Gary James' Interview With Frank Jeckell Of
The 1910 Fruitgum Company






The 1910 Fruitgum Company exploded onto the charts in 1968 with their song "Simon Says". It went to number two in the U.S. and reached the very top of the charts in the United Kingdom. Their follow-up "1-2-3 Red Light" reached number four on the charts, which was then followed up by "Indian Giver", which reached number five on the charts. All three records achieved Gold Record status.

Between 1968 and 1969, The 1910 Fruitgum Company enjoyed eight hits that made it into the Top 40. They appeared on American Bandstand, Shindig and Upbeat. They toured and performed with the likes of The Beach Boys, The Vogues, Paul Revere And The Raiders, Gary "US" Bonds, The Lovin' Spoonful, Sly And The Family Stone and the list goes on and on.

The 1910 Fruitgum Company still performs today. Original member Frank Jeckell spoke with us about the history of The 1910 Fruitgum Company.

Q - Frank, was there a time when this group broke up? According to you bio, you're back!

A - Actually, we disbanded piece by piece a couple of months after we had our first successful hit record, which was "Simon Says". Different people started to go in different directions right away. I probably left in the middle of the period, late in 1968. The group went on and had some success and then disbanded in 1970.

Q - Prior to 1968 and the release of "Simon Says", how long had The 1910 Fruitgum Company been together? Were you performing?

A - Yes. We formed in the Winter of 1966 - 1967.

Q - You were in the band at the time?

A - Yes. As a matter of fact, I had a band with four pieces and the drummer left the band. I approached two other guys and the five of us became the original 1910 Fruitgum Company.

Q - Where were you playing? Clubs?

A - We were mostly a high school, garage band. We didn't do much in the way of clubs. (laughs) Swim clubs, teen dances...things like that.

Q - Swim clubs? I never heard that one before.

A - Well, we would have these in the area of New Jersey where we lived, which was Linen, not too far from Newark airport. There were suburban areas and one of the things that people would do for Summer entertainment was join a swim club. Basically it was a big pool and you could go in there and have lunch. You paid your money and your kids would spend some quality time there, and you knew where they were.

Q - And the band would play while the kids were splashing around in the pool?

A - Exactly. Luckily, we were far enough away from the water. (laughs) We didn't get splashed.

Q - You could get electrocuted in that situation.

A - Yeah. That was one of the perks they offered. It's funny that we should talk about that particular venue, because when Geoff and Jerry Katz, the producers we ultimately signed with, who produced the hits for us, first came to hear us at a swim club. (laughs)

Q - That’s when people would actually come out to hear a band.

A - Yeah, well, we were close. They were in Queens and we were in New Jersey, so it was an hour ride or so.

Q - According to Rolling Stone's Encyclopedia Of Rock 'n' Roll, The 1910 Fruitgum Company was...

A - A studio band. What a lie.

Q - A faceless studio assemblage formed by the Kasnette-Katz production team for Buddah Records to record Bubblegum Pop." Is that accurate?

A - (laughs) No, no.

Q - Are you Bubblegum Pop?

A - Bubblegum Pop I'm sure is the venue or the genre that they ultimately coined for it. I would have to say in my opinion, "Simon Says", our first hit was probably the birth of Bubblegum as a genre and in the form of a name or tag or label, if you want to call it such. Our first album, which was also titled "Simon Says", had a song penned by the drummer in the band. The name of the song was "Bubblegum World". You live in a Bubblegum World. I think that may have been possibly where the bubblegum term came from. I can't say for sure. I think it ended up being a label that applied to music that was very light, not really serious or heavy, fun, happy, good-time music that had a good beat that you could enjoy. It was not anything near Hard Rock, not anything near R&B. It kind of defied being labeled by any of the other segments of Rock 'n' Roll music that existed at that time, so they came up calling it Bubblegum.

Q - Did you write "Simon Says"?

A - No. It was written by a friend of Geoff and Jerry's, a writer named Elliot Chiprut.

Q - Did you write any of your material?

A - We wrote quite a few of the albums cuts, though we did not pen any of the hits.

Q - How long did it take to record "Simon Says"?

A - We went into the...we signed with Geoff and Jerry after some negotiating after they came to see us at the swim club in the Summer of 1967. We signed with them in the September - October time frame. They said "we got this song and we'd like to see what you could do with it." We recorded it with another band and we didn't like it. They played it for us and it was "Simon Says", but it was a completely different style than what we ended up doing. It had almost a Calypso type of beat. They said "Can you do anything with it? We think it's a hit." So we went to the woodshed and beat it around...this, that and the other way. One of the things that came up was this beat isn't really good, that it has now. Why don't we make it sound something along the style of "Wooly Bully". That's exactly what we said at the time. (laughs) And that's what we did to it. They were, needless to say, quite impressed with that kind of arrangement and that's what we ended up recording.

