Gary James' Interview With Phil Volk Of
Paul Revere And The Raiders
He is the former bassist for Paul Revere And The Raiders during their greatest period of popularity, 1965 to 1967. During that time the band charted 23 hit songs and racked up 14 Gold albums. When he left The Raiders he formed a new band called the Brotherhood with ex-Paul Revere And The Raiders members Drake Levin and Mike "Smitty" Smith. After three albums on RCA Records, he left to join Rick Nelson in The Stone Canyon Band. These days he performs with his wife and two daughters in Fang And The Gang. We are talking about Mr. Phil Volk.
Q - After Paul Revere passed away, Steve Van Zandt told Rolling Stone magazine in their September 20th, 2014 issue: "They (Paul Revere And The Raiders) had a handful of singles that are among the best records ever. They were actors too, always fooling around. Being so entertaining hurt their credibility. That's why they'll probably never be in the Hall Of Fame." He's referring to the Cleveland Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.
A - I understand.
Q - What do you think about that comment?
A - Well, we're in the entertainment business. Aren't we supposed to entertain people? You know, look at The Temptations. They did all kinds of choreography and entertained people. Look at KISS. Wild outfits and fireworks. You look at any spectacular act like Lady Gaga or Madonna, anybody that's out there doing big things. They're entertaining. They're doing spectacular things on stage. They have production values. They have rear screen projection. I remember going to see Supertramp many, many years ago, in the '70s, early '80s, probably late '70s and they had all kinds of production and lighting, rear screen projection and videos. I went to (Paul) McCartney's concert and he had all kinds of fireworks and screens projecting all kinds of images. You look at "Dark Side Of The Moon", the Pink Floyd thing. They had a wall that's like 146 yards long, longer than a football field with all kinds of projection for that recreation of "Dark Side Of The Moon". I just get irritated with people saying the fact that we were entertaining. We had some goofy antics occasionally. Look at all The Beatles' movies. It was all about fun, games and making jokes. Every time The Beatles had a press conference or interview, they never gave a straight answer. It was all joking. It was all fun and games. The Raiders were choreographed. We entertained. We played our instruments. We sang at the same time, moving around and dancing and the crowd went nuts! In those days you put us right next to any Motown group, we could hold our own. A lot of the groups that came on Where The Action Is to watch us perform, like The Temptations or The Four Tops, The Supremes, they would be totally blown away by what we did, our moves, our choreography. Even Tommy James And The Shondells saw us do a choreography bit. Tommy James wrote this in his book where we swing our guitar necks at each other's heads and we don't hit each other, but we swing real close on a song called "Big Boy Pete". It was a very well timed choreographed piece. Stage choreography. Tommy James decided to steal that. That's a good bit. So, they go back to New Jersey. Tommy James wrote this up in his book so you can verify this. They tried the bit on the opening night at a club date they had there in Jersey. The first time the guy swung his guitar neck at the other guy he hit the guy in the head and knocked off his toupee and the toupee went flying into the audience, right on the first table in the front row. It landed right on the candle that was in the middle of their table and it caused a big flash fire and they had to clear out the room. Tommy James told me, "Phil, we never did that again, but we never told anybody that we stole the bit from you. One guy walked up to me after the gig and said, 'Hey Tommy, that was really cool! That thing about the guitar neck swinging at each other's head, the toupee and the fire. Do you do that every night?'" Tommy James said, "No, we just do that on opening night to get people talking." (laughs) In other words, people really admired what we did. I don't know how I can emphasize this to you Gary, but I'm saying back then what we did was considered very cool. It was considered sexy. When we danced, when we did TV shows, we wore those tight, white tights and really sleek Raider outfits. After we got past the Revolutionary coats, we got something a little more form fitting, a little more stud. They were extremely sexy. We had a lot of admiration from the fans by the way we looked, the way we danced and the fact that we were an entertaining Rock band. Even Paul Shaffer said this is America's number one show band. He has said that on the (David) Letterman show. He has said that many, many times. America's number one show band.
