Though they found a great deal of success in their home state of Nebraska, The Coachmen - best known for Mr. Moon - would record
under the names Alexander's Rock Time Band and, later, Professor Morrison's Lollipop. The changes, however, did not lead to the
wide success that the band had hoped for, and drummer Bruce Watson is still a bit frustrated about the direction the band took.
History has proven, however, that the recorded legacy of The Coachmen is intact - proven by their 1997 induction into the Nebraska
Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame.
An Interview With Bruce Watson
60sgaragebands.com (60s): How did you first get interested in music?
Bruce Watson (BW): I just loved drums and drumming from the time I first heard them - like when I was five years old. I loved the '50's music growing up. Then - when I heard the Ventures' Walk Don't Run - something snapped and I was obsessed.
60s: Was The Coachmen your first band?
BW: I started The Wanderers with three friends in the eigth grade. We were playing little jobs, parties, etc. within three months and never stopped. That band became The Chandels at the start of the tenth grade with the addition of Dan Eikleberry (vocals and guitar). This lasted through the end of my junior year when Dan graduated and went to the The Air Force Academy. The Coachmen CD of 1999 really got to him big time because he felt he would have been part of it had he not left to fly airplanes, which became his life - a good one. He's a good guy.
60s: Where was The Coachmen formed?
BW: The Coachmen formed at the start of summer before my senior year with the same five that reunited in '97 for the Hall Of Fame plus Jim Reinmuth - my high school bud - who was part of The Wanderers and The Chandels. The six of us just came together - no one person orchestrated it - in June 1964 in Lincoln, Nebraska.
60s: Could you recap the original line-up?
BW: Red Freeman, guitar and vocals (most of the lead vocals); Jeff Travis, lead guitar; Rick Bell, guitar...then keyboards and vocals; Craig Perkins, bass; Jim Reinmuth, guitar...then electric piano and vocals through May 1965; Bruce Watson, drums and vocals. Frank Elia replaced Red Freeman in July 1965, stayed through Professor Morrison's Lollipop and is a current member, vocals and guitar. Kelly Kotera replaced Rick Bell on keyboards in October 1966 and stayed through Professor Morrison's Lollipop.
60s: You made a reference to the band's name change to Professor's Morrison's Lollipop. At one time, the band also went by the name of Alexander's Rock Time Band. What led to the names changes?
BW: We didn't like them or want them. Both were done as projects to try to sell records as a "new" band. We had become a rock/blues band by the time of the change to Alexander's. We had pretty much stopped playing any Top 40 by then, which reduced our drawing power as we played the same midwest circuit over and over. We wanted to get to the national level as The Coachmen, get a real record contract with real band input, and play bigger venues. It didn't happen. Our management couldn't quite get us at the right place/right time. The name changes were a feeble attempt to catch fire again from out the the blue like Moon did. I think what was forgotten was that Moon caught fire so fast because we were so hot as a live act in Nebraska and Iowa when it was released. The people bought it because it was, first, us and second because they liked the song. That wasn't gonna happen for a mystery name unless the song was great. Alexander's #1 Hippie On The Village Scene surely was awful and an embarrasment for a blues band that for sure didn't play or like bubblegum. We never considered You Got The Love as bubblegum.
60s: If you weren't satisfied with the name change to Alexander's Rock Time Change...why change names again - this time to Professor Morrison's Lollipop?
BW: The second change came because 1) everything about the first change sucked. We had nothing to lose and nothing goin' except our ability to play; and 2) it was the direct result of our management making a connection with Kasenatz & Katz; I don't know how it was arranged.
We had no desire to play bubblegum. By the time of Professor Morrison's Lollipop we were 50% blues and 50% psychedelic. Our WHOLE reason for going with the Professor Morrison's Lollipop scenario was being on the White Whale label. We were the second band ever on it beyond The Turtles, so we thought - just maybe - this would be our long overdue break. We envisioned what would be a band-oriented contract showcasing our style and stage ability and not a vehicle for a Kasenatz & Katz production. All of the good bands with similar stories could probably form at least a small country.
60s: So you don't recall how you became associated with Kasenetz & Katz?
BW: The K&K connection originated with manager Scott Cameron. I have no idea who contacted who. What was presented to us was the connection with White Whale. We were encouraged to take it as nothing else significant was going on as Alexander's Rock Tine Band and we did.
60s: Where did the band typically play?
BW: We played at city auditoriums, ballrooms, armories, universities and clubs in about 25 states (including as Professor Morrison's Lollipop). However, at least 80 percent of 900 +/- shows played in our five years were throughout Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota.
