Testify – Larry Tamblyn of The Standells
Ever go through the concert listings and lose your shit? I mean shouting “NO… WAY! NO…. FUCKING… WAY!!!!” I mean really just freaking out in disbelief at what seems too incredible to be true? Well, that’s exactly what happened to me when I was scanning Space City Rock and saw The Standells listed as playing at The Concert Pub. The Concert Pub of all places!! Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure the Concert Pub is a cool place and all, but the club’s stock-in-trade is cover bands so you could imagine my disbelief. Yet, when I looked it up, it wasn’t some tribute band but the real fucking deal – THE Standells – one of the coolest 60’s garage bands to ever lay sound on tape. For the unitiated, The Standells were an archetypal garage band that predated the snotty middle finger attitude of punk but had the chops and the tunes to back it up. You likely know “Dirty Water” but garage fans will tell you how their catalog goes much deeper. Tracks like “Someday You’ll Cry”, “There’s a Storm Coming”, “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White”, “Rari”, “All Fall Down” are all 60’s garage classics that still make your hair stand on end.
Well, this weekend you can hear those songs live under the current line-up of original members Larry Tamblyn (Lead Vocals / Keyboard) and John Fleck (Bass / Vocals) along with the two newest members Greg Burnham (Drums / Vocals) and Adam Marsland (Co-lead Vocals / Guitar). So stoked was I that I contacted Larry Tamblyn to talk to him about the band, the music, their upcoming album, and the upcoming show. What I found was that he’s just as scappy, feisty, and ready to kick ass as ever.
FPH- This version of the Standells has you and John Fleck of the original band. I’m not saying this with any disrespect, but I think it is a fair question to ask for fans. Why is this THE Standells? And let me give you an example of where this comes from. I used to work at a music Pavilion here that does concerts. Grand Funk Railroad was playing and while I’m not the biggest fan by a long shot – I did enjoy half of their first album a lot and so have a soft spot for them. So, I made it a point while doing my work to pass by and see the band in action. When I walked past, I heard these perfectly played guitar lines but there was only one problem – Mark Farner isn’t a great guitarist. So I look up and saw these guys in what I guess was their late 20′s playing and came to realize that only the drummer was really from the original band – it was essentially a cover band and while I didn’t pay (because I was working at the venue) I still felt it was a rip off . So, I think some of your fan base may have similar concerns and I think it is fair for you to address those concerns.
Tamblyn - You’re right, this is a fair question, and a good one. It is THE Standells, because I not only founded the group but also created the name in 1962. Out of the four original members, only two went on to record “Dirty Water”, guitarist Tony Valentino and me. John Fleck joined the Standells in 1967, after departing from the group “Love”. Having written the songs “Riot on Sunset Strip” and “All Fall Down”, I consider him a major contributor to the Standells. He was and is one of the finest bassists I’ve ever worked with, and on a personal level I admire him quite a lot. When you talk about ‘60s rock groups, you are talking about guys who are now coincidentally in their 60’s and some even in their 70’s. To some of us, the years have been kind; to others they have not. I think you would be hard pressed to find any ‘60s group today with more than two original members. There are no 20-somethings in today’s Standells. The youngest band member, guitarist and co-lead singer Adam Marsland, is 45 years old. More importantly, in re-building the group, we have taken great pains to bring in people who love the Standells like we do. Adam is a seasoned performer in his own right; however, he was a Standells fan for years before joining the group. Although Adam is an accomplished guitarist, he does the simple guitar licks exactly as they were originally played. Before joining the group, Adam already knew all of our songs, including obscure album cuts. We pride ourselves on preserving the authentic ‘60s garage punk sound that made the group famous and that the fans crave. That’s why you will not find any tribute Standells today; there is only one band that can carry that name; like it or not, that’s us! LOL. As far as how the band performs in concert today, I’ll refer you to our recent performance at the Whisky A Go Go:
FPH- I think one of the things that speak to the fact that this isn’t just a hack band is that you guys are actually in the process of putting together a new album. First off, I want to talk about the new material (even though the economics are kind of interesting as well). I’m curious how you are approaching the songwriting, how you may have changed as a songwriter, how the new band members have affected the band’s sound, and how new recording techniques have affected the band’s sound. Can you elaborate?
