Gary James' Interview With John Claude Gummoe of
When it was first released, "Rhythm Of The Rain" by The Cascades was a big hit. It was such a hit that B.M.I. (Broadcast Music Inc.) named "Rhythm Of The Rain" the 9th most performed song of the 20th century.
The singer and song writer of that song, Mr. John Claude Gummoe spoke with us about his group The Cascades and that special time in Pop music - the 1960s.
Q - John, I would guess The Cascades were one of the last American groups to have a hit before the British Invasion.
A - Oh, yes.
Q - The others would've been The Surfaris with "Wipe Out" and Jimmy Gilmer And The Fireballs with "Sugar Shack".
A - And Paul and Paula with "Hey Paula".
Q - Right. Now, you were playing a club in San Diego called The Peppermint Stick when you were "discovered"?
A - I don't think we were discovered there 'cause we had already been recording and had been "discovered" I guess. Andy Di Martino, who was a guitar teacher in San Diego, came out to see us play. He was sent to see us by Don Blocker of Liberty Records. We were stupid and naive and still wet behind the ears. We were knocking on doors in Hollywood and of course most people wouldn't talk to us at all, but there were a few, and Don Blocker was one of 'em. He told us you need to get representation. So, he said "there's a man in San Diego and he teaches guitar and wants to be a personal manager and produce records." He said "maybe you oughta have him come out and see you and see what that leads to." He came to see us play. We played him some demo tapes we made, bad demo tapes I might say, and he took them to Barry De Vorzon at Valiant Records. Barry heard two or three songs on the tape that he liked and signed us to a contract.
Q - What kind of place was The Peppermint Stick?
A - It was a dance club. They had a nice stage. They would do shows. Brian Hyland appeared there at one point. In fact, during the time we were there, Brian Hyland came in and performed. Joey Dee And The Starlighters performed there. It was not our regular venue in San Diego. Normally in San Diego we played at a place called The Red Coat Inn, which was a bowling alley. The Cascades were not just a vocal group. They were a full-blown band, much like The Beach Boys quite a few times.
Q - Why didn't The Cascades stay with Valiant Records?
A - One of the reasons we left Valiant is they wouldn't let us play on our own tracks. We had some great musicians on our tracks. But, when we went to RCA Victor, we played on all our tracks. Of course, we didn't have any hits with RCA Victor either. (laughs)
Q - According to the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia Of Rock, The Cascades were "discovered" by an executive at Warner Brothers, but you weren't on Warner Brothers were you?
A - Well, Valiant is a subsidiary of Warner Brothers. You know, it's amazing. That's one of the reasons I set up a web site (RhythmOfTheRain.com), which is to correct the false information that's out there about us. For instance, many books say I was the lead guitar player in The Cascades. I've never picked up a guitar in my life. I play keyboards. (laughs) I never did that very well even. I was mainly the lead singer. I started out in the group before The Cascades called The Thundernotes. In The Thundernotes I played vibes. Basically I threw a few lines in with the vibes and did some chords in the background. I'm a very lucky man. I've always been blessed with a natural ear for harmony. I knew chords intuitively without ever studying music. So, I was able to just kind of play along. Of course, Rock 'n' Roll in the '60s was pretty basic, simple stuff.
Q - Were you ever told what the record company found so appealing about your demo tape?
A - That would've been Barry De Vorzon of Valiant Records. He and a fellow by the name of Billy Sherman, were head of Valiant Records. They also had their publishing firm and writing stable. He also produced "Angel On My Shoulder" for Shelby Flynt. He wrote "Dreamin'" for Johnny Burnette. Barry De Vorzon was the lead singer for Barry And The Tamerlanes' "I Wonder What She's Doing Tonight". It was supposed to have been the next tune The Cascades came out with, but we left the label. (laughs) So, Barry put it out by himself.
Q - Did you write "Rhythm Of The Rain"?
A - Yeah, I did.
Q - How long did it take to write that song?
A - (laughs) That's an interesting question, because I wrote the lyrics to it fast. I pretty much had the chords figured out in my head, but I had nothing to work with when I had the lyrics 'cause I was in the Navy at the time. I was aboard ship and on my way to Japan. The ship I was on would spend six months in Japan and come back and spend six months in San Diego. It wasn't actually until I was able to sit down and work on the musical part of it. I had the lyrics and I could sing it without the music 'cause I knew what the melody was already.
Q - What kind of a mood were you in when you wrote that song?
A - That's a good question too. I was standing midwatch. I was up on the bridge of the ship. It was raining and storming outside. I was pretty much up there by myself, just the officer that was on duty and myself. I was probably feeling a little on the lonely side. When you're watching a mid-watch like that, all you do, at lease in this particular situation, you had to look at a radar screen to look for any approaching aircraft or other ships or whatever. But, that's in the middle of the night and there's not that much going on. So, I had my pen and my paper there and I was just fooling around with different ideas. I had the title in my mind for quite a long time. I just liked the sound of the title "Rhythm Of The Rain". And it's rather interesting because that title isn't sung anywhere in the song. I mean, the first line of the song is "listen to the rhythm of the falling rain."
