office converted to a studio, and I liked it because it was comfortable and off the beaten track. One night, we jammed "Louie Louie" and "C'mon Everybody", and some of my song demos. Family Productions put a little tour together we went to Houston, St. Louis, Chicago, Philly and New York where Lynn got into a lion's cage at the zoo to protest the conditions that the animals were being kept in. It made the press and was quite a thing at the time. We were primarily there to open for Billy Preston at a concert in Central Park.
Bruce Albertine, the engineer at Hollywood Spectrum liked the stuff we did so much, he cut an acetate and sent it to me at Famous Music in New York. At a party at the Famous Music offices, the head of A&R gave me the package with the acetate in it. I opened it and he said to play it. He really liked it and wound up buying it. I called it "Heavy Cruiser". Artie made a chunk of money and we never made a dime. But that's the way it was the whole time we were with Family Productions.
One of the best parts of the first "Heavy Cruiser" album was putting together the cover. I cut out pieces of metal, welded them together and came up with the logo idea. One of my best friends, Herbie Worthington III, who shot all the Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks album covers, did the photo. My idea for the back of the album cover was to heavily arm the band. We found Stembridge Gun Rentals, which is where everyone in Hollywood got weapon rentals for movies. We met Mr. Stembridge who took us into a giant armory of incredible guns.
From left, clockwise Rik Gaxiola, Coffi Hall, James Newton Howard, Neil
We grabbed a bunch of guns we got 45 caliber Tommy guns, and put a 50 caliber machine gun in front of an old boat that was on the street of a western set. We propped it up and piled into the boat with all our heavy armor on. I called Marshall Brevitz, who became Bobby Womack's manager after he lost his lease on Thee Experience Club he was my first choice for the back cover idea. I draped belts all over him and stood him on the bow of a heavily armed boat ith his big gut hanging out it was really funny. Artie Ripp did not want our names on the album because he thought it would undercut Mama Lion, so I used the shot of the band instead of Marshall. At least you could see the players on the record.Ruth: Did "Mama Lion" ever tour?
Neil: We opened at the Whisky for our first gig and got great reviews. Lynn's father (actor MacDonald Carey) came with Gregory Peck, Andy Williams and Bill Dana, and a whole bunch of Hollywood types were there even Sly Stone was there.
We did the real Don Steele television show a couple of times and a few more clubs, and then there was a promotional tour for Family Production acts for their distribution deal with Phonogram International in Europe. They came up with the idea to send Lynn and Billy Joel to Europe (Billy's first album, "Cold Spring Harbor", was produced by Artie and Family Productions). Before the European tour took place, Artie got in touch with Bob Guccione, the owner and editor of Penthouse Magazine, who had seen the pictures of Lynn on Mama Lion's album cover. Bob loved the record and wanted to get involved in management. He offered us all kinds of press connections and great promotions. But Artie wouldn't let him. What we got instead was Lynn doing a spread for Penthouse. I was really grinding my teeth over it because I didn't think it was a smart thing to do.
I joined them when they were in London after Lynn did the Penthouse spread. We took tracks of the Mama Lion record without Lynn's voice, and she sang live on a microphone in meeting rooms for publicity people and the heads of the various divisions of Phonogram Records. We did London, Copenhagen, Oslo, Helsinki, Milan, and wound up in Paris. One of the more interesting side stories about this was when we were in Paris, Billy Joel was very excited because he was meeting with his father for the first time. This meant something to me because I never knew my father either.
Another highlight was visiting a thriving club down the street from the hotel where we were staying. It was built underground and in a dark, catacomb type area of Paris. Billy and I went in and watched a band, and at the end of the set, Billy said let's jam. I sent someone back to the hotel to get my bass, and we went up on stage. Unfortunately, the drummer was horrible. Billy made up some lyrics that basically described how horrible the drummer was! It was hysterical.
We had a chance at a real big break to do a world tour opening for Alice Cooper. When we were doing one of the first cuts for the first Heavy Cruiser album, Alice was recording at Paramount and we went in to do some overdubs on a song called "Miracles of Pure Device". There's a little mix-down room upstairs, and we wanted to do a keyboard overdub. So, we lugged the keyboard up the stairs, but there was no place to put the speaker, so we put in on a toilet seat. When Jim was doing the overdub, it was shaking everything. Alice came up, hung out and dug the song, and passed the word on to his manager Shep Gordon (through his management company called "Alive", Shep guided the careers of Blondie and Kenny Loggins among others). Shep came to Artie Ripp and offered the tour. Being the person that Artie was and is, wanting to control and own everything, he wouldn't give up the management even though at the time, we were only signed to the production company, and Artie didn't get management on the band until later. We were too busy working and didn't know what was going down, but I know we lost that tour because of Artie Ripp. We went out on a small tour. These were mostly press gigs to promote the album. In Chicago, Alice was playing a big concert in town while we were playing at the Rush Up. He came to see us and stayed for a few songs which really stung because we should have been opening up for him.
We played the Whisky again and some people came to see us who owned a hotel in Zermatt, Switzerland, along with Claude Nobs who operated the Palace Casino in Montreaux, Switzerland and organized the Montreaux Pop and Jazz Festivals. They got us a booking to play the Christmas season at the Palace and at Hotel Post located in Zermatt at the foot of the Matterhorn. We were thrilled. When we arrived at the airport and were ready to board the plane, Artie's partner in their so-called management company had the tickets but would not give them to us. He pulled out a contract and said Artie wanted us to sign, and if we didn't, we weren't going to Switzerland. I was against it, but we signed. This extortion squeeze play thing was typical of Family Productions. They did the same thing to Billy Joel's manager, but I'll get to that later.