Tamblyn- We’re recording the album for exactly that reason; we no longer wish to simply live off our past. In the ‘60s, the Standells recorded music that spoke to the music listener on a one-to-one basis. The songs addressed issues like class struggle, sexual frustration and unjust wars. The song lyrics were not only relevant then, but are just as apropos today. “I’m a poor boy born in a rubble”, from “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White” really rings true now. That’s why new punk groups such as the Vaccines are covering it. Today, we have the widest gap between the rich and the poor since the 1920’s, so the Standells are certainly going to take a poke at the wealthiest one percent of Americans. Again, we are going to great lengths to continue with much of the same subject manner with the same snotty, in-your-face delivery. In other words, those who listen to the new album will be able to identify it as Standells music. We are even going to bring in a vintage Vox Continental organ, exactly like the one I played in the ‘60s. The Standells’ music of the ‘60s was recorded on reel-to-reel tape, and the new album will be recorded in much the same manner. We’ve looked long and hard for the right recording studio, and we’ve found the perfect place which meets all of our needs, and in which we will be comfortable recording.
FPH- This will be your first record in over 40 years. I’d suspect you guys are a little excited and apprehensive. How are you guys taking the whole venture?
Tamblyn- It’s very scary, yet exhilarating. There are very high expectations from the fans, which weigh heavily on us. Because of this, we are going to make every effort to satisfy them. I really would love to hear people say “that’s the Standells I remember”.
FPH- You guys are trying to do this where it is fan funded – holding a little pledge drive campaign. Could you elaborate on the pledge drive?
Tamblyn- If anyone watched the Grammy’s this year, they would know that a little-known indie punk rock group named Arcade Fire walked away with the Grammy’s. They not only beat out major artists like Eminem, but also kicked ass on the major record labels. It’s pretty widely known that big record companies like Warner Bros. Records and MCA have been steadily losing their share of record sales to indie performers and labels over the last several years. IMHO, the reason is obvious: Unless it’s an American Idol winner or cookie-cutter performer who sounds like every other act, the majors don’t have a clue as to what’s going to sell and what people want to hear. During our tours here and in Europe, I’ve noticed there is a growing hunger for what many fans refer to as “the real thing”, which they believe they get with the Standells.
As you may be aware that the Standells were signed to a number of record labels in the early years, many of which provided staff record producers. Most of them tried to turn us into something we weren’t. Dick Glasser with Liberty Records absolutely ruined a song that I wrote and sang called “The Shake”. It was meant to be a loud and raunchy rocker; instead it ended up sounding almost like a polka (with a clavinet solo in it) Sonny Bono had in mind Phil Spector and the Righteous Brothers when he had the Standells do “The Boy Next Door” for VJ Records. That was NOT the Standells. We were finally fortunate to sign with producer Ed Cobb, with whom we collaborated to make “Dirty Water”. At first, Ed was a pleasure to work with, because he acted like a fifth member, channeling our thoughts and ideas into some really good recordings. However, as time went on, Ed became very difficult to work with, and I believe our music suffered from it. We really don’t want this to happen again. I think we’ve been around long enough to come to terms with who we really are as well as what music the fans want to hear. We also don’t want to put fate in the hands of major label suits.
This is why we are bypassing the majors this time and doing it ourselves. We are going to record the album, master it, press the vinyl albums, duplicate the CD’s and distribute the recordings under our own record label. But we need help from the fans to do this. This is why we are having the fund drive through Kickstarter.com. In return for their donations, fans will get something in return. Example: for a donation of $25.00, they will get a pre-release download of our album. This will be perhaps weeks or even months before the record stores get it. This project is so important to me, I will even be offering first-run vintage Standells albums (right off of my wall), with letter of authenticity attached to each one for a pledge reward.
FPH- I think that only shows what a great fan base you guys have. Why do you think that The Standells still resonate with people after so many years?
