Gary James' Interview With Bruce Innes Of
The Original Caste
Bruce Innes formed The Original Caste in Calgary, Alberta, Canada in 1966. By 1970, Bruce and company had a big hit on their hands. That hit was a song called "One Tin Soldier". The Original Caste toured the world with a special emphasis on Canada, Japan and the United States. They opened the show for B.B. King and Glen Campbell. Bruce Innes worked with John Denver on his "Rocky Mountain High" album. Bruce has really had quite a colorful career in the music business and was kind enough to share his story with us.
Q - You were working in a local band in Calgary in 1967 and the following year you moved to Los Angeles and recorded a single for Dot Records. How did you get to record for Dot Records?
A - Well, I previously recorded for them in 1964. I had a Folk group called The Big Sky Singers that I started in college at the University Of Montana. We traveled around and signed a deal with Dot and put out an album which I'm sure sold two copies or something like that.
Q - But you had a record deal! That was impressive.
A - Yeah. There weren't many record companies, so if you didn't have have a deal you were pretty much working Elks Clubs or I don't know what.
Q - Then you must have been performing in some good venues with a record deal.
A - Yeah. We played some nice places on the West Coast. We really did.
Q - The following year you're recording for T.A. Records. Some bands spend years trying to get label interest and never succeed. What did you do differently to attract the record companies?
A - I think the first thing you had to do in those days was you had to be somewhere where record companies were, like L.A. or New York City, or if you're Country, I guess Nashville. It's hard to do things from places like Calgary, Alberta or South or North Dakota or wherever. You're better off if you're down there where there are some connected people to talk to.
Q - Does that mean you actively pursued a record deal or did someone from a record company spot your group?
A - With Dot, it was a guy named Joel Thomas, who I think heard us in Big Sur. He knew some people at Dot and so that may have had something to do with that. After that, I was friends with Hunter Thompson, so I got in touch with people he was friends with. When we signed with T.A. or Bell as it was, that was I think primarily good fortune. I think they had heard us someplace in L.A. probably and I think they thought it was an interesting deal.
Q - I realize you didn't write "One Tin Soldier", but after you recorded it, did you realize you had a hit record?
A - Not to start with, no. I mean, it took six months to get it off the ground. Suddenly, about six months after we recorded it, WLS in Chicago started playing it daily, in hourly rotation and at that point we sort of got the idea that maybe we might have a hit record.
Q - That was recorded in an eight-track or sixteen- track recording studio?
A - It was recorded in a sixteen-track recording studio.
Q - By today's standards that's relatively small, right?
A - Oh, yeah.
Q - It had this big sound to it and still holds up today.
A - Oh, that's nice of you to say that. I do believe that. Analog is just a better format than digital. People listen to stuff now on i-pods and it's hard to be critical of sound of those.
Q - You toured extensively in the U.S., Canada and Japan. How many days a year were you on the road?
A - Well, back when the record was popular I would say we were on the road two hundred days, maybe more than that.
Q - Were you headlining or supporting somebody?
A - Sometimes we headlined at smaller colleges. We were Glen Campbell's opening act for awhile.
Q - And B.B. King's
A - Yeah. It just depended on what gigs the agency came up with. I think we were with William Morris at the time. Sometimes we were the headliner act, but many times we were just part of a show.
Q - You had a great agency representing you.
A - That's for sure. They were very good.
Q - B.B. King and Glen Campbell must've treated The Original Caste pretty good, didn't they?
A - They were really nice and Glen was nice, although he had just had "By The Time I Get To Phoenix" and "Wichita Lineman", so he was pretty busy.
Q - You had songs of your recorded by Ray Stevens and Mickey Gilley.
A - That's correct.
Q - Did you have a high-powered publishing company taking those songs around to different artists?
A - Actually I had a manager that was friends with Ray Stevens' manager Don Williams. I think that's how we got the songs to Ray. As far as Mickey Gilley goes, I did a couple of shows with him and he heard me sing the song he recorded.
Q - You also worked as John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High" album?
A - Yeah.
Q - Were you a session musician on that album?
A - Background singer.
Q - What was it like to work with John Denver?
A - He was a really nice man, period, and a very good guitar player and a very good singer.
Q - What are you doing today? Are you doing anything musical?
A - I am. I'm performing by myself. I'm going to Canada in October (2016) to do some concerts up there and then I'll come back and do the Sun Valley Jazz Festival.
Q - Lucky you!
A - Yeah. It's really interesting. So many people that were in the music business back in my early times in the '60s and '70s are not in the music business anymore, but I've never done anything else, so it's very interesting to me.
Q - You're telling me you've only worked in music your whole life?
A - When I was in high school I worked in a grocery store for a little bit. Since I started in college I've never done anything else.
Q - You're one of the fortunate few.
A - Yeah, or not bright enough to get another skill. (laughs)
Q - I should've asked, are any of the other members in The Original Caste still in the music business?
A - No. Actually one passed away, Bliss Mackie, and another, Graham Bruce I think is retired and lives with his sister in Calgary, Alberta, and Dixie Lee Stone lives in Victoria, British Columbia, but none of them stayed in the music business.
Q - I would think once show biz gets in your blood you can't get it out.
A - Yeah. That certainly is the way it's been for me, but I guess everybody has a different plan.