Q - That's right.
A - There's nothing in the song that says "Rhythm Of The Rain". (laughs) But that was what the title was.
Q - How many copies did that song end up selling?
A - I never have had a complete count of it to be perfectly honest with you. It was the third largest selling record in the world in 1963.
Q - On your web site, you have a photo of The Cascades from the early days. I see G.A.C. (General Artists Corp.) was booking the group. They were also booking The Beatles. Did G.A.C. help you get some good gigs?
A - Actually, no. We weren't with them for very long. We were also with the William Morris Agency for a while.
Q - Were they any better?
A - No. I think a lot of it had to do with our manager. The manager we had, Andy Di Martino was very inexperienced. He didn't trust anybody. He was highly paranoid. He thought everybody was out to get us. When he pulled us from the William Morris Agency, he said "the reason we're leaving them is they're selling you on the road for thousands and thousands of dollars, but when we sign the contract with them, they're paying you less and pocketing the difference." I never really knew if this was true or not. When we left Valiant Records, Andy said "they're not giving you a fair shake on the publishing royalty." For instance, on Rhythm Of The Rain, one of their tunes was on the flip-side, a song called Let Me Be. He said "They're making more money off "Let Me Be" than you're making on Rhythm Of The Rain." That was another reason he pulled us from Valiant. I'm an artist. I've never been a good businessman. That's why you have a manager. You're supposed to trust the man to do the right moves for you. In hindsight, I don't know whether he always did. But then again, what are you going to do? You just kind of have to go along with the people you have that are supposed to be directing your career.
Q - So many of the 60s and 70s performers were ripped off by dishonest managers.
A - I signed away my mechanical rights, which is the royalty for the sale of records to "Rhythm Of The Rain" when we left Valiant. That was one of the conditions of getting a release from them. My manager at the time said "You have to do this John for the good of the group." And of course it was a really stupid thing for me to do. In 1995, I went to an organization in New York called Artists Rights Enforcement, headed up by a man named Chuck Rubin. Chuck, with a battery of attorneys, went to court and had all this reversed. He renewed my publishing deal with Warner Brothers on "Rhythm Of The Rain" and got me an advance of pretty close to a million bucks. Of course the only bad thing about that is he took half of that and the I.R.S. took the other half, or half of my half I should say.
Q - So, you got $250,000?
A - He actually brought in $900,000. He took $450,000 for himself and the remainder came to me, but of course when the I.R.S. got through with that, it was down below $200,000. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining because in the process of doing this, we also had that thing reversed. I got my rights back. In other words, if anybody ever records "Rhythm Of The Rain", I will get my royalties for the sale of records. So, that's been a good thing. Had I not done this, I would never have gotten anything. So, a little bit of something is better than not getting anything at all.
Q - Is there a Cascades group today?
A - No. I left the group in '67. I got tired of living out of a suitcase and being on the road all the time and being married to The Cascades and not having my life.
Q - How much road work did The Cascades engage in?
A - We went on the road quite a bit. We weren't booked the way we should've been booked. We never did a European tour. We never did an Asian tour. We spent most of our touring going across the U.S. and Canada playing small, little tours. We should've been playing Chicago, Philadelphia, New York and Cleveland. Instead we were playing Spearfish, South Dakota. Places like that. (laughs) It was all poorly handled, but it was forty years ago and that's the way things unfolded. I have no regrets because I wrote the song and the song brings me in a nice living.
Q - Was there a follow-up to "Rhythm Of The Rain"?
A - The follow-up to "Rhythm Of The Rain" was a song called "The Last Leaf". It went somewhere in the 40s on the Billboard charts and the flip side was a song called "Shy Girl". Both of these tunes were written by Barry De Vorzon's writers. They were both very nice songs but the record got split play. Some stations played "Shy Girl". Some played "The Last Loaf". So, there was never any definitive side to the record. Consequently it went up to about the 40s and sort of died. We continued recording. We did several singles for R.C.A. and couldn't get arrested with any of them. I think we did one thing that was sort of bubbling under the Billboard chart called "For Your Sweet Love". It made it into the 80s on the Billboard charts with R.C.A. Victor. We had a very good producer but not a good producer for The Cascades. His name was Joe Reisman. He passed away. Joe was the producer for people like Henry Mancini. He didn't really know too much about Pop / Rock. So, I don't think the records were really done as well as the could've been done with maybe another producer. We did some very good records that just never got promoted properly. But, what are you going to do?
Q - What keeps you busy these days?
A - I have a small, little studio in the back of the house here. I still write. I still make demos. I keep busy. I keep myself pretty occupied.