Tamblyn – I think the fans realize that the Standells are remaining true to who we are. We are not trying to pretend to be anything other than ourselves, and our fans, with whom we feel a close bond, know this.
FPH- What does the fund drive tell us – if at all – about how the music industry has changed over the years in regards to the relationship between labels and musicians?
Tamblyn- Quite a lot, actually. In order to give the fans what they want, we are asking them the help us out. The record companies are running scared and are only motivated by safe bets. They really can’t see what is happening today under their noses. Garage Punk is making a huge comeback. Many of today’s punk groups admit they have been influenced by the Standells – So it is only natural that the Standells return – and kick ass!
FPH- One thing that is very odd on your Facebook is that under “Description” most bands will a blurb or a genre but yours reads: “‘Standells’ is a protected service mark registered with US Patent and Trademark Office (Reg. No. 3,739,319). It is protected as of 1962, under Int. Cl.:41 as a rock group, both recording and performing. Larry Tamblyn is listed as the sole owner of the name. Any unauthorized usage of the name is strictly prohibited.” With all due respect, that’s a little unusual and points to the fact that there may have been some legal wrangling about who owns the name. Can you clarify?
Tamblyn - A very good question. In reality, this is very common with rock groups, and there have been quite a few who have ended up in court wrangling over who actually has the right to use a given name.
I suppose in a very distant way you could compare the name “Standells” to “Coca-Cola.” Okay, I know this is really stretching it to make a point – simply put, I created a unique brand name. Therefore, like Coca-Cola, the Standells name was protected. I was able to prove to the U.S. Patent office that I created the name, and by doing so it was protected retroactively to 1962.
At one time, other bands posed as The Standells, and even former members were secretly trying to put together deals as The Standells. There was also numerous pages on My Space and Facebook run by individuals claiming to be the Standells, with some even going so far as to add songs of their own they represented to have been done by the Standells. So I wanted to make sure that the name is used properly and not for any unauthorized or improper purposes. It might sound petty, but sadly, as you can see, it was absolutely necessary. My only interest has always been in what is best for the Standells’ name. We had to act when we did; if the name hadn’t been protected, for example, there would have been many pseudo-Standells groups out there, as well as a number of tribute bands who – I might add – would not come even close to re-creating the Standells sound. By protecting the name, we have been able to LEGALLY shut down every one of those sites that posed as the Standells and also prevented other groups from using the name.
Just recently, a DVD company was stopped from illegally marketing a video that contained unauthorized Standells performances from shows like the Munsters, Mike Douglas Show, and many others. Amazingly, every one of these performances was copied from YouTube. They even stole the Standells logo from our Facebook page (It’s true). Just to demonstrate the symbiotic relationship we have with our fan base, this fly-by-night outfit was exposed on the Standells Facebook page, as “Thieves at Work”. The fans did the rest – the DVD was pulled after only being out for a few days. As I have stated before, I really don’t mind fans sharing Standells music, but I do mind someone illegally selling and profiting from Standells merchandise. It’s not fair to the band, and it’s damn sure not fair to the fans.
FPH- I wanted to touch on an odd part in the band’s history. Just after John joined in late ’66, you guys recorded “Try It.” Before you knew it, you found the song banned off the radio and then you guys appeared on Art Linkletter’s show to defend your music against this Radio bigwig, Gordon McLendon. How was it like to go through all that?
Tamblyn - Billboard magazine had labeled the song as our next #1 hit. And I feel it would have been, had it not been for McLendon. He was a very powerful man back then, and many people were frightened of him. He felt the lyrics (and the suggestive way the song was performed) were encouraging young girls to try sex. Even though the record was the number one seller in many markets, including Los Angeles, most of the radio stations actually bought McLendon’s b.s. and refused to play it. We discovered that, like most others, if you were to follow the pointing finger up the arm you would discover something a lot more sinister than what it was pointing at, a true hypocrite. We even debated him on Art Linkletter’s house party, by most accounts defeating him handily, but to no avail. The song died – and so did the group’s popularity and hopes of another hit record. (You can find more details about McLendon on the Standells Facebook page. If you scroll down a bit, you’ll find a recently discovered LA Free Press interview done with me, plus there are several photos and a Billboard news release about McLendon under our photos section. This many was truly a hypocrite with a capital “H”).
