Gary James' Interview With Larry Tamblyn Of
The Standells

The Standells are best known for the hit record "Dirty Water". That song is listed in The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame's 500 Songs That Shaped Rock And Roll. "Dirty Water" is the official victory anthem of the Red Sox. The Standells also toured with The Rolling Stones in the mid-1960s. Larry Tamblyn of The Standells spoke with us about his group.

Q - Larry, that wasn't you singing "Dirty Water", it was Dick Dodd. So, when it comes time to sing that song, how close can you get to Dick Dodd?

A - Believe it or not, I sound closer to Dick than he does right now. He's developed this very deep sounding voice. God bless him, he can't even sing the melody right on that song. (Laughs). He sings it like a Blues song. My voice hasn't changed over the years. It's pretty darn close. Of course, there are purists out there who are gonna say "It's not right. Dick Dodd is not with 'em, so it's not right." We can't do anything about that.

Q - Whose idea was it for Dick to sing that song with an attitude in his voice? He almost sounds like a punk, a wise guy.

A - Yeah, he did. That was his charm, if you will. That's what sold him was his voice, "Boston you're my home!" He had that direct contact with the punk in all of us. Of course Punk Rock didn't exist back then or Garage Rock. I attribute that to Ed Cobb more than anything. He was our producer. He really brought that out in Dick. I've heard 'live' performances that we did. There's one that we did onstage in Michigan back in 1966. They made an album of it. They have "Standells Live". It's on Sundazed (Records). If you listen to Dick sing "Dirty Water" on that, he doesn't sound the same. He sounds kind of the same, but it's not that real punkish type of thing.

Q - Did you guys ever cross paths with Bobby Fuller?

A - You know, we did because they played at the same nightclubs we were in, P.J.'s. We spoke to 'em on many occacions. Just crossed paths.

Q - How did you find Bobby and the guys to be?

A - Really nice guys. Of course after all these years you get kind of fuzzy. I remember, like many people back then, they were really nice to talk with.

Q - Did you go to high school with Ritchie Valens?

A - No. (Laughs). I did not. I knew Ritchie Valens when I was in high school. We had competing bands. He went to San Fernando High actually. I went to John Francis Polytechnic in Sun Valley, California. We used to compete before he had his big records, for a lot of the gigs around the valley with our bands. Wedding receptions and things. I did run into him a couple of times. I was incredibly impressed with him. He was so confident in the way he presented himself and played guitar and sang. I just stood there with my mouth open. That was even back then.

Q - Is it true you had to cut your hair in order to work at P.J.'s?

A - Yes. That is true.

Q - What year would that have been?

A - 1964. We were one of the first groups to have long hair in 1963. We had seen photos of The Beatles in London before they became big here (U.S.) and we grew our hair out. When they started to break here, we had the long hair and we were doing the same schtick at this club called The Peppermint West. They had a big sign out in front saying Beatlemania. (Laughs). That was us. Some teen magazine actually came out and interviewed us. I wish I had that article. We went from there to perform at The Thunderbird Lounge in Las Vegas and they billed us as The Standells: America's Answer To The Beatles. That was a great big thing. From there, they booked us in P.J.'s, which was early 1964. It was a very strange thing there. They were a very conservative nightclub. They were drawing a lot of people, but they just didn't want the long hair. Part of our condition of playing there was cut off the long locks. Of course, a couple of us kept it a little longer than normal. It was actually pretty close in length to when The Beatles first started. If you look at their pictures when they first started, their hair was relatively short.

Q - It was. In '65 it got longer.

A - Yeah, so even when they were known as having long hair, if you look at it, they look like they were college kids or something. (Laughs).

Q - In 1963, The Beatles were not known to most people in the U.S. Where did you see a photo of the group?

A - We actually, believe it or not, got ahold of some European publications. Of course you know they were huge in Europe before they came to the United States. We saw this and thought it's only a matter of time before it starts to spread here.

Q - You knew that then?

A - Yeah.

Q - You're the first guy to ever say something like that.

