Gary James' Interview With Bruce Mattey Of
New Colony Six
New Colony Six was a Chicago based group that placed ten, count 'em, ten singles on Billboard's Hot 100 between 1966 and 1971. Their two biggest hits were "I Will Always Think About You" and "Things I'd Like To Say". In 2002, New Colony Six was inducted into the Iowa Rock 'n' Roll Music Association Hall Of Fame.
New Colony Six member Bruce Mattey talked with us about the group.
Q - Bruce, what was it like to be in a rock 'n' roll band in Chicago in the mid-1960s? What was that scene like?
A - Well, looking back at it, because at the time it was happening you don't realize the impact that it's going to have until it's happened and you look back at it. However, it was without a doubt exciting, appearing with different acts, different venues. Just being part of it. Naturally we didn't realize the impact any of the musicians would have later on or what the music would do or that it would last as long as it did. The people who were the teenagers then, they've grown up with the music, carried it along all these years, brought their children along with it. They know the tunes. Being part of that was pretty amazing. Down around here in Chicago, there were a few places you could go to see Hendrix. At the time it was just like, well, it's another act. But then as you became part of it, because you were part of the group and getting some notoriety, all of a sudden you find yourself in that elite class separate from the multitudes of people. You're realizing people are coming to see us. I don't want to say it was an ego trip, but that was part of it, because quite frankly I think a lot of us thought this is what we did. This is our job. This is what we love to do. We were appreciative that we had the opportunity to do it. We were just very fortunate. That positioning just came about. True there are groups that had a lot more notoriety, but for the time we rode the wave, I have to say that it was pretty amazing.
Q - What instrument did you play in New Colony Six?
A - Well, I've always been guitar and vocal. Although I do play other instruments, that is my main duty.
Q - New Colony Six wore colonial outfits onstage, didn't they?
A - Yes.
Q - Were you aware at the time that on the West coast a group called Paul Revere And The Raiders were doing the same thing?
A - Originally, no. It was kind of an odd thing that early on when the Colony was trying to make it and get a record contract, we went to California. At the same time there was a group in the same complex staying there unbeknownst to us called Paul Revere And The Raiders. We were trying out for Where The Action Is to get a spot on the show and be on the schedule. Here we come in, in colonial outfits and naturally coming in the opposite direction is Paul Revere almost dressed in an identical get-up. Just because the name itself I suppose, naturally Paul Revere, well there you go. So, they were colonial and New Colony actually picked up that name being the answer to the British Invasion, thus the New Colony. So, there was a purpose behind the name. But at the time we didn't realize that The Raiders and Colony were very similar from that look. Years later when we would perform onstage, we did play several concerts together, the outside fests, that sort of thing. They would wear their outfits. We would wear ours. Everything was fine.
Q - That must've been a great show.
A - The last time we worked with those guys as a group was probably a good eight if not ten years ago. It's been quite some time.
Q - Mark Lindsay is working on his autobiography. Maybe you'll get a mention in his book.
A - Could be. (laughs) We do part of our show commenting on the similarities between the two groups. We always say "I'm wearing Paul Revere's pants, but they're awfully loose and kind of big." (laughs) But you know, it's all in good fun. When we do perform, we still have the Colony outfits. For some corporate events we have a little bit more sophisticated outfits, but it's still a colonized thing with the white pants and the black riding boots. People say "don't you get tired of wearing that?" When we don't wear it, and there have been those days when we don't, people say "where are the outfits?" They kind of expect that. The young fans are like, well, this is kind of different. In the day when all the bands were out, you were either wearing some kind of Beatles jacket and matching shirts. Everybody had an outfit. Everything went Mod.
Q - You don't see that done anymore.
A - No. Everybody's an individual. But I think what happened shortly thereafter when the British Invasion came in, everybody kind of followed suit because of The Beatles. They wore outfits even though they were basically suits, shirts and ties. I think the Colony outfit itself just lent itself to a little bit more pizzazz. Even the people that see us now say that looks pretty good. You're not just wearing your black t-shirt and jeans. It just adds a little bit of something.
Q - What record label was New Colony Six signed to?
A - Early on, Cenataur Records, which was a family project. Eventually the Colony would wind up on Mercury in the later years and all through the end of days when records were being released. So Mercury became the label. I think a lot of our songs were eventually bought up by United Artists. I think they hold them in a catalog.
