Monday, May 7, 2012

TDATS 68: Mr. Invitation. Neil Merryweather special [Revised]

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Neil Merryweather: "I just want to say that I am very happy to have my music included in the AfterSabbath blog, ..actually I'm quite flattered! It's people like Rich and their love of rock music that keep us old rockers going!! I hope you readers like some of my music.....thanks so very much Rich!! Big cheers!!"

Neil Merryweather is a Canadian name many of you will know. Born Robert Neilson Lillie on December 27, 1945 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, he has been a hard-working, hard-rocker for almost 50 years. Having turned his hand to many joint and solo projects over that time, he is something of a TDATS hero. On my searches I have been amazed at the connections I have made to him through other musicians and bands encountered, not always obviously so at first. Spanning old and new, his story passes through many musical epochs, from the beat groups of the 60s, to psych, blues, hard rock and glam, to post-punk in 'Eyes', on to heavy metal of the 80s. He has also been actively involved in writing, production and management for many other artists.

This compilation attempts to show some of the rich history and diversity of his unique career. I have included a few quotes from new information he has provided for TDATS, along with quotes from the comprehensive interview on his own site.

Neil in the Just Us (centre)
Track 1 is from one of Neil's (then still known as Robert Neilson Lillie) very first bands, the 'Just Us', who were originally named 'The Ookpics' after a Canadian stuffed toy owl. They became a popular draw on the Toronto scene and opened for The Byrds at Varsity Stadium in June of 1966 (playing with a temporary name-change to 'The Group Therapy'). With Neil remaining the anchor, The Just Us evolved in name, members and sound; from 'The Tripp', to 'The Mynah Birds' to 'The Flying Circus', eventually on to......




Flying Circus. (clockwise from top) Neil, Bruce Cockburn, Marty Fisher, Gordon MacBain


Merryweather (1968) & Word of Mouth (1969)

.....the next track included here, which is from the 1968 album entitled 'Merryweather'. At this time Neil was playing in a band he got together that was previously called 'Heather Merryweather', named after a poem with the slightly different spelling 'Heather Merrywhether'. It was written by a friend of theirs, June Nelson. June was the secretary for the President of Reprise Records at Warner Bros, Mo Austin, and they respected her advice on the LA music scene that they were keen to break-in to. By the time they recorded, their name was shortened to 'Merryweather' and this is where Neil would get his working name that he still uses now. Track 3 'I Found Love' is from (almost) the same Merryweather lineup's next album 'Word of Mouth', a year later.

After 'Merryweather' ended Neil quickly got to work recording with Robin Boers of the 'Ugly Ducklings' and John Richardson of the 'Lords of London' and 'Nucleus”, two popular bands on the Toronto scene. The album 'Merryweather, Richardson & Boers' was the result, from which 'Flat Black' is taken. This was the first album on which the soulful vocals of Neil's then girlfriend, Lynn Carey, were featured. Lynn was herself a model, singer and actress and around that time was already singing in psych/blues band 'CK Strong', she also performed the vocals for the singing parts of Dolly Read's character, Kelly McNamara, in Russ Meyer's exploitation movie 'Beyond the Valley of the Dolls' and she worked on other Stu Phillips-penned soundtracks.

The 'Ivar Avenue Reunion' album was the result of a jam session with various members of Merryweather and Lynn Carey. It was recorded at the RCA Studios on Ivar Avenue. I especially dig the stoner grooves of Magic Fool and used it once before on my first Canadian special Vol23. Here I have included another Ivar track 'Run, Run Children' which showcases the complimentary pairing of Neil and Lynns voices which sound great together.
Neil had this to tell me: "The Ivar Avenue reunion as I called it was an album of jams with Charlie Musselwhite and Barry Goldberg two of my musician friends from The Merryweather 2nd Jam album called "Word of Mouth". RCA records wanted to get into the FM airplay world and called me to do a jam record for them. I added Lynn Carey to the mix but my more notable heavy weight jam buds were Barry and Charlie and the reunion thing was me and them getting together again after the Capitol album! The harmony vocals that I did with Lynn on that album impressed RCA enough for them to ask us to sign with the label and do a Merryweather and Carey album. The result was Merryweather and Carey "Vacuum Cleaner"!


Next, Neil and Lynn made an album together in 1971 called 'Vacuum Cleaner'. Many musicians from Neil's previous projects were brought in for support, along with Kal David of Chicago's 'Illinois Speed Press', a great psych/blues band that I have lined up for a future comp. Here's another Russ Meyer connection; some (as-yet unreleased) Merryweather and Carey music was used on the Stu Phillips score of Meyer’s movie 'The Seven Minutes'.



