Of all the '60s garage band greats that have reformed in the past few years, few have stayed as true to their roots, or wowed the crowds
like Richard & The Young Lions. Best known for their modest 1966 hit "Open Up Your Door," the group is fresh from its spectacular
performance at Cavestomp. The Lance Monthly conducted an interview with Mark 'Twig' Greenberg and Richard Tepp to try to detail
the history--and future--of this still rockin' band.
An Interview with Mark "Twig" Greenberg and Richard Tepper of Richard and The Young Lions
[Lance Monthly] How did you get interested in music?
[Twig] I loved watching drummers when I was a kid: Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, and I was lucky enough to get a snare drum for my 11th birthday. I received my first full kit, my Ludwig Champagne Sparkles, in 1962.
[Richard] When Elvis came out, I begged my parents for a guitar. We were a pretty poor family, so I know it was a tough thing for my parents to do, but I got a little acoustic for Christmas/Chanukah. I took about three lessons before my younger brother Pete accidentally knocked over my guitar and broke it. That was the end of my guitar playing until years later when I joined the band T.I.M.E. as a drummer. There were always a few acoustics around, so I just picked it up. I don't consider myself a good guitar player, and only play on a few of our songs. With Louie and Eric on guitar, everything is pretty well done already, plus Rick, and Larry also play guitar.
[LM] What was your musical experience prior to joining Richard & The Young Lions?
[Twig] My first band was the Mark IV, with Larry (Smith), who is Richard & The Young Lions' percussionist, and Lou (Vlahakes), who is the lead guitarist. We were also in The Orphans together, a local New Jersey blues and rock band. I think that group was together for about six months.
[Richard] Before Richard & The Young Lions, I was lead singer for a Jersey (Newark) band called The Original Kounts. These are actually the guys that are in the picture on the "Open Up Your Door" sleeve. Only one of those guys was actually in Richard & The Young Lions.
[LM] Why was the Original Kounts photo used on the single sleeve, and not one of the Young Lions? What happened to the members of the Kounts?
[Richard] The picture of The Original Kounts was an old picture. Our (great) management hadn't even taken pictures of Richard & The Young Lions until way after our "Open Up Your Door" was released. When Philips asked for pictures, they were sent whatever our manager had around. It's important for everyone to realize that our manager cared NOTHING for us. He had bigger national groups like Mitch Ryder, etc. They couldn't have cared less about us. Especially in the beginning!
[LM] That's a shame. Why do you think that was?
[Richard] As you know, we were with Bob Crewe Productions. All of Bob's talents were managed by SCC Management (SCC stood for Stroh, Crewe, Crewe). Alan Stroh was the actual manager. Bob and Dan (his brother) had nothing, or very little to do with the operation. Alan Stroh just (for some reason) didn't like us. Our gigs weren't making him BIG money, so he really didn't seem to care. Of course I cared, and would confront Alan on money matters, etc. Often, Alan would tell me that we were playing in Kentucky (for example) this weekend. I would ask how we are getting there, and ask if his secretary could make our plane reservations. He would tell me to get my own secretary. These are things I would have to relay to the rest of the guys. And, although we ALL loved the playing and the fame, it was tough to deal with. Anyway, I really never understood the whole thing, but that's how it was!
[LM] Twig, what do you remember about the Mark IV?
[Twig] The Mark IV were together in '63-'65. We wore Beach Boys type shirts and am reasonably sure (we) were the MAIN influence on the Beatles!
[LM] When and where were the Young Lions formed, and by whom?
[Richard] The band was formed in Jersey. Mark (Twig) Greenberg played the drums; Louie Vlahakes played lead guitar; Fred Randall played bass; Bob Freedman played rhythm guitar; and, when Freddy went back to college, Larry Smith played bass. When we got together THIS time, Bob had other obligations. So, we added old friends: Eric Rackin plays guitar and harp; Rick Robinson plays keyboards and guitar. The band was formed in New Jersey. Although now, a few of the guys (including myself) live in New York, we are--and will always be--JERSEY BAND!
[LM] Do you recall any other local bands in the area at the time the Young Lions were first starting?
[Twig] I know Max Weinberg from Bruce's (Springsteen) band had a local band at the same time; we fought to get the same Bar Mitzvahs!
[Richard] I really don't know of many other bands from that time. However, while I was in The Original Kounts, Twig, Larry and Louie were in the Mark IV. The meld of these two bands formed Richard and the Young Lions.
[LM] Where did the Young Lions typically practice? Play?
[Twig] Richard & The Young Lions rehearsed in Livingston, at my home. My parents were very cool when it came to allowing us to play. We set up in the den downstairs - yes, right next to the garage. We never played in New Jersey; we always traveled to places Like Cleveland, Detroit, and Jacksonville, where "Open Up Your Door" was played and was a hit.
