North Hollywood's The Purple Gang are best remembered today for a handful of singles that they recorded in 1966-67. But, in addition
to their recorded output, the band has the distinction of reportedly coining a catch phrase, as well as being the initiators of the
now famous "one glove" look - later appropriated by The Music Machine after The Gang's lead guitarist, Mark Landon, joined their fold.
Bassist Marty Tryon interestingly doesn't rate the band's music too highly, but fondly recalls the time that he spent with the band in 1960's Los Angeles. Currently touring with The Smothers Brothers, it's quite refreshing to read the comments from a man who is completely and totally comfortable with his musical career - and with life in general. After The Purple Gang, lead singer Bob Corff took to the stage, and played the lead in Hair, in Jesus Christ Superstar, and in Grease. He has since parlayed those experiences - as well as his experience as vocalist for The Purple Gang - into a very successful career as a voice coach for major movie stars and recording artists.
For the most part, however, their musical journeys began with The Purple Gang...
An Interview With Marty Tryon
60sgaragebands.com (60s): How did you first get interested in music?
Marty Tryon (MT): My parents used to shop at ThriftyMart Groceries in the Valley Plaza in North Hollywood, California. They had a record stand near the produce department (go figure?). I think the first album my parents let me buy was Gunfighter Ballad by Marty Robbins. I wore that damn thing out. Then I just had to have a guitar. That was in the fifth or sixth grade. My first guitar was a "Kay" acoustic. I think it cost my parents thirty bucks...and it was un-playable! I'd play it until the first finger on my left hand would bleed. I didn't know guitar was supposed to kill you...
60s: Was The Purple Gang your first band?
MT: No. My first real "band" was The Tegrams (not even the band members know what that name meant!). The band was formed by my life long buddy, Alan Wisdom (his real name!). We formed the band our first year of high school. We never had a record deal; we just played high school parties and such. That's where I learned to drink beer and play bass at the same time (fret hit ons).
60s: Where was The Purple Gang formed, then - and by whom?
MT: As best as I can remember, The Purple Gang was formed in my senior year at North Hollywood High School. Sorry to say... I can't really remember the details of how it actually came together.
60s: What year would it have been?
MT: I'm really foggy on exactly how the band came to be. I think it was because of our lead singer's relationship with Tony Richland, a record promoter. I think they had "this guy" that needed a band so to speak - "this guy" being our lead singer, Bob Corff. But I'm not sure how The Tegrams melded into The Purple Gang, but that's sort of what happened. It must have been sometime in late 1965 or so. I left in early 1967. I remember our last rehearsals and gigs were in the summer of 1966 (I graduated North Hollywood High in that summer). I was working with The Lamp Of Childhood in 1967. The Lamp hardly ever did any gigs. It was a record deal band from the beginning. ABC Dunhill owned us.
60s: Who were the other members of The Purple Gang - and which instruments did each play?
MT: Alan Wisdom - lead guitar (Fender guitar); Alan now owns a telephone installation company; Mark Landon - rhythm guitar. Mark was later the black gloved lead guitarist with The Music Machine, and presently is a double Emmy award-winning TV and film make-up artist; Harry Garfield - keyboards / Farfisa organ. Harry is now Vice-President of Universal Studios' Music Department (he uses the name Harry Ascher); Tom Atwater - drums. I don't know whatever happened to Tommy, but I'd guess he's a billionairre by now; Bob Corff - lead singer. Bob later married Lassie's mommy, June Lockhart. He teaches acting and voice now.
60s: Who named the band? There was actually another band from the '60's (from the UK) named The Purple Gang - though I believe your group was formed first. Were you aware of them?
MT: I was not aware of another "Purple Gang". Our managers, Tony and Rosemary Richland, came up with the name from the Elvis hit, Jailhouse Rock. I wasn't crazy about it, but went along with it.
60s: How did you hook up with Tony Richland?