Q - Have there been re-releases to your knowledge?
A - You know, we've really been kind of holding back, however, some of the companies like Rhino and Sundazed have purchased rights and re-released compilation discs over the years going back five or six years ago. They released them in England, in Japan, on different labels. The airplay is out there and it's kind of interesting because a lot of people are looking for that material. We got e-mails to our website, "where do you get it?" We tell people you can go on the web and find it. We offer a 'live' CD because we don't have the rights necessarily to offer the original recordings because they were legally bought up by the corporation. We get writers credits. We're also contemplating doing a re-release of the recordings. Currently, my son and I have a label called Cascade Records that we recently started. We're looking at different projects for original material, but then re-cutting Colony tunes, maybe changing 'em around a little bit, bringing them up to modern day, that type of thing. There's always activities going on.
Q - Smart move on your part to start your own record company. That's what more and more established groups seem to be doing.
A - Well, you know what it was many years ago? You were in the mode of playing and the group was really what you had to concentrate on. Oddly enough, the last thing we thought about was; what's really going to happen to this material? Where's it going to go? What's the end result? That's where a lot of groups were taken advantage of, including us to a great extent, because we didn't know it would last this long. You're talking forty years ago and people are still listening to those songs. Reading our e-mails, we see they're looking for lyrics and music and everything else. So, who would know?
Q - Would it cost too much for you to hire an attorney and get the masters back?
A - No. That's always there. You always retain writer's credit. You never lose that, but it's just the distribution and how you go about that. Who picks up the cost? Is it worth it to do it? On a small scale it's more of a hobby than an money making proposition. But if it could go on for another forty years, you could make a few dollars doing that I suppose. (laughs)
Q - When you had this hit song "I Will Always Think About You", how did life change for the group? Did you tour nationally?
A - Oh, yes. We actually did three tours with The Beach Boys. We performed up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with The Monkees at the time they were out. Being onstage with names like that really brought notoriety to the group. People took notice. We did television spots for Lloyd Thaxton's show Shindig!. The one place we really lost out on was Where The Action Is, because when we were in California, the other group trying out for the show was Paul Revere And The Raiders. They got the nod. We came back to Chicago. (laughs) With the hit songs "I Will Always Think About You" and "Things I'd Like To Say", life changed dramatically. You know that people knew who you were. You demanded certain things in your contract, in your rider, where before you'd never even think to ask of these things. We had our own Greyhound bus. Groups were dying to have transportation. We had somebody to drive it, load the equipment. All those hardships became things of the past. We didn't have to lug our own equipment up flights of stairs. We showed up, we played, did the concert and off we went. Basically it was a small town stardom, but without a doubt it had great effect at that time. The band was already into it for a good five or six years. The band technically started end of '64. Our first song came out in '65, local hits in Chicago, but "I Will Always Think About You" and "Things I'd Like To Say" really put us on the countdown of the radio stations. When you're on the same playlist as The Beatles, well then you know you've really done something.
Q - At that time in history, what an accomplishment it was!
A - I just wish that then was now because for distribution, it's worldwide notoriety, it's so vast compared to what it was. You had to have your front people out there pushing your records, getting 'em on the radio station, taking people to dinner, payola, you name it. Whatever they had to do to get you played. But the ultimate test was, even if the song's no good, even if they forced it down your throat, people wouldn't buy it. So, the songs stood by themselves. Besides "I Confess", which oddly enough we still get requests and do it in the live show, people say "I remember it." In fact, I was with a few clients today doing some land purchased. It came up in conversation. One guy said "I understand you were with a Rock group?" I said "Yeah. New Colony Six." He said "Oh, 'I Confess', I love that song." He didn't even mention the other two. That's kind of interesting. He was like sixty-two years old. I'm impressed!
Q - You're from Illinois. So why would the Iowa Rock 'n' Roll Music Association Hall Of Fame honor the New Colony Six?