[Richard] We practiced in Jersey. Sometimes at Twig's house, and sometimes at Freddy's. We played mostly in Ohio and Michigan. Our records were big there. "Open Up Your Door" hit number one in those markets. We also played in Florida, Kentucky, Virginia, etc. We played all over, but never in New York or California. That was odd, because we recently found out that "Open Up Your Door" hit number three in Bakersfield.
[LM] Richard & The Young Lions signed with the Phillips label in, I believe, 1966. How did you hook up with Phillips?
[Twig] Richard was "discovered" eating pizza at the Indian Pizzeria, as legend goes. Larry Brown, a song writer, found him. He was already in the Original Counts, and that band became Richard & The Young Lions, before going through personnel changes to be the band we all know and love.
[Richard] Yes, we were on Philips. We had absolutely NO SAY in that, or any other business decisions. We were having a ball playing and traveling, and couldn't have cared less about business. I guess that's why bands like us all got screwed. This time we are paying more attention to these things.
[LM] Besides its regional success, "Open Up Your Door" actually reached the Top 100, peaking at #99. Were you surprised at the band's immediate success?
[Twig] "Open Up Your Door" was a regional hit. It was--and IS--a great record! Unfortunately, it didn't get nationwide airplay. It SHOULD have been a top 20 hit in my opinion. Oh, well . . . what can ya do?
[Richard] Actually, "Open Up Your Door" reached #72 or #73 in either Cashbox or Billboard. We knew the songs were something special, but we were surprised to "all of a sudden" be famous in places. Larry Brown, who produced us and wrote (along with others) our songs, called me one night and told me to turn on the radio. He told me where to find CKLW. CKLW was a rock station from Detroit (actually it was in Ontario). I turned on the station while they had the Top 10 countdown on. When they got to number one, and I heard that fuzz bass, I flipped out. We really (at that time) had NO IDEA!
[LM] As a result of the song, the band made appearances on such TV shows as "Upbeat," the "Clay Cole Show," and a handful of others. Do you recall anything in particular about any of these appearances?
[Twig] The TV appearances were great. What I most remember was the people we did the shows with: Question Mark and the Mysterians, Paul Butterfield, Jackie Wilson, Wayne Cochran and the C C Riders . . . What a blast!
[LM] What was Question Mark like?
[Twig] I hadn't seen Question Mark from 1966 until this Spring . . . what do I remember? He looks EXACTLY the same!
[Richard] "Upbeat" was from Cleveland, and we must have done it at least three or four times. The cool thing about it was that we would tape it on a Saturday morning, and (in Cleveland) we would watch it later that day. The next week it would be shown in Jersey, so when we were home, we could see it again. It was always a thrill to see ourselves on TV.
[LM] The band released a second single in '66 ("Nasty" b/w "Lost & Found"), and a final single--all on Phillips--in 1967 ("You Can Make It" b/w "To Have and to Hold"). What do you recall about the recording sessions?
[Richard] "Nasty" and "You Can Make It" were ready at the same time. I thought it was the right thing to release "You Can Make It" after "Open Up Your Door," but Larry Brown and Bob Crewe didn't feel the way I (we) did. They released "Nasty" second. Now, "Nasty" is a good song and we love playing it, but "You Can Make It" is an explosive AMAZING powerhouse song. If 'Nasty' was our third release, I believe we would have made it nationally by then.
[LM] Twig . . . do you have a theory as to why the band's other two singles weren't as successful as "Open Up Your Door?"
[Twig] Yes, I do. "Nasty" was a crappy single, although I love playing it today. [With] "You Can Make It," the record company just screwed up. It's a great record, and is fabulous live. They didn't get the records into the stores, so it died on the vine.
[LM] The Young Lions recorded an Armed Forces public service announcement radio spot in the '60's. What can you tell me about this?
[Twig] The Armed Forces' radio interview was done with Richard and Lou, so I can't help ya there . . .
[Richard] To be honest, I don't remember much about it. Back in those days, we were just told to do things, and we just did them.
[LM] What led to the breakup of Richard & The Young Lions? What year was this?
[Twig] Richard & The Young Lions broke up in '67. The pressure of failed singles, and of course, NO money, was just too much. I was the first to leave. I flew home from Detroit. I STILL quit every now and then.
[Richard] I really don't think we ever really broke up. The gigs stopped coming and we just drifted apart. Eventually, I wound up in Los Angeles playing drums with T.I.M.E. I still couldn't play guitar. But, I had become a pretty good drummer.
[LM] Would that be the same T.I.M.E that recorded an album for Liberty? I had no idea you were a member of that band.
