Kitchen Cinq

Of all the LPs from the 1960's that have yet to be officially reissued, Everything The Kitchen Cinq is perhaps the one that has been most overlooked. A long time favorite of collectors, the LP is staggeringly solid '60's pop with a nice heaping dose of fuzz thrown in for good measure. Beginning as The Illusions, and then briefly changing names to The Y'Alls, The Kitchen Cinq left their home base of Amarillo, Texas and headed for Los Angeles to work with Lee Hazelwood. Jim Parker, nee James Ervan Parker, was guitarist for the band through its various incarnations, and later became an award winning song writer for country artist John Anderson. He still regularly performs in Alabama, and graciously took the time to provide with the details of his very active musical career. Here's hoping this interview opens the door to a long overdue Kitchen Cinq CD compilation...

An Interview With Jim Parker

60s (60s): How did you first get interested in music?

Jim Parker (JP): My first awareness of music was when my Dad would sing around the house! This man had a beautiful voice but no sense of time or meter. He was always off the beat! I didn't know that until I got involved in music many years later as he was showing me some of my first guitar chords. He loved country music, Mom loved pop music and my Nanny loved classical. My first recollection of my sister listening to anything was the Maguire Sisters and Frankie Lyman! Mom and Nanny, my Grandmother, both played piano by ear. Nanny played in the silent movie days and in clubs! I came by my musical interest honestly. I would lay in the floor at Nanny's and listen to George Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue and just be amazed. I was only about nine or ten when I became aware of how my feelings were affected and, somehow, connected to the sounds of instruments and voices.

I was a senior in Amarillo High School in 1961. My sister, Maggie, had been going steady for a year or so with an unknown garage band musician named Jimmy Gilmer! I was drawn into her room where they were sitting as he was trying to teach her how to play Peter Gunn on the low E string. Maggie was having a difficult time with it so I asked if I could try. Of course he allowed me to give it a shot even though I was Maggie's smart...little brother who bugged them constantly about their romantic life. It seemed to come very easy to me which really roasted my sister. A few weeks after that, Jimmy gave me an old Silvertone acoustic guitar without strings on it. Well, I hustled out and bought the cheapest set of Black Diamond strings I could find because we had little or no money and I certainly couldn't ask the folks for a loan. I wish I could remember how much they were; probably under one dollar. After I strung that old Silvertone, I lived with it 24-hours a day. It was obsessive behavior to say the least. The action was so high my fingers bled before I got calluses to build up. I didn't know how to read music so I started making up my own licks that seemed to drive Maggie up the wall. She (told me) to get out of the house if I was going to make all of that racket. I guess hearing the same licks two or three thousand times would get to you after a while - particularly if your boyfriend is about to become and international celebrity.

Jimmy Gilmer later joined The Fireballs and went on to have (hits with) Sugar Shack and Bottle of Wine. I would travel with him to some gigs and drive his '63 Stingray around while he was picking in New Mexico and surrounding states.

60s: Did you ever get to perform with Jimmy Gilmer or The Fireballs once The Kitchen Cinq became popular?

JP: No! I never overcame being the younger brother of his ex-girlfriend. I met with Jimmy upon my arrival in Nashville in the mid '70s. He had become a big time publishing company administrator working with incredible songwriters with hits - like Richard Leigh (Don't It Make Your Brown Eyes Blue). I never really connected musically with him because I was not a country songwriter yet. I had to pay my dues in the trenches, which I did after three or four years of learning the craft of songwriting. Country music is about all of the components. Lyrics that tell a story, melody that supports the mood of the idea and a rhythm of feel that keeps it moving in the right direction. I had been used to loud amps, Les Pauls, Strats and Gibson ES335's. Acoustic guitar became my main tool and I really focused on co-writing with folks who had been there longer (than me) so I could learn from them.

60s: It's somewhat well known that The Kitchen Cinq evolved from the Texas garage band, The Y'Alls - but apparently you were in a group named The Illusions, from '61-'64, prior to joining The Cinq.