Q - That leads perfectly into my next question. I was talking to a guy back in the early 1990s about music. This guy was really into Rock 'n' Roll music. So I mentioned Paul Revere And The Raiders. He said, "Who?" I said, "You know, 'Kicks', 'Just Like Me', 'Hungry'. Paul Revere And The Raiders." He said, "Sorry, man. Never heard of 'em." I don't think Paul Revere understood and Mark Lindsay understands that you have to remind the public exactly what your past accomplishments were.
A - Wait a second. I don't know about that Gary. Paul Revere kept touring until just last year (2014), just five months before he died. He kept his band going and they played many, many dates all around the country and the world. They did cruise ships. They did festivals. They did casinos. He kept doing that 'til just last year before he died. So, who is this guy who is so out of touch with everything?
Q - Just a friend. A guy who was very much into music.
A - Well, how old is he?
Q - He was probably in his 30s when I had that conversation with him.
A - He's too young. He wasn't even around in the '60s.
Q - That's the point. Even people today have to be made aware of what happened musically in the 1960s.
A - You can take a hundred kids in their 20s and 30s and based on their background and the kind of music their parents listened to, all the kind of stuff they enjoyed, you could get half the kids saying they never heard of 'em and the other half saying, "Oh yeah, my parents and my older brother and sister played that music. I really liked The Raiders. We still have some of their albums." You gotta remember something here, we were on Batman,. No Rock group did a series of Batman with Adam West and Burt Ward and Burgess Meredith as the Penguin. Paul Revere And The Raiders did Batman. We did The Ed Sullivan Show. We did Hollywood Palace. We hold the world's record for more television performances in the decade of the '60s than any Rock band in history with over 750 television performances. No other band in Rock 'n' Roll history can claim that number. They can't even get close. Paul Revere And The Raiders hold that record. We also had 24 charted hits. We also had 8 Gold albums. With that kind of television exposure we were the most visible band in the '60s. So, the Cleveland Hall Of Fame is very remiss for not recognizing our accomplishments and achievements and as Stevie Van Zandt says, this is right out of his mouth, "It's not only sad that The Raiders are not in the Hall Of Fame, it's criminal that they're not in the Hall Of Fame."
Q - I haven't heard about that quote before you just told me.
A - He's printed it on Little Stevie's Underground radio station website. That's been quoted several times. Paul Shaffer feels the same way. When Paul Revere died, Paul Shaffer did a tribute to Paul Revere on the Letterman show and played Paul Revere's first Rock 'n' Roll hit, "Like Long Hair". He did the whole song and talked about Paul Revere and his accomplishments. It was very moving and touching that Paul Shaffer would give such a glowing tribute to Paul Revere. He loved Paul.
Q - You were actually in another band when you first saw The Raiders. I don't happen to know what year that was, but when you saw them, what did you see? What impressed you about that group?
A - They could kick butt. They could Rock. They were the best Rock band I'd ever heard. Rock 'n' Roll was in its infancy and the music was just getting everybody excited. People danced back then. We actually held hands and we did the Swing and the Lindy Hop and the Jitterbug and we danced. Dancing was the big sport for kids. That was it. Going to dances. That's why Paul Revere was so successful on the dance circuit. That's what kids did back then. They went to dances. Paul Revere toured all the Northwest with his band. Any chance we had, we went to see him. He played at our high school and did a whole half hour set at the variety show in our high school as a guest artist and it just blew us all away. We'd never heard Rock music like that before. It was just so fantastic. The groove was so right on. It was just kickin' ass. It was great.
Q - Were The Raiders wearing those Revolutionary costumes when you saw them or did that come later?
