Gary James' Interview With Barry Whitwam Of
They became one of the top-selling artists during the British Invasion and in all of Pop music history. In 1965 they actually sold more records than The Beatles! To date, they've sold more than 80 million records! They appeared on every top rated television variety show there was, including Ed Sullivan, Johnny Carson's Tonight Show, The Jackie Gleason Show, Dean Martin, Don Kirchner's Rock Concert and The Midnight Special. They traveled the world; Tahiti, Fiji, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, Cambodia, the Philippines, Europe and the US. They were awarded seven Gold albums and 14 Gold singles for songs like "I'm Into Something Good", "Can't You Hear My Heartbeat", "Henry VIII", "Silhouettes", "Wonderful World" and "Mrs. Brown You Got A Lovely Daughter". We are talking of course about Herman's Hermits. Herman's Hermits member Barry Whitwam spoke with us about his time in the original Hermits and how he's carrying on the Hermits' name today.
Q - Barry, you and I actually met 39 years ago.
A - (Laughs). Where was that?
Q - At a club in Syracuse, New York called The Brookside, Sunday night, July 28, 1974 to be exact. I actually talked to Karl Green and Derik Leckenby as well. This is what I think is really interesting: 1965 was probably the big year for The Hermits. In 1974, The Hermits drew 1000 people at something like three dollars a ticket.
A - (Laughs).
Q - It was standing room only on a Sunday night.
A - Wow!
Q - You know how fickle Pop music fans are. Here we are talking about one of your concerts almost a decade later and you had quite a crowd.
A - Yeah. That was the year after we got together for a three-week tour with Peter Noone, the British Invasion of '73. I think The Troggs were on it,
Billy J Kramer. Having done that tour, we got involved with a guy called Ray Raneri, who started booking us out as Herman's Hermits.
Q - He was your agent?
A - Manager he turned out to be.
Q - You were being booked by Premier Talent Agency, weren't you?
A - Yeah.
Q - The guy who was booking you out of that agency was a Syracuse, New York guy name of Mike Martineau, a Jamesville Dewitt high school graduate.
A - All right. I liked Frank Barsalona (owner of Premier Talent Agency). He put together some good tours for us.
Q - Herman's Hermits performed at the Syracuse War Memorial in April, 1965. You probably wouldn't have remembered it because all the places most likely look the same to you.
A - I've got a gig list in one of the sheds in a filing cabinet of all the itineraries we did. They are still there. Every now and then I go in and have a look at them. It's interesting.
Q - You should write your autobiography.
A - I'm halfway through my book. It's all about my personal experiences, all the crazy things I got up to.
Q - So, you are writing a book?
A - Yeah. I've been doing it for six years now. I've certainly lost a little bit of pace on it. I should get a stenographer or someone like that. I do it by hand, which you can get bored with. (Laughs). I should get someone to dictate to.
Q - You are the only original member of your version of Herman's Hermits, correct?
A - That's right, yes.
Q - Peter Noone is also on the road. I'm not sure how he bills himself, Peter Noone's Herman's Hermits or Peter Noone.
A - In 2009, our last tour of America we did, we agreed in 2003 that if I would tour America that I was Herman's Hermits Starring Barry Whitwam and when Peter went out it would be Herman's Hermits Starring Peter Noone. In 2009, the promoters, the buyers, didn't read the rider properly, got it wrong and said Herman's Hermits. Then in small letters, Featuring or With Barry Whitwam. The promoters got it wrong. Peter got wired up and we went to battle, litigation and all that stuff. It could've been settled with a phone call because my agents and promoters were in the wrong because they didn't read the rider properly. Anyway, we agreed to go out as Herman's Hermits Starring Barry Whitwam and he agreed to go out as Herman's Hermits Starting Peter Noone. In 2009, it went pear-shaped and I decided it's not worth the hassle going out in America because every time you got booked, you got booked wrong, not the way it should have been. So 2009 was the last tour of America for me.
Q - Wouldn't it be a stronger version of Herman's Hermits if you two guys were out on the road together?
A - Of course, the more original members you get in a band, the stronger it gets. But Peter does what he does and we are happy with that I think.
