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Stephen and Snake were both members of the soft-rock group Orpheus, which was active on the national scene from 1968 through 1972. Ths page comprises some of their reminiscences from "back in the day."

(We're putting this together in bits and pieces as we remember things. Although we're trying to present the narrative in chronological order, sometimes we have to go back and insert something that we'd previously forgotten. So, even if you've read it before, there may be new content that you will miss if you just jump to the end of the page).

the original Orpheus
L-R: Bruce Arnold, Jack McKennes, Harry Sandler, Eric "the Snake" Gulliksen
photos: Iris Properties, Inc.
(Snake): Those of you that have read my musical History may remember that I mentioned that, while attending WPI in 1962 and 1963, I had played in and recorded with a folk trio. One of my mates in that group was a Worcester native named Jack McKennes.

This trio, variously known as the Wanderers, the Minute Men and the College Boys, can properly be called the first precursor of Orpheus, of which both Jack and I would ultimately become founding members.

My tenure in the trio was relatively short. I was an "official" member only from October of 1962 through March of 1963, although I did get drafted into the Minute Men album project in April and recorded on the College Boys' single (along with co-writing and co-producing it) the following November. When I left the group to go on to the Blue Echoes, I was replaced by another WPI student named Bruce Larsen. This reconstituted trio continued to perform through June of 1964, when both Dave and Bruce graduated and everyone went their separate ways.

The Wanderers, 1962
The Wanderers, 1962
L-R: Dave, Snake, Jack

Very soon thereafter, Jack teamed up with another Worcester folkie, a fellow named Bruce Arnold, to form a duo that became known as the Villagers.

The Villagers
The Villagers, Hyannis, MA, 1965
L-R: Bruce Arnold, Jack McKennes
photo: Dan Jarvis
Originally a cover group, the two quickly became a "folk phenomenon." Their voices blended perfectly, and their finger-style guitars complemented one another. In short order they became the "house band" at a small coffee house in Yarmouth, MA (on Cape Cod) called the Villager, from which they took their name.

During the fall and winter of 1964-1965, the pair began to make some demo recordings. In fact, the two of them stopped by my place in Worcester in the late fall of 1964 and gave me a tape they'd just recorded at WTAG; I still have it. Later they began to incorporate some of Bruce's original songs, and continued to record demos. I have one of these in my collection as well.

By the summer of 1965 they had matured into a real "class act," and had a regular stint at the Carousel in Hyannis. The Carousel was one of the best-known folk venues on the Cape - a family restaurant by day, and a "music Mecca" by night.
Carousel poster Loft poster
The Villagers became one of the area's premier folk acts, playing such venues as the Loft, the Odyssey, the Unicorn and the Pesky Sarpint, and were twice voted "Best Folk Duo" by the readers of Broadside magazine. (Click here to listen to a clip from a live version of Bruce's song Just A Little Bit, courtesy of the Iris Music Group). Although both Jack and I had recorded before, the Villagers may have been the most significant of the Orpheus precursors.

They had an extremely successful run but, by 1967, the folk craze was on the wane. Jack had a friend who had some connections in the music business, and who told him that if the Villagers would "go electric" and add bass and drums, he might be able to get them an audition with a New York producer named Wes Farrell. Farrell's "claim to fame," at that point, was a group called Every Mother's Son, also comprising ex-folkies that had gone electric. EMS had debuted on the TV show The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and had a hit record called Come On Down To My Boat. Although the Villagers' music was substantially more polished and sophisticated than this, Bruce and Jack saw this as an opportunity. And, after all, Bob Dylan had gone electric a couple of years before.

That was the real beginning. In April of 1967 Jack called, told me about the Farrell possibility, and invited me over to his house for a jam session with him and Bruce. Now I thought the Villagers were great but, frankly, I was a little skeptical about their being able to transition from folk to rock. Actually I suspect that, at this point, they may have had their doubts as well.

Bruce had worked out an arrangement for Don't Be Cruel, which he played for me. I was very impressed, particularly because I'd never before heard anyone play rock using finger picking. I'd been playing in a soul band, so I applied a real dirty James Brown-style driving bass to the song. As I said in the History, I remember Bruce shouting "Wow! Rock and roll!"