Q - Did you share your lead singer, Joey Levine with The Ohio Express.

A - Another untruth, unfortunately.

Q - That's why we're doing this interview, to get the truth out there.

A - (laughs) Joey Levine was from California and he heard some of the songs that Kasenete - Katz were doing. He had written a cute little song called "Yummy, Yummy, Yummy". So, he submitted a demo of that song to Kasnete - Katz. They were very impressed with it. They said they wanted to use the song and he said "fine." Then he was real surprised, not long after that when the song was on the radio and started to become a hit. He heard himself singing it and never intended it to be that way. He was just giving them a demo of the song and lo and behold, they liked the demo so much they released it, pretty much untouched. (laughs) It's kind of funny. It's good. Joey did a great job on it. Joey then went on to write "Chewy, Chewy" for the Ohio Express and was the voice for a lot of their songs. I don't know exactly how many. I personally, and none of the other members of the Fruitgum Company ever met Joey Levine 'cause he was from the West Coast. He had no role what -so-ever that I'm aware of in any of the Fruitgum songs, singing them. I don't know how that story got out there or who would've put it together, but it's totally untrue.

Q - And I'm happy to tell you, with this interview we can finally put that story to rest.

A - (laughs) You can't imagine how many times I've told this story, so I thought it was to rest already.

Q - After "Simon Says" became a hit, how did life change for The 1910 Fruitgum Company?

A - Well, of course it was sudden success to a bunch of guys who didn’t expect it, so that comes as a shocker. We started doing a lot of touring and traveling. We flew out to California. I think it was the first time any of us were on a plane, just to do American Bandstand. And so it was a fun time. But on the other hand, it unfortunately had a negative side, like all things in life seem to. You would think with that kind of success and everything happening, that we'd be overjoyed and some of us were. I was fairly overjoyed, but there was always this feeling of, if you had heard us perform you wouldn't think that "Simon Says" wouldn't be in character with the kind of music we were doing. We were doing covers of some of the more heavier stuff. We used to do "You Keep Me Hangin' On" by Vanilla Fudge. And stuff by Hendrix and stuff by Cream. We were much closer to a Hard Rock band than anything. We did some lighter stuff. We did some Beatles stuff, Rolling Stones stuff. But we didn't play Bubblegum music and we didn't intend to play Bubblegum music. Suddenly we made this song they gave us into a hit and we were Bubblegum superstars, so to speak. (laughs) The first of the genre.

Q - You could've passed on that song couldn't you?

A - No. We didn't have a choice. We were signed with them and they said "this is what we want you to do. Please do a version of this song." So, we figured if we didn't do it, if we said we're not interested in that sort of music, we may never get anywhere. Besides, what would it hurt? The song isn't going anywhere...we thought. Boy, were we wrong! (laughs) It certainly did affect us. "Simon Says" peaked on the charts in March of '68. I think it was April of '68, the first original member said goodbye. And it was May that the second original member said goodbye. And it was August that the third said goodbye. And it was September that I left. At that point, the only one left was the youngest one of us, who happened to be the voice they picked to sing the song. He was the lead singer on most of the songs.

Q - Did you do the Dick Clark bus tours?

A - No. We never got involved with Dick Clark's tours. It was never anything we knew we could be involved in. We didn't know about it until years later. But we did do a lot of tours on the East coast and the Mid-West. There were a couple of booking agents out of New York City, Action Talent and Premier Talent. They both booked us pretty heavily. We played everywhere and anywhere. We did a tour up in Canada across the major cities in Northwestern Canada. We did lots of shows in Wisconsin, lots of shows in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio. We toured the South. We did get around quite a bit, but never out to the West Coast. We never got too much West of the Mississippi to speak of, with the exception of the Canadian tour.

Q - Were you touring by bus?

A - Actually, no. At the time, I don't think anyone...well I shouldn’t say that, I'll retract that statement: we didn't command enough for our performances to afford anything extravagant as a nice bus with someone to drive us around. That wasn't how it was gonna happen. We purchased a Chevy van and in that went all of our equipment and the five of us. Two lucky guys got up front, the driver and the passenger and the other three would find a nice, comfortable spot with the gear in the back. (laughs) That was our tour method.

Q - Luxury accommodations in other words.

A - Exactly. (laughs) But, we didn't mind though.

Q - Who were you on the bill with?

A - Well, we got to play with a lot of interesting people. We did one tour, three places where we worked with Sly And The Family Stone and a group called The Balloon Farm. (laughs)

Q - Never heard of them.