Neil formed a new band with Lynn in 1972 and named it 'Mama Lion', after a restaurant in downtown LA where they were now based. Two Mama Lion albums were made before the band's break-up in Paris, France. Neil was so impressed by Keyboardist James Newton Howard that afterwards he became involved in Jim's solo 1974 album. Jim is now a successful composer and has scored many movies including The Sixth Sense and Blood Diamond. I have used two Mama Lion tracks here, 'Mr. Invitation' from 1972's 'Preserve Wildlife', and 'Griffins' from 1973's 'Give It Everything I've Got'. The original cover art for 'Preserve Wildlife' was quite risqué for the time (and very eccentric for any time) so a censored version was published, with the main image inside. It appears that some issues did have the original photo on the front though.

Top: S/T (1972)
Bottom: Lucky Dog (1973)
During the time of Mama Lion, the same musicians played on what became a couple of albums put out under the band name 'Heavy Cruiser'. They never played live with this name, the music was made up from demos and jams sessions recorded in various situations. Due to contractual obligations the music could not put out as Mama Lion and no member's names were printed on the covers. I have included a track from both of the albums, 'Wonder Wheel' from album no.1 'Heavy Cruiser' and 'Super Girl' from the second; ‘Lucky Dog'.

Neil had this to tell me about Heavy Cruiser: "Heavy Cruiser was a spin off of Mama Lion....just me and the guys! Again it was all jammed and I did both albums in an eight track studio. I had a go to record any song I wrote as part of the deal I had with a publishing company at the time! We jammed a few old songs like "Louie Louie" and "Common Everybody" while we were in the studio. This stuff was never supposed to be released but an engineer liked it so much that he made a soft cut and sent it to me at Famous Music, Mama Lions label in NY while we were there. We went to a party at the label and the A&R head brought in the soft cut and asked if he could play it at the party. He did and immediately bought it for release. The creep we were signed with Artie Ripp and Family Productions walked away with a shit load of money from the deal! Me and the boys got nothing....he even made the art director put little masks on us on the cover to try and hide the fact that we were the guys in Mama Lion!"

Top: Space Rangers (1974)
Bottom: Kryptonite (1975)
By 1974, Mama Lion had collapsed with Neil and lynn's failing relationship, failing band relationships, management problems and a fair amount of good old-fashioned bad luck. Neil was back soon though, inspired by Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars, which enlivened his life-long interest in science fiction, he put together a brand new band which he nick-named The Space Rangers. The two resulting albums are, in retrospect, generally regarded as Neil's defining achievements and it's easy to see why from the dramatic song writing and glammed-up proto metal sound. A major contributing factor was original guitarist Timo Laine. Although his residency in the band did not see through to the release of the first album, his innovative playing style, with the heavy use of cutting-edge equipment of the time such as Octivator and Echoplex units, influenced the band's sound.

Neil had this to tell regarding Space Rangers: "I placed an add in Music connection magazine in LA looking for a guitarist for my new band after the Mama Lion bust! I auditioned a few and when Timo Laine turned up with his gadgets I liked the sound and picked him! Timo was from Finland and was living with his family in LA at that time! He wound up going to Canada and getting stuck up there over visa problems. It took him a while to get things straight to return to the USA. He returned to LA! I then went after Timmy McGovern who played with Mama Lion for about two weeks or so when Coffi Hall got married and took a break! He impressed me so much as a drummer that I went after him for my new band The Space Rangers.....I was lucky to get him! After the Space Rangers broke up due to mainly horrible management and financial problems...Timmy switched to being a guitarist and helped form the Motels and went on to have a little success with his own band Burning Sensation."

I have used four tracks from this period, two from the 1974 album 'Space Rangers' and two from 1975's 'Ktryptonite'. This quote from a previous interview describes some of the chances that Space Rangers opened up to Neil: "The label did nothing to help. The single "Hollywood Boulevard" got some heavy airplay. KSHE Radio in St. Louis, one of the most powerful stations in the mid-west, had an annual KSHE birthday party and brought in acts to play the Kiel Auditorium in St. Louis. They contacted my manager and wanted us to play the concert with Pure Prairie League, KISS, and T-Rex. We flew there and we did the show, and we blew the audience away. This was actually our [first concert at that point]. Marc Bolan from T-Rex came to the change room after our set and was raving about the band. When we told him that this was our only concert, he was in awe. He gave me his card and told me if I ever came to London to give him a call. Tragically, the second day I was in London, Marc was killed and I never got to see him."