We played in Chicago and Toronto and then went on to Switzerland. We found that the Palace Casino had burned to the ground. It was awful this beautiful historic building was in rubbles. The last act to play there was Frank Zappa. Just before he came on stage, the last song to play over the PA system was Mama Lion's version of Johnny Ray's "Cry" how apropos. Someone fired a flare gun into the curtains and Frank, the cool guy that he was, got everyone out safely when he saw the velvet curtains go up in flames. Prior to that incident, Deep Purple had been in the basement studio of the casino, and they were recording some tracks for their next album. The song on the album, "Smoke on the Water", is about this fire. We went on by train into the Alps. At the Zermatt stop, we were picked up by horse drawn sleighs and wrapped in bear skins. We went up winding mountain roads and came to this unbelievable site it was like a post card, like a set from a magical Disney movie. However, our stay there turned out to be another nightmare in the ongoing saga of Mama Lion.
We arrived at the hotel on Christmas Eve, and had dinner with English rock musician Tony Ashton of Ashton, Gardner and Dyke, and Jon Lord and Ian Paice from Deep Purple, and an Australian group called "The Meteors" they were to open for us at this incredible concert venue under the hotel that was dug out from rock catacombs, it was a famous place to play. As it was Christmastime, tourists, skiers, and students were there from all over the world.
The fire was such a tragic event for Claude Nobs. He was staying at the hotel recuperating from the ordeal. Being the fan of mine that he was, he asked me to play after dinner and led us down to the stage. I plugged in my bass and my guitar player plugged in, and we dropped a microphone into an upright piano that was to the side of the stage for James Newton Howard to play. Coffi sat on "The Meteors" drums that had already been set up. The four of us, Heavy Cruiser I guess, jammed a medley of rocking blues tunes. The crowd was on the floor in lotus positions, kind of like a "love-in", and they rose to their feet and gave us a big round of applause.
Unfortunately, this was the beginning of problems with "The Meteors", the opening act. The next day, when we were setting up, we discovered that there was no B-3 Hammond Organ. It was supposed to be included in the deal because it was a big part of the Mama Lion sound. We were going to use "The Meteors" amps. Our road manager came over with us to work the equipment side of things, and Jon Lord said to him "Go get my organ". They drove a van back to Montreaux and grabbed Jon's organ out of storage and brought it back to Zermatt. The problem was that when they finally returned, they didn't bring the volume pedal and we couldn't get it to work. This wasn't the only problem although we figured that we could use our Yamaha organ in lieu of the Hammond organ, "The Meteors" wouldn't let us use their amps I guess they were freaked out about our jam the night before. So, we wound up not playing at all. To top it off, we had a beautiful Swiss Chalet to stay in for the rest of the week. Our guitar player started drinking and partying with "The Meteors" every night, ignoring the whole problem that we weren't playing, partially because of them! At the same time, being in paradise to play and not being able to, was very hard to go through.
We made it through the end of the week and flew back to New York. I was very discouraged with the lack of loyalty portrayed by Rick, our guitar player. We were having dinner at Mama Leone's in New York, and I confronted him about his loyalty to our band. He said something that I didn't like and I hit him with a breadstick and fired him. While in Zermatt, he got really close to Ian Paice's girlfriend Wendy, and they wound up getting married. After being married for awhile, she left him and married Ronnie James Dio.
My relationship with Lynn was also deteriorating. She started thinking of herself more as "Mama Lion" the person, and it wasn't a band anymore. People were always whispering in her ear, telling her how great she was, or at least that's what she thought they were saying the term Beverly Hills soul comes to mind. Bolstered by substance abuse, the ego got out of hand, and so did her bad attitude. Although I was no longer interested in a personal relationship with her, I still wanted to see the band succeed.
Ruth: With all this turmoil surrounding the band, how did the second album get done?
Neil: Actually, I did the second "Mama Lion" and the second "Heavy Cruiser" albums, and then started the James Newton Howard solo album. We went into Advantage Studios in New York without a guitarist. We cut a song I wrote called "Where You Gonna Run To". James played great organ on that track and it wound up on the second "Heavy Cruiser" album. A rep from a company called "Ionic" told us about a new synthesizer they developed. The next morning, I took James to their factory to try it out and he liked it. I convinced Artie to buy it for us. That night, James had a new sound in his arsenal. We cut two Mama Lion tracks. One night, James was getting some real unique sounds out of the synth, so I suggested doing a James Newton Howard solo project. He loved the idea. Up until that time, he was known to everyone as Jim Howard. He never told anyone his middle name, so one day I called his mother to find out what it was. I guess he didn't like it much, but I told him he should use his entire name for the solo project and he agreed. We started the album with a couple of tracks before we returned to LA.
l to r Neil, Lynn Carey, Alan Hurtz, Coffi Hall, James Newton Howard
We played a gig at Camp Pendleton for the troops and although we still had a big sound with just the keyboards, I missed the guitar. Billy Joes let his band go, so I grabbed Alan Hurtz, his guitarist. He fit in great. With Alan on board, we played a show at the Hollywood Palladium with Loggins and Messina, and a pep rally for George McGovern. Bob Guccione from Penthouse was in town to do the Merv Griffin Show. I met with him and we made arrangements for Mama Lion to do Merv's show also.
I liked working with James Vickers, the engineer in New York, so Artie flew him to LA. I found a studio in North Hollywood called Freddy Piro's and booked time to finish the Mama Lion album. When I had an idea for a song for "Heavy Cruiser", we laid down a track. I took the guys back to Hollywood Spectrum and Paramount Studios and finished the Cruiser album. I found a poster of dogs playing poker and put the record cover together for the album calling it "Lucky Dog". Artie Ripp delivered the "Heavy Cruiser: Lucky Dog" album to Famous Music and collected more money and I got zip. Plus, our names were left off the album cover again!
Things were getting worse between me and Lynn. I remember I went to Mammoth Lakes for a weekend with another girl I was seeing. When I returned to LA, I found out that Lynn went to my apartment and took things she had given me during our relationship as well as personal things of mine. This was the last straw and I left the band.
The band went off to Europe again, replacing me with the bass player from "Smith". Lynn latched on to him, and they were in Paris when the band fell apart after Lynn did one of her dramatic Hollywood wrist-slashing numbers, running down the hotel hallway, blood squirting everywhere. The band imploded and scattered back to LA. Mama Lion was over.
