(Contributed by Eric Gulliksen to Mike Dugo)
Editors' Note: Eric Gulliksen has been a member of numerous bands throughout his career, most notably the Blue Echoes and Orpheus. This is his story:
Bassist, Eric Gulliksen's Incredible Sixties Bandography
I started playing guitar at about age 14; my first group (a duo) played Country & Western (music), but shortly "graduated" to Rock and Roll. There was nothing significant until I went to college (Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, MA, Sept 1960, age 18). Tom Zagryn (Blue Echoes) lived across the hall; Dave Beaber (Wanderers aka College Boys aka Minutemen) lived upstairs, and pledged the same fraternity that I did (Phi Sigma Kappa).
Initially Dave, another Phi Sig pledge named John Nichols, and I experimented with a folk trio a la Kingston Trio; nothing came of it. I then got together with Tom Zagryn (from Bristol, CT), who had had a very successful R&R group in his area called Tommy and the Bel-Aires. We added a drummer and an upright acoustic bassist, called ourselves the Flares (no relation to the famous group), and started doing General Business in the Worcester area. At that time (fall 1960, early 1961) there were virtually no R&R bands in the area with the exception of Paul Chaplain and the Emeralds (Shortnin' Bread, circa 1958). We, as the Flares, were the first to play a major WPI function in the main auditorium and blow the roof off with (instrumental) R&R. We became quite popular in the fraternity circuit, as the other available musical groups, except for the Emeralds, were all just GB (slow music with maybe an occasional polka).
In the summer of 1961, I worked with Tommy and the Bel-Aires in Connecticut, replacing both their rhythm guitarist and their bassist, who had been drafted. That fall the Flares reformed, added a sax player, and started doing vocals (mostly ballads). The group split up in the spring of 1962, and I made a few abortive attempts at starting another R&R band.
In the autumn of 1962, Dave Beaber teamed up with Jack McKenes (later of Orpheus) to form a folk duo called the Wanderers. I was rooming with Dave at the time, and was beating on me to join the Wanderers. They got a job in Manchester, NH, playing at a record hop for WKBR-AM (one of our fraternity brothers was a part-time DJ on that station), and I helped out by playing bass guitar as a sideman. After the gig, we went to the WKBR studios and did a few songs, live, over-the-air, just for laughs. (The) telephone response was outstanding.
Shortly thereafter, I became a full-fledged member of the Wanderers, playing a rented upright bass. The following spring (1963) we did another session at WKBR as a trio. The Wanderers became very popular in the Central Massachusetts area, but I still loved R&R.
In the spring of 1963, Tom Zagryn and I got together again and, after locating a drummer, formed the Blue Echoes. The name came from our use of home-built tape-delay echo units (we each rewired old reel-to-reel tape recorders by adding an extra head in a feedback loop; crude, but effective - at that time commercial units, even spring-reverb, were very pricey). We used the echo units on vocals and guitars; I played electric 12-string and doubled on bass guitar. Our initial "claim to fame" was that we were playing a New York style of R&R-cum-R&B called "shake," with the beat typified on Tiger Talk. Nobody else in the area could play this stuff.
As the Blue Echoes were getting more business than we could handle, I began to phase out of the Wanderers but, in June, 1963, the group cut a folk album for Strand records. This was to have been called Hootenanny (how original!), and the group was to be called the Minutemen (from our Massachusetts origins). I mostly played upright bass but did guitar on a few tracks, and Jack switched between guitar, 5-string banjo and bass. Strand Records went out of business before it was released, and all we ever saw was a mechanical of the cover design (which Dave Beaber has). We don't have a copy of the album, and would give our eyeteeth to get one. It was an excellent folk album.
The album's producer tried to convince us that we should go on tour as the Highwaymen. Obviously that would have been a fraud, but this practice was not uncommon in those days (more about this later). We refused, as both Dave and I wanted to finish college. I resigned from the Wanderers (and was replaced) in the fall of 1963, to devote my musical efforts to the Blue Echoes.
Also, in the late summer of 1963, the Blue Echoes cut Blue Bell Bounce b/w Tiger Talk, releasing it on the Bristol label (owned by Tom Zagryn and myself), primarily to promote the band. The record took off locally, and attracted the attention of the music industry. If that sounds pretentious let me explain a bit. At that time the local R&R radio station, WORC-AM, had an all-request format. This was prior to the establishment of programming services; as I recall Bill Drake had the first nationally recognized service a few years later . Anyway, since WORC was all requests, they tended to be ahead of trends. Their weekly chart reflected the preferences of the kids, in some cases even before records became commercially available. For example "You Can't Do That" by the Beatles was a hit on WORC long before Capitol Records got into the act. Therefore, WORC was widely known as one of the more reliable sources of market information (future hits, etc.), and industry watchers carefully scrutinized their charts. The Blue Echoes were also ahead of trends; we were perhaps the first group in the US to include Beatles' numbers in our normal gigs.