[Richard] T.I.M.E. was on Liberty Records. There were two albums. I am on the second one only. It's called "Smooth Ball." It was released in 1969. About five years ago, an English company named See for Miles re released the two T.I.M.E. albums on one CD.
[LM] Twig . . . what did you do after the Young Lions broke up? Did you continue playing music?
[Twig] I continued playing in a very artsy band called Splendor's Castle. We played often with Clear Light, a great band. After (Splendor's Castle) broke up, that was it for me. Nothing until Richard & The Young Lions reformed in November 2000.
[LM] The band is back performing, and is as strong as ever. Your recent performances at Maxwell's and Cavestomp have been universally lauded. How does a band more than 30 years removed from its "prime" still rock with the best of them?
[Twig] Thank you!! And I agree . . . this band rocks!!! How did we do it? Simple. We worked our asses off. When we first reformed, I hadn't played drums in 30 years, and it showed. The band was very rusty, and I'm being kind. But we were determined to be a viable band again. Everybody was into it, so we worked and worked . . . and it finally came together. We have marathon six hour practices. It's very grueling, but we are determined to continue these for as long as we can.
[Richard] We LOVE to play. We also love the performing. This band loves to jive around with each other. Although we are all individuals, when it comes to Richard & The Young Lions, we all agree. Being able to do something that we feel we never got a real chance to do really motivates us. This whole story is amazing. Every band has its arguments, but when it gets down to the MUSIC, we are all on the same page. We have really become great friends, and we're loving every minute of this.
[LM] I believe Jon Weiss of Cavestomp was instrumental in the band's reformation. How did the band first come in contact with Weiss?
[Twig] Jon Weiss called me after the reformation. He got the number from Muriam, who I met, at a Pretty Things show. I had no idea what "garage" was, nor did I care. He wanted us to play at Cavestomp in '99, but we hadn't played enough, so we passed until 2000. And that show was fabulous. We just nailed every tune . . . what a show!! Jon has been very helpful to this band--something we will always be grateful for.
[Richard] Jon Weiss gave us a tape of old songs he thought might be a good list for us to pick from. That was for live shows. In so far as helping us get back together, that just isn't true. Jon has helped us, and we appreciate it. But WE put the band back together.
[LM] Cavestomp Records is purportedly releasing a Richard & The Young Lions CD retrospective sometime this Spring, and all the band's '60s singles will be included. Can you tell me anything more about the CD?
[Twig] We are still negotiating on the new CD. It will definitely have the six (singles) masters, great live stuff, new recordings of our favorite live garage classics, and tons of original photos, fan mail, radio drop-ins . . . everything!! We can't wait!
[Richard] We have NOT signed with ANYONE to make a CD. We are not going to make the same mistakes we made as kids. Our music means too much to us. We are open and free to entertain any offers. Personally, "I" would like us to record our CD and see who is interested; maybe that is what we'll do.
[LM] Do you plan on touring? If so, how frequently?
[Twig] This band wants to PLAY LIVE! We will play everywhere we can, and whenever it makes economic sense . . . or NOT! We want as many people as possible to see this band live. So . . . play we will!
[Richard] We do plan to tour, but haven't worked out the details.
[LM] What are some of your favorite bands from the Young Lion's era?
[Twig] Fave bands? Wow . . . I have too many: The (Blues) Magoos were great. The Left Banke, and, of course, every English band with my favorites being the Beatles, Zombies, Hollies, Kinks, Procol Harum, etc.
[Richard] Well, I was always a big English Invasion fan. I really liked all of those bands.
[LM] 'Open Up Your Door' was included on Rhino Records' "Nuggets" 4 CD boxed set. What was your reaction when first learning of this?
[Twig] When I first heard about Rhino, I yawned. I thought it was flattering, of course, but never--and I repeat, never--did I ever think the band would reform. I hadn't seen Richard since the early '70s, and had no idea where he was. We finally spoke on the phone, and he came to visit me. The first thing he said was "Twig, we gotta get the band back together," and I laughed, "yeah, right." But we did eventually see each other. It was fun, but the music was weak, as expected. But every member of this band put in the effort, and--about six months later--we rocked!!
[Richard] We were (and are) flattered to be included on such a great project. Seeing our name among some of the greats is something. That helped us realize that we could do this!
[LM] Finally . . . what are the band's plans for 2001? What can we expect from Richard & The Young Lions this year?
[Twig] Our 2001 plans: We are currently working on a promotional video, mainly for colleges, to show them what we're all about. We plan to finish our CD, hopefully this Spring. And, of course, live shows! We love them, and will do as many as we can! Interested parties can reach the band through our website http://richardandtheyounglions.com
"Copyrighted and originally printed on The Lance Monthly by Mike Dugo".
"Listen live, online to their music at Beyond The Beat Generation, 60's garage and psychedelia".