A - We thought, this is really going to happen here. Now, I've got to give much of the credit to a guy who's no longer with us. That's Gary Leeds. Gary was our first drummer. It wasn't Dick. It was Gary Leeds. That's back when I was doing all the lead singing. He's the one that found the European publications. He said, "Wow! Look at this!" He really got us jazzed about it. So, we were really into it before it was fashionable. I can remember when we had the long hair, in Hollywood no less, and Hollywood's supposed to be the liberal land of the Leftist coast, we went into a diner in Hollywood with the long hair. It was a noisy diner and all of a sudden it got dead quiet. This is in Hollywood mind you. This is not Mississippi. (Laughs).

Q - And they just stopped and looked at you?

A - Yeah, 'cause they'd never seen anything like it.

Q - This was in?

A - 1963.

Q - Besides the long hair, were you also wearing the collarless jackets and the high heel Cuban boots?

A - Well, you know what? We had pretty much, at the same time, the high collared jackets before we ever heard about The Beatles wearing those. They were stylish back then and we wore 'em. A lot of groups caught on to those kind of things. The boots I can't remember exactly when . I still have mine. Unfortunately, I can't wear 'em. They fit still, but they hurt like hell to wear 'em onstage.

Q - Now you know how The Beatles felt!

A - Yeah. (Laughs) But they weren't so bad back then. When you get older and you try to walk in those things, it really crushes your feet.

Q - Did you guys listen to The Beatles music in 1963?

A - Yeah. We were sold on the music as well. It was raw. It spoke directly to us. We knew it spoke directly to the teenagers. "She Loves You". Of course we did that on The Munsters if you remember. Not such a good rendition of it. (Laughs) It spoke to us and we knew it had to happen. Anybody that didn't see that, I don't think had much imagination. I mean, they used to say the same thing about Elvis. When he first came out, they were making fun of him. They wouldn't allow him on some TV shows if you remember. They would only photograph him from the waist up. A lot of people said this guy will never amount to anything.

Q - Did that diner serve you or did they throw you out?

A - They didn't throw us out, but boy did we cause quite a stir. This is right when The Beatles music was starting to get played. A lot of people had never seen them. I think they were still on Tower Records at that time, if I'm not mistaken. The Standells did eventually go to Tower for awhile.

Q - The Beatles were on Capitol Records.

A - No. They were on Tower first. They didn't quite hit it with Tower Records. Then Capitol got 'em and then all of a suden all that old Tower stuff suddenly started to sell like hotcakes. The same thing happened with The Standells. We had an album on Liberty Records. It was "The Standells In Person At P.J.'s". That was 1964. It didn't do a whole lot. Several years later when we had "Dirty Water", then they re-released it and it sold quite a bit.

Q - You toured with The Stones, didn't you?

A - Well, this was much later on of course. We eventually got to where we were able to grow our hair out during the process. We played at P.J.'s for a good year or so. We were the House Band there. We were guest starring. But while we were there at P. J.'s they expanded their room by three times, they were drawing in so many people. We played clubs for years before we gained popularity. A lot of early groups did that very thing, including The Beatles. They played clubs. We did the same thing. In fact, we recorded "Dirty Water" in 1965. It wasn't released until about and didn't hit the charts until about eight months later. We didn't even know the song. We recorded the song and then forgot it. We had to relearn it. At that time, WLOF, which was a little station at that time in Orlando, Florida, began playing the record and they started selling a lot of copies. From there it spread to Miami and then up on the coast across the nation and eventually to California where we are from.

Q - So, I should probably back up and ask how you got your record deal. Was it because you were drawing all these people into the clubs?

