The Peanut Butter Conspiracy
Band members Related acts
line up 1 (1966-67)
- Alan Brackett -- bass
- Larry Baker Fent -- lead guitar, harp
- Jim Voigt (RIP 2000) -- drums, percussion
- John Merrill -- rhythm guitar
- Barbara "Sandi" Robison (aka Barbara Jeanne Moyer) (RIP 1988)
-- vocals, percussion
line up 1 (1967-69)
- Alan Brackett -- bass
- Jim Voight (RIP 2000) -- drums, percussion
- John Merrill -- rhythm guitar
- Barbara "Sandi" Robison (aka Barbara Jeanne Moyer) (RIP 1988)
-- vocals, percussion
-NEW Bill Wolff -- lead guitar (replaced Larry Baker Fent)
line up 1 (1969-70)
- Alan Brackett -- bass
- John Merrill -- rhythm guitar
- Barbara "Sandi" Robison (aka Barbara Jeanne Moyer) (RIP 1988)
-- vocals, percussion
NEW - Ralph Shuckett -- keyboards
NEW - Michael Stevens -- drums, percussion (replaced Jim Voigt)
- The Ashes
- Fusion (Larry Baker Fent and Bill Wolff)
- The Jacks and Balls
- The Jefferson Airplane (Spencer Dryden)
- The Nuage
- Barbara Robison
- Barbara Robison and Lynn Carey
- Sound Machine (Bill Wolff)
- The Windows
- The Young Swingers
Rating: 3 stars ***
Title: The Peanut Butter Conspiracy Is Spreading
Country/State: Los Angeles, California
Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+
Comments: mono pressing
Catalog ID: --
Built on the remnants of The Young Swingers, The Ashes, and The Crossing Guards, Los Angeles' The Peanut Butter Conspiracy came together in late 1966. The band featured the talents of bassist Alan Brackett, guitarist Larry Baker Fent, drummer Jim Voight; guitarist John Merrill, and singer Barbara Robison.
As The Peanut Butter Conspiracy the band made their debut with a couple of songs they'd previously recorded as The Ashes. More than willing to cash in on The Peanut Butter Conspiracy's recent contract with Columbia, the band's former label Vault was more than happy to raid the recording shelves in order to release a couple of previously recorded Ashes tracks as a single. The "A" side was a surprisingly psych-flavored folk-rocker featuring Alan Brackett on lead vocals. Spotlighting Robison, the flip side 'Floating Dream' was a fine example of folk-rock crashing into psychedelia.
- 1966's 'Time Is After You' b/w 'Floating Dream' (Vault catalog number V-933)
Known for his work with The Rising Sons, band manager Billy James brought the band to a couple of major labels, with Columbia winning a bidding war with Jac Holtzman's Elektra Records. Teamed with producer Gary Usher, the quickly made their label debut with a rollicking 1966 single folk-rock:
- 'It's a Happening Thing' b/w 'Twice Is Life' (Columbia catalog number 45-43895) # 93 pop
While the single only reached the bottom of the pop charts, Columbia went ahead and released an album. Again produced by Usher, 1967's "The Peanut Butter Conspiracy Is Spreading" should have been a massive hit for the group. Largely penned by Brackett and Merrill, the album featured an original heavy collection of folk-rock tunes. Admittedly the eleven tracks weren't particularly original. Exemplified by material such as 'Second Hand Man' and 'You Took Too Much', echoes of The Mamas and The Papas, Spanky and Our Gang and other then top-40 acts were scattered across these grooves. At the same time, powered by Robison's wonderful voice, they were more than capable of matching some of the best work of those acts; occasionally adding a more rock-oriented edge to the material. The material was also interesting for injecting a touch of lysergic influence into the mix. No you weren't going to mistake these guys for The Grateful Dead, or The Jefferson Airplane; though Robison occasionally reminded me a bit of Grace Slick. Check out the blatant 'Why Did I Get So High?' or side two's 'The Most Up 'til Now.' Along those lines, among the album highlights were the earlier single 'It's a Happening Thing', 'Twice Is Life', and 'You Can't Be Found.' Ultimately this is one of those "what if" releases. In spite of being allowed to record their own material, User and Columbia management made sure the results were relative commercial. That even extended to the recording sessions where, as was standard operating procedure at the time, much to the band's displeasure, Usher brought in a slew of studio musicians, including guitarists James Burton and a young Glen Campbell, to bolster their sound. You're left to wonder what this one might have sounded had the band been given a little more creative freedom.
Powered by the earlier single and strong reviews, the album managed to breach the top-200 charts, peaking at # 196.