A - They had 'em before I joined. Drake had already joined the band. Drake was in my band called The Surfers. We were playing Paul Revere's nightclub in 1963, his teenage nightclub called The Crazy Horse. We ended up playing all Summer there as the house band at his nightclub. Then he hired Drake. Drake was just getting ready to go back to school. He was going to be a junior in high school and he took Drake out of school and took him on the road and Drake was with him all the time until I got hired. Drake and I were working together again in The Raiders and then he had to go in the Army and "Harpo" (Jim Valley) was hired. Then Drake came back on the last tour and me and "Smitty" (drummer Mike Smith) and Drake were all together again in the band. We left the band and formed Brotherhood and got signed to RCA Victor. That's another whole story. But, as far as the bands I was in, a couple of high school bands called The Classics, which was my first band in Nampa, Idaho. Then after that I moved to Boise and got into The Chancellors and that was a very successful dance band. Then Drake and I formed a little trio that played kind of a bar, a lounge. We were actually under-age and got fired for that eventually. That was called Sir Winston's Trio, but oddly enough we did a performance on TV on a local dance show, a TV show in Boise and Paul Revere had seen us on that show. The next night, Drake and I showed up at his nightclub and he said he had seen us and said "You guys were good, but you don't have a drummer. If you had a drummer I'd have you play this club." And we said, "Can we borrow Smitty for a week until we get a drummer?" And so Smitty played with us for a whole week or weekend there until we found our own drummer, but that's very providential 'cause remember I wasn't in The Raiders yet. Smitty was the only Raider, but eventually we all became Raiders and then eventually all three of us left The Raiders to form Brotherhood, Fang, Drake and Smitty, so it was kind of a providential thing that we were playing together before we were ever in a band together.
Q - As I understand it, your parents didn't think very much of your decision to join The Raiders.
A - Of course not. They wanted me to stay in college. I applied to the University Of Colorado, majoring in music.
Q - With the intention of becoming what?
A - With the intention of becoming a school teacher, teaching music to kids in high school. I just wasn't getting behind it. I didn't like it. They were teaching me to sing Opera, but on the weekends I had a little Rock band and I played the fraternity and sorority dances. I'd come to school on Monday mornings and my voice professor would say, "What's wrong with your voice?" I'd say, "Well, I had a gig and I did a lot of Rock 'n' Roll singing and shouting." He said, "If you're going to do that, you better let me teach you how to breath correctly so you don't ruin your voice." So he showed me some techniques, but ultimately that just wasn't the right path for me. When Paul called and said, "I'm going to let Doc Holliday go. I'd like to hire you 'cause you and Drake have always impressed me working together and doing routines and dance steps together. I know the choreography could really be great if you and Drake were on stage together", and it was because we were very tight. We danced the same way. We were the same height. We really developed that showmanship even further and took it to a whole new level.
Q - When you left Paul Revere was it because you wanted to play a harder edge type of music?
A - That's part of it. Obviously we were writing a lot of songs. The Beatles got everybody writing songs and being a song writer became very fashionable. It became trendy. It became the way to go if you were a Rock 'n' Roller in the mid-60s, writing your own songs and producing them. So, we wanted more control over the music and we wanted Paul to let us have more of our original songs on the albums, but Mark (Lindsay) kind of dominated that. I got a few songs on the last album, "Spirit Of '67". I got "In My Community" and "Why, Why, Why?", so I was happy about that. But as a whole we saw that vision of the band was being guided by Mark and he was seeing things more in a teenybopper level, kind of catering to that younger audience because he was kind of enamored by their worship he said he got from them, as a teen idol. But we knew that in 1967 with the Vietnam War and the protests on the street, Buffalo Springfield singing songs like Something happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear, we knew that the world was changing. Music was changing. Hendrix came along and we wanted to fit in. We wanted to be relevant. We kept warning Paul and Mark and Terry Melcher, our producer. Terry wanted to do more of our songs, but Mark kind of put the squash on it. He was doing songs like "Little Girl In The Fourth Row". How can you have a relevant band that has a connection to the culture of that day when you're singing songs like "Little Girl In The Fourth Row"? So, if you listen to the Brotherhood album, you'll see what kind of songs we were producing and what we were trying to get The Raiders to do. We didn't want to lose our edge. We wanted to maintain that kick-ass Rock 'n' Roll, funky, gritty, raunchy kind of vibe that we had when we were originally a dance band. That's what got us famous. That's what kept us famous. The thing that took us down was we lost our relevance. That's why three of us left to form Brotherhood, so we could write our own tunes and connect with the culture of that day.