60s: How would you describe the band's sound? What band's influenced you?
BW: Powerful. Loud. Heavy bottom re: bass and drumming. Crunchy. Somewhat original in that we wanted to sound like ourselves and not someone else.
60s: Did you play any of the local Nebraska teen clubs?
BW: There were about a half dozen Nebraska teen clubs that had some longevity and we played those throughout our history. Sandy's Escape in Omaha was by far the dominant club and we played there approximately 150 times.
60s: Did The Coachmen participate in any Battle Of The Bands?
BW: (We participated in) one true Battle of the Bands, in January 1965 at the Omaha Civic Auditorium against 30-plus local bands. We had never played in Omaha but won - the beginning of our love of that market, which was our home after June 1965.
60s: Did The Coachmen have a manager?
BW: Beginning in July or August 1965, Scott Cameron (managed us) through Professor Morrison's Lollipop. He is still in the biz and manages some of the old blues guys including Muddy Waters. None of us are in contact with him or have been since Professor Morrison's Lollipop.
60s: The Coachmen released many singles. Where were the 45s recorded? What do you remember about the recording sessions?
BW: We don't see it as "many." It took six to eight months to get our second - Linda Lou - out. This was way, way, way too long and was not a good followup to Moon in my opinion. No Answer, a Red Freeman song that was plunked on the rear of our third single, My Generation, would have been a compatable but not too similar followup to Moon. Our management was way too slow to react to Moon's success - due to inexperience with the type of success it was having and because that success was sporadic in timing, lasting almost a year as it died in one market and caught on in others. The individuals in the band, as is so common, started pulling in various directions musically. That resulted in a loss of focus on the commercial side of what was working and we didn't press for a timely second release; we really just didn't know any better. We were playing thre to five shows a week and just focusing on getting onto the next gap in the road. We did six singles including You Got The Love. I personally don't know the story behind the subsequent releases done by Kasenatz & Katz under the Professor Morrison's Lollipop name after the band disintegrated. Kasenetz & Katz owned the name and continued to use it for some unknown period. Jeff and Craig were the final element of Professor Morrison's Lollipop after I left, then Frank, then Kelly, not much in between these changes.
The recording sessions were uniformly quick, all business, play the music right, get out of the studio and then leave it to the producer and engineer to screw with it until everything sounded like it was coming up from underground through a hole missing its manhole cover. The single overriding factors were the speed required for the actual recording process and that none of the tunes sounded anything like the raw, preproduction versions. Tell Her No - flip of our fourth single, Tyme Won't Change, was the crowning lowpoint of poor sounding stuff.
Also highly significant was the availability of only four-tracks, which resulted in all elements of the drum set plus bass guitar being recorded through a single track. Musicians today would slit their wrists.
60s: Did The Coachmen write many original songs?
BW: We didn't write much. We were not encouraged to. I only did lyrics in those days, and not often. Red Freeman could have been a prolific as well as a great writer, which he is (hear Heartland). Our parting of ways in '65 really hurt all of us from the writing perspective - compounded by lack of creative time, money and support. Our focus was playing better and better and not creating original stuff.
60s: Do any unreleased '60's Coachmen recordings exist? Are there any vintage live recordings?
BW: Nothing unreleased exists. We have one tape, Professor Morrison's Lollipop from August 1968, that is amazingly powerful but so unbalanced and audioly retarded that it is beyond repair. It was recorded on a single mike set up in the middle of an NG Armory. Too bad because it's an amazing tape of 15 songs including three original jams - one of which has a 5 +/- minute drum solo.
60s: Did the band make any local TV appearances?
BW: We had our own TV show on ABC Omaha Channel 7; 30 minutes once a month on Saturday afternoons in the fall of '66 through the spring '67 season. It was The Coachmen Show and was taped in the Channel 7 Studio. We were on a few other local midwest shows. Professor Morrison's Lollipop ML was on a Dick Clark produced show - SHINDIG I think - but I can't remember for sure - in October of '68 in Los Angeles. (NOTE: Thanks to Ben Chaput, research shows that the program was actually Clark's IT'S HAPPENING, first aired 10/2/68).
60s: Does any 8mm or 16mm film footage exist of the band?
BW: We have a bunch of stuff from the 1997 reunion and the 2001 shows. Many people taped us in the '60's - it was really common to see home movie cameras pointed at us on stage. We don't have any of it. I'd sure like to.
60s: Why did the band break up?