A - (Laughs). Well, it didn't happen quite like that. What happened was, way back when we were performing in The Peppermill West, this guy came into the club. His name was Burt Jacobs. This is the honest to God truth. He meets with us and says, "Hey! If I can get you guys signed with Liberty Records will you sign with me as your manager?" We said, "Sure." Burt would be the first one to tell you, he was a bookie. He actually took bets from people. He had a lot of connections with the mob. How he got us on Liberty Records, site unseen by the way, is that he took bets from a lot of these guys at Liberty Records. And so, they were into him for a lot of money. That's how he got us on Liberty Records. We were on Liberty Records early on. We had a couple of singles out, one called "The Shake" and the flipside "The Peppermint Beatle". There were a few others, but they paired us up with the wrong producer. The guy didn't know his rear end from a hole in the ground. He was used to doing, I don't know, Pop songs. Certainly not Hard Rock songs. Like "The Shake" was really meant to be kind of a Joey Dee And The Starlighters type song and the guy turned it into almost a Polka, believe it or not with a clavinet and with Doo Wop singers in it. Ruined the song I thought. A lot of people like it, but I thought he ruined it, but he just was not the right producer for The Standells. It wasn't really until Ed Cobb, who actually took the time to listen to us and see what we were about, that we were finally able to be ourselves. I gotta tell you that "Dirty Water" when we recorded it, was a song written by Ed Cobb. We did not write it. But he just had a standard Blues song that he wrote. We took the song with the condition that we could arrange in any way we want and we added the guitar riff into it and all of the wonderful vocal asides like, "I'm gonna tell you a story, It's all about my town, I'm going to tell you a big fat story". That was all written by us. It was a different kind of arrangement than a straight Blues. Rather than a straight 7th, it was an extended 7th. I mean, just little facts like this. I don't know how valuable they are to the reader.

Q - Did you get any songwriting credit?

A - No. In fact, Ed Cobb was buddies with a great Classical composer, Lincoln Mayorga. I'm a great fan of his, his big musical pieces. He gave credits to Lincoln Mayorga for arranging the music, which was really a slap in our faces because we really arranged it and wrote it. We were young. We didn't do anything about it. But the fact is, we wrote a good part of that song. I wouldn't say we wrote it all. Ed Cobb did write the basic melody if you want to call it that. He was in Boston. He got mugged there as the story goes and that's what motivated him to write that.

Q - Let's talk about The Stones. You were touring with them in '66?

A - Yeah. It was 1966.

Q - Did you look at The Stones and think these guys are going to be around for a while?

A - That's a great, great, great question. Of course we admired The Stones as anybody back then would. I did happen to like The Beatles a little better, but The Stones were that down and gritty (group). They were a lot meaner than The Beatles were and they had the attitude. So, that was cool. But when we were invited to join The Stones tour, "Dirty Water" was still on the charts. I think it was pretty much climbing still and we had just released a new record, "Sometimes Good Guys Don't Where White". On that tour with us were The McCoys. So, it was The McCoys, The Tradewinds, another group, us, and The Stones. We were on this small chartered plane, a two engine plane. We went to literally about 80 cities it seemed like. We were sometimes doing two cities a day. We'd fly in, do the concert, fly out. Right now, with some exceptions, it's all blurry to me right now. I do remember being on that flight. The Stones were really doing drugs back then. If you were to tell me they would have lasted until today, I would've said you are absolutely out of your gourd.

Q - Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts lasted.

A - Pretty much. Bill Wyman stayed with them for a while, for most of the time. They are all kind of friends of mine on Facebook right now. Back then Brian Jones was with them. The three of them, Jagger, Richards and Jones kind of stuck together. I didn't share too much time with them except they did ask me out to dinner with them once. (Laughs). I'll never forget that either. They ordered these really expensive London broiled dinners. I was what? In my early 20s. I got this big slab of meat and like any kid I wanted to have catchup on it. I'll never forget Jagger said: "You bloody Yankee... (Laughs). He didn't use the word bloody. He used a four letter word there.

Q - You don't use catchup on meat because it ruins the taste.

A - That's right.

Q - It's too bad you didn't get the chance to spend more time with Brian Jones. To me he was and will always be The Rolling Stones.

A - I was quite surprised, about a year ago, to get a Friend Request from Brian Jones. I fell over when I saw it. We know he died way back in the '80s?

Q - No. He died on July 3rd, 1969.

A - '69?! He was one of the ones I thought would never make it. I was just shocked to see this Facebook Request, Friend Request from him. Obviously it was from his family. I really felt honored to be included in that.

Q - You were also on the same bill as The Doors. Did you meet Jim Morrison?

A - Yeah. It was in 1967. We were with them and The Coasters. I remember it was a gymnasium, but they did have kind of a Green Room. It was a back part of it. Everybody was talking back there and all of a sudden it got dead quiet. Everybody turned around and Jim Morrison had walked into the room. But it wasn't due to his aura. It was due to the odor from his clothes. (Laughs). He wore this leather suit which he never got out of. Everybody could tell right away. (Laughs).