We practiced as a trio for the next several weeks, while Bruce wrote some new songs including Can't Find The Time. Some of them were really terrific, at least in my opinion - very "commercial" (by that I mean having great "hit" potential). Two really stand out in my memory: I've Got Time, which had a Lovin' Spoonful feel to it, and I Have Got It (Yeah!), which was a real driver. I had an amazing falsetto in those days, which I used on I Have Got It - lost that along the way somewhere. Don't know why we never formally recorded those.

As the three of us became more accustomed to playing together, we started to audition drummers. We tried a whole bunch of 'em, but kept coming up dry, so to speak. There was an instrumental break in the arrangement of I Have Got It that we were playing then that had some odd timing, and almost all of our drummer candidates crashed and burned when we came to that. Tom Collins, the drummer from my old band the Blue Echoes, handled it, though; we offered him the slot, but he had to turn us down because of family commitments.

We'd actually started to get discouraged when Jack stopped into Jack's Drum Shop (no relation) in Boston, and passed the word that we were looking for a drummer. Harry Sandler, who had been playing with a cover band called the Mods but was looking for something new, got in touch and came out to Worcester to audition. Harry was flashy, a real showman and, in our I Have Got It test, played through the break with a simple, straightforward beat (that worked, by the way) and then did an impressive solo. We decided to offer him the slot, and he accepted.

Now we really started practicing in earnest, almost every night of the week. Harry's old band, the Mods, had been regulars at the Surf Ballrooms in Nantasket, Salisbury and Hyannis; he got us a few 5-song intermission sets at these venues, where we'd use the amps, PA and drums of the band that was playing that night. We went over really well; many people came up to us afterwards and said that we were the "best band they'd ever heard."

This was pretty encouraging, so we decided it was time to get that audition with Wes Farrell. Jack's friend set it up, and we piled our equipment into my Ford Fairlane wagon and set off for the Big Apple. Again we went over very well, especially with Can't Find The Time. Farrell told us that he was very interested, and that we should get enough songs together to do an album. Needless to say we were quite enthused.

We still didn't have a name for the group. On our way back from New York we stopped for dinner at Howard Johnson's on the Connecticut Turnpike, and started to discuss the problem. Harry, at the time, was working for E.U. Wurlitzer's, a large music store in Boston. He told us that there was a new company coming out with some revolutionary new guitar designs, and thought that we might possibly get them to sponsor us. He couldn't remember the name of the company, though - "Orifam - Orpheum - Orph something." I asked him if it could be "Orpheus," the Greek god of music. He said he didn't think so, but as we thought about it we decided that Orpheus might be a cool name for the band. We shook hands on it.

None of us can remember what the name of that company was. I thought it might have been Ovation, but Harry rightly pointed out to me that Ovation didn't appear until several years later.

Now bear in mind that we still hadn't played a real-live paying gig. In fact, we had no intention of becoming a bar or fraternity band; we had formed the group with the express goal of landing a record contract, and were on our way.

Harry had better connections in Boston's rock community than any of us. He lived in Randolph and worked in the city, while the rest of us were out in the hinterlands of Worcester. He also knew Brian Interland, the General Manager of the Surf chain. Brian had heard us at one or more of our intermission sets, and suggested to Harry that we shouldn't put all of our eggs in one basket. He said that we should make a tape and try to shop it to several record labels, and that he'd give us names. That sounded good to us. Jack and Bruce were friends with a Boston clinical psychologist Dr. Bill Wolk, who had recorded several of their live shows (including, by the way, the version of Just A Little Bit referenced above). Bill agreed to tape us; Al Abend, another of Jack's friends, got us the use of the theater at the Emerson School of Broadcasting one afternoon in August, and we made a nine-song demo.

Brian armed us with several names and addresses, and we all piled into the Fairlane again for another jaunt to New York. We knocked on nine doors of record labels or production companies (cold calls - no appointments) and, incredibly enough, we got seven contract offers! A couple even involved "front money," in sums that weren't much by today's standards but, back in 1967, they were serious money. Needless to say, we were totally psyched!

(Stephen): This was about the time that I returned to Worcester from San Francisco. A few of us moved into Norman Schell's apartment over the Y-Not. As I said in my History I wanted to start a creative community, similar to the one I'd been involved with in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury, but in Worcester. Several of us spent a few weeks plotting and, on September first, we started moving into the Congress Alley area.