BW: The band broke up - as Professor Morrison's Lollipop - with the realization that it wasn't going to happen for us. We just ran out of gas. We were never better on stage than we were at the end. It was a kind of a nauseous feeling to walk away and bury the sound that we were creating. I got out of music immediately - burnt out, no money, with a wife and baby, and being a senior in college. I could have joined several other bands but just didn't have the heart to play with anyone else and give it the energy to do it right.
60s: When did the band first get back together? How many original members are still with the band?
BW: Rick, Jeff, Red, Craig and I reassembled in July of 1997 after being asked to reform and play during our Nebraska Rock Hall Of Fame induction show on 8/23/97. It was a major gas and we decided to loosely stay at it and do the CD that we did in 1999. Frank Elia rejoined the band in late 2000 when we decided to do five shows in eastern Nebraska in Spring of 2001, which we did. So all of the originals are still members except Jim Reinmuth plus Frank. Red didn't play the 2001 shows. I would play with any of the primary members if the opportunity presented itself - including Jim and Kelly.
We have no specific plans to play live or record at the current time, but we also have no specific plans NOT to do either or both in the future. Craig passing just took the wind and motivation away.
60s: What were your feelings when learning of the Hall Of Fame induction?
BW: I got a call on a Saturday morning from Rick Bell, our keyboardist, on what happened to be my 50th birthday. I hadn't talked to him in probably five years. He unfolded the story - the Hall Of Fame: how it originated, the potential reunion show...everything. I was astonished and elated - because for my whole life the whole Coachmen experience sort of loomed in the background as unfinished business and as something I always really loved and missed. Everything that has transpired since came off of that call and has enriched all of us tremendously and sort of made everything right between us individually and with our history. Sometimes you really don't know how deep certain things go in you and this band and what we did for me goes extremely deep.
60s: Please tell me about your career today. How often, and where, do you perform? What else keeps you busy?
BW: There really isn't a career now, just a Christian contemporary music ministry that has me on drums and vocals usually once a week, sometimes twice, mostly in Concord and Walnut Creek, California. I write at about the pace of one good song a year. I am in a band with seven others including two female vocalists that has been together 15 years, and of which I've been a part of for nearly 10. Its really tight, as you might imagine. I also have what I call a project band called Blisster that I am about to reassemble. We had 12 originals about ready for a CD that I let go when The Coachmen reunited and it looked like we were gonna devote some serious time to that before Craig died. The Vineyard Hills Band will also probably do a CD within the next year of originals written by four of us--one primarily--that we have been playing for the last one to five years.
Creating and playing the music is the fun part. The recording process is really a grind, especially when you are doing it during off hours. So we all lag but we will get to it when the Lord appropriately kicks us in the butt to do so.
The Coachmen are just on hold - who knows. Personally, I hope we play occasionally for many more years but I and we are not stressing about it. Everything that goes with doing shows and recording is really hard, time intensive effort for guys our age with all of the things going on that comprise day to day life. It's different when you are in a position of being driven to "make it." The things I do very regularly in addition to music and Christian ministry things are weight training (for the last 30+ years), landscaping in my little redwood forest, follow baseball and football and just hang with my wife, kids (four - ages 20-34) and a dozen or so close friends. This is worked around running my company, California Banksite Corporation (CBC), which I started 23 years ago after 10 years in corporate banking. We do marketing research and analysis for banks and credit unions.
60s: How do you best summarize your experiences with The Coachmen?
BW: All of the guys in the band are interesting people with interesting experiences - and obviously our common bond. This makes it really fun to just talk, which we sorta do in spurts. It's the current contact in the context of both our recent experiences and our '60's history that stands out to me as so enriching. We know that a lot of people still like us and loved our music. The experience of the '60s and the constant shows was amazingly intense, grinding, exhilarating, emotionally draining and just overall something I would never trade and couldn't because it's such a big factor that has influenced everything I've done since. I'm pretty sure the others would tell you the same thing.
60s: Is there any resentment at all with the whole Kasentez & Katz experience, considering that the band was never able to break out - even after the changes that you made?
BW: I can see that resentment is what you would glean from my K&K answers, but I don't think it is resentment toward K&K. My hindsight view of them - I never knew, talked or saw them - is that they knew what they were doing and that our band as individuals probably never made their radar screen. I think you can replace the concept of resentment with frustration - that's what it is, or was, because we knew we had something really special in our ability on stage that ultimately didn't make it out from under the blanket. A lot of things transpired to cause that, including things we in the band should have paid attention to. Getting used in the music business is an absolute certainty; it's just part of the dues you pay to get where you want to get to - whether you get there or not. I am not resentful of K&K and I love that the whole experience has come full circle. God is VERY good.
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