Revering the Raiders
"We accidentally had some hit records along the way, accidentally got lucky and had some television shows along the way and in the meantime my philosophy still holds: Just get on stage, have fun, create a party and that's it."
Paul Revere's pragmatic nature tends to downplay any talk of innovation or predisposition to greatness. Perhaps Paul Revere and the Raiders' goofball antics pre-empted some from taking the band seriously during its tenure and a good many years after, but when you line up all the American bands of similar stature and compare their achievements, the Raiders were indeed "revolutionary."
No other band in the world has ever hosted two network TV shows. Only the Raiders can make that claim, first stomping into our national conscience wearing three-cornered caps, thigh-high boots and colonial costumes on Dick Clark's Where the Action Is from 1965 to 1967 and later in the Age of Aquarius they hosted Happening '68. And few, if any, can boast a lineage that stretches from rock's first golden era right on through the British Invasion, where their minutemen costumes proved a happy coincidence at staving off a complete British takeover of the American charts.
And of course none of this would matter if the Raiders' records sucked the wazoo. Happily, that's not the case. The Raiders were the real deal, combining the raw excitement of Jerry Lee Lewis with the instrumental muscle of the Stones, Beach Boy harmonies with Spike Jones' stage show.
Revere was a veteran of the Northwest dance circuit as far back as 1958, where he made a name for himself by playing frenzied R&B in Boise, Idaho. Forty years later, Revere and another crop of Raiders (if you can consider them new; he's been playing with the current touring group more than 20 years) perform anywhere from 150 to 250 dates annually.
Though off the charts since the early '70s, Paul Revere and his latter-day Raiders are potent reminders of a time in rock when it was all right for your band to look like it was enjoying itself, a day when zaniness was something to aspire to and a catchy gimmick was yours to run into the ground. If you were starting out in a career in music in 1958, it was okay to admit you were in it to make a pile of money.
In that sense, there was a generational divide within the Raiders that continues to this day. Although Revere prospered with the commercial sound that singer Mark Lindsay and producer Terry Melcher concocted, it was a sound the older Paul was less interested in, save for publishing the band's originals. When Dick Clark entered the picture, the Raider sound Revere was responsible for was largely relegated to the back burner.
"We were very R&B-oriented, as opposed to our hits like 'Kicks' and 'Hungry,'" he recalls. "All those songs were influenced by the new sound, the English thing. But I always preferred the R&B sound. I'd rather have been Otis Redding than The Beatles.
The band's earliest days were wild indeed. The Raiders used to destroy pianos and guitars onstage every weekend! "In those days, you could buy an upright piano, a great one, for 50 bucks," Revere says. "No big deal, and you could go to the hock shop and buy a guitar for 50 bucks.
"That was part of our reputation of being bizarre and crazy and destructive and over the edge. If you made 500 bucks and you had to spend 100 of it on destruction, then the next weekend you'd draw 200 more people because of the reputation."
Two decades before Michael Jackson screamed "Tito! Tito!" the Raiders came up with yet another gimmick still light-years ahead of any self-abuse Courtney Love's attempted.
"Setting fire to my hair?" chokes Revere with laughter. "That probably was an accident. We used to use flash paper a lot. Put wadding in an old musket gun and fire would shoot out of it. It was a very off-the-wall show."
Heavy-metal, grunge and the Nelson twins also owe the Raiders big time for their first prophetic recording. In 1961, they released the daringly titled single and album Like, Long Hair on the Gardena label.
"The hair we had was long for those days, Tarzan length," Revere says laughing. "Long hair had a double meaning; people who liked classical music, it was considered longhaired music. And then the kids were starting to grow longer hair. I just happened to hear that Rachmaninoff thing and put a boogie-woogie thing to it." That this constitutes one of the earliest graftings of a classical tune to a rock song is probably just another happy Revere coincidence.
Not content to leave long hair alone, lead singer Mark Lindsay began sporting a ponytail as early as 1964. When Lindsay cut his first solo single in 1970 (remember "Arizona, cut off your Indian braids"?), he defiantly chopped his hair appendage off. Maybe the ponytail was the intellectual property of Paul Revere!