MT: In those days the record companies hired guys to take their new records around to all the radio stations and hype them to the deejays. Tony was a great guy with a heart of gold. The band sort of looked up to him like a second father. I believe we met Tony when we originally hooked up with our lead singer, Bob Corff. I'm pretty fuzzy, though, on my recollections of exactly how the first meetings went.
Tony Richland also promoted records for Harry Nilsson and other greats. When Harry Nilsson's album Pandemonium Shadow Show came out, The Beatles freaked out. John Lennon called Harry Nilsson the following Monday after the release and told him it was "fuckin' great man". Then Lennon invited Nilsson to England to hang out during the White Album sessions. Lennon was especially knocked out by one of Nilsson's songs, Mr. Richland's Favourite Song. It's the story of an aging singer and how his fans change over the years. You guessed it...Mr. Richland is Tony, our manager. If you find a copy of any of the compilations of Nilsson's old tunes this song is nearly always in there. So check out Mr. Richland's Favourite Song.
60s: Where did the band typically play? Did you play at many clubs?
MT: As I recall, we didn't play many clubs. We rehearsed a lot and played local gigs around Los Angeles - stooping as low as playing the openings of supermarkets, gas stations, and such. We started shopping record deals almost immediately because our manager, Tony Richland, was a hot record promoter in L.A.
60s: Rumor has it that the band coined the phrase "what a gas!" while performing at one of those gas stations. Is this true?
MT: Funny - I do seem to remember something to that but I couldn't swear to it. I believe it was Tom Atwater that came up with it.
60s: How would you describe the band's sound?
MT: The sound? In a word...awful. I look back on it and wonder how we ever came up with such crappy arrangements - and people thought they were good. We just didn't know any better, I guess. But it was all in fun and I remember it as one of the best times of my life.
60s: What band's influenced you?
MT: Bands that influenced us? Love, The Seeds, The Association, Grassroots, writer Tandyn Almer (Along Comes Mary), The Beatles, Stones, and The Byrds.
60s: How far was the band's "touring" territory?
MT: Just around Los Angeles. We never toured.
60s: Did the Purple Gang ever play the Sunset Strip?
MT: I think we may played at Filthy McNasty's and Pandora's Box but that would be about it. Mostly I just remember a ton of rehearsals...with few gigs.
60s: How popular locally did The Purple Gang become?
MT: I guess we had a cult following, but I really don't remember The Gang being that big a deal locally.
60s: You've referenced that Mark Landon later became the black gloved lead guitarist for The Music Machine. Reportedly, The Purple Gang wore one purple glove before The Music Machine incorporated the black one into their act. Whose idea was this?
MT: I was the one that started the glove idea. I got the idea from an old cowboy movie that had an outlaw in it named "Three Finger Jack." He wore a single black leather glove on the three finger hand, and was a bad-ass gunfighter. As a lark, I took one of my mom's white cotton gloves that fit very tightly and I dyed it purple. It fit so tight that it didn't feel too bad to play bass with it on my left (fret) hand. On a few gigs I actually put my purple amethyst ring on the ring finger of my left hand over the glove. Yeah, I guess that's how skinny my fingers were at the time. I could fit a gold ring with a purple stone over the glove. The really funny thing about the glove was that the girls always felt sorry for me. They thought something must be wrong with my hand. What a rouse, huh?
Mark later left the band and went on to join The Music Machine. I remember we were all very jealous that he'd left us and found himself in a band with a number one hit record! Ah...youth! We didn't hear from him for a while becasue of his busy tour schedule. Then one day we were invited to the Aquarius Theater in Hollywood to see their show. Their hit Talk Talk was taking the nation by storm. When they hit the stage they all had on one black glove - to show some kind of unity, I guess. Thanks, Mark! At least one of my ideas became a national icon! Ha! Did the Black Panther Movement steal my idea, too? I still see Mark and Alan to this day. It's a real hoot when we get together and reminisce about our past.
60s: Do you recall why Mark left the band?