Ruth: What happened to the James Newton Howard project?
Neil: James and Vickers continued to work on the solo project. I really couldn't add much, so I left the James Newton Howard solo album in their hands. After the guys came back from Europe, I was still doing my demo thing. I asked James to come in and put some keyboards on a couple of songs. I cut a song I wrote called "Let's Go Hide Away", and he put an outstanding piano track on it.
One day, I went over to Michael Ochs' office at Shelter Records to play him some of my new stuff and get his opinion. I had met Michael back when Merryweather lived in Topanga. He was managing his brother Phil Ochs at the time, and I got to know him as a knowledgeable music man.
I played him my tape, and when he heard the piano part on "Let's Go Hide Away", he was blown away. He asked me if the player was in my band and I told him he used to be, but he was free. Michael told me that Elton John was putting a new band together and was looking for a keyboard player. I thought James would be perfect and I told him how to get in touch with James at Family Productions. Two weeks later, James was playing with Elton at Dodger Stadium and went on to tour and work with him on many records.
I believe the James Newton Howard solo project wound up on Kama Sutra Records as part of James' deal to escape Family Productions, but I'm not sure what the arrangement was. I saw James in London when I was living there and he invited me to see Elton and the band's last gig at Wembley Arena.
Ruth: You mentioned earlier that you'd tell me more about Billy Joel & ...
Neil: Billy Joel's band had broken up and Billy went into hiding. As I mentioned earlier, the incident at the airport where we were blackmailed into signing a management agreement with Artie Ripp and Family Productions, also happened to Billy while he was away touring. Irwin Mazur, who was Billy's manager and working at Family Productions, was dismissed from the company. I found out about it one day when he was all down and told me he couldn't afford to buy his kid a birthday cake or present. I helped him out, and found out later how he was squeezed into giving a piece of Billy's management to Artie in trade for an office and a salary to support his family and pay his rent. When Billy came back to town and he found out, he had already had his personal opinions of Artie and this secured those feelings. This ended his relationship with Irwin and he went into hiding to steer clear of any connection with Ripp and Family Productions. I went in to do a bass-over on one of Billy's songs and it was obvious how painful it was for Billy. I remember my bass was in tune but I had to tune it higher to play with the track. It turned out that Artie thought the Billy Joel album was too slow, so they sped up the tracks. Billy was extremely frustrated because his voice sounded so "mickey mouse".
He wound up staying at Sandy and John Gibson's house in La Tuna Canyon. They were writers from New York and they put Billy up. Billy was playing as "Billy Martin" at a downtown LA bar to sustain himself, and tried to figure out what he was going to do with his life and career. The Gibson's called me up and invited me over because Billy wanted to see me. I accepted and after dinner, Billy played some new songs on the piano. I told him I was recording some demos in a studio and invited him to come by some night and he agreed.
Usually, these demos were done late at night, so after Billy finished up at his downtown gig at 2am, he showed up at the studio and played organ and piano on one of my tracks. My throat was really raspy that night, and we did a jam of Neil Young's "Heart of Gold". I wish I had a copy of it because it was unbelievable. We did about two or three things, and he told me he wrote the best song he'd ever written, and I said let's record it. He put his harmonica on, we set the mics up, and mic'd the piano it was "Piano Man". He recorded the whole song in one take, and it was fantastic. I gave him the 8-track tape and the 2-track mix of it, and the next day he took it to his new manager who took it to Columbia Records where Billy had a deal pending. Unfortunately, the cocaine payola to radio stations scandal had hit. Clive Davis lost his job and the new regime that came in did not want to proceed with anything that Clive had already started working on. The arrival of "Piano Man" to the new A&R people at Columbia blew their minds. Subsequently, he got his deal and went on from there. Although this is a little known story, it makes me feel good to know that I was a little tiny part that helped at the beginning of Billy's incredible career.
Ruth: You signed to Mercury Records and did two Neil Merryweather solo records with a sci-fi/heavy metal theme. What took you in that direction?
Neil: Actually, it was a combination of things. First of all, Robbie Randall, my ex-road manager, took me to see David Bowie at the Forum and I was very impressed with "Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars" I was a science fiction fan ever since I was a kid. I got the name "Space Rangers" from a sci-fi show on Saturday morning television called "Rocky Jones Space Ranger".
I ran an ad in the Music Connection magazine to find a guitar player and auditioned a handful of players. One of them was Timo Laine he had gadgets like an octivator, an Echoplex unit, all pumped at high volume, with distortion pedals and a wah wah. This steered me in the metal direction. Originally, I was thinking of doing a "Traffic" kind of funky thing, but after I saw Bowie, I wrote a song in five minutes called "Hollywood Boulevard" on a bet that I couldn't write that kind of music. Robbie Randall lost that bet.
I brought in Tim McGovern to play drums. I originally met Tim McGovern when he came to town on the same ticket as Billy Joel's band. Timmy's band was called "The Velvert Turner Band", kind of a Hendrix type trio. Both these acts were signed to Family Productions. When I saw Timmy play, I thought he was a great drummer. So, when I was getting the band together, the first drummer I called was Timmy to see if he was available, and he was. I went into the studio to do the "Hollywood Boulevard" demo with Timo and Timmy. Timo brought Robert Silver along. He played a Chamberlain keyboard, the grand-daddy of the Melotron keyboard and I used it to cut "Hollywood Boulevard". I thought this was really a unique sound, combined with the heavy guitar sound, so I continued in that direction. This was my new band, the Space Rangers.
l to r Timmy McGovern, Robert Silvert, Neil, Timo Laine
I set up rehearsals at a couple of different rehearsal studios I footed the bill for everyone including food and sometimes even paying some of their personal rent. I wanted to pursue my new direction with this particular sound. After a couple of months, I ran into Morey Alexander again, the original manager from Merryweather. I got him involved and tried to get backing, but to no avail. I called Morey Lathauwer. He was the Vice President of A&R at Capitol Records when Merryweather was signed to them. I wanted him to see the band, but he was on the verge of leaving his position there to go to Casablanca Records, Neil Bogart's new label. However, that didn't stop him from having faith in me and he gave me free studio time.