But back to Blue Bell Bounce. When it broke into the Top 5 on the WORC chart, we started getting calls from labels and distributors wanting to pick it up. We ended up signing with Swan Records, who issued the record on their Lawn subsidiary, carrying the banner of "Blue Echo Productions." Unfortunately, it was released the day JFK was shot and for several weeks no radio station in the US played any R&R at all, so the record died (as did just about every other record released in that time) . It has been re-issued a couple of times, on Lost Nite and Itzy. Blue Bell Bounce was also included in a compilation CD called "Oldies I Forgot To Buy" on the ForeverMore label, and "Tiger Talk" on Scum of the Earth CD (don't remember the label).
It occurred to Tom and me that someone was likely to make a splash with a Kennedy tribute record, and we thought it might as well be us. We stayed up all night a couple of days after the assassination to write "The Man" and its flip, "Song of the Traveler." We pulled together the original Wanderers (Dave Beaber, Jack McKenes and myself) for the recording session, which was in the cellar of Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity and recorded on Tom's old Webcor . Jack came breezing in for the session, never having even heard the songs before, and did a great job on the lead for "The Man." Tom and I then hopped into the car and roared down to Philadelphia where Swan picked it up and released it internationally, calling the group The College Boys in an attempt to eliminate or minimize any stigma of making money off a national tragedy. This also carried the "Blue Echo Productions" tag. However, all Kennedy tribute records were de facto banned in the US, and "The Man" went nowhere. The most well known of the Kennedy records was Connie Francis' rendition of "In the Summer of His Years" (but) even that was a commercial flop in the US. "The Man" did enjoy reasonable airplay worldwide, though; Tom and I got small airplay royalties from Malaysia, Luxembourg, the Philippines, Monaco, etc. for several years.
Our next effort was also released on our own Bristol label. "Andromeda" and "Swamp Rat" were written and produced by Tom and me, and performed by a group from Gardner, MA called Kenny and the Night Riders. Tom and I also did the vocal backgrounds. The record became quite popular in the Gardner-Fitchburg area, and our stock was completely sold out. However, it was not picked up by a national.
The Blue Echoes' popularity continued apace, since we could play just about anything. We were the only area group that could play Motown, for instance, and you would be surprised how well we could do the Four Tops' stuff with a trio. Folk-rock, a la The Byrds, was another genre in which we excelled, largely due to my stereo electric 12-string. We cut "Rosanne" as a follow-up to "Blue Bell Bounce," but got nowhere with Swan/Lawn. Although they had initially expressed interest, the principals of Swan had struck it rich with the Beatles' "She Loves You" and essentially left town, leaving the label to dissolve. All of us in the stable at that time found ourselves hanging out to dry.
We released "Rosanne" b/w "How Do I Tell Her" on our own BEP label ("BEP" for "Blue Echo Productions"). I don't remember why we decided to change the label name. "Rosanne" was a local hit.
Tom and I produced a few other sides by various local artists, but didn't release any. One of these, "Bobby Is The Boy," by a Fitchburg girl duo called the Chanelles, (has been) salvaged from a beat-up acetate demo. We then cut "Respectable" b/w a novelty version of "Young Blood." Respectable was very well-liked in our live appearances. This was to have been released on BEP as well, but because of pressing plant problems we destroyed most of the copies (they really sucked!). That record is really rare.
The Blue Echoes dissolved in January of 1966. We never did any TV, at least not any that either Tom or I can remember. This was pretty early on; VCRs didn't exist, and there were few local channels (almost all UHF). We had one in Worcester which had a show called "Community Auditions"; the Wanderers tried out for this and were accepted, but they had such a backlog that we wouldn't even have been shot for a year and a half, and by that time the group had broken up.
Later, Tom Zagryn produced a group from Bristol, CT called the Rogues. Their first release was on Tom's Peyton label (scarce and valuable), and got them noticed nationally. Tom also produced several other sides, enough for an album, and then sold the rights to a guy named Bobby Dio, who had the stuff released on Atco under the group name the Squires. This would have been 1967 or so. This group is now a "cult favorite."
Meanwhile, Jack McKenes had teamed up with Bruce Arnold (also later of Orpheus) to form a duo called the Villagers. They became very popular in Boston and surrounds, down through Cape Cod. There is a wealth of Villagers' material around on tape; much of it is in the archive of Dr. Bill Wolk, a Boston dentist-cum-music buff, who provided the Villagers' cut of "Just a Little Bit" on the Best of Orpheus CD.