MT: Yes, I do. The band - not me - was not happy with his rhythm guitar playing. I guess in those days we all wanted to be a lead player anyway. So Mark was voted out of the band. I seem to have a foggy memory that I called to warn him of what was about to happen. I'm not sure. I do remember having a pretty tough phone conversation with him letting him know I was sorry about what was going on. As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened. I didn't think it was very fair, but that's what happened. Believe me, nobody was (secretly) happier for Mark getting into The Muisc Machine than me! I thought it was poetic justice for sure.
I remember going to the recording session of Talk Talk. It was recorded at RCA Studos in the basement of the RCA building on Sunset Boulevard. When I left that session I told the guys that I was with, "That record is a damned hit for sure." To this day, it's the only record I truly predicted would be a hit - and I don't make that statement lightly. The funny thing is...Mark, our old lead player, Alan and I are still the best of friends to this day. I just saw them when I was out in Los Angeles last month doing the Comedy Store with the Smothers Brothers. We all met at Alan's house and then went to a local blues club to hear some blues guitarists. Mark is still a great blues player and Alan is still a great singer/songwriter. Alan has his own 24-track studio in his home and has his own project band happening. I guess once it gets in your blood...
60s: What do you recall about the Purple Gang's recordings?
MT: I can't for the life of me remember the titles on the first record but it was on the Jerden Record label (Note: The single was Answer The Phone b/w I Know What I Am). I think the second record was on MGM Records. It was called Bring Your Own Self Down and it was written by Tandyn Almer. We recorded it at Western Studios #3 in Hollywood. More hit records came out of Western Three than just about anywhere on the planet. It was engineered by the famous Bones Howe of Mamas and Papas fame. I later did a lot of legitimate recording in Western Three. (Note: The B-side was One of the Bunch, and it was indeed on MGM Records).
60s: You've mentioned Tandyn Almer as a particular influence, and you also recorded one of his songs. Was he a personal friend?
MT: No. Tandyn was just brought in once to see The Purple Gang rehearsal when we were working out Bring Your Own Self Down. I remember he wasn't pleased at all with our arrangement. In particular, he didn't like the bass part I came up with. He said it was too busy. In hindsight, he was right. That was the only time I ever saw Tandyn. I don't know what became of him or his songs.
60s: Did The Purple Gang write any original songs?
MT: Nope. I think we tried, but I don't remember the original band doing much, if any, writing. Our keyboardist, Harry Garfield, loved to write, but I recall most of his writing came later.
60s: Do any other '60's Purple Gang recordings exist? Are there any vintage live recordings?
MT: There are some acetate demos at my dad's house but I'll be damed if I know where they are. I looked once and gave up. He swears they are there. He nevers throws anything out.
60s: Do you recall any of the titles of the demos?
MT: No. I sure don't. I would be as surprised as anyone if I find out what they are. I do remember a sleeve of them at home in the early days. Now I live in Florida, and my dad is in Los Angeles, so I can't exactly run over there and look for them.
60s: Did the band make any local TV appearances?
MT: I believe we did do some TV, but you'll have to ask the other guys. My memory fails me. I'll be 55 in October; you don't think this memory is age related, do you?
60s: Why did The Purple Gang break up in the '60's?
MT: Things got slow. I married my high school sweetheart. I also got other offers from other recording bands after I got married, so I left The Purple Gang. I'm not really sure how long the rest of the guys hung on. They would know better than I would. I sort of drifted away from those guys as I got busy with other projects and work.
60s: What were some of the recording bands that you played with after The Purple Gang?
MT: After The Purple Gang, The Lamp of Childhood on ABC Dunhill. The band was a spin off of The Mamas and Papas. Our lead singer, James Hendricks, was married to Mama Cass Elliot. It consisted of James Hendricks - lead vocals and writer; Mick Takamitsu (AKA Mick Tani) - lead vocals and writer; Fred Olsen - lead guitar and backing vocals. Fred later played the solo on One Step Over The Line; I played bass and did backing vocals. We used various drummers in and out when we needed them for live performances. We were mostly a studio band, but I do remember vividly our gig at the 1967 Mt. Tamalpais Music Festival in San Francisco. We had to follow The Doors our first afternoon. The last song of their set was Light My Fire. We played as the people walked out. Our second afternoon we followed The Fifth Dimension. Their last song was Up, Up and Away as sky divers with smoke trails parachuted into the venue. We played as the people walked out. Talk about feeling invisible. We knew that feeling.