JP: Yes! It was the same group and instrumentation! Tom Thacker, Rusty "Red" Stegal, Lee Hazelwood and Suzi Jane Hokom wanted us to change our name to something more contemporary.

60s: The Illusions recorded and released a single on Dot Records.

JP: It was recorded in Odessa, Texas at Tommy Allsup's studio. Tommy was Buddy Holly's lead guitar player who was to fly back with Buddy Holly on that fateful flight out of Clear Lake, Minnesota. It was a really fun session! We were young and enthusiastic to say the least. We really had a good sound and played well together. I wrote the A-Side, Brenda (Don't Put Me Down), and co-wrote the B-Side (Secrets Of Love). Tommy had a very nice studio and was a real pro when it came to handling young musicians. Mark Creamer's Dad, Gordon, played some really cool flute on it.

60s: So...The Illusions became The Y'Alls...who became The Kitchen Cinq? Is that correct?

JP: Yes. The name was officially changed to The Kitchen Cinq in Los Angeles in 1966.

60s: Is this timeline correct? The band was The Illusions from 1961-1964. Then the band became The Y'Alls from 1964/5 - 1966; and finally The Kitchen Cinq from 1966-'69.

JP: Yes!

60s: Besides Mark Creamer and yourself, who else comprised the band?

JP: Mark Gordon Creamer - vocals, guitar, keyboards, and harmonica; James Ervan Parker - vocals and guitar; Johnny Joe Stark - vocals and drums; James Dallas Smith - vocals and bass; and Troy Dale Gardner, who is now deceased - vocals.

60s: The Y'Alls released a single on the Ruff label in 1966.

JP: That is correct! We recorded it in Amarillo at Ray's (Ruff) studio! He always thought we would succeed.

60s: You were managed by Rusty Stegal. Was he active in promoting the band?

JP: Yes! He also discovered Reba McEntire later in his career. Of course, he wasn't as active as Tom Thacker.

60s: How did you hook up with Lee Hazlewood?

JP: We hooked up through Tom Thacker. Lee was a very confident man. He was small in stature, wore stacks or elevated boots - as many of us did during that period - but was generous and friendly. I don't remember ever hearing him raise his voice to anyone.

60s: Was he also active in promoting the band?

JP: He would come to rehearsals occasionally but Suzi Jane was the driver of the band. She and Lee had a thing going on so he just let her do as she pleased. We were her toys. She was relaxed and fun to be around.

60s: Please elaborate on the roles that Thacker, Stegal, Hazelwood, and Hokum played with the band. Were Stegal and Thacker co-managers? What exactly were Hazelwood's and Hokum's roles?

JP: Tom and Red (Rusty) co-managed but Tom was more of the driver because Red was a performing songwriter in his own right. Lee was the record label owner and executive producer where Suzi was our "hands on" producer. She rehearsed us and managed the production in the studio.

60s: Do you recall the circumstances that led to The Y'Alls heading to LA to become the Kitchen Cinq? Of all the groups in Texas, what was it about The Y'Alls that attracted the attention of Hazlewood? Or did Thacker move you out to LA "sight unseen" and gambled on your successful future by planning to introduce you to Lee?

JP: Tom was our manager and had Russ Reagan, a very successful producer at the time, come to Amarillo to hear us at a youth center and natatorium. Russ passed but I suppose Tom had enough pull and samples of our music to get us signed with LHI once he became involved in the company. Tom worked hard for us but in the end fizzled out as most do when having a hard time launching a group.

60s: I've seen a few photos of the band, and in one in particular you all have a "duh" expression on your faces. Is there a story behind that photo?

JP: You must remember, we were a bunch of young Texans in the big city of Los Angeles embarking on the journey of our lives. Man...what a journey!

Well! We were spoofing in front of the camera and the powers that be selected that photo to go national. It was terrible judgement from my point of view but I think they wanted to project the fun loving, light hearted Monkees image. I hate that photo! That is my ugly face up front!

60s: What type of gigs did you start playing while known as The Kitchen Cinq?