Q - In other words he smelled!

A - He had B.O. (Body Odour) that was terrible. That's what I remember. That and the fact that he was quite a wild man on stage as you know.

Q - Jim Morrison was a sex symbol and had B.O.? How could girls get near him?

A - I don't know. Maybe he cleaned up afterwards. I have no idea. It was just that one day. I don't want to say he was always like that, although some people said he was. But the one day I saw him and experienced him, he was like that. But that's what life was like back then. We weren't perfect. We were musicians. People looked at us as gods and symbols, but we were just every day people. Jim was really a poet. It was Ray Manzarek that talked him into putting his poetry to music. That was the beginning of a successful relationship. I was so sorry to hear of Ray Manzarek's passing just recently.

Q - You sued Anheuser-Busch for $1 million because they used "Dirty Water" in a commercial without your permission. Did you win that case?

A - It was settled out of court and I can't disclose the sum it was settled at. They went through the company that owns our library. We don't own our own library, unfortunately. MCA / Universal owns it. They went through them to get the rights to use it but what they didn't do is clear it through SAG AFRTA and all of The Standells were members of the SAG AFRTA and that's where the problem was. They used it on TV and didn't get the SAG AFRTA rights to use our voices and our images in a commercial. That's what it was about. Quite frankly I didn't come up with the idea. It was an attorney who works for the company that handles our catalog.

Q - The Standells today do only a limited number of performances. You are not touring, are you?

A - Well, we want to be. The name of our new album is called "Bump". It's going to be released mid-July (2013). The title is kind of a reflection on how it's been. We've had quite a few bumps along the road. (Laughs). We started this album incidentally two years ago. Since then one of the members we had quit and stole all the library that we had recorded. So, we had to start back over again, which was good. It was probably the best thing that happened because it forced us to start writing some really, really good music. And then last year one of the former members of the group; I got involved with him in a lawsuit. He left the group. Didn't want anything to do with us until we started doing something and then he wanted back. Quite frankly we had already reformed the group. We already had our members. He wanted back. He wanted me to fire somebody to do it and I just said, "No. I'm not going to do it." It got us embroiled in a big lawsuit. Fortunately I own the trademark on the name. I advise any group out there, the first thing you do is protect the name. Decide who owns it and protect it, because this might come up someday and it came up here where he thought he could go ahead and use the name and really use it terribly. I mean, he put out a record that was just awful. We stopped that. Then he opened up his own webpage and just completely started to lambaste me and call me every name in the book. I tried to settle with him but it finally ended up going through mediation and it cost me all sorts of money and legal fees. That was one thing that went on. And that kind of slowed the process down. (Laughs). We had a couple of shows we did last year, South By Southwest. We appeared at that festival and got rave reviews. Some of the highest amount of Tweets. That sounds so silly. We got the highest amount of Tweets of any performer there. Then we headlined the Monterey Festival Summer Of Love. The anniversary of that. And a couple of other venues. So we kind of mixed it out to keep on doing the music.

Q - Does the name Standells mean something?

A - It does mean something. I created the name. That's why I own the trademark to it. Believe it or not, I got the name from when we first formed we were just a bunch of young guys and didn't have any work lined up. We spent a lot of time standing around booking agents offices, trying to get work. You know, stand, standing, Standells. That's how the name came about.

Q - When you and The Standells released "Dirty Water", did you ever believe the interest in your group would continue?

A - No. Just like our view of The Rolling Stones, who I deeply love, I never, ever thought it would have such a lasting impact. When The Standells broke up in 1969, I thought that would be the end of it. I thought never again would I hear anything about The Standells. Then long about 1982 things started popping up about Punk Rock and relating to The Standells. I couldn't believe what I was reading. Groups were emerging like The Pandoras and Iggy Pop. You'd see Standells mentioned over and over again. So, it's had a life of its own. It's not something that we've done to prolong it. It seems to have its own course and we just go with the flow. But I gotta tell you, those that are part of the group want to be working a lot more. We are going to be making more effort to do more shows.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.