Gary James' Interview With Norm Mayell of
Sopwith Camel is best known for a song titled "Hello, Hello". In fact, they were the first San Francisco group to chart a hit song and the second act from the Bay Area to land a recording contract. Their time in the spotlight didn't last long. Formed in 1965, by 1967 the group disbanded. 1967? That's when the San Francisco sound was just taking off. Sopwith Camel's Norm Mayell fills us in.
Q - Norm, is there a Sopwith Camel that tours and records as we speak?
A - No.
Q - Are you the only original member of the group left?
A - All five members are still around. Nandi, formerly Terry, Martin, William and myself live in the Bay Area. Peter lives n Virginia City, Nevada.
Q - You started the band in 1965 and had a hit with "Hello, Hello". Then, in 1967, you broke up? 1967 was when everything was just getting started in San Francisco for bands.
A - Actually, the biggest names were all doing it in 1966. But there was so much energy and so many bands still forming. Also, the initial creative thrust was appropriated by the music business. There was money everywhere. Well, I would be paraphrasing at this point. I would say see the Camel website www.sopwithcamel.com and click History And Stories. Gene Sculatti and Andrew Lau have different takes on us and the San Francisco scene and yet they both have it right. I can't really add anything to the story. I made the website and it gets visited quite well.
Q - Sopwith Camel was the second San Francisco band to get a record deal? Who was the first?
A - It depends. The Airplane was signed first, but we released "Hello, Hello" first and it became a hit. Lucky! The Beau Brummels had a record before anyone, but they were a working club band and were not included in the psychedelic garage band outbreak of the early part of 1966.
Q - Where did Kama Sutra Records see the band?
A - A friend of ours sent a demo we made at Golden State Recorders to Eric Jacobson in New York. He was the producer for The Lovin' Spoonful and he flew out to see us because he believed that "Hello, Hello" was a hit. The Spoonful were signed to Kama Sutra also. We moved to New York (City), in the village and toured with the Spoonful and slowly finished our album.
Q - Did Kama Sutra do enough for the group?
A - They should have given us some mentorship, but the producer, manager and record company were new to the game themselves and probably did the best they could.
Q - Why couldn't you have followed up with another hit, or did you?
A - "Hello, Hello" was released as a single. Nine months later the album was released, which did not help sales. There were personnel problems and we disbanded after Kama Sutra decided not to extend our contract. In 1971 we released "The Miraculous Hump Returns From The Moon" on Warner Brothers. The first track, entitled "Fazon" was a small hit. We toured again with the original four members except William Sievers, who signed with Warner Brothers as a soloist with a new name; William Truckaway.
Q - Do you have fond memories of being in a Rock band in the 1960s?
A - Yes. I personally went on to record with Norman Greenbaum, "Spirit In The Sky" and three albums with Blue Cheer and one album with William "Truckaway" Sievers. I continued as a drummer until 1980. I left the music business, got married, started a family and graphic arts company. In 2001, I licensed our second album from WMG, "The Miraculous Hump", had it converted to CD and have been selling it on the internet for the past eight years.