Q - When you go out, do people ever ask "Where's Peter? Where's Karl? Where's Keith?"
A - Very few people ask where's Keith Hopwood or Karl Green. They just say, "Whatever happened to the lead singer you used to have?" We say in 1971 he left the band to pursue his own career and he's doing it in America where he lives. It's curiosity, not like a big question.
Q - You've done something like 150 tours of the US.
A - Yes.
Q - And more than 30 tours of Australia?
A - Yes.
Q - You're booked until the end of 2014.
A - It's gone up to April 2015 now. We've got another tour of Australia in April 2015.
Q - Are you surprised that the interest is still there?
A - Well, we're not tired of it. I've got some great guys in the band. One of the guys has been with me a very long time, Geoff Foot. He wrote our first song when Peter left. It was called "She's A Lady" and it got to #20 in England and #1 in Scandinavia in '71. He joined the band full-time in 1988 and he's still here with us now. So, he's been with us a long time. We've got a great band. The harmony is awesome. We've got three lead singers who actually play instruments, not just one guy singing with harmonies. We've got three very strong singers. We've priced the show right. A lot of it is return shows, so people like what we're doing and are re-booking us. We're getting busier and busier. 2013 was good. In 2014, seven weeks in Germany, two weeks in New Zealand, four weeks in Australia and another tour of England called The Sensational '60s Experience, plus all the other stuff we're doing. It's getting really busy. We're doing a great job, not blowing me own trumpet, but it really sounds good.
Q - What kind of venues are you performing in?
A - A lot of them are theaters. Sometimes we do work smaller places like a club, which is great. We can handle a 10,000 seater or a 200 seater. I like the challenge.
Q - Are you in fact playing 10,000 seaters?
A - We do in Germany.
Q - You fill it up?
A - Not all alone. There are other artists with us.
Q - I always liked the way your songs were produced. That is in fact part of the reason for your appeal. Do you agree?
A - I must agree they were great songs and Mickie Most had a lot to do with the success of Herman's Hermits . At the time in the '60s he was producing
The Animals and a lot more artists. All the main artists in England were sending material to Mick and Mickie's talent was picking these songs and putting the songs with the right act. Very fortunate he did a great job. The songs really stood out.
Q - The Beatles and Stones were writing their own material. Did The Hermits ever attempt to write their own material?
A - Yeah, but for the B-sides and album tracks. It was controlled, the writing and the picking of the songs by Mickie. He had a talent for picking the right song for the right act.
Q - Did you guys do the Hamburg, Germany club circuit?
A - We were too young for that. The Beatles did it, but they were two or three years older than us. When they started I think we were still in high school. (Laughs). But we did the Liverpool Cavern Club a lot. It was good.
Q - So, you pretty much went from playing The Cavern to being famous? Is that an accurate statement?
A - Yup. Herman's Hermits were actually formed on April 1st, 1964. Before that date, it was actually Herman And The Hermits, with Karl Green, Keith Hopwood, a guy called Owl Ridgley and the drummer was Steve Titrington. We'd been down to Mickie Most's studio in London to make a few records and it didn't work out too well and the band broke up. I think it was about January or February 1964. The manager of the band, then Herman And The Hermits, was Harvey Lisburg. He approach myself and Derek Leckenby. We were in a band called The Wailers, a three-piece. The bass player was Ian Waller, who went on to make the Wal guitars. He liked our band any wanted us to become the new Hermits. We turned him down. We said "We don't like the band." We'd seen it. He showed us their booking diary and they were booking seven days a week and I had already turned professional by then. I said, "It sounds good to me. I wouldn't mind some of this." Derek, after a week said, "Right. Yeah." He's up for it, but he said we'd only join if they change the name from Herman And The Hermits, which is old-fashioned, to Herman's Hermits. Harvey agreed and Peter re-joined with Karl Green and Keith Hopwood and meself and Derek Leckenby joined the three of them and we called it Herman's Hermits from April 1st. That's how it all started.
Q - What didn't you like about Herman And The Hermits?