Space Rangers reviews
On a side-note, go back and take a listen to the Symphonic Slam track I used way back on volume 24, 'Universe'. You may notice startling similarities to Road To Hades. This is because Symphonic Slam was Timo Laine's next band...

Neil also had this to tell me about this period: "My favorite band was the Space Rangers [lineup] from the Kryptonite album! I wrote and recorded it at Village recorders in about four nights! The band was that good! I came up with ideas for songs and we jammed them out! I wrote the lyrics and then laid down the vocals and it was pretty much done! I had the worst manager in the world and a terrible deal with Mercury so I had to record as quickly and as cheaply as possible to save my recording budget money to keep my band alive! I usually write and record on the spot because I love the spontaneous energy and really never spent a lot of time over doing a recording anyway so I was doing what I would have done anyway!"

Differences (1978)
Track number 12 is from Neil's next solo record. After more tumultuous events during the Space Rangers period, seeing his greatest radio airplay successes and rave album/live reviews around the world, followed more under-promotion, bad luck, and the lineup's demise. In 1978, a new solo effort 'Differences' was given a far too-limited release on the Dutch label Dureco to achieve any success or notoriety. It was a collection of old and new songs that was partly recorded during a stint in the UK, with a lot of contributing artists, including Taff Williams from "Eyes Of Blue" (see Vol56) and Mike Willis from the Space Rangers. I have used one of its more rocking tracks, 'Devil's Daughter'. Before its release Neil tried to drum-up interest with the tapes in the UK, but ironically it was only after he returned to LA that the Dutch label offered to release it. This brought him back to Europe where he went on to work as a producer in Holland for a while afterwards.

At the tail-end of his time in Holland, Neil formed a new band called Eyes. Going in a different direction again, they aimed for a post-punk/pop rock sound and managed to get some recordings out before returning to LA and calling it a day soon after. 'No Woman Of Mine Would' is from their 1980 album 'Radical Genes'.
Neil: "The sound of the band turned out to be a "pop" album. I wrote everything on the spot. But I think Wessels [of RCA Records] was disappointed because he was expecting another Space Rangers album. We started playing locally around Amsterdam. We got a better drummer, Rogier Wollaert and the band went on for awhile. The last gig we played was the Hells Angels Jamboree. I left for LA a few days later."

Out For Blood (1983)
The fourteenth track here is from Lita Ford's debut album, the former Runaways member. The Runaways were working on a few tracks penned by Neil when they split, and this lead to his involvement with Lita's debut, as writer and producer, manager and bass player. I have used the track 'Ready, Willing And Able' which is pretty typical of the early 80's soft metal sound.
Neil: "Though other labels were interested, the original deal I started with Polygram Records turned out to be the best. I was able to get a seven year two album guarantee which no one was getting in those days. We started working on the album which was rough at times. Lita was just starting out as a singer and was a little crude, but the guitar playing was really good. However, most of the time, the solos all sounded alike. So I started singing the solos and she learned more melodic lines and upgraded the guitar solos from that point on and her abilities improved." 

Alas, this new venture did not end well for Neil and he did not work with her again. Read his own words for more on it........there is a whole bunch more to Neal's story that I have not included and all the revealing, gap-filling details are in this great interview that can be read on Neil’s site. Ronnie James Dio and Alice Cooper are some of the names mentioned, along with what Neil has been up to since, so get reading. 

In a new addition to this comp and post, Neil himself has given me two more tracks from recent projects of his, 'La La Land Blues Band' and 'Hundred Watt Head' which share the same members, but have different sounds.  Here is some background regarding his first revival LP, Hundred Watt Head's 'Shocking' from 2009: "When Neil came back to LA from Europe he called Space Rangers band mate Jamie Herndon to put together a unit to record some new songs. Jamie had just finished his association with the Nick Guilder band. Neil was introduced to drummer Dusty Watson by fellow bass player and Space Rangers fan Raymond Marzano. Neil took Jamie and Dusty into the studio where they recorded ten new songs in two nights. This was the beginning of Hundred Watt Head.

Although Neil and Dusty went on to play in the Lita Ford Band and recorded her debut album together, it didn't take long after that project ended for them to regroup with Jamie at Neil's studio to record more material. This went on for more than a decade. 