For anyone interested, there's an excellent Peanut Butter Conspiracy website at: The Peanut Butter Conspiracy - The Unofficial Web Site
Peanut Butter Conspiracy Is Spreading" track listing:
1.) It's a Happening Thing (Alan Brackett) rating: **** stars
Previously released as a single, 'It's a Happening Thing' served to showcase the band's folk-rock moves. Kicked along by a Fent's jittery fuzz guitar and Barbara Robison's lustrous voice, the genre didn't get much better than this.
2.) Then Came Love (John Merrill) rating: *** stars
'Then Came Love' was a pretty ballad that made full use of Robison's great voice and the group's nice harmonies. Unfortunately producer Usher slapped a very heavy-handed and MOR-ish arrangement on top of the tune, pushing the band way to close to The New Christie Minstrels territory. Perhaps that's why Columbia tapped it as the follow-on single, though it quickly disappeared into cutout bins.
- 1967's 'The Came Love' b/w 'Dark On You' (Columbia catalog number 4-44063)
3.) Twice Is Life (John Merrill) rating: **** stars
A screaming return to glistening folk-rock, the shared Merrill-Robison vocals were dazzling and easily as good as anything John Phillips and the Mamas and the Papas recorded. Come to think of it, the refrain sounds like The Mamas and The Papas smashing into Jim McGuinn and the Byrds. Awesome track and I would have tapped it as a single.
4.) Second Hand Man (Daniel Dalton) rating: ** stars
The album's lone cover tune, their old-time arrangement of Dan Dalton's 'Second Hand Man' sounded like a Spanky and Our Gang castoff. Forgettable.
5.) You Can't Be Found (Alan Brackett) rating: **** stars
Powered by a Brackett's hyperactive bass line and Lance Fent's jittery Yardbirds-influenced lead guitar, 'You Can't Be Found' featured a more conventional rock sound. It wasn't the most original performance, but the tune's garage roots and energetic delivery were charming. Since he wrote it, I'm guessing Brackett also handled lead vocals.
6.) Why Did I Get So High? (Alan Brackett) rating: *** stars
Yeah, you don't need to think too long to figure out why radio might not have wanted anything to do with 'Why Did I Get So High?' Sounding like Spanky and Our Gang after they'd been celebrating a birthday, today it actually sounds pretty innocuous. Robison's voice compensates for any other shortcomings.
Previously recorded by The Ashes for their debut album, this version of 'Dark On You Now' ditched the folk sound for a more pop-oriented arrangement. 'Listening to this one I've always wondered how Robison managed to make it sound so easy ... On this one she managed to recall both Mama Cass and a more commercial Grace Slick. Awesome accomplishment and another album highlight. For anyone interested, The Love Generation also covered the track under the title 'Swallow the Sun.'
2.) The Market Place (Lance Fent) rating: **** stars
Guitarist Fent's lone contribution to the songwriting chores, 'The Market Place' was also the album strangest performance. Again, since he wrote it, I'm guessing Fent handled the dry lead vocals. Musically this one had an odd "Western" flick feel. At the same time the recorder arrangement gave it a middle-Eastern twinge. Fent's Spanish-styled lead guitar was dazzling. Extra star for being so bizarre.
3.) You Should Know (John Merrill) rating: *** stars
'You Should Know' brought the band back into The New Christie Minstrels territory, though the odd song structure; multiple time changes and Fent's jittery lead guitar added an FM vibe to the affair.
4.) The Most Up 'til Now (Alan Brackett) rating: **** stars
Ah, the jangle guitar opening grabbed me from the go. One of the rare tracks where Robison was in the background, but the song was so strong, if unconventional, it didn't matter. Brackett on lead vocals? I even liked the harmonica solo (and I usually hate harmonica),
5.) You Took Too Much (John Merrill) rating: ** stars
Unfortunately 'You Took Too Much' closed the album with a throwaway Mama Cass styled, old-timey ballad. I'm guessing they thought if was cute and commercial. Other than Fent's choppy lead guitar solo, it wasn't.
In 1968, they moved to the Warner Bros. Records subsidiary label Challenge with a revamped line-up featuring ex-Clear Light organist Ralph Schuckett and drummer Michael Ney (Stevens). They recorded their final album, For Children of All Ages, written and conceived by Brackett, in 1969. Meanwhile, Merrill had reformed a version of Ashes, whose only LP was eventually released in 1970 on the Vault label.
The Peanut Butter Conspiracy undertook a final tour and split up about 1970. Merrill and Brackett continued writing and producing for other artists. Brackett worked as a music publisher and produced Randy Meisner's first solo LP after leaving the Eagles. Brackett also produced, wrote and performed songs for scores of movies and television shows including Witness, Happy Days, and Top Gun.
Robison joined the Los Angeles production of the musical Hair for an 18-month stint. Afterwards, she continued performing locally. In September 1971, Robison, Merrill, and Brackett joined a band called 'Froggy' which worked in a local saloon in Pasadena, California. By late 1972, she joined another American band called 'Rush' which Merrill also joined. Here she worked with pianist Ivan Jean, whom she continued to tour with for years to come.
