Looking back in 2003, it's obvious that the rise of Beatlemania
had many impacts on American society - the most immediate perhaps being the
inspiration they provided for many high school or college-aged students to form
a band of their own. Case in point: The Leaves. Jim Pons formed the group as a
direct result of hearing the Beatles for the first time. The Leaves would
shortly thereafter land regular gigs on the famed Sunset Strip, and score a
national hit with their version of Hey Joe. But as quickly as they burst upon
the music scene, they were to leave it. Pons would move on to bigger things by
joining the Turtles and later playing with Frank Zappa and John Lennon, but it's
his first band that has landed him a permanent place in the 60sgaragebands.com
Hall Of Fame.
An Interview With Jim Pons
60sgaragebands.com (60s): I read an interview you did were you stated that the Leaves were formed by "picking out guys that looked good" and prior to any of you knowing how to play instruments. Is this correct? Was year was this?
Jim Pons (JP): This was probably 1963. I was in a fraternity in my second year at Cal State Northridge. I had always loved rock and roll music and had grown up listening to the masters: Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, Little Richard. Music stars in those days were mostly soloists, very professional, unreachable, and bigger-than-life. One of my fraternity brothers was a Deejay for a college radio station. He played me a record he had gotten by an English band called the Beatles. It was a very unique idea. Four regular young guys playing instruments and singing and making music together. For the first time it seemed so accessible. I immediately became a huge fan, bought and listened carefully to everything they recorded, and studied the way they looked on stage.
Meanwhile, as social director of the fraternity, I was in charge of the entertainment for our parties. I thought it would be cool to be in a band that could play occasionally. I didn't know how to play an instrument, and I didn't know anyone else who did, but those Beatles guys made it look so easy that I thought it could be done. I talked to some of my friends who I knew loved music and suggested the idea that we start a band. Yes, I considered very carefully everyone's appearance. I figured if we didn't play good, at least we could look good. We were all fraternity brothers in the beginning but we did have to bring in one guy, Bill Reinhart, who could actually play a guitar to make it sound a little more respectable, and at least take an occasional solo.
60s: About how long was it from the time you picked the members until the time you had your first gig?
JP: Because of the fraternity we were in, not long at all. They were ready for us before we were able to play. I think we probably did our first party after a dozen or so rehearsals - maybe (after) six months.
60s: What type of songs did you initially start out playing?
JP: There were several three-chord songs in those days that were simple enough, like Twist and Shout, and Louie Louie. (We also played) a few instrumental surf songs. We tried a couple Beatles songs. And we learned a lot of blues songs from the Rolling Stones that we could do fairly easily.
60s: Who named the band the Rockwells?
60s: You auditioned at Ciro's to take the place of the Byrds as house band. Do you recall any of the other bands that might have also auditioned?
JP: There was one other band that auditioned that day: Love. But they were good friends of ours in those days and we had a very friendly rivalry. I remember Arthur Lee asked us to help him get a Hammond B3 organ up on the stage for their set. It took us almost an hour and then they wound up never using it.
60s: What started as a lark (forming a band) soon became much more than that when you were selected as house band for Ciro's. Considering your relative late formation as a band, were you surprised as all hell to land the job, or was the band so confident by that time that you felt you had a really strong chance?
JP: I was very surprised. We had grown a bit and had done some local clubs in the San Fernando Valley, but the difference between that and Sunset Boulevard is impossible to describe. In the valley you had guys whom had Jay Sebring-type processed hairdos playing in spiffy little combos with matching colored suits. Ciro's was where the real beatniks and hippies hung out. It was authentic and dangerous and spooky and tremendously exciting. The Byrds' followers would be a built in audience for whoever got the job. I went down to San Diego the day after thinking it might not ever get any better than that…just having had a chance to audition there. I got a call from Bill Reinhart a couple days later telling me we had gotten the job. To this day that remains one of the great thrills of my musical career, and it turned out to be a wonderful and very profitable experience.
60s: Had the name change to The Leaves already taken place by the time you landed the Ciro's gig?
JP: It (the name change) came to us after a rehearsal one fall afternoon. We were sitting by the pool at Rinehart's house thinking about different names and somebody walked out and said "Hey guys, what's happening?" Tom "Ambrose" Ray, our drummer, looked up and saw leaves blowing into the pool. He said, "The leaves are happening". We decided that would be a cool name for the band. In fact we made a slogan out of his whole statement. We had posters made that said "The Leaves Are Happening". Yes, that happened before we went to Ciro's.
60s: How did you hook up with Pat Boone?
JP: Apparently Pat was looking to update his rather outdated teen idol image. He came into Ciro's one night to hang out with the beautiful people and liked what he saw. An agent of his contacted us the next day and told us Pat Boone was interested in helping us make a record. We signed a production contract shortly thereafter. He had a good friend at a small record company called Mira Records whom he persuaded to make some demos of us.
60s: How active was he in promoting the band
JP: I don't think he did much more than that personally, although a lot of his office people were at our disposal and helped us find our way around the studios and the booking agents. They were very nice people and very good to us. I played golf with Pat a couple times and we were house guests occasionally. They must have spent some money on our recording sessions because we had plenty of them.
60s: How long did your association with Boone last?
JP: I don't remember that we stayed with his company for more than a year or so. I think they got Capitol Records to release our second album and that was about it!
60s: How long did you play regularly at Ciro's?
JP: We were the house band at Ciro's for about three or four weeks.