A - We did like the sound they made. Derek Leckenby had actually been working in the club and had to help them set the PA up because they didn't know how to set the PA up. We just didn't like the image of the band. We changed the sound of the band and it improved a lot. Mickie Most came up to see us again. He was invited to come up to a club in Bolton called The Beachcomber to re-review the band. He left us with a demo, "I'm Into Something Good" and said "Come down to the studio next Sunday", Monday, I think it was, and we went down there and made the record in two hours and the B side.
Q - What kind of group was The Wailers?
A - We were playing American copies.
Q - By Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, people like that?
A - Yeah, yeah. That's right.
Q - Did you guys get along right from the beginning?
A - Yeah, yeah. We got along great. The first two years we didn't have more than a week off. We were that busy. It was nonstop gigs traveling the world.
Q - Did you have any idea what it would be like to be famous?
A - None at all. Not a clue. We didn't realize it until we were actually touring America, our first tour, which was The Dick Clark Caravan Of Stars. We were the Special Guests from England and it was about a three month tour, all on a Greyhound bus, 42 people. Not a spare seat to be had. We had 10 days off in the middle of that tour. We went down to Texas and "Mrs. Brown You've Got A Lovely Daughter" had hit the charts and all of a sudden we couldn't go out on the streets on our own anymore. We had to let everyone know what you're doing in the daytime. It just went overnight from like a normal person to a Rock star, (laughs) not a Rock star, a star.
Q - You performed at the Ohio State Fair and drew a crowd of 30,000 people. A year before you were playing clubs. What were you thinking then?
A - Basically, you're just trying to do the best you could. There was no monitors. You couldn't hear what everybody else was doing. I used to count the number and people sang along. When you got 30,000 people singing along and no monitors, it was all out of sync. God knows what it sounded like. The kids were screaming. You were just trying to do your best to present the music as you used to do in any club with 200 people there. It used to be a great sound in The Cavern. And all of a sudden you got 30,000 people and massive space between you and the audience, but we overcame them obviously. Bob Hope was on that show.
Q - Did he introduce you?
A - No. It was sponsored by a radio station. We didn't used to sound check. We'd roll up five minutes before the show, jump out of the limousine, run to the stage. As soon as you finished the last note, you'd run back to the car and out of the place.
Q - At the height of The British Invasion, some girl wrote a question into a newspaper asking what her chances were of going out on a date with any of the top British band members if she wasn't in show business. The answer was "Impossible." That was the right answer, wasn't it?
A - It was, yeah. Security was pretty tight around us all day long, especially at night. Security was there to make sure no girls broke into our room. We were only teenagers then. You'd like to talk to girls every once in a while.
Q - You probably checked into hotels with assumed names, didn't you?
A - I don't know how it happened, but we checked into The Squire Hotel. It was right on Seventh Avenue in New York. We checked into the room and there were already two girls in the room waiting for me. (Laughs). That happened quite a bit actually. I don't know how the girls did it, but they were already waiting for you. You had to get rid of them. You couldn't let them stay in your room.
Q - They were groupies.
A - Yeah.
Q - Or fans?
A - Fans. I don't think they were groupies. They just wanted to meet you and sign an autograph and say hi!
Q - Did you look around England and say to yourself, "Something special is going on here with all of these bands"?
A - No, not really. With Herman's Hermits we just did our own thing and it became popular. The image was right. Back in the '60s it was a lead singer and three or four guys in the back doing the backing and singing the harmonies.
Q - Were you mobbed by fans?
A - It happened to us leaving The Ed Sullivan Show. You'd get chased down the streets in a limousine. Kids were just trying to catch up to us. It was pretty harmless after-the-show excitement for the kids, and exciting for us really. We're still teenagers. You'd never thought it was ever gonna happen.
Q - Your last hit in the States if I'm correct was "Leaning On A Lamppost".
A - Yeah.
Q - Then you continued to tour the world until 1971. After Peter Noone left, what did the remaining Hermits do?
A - We decided to write an album when he left. We wrote some songs together. We recorded it. It was called "A Whale Of A Tale". Actually darn good songs on it. We were on RCA London and the guy who was doing all the arrangements on it at RCA, died, a heart attack. RCA shelved the project. It never got released. We did the University circuit for about three months in England and decided to go back doing what we did best, which was Herman's Hermits music.