"I tried to get everyone in the band to wear a ponytail, but everybody wanted to have their own individual look," laughs Revere sarcastically.
"So Mark being the lead singer, naturally he went with it. Now it's very common. Half the band [the new Raiders] wears a ponytail; some nights none of the band wears one."
Around this time, the Raiders left an indie label for Columbia Records, becoming the first band to sign with the once staunchly anti-rock label. This seemed like manna from heaven to a band yet to break nationally in a big way. But it cost the Raiders a hit single. A big one.
"Columbia had absolutely no distribution to the rock stations. It was the worst choice," Revere chortles. "After they got into the rock 'n' roll business, it was good to have a big company. But they blew it on 'Louie Louie' and they knew it. Here they were the biggest record company in the world, and they let the Kingsmen and Wand Records walk all over us when we were out there first. We were already on all the charts in the Northwest everywhere. And it was just sitting there going nowhere, and it was making me sick," he moans with still palpable regret.
Since every frat-party moron and his piano teacher warbled this ditty, it's easy to forget that the Raiders recorded the first vocal version of "Louie Louie" on April 25, 1963, at a cost of $40.
According to Dave Marsh's definitive Louie Louie book, they beat out the Kingsmen by at least a week--at the same recording studio, even!
The Raiders scored their first Top 5 hit, "Just Like Me," right about the time the band was hosting Where the Action Is. How hot were they in 1965?
Consider that the Rolling Stones were opening up for them in Pittsburgh, Seattle and Long Beach. Compared to the badass Raiders, the Stones were relatively meek onstage; witness Jagger's lame attempts at duck walking on the TAMI Show for the proof. Still, the Stones garnered a bad reputation while the Raiders lost theirs.
"We totally became more of a goody-goody image," Revere says. "Because we were on ABC, they were very staunch about what you could and couldn't do, and they wanted us to be squeaky clean. All of our dancers on the beach on Where the Action Is couldn't show their belly buttons, so they wore two-piece, high 1940s stupid bathing suits. Dick Clark had a clean image, and I was very concerned that the band stay away from drugs or anything that could cause embarrassment to Dick Clark or ABC. It was a different world then."
The group released one of rock's first anti-drug songs with "Kicks," a Barry Mann-Cynthia Weil song originally intended for the Animals. After its follow-up, another Mann-Weil hit called "Hungry," the band began releasing its own compositions on the A-side of singles.
"Looking back in hindsight, if I had to do it over again, I would not choose to let the guys in the group do most of the writing," he admits. "As far as I'm concerned, every damn hit that Three Dog Night had are songs we should've had. Most of the songs the Monkees had were written by Boyce and Hart, and those were songs Boyce and Hart were begging us to record. I should've stuck with using outside writers. We could've had 'Last Train to Clarksville,' 'We Gotta Get Outta This Place,' that was written by Mann and Weil, who wrote 'Kicks' and 'Hungry' for us. [Producer] Terry Melcher and Mark became tight-ass songwriting buddies, and I let it go, but I should've put my foot down and said, 'I don't think these songs are that damn great,' and 'I wanna compare these songs to other songs being sent to us.' A lot of songs got swept under the rug because Terry was feeding his ego."
Soon Melcher was tracking the Raiders records while the band was out on the road, just like the Beach Boys did. "Then we'd come in and double tracks or pull stuff off; it would depend. It became more of a manufactured Terry Melcher thing. I don't want to throw any stones, but he was Doris Day's son and he was the son of a big movie producer, Marty Melcher, and I think he wanted to make his mark in the world. He was very excited about writing songs and producing, having his name show up as many times as possible on an album."
The dispute over songwriting led to three Raiders and producer Melcher defecting by the end of 1967. But the band had a bigger problem facing it: The importance of singles shifted toward albums, and the hip press began tagging the Raiders as "bubblegum."