Barbara "Sandi" Robison (born Barbara Jeanne Moyer, October 14, 1945, Las Vegas, Nevada) fell ill while performing in Butte, Montana, and died of toxic shock poisoning 16 days later, on April 22, 1988, in a hospital in Billings, at the age of 42.
Jim Voigt (born September 24, 1946) died of a heart attack on November 7, 2000, at the age of 54.
Guitarist Fent continues to create rock and roll through his GreenManMedia label. The three surviving members of The Peanut Butter Conspiracy performed Brackett's song "Eventually" at Amoeba Records on September 22, 2009. The song was originally recorded in 1966 and is part of the Rhino box set Los Angeles Nuggets — Where the Action Is. Singer Karen Mitchell and drummer Jim Laspesa joined original members Brackett, Merrill and Fent in the re-formation of The Peanut Butter Conspiracy.
In 2005, Spreading From The Ashes was released on Ace Records in England. It covered the years that Merrill, Robison, and Brackett were together prior and during the time they were in the Peanut Butter Conspiracy, including songs by the Young Swingers and The Ashes and many songs previously unreleased by the PBC.
In 2014 a further CD was issued, Barbara, compiled by Brackett and featuring tracks recorded by Robison. It is a tribute to her life and her career. The album has a mixture of genres with the purpose of focusing on Robison's musical talents. Some diverse tracks include the psychedelic folk song "Shuffling Tune", bluesy "Fool Hearted Woman", and the vocal-pop song "Good Feelin'".
Their late '67 single "Turn On a Friend (to the Good Life)" again failed to chart, but overall they had still sold a fair amount of records for an American rock group of their time. With one album remaining on their Columbia contract, the PBC undertook recording sessions in New York and L.A. during the latter half of 1967. The result of these sessions was the late '67 GREAT CONSPIRACY album, hands down their finest work. This time the group played on every track and handled all the writing themselves. A national tour and the addition of new lead guitarist Bill Wolff (formerly of Sound Machine) had made the PBC a tighter unit instrumentally, and they were able to stretch out the arrangements accordingly. Among the best results were the gorgeous "Lonely Leaf", "Living, Loving Life", spacey "Too Many Do" and "Ecstacy". The lyrics could still be overreaching at times ("Firecracker sky / filled with roots of fusion / trash cans floating by / we're so far ahead we're losin'") but the songs were all melodically adventurous, running the gamut of chord changes and stops and starts. "Too Many Do" garnered significant FM airplay and was one of the first long cuts to be played on the radio. THE GREAT CONSPIRACY ultimately made it into the low 90s on the Billboard Pop Album chart.
The PBC played many high profile live shows in '67 and '68, including the famous Sky River Rock Festival in Sultan, Washington, and gigs at San Francisco's Fillmore and L.A.'s Whisky a-Go-Go. Brackett, Merrill and Robison also collaborated with producer/ arranger Stu Phillips, adding their trademark vocals to many of Phillips' movie scores. The group's final Columbia single was Brackett's kinetic "I'm a Fool", which found them moving in a more soulful direction with another stand out performance from Barbara. The 45 garnered extensive airplay on the west coast, but without much of a push from Columbia it could only chart as high as #125 on Billboard. Shortly after the "I'm a Fool" single had run its course, the group parted ways with Columbia.
Surfacing on the Warner subsidiary Challenge, with a revamped line-up featuring ex-Clear Light organist Ralph Schuckett and drummer Michael Ney (Stevens), the group recorded and released their final album FOR CHILDREN OF ALL AGES. The disc was written and conceived by Al Brackett without the assistance of John Merrill, though Merrill did play on it. The result was a hit-and-miss collection of white California soul, bolstered instrumentally by Schuckett's subtle B-3 fills. Explains Alan Brackett, "I had written a bunch of songs on (the most recent) tour and went into Hollywood Sound to record the demos for Four Star, my publisher. In the middle of this demo session, Dave Burgess-- VP and producer for Four Star on this session-- said, 'That sounds great! Bring in the eight track!' This was at the time when four track recording was just changing over to eight track, which was more expensive. All of a sudden we were making an LP. The tracks were sweetened and put out as the FOR CHILDREN OF ALL AGES LP on Challenge. This may explain to you why it was so different (from the other PBC albums)-- it was really just my songs and not really a planned PBC release."