When the Alley was at its peak, over 350 people were involved. We had a meeting hall, a newsletter, a "bust fund," a head shop, communications systems - the whole ball of snot. The general area bounded by Highland Street in the North, Chandler in the South, Park Avenue in the West and Lancaster and Linden Streets in the East, became the informal "Congress Alley District," including several small hippie enclaves with the largest being on Congress Alley itself.

James Dempsey wrote a pretty good retrospective article about the Alley for the Telegram & Gazette in April of 1999. We've reformatted it and posted it here.

We used to have great fun doing outrageous things. I had a Zen wedding in Elm Park, sort of. We invited a couple of hundred people to this "happening," had a Justice of the Peace and everything. What people didn't know was that my first wife Nancy and I were actually going to get married later, at a private ceremony. Everybody was standing around in the park getting antsy, waiting for us to appear. After a while one of my friends got up and read a note that I had written, sort of like this:
"Nancy and I would like to thank all of you for coming to our wedding.
However, as you can see, we're not here.
And neither are you."
(Snake): Meanwhile, Orpheus was still practicing, and we hadn't decided yet which, if any, of our offers we should accept. We plaued one night at the Unicorn Coffee House in Boston - our only pre-recording gig besides the Surf sets - and a couple of guys named Ray Paret and David Jenks heard us. They had started a management company called Amphion, and had placed Ultimate Spinach (formerly the Underground Cinema) with another New York producer, Alan Lorber. Lorber was holding a limited number of auditions in Amphion's office in a loft somewhere, and they offered us a slot. This resulted in another offer. (Click here to read Alan Lorber's Biography.)
The MGM Years
We ultimately decided to go with Alan Lorber, largely because of his track record as an arranger. Bruce and I, in particular, wanted to have some orchestration in our songs. Alan also described his marketing concept which later became the often-vilified Boston Sound, and said that MGM was willing to put several hundred thousand marketing dollars behind it. Alan's concept sounded pretty good to us. Neither we nor Alan expected that the outcome would become such a circus. (Read Alan Lorber's discussion of the Boston Sound here.)

Alan wanted us in the studio by October to cut our first album. We knew we'd have to get more material together; Bruce and I began to collaborate, with our first joint effort being I've Never Seen Love Like This. This was written in Bruce's living room. The second joint effort was I'll Stay With You, which we actually wrote in the hotel in New York one night while we were recording.

(Stephen): Bruce also lived in the Alley district, on Pleasant Street. He came over to my place one day, looking for material for the first Orpheus album. I had a lot of songs that I had written over the years, and was coming up with new stuff regularly. He left with Congress Alley, Music Machine and The Doorknob Song.

(Snake): I remember I was a little concerned about Doorknob. This was 1967, and some people, especially in music and radio, were somewhat reluctant to use certain terms for fear that they'd lose audience. The original lyric of the bridge went:
Remember how our Auntie Mary used to bitch and moan;
She said she'd like those colored folk if they left her alone.
I changed the lyric to itch and moan and other folk. Sorry about that, Stephen. I certainly wouldn't do that today! Did you ever wonder about that? For the record, this is the real lyric.

For the beginning of Music Machine, Jack and I went out to the Wayside Inn in Sudbury. There was a general store right nearby that sold penny candy and stuff. It might still be there - I haven't been out that way in some time. Anyway, they had a mechanical band machine that you could play for, I think, a nickel. We brought a cheapo cassette recorder and pumped nickels into that thing until we got a decent recording of the coin going down its chute. It's there in the mix, at the beginning of the song.

I'm getting a little ahead of myself. We began work on the album in late October, and finished in early January. MGM put us up in a suite at the Park Sheraton on 7th Avenue where we could sign for anything, drove us around in a limousine and stuff. We thought that was really cool, not realizing that all these expenses were coming out of our royalties (one reason that we didn't see any).

I still had my straight "day job" in Massachusetts. We'd mostly record at night. I'd change my clothes in the bathroom at the office, drive to Boston and hop the Eastern shuttle, fly to New York, record until 2 AM or so, sack out until early morning when I'd fly back to Boston on the shuttle and show up for work. Didn't do that for long, though; it kicked the crap out of me.