Q - And that's what you've been doing ever since.
A - Yeah, nonstop 49 years.
Q - Do people of all ages come up to your shows?
A - Yeah, especially in America at the State Fairs, the County Fairs where there is no alcohol served. Parents, grandparents can bring the kids. You can see like 50 years of the family and all of them singing the songs. Easy to remember. Great songs. It's the same thing now. Parents are coming around with their kids in theaters, like 25, 26 years old and they're still enjoying it. The songs are sort of locked in time in the '60s and we are doing a pretty good job of re-creating those songs.
Q - I read someplace that Herman's Hermits enjoy more success in the States then England. Is that true?
A - Yeah, it's true. We were more popular in America than we were in England.
Q - Why do you think that would've been?
A - In England we were very young when we started. I think the music magazines thought of us as a bit of a joke really. We couldn't be taken seriously. We didn't want to be taken seriously. We wanted to be recognized for what we did. The British press was a little more into The Who, The Stones, The Beatles. So the musical newspapers didn't really go overboard to give us any credit for what we did. Even now, English programs about the '60s, we are hardly ever mentioned even though sometimes we were ahead of The Stones. Let's make it clear, The Beatles were always at number one. From '65 to '66 we were knocking The Stones out of second place and selling more records from '65 to '66 than anybody else in the world at that particular time. That's not bad.
Q - 1965 was your year!
A - Yeah. I think we had five singles out that year, two albums and we did every TV show in the world there was to do.
Q - Did you ever perform on the same bill with The Beatles or The Stones?
A - In London there was a newspaper, a musical newspaper called The New Musical Express. They used to have a competition every year. In the first year, '64, we just made it as the Most Up And Coming Band. Then in '65 we got another recognition. When you got recognized, you did a show. I think we played Wembley Stadium. The Stones were on. We played with them, The Who, Manfred Mann. You name it, they were all there. Big show. We played two numbers and you're offstage. (Laughs). Paul McCartney came into our dressing room and wished us the best of luck.
Q - When did you first hear of The Beatles? Do you remember?
A - Yeah. I think it was early '63. Heard the name and heard some music I think. It was a radio show, Radio Luxembourg. I heard a couple of tracks and I thought they were great. Their first record, "Love Me Do" was very simple, fantastic stuff. I loved them from the word go.
Q - When did you first see them, on TV or in person?
A - It was on TV. Top Of The Pops.
Q - When you guys all got together in the Hermits, did you decide to let your hair grow longer? Were you influenced by The Beatles in that regard?
A - I used to be a lady's hairdresser. We didn't copy them really. Our image was middle of the road, the kids next door. So we weren't like The Rolling Stones or The Beatles. Just a bit longer than the normal kid would have.
Q - As you are playing drums today in the Hermits, do you ever look out and imagine seeing the original guys in the group?
A - I enjoy what I'm doing right now. I've got all the great memories from the '60s. I'm living for today, working hard, making sure everything is right for what we're doing today. It was great in the '60s, really good. But it'll never happen, getting back together again. I don't think so.
Q - I almost forgot to ask, didn't you meet Elvis in Hawaii?
A - Yeah. I was there.
Q - . That must've been quite a thrill.
A - Let's go back to the night before. We were supposed to be going home the next day. We just finished a tour of America. It ended in Hawaii. He was out there filming Paradise Hawaiian Style. We got a phone call from Col. Tom Parker, Elvis' manager, and he spoke to our manager and said, "Elvis wants to meet Herman's Hermits tomorrow on his film set." The reaction was, "Hey, we're going home tomorrow!" Somebody else said, "Hey, this is Elvis Presley. It's a thrill for him to meet us." So myself and Peter said, "We're down for it." We canceled our tickets and the other three, Derek Leckenby, Karl Green and Keith Hopwood flew home. Me and Peter went to see him. We sat there for two hours and Peter did an interview with him and did a video on him. Our pictures were taken afterwards. It was a fantastic experience. I'll never forget it.