Many of the album's highlights came courtesy of Barbara Robison, who was now no longer billed under her "Sandi Peanut Butter" alias. "It's Alright" and "Try Again" featured some of her most stunning leads. The new unit toured briefly, but to little avail. Like most of the other "food groups" of the 1960's (Strawberry Alarm Clock, Chocolate Watchband, Electric Prunes, Ultimate Spinach et. al.) as the novelty of their name wore off, good music couldn't overcome listener preconceptions in the face of a changing musical spectrum. They split up ca. 1970, with Merrill and Brackett continuing on in the business writing and producing for other artists. Robison toured with her new husband throughout the seventies to little recognition. Sadly, she passed away in 1988, ending any hopes of a full PBC reunion. We are also sad to report that original PBC drummer Jim Voigt passed away a couple of years ago.
Another song that got a lot of airplay on F.M. was "Too Many Do". It was one of the first cuts that was over the conventional three minute limit for songs and weighed in at 6:30. This recording was most like our live performances where we did stretched out jams during instrumental portions of songs. This was something we enjoyed a lot and I wish we had done it more at the recording sessions.
AG: That must have been quite exciting, turning on your car radio and hearing "It's A Happening Thing" on those three top LA radio stations! The times were changing quickly throughout the country, and for me, "It's A Happening Thing" really captured that mood; not only that, your song heralded many changes that were taking place in commercial pop music. When you describe the PBC's founding, your breakneck preparations for your gig at the Sea Witch, your introduction of fuzz-tones and other instrumental techniques, and your signing up with Columbia, culminating in "It's A Happening Thing" becoming a national chart hit (March, 1967), I get the impression that 1966 was a pivotal year for you musically. To get a perspective, I'd like to go back to before the Young Swingers and Beau Jacks when you first became interested in music. Tell us about your earliest music experiences, for example, how and when you got started, what instrument(s) you first learned to play, your musical influences, when you wrote your first song?
ALB: Well, there was a lot of "pivoting" going on during most of my life. My mother was a piano teacher and of course there was church choir and band and orchestra in school. My brother and I appeared numerous times on the radio when I was about 8 years old. I would sing acapella and we would do interviews and other "cute" things. I started in high school writing my first originals. I was the first chair drummer in the state in high school and had already played drums with Jan and Dean , walked away from a chance to be a Beach Boy, played piano and wrote arrangements for the Royal Blues, a jazz combo with horns, sang in a doo-wop group, the Enchantments, which did my original r & b tunes, learned to play banjo, then guitar (which was easy because I had often played the piano by reading the guitar chords on the sheet music - all I had to do was learn where to put my fingers on the guitar to play what I already knew) when I "pivoted" from Santa Barbara where, by the way, I wrote my high school alma mater, to Los Angeles as a professional folk singer/guitar player with a group called the Hillside Singers. Whew! We did the national hootenany tours which included playing Carnegie Hall. This great fun lasted a couple of years and then came the 90 degree "pivot" from this successful group to the USMC. While I was in the Marines, the Beatles and the Stones hit and folk music hit its saturation point. We played for about six or eight months when we got out (3 of the Hillside Singers went in the service together and were now in the reserves) until folk music was gasping it's dying breath and that's when my friend, Robbie Robison and his girlfriend, Barbara introduced me to John Merrill. Barbara had been singing some with Robbie and then with John, and when John wanted to go more rock and needed a bass player, Barbara recommended me, although I had never played the bass. I told John this when he asked me and he said -"It's just the 4 bottom strings on a guitar". I went right out and bought a St. George bass and made an amplifier out of a PA amp and a wooden speaker box with a 12" speaker in it. Pretty funky! I think we played a gig that next day at a high school. We became the Young Swingers, then the Ashes, then the Peanut Butter Conspiracy.
The great thing was that my father had one of the first tape recorders (a Bell) and I have pretty much my whole life on tape - now transferred to digital - from the live radio shows in 1952 through the different bands, the first songs I wrote performed by the Enchantments, the Hillside singers (both studio and live) and then on through the rock years to the present. I had bought the first "sound with sound" home recorder, a Webcor in about 1959 or so, and after that a Teac A-1200, which allowed you to "ping-pong" tracks and add tape reverb, followed by a Teac 4 track (3340) and DBX noise reduction. I still have the analog Teacs, limiters, boards, etc, but also have the digital midi computer stuff. I'm looking forward to when I can have a self-contained portable studio that is digital midi sequencing capable and also able to record analog vocals and instruments. Then is when I will update once again.
My music influences were everything I heard and experienced growing up, from church, all the music on the radio and on records I heard (from cylinder records to 78"s to the modern 45's and lps, and now cds) , the radio, television shows like Ted Mack's Amateur Hour, Dinah Shore, Perry Como, Andy Williams, Lawrence Welk - my tv viewing was very controlled by my mother - we thought she was magic, because it only worked when she wanted it to. Years later I found out that she would take the fuse out of the back of the television! I was, of course, very influenced by Elvis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Fats Dominoe, Jerry Lee Lewis and all the other r & b recordings and the corresponding white covers that followed. I have been lucky to meet so many of these great musical artists from the 50's and 60's and beyond and shared many experiences with them. The book I'm writing is filled with these stories. Artists like Peter, Paul and Mary, Burt Bacharach, and the Fuggs also influenced me. This world of ours is filled with so much music and I have enjoyed all of it - there is room for all of it and that is the wonder of music - there is always room for more!