JP: We had a great variety of gigs! We played all up and down the coast in California at the beach clubs plus the prestigious Sunset Strip teen clubs like The Whiskey A Go-Go, Gazzaris, and The Aquarius Theater. We performed, or opened a show for, The Young Rascals at The Cheetah on the Santa Monica Pier, Hamilton Streetcar - another cool garage band - and The Doors at The Aquaruis Theater, just as they were emerging. I'm not sure what they called the Aquarius Theater then (NOTE: Hullaballo Club) and I'm not sure what it is called now but it featured bands all night long it seemed. We would set up on the back of the rotating stage as the other groups played as loud as they could. It was a continous flow of every kind of band you could think of. Those were really cool times to say the least.

60s: What about outside of California. Did the band tour at all?

JP: We also played in Texas, Florida, New York, Ohio, or any other place where we were doing well or had airplay. We did a TV show with James Brown somewhere up in the east. I think it was Cincinnati.

60s: Most likely that was on UPBEAT. Did the band do much television, or does any 8mm footage exist?

JP: We did some TV guest spots but I don't believe there is any footage of us anywhere. That is sad.

60s: You recorded in Los Angeles, correct?

JP: We did most of The Kitchen Cinq work at Gold Star Studios in LA. Buffalo Springfield was recording the same time we were there. Of course, we were too shy to bust in and say, "hey!" That was a great time.

60s: Where did you obtain the majority of your songs?

JP: Initially, we selected the best of our own songs and those we had been performing live for years. We were actually an excellent copy band who did everything from Johnny B Goode to the Goldfinger theme. After that we had the local writers pitch to us. Lee had some favorites he would bring in, too. That is how we got The Street Song.

60s: Who was the band's primary songwriter?

JP: Mark Creamer and John Stark did a lot of co-writing in the beginning so I guess they were the most fruitful.

60s: What about you? How prolific were you at writing during those days?

JP: I'm still not real prolific but I believe I write better quality songs that way.

60s: Did you write any songs while a member that were never recorded?

JP: Yes. There were some titles but I don't recall (them by name). I'd have to buy a reel-to-reel and dig out the old tapes and go through them. I may have some hits in there! One never knows...

60s: Are any of those Kitchen Cinq recordings? Are there any unreleased recordings by the group?

JP: I don't think so - but there could be somewhere.

60s: Your LP, Everything But..., was released in 1967. Where was the LP recorded?

JP: Primarily at Gold Star Recording. We had some great session players on the later works! There was Glen Campbell on guitar, Hal Blain on drums, Larry Mahoberack on piano and Carol Kay on bass! Tandyn Almer, who arranged Along Comes Mary for The Association did the arrangement for The Street Song. I did have a bowl of chili at the local eatery with Glen Campbell and Tom Thacker after one of our sessions! Of course I wasn't aware of who I was sitting with either. Glen was yet to be a successful artist.

60s: The LP has a really loyal following amongst collectors of '60's music. What are your thoughts when listening to the LP today?

JP: I thought the sonic quality of the recording was pretty good for the times but doesn't hold a candle to the quality I get now in my own recording studio at home. As for the material? It was like we were on speed all of the time. Our drummer was really fast and used his speed way to much. I get tired of the single stroke rolls and hyper tempos. Maybe I've matured. The vocals seem particularly weak to me, too. We didn't have auto tune in those days and Mark Creamer was the only one who really had a lead vocal quality. We had to double track almost everything with John and Dale. I hate to pick at the product but that is what we do to improve over the years.

60s: Even so, the LP received some very positive reviews/press upon its release. How successful was it?

JP: There weren't many sales - to be honest. I never received a royalty check from my efforts but I did get paid for the gigs. It was a typical smoke and mirrors deal. The image was far bigger then the economic benefit. For example, we were in New London, Connecticut doing a gig in the winter. There was snow on the beaches at the time. J.D. Souther, a long time friend from Amarillo, was working as a side man at the time, before his huge success with The Eagles, James Taylor, etc. Before he and I did a couple of duet singles on LHI, J.D. would invite me to breakfast and forget his wallet every time. I was the most conservative one of the group, i.e. cheap, and had a little money when everyone else was flat broke. Some of us resorted to lifting the basics from the grocery stores. Ah...the life on the glamorous road.