I took advantage of the two night four hour sessions of studio time by laying some tracks, a few covers that came from bass licks, and jams including "Sunshine Superman" and "8 Miles High". I even ran to a music store to buy the sheet music for the correct lyrics! The other stuff was original. One of the songs had a huge guitar chord opening piece. The arrangement was one of Timo's ideas. However, the original songs including melodies, lyrics and changes, were mine. I'd start to sing a melody to a bass line that I came up with, and then the band would fill in around it. I had the tapes and the closest we came to getting a deal was when I got Epic Records to listen. The head of A&R came in from New York, and they arranged a studio time for us at Village Recorders. I wrote a song really quickly called "You Know Where I'd Rather Be" I guess Epic had to see that we could play live to perk their interest. They liked the song, but I couldn't close the deal with the LA guy, even after his boss gave him the thumbs up.
Not long afterwards, I couldn't help with money anymore. Without notice, Silvert up and sold the chamberlain and his equipment, left town and went home to work in his family's business. Soon after that, Timo disappeared, but I kept trying to shop the tape. It got to the point where I almost gave up. About six months later, Robbie Randall took a copy to Skip Taylor's office Skip produced Canned Heat and other acts. His brother Jim Taylor was in the office when they played the tape and they were blown away. I signed a management deal with Jim and he took the tape to Mercury Records. When the tape was played for Denny Rosencrantz, the A&R contact for West Coast Mercury. His secretary, Danny, freaked out on it and I think she was the main reason that he went for it and I was signed to a solo deal.
I had to put Space Rangers together again. Through one of my girlfriends at the time, I found an 18-year old guitar player named Michael Willis. He was phenomenal. Another friend of mine had a band that was in town from Texas, and her boyfriend was James Herndon, a guitar/keyboard player. I checked him out and he was great. I called Timmy and we had the act. "Neil Merryweather and the Space Rangers" were back.
Space Rangers l to r : James Herndon, Neil, Michael Willis, and Tim McGovern
I started working on the album cover which was based on a poster I found in a thrift store called "Satan's Satellites", from an old movie serial that was shown at the Saturday matinees in movie theaters. I changed the "Satan's Satellites", used the same lettering and made it "The Space Rangers". I used a dome/hoop graphic around the picture. The original intent was to have the top two corners rounded off because back in those days, you could have albums dye-cut which made them more unique. I wanted to carry this theme throughout the Space Rangers albums, and continue to use it on future albums with different colored "hoops". Mercury wouldn't pop for the few cents to do the dye-cut.
There was mention in the trades that Mercury had signed me and I guess Timo saw it because he called me. I met with him and told him he was welcomed back. He told me he wanted one-half of everything I asked him if he was referring to my writing, my deal, or my ass. I acknowledged that a couple of the guitar-based arrangements were his idea, even though these ideas did not impact my writing, lyrics or melodies, and were only used in opening sequences, intros and turn-arounds in "Road to Hades" and "King of Mars", I was still willing to give him one-quarter of the credit, but he walked away. I heard from Morey Alexander that he was trying to publish my songs. That didn't work, and by the time he saw the light and called me back, the new band was set to open the Whisky. One-half of our set was new songs.
One of the first things I did to get the record ready for release was I re-overdubbed some parts. There were some holes in the original session tapes because after all, most of it was jammed quickly. We matched up the sound and added some heavy guitar chords and effects, and synthesizer backup-parts. Mike Willis played an incredible blistering solo on one of my songs called "Sole Survivor". I needed to get a Chamberlain and called Robert Chamberlain at the factory. He told me that Sonny and Cher had just broken up. They had purchased a Chamberlain a few months before to go out on the road. I called their road manager and arranged to buy it. I used another girlfriend to lay down some keyboard patches. Everyone called her "Edgemont", so that's who I gave credit to on the album. Mike Willis played the guitar solo on "Sole Survivor", so he also got credit on the record.
Jim Taylor managed the new band and to avoid any confusion or problems with the old band members, he took the Laine and Silvert credits off the cover. A few years later, I was interviewed for an article for OOR magazine in Holland. The journalist was a big fan of the Space Rangers. In that interview, I explained the story and Timo's part in it. The story resurfaced again when somehow, Danny the secretary of A&R for Mercury heard a record called "Symphonic Slam" and called to tell me my ideas were ripped off. She sent me the record and I listened to it briefly and found it amusing I heard some of the turn-arounds and a couple of the arrangement ideas, and granted, I heard some of my ideas, but I didn't care. It wasn't Space Rangers, they were just some instrumental tracks. I could have pursued it, but I didn't.Ruth: Did the Space Rangers tour?
Neil: The record got radio airplay and great reviews in all the trades, and went to Number 5 most-added FM airplay in the country within two weeks after its release.
The label did nothing to help. The single "Hollywood Boulevard" got some heavy airplay. KSHE Radio in St. Louis, one of the most powerful stations in the mid-west, had an annual KSHE birthday party and brought in acts to play the Kiel Auditorium in St. Louis. They contacted my manager and wanted us to play the concert with Pure Prairie League, KISS, and T-Rex. We flew there and we did the show, and we blew the audience away. This was actually our one and only concert. Marc Bolan from T-Rex came to the change room after our set and was raving about the band. When we told him that this was our only concert, he was in awe. He gave me his card and told me if I ever came to London to give him a call. Tragically, the second day I was in London, Marc was killed and I never got to see him.