I put together another R&B band comprising two drummers and a couple of my young guitar students, switching entirely to bass guitar as my own instrument. I taught these guys everything, and we were reasonably successful in the fraternity circuit. People used to say that it was amazing how the five of us (with me on screaming vocal) could sound like James Brown's 30 piece band. But we didn't have the potential to go anywhere. I also did a couple of gigs with some experimental groups (one of which included Steve Martin, an excellent songwriter who wrote several songs for Orpheus and became a member of the successor group) and a keyboardist named Elliot Sherman, who became a member of the second (Bell) Orpheus group and later went on to Clean Living (In Heaven There Is No Beer). Elliot kept telling me that I should team up with him and his group, and also kept raving about his guitar player (never giving me any particulars except that he was great). It turned out later that this elusive artist was Bruce Arnold. Later, after Orpheus had hit, Elliot told me that he was really ticked off because he had been trying to get Bruce and me together in his group, and then found that we were already working together in a group which didn't include him!
Through some mutual friends, the Villagers got the ear of a New York producer named Wes Farrell (the Cowsills, Every Mother's Son, Brooklyn Bridge, Beacon Street Union, etc.). Farrell told Jack and Bruce that he would be interested in them if they added drums and bass. Jack called me one night and laid out these facts, and asked me to come over and jam just to see how it might work. It clicked - when we played Bruce's version of "Don't Be Cruel," he shouted "Rock and Roll! I can't believe it!" They had never done anything but folk or jug-band stuff, and my bass work transformed what they were doing.
We kept practicing, and Bruce wrote some more songs. After trying several drummers, we settled on Harry Sandler of The Mods, a group well-known to frequenters of the various "Surf" dance clubs in the area (Salisbury Beach, Nantasket and Hyannis). Harry was a phenomenal show drummer. We played only once or twice in public, during intermissions at one Surf or another, and the audiences were freaked out. They had never heard anything like us. We packed up my station wagon and went to NY for a live audition with Wes Farrell; he told us that once we had a few more songs he'd put us on MGM. We came up with the name Orpheus on the way home that night.
We continued to practice, and did a few more "intermission" gigs . Brian Interland, general manager of the Surf clubs, suggested that we make a demo tape, and see if anyone besides Farrell would be interested (i.e. we shouldn't put all of our eggs in one basket). We did so in the late summer of 1967. Dr. Bill Wolk recorded the session, which was in the auditorium of the Emerson School of Broadcasting in Boston. Brian armed us with some names, and we went off to New York. In one day we hit nine record or production companies and received seven contract offers. Needless to say, we were flying on the way home.
We now found ourselves in a bit of a quandary - who should we go with? People were calling us, laying out grandiose plans, waving front money, etc. but we were skeptical. Harry heard about Alan Lorber, who had this "Boston Sound" idea, so we did a live audition for him during one of his visits to Boston (he'd already signed Ultimate Spinach). We ultimately elected to go with Lorber for two reasons: (1) there was to be a lot of money spent on promotion of the so-called Boston Sound, and (2) we wanted a producer with some orchestration skills because we knew that some of our songs could be enhanced in this manner. Lorber's credentials were impressive - very few people know of all of the records he has orchestrated or produced - Jackie Wilson, Clyde McPhatter, and the Shirelles just to name a few. So there we were, nine record contract offers out of eleven approaches, signed to a major label (MGM), and we had never even played a real-live paying job together.
Obviously, "Can't Find the Time" is a very commercial song with staying power; it's accepted here as a classic. However, Wes Farrell and others also felt, as did I, that there were other very commercial songs on the demo. "Don't Be Cruel" was one; it always went over very well in live appearance. As to originals (bearing in mind that this was 1967), I think that "I've Got Time" had real promise, and that "I Have Got It (Yeah!)" was perhaps the most commercial song that Bruce ever wrote. Alan opted not to record these, because they weren't good candidates for orchestration and he wanted us to be a more sedate concert group. In retrospect, this may have been a mistake.
We cut the first album in the fall of 1967, and it was released in January of 1968. However, we felt that the orchestration was a bit overpowering, and that the live sound of the group had been lost. Critics of the album who saw us perform live had the same opinion; our "ebullience" had been watered down, and the magic that we produced in front of a live audience was missing. Also, the "Bosstown Sound" turned out to be a major flop. Everyone and his dog (from the industry) went trekking to Boston, signing up groups left and right; many of them were rip-offs of the San Francisco sound, and there was no truly identifiable Boston sound (unless one counts Harry's accent). So, since it could not be identified, the Boston Sound was labeled as hype (which it was). Lorber says today that it was a "marketing scheme run amuck." We tried to disassociate ourselves insofar as we could without sabotaging the marketing effort, emphasizing that we were from Worcester, and that the Boston Sound was a misnomer and should have been something like "the Sounds of Boston" (note the plural) to bring forth the diversity, but the damage was done.