60s: You've stated that the LP sales were slow, but how popular would you say The Kitchen Cinq became?

JP: We only had regional popularity - but not national popularity. We were mentioned in Time Magazine but we really never got off the ground. We were promoted on a shoestring budget, but not heavily.

60s: The Cinq recorded a single, Dying Daffodil Incident b/w Does Anybody Know (LHI 45-1201, 1967) under the group name A Handful. What was the reason for the change in names?

JP: It was to get a fresh start since the "Cinq" had only broken the regional charts around the country and not the national scene. We were trying to change the sound some to get a new configuration because the old one had not "paid the bills". I'll look in the archives to see if I have a copy somewhere. It is really rare to say the least.

60s: You later changed names again - this time to Armageddon. Why?

JP: We made a label change and a personnel change at that time with the bass player. Our music changed drastically, as you can tell. We were into a huge growth pattern then with the '60's drug scene in full swing in California.

60s: Why did Dallas leave, and who replaced him?

JP: Dallas was burned out from all of the dysfunctional group difficulties as it imploded and he had other options. He came from a secure financial background and headed back to Amarillo to educate himself. He became a radiologist at one of the hospitals there. We had time scheduled for our Armageddon session and were under a tremendous amount of pressure to find a bass player. We went through a couple of bass players before we, and they, decided on what we were going to do. We rehearsed with George Biando in my basement at the Telfair Manor in beautiful Pacoima, California. George had been with John Kay and Steppenwolf so he decided we weren't his cup of tea, I guess. Then we had our session and Skip Batton who had been with The Byrd's showed up for the session. He did the entire record but Robert Ledger's likeness was on the front cover so there was not an identity problem when we hit the road. We really like Robert's playing more than Skip's but didn't find Robert until after we finished the album. Skip was never really connected to the project. He just came in to make scale and move to the next session.

60s: How did the Armageddon LP deal come about?

JP: Tom Thacker was a friend of Jimmy Bowen, who signed us up for a single album deal.

60s: How long did Armageddon last? Roughly one year?

JP: Yes.

60s: Later, you - along with a few other members of Armageddon - played on Them's Them and In Reality LP.

JP: Only John Stark and I moved to Them. That was a Ray Ruff project. We were a three-piece power trio with the original bass player, Alan. Ray, who was also from Amarillo and who had re-located to Los Angeles, had recorded us when we were The Y'Alls. Small world, isn't it?

60s: What about today. How often, and where, do you perform?

JP: I managed to bridge to country music in the mid-'70s where I've had two national chart records with John Anderson: Chicken Truck and I've Got A Feelin'! I play regularly at Lake Ida in Athens, Alabama, just west of my home in Madison, where I host "The Acoustic Songwriters Showcase" - or TASS. I invite my fellow writers from Nashville, Atlanta, Muscle Shoals and the best of the local songwriters to sit with me "In The Round". It is the same basic format as the internationally renowned Bluebird in Nashville. I play the Bluebird regularly as well. You can visit if you want more current information.

60s: You've won a couple of awards for those John Anderson songs. Do you get more satisfaction from writing songs for others, or by performing?

JP: I love to be in front of people singing my own works but the primary and most rewarding part is the songwriting. It always amazes me how a small thought can turn out to be something other people relate to as if it was their own scenario. It is healing to many and thought provoking to others. I love the process - though it is usually a lonely process.

60s: Are you still in contact with any of the other Kitchen Cinq members?

JP: No - but I'd like to hear from them! (NOTE: Since this interview was conducted, Jim has gotten in touch with Mark Creamer).

60s: How do you best summarize your experiences with The Kitchen Cinq?

JP: In two words - life altering! I could expound on this forever but I would love for those reading this (interview) to imagine what such an experience can do for - and to - a simple boy from Texas. Long live the songs of life!

"Copyrighted and originally printed on by Mike Dugo".
"Listen live, online to their music at Beyond The Beat Generation, 60's garage and psychedelia".