The Legend of:
by Tim Forster
THE WEST COAST POP ART EXPERIMENTAL BAND
- page 2 -
In 1965 the Yardbirds followed hot on the heels of The Beatles with their first US tour. It was not a
runaway success. As Kim Fowley recalls: "When I was in London in 1964 I met the Yardbirds at Richmond
Athletic Club and became friendly with Giorgio Gomelsky. When they came to the States the following year
he rang me up to tell me that they were in danger of being thrown out of the country because they didn't
have work permits. Apparently the only way they could perform was by playing a private party. So Giorgio
asked me if I could fill a house with people that would break the group and I agreed." The chosen venue
was a smart mansion which Markley had rented in a fashionable district of Beverley Hills. "I told Epic
to invite all the radio programmers and rock critics and we had over 180 industry journalists, programme
directors, disc jockeys and a handful of the in-crowd. Al Kooper was the warm up act and Phil Spector
came with his binoculars so he could watch Jeff Beck's fingers. The Yardbirds started playing in the
dark and when we put the lights up people cried and threw roses." Amongst the guests were three awestruck
teenagers - Michael, Shaun and Danny. They were 'blown away' by the band and, like Spector, a certain
member's highly unorthodox guitar technique. As Lloyd recalls: "Jeff Beck was hitting the amplifier with
his guitar and using an Vox AC30 to overdrive an AC100. In those days there weren't any of the little
attachments to produce that distorted feedback kind of sound. So there they were playing and I remember
in the middle of 'For Your Love' and 'I'm Your Man' he was doing all these amazing things and we had
never heard anything like it".
But Markley was, apparently, less impressed by the Yardbirds than he was by the crowd which they had
drawn to his house - especially the large number of teenage girls. So when Fowley introduced him to
Michael, Shaun and Danny and told him that they had a band of their own, he took an immediate interest.
According to Lloyd: "He seemed like an OK guy. We were really impressed that he had this great house and
he knew all these starlets and stuff. At that time we didn't have too much equipment and we wanted to
get a light show, and so here was this guy who was saying to us: 'Well, I want to be in your band. What
I'll do is I'll get the equipment and I'll just play the tambourine or congas or something'. So that is
what happened. He had seen the incredible amount of girls that thought rock and roll was really cool and
that was his only motivation." Kim Fowley adds another insight: "Knowing Markley he hustled the younger
guys. He saw that with Michael and the Harris brothers he could have a Hollywood Surf version of The
Velvet Underground with some Frank Zappa thrown in. The Velvets had played in New York and nobody had
paid much attention, but Markley followed the media - he wasn't stupid." So it was that in this unlikely
alliance the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band was born.
It seems that much of the material which made up the Fifo album was already completed by the time Markley
became involved. However, the inclusion of certain tracks - 'Don't Break My Balloon' [a prime example of
Bob's 'singing'] and 'If You Want This Love' - indicates that he must have had some influence over the
sessions and, more to the point, their subsequent release on vinyl. As Shaun concedes, it was Bob who
had the money and the contacts: "The Fifo album came about because Markley was the one who had the money
to press up the records and wanted something tangible. He came up with the name - I think it was after he
saw The Velvet Underground - but I thought it was pretentious and over-long. We started playing at a
trendy club called The Other Place (so-called because there was a trendier club nearby called The Daisy)
on Tuesday nights and we had the first on-going light show with a movie screen [see the back cover of
the first Reprise album]. Markley would bring people out to watch us and that probably led to the deal
Danny's recollections are similar: "How did we end up on Reprise? That's where Markley came in. It all
happened in about six months from the time of the Yardbirds party where he heard about us, but I don't
give Markley any credit. He didn't discover us. We already had our own studio and he had a volcanic rock
pool! Starlets would come up to his house on a Sunday and we wandered into that. It was a kind of trade-off.
We said: 'OK. We'll record these songs and put them out as a West Coast Pop Art thing and in return we
want to be able to come up here and hang out'. Markley was ten, maybe fifteen years older than us and with
his long hair and expensive clothes he personified the sixties look, but he had the mind of an astute
lawyer. He was gifted with his tongue but not in a musical way. The biggest taunt we could give him was
when he was throwing a party and we would put on that single that he did for Warner Bros!
very good at meeting people and ingratiating himself. He said 'I'm from Tulsa, Oklahoma, son of an oil
tycoon, I own my own house, I lease my place up here on the Strip and all I have to do is find a band,
become a non-musical member and look the part'. Then he said that he had registered the name and not the
members of the group, that he could replace anyone he chose and even sack the band. He put all the publishing
through his own company - that was a typical Attorney's move - and even though we played some big places
like Birmingham, Alabama, all our earnings were nothing like they should have been." According to Lloyd,
Bob "came to Hollywood, he had a lot of money and he liked to meet people. He played tennis at Jack
Warner's house, who used to own Warner Bros. It was a whole different kind of echelon from what we were
working with - we would have been lucky to meet Jack Warner's gardener!" As for the name, Lloyd explains:
"The 'Pop Art' stuff was because of Andy Warhol, 'Experimental' because we could do almost any kind of
music at that point and 'West Coast' because we were on the West Coast which at the time was this mystical,
special place. Also it was just an odd name. It wasn't a very serious statement of intent. I think we were
just trying to put something together that sounded interesting."