"There was a lot of phony hip bullshit going on, a lot of program directors and magazine writers," he grumbles. "Because we had this humongous teen-idol image that the Monkees and numerous groups from that era had, I mean, if you had anybody in the band that didn't have a third eye and a hump on his back, he became a teen idol. It became a detriment if you had a teen-idol image for the group or the lead singer. That was a no-no in the Rolling Stone magazine world. The Beatles had shed their cute image by being totally open about their drug use, grew beards and got weird. For groups that were not accepted, it didn't matter what you recorded. You were bubblegum in their mind."
After a series of admittedly gooey bubblegum singles ("Mr. Sun, Mr. Moon," "Cinderella Sunshine") in the late '60s, the press labeled the Raiders teeny-bopper lightweights, and FM radio duly resisted playing them. At one point, the group was forced to issue a record to FM DJs under a groovy alias--The Pink Puzz! The song garnered a lot of airplay until disgruntled DJs found out it was really the Raiders and yanked it off the air!
"Pink Puzz was basically a joke we played on the so-called hip music people. It was just to prove a point. It didn't mean shit. People all have their head up their ass," he says, laughing.
But it was no laughing matter. Having dropped the colonial look in 1968, the band's attempts at updating its image failed to take hold. Even the name change from the unwieldy Paul Revere and the Raiders Featuring Mark Lindsay to The Raiders didn't help matters much.
Although the Raiders scored their biggest hit and only No. 1 with "Indian Reservation" in 1971, the days of being a hitmaking machine were over. Mark Lindsay left after a Knott's Berry Farm gig in 1975, and the ersatz Raiders have been filling in ever since.
Although Lindsay and the latter-day Raiders reunited for a one-off show, there's still an antagonistic relationship between Revere and Lindsay and perhaps the other Raiders.
At a reunion instigated by Lindsay, Revere was conspicuously absent. On Lindsay's official Web page, he quotes a critic that describes the new Raiders as "Rip Torn fronting a rock 'n' roll band." And in the recently released tome about 16 Magazine called Who's Your Fave Rave, Lindsay castigates Revere as holding the group back artistically, as well as being only about the money. In the '60s, when it was no longer cool, Revere was called the "moneyman" of the group on the liner notes to Spirit of 67 while Lindsay was painted as the group's swashbuckling "crusading celibate!"
While publicists are prone to exaggeration, no conversation with Revere ever veers far from the language of money. Revere cagily words his feelings about his former partner's ongoing attempts to stay hip and relevant even today with new material. "It's pointless," he says. "I guess he's still chasing the brass ring, trying to be hip.
"Some groups just refuse to get it through their heads that they're an oldies group. It never dawned on me that I'm anything other than an oldies group. So I'm not blowing any smoke up my ass or anyone else's. But evidently Mark's cutting some stuff, great. But what are the odds? Unless you're Julio or Neil Diamond. But if you're going to be a current rock 'n' roller--the Rolling Stones have trouble getting airplay. But that's okay, everyone likes to go into the studio and do their thing."
The new Raiders have some original material, and they mix it in with CDs they sell exclusively on the road, readopting the DIY attitude that put the band on the map with Like, Long Hair. At 60, Revere is still amazed by the amount of work that's out there. And he still seems "Hungry" for it.
"When the smoke clears, I want to be able to feed my kids, see my grandchildren and not have to work at the car wash," he says. "You can piss away the money pretty fast. Being in the rock 'n' roll business is like being a football player. You've only got a short span of use, and when they're done with you, they spit you out, and there's nobody giving you a pension, medical or dental. You're totally self-sufficient.
"Each year I always go, 'I don't say no to anything if the phone rings.' I'm there because I keep thinking next year the phone's not gonna ring. I don't think anyone works more than we do. But I love it; it's fun, and in my mind it still beats the hell out of working."
Paul Revere and the Raiders are scheduled to perform on Saturday, May 2, at Celebrity Theatre, with Steve Ansel and the Jackson Street Band. Showtime is 8 p.m.
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