Q - You wanted to become like a Doors or Jimi Hendrix Experience band?
A - Well, we were a four piece band and we were very edgy, but we had a lot of Beatle influence so a lot of our stuff was pretty thematic and a little more melodic than The Doors, or what was that other group you mentioned?
Q - Jimi Hendrix Experience.
A - Well, Hendrix had that one sound. That was Hendrix. You always knew it was Hendrix. He stayed with that one sound. With the Brotherhood we were so versatile we could do a lot of different things. On that first album we just tried too many thematic songs, too many songs that were different from the other one. We didn't have that one continuous vibe in our music like Hendrix. Every song on his albums almost sounded the same 'cause he had that edgy guitar and that overdrive and that distortion.
Q - And his voice didn't really change that much.
A - And his voice didn't change. Our first Brotherhood album was so different, it was kind of our version of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band". It was a lot of thematic things. We even had orchestrations and violins and strings. We did a whole bunch of stuff that we just forgot to stay gritty and stay rockin'. We got too influenced by the Sgt. Pepper thing and we tried to do a thematic album with a lot of different colors and textures, but we never established one definite sound. We did that on the second album, but by then it was a little too late. As they say, too much, too little, too late.
Q - Did you ever meet Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin or Jimi Hendrix?
A - We jammed with Jimi Hendrix. We were hanging out with him at our studio. Me and Drake and Smitty used to go to his studio and watch him record. That was a frustrating process. They just kept trying it over and over again and couldn't get it right. The groove wasn't right. But then one night when he played at the Whiskey A Go Go, he sat in with Lee Michaels, they turned off the electricity on stage because it was past two A.M. and the liquor law says you have to stop the music and get the audience out by two. They kept playing, so the owner turned the electricity off. Drake and I jumped on stage and said to Lee Michaels, "Come over to our studio at RCA. We've got all the keyboards, the Hammond organ, the amplifiers, the drum sets. We've got everything you need. We can have a big jam session there." So we did that and Hendrix came over and we jammed until about 5:30 in the morning, all night long. That was the day before cell phones. No one had any photos of it. No one took any pictures because it was before the technology was there. It was just a bunch of musicians getting together and I just wish I would've had a picture taken of all of us, Lee Michaels, Noel Redding, Mitch Mitchell, Hendrix, me, Drake, Smitty and a few other guitar players. There was about twenty of us. We just had an all night jam session and we hung out with all these guys. We hung out with Jefferson Airplane. We hung out with Creedence when they came to RCA Victor to record. We hung out with David Crosby and The Byrds. David Crosby was forming that new band, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. He would come to all of our sessions and just hang out and we'd jam in-between our recordings. We had a lot of the musical community, a lot of camaraderie there. A lot of people respected what we did. They knew it was a big risk. They knew what we had done to leave The Raiders and form Brotherhood. They knew it was a huge gamble, and unfortunately it didn't pay off, although I'm very thrilled that they released the Brotherhood album, all three Brotherhood albums on CD last year (2014) on a record label called Real Gone Music. It's called "Brotherhood: The Complete Recordings". So at least we have that body of work out there that documents that time period in our lives.
Q - You mean to tell me that were no paparazzi hanging outside The Whiskey looking to take photos of famous musicians?
A - Well, the paparazzi wasn't a big deal back then. It wasn't an issue like it is today. That's all evolved into a big circus now. It wasn't that way. People would take pictures. Some of the teen magazines would hang out and get pictures. It was all agreeable and nice. Henry Diltz was always photographing stuff. He has a great catalog of pictures from the Sunset boulevard days and the Whiskey A Go Go and the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young days and the Hendrix days. He's got pictures of all this stuff, but there wasn't many of 'em. The paparazzi now is like the enemy. Everybody hates 'em because they create such a nuisance, but back then none of the musicians carried cameras unless that was one of their hobbies. When we left the Whiskey it was kind of a private, secret, confidential thing that Lee Michaels and his band and Hendrix and his guys and the Brotherhood and we'd go there and meet 'em there, which they all showed up. We got the night guard to open up the studio for us 'cause that was where all our equipment was. We somehow talked the guy into letting us in. It's kind of crazy that the guy let us in. We had to talk pretty fast to convince him that these twenty wild hippies that approached his security desk would be authorized to go through the doors into the studio, but we knew the guy and he knew us from recording there every day.