The trio recorded over 50 songs over the years. This Hundred Watt Head CD features eleven of those songs. There is still more to come as Neil, Jamie and Dusty still get together to record new songs."

I leave you with with Neil's answer to another question I posed to him.....

Rich: "There's an obvious progression from the sound of the Just Us track that I will use, to the sound of the Merryweather track 'We Try Softer'. It is a clear change from the fifties-inspired, rock'n'roll 'beat group' sound, to the sound of hard, psychedelic rock that really has not changed much since. What amazes me is that this evolution apparently happened so quickly, from around 1965 to 1968. As somebody who was there and directly involved at the time, can you give me your opinion on how and why this change came about, in such a short space of time, and what the driving forces were?"

Neil: "The Just Us songs were the first stuff that I ever recorded...hey you gotta start somewhere!!!......I think the fact that after Just Us I started playing bass and retooled the band and it became The Tripp! The Trip soon became one of the better bands on the Toronto Ontario circuit and we did weird arrangements of R&B songs. I then went with Rick James and the new line up of his band the Mynah Birds and we were signed to Motown records! It was the hight of the peace and love generation and he turned me on to my first LSD in Detroit......it was a definite mind expansion for me as far as my approach to writing songs! When we returned to Toronto Rick was busted and put in jail and was awaiting deportation back to his home town of Buffalo NY......he was picked up on a B&E charge and the cops found out he was also wanted for draft dodging the US Navy. 

During that time I put a new line up on the Mynah Birds together and tried to keep it going for Ricks return! It never happened but the band I put together and decided to call The Flying Circus featured Bruce Cockburn on guitar. We started doing his folkrock type material until I couldn't stand the wimpyness of it and quit to put a band together to go to California.....that band eventually became Merryweather and we were signed by Capitol records in LA. I guess even though it was a relatively short time between the first Just Us record and the First Merryweather album a lot of stuff happened to make me write so much better and so differently! The fact that LA was so exciting and we were kind of living a dream at the time affected my music!

I guess the more experiences one has in life provide a greater field of emotion and the imagery sticks and it makes it easier to put into words! Almost everything I ever recorded ever came from ideas that were over worked in rehearsal.....I just get off on the first run through with a band on a tune that is taking shape on the spot! The feel of the band jamming a new idea ignites the melody possibilities and lyric direction! 
I'll admit though there are times I listened to a tune I recorded a while after it was done and realized there was a better change that could have been made or a better melody or a word or two that would have made it better....made me like it more....but that's the way things transpired and retrospect just become what ifs!!! The feel was usually what I resolved was the thing that remained strong so I have no regrets........but there are some songs I wish I never did here and there....some vocals things I just can't listen to but that's all part of rock 'n' roll! Even the great John Lennon was quoted as saying he hated the way he'd sang a song or two!"
Neil's favourite ever lineup, Space Rangers Mk. II
L-to-R : James Herndon, Neil, Michael Willis, and Tim McGovern
Track List:

01. The Just Us - I Don't Love You (1965)
       single
02. Merryweather - We Try Softer (1968)
       from album 'merryweather'
03. Merryweather - I Found Love (1969)
       from album 'word of mouth'
04.  Merryweather, Richardson & Boers - Flat Black (1970)
       from album 'Merryweather, Richardson & Boers'    
05. Ivar Avenue Reunion - Magic Fool & Run, Run Children (1970)
       from album 'Ivar Avenue Reunion'
06. Merryweather & Carey - Five Days On The Trail (1971)
       from album 'vacuum cleaner'
07. Mama Lion - Mr. Invitation (1972)
       from album 'preserve wildlife'
08. Heavy Cruiser - Wonder Wheel / Super Girl (1972-3)
       from albums 'heavy cruiser' & 'lucky dog'
09. Mama Lion - Griffins (1973)
       from album 'give it everything i've got'
10. Neil Merryweather - Road To Hades / Escape (1974)
       from album 'space rangers'
11. Neil Merryweather - Star Rider / Always Be You (1975)
       from album 'kryptonite'
12. Neil Merryweather - Devils Daughter (1978)
       from album 'differences'
13. Eyes - No Woman Of Mine Would (1980)
       from album 'radical genes'
14. Lita Ford - Ready, Willing And Able (1983)
       from album 'out for blood'
15. *NEW Hundred Watt Head - As If I Didn't Know (2009)
       from album 'shocking'
16. *NEW The La La Land Blues Band - No Excuses (2011)
       from album 'bluester'

Thanks for listening, and thanks again to Neil!

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