My favorite story of "My Sixties Experience" was when my friend and record producer, Gabriel Mekler, offered me the gig with a new band he was producing. "Yeah," he said. "You've got the gig. Just come down to the Whisky-A-Go-Go on Friday and see the band and meet the guys. They're opening for some 'new' band from England called Cream." I never went. I called up and turned down his offer because I had another band I was working with - The W.C. Fields Memorial String Band. Oh...the name of the band he wanted me to join? Steppenwolf. Yeah....that Steppenwolf. I kicked myself in the butt for quite a few years after that one, but later came to realize I would not have become the player, or person, I am if I had gone that route.
After my early rock 'n' roll days were over I quit playing entirely. This was around 1970. For four years I worked as an electronic technician in commercial audio. I missed playing so I bought another bass and really worked hard alone at it. I just practiced, practiced, and more practiced. I was just playing to record albums and such. It was a couple of years later that I thought I'd get back with a group. I took an ad off the wall at the "Musician's Wanted Board" at Wallach's Music City in Hollywood. That was the best career move I ever made. I met some great jazz/fusion/rock/soul/R&B players all in one band. That's where I learned to take it to the next level - and that's what really honed my bass skills. They used to write some almost unplayable bass parts. Needless to say, my sight reading got better! They were a great bunch of guys, and players, and they ended up starting The Monday Night Be Bop Band. It was while working with these guys that I met Mike Post, and started doing recording sessions with him. It was during the The Monday Night Be Bop Band period that I did the album for Simon Stokes and the Incredible Black Whip Thrill Band. That was a hoot! I love Simon. He's still a great character.
60s: I didn't realize you were also with the W.C. Fields Memorial Electric String Band. How long did you play with them?
MT: I met the leader of the W.C. Fields Band when once again Mark Landon and I crossed paths. Mark called me to come and jam with he and George. We ended up turning the W.C. Fields Band into a power trio ala Cream. I don't remember who the drummer was. We had an endoresement with Accoustic Amplifiers and some high powered attorney guy was sponsoring us. We played a few gigs around Los Angeles but nothing much came of it. It was during my stint with this band that I turned down Gabriel Mekler's offer to join The Sparrow. A few weeks later, they were renamed Steppenwolf.
60s: Please tell me about your career today. How often, and where, do you perform?
MT: In 1989 I started playing bass for The Smothers Brothers Show. Their pianist, Mike Preddy - one of the best players I've ever worked with! - hired me to tour with them. One thing led to another...their pianist retired from the road in 19999....and I'm presently the Tour and Production Manager for Tom and Dick Smothers of The Smothers Brothers fame. We do approximately one hundred shows per year around the U.S. and Canada. In addition to tour managing, I am also their soundman, lighting director, and Midi sequence programmer. The only time I play bass anymore is if the Smothers do a symphony orchestra performance. Then I drag out my dusty old 1963 "P" bass and play their symphony book.
Funny...my last real playing gig was in Boston playing Fender bass with The Boston Pops. What a way to go out, huh? Before tour managing The Smothers, I was the bass player for singer/songwriter Mac Davis. I was with his group for thirteen years. I played hundreds of gigs and did quite a few TV shows with Mac. My last recording with him was a small hit entitled It's Hard To Be Humble...sort of a drunk sing-a-long bar song. Mac retired in 1987 and I moved on.