AG: What a fascinating musical journey! I bet your pre-PBC years alone could easily fill several volumes. How did you get to meet and work with all these bands and artists (i.e., Jan & Dean, etc.)? Did you have an agent back then, or did you all find each other on your own?
ALB: I was called by the Musician's Union in Santa Barbara to play with Jan and Dean at Earl Warren Showgrounds. I think this is the only gig I got that was not through the "grapevine" of friends. When I played bass later on with the Righteous Brothers it was because Pete MacQueen was their drummer at the time. Pete played on some of the tracks on "For Children Of All Ages" with the PBC. All of the others were groups that I formed or that I joined that were in the "grapevine".
I would hear about gigs like the time I auditioned for James Brown as the second bass player! I must admit I was a little nervous at that one. It was a huge band compared to what I was used to. Also, it was an experimental thing having 2 bass players - I was to cover the "basic" roots (bottom) thus allowing his bass player to have the freedom to play other "pedal" type bass and more melodic lines much like a guitar player would on his lower strings. I played well I thought, but didn't get the gig. If I had, I wouldn't have continued with John and Barbara perhaps and who knows how things would have turned out. As far as I know, nobody got the gig - like I said, it was an experiment.
We had a manager, Allan Cooper, with the Hillside Singers for a while, but the Agents didn't really happen until the days with the PBC. My older brother, Roy, helped some when I was still in my teens with "The Enchantments", the "doo-wop" group of which he was a part, along with my friend Randy Yarnell. The gigs always came about through "word of mouth", sometimes through auditions, guest spots, or a manager if the group had one at the time, although a "personal" manager is not really supposed to be a "booking agent" -but it does happen.
John and Barbara had a manager when I started playing with them, but I never signed with him. The best gig we had was one that I got us at the Waleback in Venice, CA. This was a small club where I had played with the Hillside Singers - between the two groups I probably played this one club for 3 years or something like that! Pretty much a "home" for me. It was a great venue to "get it together" and we didn't have to be the "au go go" type act that this manager wanted us to be. We started dressing and doing things the way we wanted and this allowed us the artistic freedom to experiment with original material and develop our own sound and style. We did 5 shows a night 6 nights a week and there was a turnover crowd every show with a cover charge at the door and a drink minimum. People were lined up around the block for every set and this is where we built our original following.
When we became the Peanut Butter Conspiracy and played at the Troubadour, we were offered about 5 major record contracts and a couple of management options. One was Albert Grossman, Bob Dylan and Peter Paul and Mary's manager. He was from back east and sent out John Court to check us out - I think we did a recording session with him. We didn't feel real comfortable at the time with someone from back east and Billy James was more our type of guy we guessed and he was right here in the flesh. If Albert had come out west personally, it may have been different, but he didn't. We decided on Billy who had been involved with the Doors, Firesign Theatre, Jackson Browne, etc. It's kind of strange that Billy wanted to sign us to Columbia and not Elektra, where he had been the west coast rep.........never quite understood that one. Personally, I think we would have been better off at Elektra, but who knows. It's all in the past now and things are as they are. At the time we needed someone to help make decisions about all that was going on. Every thing happened so fast - even though John, Barb & I had been together for a year or more, the PBC with Lance and Jim were only together 2 or 3 months when we were faced with all these important decisions........should we go with Atlantic? Albert Grossman? Billy James? Columbia? Elektra? or Warner Brothers? Our big choice was a manager and then we hoped he would help direct us correctly. This is a lot to ask of anyone.
Billy signed us with APA, which was a hot agency at the time and they worked out well in getting us a lot of live gigs. Later on, we were signed with William Morris Agency . By then, we didn't want to tour much more because of the truck accident, etc. and they got us a great gig at the Factory, which was the hot new private club in Hollywood at the time. We were the house band there and other groups like the Iron Butterfly would come and do shows on the weekends with us. Jim Morrison would get up and sing with us and there were some memorable moments during this gig.
There are just too many things that can go wrong in an artist's career. So much depends on making the right choices and those choices are never cut and dry or perfectly clear. It's hit and miss and hoping for the best and luck of the draw many times I'm sorry to say, but that seems to be the way it is. It's also who you know and are you willing to be one of the boys and play the game? This is why, I believe, the pre-fab artists(?) many times are the ones making it big - it's all part of a scheme and they are only the visible part of the plan. It's like having a drum machine and you can program it and it will play back exactly what you want and never make a mistake. There's a bumper sticker that says: "DRUM MACHINES HAVE NO SOUL". My son gave me one of these recently and I told him: "I don't necessarily believe that's true - it probably is most of the time, but it depends on who programmed it. It is possible to put the "feel" in and your own soul if you're really talented at it." I know this all sounds confusing, but then, so is the music business.