A - Yeah. They had a song called "The Question Of Temperature", which I thought was kind of a huge song. You should try listening to it someday. We were closing. We were the headliner on that tour, which is kind of interesting when you think about Sly And The Family Stone and the kind of material they did and the great, fantastic success they had, to have the 1910 Fruitgum Company closing for them was kind of an oxymoron, so to speak. We kind of realized at the time they were just kind of starting out, which was why we were closing for them. We were on our second successful song. They just had "Dance To The Music" out. It was just climbing the charts, so they were becoming popular. We decided after performing two nights with them in closing the tour, that it would be a nice gesture to let them close it. So, I told Sly "Why don't you guys close the show tomorrow?" He goes "Oh, great! Thanks!" (laughs) We were involved in a rather interesting sideline here. I mentioned before, one of the songs we liked to play, we covered in our sets was The Vanilla Fudge song "You Keep Me Hangin' On', the old Supremes song. Well, we were up in the mid-West at some point doing a tour. We got a call from the promoter saying "You're doing Thursday over here. You got next Tuesday over there. But, I just got Saturday night for you in Milwaukee." It could've been Minneapolis. I'm hazy after forty years. (laughs) Small wonder. Anyway, we were slated to fill in for another act that bowed out. The act that bowed out was The Vanilla Fudge. So, we come in to replace The Vanilla Fudge. Now, if you were going to a concert to hear The Vanilla Fudge and you heard The 1910 Fruitgum Company was going to appear in there instead, how happy would you be about that?

Q - In the ‘60s, they put different styles of music on the same bill. Bill Graham was famous for doing that.

A - Well, this particular show it wasn’t multiple acts. It was one act. It wasn’t like we replaced a slot in a multi-act show. We were the only act. (laughs)

Q - How did you go over?

A - Well, it’s kind of funny. As soon as the emcee, who happened to be a local DJ who was very popular in that area, announced the fact The Vanilla Fudge wouldn’t be there, there were groans. Then he said we were going to replace them, then there were even louder groans and boos and hisses…the whole nine yards. The DJ basically started yelling at ‘em, “What’s the matter with you people? C’mon! These guys are here! They were gracious enough to come and try to give you a show. Alright, they’re not Vanilla Fudge. They are who they are. You’re here now. Why don’t you give ‘em a chance and see what they can do?” And we brought the house down.

Q - Wow!

A - Because number one, we did a lot of great stuff and I told you before, that anybody going to see The Vanilla Fudge would’ve enjoyed and number two, we did “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” exactly like The Vanilla Fudge, so they didn’t even miss hearing the song. (laughs) I have a newspaper article that appeared the next day, talking about what a great success the concert was in spite of the fact that The Fruitgum Company replaced The Vanilla Fudge. (laughs)

Q - Since the band was around in the ‘60s, did you ever cross paths with The Beatles?

A - I did get to meet Ringo very briefly. Just to say “hi” and for a picture shoot, before one of his Ringo All Star Tour concerts when he was in New York. So, that was kind of fun.

Q - Is there anyone else you toured with that I forgot to ask about?

A - After I left The Fruitgum Company in September, the band basically had crumbled where there was no touring band available, but the talent agencies had dealt with me and would call me and say “We got this tour. Can you do it?” So I said “Sure.” So I picked up a fifth guy and went on tour. We toured with The Beach Boys. We did a ten stop tour, rode on their bus through the South and had a wonderful time for a couple of weeks. I guess one of my fondest memories is bored and riding down the road. I don’t know what was in my head, but I started singing one of The Beach Boys songs, one of my favorites and they all chimed in and sang it with me. (laughs) Singing a Beach Boys’ song with The Beach Boys.

Q - The name of the group: I realize you must get this question all the time, you got it off a carton?

A - Actually, the name of the group came from an old gum wrapper that I found in a jacket pocket when I was looking for some retro clothes to wear. I tried this suit on and I found this gum wrapper in the pocket and that kind of led to the name.

Q - How often do you perform these days?

A - We try to perform as often as we can. Last year (2007) we did about twenty dates. We’re hoping to do the same number this year. But, it’s difficult booking ‘60s acts these days. There doesn’t seem to be as much interest. There doesn’t seem to be that big of an audience. The audience is very, very segmented it seems like. Most of the people interested in coming to see us are older people and they don’t always go to concerts.

Q - Have you released any new product?

A - We just produced a Christmas album and we brought it out this Christmas (2007). It’s the first Fruitgum Company CD that’s been put out in many, many, many years, with new material on it. (We) have some usual Christmas category songs and also some Christmas tunes that some members of the group wrote. We’re also planning to put one or maybe two more CDs on the Collectible label. They have interest in us doing a couple more, so we’re going to do that. And if you want to find out about us and where we’re playing, go to 1910FruitgumCompany.com.



© Gary James. All rights reserved.


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