We came back to LA and played one week at the Starwood, even though it was more of a dance oriented venue, we still got some good reviews. We picked up an outside promotion company called "Wartoke Concern", a New York City public-relations firm that handled Electric Light Orchestra, David Bowie, and Stevie Wonder. They loved the act, and I called the head of Mercury promotions to talk about Wartoke's support of the band, but he hung up on me. I thought this would be a good thing, but it was received as a threat to his ability to do the job. Nonetheless, Wartoke told Dave Arden, Electric Light Orchestra's manager, about us. We received a call from him he wanted to talk about us opening for their upcoming US tour. He came to Jim's office and we sat him down in front of some big speakers and played him the record. We didn't get the tour because we were too strong. However, that was OK because we were to open for Bachman Turner Overdrive's second tour we even appeared in an ad in Billboard Magazine featuring BTO, Rush and Neil Merryweather, under the banner the "Canadian Rockies".
However, after Bruce Allen, the manager of BTO, heard the album, he freaked out and re-booked Bob Seger. I even heard stories about how the plug was pulled on Bob because he really did a great show. Bruce didn't want to re-book Bob because it was hard for BTO to follow him. After he heard our record, he was even more worried to have us open for BTO. Bob really broke out on that tour.
To raise money to keep the band together, I prepared to do the Kryptonite album.
We got spec time at Village Recorders and did the album in about three days. We delivered it to Mercury to get another advance. We went on for another six months and then the money ran out, and the band came apart. This was a sad thing because I think this was the best band that I ever had. Jim Taylor had good intentions and believed in me, but you can't wait for things to come to you, you have to go out and get them. Weak management was probably the main reason we failed to go on.
Even after we disbanded, some old tracks we did lived on.When we had some down-time in the studio, I'd take the time to re-vamp some old songs.We did "She's Not There", and "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" based on a base line I did with a phaser on it.It had a good groove.I put two of my girlfriends, Donna LaMere and Devereaux, along with James Herndon's girlfriend Barbara Frye, on the tracks and named them "The Band of Angels".
Band of Angels, l to r Devereaux, Donna LaMere, Barbara Frye
Someone played "He's Not There" for Bobby Roberts at Mums Records and he signed the act right away to a single and it came out on Mums Records. I sent "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" to Midland Records in New York and they bought it right away for a single.By then, the three girls weren't together any longer, but it still came out as "Band of Angels", but I think they just signed Devereaux to a solo single deal. Jamie Herndon went on to do "Hot Child in the City" with Nick Gilder and did subsequent tours and records.Tim McGovern eventually gave up drums and became a guitar player, formed "The Pop", then moved on to "The Motels", and then fronted his own band "Burning Sensations".
Ruth: What did you do after you dissolved the Rangers?
Neil: I got involved with a group of people out of New York that revolved around Artie Ripp's Family Productions.He had built a studio in the Valley which gave me access to getting back in the studio.This gave me the opportunity to work with Peter Anders who wrote hit songs including "New York's a Lonely Town" with the "Tradewinds".He was an all around great writer.He and his partner, Vini Poncia, write dozens of hit songs for artists during the 60s.I went back in the studio with Peter, and Russ Regan (20th Century Records) wanted him to re-do a song that he had done in the past called "Mind Excursion". I brought Timmy McGovern and Mike Willis back into the studio and re-did "Mind Excursion", and 20th Century put it out as a single. We also cut a version of Peter's song "Just Get Through The Night", the song was later put out as a single by Pheobe Snow. Our version was great, but was never released. At the same time, Randy California from the band "Spirit" was in town from Hawaii. Timmy brought him into the studio and I produced some of his new songs including a new version of "Nature's Way" with Tim.
At the same time, I was still writing.I wrote a collection of tunes that went in all kinds of different directions from rock to psychedelic, folky sounding things and spacey things.Me and BTO's engineer Mark Smith made arrangements to go into the studio on some down-time.Joel Godfried, the owner of Sound City studio welcomed us in. I brought in Mike Willis, and a whole crew of other musicians. At the same time, I saw a group called "The Hollywood Stars". Kim Fowley, infamous for working with many acts, also worked with them.I took them into the studio and cut a whole album's worth of material.One night, they played the Starwood. I arranged for Clive Davis to come see them because I got him the tape, and he liked it.While I was with the group in the change room, the singer took Clive aside and they made a deal.Clive had no problems working with me or with me producing the band, but the singer had other ideas.I would up having to go to an attorney that was recommended to me as being Paul Simon's attorney, and that he had a tough reputation.I went to his Beverly Hills office, and the first thing I saw was a huge poster from the Allan Ladd movie "This Gun For Hire", and I knew I was in the right place. He managed to get me a settlement with Arista Records where they bought the tapes I had done and paid me for my services.I was able to pay Joel Godfried for his time and the little money that I was able to keep kept me going.
Then, I was approached by another artist that used to be with Family Productions in the old days called "Kyle". He had enough money to finance his own record and he asked me to produce an album for him. I got a chance to work with William "Smitty" Smith, the keyboard player from "Motherlode". They did a great record called "When I Die". He was a great player and a great guy. This gave me a chance to do the whole album with him.I brought Mike Willis in and we did a really nice album for Kyle. The drummer I used for the Kyle album was Jerry Reba.I wound up producing half-dozen tracks for his "Eagles" sounding band called "Rodeo". Even after working with all of these acts, I still managed to get ten of my songs done.
Ruth: I noticed that the album Neil Merryweather "Differences" came out in Europe how did you wind up there?
Neil: To make along story really long, I was involved in so many recording projects at the time and was in need of a change. My closest friend at the time was Peter Anders.One evening we were writing together and he told me of this time in London when he was a staff producer for Motown when they opened up a division in England. Peter and ex "Trade Wind" bandmate, Paul Nauman, were hired to head up the production side of the Motown label there. He told me stories of London and I suggested that we get out of LA and go to London. He knew a lot of people there, and I remember that my Space Rangers album got an incredible review in Melody Maker, a big magazine there. We booked a flight and headed out to London.
