Thanks for your email and your willingness to provide Electric Prunes information. I have had a long think of the questions I would like to ask you and have a list of questions that I hope you will be able to answer so that I can put it on the web site (sorry if the list is a little long!).
Sorry it took so long. Life has an uncanny ability of getting in the way of what you really want to be doing. Thanks for your interest in the band. Please, feel free to contact me any time.
Oh well, here goes :
1. Where did the name 'The Electric Prunes' come from and what were the band's previous incarnations?
Our focus from the outset was on recording. We had been doing some work around town, mostly parties and some clubs, as 'Jim and The Lords'. Of the three initial members of the band (Ken, Jim and me), Ken and I had been playing together in one form or another since junior high school. The name "Electric Prunes" came from a series of jokes that were going around at the time - 'Grape Jokes', where the subject of each joke had to do with grapes. Many of these were absurdist in nature. One of them was, 'What is purple and goes buzz?' Answer, 'An Electric Prune'. Absurd, not necessarily funny. At the time we had our initial deal with Reprise and were looking for a band name. We put together a long list of names, the last one being The Electric Prunes, and turned them in to our producer, Dave Hassinger. At the time he was engineering some sessions for The Rolling Stones. As he told it, he showed the list to Mick Jagger, showing him the last name on the list as an example of what idiots he was dealing with. Jagger supposedly said that he liked that name. So, with Mick being Mick, we were The Electric Prunes.
2. What did you do before joining the Electric Prunes?
Before joining the band, Ken and I were playing in various groups that would have several practices, play somewhere and then break up. Mostly, however, I was going to high school.
3. What were your musical influences at that time?
My musical influences were, like the times, an eclectic mix - Blues like Muddy Waters, and Howlin’ Wolf; Rock and Roll like Eddie Cochran, Chuck Berry, and Buddy Holly; some surf music instrumentals, i.e. The Ventures; The English Bands, The Kinks, Animals, Yardbirds, Rolling Stones and Beatles. I think if it was music it had an influence on me. We used to go to an obscure record store downtown and listen to even more obscure 45’s that no one on earth had ever heard. There was some great stuff there and we stole from them at will.
4. What type of music were the Prunes playing before they were spotted by Barbara Harries?
From the start we were writing our own material, some of which appeared on both albums (The Electric Prunes and Underground). At our core we were a mixture of blues and rock. When we worked parties and played other people’s songs our sets consisted of songs such as 'Talkin’ Bout you', 'Mojo Workout', 'Money', 'Summertime Blues', like that.
5. How did the band feel when Dave Hassinger - the engineer of the Rolling Stones - showed an interest in the band?
Needless to say, we were thrilled when Dave expressed an interest. This was a guy who not only knew The Rolling Stones, but was on the other side of all the gates we had been trying to get past.
6. Whose idea was it to do the Vox wah-wah pedal advert?
I don’t remember much about how the Vox wah-wah pedal advertisement came about. At the time Vox had a factory in Los Angeles. We went there and got a lot of gear from them, including some experimental items, like their organ/guitar, that showed up on some of our songs. I guess they figured the ‘electric’ in our name was great for their product. I don’t even remember a rehearsal for the session, just showing up at the studio and trying to give them what they wanted. The real burden of the session was on Ken, who had to use the wah-wah. Their big selling point was that it could sound like a sitar. Guess they’d never heard a sitar. I seem to remember we thought the finished product was pretty stupid.
7. Why was Michael Weakley (aka ‘Quint’) replaced by Preston Ritter after the debut single ‘Ain’t It Hard’?
Mike came from Kansas and had been a drummer in an R&B show band for years. I think the problem was that he wanted our music to go more in that direction. We didn’t agree, we wanted to head to the fringe. So, off Mike. So, ultimately you could write it off to ‘creative differences’.
8. Although yourself and James Lowe were the band’s main songwriters, only ‘Luvin’’ made it onto the first album (apart from ‘Train For Tomorrow’ - a band composition). Was the choice of songs out of the band’s hands on the debut album?
Unfortunately, the choice of what did and did not go on an album was up to Dave Hassinger. That meant that on our first album there were songs we hated. In fact, because final say was not up to us we never got to produce an album that fully showed who and what we were. Sometimes, in order to get a song recorded we would have to tell Dave someone else wrote it.
9. The ‘Underground’ LP was filled with quality songs. Were the band disappointed with the resulting sales of this album?
10. Why did both Preston Ritter and James ‘Weasel’ Spagnola leave during the recording of the ‘Underground’ album?
James ‘Weasel’ Spagnola left the band because he caught hepatitis and was going to be out of action for a long time. Preston left because of some inter-group dynamic problems as well as a difference of opinion on how and what he should be playing. Preston loved involved and complicated rhythms. We wanted someone who could do some strange things but still played the hell out of two and four. It turned out not to be a good match.
11. The single 'Everybody Knows You’re Not In Love / You’ve Never Had It Better' seemed to take the band down the road of what was to become progressive rock but the next release by the band was 'Mass in F Minor' LP. What had caused such a radical shift in musical direction?
I remember that 'Mass In F Minor' was cut before 'Everybody Knows You’re Not In Love' and 'You’ve Never Had It Better'. In fact there was no radical shift in musical direction between the two entities. 'Mass In F Minor' was David Axelrod’s concept from the get go. We were just a way of getting it done; Where we wanted to go was not a consideration. 'You’ve Never Had It Better', et al was where we were at.