Before Mac Davis I was a studio bass player in Los Angeles. I did most of Mike Post's TV shows: THE ROCKFORD FILES, HILL STREET BLUES, MAGNUM P.I., GREATEST AMERICAN HERO, and WHITE SHADOW and towards the end of my studio career, QUANTUM LEAP. There were too many demo and record sessions to remember, but no big hits. During this period I also did a ton of TV and radio commercials: Budweiser, Fritos, Jack in the Box, Levis...you name it. There were tons. They were a fun 30 or 60 seconds of music for a big check! And residuals, too! That was sweet. I played bass on the 1984 Olympic theme song for Nike shoes. That was a fun session. I have a bio laying around somewhere; I can't remember half the stuff I did, but whenever I run across that bio it always surprises me - all the things I did and worked on. What a trip. It's been one very fun path and I wouldn't change a bit of it even if I could.
60s: And, as you alluded to earlier, your days in The Purple Gang was among the best times of your life...
MT: Those were great times. Although musically it wasn't very good, I really enjoyed the guys and the good times we had. It was a great time to grow up; I wouldn't have wanted to do it any other way. The Sixties were THE decade.
As for now, I've pulled the plug on Los Angeles and California and moved my family back to the Gulf Coast of Florida - where I can go back in time about thirty years when I'm off the road. I am so fortunate. My home is a dream come true. We're right on the water and my family room window overlooks my sailboat tied to our own dock in the back yard. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to see if I'm dreaming. I live with my adorable wife Suncha, from South Korea, and my beautiful and brainy 12-year old daughter, Meghan, who is an incredible digital Anime artist and already doubles on oboe and flute. And, of course, I can't forget Scooter The Pug, who is the little "fat man" of the house when dad is on the road.
POSTSCRIPT: In February 2003, Sean Bonniwell responded in his Double Yellow Line email group to Marty's playful but honest assertion that The Music Machine copped the glove idea from The Purple Gang. According to Sean (Post 475, 2/2/2003), "For the record, Mark (Landon) made mention of you and your high school band (Purple Gang) when suggesting the gloves (actually, this occurred when the Music Machine was taping our first WHERE THE ACTION IS TV appearance). The full story is told in Beyond The Garage; the long and short of it is, I delayed taping of the show waiting for our manager to return with black, kid gloves, and after vetoing wearing both gloves in favor of one, weird history was made. (Seems we beat Michael Jackson by more than just a nose)."
Bob Corff Recalls The Purple Gang
To the best of my recollection The Purple Gang was started when I said to my high school friend (we went to Grant High in Van Nuys, California), Harry Garfield (he played the piano), "Let's put a band together. I'll be the singer, you play keyboards and do you know any musicians?" He said yes. So I (suggested we) call them and set up a rehearsal. He called his friend Alan Wisdom who knew Marty Tryon and a drummer and we set a date to rehearse. The Beatles had just exploded and it seemed a great idea to be in a band.
After one or two rehearsals, someone called Harry and told him there was a new gas station opening up and they needed a band to make noise and get people to come in. He asked us if we wanted to take this job. I remember saying, "I don't play gas station openings." How demeaning. The band reminded me that I didn't and hadn't played anywhere and we should take the job. So we did.
At that, our first job, a man named Steve (I wish I could remember his last name) came in to get gas. He was a record promoter and friends with Tony Richland, the number one record promoter in L.A. at that time (Mr. Richland's favorite song by Harry Nilsson is named after Tony). Steve introduced us to Tony and very soon after that we had a singles deal. Thats my memory of how it began.
It was 1965. This man named Steve brought Tony and his wife Rosemary to our next rehearsal. I guess they liked what they saw. They started paying for us to rehearse in a real rehearsal studio: Rainbow Studios on Vine, where lots of bands and variety acts practiced and rehearsed. They brought in songwriters. I remember meeting Laura Nyro. She was a very strange girl who played piano and sang beautifully. We recorded her song Poverty Train. Soon we were in the recording studio. I believe that Tony and Steve had a fight over managing us, and somehow Steve was out. Tony got us a singles deal with Jerden Records out of Seattle. I think our first single was called I Know What I Am. It was about how even though I have long hair I know I am still a man. It was a very important issue at that time - or so we felt.
I am pretty sure the name The Purple Gang came from Rosemary Richland. She told us about the gangsters in Detroit that were called the Purple Gang during the 1930's. They got us purple shirts with puffy sleeves and away we went.