Things didn't work out as far as Peter getting into England.While he was working there for Motown, he was partying way too much and living in a hotel, but never paid the bill. They put one of those brass things on the door knob when he came back to his room and he took the fire ax down from the wall and chopped the door down to get to his clothes and his stuff.He was arrested and got deported. So his name was on a list when we got to the airport in London.When we arrived in London, Peter found his name on a list of people that were undesirable and that had been deported, and they didn't want to let him in. Meanwhile, a friend of his, the ex-wife of the editor of Melody Maker magazine, was waiting for us because she was going to put us up in her flat in London. He saw her and called to her and said "Wendy, you've got to try these pills". He had thrown them all over the floor as they were dragging him away, and she was picking the pills up from the floor. They asked if I was with him and saw my Canadian passport, so I told them I had met him on the plane and they let me into the country. Peter was cool and said he didn't know me.
Wendy put me up. I had the tapes I had done at Sound City. I hit the pavement, going to various labels. I did a demo for Phonogram in London, but it wasn't Space Rangers. It was another couple of songs I put together on the spot with a couple of English musicians I found in a club. It was interesting stuff, but it wasn't enough to get me a deal, so I kept looking. Richard Cowley, whom I had met when I was with Mama Lion, liked my bass playing. He told me if I was ever in London to look him up. I called him at his new Cowbell Agency, and he turned me on to the guy that owned Orange Equipment who had a music store and managed John Miles. I went to see him and he took me on to manage me.But Miles didn't like the idea, so it didn't work out. However, I continued to shop my tape and eventually wound up meeting Ann Monday at Chrysalis Music and playing her my stuff. She liked it a lot and signed me as a writer. Another benefit of being at Chrysalis was that I got to meet George Martin who had an office there, and Shirley, his long-time secretary let me use his desk phone to call my family and friends back home. Just sitting at George's desk in his chair was a trill to me, he's the greatest producer of all time. One day I got to meet him, what a nice man, needless to say it was an honor to shake his hand.
I got an advance and things started looking better. One of Ann's friends was a producer named David Hitchcock. After living with Wendy, I wound up staying at David's flat on Kensington High Street. Eventually I wound up at a Bed and Breakfast and again connected with Richard Cowley. He asked me to produce an act called "Johnnie Angel". I did a single for Decca Records and we became friends, and went to stay at his flat in Notting Hill Gate. At day's end, I got invited to the "drink-ups" at the pub get-togethers. There, I met another writer for Chrysalis, Gary Pickford Hopkins, a great guy who used to be in "Eyes of Blue". I guess they all knew my music. One day, he brought a bunch of guys to the pub to meet me. I met Peter Brown, the lyricist from "Cream" and Taff Williams who was the guitar player from "Eyes of Blue" and Bonnie Tyler.
I wrote a couple of new songs and needed to demo them. I found out about a rehearsal spot outside of London. I ran into someone who had a company that would truck people's equipment on tours and he had a farm outside of London. I made arrangements to put an act together and flew back to LA, rented a truck a put everything into storage in Mike Willis's mother's garage, and grabbed Mike Willis. Because funds were thin, we took a Greyhound Bus to New York City. We had a one-night stay over until our flight to London took off, and I re-connected with Peter Anders. We had dinner and talked about the outrageous airport incident. The next day, we took off for London and wound up staying at a Bed and Breakfast off of Hyde Park.
We went about to try to find other musicians, and I remember meeting this guy at one of these pub get-togethers. He was the keyboard player from "Matching Mole" and "Camel". His name was David Sinclaire, and he was willing to come into the new unit. We heard that Procol Harem's drummer, B.J. Wilson, lived in the town where the farm facility was. So, we wound up going to visit him and asking his to join the band. We started rehearsing and were working on some new material. David, Willis and B.J. went to a local pub in town and B.J. was talking to Willis asking him who his favorite guitar influences were Willis was into McLaughlin and Peter Fripp and the more advanced guitar player types.B.J. asked "What about Steve Cropper?", and Willis said "Who?" B.J. freaked out and quit because Willis didn't know who Steve Cropper was, and that was the end of that. We wound up going back to London and picking up a drummer called Clive Edwards. I took Willis, Sinclaire and Clive into a little studio that David Hitchcock told me about.It was run by one of the guitar players from "Gary Glitter".David came in to oversee the recordings. We did about three new songs for Chrysalis.
I met a girl at a party called Aliba Bellingham, the daughter of Lady Bellingham, and her father was the Captain of the Queens Guard, and they lived next door to the Queen Mother. We became friends and started a little production idea called "Rocking Horse Productions". She put us up at one of the family's flats in Victoria. Willis and I were staying there, and she found another writer/singer that she really liked. She let him stay at the flat too. One day, we came back to the flat and Aliba was crying because she found him overdosed on drugs. The next day, her Mother turned up. Willis' sneakers smelled really bad and the Mother went berserk and threw the sneakers out the window. That was the end of that. We saw Aliba some days later and she invited us to a New Year's Eve party at a big mansion. Mike strapped on his Gibson and plugged into a pig nose, and played "Old Lang Zyne" like Hendrix would have done it. The rich old stuffy people loved it!
Mike started missing LA and we weren't doing anything really, and didn't have the funds to continue, so he went back to LA. It turned out that Chrysalis had a deal in Holland with a label called Dureco Records to handle publishing. They heard the collection of songs I had brought with me, and couldn't believe it wasn't released as a record. They contacted me through Chrysalis and arranged for me to come to Amsterdam. I took the train/ferry and that was my next world of wonder, an amazing place. They checked me into the Hans Brinker Hotel where I stayed while we negotiated to put an album out. The stuff was all so different that I decided to call the record "Differences".
After hearing "Differences", a newly signed Dureco Records act called "Carlsberg" requested that I produce them. They sent for me again and I returned to Amsterdam.It was quite a good album. England had the drinking thing and the Dutch took it a step further. They could drink for days and could still maintain a realm of reality that was "Carlsberg".
Next, I talked to Dureco Records and asked about setting up a little production company and came up with a label called "Clear".