12. Why and how did David Axelrod become involved with the Prunes?
David Axelrod wrote and arranged 'Mass In F Minor'. I am not clear on how he ended up coming to us. I do know it wasn’t through the band itself; we were told this was our next project. David was a great guy, a pleasure to work with, and one hell of a musician/arranger. He shared a lot of his knowledge of arranging with me. Maybe we should have done more drugs together.
13. How involved was the band in the ‘Mass in F Minor’ sessions?
From the start we were ambivalent about the Mass project. This was a cool concept but since it wasn’t going to be our music it was hard to be thrilled. The band - Jim, Ken, Weasel, Mike (I think now Quint), and I - played the first two cuts. Since this was all arranged (every note was not written out, but the form was not ours and there was a fair amount of charted riffs and passages) Dave Hassinger thought it was taking us too long so, he replaced some of our guys with studio musicians. It ended up that Mike/Quint and I played on every track. Jim did all the lead vocals. Richie Podolor, our recording engineer who was responsible for a good deal of our recording sound, pitched in to play guitar. Ken added some solos and some other solos were played by the guitar player for a Canadian group, The Collectors. The Collectors also helped on some of the backing vocals.
14. After recording 'Mass in F Minor', the band seemed to fall apart. What actually happened to the band after the recording of this LP?
'Mass In F Minor' was truly the death knell for the band for several reasons. While we did not enjoy the project it made us realize we were looking to go in a direction that our producer would never sanction or understand. We were, at the same time, arguing a lot between ourselves. We were working all the time and all the money seemed to be being siphoned off by others. The dynamic that made the band work had deteriorated and, in short, we weren’t having a good time.
15. A recent interview with James Lowe suggested that after he left, you and some of the others kept going as the Electric Prunes with some new members which even included Kenny Loggins - is this true?
We did one tour after Jim left. Should have had a camera - Possibly the worst tour of all time. It was put together at the last minute and due to all sorts of things we went out without a drummer. Quite a rock and roll band we were. Played none of our old material - All new songs written by Kenny Loggins and a pianist named Jeromy Stuart. So yes, Kenny Loggins was on one tour with us. Unfortunately, we never got to record any of the material. The tour might have sucked, but some of the material we were playing was really damn good. At the time, Kenny was a hard-core rock and roller and one talented son of a bitch. Even then you knew he was going to be a star.
16. Even more obscure the 'Mass' LP is the 'Release of an Oath - The Nol Nidre' album. Were you or any of the other Prunes involved at all with the recording of this LP?
17. Why did you eventually leave the band?
No fun. No money. No future.
18. Did the others band members leave at the same time as you?
Yes, what was left of the group, whose reincarnation would be unrecognizable by any fans, all quit at the same time.
19. What did you do after leaving the band?
After leaving I attended law school for a semester - Hated it. Then I played recording sessions in Los Angeles for several years. Wrote screenplays for years after that. Taught scuba diving. Attempted to be a businessman, hated that, and finally ending up in psychology.
20. 'Stockholm ‘67' released in 1997 showed that the Prunes could really cut it live. Have you heard / seen the final album release and were you happy with the final outcome? Also did you enjoy the touring aspect of the band?
Jim and I were both involved, in varying degrees, with the 'Stockholm ‘67' album release. So, yes, I have seen and heard the final result and I am very happy with the outcome. Finding the Gerard Mankowitz photos that accompany the album were a real coup. Simon Edwards, who is responsible for the whole thing, is a great guy. The massive amount of work he had to put into the project was truly impressive and is greatly appreciated As far as touring was concerned, playing on stage remains, to date, my fondest memories of the band. There were some nights on stage that I will remember together; some nights when everything came together and we got a full view of what we could be. For reasons, not clear to me, there are stories out there that we were a manufactured group who couldn’t play live. Not true. In fact, it was in person, that our real essence could be found.
21. Have you kept in touch with any of the other band members? I would love to hear from Quint, Weasel and Ken!
I have seen Jim fairly frequently and just found Preston over the internet. I last saw Quint a few years ago. I would love to see Weasel and Ken but have, until now, been unable to locate them.
22. Would you ever consider a ‘reunion’ of the original Electric Prunes if the time / conditions were right?
A reunion would be cool. I’d do it in a second if, as you say, ‘the time/conditions were right.’
23. An interview in the U.K. magazine ‘Record Collector’ says that you have been involved with the new Reprise compilation. Can you give any details of what will be included and when is it likely to be released?
I don’t have any details regarding the Reprise compilation release. I do know I thoroughly enjoyed going back into the studio to help re-master some of the material. Hearing some of the material over the studio speakers was great. I’d forgotten how much we managed to accomplish with a four track recorder.
24. What is your favourite Prunes single and why?
I don’t have a favorite single. There are a few songs that I like more than most, however, with a few of these its because I know what they were meant to be, not necessarily how they turned out when pressed. Quite often the ‘radio mix’ managed to complete defuse the power that was in the recording. They are - 'Hideaway', 'Great Banana Hoax', 'Get Me To The World', 'Never Had It Better' and 'Are You Loving Me More'.
25. Finally (I think), if you have any other information about the Prunes, I would love to hear about it.
Th-th-that's all for now. Any more questions or information I can answer/provide, be sure to let me know.