Interview With James Lowe
Electric Prunes Lead Singer
(1965 - 1968; 1999 - 2003)

The following is an interview with James Lowe conducted via snail mail in February / March 1998.

I have been pondering on the questions to ask you for a while! I have tried to avoid questions that have been asked many times before. Oh well, here goes (sorry if the list is rather long!) :

Thank you for the interest in a rather obscure group. We are always amazed when anyone remembers anything about our band. Hope these answers are enough to justify your nice letter.

1. What did you do before forming the Electric Prunes?

Surfed in Hawaii and California, got interested in performing by playing blues and bluegrass in a coffeehouse with a friend on talent nights. Was friends with Dick Dale in Newport Beach California so I was interested in surf guitar music.

2. Did the band have any other names before you settled on The Electric Prunes and where did the name come from?

We were the "Sanctions" at first and "Jim and the Lords" next. Got the name Electric Prunes by locking ourselves in our practice room till we came up with something to put on our first release on Reprise "Ain't It Hard". The record company balked at first at the name but gave in when we wouldn't change our minds. Mark told a joke that ended with an Electric Prune punchline and I seized it as a great name for us as I recall.

3. What musical influences did the band draw upon?

Byrds, Muddy Waters, Challengers, Stones, Little Willie John, Lightin' Hopkins.

4. Who decided on doing the cover version of "Ain't It Hard" and releasing it as the first Prunes single?

Dave Hassinger and Jimmy Bowen, though we did not know it had ever been recorded before. The writer was there at the session and this made it tough to stray too far from the way he had written it.

5. Why was Michael Weakley (aka 'Quint') replaced by Preston Ritter after this single?

Mike Weakley was always looking for a better deal and didn't think things were moving fast enough with Reprise. This lack of satisfaction characterized his personality both times he was in the band, after all he was a drummer and they are all crazy. He returned the second time as "Quint"; donít know why? He was a great live drummer.

6. Why did both Preston Ritter and James 'Weasel' Spagnola leave during the recording of the "Underground" album?

Preston Ritter was a softspoken drummer (this did not compute to me as I felt we needed drive in the beat department). We also had some personal differences. He was technical and precise as a drummer.

7. The "Underground" album included more songs written by the band then the first, were the band disappointed that the singles released from the album didn't make as big an impact on the charts as the first few did?

Yes, we weren't allowed to put our songs on the first recordings as Dave Hassinger had commitments to writers under contract to him. We did not agree with the singles released after the first few except for "Everybody Knows" b/w "Youíve Never Had It Better", those were my mistakes.

8. What caused the radical shift in musical direction from the release of the single "Everybody Knows You're Not In Love / Youíve Never Had It Better" to then release "Mass in F Minor"?

We were talked into "Mass in F Minor". It was a commercial attempt at psychedelic music. We were into major differences with Hassinger at this time and he owned the name (our stupidity). Witnessed by the release of albums after we all were gone that were shit. At least our shit was our shit!

9. I read one interview that you were involved in the "Mass in F Minor" sessions. Who else was involved in this recording?

The entire band played on the first three cuts, we didn't move fast enough in the studio (the charts were written out note for note). We were not used to this format, we were after all a f***king garage band! Mark, Quint and I played on the rest of the album with guys from the Collectors, another Hassinger property. Dave never had another chart record after us, so much for the rumour that he developed us.

10. Why did you eventually leave the band?

Touring, assholes, lack of interest. I couldn't get along with my wife for very long either.

11. Did the others leave at the same time as you?

I left in the middle of a tour in Texas, the band tried to go on for about two months more as I understand. The subsequent band was in no way related to us. Hassinger tried to cash in.

12. What did you do after leaving the band?

Produced and engineered records.

13. "Stockholm '67" released in 1997 showed that the Prunes were not only a studio band. Were you surprised that the masters of the radio broadcast had survived and subsequently released commercially?

Simon Edwards from Heartbeat was responsible for that record. David Katznelson from Reprise kindly let him do it. I had contact with Simon, and was allowed to have input on the Stockholm '67 release. This was a very positive experience.

Too bad this was at the end of the tour and we didn't give our best performance. The fact that the tape even existed is a small miracle. We didn't want them to record that night as we had prepared a rather dull set. Most of the gigs we played in Europe ended with audiences open-mouthed at all the feedback and such, so we kept changing song selection around to try to find some connection with the people we were playing for. In retrospect this was probably not the best thing to do; but hindsight is always 20/20!

14. Have you kept in touch with any of the other band members?

Mark Tulin and I are friends.

15. Would you ever consider a "reunion" of the original Electric Prunes if the time / conditions were right?

Mark Tulin, Preston Ritter (alternate drummer) and I have been making noise with a few friends lately. We have tried to locate the other members of the group for old times sake.

16. Do you know what the current status of the new Electric Prunes compilation by Reprise is? It was scheduled for release on 10th March 1998 according to Reprise's web site but the entry has subsequently disappeared.

The release date for the "Lost Dreams" album keeps getting pushed back; what else is new? I think it will come out eventually. David Katznelson is the reason the project went forward, he is a good guy. I was allowed to remix songs we had released before, and mix a few we never finished. After the band split I engineered albums for Grapefruit, Foghat, Nazz, Todd Rundgren, Randy Neuman, Ry Cooder, Sparks and others, so it was like reliving my musical youth to be involved in that way again. David even let me do the CD cover for the project and put the album together the way I wanted.

17. What is your favourite Prunes single and why?

"You've Never Had It Better", it was rough and garage sounding.

18. Finally (I think), if you have any other information about the Prunes, I would love to hear about it.

We did get to England on a tour once; but we did not enjoy much popularity or chart action there. That tour will always be one that stands out in my mind as we had a great time in music history. Everything from the Speakeasy to the Marquee Club is just as fresh as yesterday. England was where it was all happening.

We were very lucky for the experience

James Lowe
electric prunes