AG: I imagine being offered so many record contracts and management options - which is quite an accomplishment, by the way - must have seemed like a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it's nice to have choices, on the other hand, there's a lot of pressure to make the best choice since there's so much at stake. Once you (the PBC) made a decision about which manager and record label to go with, did you feel relieved, or were you pressured into having to make a decision too quickly and would have liked to have had more time to think about it?
ALB: There was a sense of course of relief when we signed, but at the same time we did not really know if we had done the right thing. Columbia was a huge label, but we didn't really know everything we should have about how we would record, what support they would give us (tours, promo) or even what was expected of us. I know that I personally did not have any meetings about how we should be handled. And I'm not sure what we could have contributed at that time. We had, however, done really well promoting ourselves with the bumper stickers and signs and we put teasers in the Free Press - it was cheap to do "the Peanut Butter Conspiracy is spreading" around the borders of pages, etc. We passed out the bumper stickers, but we didn't just put them on peoples' cars without telling them - didn't think that would be cool. We did, however, put signs up on telephone poles around Hollywood. Nobody was doing that much back then and we got some press in the L.A. Times and other papers as far away as Santa Rosa up north. They would say something like "On the freeway yesterday I saw a car with a bumper sticker on it that said "THE PEANUT BUTTER CONSPIRACY IS SPREADING" - don't know what that means, but sounds interesting". The idea for these stickers and signs came from our drummer's dad, who was in government as a publicist or something like that. He actually contributed them to our cause, I think. I still have some of the bumper stickers and put one up on Ebay once in a while. Our promo worked really well and I'm sure helped us get a deal so fast.......maybe too fast.
If we had known what our recording situation was going to be compared with what was starting to happen at other labels, like Elektra, with the Doors and other groups, I don't think we would have signed with Columbia for that reason alone. We had to record in these large, cold studios with IATSE engineers (old school) and in the middle of takes sometimes this buzzer that sounded like one of those in a gymnasium or something went off and that meant that it was union break time and the engineers would walk out! I would get up and start playing air-basketball when the buzzer went off. Now, I'm a member of IA in the film business, but when we are in the middle of a set-up shooting a particular scene, we don't just stop. The director has a right to finish shooting what we are set up for before we break for a meal or something. This, along with the fact that we just showed up at the studio and Gary Usher would try to "augment" our sound by adding other musicians. I understand why he was doing this because we only had 4 tracks and if you wanted a fatter sound than what we sounded like live, that would be the natural thing to do. He also tried to have Curt Boetcher be a vocal coach. That didn't work out because Curt couldn't think of anything we should do differently than what we were doing. So, we would just play our songs like we had rehearsed on our own - I don't remember Gary coming ever to hear us rehearse or even play a gig. He was a Columbia corporate producer and it was all very "corporate" feeling.
In the meantime, other groups that were our contemporaries were more "nurtured". They used independent studios and many times had "lock-outs" which were blocks of time booked at the studio where they could make it their own. Lighting, incense, drugs, whatever, was all there to make the group comfortable to experiment and record. I remember Paul Rothchild going out and just talking to Jim Morrison to help get him in the mood to sing the song with the right attitude. I understand all of this now after being a producer myself and I know it takes a certain amount of being a party host and also a psychologist. Other artists of our ilk would take as much time as was needed to get the right performance of the song, no matter how long it took. After all, it's all got to be paid back by the artist anyway! Nobody explained this to us either. We would be called to the studio and it was always a union session. That meant that we were there for 3 hours and we had to record these 2 or 3 songs in that time. That was it! Instead of running up the studio bills to get the right performance from us, without our knowing it, they ran up some other bills for us to pay back. They offered us one of the old radio studios to rehearse in before we went on tour. We thought, "wow! That's nice of them!" but later when we received our statement from Columbia it showed that they charged us rental on that studio - we never would have done that as we were perfectly fine rehearsing at our house on Maltman in Silverlake.
Roy Halee was the engineer on our second album and he was great. He helped us create our sound and really knew what he was doing. He was also IA, but more tuned into what was happening. That's the thing. I don't really think Columbia knew what to do with us or understood what we were all about.