Q - See, today the paparazzi would tip that security guard to get photos.
A - The paparazzi thing is a new phenomenon. In the last couple decades it's been a crazy... it's a business so they can sell pictures. It's all a money thing, so they can sell pictures to the rags, the National Enquirer. All these cameramen figured out I can sell a picture for $500 or $1,000 or whatever, depending on what it is. So now everybody's doing it just because you can make money, but back in that day it was a different thing. The only kind of cameras that kids carried around were those Instamatics, the Kodak Instamatics with the little flash cube on the top, unless you were really into photography and could afford a Nikon camera like Henry Diltz had. But when we did photography sessions it was set up by the recording studio or by the record label or by our manager. That was a welcome thing 'cause we needed pictures for album covers. We needed pictures for the fan magazines. It was just part of the business to do photo shoots. But the paparazzi thing? The magazines caught us candidly once in awhile at a party or in New York City. Gloria Stavers, the editor from Sixteen magazine would sometimes send out photographers to stay with us and catch some of the action when we went to nightclubs or hanging out with other artists in New York City. That happened.
Q - As much as is out there about Paul Revere And The Raiders, there is still a lot about the band we don't know. It wasn't until recently when I interviewed
Jimmy Walker of The Knickerbockers did I get a sense of what it was like when Paul Revere And The Raiders hit the stage.
A - I hope he said it was complete pandemonium.
Q - He did.
A - When we took these guys on tour with us, it was crazy. We called it Raidermania. With The Beatles it was called Beatlemania, but Raidermania was identical. It looked just the same. It was just as loud. The screaming continued from the minute we stepped on stage to the minute we left the stage. It was all pandemonium. Screaming. It's amazing that the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame doesn't really know that we were one of the biggest bands in the mid-60s. We had all those hit records. We had as many hit records in the mid-60s as The Beach Boys did. We toured a lot with The Beach Boys and The Rolling Stones. In fact, we were so big in Seattle, Washington that The Rolling Stones were our opening act. They opened the show for us, okay? And that's after they had several big hits. We were just the kings of the Northwest. The fact that we had the TV shows, we became TV stars. I don't know if the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame has some kind of problem with that, being television stars, but we were a Rock 'n' Roll band 100% from the beginning. We were a dance band. We did the circuit. We played hard. We were known as the hardest working Rock band in the circuit. We continued to work hard. We continued to put on a great show. We played all of our instruments on all of the recordings. That's us. That's us performing. We were a very tight band. We could do anything. We didn't need studio cats like some people write about. We were the guys because we were good players. We were good musicians 'cause we worked so hard on the dance circuit, playing three, four, five hours a night.
But anyway, my current band is called Fang And The Gang. It contains my wife, Tina Mason, who was a star of Where The Action Is, my two daughters, Kelly and Jessica, and their husbands and two guitar players. It's an eight piece band and we do fairs and festivals and private parties, corporate things, some of the casinos. We do music from the '60s, '70s and '80s. We call it Classic Rock. I do all The Raiders' hits that I enjoy playing because I was involved with the majority of the bigger hits during my time period. The only one that I wasn't involved in that was really huge was "Indian Reservation", but I did make a recording of "Indian Reservation" on my latest album, "Fang Reveres The Raiders".
Q - You certainly have given insight into Paul Revere And The Raiders that I was not aware of until now.