In the early days the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band appeared fairly regularly on the Los Angeles
live circuit and it wasn't long before they ventured beyond the rather cramped confines of clubs like The
Other Place. As Shaun recalls: "The Velvet Underground's Exploding Plastic Inevitable had been up on Sunset
and Markley assembled the light show. We played live at that time and I remember playing at some Exhibition
Centre with Frank Zappa and Little Gary Ferguson."
A flier for a gig at The Shrine Exposition Hall on the
17th of September 1966(?) shows the group sharing a line-up with the Mothers of Invention, the Count V,
Lowell George's Factory and the 'sensational 7 year old' Ferguson. The band's photo shows Lloyd, Markley,
the Harris brothers and John Ware sitting in field of flowers. "That was an old picture. Danny is wearing
the glasses and the guy on the right was John Ware who played drums." The latter's fairly scathing account
of the band's early days, given in an interview with the Omaha Rainbow in 1981, is well known. According
to Ware the band's live performances, dominated by an ambitious light show directly inspired by Andy Warhol,
were "the ultimate street happening for a while", but he suggests that Markley was cynically motivated by the
commercial exploitation of his largely teenage audience. He concludes: "It was so dumb. It had nothing to
do with music." Shaun is not impressed: "Ware had a way of saying things which was pretentious, you could
say delusional, even. We didn't make tons of money." The light show was clearly a large part of the band's
appeal. As Fowley recalls: "I only saw them play once - at The Daisy. It was full of lots of teenagers who
Markley had assembled to witness his greatness. They had a great light show done by Buddy Walters, a Hillbilly
guy who later did the lights for Hendrix and The Animals." And Lloyd: "I think we had some sort of a
following around here, I mean the Mothers of Invention opened up for us at the Shrine Auditorium when we
played there. It was this gigantic light show that we used."
With a certain irony, in the summer of 1967 the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band actually played with
the Yardbirds [although Jeff Beck had by this time been replaced by Jimmy Page]. Also on the bill at the
Santa Monica Civic Auditorium were the Strawberry Alarm Clock, Captain Beefheart and Moby Grape and a
review of the gig appeared in the LA Free Press. Despite describing the band as "instrumentally quite good"
the reviewer took no care to disguise his contempt for their "non-participating producer and general hypester",
observing that "a kid in the audience was keeping better time on his tambourine than Markley." How far
this was a genuine reflection of the group's live act, and the talents of their apparent leader in particular,
is hard to judge - the Free Press was a notoriously left-wing newspaper which would inevitably have taken
an antagonistic stance to a band from Beverly Hills - but photographs taken of the group playing at The
Other Place the previous year [see the booklet to the Sundazed reissue] do show Markley brandishing a
tambourine, his microphone conspicuous by its absence.
Wherever the truth lay, the Reprise debut 'Part One' (Reprise 6247 1967) was a stunning album, not
least on account of its lurid orange cover, which attempted to convey the excitement of the band's live
performance. In the effusive words of the Los Angeles Times reviewer quoted on the back cover, this was
"a total experience. The group developed an S.R.O [standing room only] following". The music occupied a
broad scope, ranging from anthemic pop songs and acoustic ballads to harder-edged psychedelic numbers, but
the eclectic mixture said much about the band's internal contradictions. Markley's influence surely lay
behind the unlikely choice for the album's only single: '1906' b/w 'Shifting Sands' (Reprise 0552 1967).
Since the songs were credited to Markley/Morgan and Baker Knight respectively, it was obvious who was in
control. Despite being on a major label and having a limited release in France, the single, like the album,
was not a commercial success and, given the A-side's bizarre lyrics, this was hardly surprising. For example:
From the very beginning the rest of the band were unhappy with Markley's dominance in the studio which was,
in their opinion, out of all proportion to his musical ability. According to Shaun: "In the early days we
had to acquiesce with Markley telling us what to do. The part that was frustrating was that he had no
musical aptitude of any kind and so what he was trying to do to be different and innovative ended up sounding
contrived. It was an embarrassment. I still feel that way."