"Can't Find the Time" was released in January, 1968, but did not hit the (national) charts. It was quite a hit, but timing-wise it putzed around. It went to No. 1 in Boston, died out, became No. 1 in Providence and Hartford, died out, became No. 1 in NY, died out, and went on down the East Coast and into the Midwest that way. Had it hit all of these cities simultaneously, it would surely have done well on the charts. The second release from the first album, "I've Never Seen Love Like This," didn't hit Billboard either, although it was a pick hit. As I recall it did reach the equivalent of the "Bubbling Under" chart in Cash Box, though. The album, simply titled "Orpheus," rose the charts for a long time.
Orpheus actually did one of the first, if not the first, "scripted" music video. Up to that time most, if not all videos were done as substitutes for live appearance on local TV shows; they comprised the group or artist either performing or, most of the time, lip-synching their song(s). If you were in town you were expected to show your faces at the local TV stations but, obviously, you needed a lot more promotional coverage than you could possibly accomplish in person, so the label would ship these videos all over the place. No MTV then, remember.
Alan Lorber's brother Stephen, who was a photographer (he took the pictures for the covers of the first two albums) was experimenting with video. He convinced Alan that they - we - should do something different, and they scripted a thing which was shot in Steve's loft. Although it pales in comparison to today's lavish video productions, it was a ground-breaker.
In, I believe, the spring of 1968 we did a 15 minute (less commercials) segment of an hour-long network special called "The Great Mating Game." Sponsored by Clairol, this showed four segments illustrating the difficulties that people in various walks of life had in meeting that "special someone." We performed "Can't Find the Time" and "I've Never Seen Love Like This" in a studio, portraying a live performance (mobbed by screaming girls, etc.). Jack was selected as the "tragic figure," and had some lines about how tough it was to meet someone who would love him for himself and not for his "fame and glory" (you can imagine the triteness of the lines). Unfortunately we have no copy of this, but it must exist somewhere.
For the second album, "Orpheus Ascending," Alan tried for more of a live sound. However, in this case, the orchestration on many of the songs was minimized too much. Also, being so used to orchestration, he didn't get the concept of my bass guitar. He kept trying to get the bottom that he needed for orchestration but without the clarity of "lead bass" notes. Although in this album I was able to play my bass rhythms, he had me stuff a rag under my strings to deaden the sound (except for "Just a Little Bit"). He should have listened to The Who or even Duane Eddy. It is a good album, though, and it tied for No. 10 in the 1968 Playboy Jazz and Pop Poll (Vocal Album of the Year).
I don't remember the actual timing, but "Can't Find the Time" was re-released, I think in 1969. It repeated its earlier city-to-city performance, but this time it was a little more compressed so it did reach no. 89 in Billboard. Had the sales of the two releases been combined in a shorter time frame, and had the sales of the first album not taken away from the sales of the single, it would have been a major hit.
When we cut the third ("Joyful") album, I told Alan that I wanted my bass guitar sound to be on the record and that, if he needed a bottom for the orchestra, I would play that as well! On most of the songs from that album, I played two basses (a "lead" bass guitar and a supporting bass). Alan also got the balance between the group and the orchestra right; in my opinion this is one of the finest albums ever (even if I had not been on it). It still gives me goose-bumps.
Our choices for singles, however, would not have been either "Brown Arms in Houston" or "By the Size of My Shoes." Alan and MGM insisted on these, as they thought they were more "commercial" than our own material. Brown Arms in Houston did reach the Hot 100 at no. 97.
We also recorded the theme song for the MGM movie "Marlowe," starring James Garner, but it was never released on record. Catch it on the late late show.
The original group disbanded in December of 1969. The notes in the Best of Orpheus CD say that the last gig was at the NY Museum of Modern Art; not true. It was actually at a high school in Brookline, MA. The NY Museum gig was in the summer of 1969, when we got a full half-page of coverage in the New York Times. It makes a better story, though.
Alan gave the group to Bruce, who put together the group that appeared on the Bell album (including Steve Martin and Elliot Sherman). Bruce had been working with these guys "on the side" for a few months before the original Orpheus disbanded, under the name Two Foot Lamb Door.