A - Oh, yeah. We had over 750 television performances in the decade of the '60s, which is a world record. No other Rock band in history can even come close to that. Dick Clark was our right hand man. He got us on Where The Action Is. The reason why, and this is a nice little tidbit, when he came through Portland, Oregon with his Caravan Of Stars with
Bobby Rydell and Fabian and
Connie Francis and all those Philadelphia stars, he looked out into the audience and it was only half full and he asked his stage manager, "Where's all the kids? Where's all the teenagers? This is a very successful tour we've got here. Where is everybody?" He said, "Oh, they're over at the DC Corral 'cause there's a real popular Rock band playing a dance over there." He said, "Who's that?" He said, "A group called Paul Revere And The Raiders." So guess what? Dick Clark got in touch with our manager, Roger, got to see us in person, got to see how we had the impact on the kids, how we had the place sewed up. Kids loved The Raiders. We were the coolest thing ever, that ever hit the Northwest. Don't let anyone tell you anything else because in those days we were considered the bad boys of Rock 'n' Roll. We were pretty raunchy. The Rolling Stones may have been the bad boys from England, but The Raiders were known not only as the hardest working band, but the badest guys in Rock 'n' Roll back in that day. That's why Paul Revere named it The Raiders. When his record label, Gardena, wanted to change the name of the band because it was called The Downbeats way back when he got his record deal in the early '60s, they said "Why don't you use your real name, Paul Revere? That's a good gimmick." He said, "Well, what do you think?" I said, "How about Paul Revere And The Midnight Riders?" Paul said, "That doesn't sound sexy enough. That doesn't sound raunchy enough." So he thought the Raiders are the bad boys of football, the Oakland Raiders. Why not call it Paul Revere And The Raiders and we'll be the bad boys of Rock? And that's how it came about.
Q - You went on the road with Rick Nelson. Did you like that experience?
A - Yeah, I did. Rick turned out to be kind of a pill. He wasn't what everybody imagined him to be. I don't want to say anything nasty about him because he's not here to answer for himself, but we had philosophical differences about life, drugs and women. I had my own values and he had his values and the way he did things and we kind of clashed. I was married. I was married to Tina Mason. We had two kids at home. He hires me to be his bass player. He had seen me in the Brotherhood and was very impressed with my singing and playing. He couldn't believe I could play all these bass lines and sing at the same time. His bass player, who left him, was Randy Meisner who eventually went with The Eagles, okay? So, Brotherhood had broken up. I was available, so he hired me to be his bass player and I went on the road with him for a few months in 1970. We did The Johnny Cash Show, The Everly Brothers Show, the Miss U.S.A. Pageant. It was a strange time in my life because I was changing some of my priorities in life. I was studying The Bible and trying to find a spiritual path I was happy with. Everything Rick wanted to do just kind of clashed with my spiritual values and so we just went our separate ways, but for the most part, playing with him was a decent experience. He had let me go after The Troubadour gig. His manager called me and said, "He's gonna hire another bass player. You guys don't get along. It's over. Bye. Thank you. Here's your check." It was kind of cold. I had known the Nelson family since I was a little boy because my mother was a massage therapist for Harriet Nelson. I'd seen Ricky grow up on TV. We'd go over to his house and my mom had a massage for Harriet, his mother. Every once in awhile I would see Rick Nelson walk through the house and say "Hi." We were just sort of like acquaintances through that association. They would send us Christmas cards every year. So, I knew him kind of at a distance. Then, the reason I got to know him closer and I would end up going to his house in the Brotherhood days is that his uncle, Don Nelson, was our manager for Brotherhood. Don Nelson ended up hooking us up with Rick and Chris Harmon, his wife, and going to their house and having barbeques and going to Laguna Beach with 'em, to their vacation home. So, we used to hang out back in those days. After Brotherhood fell apart, he knew I was available and Randy Meisner left, so there was a spot available for me. We had a good relationship for the most part, but then when he wanted to do things he wanted to do on the road like smoke grass or get involved with women. I didn't want to break the spiritual path, so we just had a philosophical difference on certain things. It kind of put a division between us. It was over, but maybe it was a good thing. If I had stayed with him, I might've been on that airplane.