A - You know something? That's a good question. We did a lot of jobs in Wisconsin. We did a lot of jobs in Iowa, Ohio, Indiana. I have a feeling they kind of took us on as their own. Quite a few of the Colony songs were really big hits there. They were on the radio stations a long time, many weeks. In fact, it's been told to us that we spent over two hundred weeks, you total up all the airplay of our hit tunes, on the air. All I can say is, for whatever reason, we did enough jobs up there, they must've sold enough records, the DJs put in their thoughts on who should be inducted and we were selected. I remember doing the date up there. We were playing a date in Rockford, Illinois. We finished the job. They had arranged to pick us up in a Winnebago, drive us to the airport in Rockford, fly us to Ohio, pick us up in a couple of limousines, drive us to the show to be inducted. We did an hour, finished. Got back in the limo, back into Illinois, got back to the airport. It was like non-stop. It was like the old days. We're like, you know we're getting a little old this. (laughs)
Q - Did you like it though?
A - Oh, yeah. The adrenalin rush was fantastic. It's like that's what you live for. Right now, we don't do it for the money. We do it for the sheer enjoyment of it. Traveling has become a little difficult, especially in airports or try to get your guitar on an airplane. Everything is rented. You can't take anything anywhere. You really gotta get psyched up.
Q - Are all the original members still in New Colony Six?
A - No. Unfortunately along the way a few of the original originals... The Colony had many, many changes. We have recordings where people don't have credit for even being on them, on a lot of the tracks. Some of the tracks don't even have the right person's name on who wrote the song, whose responsible for it. A lot of stuff like that went on. The most original would be Ray Graffia. I would have to say he was one of, if not the founding member of the band, originally called The Patsmen. That's where it all started. It was St. Pat's High School out here in the Northwestern suburbs. That band then evolved into New Colony. Then the Colony would draw members from other groups periodically as necessary because everybody was going to college. Some people just couldn't go on the road. So, we changed around quite a bit. Then there was another group called The Revelles. I would say four out of the six Colony members were technically Revelle members. That's just what we did. Most of the Colony members had other projects. So therefore occasionally you wouldn't see the same people on stage.
Q - And the public would have no clue because you were wearing those colonial outfits.
A - Well, that is partially true. And other groups became groups that weren't originally groups, like The Grass Roots. Technically they were a back-up group for who I don't recall, but they formed a group because they just decided we're playing music for other people, why don't we go out and do it ourselves.
Q - New Colony Six performed from 1965 to 1974?
A - In one fashion or another, originally the band that people would call The New Colony Six from '65 probably 'til '70. At the end of 1970 most of the original members outside of one, possibly two, might have been left in the group. Then it started to change drastically and the group held on in one form or another until probably '74. At that point in time, the group was no longer in existence. Years later, we decided to re-form and it was either '87 or '88 where we had a reunion at the Park West in Chicago. A really nice venue. We didn't know what to expect. One of our players, Ron Rice, was doing a corporate thing and we said if we can put this whole thing together, you can do your corporate thing and we can take the stage and help you out. It turned out to be an open-to-the-public event. Surprisingly enough to us, there was not one empty seat on a Thursday night. People were sitting and standing in the aisles. The place was packed. We're like, if we can draw this kind of crowd on a Thursday, we can certainly go back to work. And we've been doing it ever since.
Q - What were you doing between 1974 and 1988? Were you still in music?
A - Well, most of the guys were doing music to some extent, maybe on weekends, things of that nature. I always stayed in music. I worked in a group called The Robbs, even when I was with the Colony. After the Colony I had a group called CARE, Creative American Rock Ensemble, which was a horn band, actually a show band. We would tour show lounges. And by that time Disco came in and when Disco came in, everything went haywire. The venues were all shutting down on 'live' groups. You were playing with tracks. We would go and play in Vegas and things of that nature, which is really what we didn't want to do. We didn't play bars, beer bars. That wasn't our thing.
Q - Now, why would that be? Because you had a hit record?
A - It just wasn't appealing. You'd have to do maybe four or five sets a night. You'd have to do all cover tunes and that's not what we were all about. We do cover tunes in our show. We're very select in what we pick to put in the show. But then it was just like, why are you playing beer bars? Just to go out because you can do it? It just wasn't appealing. No one wanted to do it. It just didn't move us. Other people would say "I'll play anywhere, anytime." Each one of us was in a business. We each went different directions. One of our guys has a company for waste water management. I have an insurance agency that was started in 1979. I always stayed in recording. Most of the guys didn't go into the studio. They would play with various groups here and there. But they always wanted the Colony to get back together. So, when we had that opportunity at the Park West, that was ideal. We said we'll give it a try and see what happens and fortunately it just kept going.