"See the frightened foxes / See the hunchback in the park / He's blind and can't run for cover / I
don't feel well / Hear my master's ugly voice / See the teeth marks on my leash / Only freaks know all the
answers / I don't feel well."
Danny agrees: "The musical talent in the
band belonged to Shaun, Michael and myself, period. Shaun was an incredible bass player and on the first
Reprise album I did a lot of the finger-picking stuff. But not only that. There was a lot of feedback, a
lot of spontaneous stuff, a lot of one-take cuts." It is arguable, however, that such internal tensions
contributed much to the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band's unique sound, since one of the undoubted
strengths of their three Reprise albums lay in the constant juxtaposition of musical styles; not just
between songs, but also within them. One of those extraordinary tracks was 'Leiyla', another was the 'Overture'
on 'Volume Two'. Danny: "While decibels of sound were exploding outside I would be sitting in an isolation
booth listening on headphones where I would lay on a little classical thing - like a Bach cantata - right
into the song."
Although Jimmy Bowen was co-credited with Markley as the album's Producer, he apparently made little
contribution to the actual recording. As Danny recalls: "Bowen would come in with his wife at the top of
the sessions at United Western recording studios and then come back after three or four hours to check it
out. By that time we would have finished a song, including the vocal harmonies and everything, and he would
say: 'My god! A silk purse from a sow's ear!'" But the presence of Bowen, who had begun his career in Texas
with Buddy Holly and later went on to be a Country music producer for MCA, may have had more to do with
why the band were able to record for Reprise in the first place.
Shaun: "Jimmy Bowen was basically a
southern guy and Markley was from Oklahoma and that was probably how they met." Another southern contact
was Baker Knight, who composed both 'Shifting Sands' and 'If You Want This Love'. "Markley had a friend
called Baker Knight who wrote Ricky Nelson's songs and 'The Wonder Of You' for Elvis. Because they had
been hits he acted as if he could write songs for any genre - even psychedelic music. He had written very
good pop songs but these were fifteen years before. 'Shifting Sands' was a good song but I think this owed
as much to our arrangement as anything else." According to Fowley: "'If You Want This Love' was originally
a hit on Aurora Records for Sonny Knight, a black artist. I remember Markley told me a story once that
Baker Knight had tried to commit suicide by sticking his head in a gas oven and lighting a match and he
had to have plastic surgery." By an interesting coincidence [or was it?] Jimmy Bowen's wife, Keely Smith,
had also recorded a swing version of the song under the title 'This Love of Mine'. Danny: "We changed the
time signature and made it very driving. I remember when Baker Knight first heard the playback he didn't
know what to make of it and said [adopts gruff southern drawl]: 'Hey! I thought this was a Country song!'"
The group's more commercial side was represented by two tracks which showcased their immaculate harmonies.
According to Danny 'Transparent Day' "came about in the studio, much like the Everly Brothers. Shaun and
I wrote that with Michael." 'Here's Where You Belong' was, of course, written by the immortal P.F. Sloan:
"We were recording a thing for the Ed Sullivan show at The Other Place. It wasn't a live recording, they
were taping our group with our lightshow. Phil Sloan came by with this tune of his - it was this folk-rock
Byrds kind of song - and I think Shaun had heard some of his stuff and felt that, if it was embellished
with some electric guitar and our three-part harmonies, it could become a very powerful song and help our
album out. Michael agreed and so the three of us met with Phil and he had to show us sheet music and how
it sounded - these were the days before you had demo tapes - and I guess we recorded that about two weeks
Lloyd recalls: "P.F. Sloan was a big name around here, he was like a big time songwriter. We
were going to do a another of his songs called 'Where Were You When I Needed You', but I think, because
the Grass Roots had the hit, we just didn't get it recorded in time." Further contrast was provided by
the tracks which closed each side of the album. According to Dan, 'Will You Walk With Me' was "primarily
coming from a classical background - there's a string quartet and a celeste." The song was also a good
opportunity for him to demonstrate his ability on the acoustic guitar. The announcement 'Part 1: The West
Coast Pop Art Experimental Band', which introduces Van Dyke Parks' 'High Coin', was an echo of the group's
live act, where the piece would be used to open each portion of the show.
Danny: "Parks was a
brilliant musician. His was a piano rendition but for that first album I made my own arrangement so that
it became like our break song. To me that was the high point were we blended the acoustic and electric
sounds and tied it together with harpsichord." As Lloyd recalls: "When we played live that was how we
used to end each set and begin the next and that's how 'Part 1', 'Part 2', etc. came about. We always liked
that chord progression - it would fit into our folk kind of thing - but we never really knew the song."
The tune would later reappear on Lloyd's wonderful Smoke album under the title 'Daisy Intermission'.
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