Career-wise, maybe we made the wrong choice for management, but Billy James is such a likeable person and was very "hip" and he was very accessible to us. We had an offer from Albert Grossman, who was my choice at first, but he was back east and not accessible and we felt that we would not have as good of a relationship with him because of that. He actually sent out John Court to do a session with us at Columbia but did not come our himself and I think that made us forget about him. I have a song called "WOULDA SHOULDA COULDA" only makes you sad and blue and that's the way it is with all of these decisions. They were made at that time by a bunch of musicians who didn't really know the gravity of what they decided and had no one to explain and help guide them in the right direction. We had Billy and he wanted to sign us with Columbia, so that's what happened. Things coulda been different, but they weren't and to make a huge deal out of it sounds like sour grapes. It would have been nice to have more time, but we had all the time there was and that's all anyone has anyway. Like I said: "Time Is After You, you better run, you better go, get away before it's timeout, timeout, timeout, timeout!"
AG: On the CD re-release of the two Columbia albums, "The Peanut Butter Conspiracy Is Spreading/The Great Conspiracy," there is one song listed as the last track, "Peter Pan," which is noted as being previously unreleased. "Peter Pan" is not on the original track lists for either "The Peanut Butter Conspiracy Is Spreading" (Columbia 9454) or "The Great Conspiracy" (Columbia 9590). Tell us some more about "Peter Pan."
ALB: As with many people, the exposure I had to Peter Pan was the cartoon movie when I was a kid. I bought the hard bound book at a yard sale sometime in 1967 and after I read it I had to write the song. The recording was done as a one-take run-through during one of the sessions for THE GREAT CONSPIRACY. As with many of the songs we wrote, that was it and it was pretty much forgotten until someone dug it up and included it on the cd compilation of the two lps on Columbia, now Sony.
By the way, along this line is something interesting and exiting to us that is happening now. Alec Paleo is helping us compile a new cd of rare and unreleased songs by The Ashes and the Peanut Butter Conspiracy. There's even a couple by the Young Swingers - real rare. I think the name is going to be "SPREADING FROM THE ASHES" by THE PEANUT BUTTER CONSPIRACY on ACE RECORDS (GB). We just met the other night once again and John Merrill and I gave Alec pictures and other info for the liner notes he's writing. Some of the songs are studio recordings, some are rehearsals recorded on my Teac A1200 and there's even a live performance from 1966 at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco. Around twenty-eight songs in total. This is pretty cool to be happening after over 35 years and we are honored and excited.
AG: This is very exciting news! Around when are you expecting this new CD to be released?
ALB: Last I heard it should be sometime in January, 2005. This seems pretty fast because Alec still has a lot to do - writing the little book (liner notes) with pictures and all. He did an interview with us about 10 years ago for his magazine, Cream Puff War, but they never put out another issue so he has all of that info to use in this release. Should be a lot more insight into the history of the groups, including the Young Swingers, the Beaujacks and The Ashes along with the Peanut Butter Conspiracy. If it does well at all, we have enough for another cd and a cd featuring Barbara doing ballads which I think a lot of people will really love.
AG: We will look forward to these CDs. The PBC has quite a history, and speaking of which, I'd like to take the opportunity to clear up some confusion regarding the Ashes' lead female vocalist. I had always assumed that Barbara Robison was your group's one and only female singer all along, but I have also seen mention on several websites of another female vocalist, Pat Taylor. Jason Pennick's PBC website mentions that Pat Taylor stood in for the recording of the Ashes album (1968, Vault 125) due to Barbara's contractural obligations. Was this the full extent of Pat Taylor's collaboration with the Ashes and the PBC?
ALB: Yes. Pat Taylor only sang on the Ashes LP, which, by the way, many of the bios, etc. on the net think was recorded before the PBC when the real Ashes were together. This is not correct. The Ashes LP was John Merrill's project when the PBC was in the process of dissolving. "For Children Of All Ages" was recorded around the same time and was my project, although not really a planned one.
AG: Well, I'm glad you cleared that up and I hope the word gets out on the net. And speaking of "Children Of All Ages," tell us some more about what went into the making of this album. Did you produce it as well as write most of the songs?
ALB: My producing that particular lp was also part of the fluke of it all. It was a demo session for the publishing company that I was signed to, Four Star Music, which was owned by Gene Autry. The President was Joe Johnson and the Vice President was Dave Burgess. Dave had been in the "Champs" (Tequilla) and these guys were into their crowd which was made up of people like Glen Campbell, Gary Usher, Rick Nelson, Gene Weed (lot of guys with Sebring haircuts). We signed the publishing deal almost as part of the record contract with Columbia. That happened because of Gary and Dave's relationship. It was okay - they paid me $35.00 a week as a "staff" writer for many years. I didn't want more even later on when I got Three Dog Night records because I wanted to be in the black on their books and not the red. Four Star was bought by Acuff Rose and then Opry Music and now it's Sony. Sony also now owns Columbia Records which was our main label.