Herbie Worthington did the photography and is still one of my best friends today. He put together the logo cover for Clear which was a pair of hands holding a crystal ball. I got Dureco come up with a budget to record some acts for my off-shoot production company. We made a deal for me to record some acts that I wanted to do.One of those acts was me so I could continue my relationship with them as Neil Merryweather.
Taff Williams, wrote a song called "Smile" that I really loved.I thought he was a perfect choice to be a solo artist on Clear.I contacted him and Peter Anders. I decided that in addition to me, Taff and Peter were the acts I wanted to have on Clear Records.
l to r Taff Williams, Peter Anders, Neil
I met the ex-road manager for Jethro Tull. He was working for a studio in Miami called Quad Radial Sound and the budget seemed right.I took Clive, the drummer that I used on my demos, and he had a friend that was a keyboard player. Initially, I wanted David Sinclaire, but David had to have his Hammond organ that was special to him. We couldn't afford to ship it since Dureco cut my budget in half, so I took Clive's friend, Roy Shipston, for keyboards. We flew to Florida, checked into a motel. The next day, we went to Quad Radial Studios to begin recording only to find Pat Travers needed more time to finish his album. He was in a bind and after all, he was a fellow Canadian, so I gave him some of my time to finish up. He invited us to his concert in Miami the next night. The next day, Peter Anders flew in from LA. We got down to work and cut a few of my songs, two of Peter's, and a couple of Taff 's and Roy's. Roy and Clive flew back to London and Peter flew back to LA. Taff wanted to see America, so we drove to Vegas and flew on to LA. Taff and I spent a week or so at Peter's place before we flew back to London. Dureco was putting the stuff on a compilation record for the Midem Music Convention. As for my little production deal, it never came to be, but that's the Dutch for you. To stay afloat, I assumed producing duties at Dureco and produced a handful of local bands singles for them. I also got to know Herman Brood his manager asked me to produce a band called "Phoney and the Hard Core".
I think it was for Arista Holland. The deal was awful, but I did it anyway. The singer was terrible, and there was a major language barrier. I was not happy with the final result, but got to mix at Air Studios in London. I know this is a long drawn out story, but that's how I wound up in Holland and how "Differences" was released there.
Ruth: Next for you was "Eyes". You were back in a band and on RCA Records, in Hollywood and playing with Michael Willis again. Tell me about that.
Neil: It was time to start paying attention to myself again. I had to honor my agreement with Chrysalis because they were paying me a monthly fee. I wanted to put a band together to play with Mike Willis again, so I brought him back to Holland with me. I picked up drummer Kees Meerman who was with Herman Brood. Meerman brought in Ken Spence from Nina Hagens' band into the lineup. Spence said he could play keyboards.
l to r Ken Spence, Neil, Michael Willis, Kees Meerman
As it turned out, he was a good sax player and a mediocre rhythm guitarist, but not a keyboard man. I signed a deal with RCA Records. Cees Wessels, who used to be head of Phonogram International, was a huge fan of the Space Rangers signed me. The sound of the band turned out to be a "pop" album. I wrote everything on the spot. But I think Wessels was disappointed because he was expecting another Space Rangers album. We started playing locally around Amsterdam. We got a better drummer, Rogier Wollaert and the band went on for awhile. The last gig we played was the Hells Angels Jamboree.I left for LA a few days later.
l to r Michael Willis, Neil, Rogier Wollaert, Ken Spence
Ruth: So you're back in LA. What was the first musical thing you did when you came back?
Neil: When I got back to LA, I reconnected with some musicians friends. I met drummer Dusty Watson and reconnected with ex-Space Rangers band member Jamie Herndon who had finished up touring and recording with Nick Gilder. The three of us gravitated to Fidelity Recorders, a studio that was run by Family Productions. I did about ten songs with a working title called "Last Angry Band". One of the songs, "I'm In, You're Out", was placed in the movie "Hard Bodies". I really enjoyed this band, still have the tracks, and intend to issue the songs soon as part of a collection of songs I did with Watson and Herndon years later.
Ruth: You wound up doing Lita Ford's first album and helped her get a record deal. How did this come about?
Neil: The last couple of songs that "The Runaways" were working on before they broke up were mine. Chrysalis had sent them the demos, so when I was asked to consider managing Lita by her bass player, Raymond Marzano, I thought it was meant to be. Dusty Watson had joined on drums. I liked working with him and I had known Raymond for a while. One of my songs that "The Runaways" were working on was called "The Devil's Daughter". Looking back on that now, it's so ironic. My own song should have been a clue about the person I was getting involved with.
I met with Lita and we agreed to work together. I played a couple of demos for Russ Regan .The Runaways were big in Europe and they were interested. I was rehearsing Lita's band and Artie Ripp's wife, Phillis, came to the rehearsal facility thinking she was going to see me and she saw Lita rehearsing. She told Artie about the act, and when Artie Ripp saw the value and immediately made an offer. I signed Lita to Family Productions. This provided a means for the band to survive while we put things together. The band drew a salary and got some front money to upgrade equipment. One of the first things I did was securing a deal with Slingerland Drums for Dusty. I called BC Rich Guitars, took Lita there, and made a deal. The first thing they made her was a custom double-neck guitar that was great. We also got some basses and amplifiers from Rizon. We had our own rehearsal spot at Family Productions and demoed our tracks at Fidelity Studios.
Though other labels were interested, the original deal I started with Polygram Records turned out to be the best. I was able to get a seven year two album guarantee which no one was getting in those days. We started working on the album which was rough at times. Lita was just starting out as a singer and was a little crude, but the guitar playing was really good. However, most of the time, the solos all sounded alike. So I started singing the solos and she learned more melodic lines and upgraded the guitar solos from that point on and her abilities improved. My friend Ray Marzano who had introduced me to Lita, and was playing bass in the band, was fired by Lita right when we started the first tracks for the album. She made me tell him which wasn't easy, and I lost a friend.