60s: After Ciro's, the band regularly played at the Whiskey A-Go-Go. How did this come about?
JP: Working every night in that environment we got to know a lot of people and a lot of people got to know us. There were several hot clubs within about a mile on the Sunset Strip that we visited regularly and they all had good bands at one time or another: Love, The Turtles, the Doors, The Iron Butterfly, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Frank Zappa and the Mothers. We became friends with everybody and it was just a natural extension that sooner or later you played in the different clubs. The Whiskey was just one of many.
60s: The Leaves' first single was Too Many People b/w Love Minus Zero. Too Many People is perhaps the group's best song. What was the inspiration behind it?
JP: Bill Rinehart and I wrote it. I guess I wrote the lyrics but I can't really remember what inspired them, whether a reaction to something that had happened to me, or just an attempt to protest something. Maybe it was a little of both. Protest songs were becoming very popular around that time. The lyrics are kind of childish but I think the song construction still holds up pretty well. I'll never forget hearing it on the radio for the first time, and hearing the deejay say it was a "pick to click". It was another one of the most memorable thrills of my musical career.
60s: And whose idea was it to record a Dylan song for the flip?
JP: The Dylan song was a pure attempt to cash in on the current fashion and to create the impression that we were meaningful artists. We picked the only Dylan song we knew that hadn't been done by anyone else. Pretty weak.
60s: What were your thoughts when you first heard Hey Joe? Is it true the band learned of it from David Crosby?
JP: Everybody seemed to have their own version of that song in Hollywood in those days. We just added it to our set like everyone else. Bryan MacLean from Love taught the chords to John Beck. Bryan learned it from David when he was the Byrds' equipment manager. We added an instrumental break in the middle that no one else had. I think that might have given it some commercial potential.
60s: The Leaves recorded the song on a few different occasions. Whose idea was it to add the fuzz tone sound?
JP: Bobby Arlin's. He had replaced Bill. It turned out to be a good idea. It was a big departure from the song's original folk roots though and some purists thought it wasn't true to the traditional character of the song. I think there was some jealousy from some who had been doing the traditional version a lot longer than us. Thanks to the production contract we had with Pat and his friends at Mira Records, we were able to record it three different times until we had a hit. It had basically been a simple five-chord song before we added the middle section. That section was something the first two versions didn't have. Of course nobody else had it either. Maybe that's what helped make it successful.
60s: What did you think when you first heard Hendrix' slower version?
JP: I wasn't a big Hendrix fan and I didn't think much about it. I considered it a compliment that Noel Redding used my bass line. That hadn't been part of the traditional arrangement.
60s: What are your thoughts today when listening to your first LP, Hey Joe, and the second LP, All The Good That's Happening? Which LP do you prefer?
JP: The world has changed so much and so much has happened to the music industry since then that it's almost hard to relate. It's hard to believe there was a time of such innocence. It sounds impossibly dated and it's pretty amateur stuff. But it is real pure and that makes it kind of appealing. Some of the songs on the first album have some merit. I didn't like the second album very much and haven't listened to it in years. It was the end of the innocence. We had lost our spontaneity by then and everything was a struggle. You can hear it in the music.
60s: The Leaves appeared on AMERICAN BANDSTAND, SHIVAREE, SHEBANG, WHERE THE ACTION IS, and the local L.A. program HOLLYWOOD DISCOTEQUE. Do you remember anything in particular about any of these appearances?
JP: I remember AMERICAN BANDSTAND. I had grown up watching it as a kid when it came out of Philadelphia, so being on that show and meeting Dick Clark was a validation as big any we ever achieved. Even though the studio was in Los Angeles at the end of Sunset Boulevard I was completely awed just being on the set. We were on with Neil Diamond who sang Solitary Man and Merrilee Rush who sang Angel of the Morning - both of whom were very complimentary to us.
60s: Do you recall any other TV appearance you might have made in the Leaves?
JP: What was that show that Lloyd Thaxton had? We did that one a couple of times. He was a good guy. And we did the STEVE ALLEN SHOW with Vincent Price.
60s: The Leaves also appeared in the rather low-budget flick, THE COOL ONES? How'd did you get involved with that?
JP: I have no idea.
60s: Is it true that you left to join the Turtles during the recording of All The Good That's Happening? If so, was the band in a state of disarray at all, or was the opportunity to join a more national band simply too good to pass up?
JP: No. That is not true. The band was definitely struggling by then and the rush of our early success had diminished. We released a couple of records after Hey Joe that had not done well. We had lost Robert Lee Reiner by then and John and Bobby weren't getting along at all. Our what-used-to-be-innocent substance experimentation was beginning to takes its toll. I had an ominous feeling during the recording of All The Good That's Happening that the best was over and the end of our musical careers was in sight. But I certainly was not thinking about leaving the band. The offer to join the Turtles came several months later.
60s: Did the Leaves continue on once you left to join the Turtles? If so, how long did they continue?
JP: There wasn't much left on the horizon for the Leaves, and I left during a period of prolonged inactivity. I'm not sure I know the details of what happened immediately following my departure. I do know there were bands called the Yellow Balloon and Hook that some of the guys played in. I think Bobby might have used the Leaves name a little later, but I'm not sure.
60s: Looking back, how do you best summarize your experience in the Leaves?
JP: Is "a dream come true" too much of a cliché? I can't think of anything that captures it better. It not only was a once-in-a-lifetime experience all by itself, it set the stage for events that would change the rest of my life.
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