I worked for Four Star and had an office and all for a couple of years (1968-1972). Jerry Fuller had my job before me. I was a freak in the music business! I wore silk paisley or striped bellbottom pants and tie-dye undershirts and brought my siamese cat with me to the office, which had colored gels in the ceiling panels of flourescent lights. I bought my own furniture - a gold velvet love-seat , a great tiffany shaded floor lamp with birds and leaves incorporated in the stand and shade, two carved arm-less chairs (for guitar players) and I shoved the desk against the wall. I knew what it was like to play songs for someone behind a desk and I didn't want one between me and the other musician playing me a song and hoping I'll like it enough to sign it up for $100.00 advance - that was the going rate at the time. I had lots of friends! I made my own briefcase out of hide to carry demos to A & R men around Hollywood. I must have been talked about a lot when I went to see Jack Gold at Columbia. Letters I sent were sealed with sealing wax and my stationary was ragged around the edges. But I did place songs with Elvis, Three Dog Night, John Kay (Steppenwolfe), Brady Bunch, etc. and made some deals for groups like Gladstone (A Piece Of Paper) with ABC Dunhill. I also recorded a single for ABC Dunhill called "Cherokee Woman". Also did a solo record deal with Bell Records. By then I was used a lot by many publishers for demo vocals. Even Jobete (Motown) hired me to sing their demos of songs - one of the "BlackBerries" (bg vocal group famous around Motown and the business) told me that I didn't know what was going on because they were using me to get a soulful psychedelic point of view for their songs. and it was influencing the R & B sound. I know this was probably true to a point, but I don't think it was as big of a deal as Mary was making of it.
Anyway, when I came off our last tour up in the North West, I went into Hollywood Sound to do demos of the songs. It was the group that had just finished the tour. We had done our old songs on the tour along with these new ones as I wrote them. It was the natural thing to use the group. It was me, Barbara, John, Michael Ney (Stevens), and Ralph Schucket. We started playing the songs and Dave Burgess knew that I was quitting Columbia because they did not run with the ball with "I'm A Fool" and the accident on the highway making it not worth touring anymore. He got on the intercom from the control booth and said: "That sounds great! Bring in the eight track!" 4 track was still the norm and the new 8 track machine cost more to use and was for MASTERS! All of a sudden we were doing a record. Dave asked me to do a couple of other songs by Dick Monda (Daddy Dew Drop) and Michael Fennelly (Crabby Appleton) and I obliged. I was really just starting my singing career around this time. Jimmy Gordon was hired to write some overdub horn and string arrangements. There are a few songs on the lp that were okay for the PBC, but most of them were me finding myself and going in a new direction. I like "It's Alright" which Barbara sings and was a hit in Brazil! "Gonna Get You Home" I thought was pretty funky PBC. "Good Feelin'" I wrote because we needed a song with a good dance beat, a "good feeling" to it, for our up-coming gig at the Factory on Robertson near the Troubador. We spent the good part of a year as the house band at this popular exclusive club. Jim Morrison would get on stage and jam with us. Other groups would do guest appearances. It was the best gig in town I believe. That song wasn't even on the original vinyl lp, but ended up on the cd later on. In the mean time, Three Dog Night did the song on two lps - It Ain't Easy and Live Around The World. When they heard our version, which I sent to them as a "hunch", they went into their 50's thing and made the song into a kind of parody. They did I think it was the Midnight Special which was on TV with Wolfman Jack and it showed them getting dressed and all back stage in their 50's clothes and fixing their hair and all. Then they went on and did "Good Feelin' 1957". The whole thing took about 8 or 10 minutes. I wish I could find a copy of it. I've tried, but the guys in the band don't seem to have it.
Anyway, yes. I wrote the songs and produced FOR CHILDREN OF ALL AGES. Once again, I probably was too hasty in allowing this to happen, but -?
It was the last thing I really did with the PBC and I was given production credit as a "gift" it seemed to me. This was a point where my departure already was very evident. I went on for years as a solo artist, producer and writer/player/singer on around 100 movies and television series' before getting into the film business doing television commercials.
AG: Alan, thank you so much for interviewing with me. It has been a pleasure and an honor. You have so many interesting stories, and we will all look forward to your book.
ALB: You're welcome, and thank you.
Barbara "Sandi" Robison also sang some movie songs. For example, in the film "Jud," the song "Come To Me, Anytime," or she co-starred with Lynn Carey of the fictional movie The Carrie Nations, in the Russ Meyer cult movie "Beyond the Valley Of The Dolls." For contractual reasons, the name of The Kelly Affair has been changed to The Carrie Nations. Thus, there are two versions of the title "Come With The Gentle People". Once only with Barbara Robison's main vocals and once she shares the vocals with Lynn Carey, in the second version. Listening to the Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls CD - The Original Soundtrack, With 25! Tracks. So a lot of bonus songs. Other songs from the movie they did best include Find It, Sweet Talkin Candyman, and Look Up At The Bottom! It is a pity that this great voice, her timbre is very reminiscent of Mama Cass Elliot of The Mamas and the Papas, is almost forgotten.
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