We played some clubs on Sunset Boulevard. I remember once playing down the street from The Doors. Tony went down to meet with The Doors to discuss managing them. I remember feeling jealous. In retrospect, I guess it shows Tony had good taste. We also played The Daisy Club in Beverly Hills. What I remember most is singing, dancing, jumping up and landing on my knees, and signing autographs while my girlfriend looked on. Looking back it was the beginning of my learning about performing and recording and learning how to have a career in show business.
I know that second singles deal we had was with MGM. After the Purple Gang broke up, I stayed with the Richlands and we formed another group called The Arc. We had a single on MGM too.
It was great to hear where almost of the Gang is now. A few years after The Purple Gang I did the Lead in Hair. I played Claude. During that eleven month run in Los Angeles I met June Lockhart and we were together for 5 1/2 years. We made the cover of The Enquirer and were something of a scandal. We never married, but we still are the best of friends. My wife Claire and June and I all go places together. They get along great.
I then did the lead in Jesus Christ Superstar. I have played Jesus over 1000 times. I played Danny Zucco in Grease on Broadway. I starred in a Roger Corman cult film called Gass-sss and I did the sound track album. I did a syndicated talk variety show in '78 and '79 called The Everyday Show. It was taped at CBS and Mark Landon, our rhythm guitar player from The Purple Gang, was there doing makeup. We had a good reunion.
I have been teaching singers and performers since 1980. I sell CDs and tapes: The Corff Singers Voice Method (for singers), The Corff Speakers Voice Method (for actors and speakers) and, with my wife Claire, Achieving the Standard American Accent (for accent reduction). I love to help singers and performers from my experience in The Purple Gang and beyond.
For more information on Bob and the services he offers, visit www.corffvoice.com.
The Purple Gang Recordings
1) Answer The Phone - Written by Harry Garfield (Jerden 794, 1966)
2) I Know What I Am - Written by Greg Dempsey / Dianne Rogers (Jerden 794, 1966)
3) Bring Your Own Self Down - Written by Tandyn Almer (MGM K13607, 1966)
4) One Of The Bunch - Written by Raul Danks / John Taylor (MGM K13607, 1966)
5) Poverty Train - Written by Laura Nyro (MGM 13789, 1967)
6) Looking Glass - Written by Raul Danks / John Taylor (MGM 13789, 1967)
7) Can't Explain - Written by Arthur Lee / John Echols / John Fleckenstein (Unreleased Demo, 1966/67). Cover of song by Love.
8) No Matter What You Do - Written by Arthur Lee (Unreleased Demo, 1966/67). Cover of song by Love.
(Special thanks to Mike Markesich for providing some of the label info)
Bob Corff: Raul Danks and John Taylor were brought to the States by Reb Foster who was a big Los Angeles deejay on radio station KRLA. Raul was from Scotland and John from England. They had played on bills with The Beatles and were fabulous singer and songwriters. They were in L.A. to record. I don't know why or how but Tony and Rosemary Richland had a big house and Raul and John and I lived there with them. We would rehearse and play music and I guess someone asked them to write a song for us and they did. They were Bi-sides on two of our records. Today Raul is known as Rabindra Danks and is a very successful artist living in Japan. John lives in Orange County and writes musicals and does one man shows around the country.
We loved Love and went to see them play a lot at a place called Bido Lido. We knew them very casually. We just learned some of their songs and in the studio we recorded them to see how they would come out. If we had liked (the demos) better we would have put them out as records.
I remember recording other songs with me playing the harmonica but I haven't seen them or heard them in thirty years. I wouldn't even know where to look (for them).
Marty Tryon: I remember all of them except the 1967 tunes. The '67 tunes may have been cut separately by Bob Corff after I left - I'm not sure. If I played bass on those I sure don't recall it. Maybe when I hear them I'll know for sure. By then I was off and into the Laurel Canyon "trippie hippie" thing in 1967 (The Lamp of Childhood band).
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