"By the Size of My Shoes" was issued after the MGM Orpheus broke up. We didn't even know about it. To sort of keep my hand in the business, I've been doing a part-time mobile DJ thing for years and, as such, I've scavenged flea markets, etc. all over the country looking for interesting material. Our first knowledge of this single was when I discovered a DJ copy in a bin of used 45's.
Once Bruce got his new group together he asked me to come back but, by that time, I had a "real job." I've only recently changed jobs due to a merger and company relocation 29 years, 2 Masters' degrees, 17 patents and a wealth of fascinating international experience later.
I think that the Bell album is excellent. However, live, this group had a much "darker" sound than the original group - no joy, no charisma or "ebullience" (not my word - it's from a review), so it was not as successful.
Harry became a very accomplished guitarist/songwriter, and has performed all over the US. His songs are excellent, but quite unusual and very personal. He, Jack and I have performed together on several occasions and have redone a couple of his songs so that they are more commercial, but we haven't recorded any. Due to a provision of the original contract we can't bill ourselves as Orpheus or even "former members of . . . " even 30 years later; we go out as Jack, Harry and the Snake. This type of contract provision was universal in those days; you had to sign over all rights in perpetuity. It is still a major bone of contention between artists and labels today.
As an aside, there really is a place called Congress Alley. It was Worcester's answer to Haight-Ashbury, just a little out-of-the-way alleyway lined with three-deckers, in which lived much of Worcester's artist and hippie community. It achieved notoriety because of Orpheus and, although its character has changed over the years, is still being written up as of old and is the subject of late-night "pilgrimages" by Orpheus fans, young and old, from various parts of the country (usually slightly "under the weather").
There was a group called Congress Alley that did "Congress Alley" on their LP of the same name - I stumbled on this in the "dollar pile" of albums that hadn't made it in one of our local discount stores. It's a very different treatment. The album notes say that the group was formed by a guy named Lee Andrews; I'm not certain, but I suspect that it may have been "the" Lee Andrews (from the Hearts), trying to make a comeback. There's one guy on the cover who looks substantially older than the rest of the group.
As another aside, I mentioned earlier that it was common practice in the '50's and '60's (at least) to put several groups on the road, touring separately under a common name, to exploit the popularity of a group or record. Obviously you couldn't do that with superstars that everyone knew, but with minor groups where the members were more anonymous, it was done all the time (almost always without the knowledge or consent of the original group). Remember that this was before music videos became ubiquitous. You could never get away with it today. Also, remember, that the practice was at least "quasi-legal," since the original groups would have been required to sign away the rights to their names.
One of the Boston groups was called Chamaeleon Church; this was a Lorber group, and included as its most famous alumnus a keyboardist named Chevy Chase (I'm sure you've heard of him!). In a published interview a few years ago, he mentioned that this group had done a tour of "small Southern colleges" as - you guessed it - Orpheus. He said that people would shout "You guys aren't Orpheus!" but, then, they'd play "Can't Find the Time" and "Congress Alley," and the hecklers would shut up. This was while Orpheus was still active so we, in fact, lost these concerts and the revenues therefrom. Rip-off city. But, at the end of the day, Orpheus accomplished a lot. We are the only "Boston Sound" group whose material remains on the playlists of the big oldies programming services to this day. We have an exhibit in the Worcester Historical Society Museum, and are known as the "fathers of Boston rock-and-roll." It boosts our ego to no end when, even today, people are blown away when they find out who we are/were, and ask for autographs. Or when people, even teenagers, track us down on the 'net and write or phone just to tell us how much they enjoyed or enjoy our music. It's really a good feeling, and actually happens frequently.
"Can't Find the Time," they say, is considered one of the "classic" love songs of the late 60's. It has been included in several compilations in addition to Lorber's Bosstown Sound collection (I have a couple and I know there are others). Both "Can't Find The Time" and "I've Never Seen Love Like This" were recorded by somebody as "elevator music" (you know, the bland stuff they play in lifts - I've heard them myself). I have heard that both "Can't Find The Time" and "The Dream" have been used in TV commercials, although I can't confirm it, and I have also heard that Air Supply did - or was planning to do at one time - a version of "Can't Find The Time." Baby Washington was also scheduled to do that one; Lorber had me "feminize" the lyrics, but I don't know whether or not it actually happened. And, of course, (there's the) version by Rose Colored Glass, and the recent cover by Hootie and the Blowfish on the soundtrack of "Me, Myself and Irene."
It was an interesting time. Harry, Jack and I are still quite close; friendships like that never die. As Harry says, though, the story does sound a bit like Spinal Tap.
A Special thanks to Eric for sharing his fascinating recollections with The Lance Monthly.
"Copyrighted and originally printed on The Lance Monthly