The Original Lita Ford Band
l to r Dusty Watson, Lita Ford, Raymond Marzano
The day after, before I got to look for anyone to take his place, Dusty and Lita told me that they wanted me to play bass. We finished the album, put the artwork together for the album cover. BC Rich gave us a guitar, I cut it in half, and I made it "bleed", calling the album "Out For Blood" based on a song Lita and I had written. She wanted to look metal but feminine, and we got the look just right.I made the entire leather outfit that she wore on the album cover, as well as an assortment of strap-on leather hand pieces and fingerless gloves that we called "gauntlets". I also designed and made one specifically for Nikki Sixx of "Motley Crue". The Nikki Sixx gauntlet was put into production and sold in stores everywhere. Of course again, I never made a penny for my design. One day, I played the "Space Rangers" album for Nikki and he asked me to produce their first record, but Lita force played me into turning it down. Furthermore, even though I was salaried with Dusty and Lita during the album production, I never took a commission for management or made one cent for producting the album. I was supposed to, but it never worked out.I put all my faith in my friendship with Lita, and figured that I would eventually get paid but trusting her was a big mistake.
I was producing the album, playing bass, as well as handling all the management duties.For the sake of the act, I decided I needed to bring in another manager. I contacted Shep Gordon again and thought he would be great for the Lita band. I arranged for him to meet with us. He showed up with a beautiful girl on his arm, and Lita reacted very negatively and rude. I think she was challenged by the girl in some way, even thought she never said a thing. Later, I asked Lita about it and she told me she didn't like Shep Gordon. That was that. The next step was to find someone else .The attorney from the label recommended Allen Kovac who had a management company called "Left Bank Management". We set up a meeting with him and he showed up at the studio with a tour bus. Apparently, he had a partner that had tour buses, and Lita was impressed with that, and we signed with them. The back of the album credits him for taking over the management duties from me, but I was still to retain a say and a fragment of the management. Yeah, right.
Things went along and I proceeded to finish the album. The album itself was a very "in your face" stark hard sounding album. Kind of crude in a way, but that's what Lita wanted. I wanted to use more effects and make the record more "radio friendly", but it was not to be. I remember trying to clean some things up and make them sound better, but every time I did, Lita vetoed it. I wanted to please her because she was my friend and she was the artist. I guess I tried too hard to make her happy, and in the end, that was big mistake.
Once the album was done, we had a little party afterwards, but a couple days later, I got a call from Dusty telling me I was out. I tried to reach Lita, but this was a pre-determined decision she had made with the management, and Lita had already left town by the time I got word. She went to Hawaii to stay in Kovac's partner's condo with a friend of hers and was unreachable. I received no explanation. That's when I remembered Kim Fowley's warning. I saw him one day and told him I was handling Lita Ford. He had put the "The Runaways" together in the first place and he told me to watch my back, that she was a treacherous bitch and that she would stab me in the back, and he was right I didn't protect myself. My good friend stabbed me in the back, screwed me over, and I got burned. I made good on all the promises I made her all the promises she made me were lies. I was supposed to do her second album, but never talked to her or saw her again.
Ruth: The Lita Ford album was the last record you made.Why did you stop?
Neil: The Lita Ford betrayal was the straw that broke the camel's back. Later, I worked with a great singer/writer guitarist called Chrissy Sheffs.
l to r Ricky Phillips, Chrissy Sheffs, Skip Gillette
I produced a four song demo that I thought was way better than anything I did with Lita Chrissy was better in every way. I played the stuff for my friend Ann Monday who was now based at Chrysalis Music in LA. A big record company owner from Germany was coming to town, so I set Chrissy up in a rehearsal room and arranged a time for Ann and the German record company owner to meet us and see her play. Ricky Phillips, ex- "Babys" bassist joined her and her drummer, Skip Gillette. They were all set up to go when Chrissy called me and said Ricky didn't think they were ready. I called Ann to stop them from coming to the audition. It was an embarrassment. I had to give up the home and office I'd rented for the Lita Ford band. I was left with no money and could not get into another situation that was a problem before it began, but Chrissy got a great demo out of it. I wish I could have continued with Chrissy, but I was pretty much broken.
I wound up sleeping at a friend's recording studio in Playa del Rey. I was done with the whole band idea. I spent a few months avoiding any involvement in music. One day, Cees Wessels somehow tracked me down and called me. He'd started his own label called "Roadrunner Records". He sent me some money to start scouting metal bands playing the LA scene. I made the rounds, going to clubs and finding potential talent for him to check out, and sent him demos and info.He wanted me to find Dave Mustaine who had recently left "Metallica". I met with Dave and tried to make a deal with him and Roadrunner, but Cees really didn't offer enough to get Dave interested nor for that matter, any of the bands that I scouted for him. I cut demos for two of the bands I liked "Hans Naughty" and "New York" but it was a nightmare. My heart just wasn't in it anymore and I walked away from music.
A few years later, I met my wife Vikki and settled down working as a creative resources consultant for the City of Los Angeles Department of Public Works doing photography and other artwork, and working with Vikki, a public outreach consultant. I entered the 50th year anniversary of Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup contest and won best sculpture which perked my interest in getting back into art. I did some paintings, but Vikki encouraged me to get back into music. Vikki helped me build a recording studio in our home. I reconnected with Jamie Herndon and began writing and recording songs again. Jamie and I wrote and produced 45 songs for two television shows, "Super Human Samurai Cyber Squad" featuring Matthew Lawrence and Tim Curry, and "Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters from Beverly Hills", two DIC Entertainment action shows.
I got back together with drummer Dusty Watson and picked up where I left off ten years before. Merryweather, Herndon and Watson recorded a dozen tracks and a blues CD. I'm currently trying to organize a new Space Rangers cd with Mike Willis and Jamie Herndon.
l to r Neil, Dusty Watson, Jamie Herndon
Watch for Space Rangers 3® and three other unrealsed CDs containing Neil's muscial adventures with Dusty Watson and James Herndon!