FPH- I think that speaks to a lot about the cultural and music business environment of the time. How do you see those now as compared to how you have seen things change for the better and/or for the worse?
Tamblyn - Well, the changes have been both good and bad. Certainly with chart records of today such as “F**k You”, there’s little left to the imagination. I don’t really care for hip hop music, but there’s something to be said about the messages of many of these songs, especially when it comes to expressing the same us-against-them sentiments that we did back in the 60’s. So in that regard, I appreciate rap for what it is. However, as I previously mentioned, much of the mass appeal recordings today are nothing more than cookie cutter tried and true formulaic music making. Many performers of today seem to have terrific vocal chops, etc., (with a few exceptions) but I question where it comes from. To me, many are just parroting what they have heard from other performers. Really, I mean no disrespect, but where does Justin Bieber get his life experience from when he sings songs like “Never Say Never”?
FPH- When I told a friend that you guys were playing that person was kind of torn whether to go or not. They saw Eric Burdon play a while back and, for some reason, had some apprehension with seeing him play at an older age. Personally, I think maybe the Hawaiian shirt Burdon wore may have been the real culprit as I still think he’s a fantastic musician even at his age but I think it does speak to a certain group of people who want to see their idols in some odd state of eternal youth and I guess it’s not an unusual thing to hear people say “Rock is a young man’s game” yet, here you guys are doing music and thumbing your nose at those ideas. To me it’s an odd notion but I’m middle aged so I may have a bias towards older rockers. I was wondering how do you address fans who have those kind of issues?
Tamblyn - Hawaiian shirt, huh? Well, no worries there – we all dress in black like we did in the ‘60s. I even have an old pair of Beatle boots if I can still get them on!
I was really inspired by Eric Burdon. He truly was one of the greats of the ‘60s.
Would that we could stay in a state of eternal youth! LOL Sorry to disillusion your friend, but we ARE older. Hopefully, the music will be as fresh as it was in the ‘60s. I do have to say, though, that the biggest concert sellers STILL nowadays are guys our age. Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones (with whom we toured and is my Facebook friend) is certainly no spring chicken! Dave Matthews (who does “Dirty Water” as part of his concert) is no youngster, and neither is Tom Petty. These performers were among the top concert draws in 2010. Quite honestly, age has never been an issue for us (of course there’s always a first time). Generally, the people who attend our performances, like our Facebook fans, run the gambit in age. It’s amazing.
FPH- How’s this tour and how has the reception been?
Tamblyn – I can’t say, because we haven’t begun it yet! LOL! This is only three dates with the possibility of a fourth. Our biggest tour will be in November, when we travel to Europe for three weeks. We drew crowds during our last European tour in 2010, and it was really terrific to see so many fans from that part of the world!
FPH- Lastly, you’ve been making music all your life. What is the thing about music that has been most fulfilling to you – what is the thing that makes all the hard work you’ve done over the years worthwhile?
Tamblyn - For me, it’s always been the same. I enjoy performing for audiences. I also used to love being ‘stalked’ by the groupies after the shows. However, the most fulfilling thing for me today is speaking with the fans after the show, especially some of the memorabilia collectors. They’re much the same all over the world. They come up with the craziest things for us to autograph; records and albums I didn’t know existed, personal photos of us in concert, venue napkins, news clippings, etc. Many of these people know more about me that I do!
The Standells perform this weekend at both Concert Pub locations. Friday May 27th at Concert Pub North and Saturday May 28th at Concert Pub Galleria.
EVENT UPDATE (5/25): We some details about the show yesterday from the Concert Pub and here is what they wrote back to us.
“Shows are $15 both locations. Both Concert Pubs open everyday at 11am so people can get there early & have dinner & then see the band.
Also, there’s a link to The Arrow website to win VIP tickets too. Here’s the link, enter your email address for a chance to win tickets.”