Gary James' Interview With Richie Rutkin Of
The Rip Chords

The Rip Chords are probably best known for their 1964 million-seller song "Hey Little Cobra". That's easy to's one of the top car songs of all time.

The group went on tour with Dick Clark's Caravan Of Stars, appeared in magazines like "16 Magazine" and "Tiger Beat", made a movie that starred Raquel Welch and co-starred Gary Lewis and The Playboys and The Righteous Brothers.

Over the years, The Rip Chords have shared the stage with acts such as Spencer Davis, The Box Tops, Three Dog Night, Freddy Cannon, Billy J. Kramer, Peter Noone...and the list goes on and on.

Original member Richie Rutkin spoke with us about The Rip Chords.

Q - Richie, I would imagine that if you were going to pick a time to be in a rock 'n roll band, the 1960s would've been the best time. Did you realize that at the time?

A - No. I really didn't. I knew it was an exciting time 'cause of all the teenage idols and Dick Clark and everybody running home to watch it, same as I used to. But, I didn't know it would stand up as probably the greatest era of rock 'n roll of all time.

Q - Are you the only original member of The Rip Chords?

A - I'm the only original member of The Rip Chords, except for special shows that are done on the West Coast or a TV special. Then, my friend Arnie, who is another original, meets us. He was in Las Vegas with us. When he came to Las Vegas, believe it or not, it was the first time we had appeared together in 38 years, so, it was unbelievable.

Q - What happened to all of the original members?

A - Well, Arnie does movies. He does face shots, extra work, bit parts. Phil has retired from the Music Business and is doing well. Ernie became a teacher and a Minister and is doing well too.

Q - Where did the name "The Rip Chords" come from?

A - It came from Doris Day. Terry Melcher, her son, was our producer. There was a show on at the time called Ripcords, but of course, that was guys who were parachuting. Somehow they must've changed the name to Rip Chords because they liked it.

Q - How was this band "discovered"?

A - Well, we got a record deal with Columbia. Arnie and I had been in groups and we had met when were seven years old. Arnie and I actually did movies together. We were in other singing groups. We were like what you call The Hollywood Kids. We were friends with Rickey Nelson, Jan and Dean, Groucho Marx's daughter, the Gidgets. We were always friendly with all those kids. We started singing in groups when we were 16, in high school. So, we had been on other labels. We had been on Liberty with a group called The Upper Classmen. So, we were trying to pursue a career and of course, have a hit record. What happened was, in Beverly Hills, there was a record store called Ralph's Record Bar, right on Rodeo Drive. We were very friendly with the guy. One day, we were in there, this was like 1962, and he said "I want you guys to stick around. A friend of mine is coming from the William Morris Agency." He said "There's two guys at Columbia and what they're looking for is two other guys that sing and dance, because these other guys at Columbia didn't dance. They're very straight-laced. They're looking for 2 Hollywood kind of guys" and he said "it fits what you guys do." He had seen us before. The agent came in. We sang acapella right there, in the store. They took us over to Arwin Records, which was a subsidiary of theirs. Marty Melcher, Doris Day's husband, heard us. The next thing you know, we went over to Columbia and we were signed.

Q - What kind of a producer was Terry Melcher?

A - Genius. I classify him in the Phil Spector - Brian Wilson mode.

Q - "Hey Little Cobra" was written by C. Conners and Marshall Kleinbard. Who are they?

A - You're gonna love this. Carol Conners, her real name is Annette Kleinbard. She was a member of The Teddy Bears and sang "To Know Him Is To Love Him". Of course, that group has Phil Spector in it, which we all know. Marshall Leib was the other person and he went on to be in The Hollywood Argyles with a song called "Alley-Oop". When they split up of course, Phil went on to New York and the Wall Of Sound.

Q - How did life change for you guys when "Hey Little Cobra" was released?

A - I'll tell you...that's great too! I was sitting one night and I'd never really been out of Los Angeles. All the TV shows were on lots, so, I'd never really travelled out of California. I was sitting, watching a TV show with my father and "Hey Little Cobra" had come out already. I get a phone call from our manager and he says "Do you have any winter clothes?" I said "What?" He said "Do you have a real heavy jacket?" I said "I don't know what you're talking about." He said "Well, Hey Little Cobra just broke in Milwaukee. It's about 5 degrees. We're gonna be on a plane tomorrow morning and we're doing a major show there." I said "You're kidding me." He said "No, it broke. You're on a show with Lenny Welsh and a lot of other acts. It's gonna be great." We went and froze 'cause we didn't have winter jackets. (laughs) I had never seen snow.

Q - Have you ever been back there?

A - Yes, many times. I was back there quite a few times.

Q - You also did the Dick Clark tours, didn't you?

A - Yeah. Dick Clark never did that again for that long. He used to take groups out (for) four weeks, five weeks on a bus. We went out for over three months. The Supremes were on that...Major Lance, Gene Pitney, Brian Hyland, The Crystals, The Dixie Cups, The Shirelles. It was just a major show...two buses. We went to 47 states. We flew over to Hawaii and did a show. We were in Alaska. Were were everywhere. The only states we actually didn't do was Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas because at that time, because again, I had never known there was a difference of race or anything like that. I saw it and that's why we didn't go to the really deep South.

Q - On that tour, I would guess you would've performed three songs?

A - You're exactly right. As soon as you're done, you were on a bus and went to the next city. I mean, it was every night.

Q - How does a band develop an act if you're only performing 3 songs a night?

A - At that time, we didn't. We were not self-contained. Phil stood in the middle and Arnie and I did all the dancing. Basically, what you see 'N Sync do today. Arnie and I were a little bit like that. We had our routines. The band played behind us. The Rip Chords of today is five pieces, self-contained, great musicians, and we all sing. We do some five part harmony which only The Beach Boys can really do. We've put together a casino hour and a half concert. We can do anything today. It's a totally different kind of group. It's very similar to the Beach Boys.

Q - Do you have any recorded product out?

A - Yeah. It's basically a combination of some of the early stuff that was done with the original Rip Chords and then the new stuff. Right now, Carol Shelby is coming out with a new Cobra. We've been talking to Ford about maybe doing something and that's in the works.

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