One thing I do remember about that - I came in one night with my long hair, dressed in jeans, a black shirt and a black and white checkered serapé-cum-vest, and went out to the Surface Transportation area at La Guardia. I just had a gym bag for my clothes. Some yuppie type in a 3-piece suit came running out the door and literally pushed me aside, snarling "I need a cab more than the likes of you!" By that time I'd seen Murray (the chauffeur) so I said "You're right!" and waved my hand. Murray pulled up in the big long Caddy, and ran around to open the door. I got in, rolled down the window, saluted and said "See ya!" Flush!

I remember another one of those shuttle flights as well. This was in the winter and, for some reason, I was flying back to Boston at night, and it was snowing. Eastern flew old Constellations in those days on its Boston-to-New York run.

Anyhow, when we got to Boston it was snowing to beat the band. We made our approach, and suddenly somebody yelled "Oh my God! We're gonna hit the tower!" and the plane made a sharp bank and a very rapid climb. Sure enough, the tower went flashing by the window amid the snowflakes. The pilot came over the intercom and, cool as a cucumber, said "Ladies and gentlemen, we just made our approach and, as you may have noticed, we failed to make contact with the runway. We're going to go around and try it again." I guess this was supposed to calm people down, but it didn't do much good. People were praying and sobbing "Omigod! We're gonna die!" - but obviously we didn't, or I wouldn't be telling this story.

We recorded the first album, symphony orchestra and all, at Bell Sound Studios, on 4-track tape (could have been 8-track, but I'm pretty sure it was four). That was state-of-the-art in those days. Eddie Smith was the engineer. We actually recorded ten songs, although only nine were released at that time. Alan got stalled coming up with an orchestration concept for I Can Make The Sun Rise and, because we had gone 'way over budget both time-wise and money-wise, it was left off the album. We resurrected it later for the Joyful album.

Stephen came down to New York with us for a few sessions, while we were recording his songs, staying in our suite. I have one very clear memory of that time - Stephen, kind of whacked out, leaping about the living room like a large frog with a Bowie knife between his teeth. He carried the Bowie knife in his boot.

(Stephen): I don't remember that, but it must be true. I did carry a Bowie knife in my boot (I'd actually forgotten that, too), and I don't know how you would have known that otherwise.

(Snake): We called Suite 2347 at the Park Sheraton home for a long time, each time we came to New York, until The Who convinced us to change to the Gorham, a residence hotel on a side street where they always stayed. But we had the most fun in 2347. Some of it was a little hair-raising. We had two balconies, and I can remember nights when there'd be half an inch of ice on the balcony railings with howling winds, and Jack and Harry would be outside walking the railings! Still makes my palms sweat just to think about it.

One night we were looking out from the balcony, across 7th Avenue to another building. There was a big party going on over there a couple of floors below us, with the windows open. Harry and Jack got a big jar of sweet gherkins (pickles) that they'd bought at Smiler's Deli, and they started flinging them across the street at the open windows. One lucky throw went through the window, and the pickle shattered on the wall. The people inside were totally bewildered, looking out the window trying to figure out how this pickle could ever have flown inside.

Think that's funny? You haven't hear anything yet!

Several years later when Harry was living in L.A., he went to a party where he met a young lady from New York. They got to chatting, and she said that nothing ever happened in L.A. that was as bizarre as some of the things that she'd experienced in New York. She went on to tell a story about how she was at a party on the 21st floor of a building on 7th Avenue when a big dill pickle flew in through the window and smashed on the wall. Harry just about had a stroke. "You probably won't believe this, but I threw the pickle!"

Yes, Virginia, the world is a weird place.

The album and the single Can't Find The Time were released in January of 1968. It was a "concept" album on Alan's part; he wanted BIG orchestration (and got it!). Although initially we were quite pleased, as time went on we realized that we came across as a vocal group rather than as a band that could sing. Not to say that it wasn't a good album; we just kinda wished that the orchestration wasn't as grandiose. We didn't want to be the Lettermen.

Around this time we taped one of the very first "scripted" music videos ever. Previously, music videos had been pretty much limited to showing artists lip-synching their records. Alan decided that we should have something more original, to send around when we couldn't do a TV show, for example, in person. He had his brother Stephen shoot it. It was a good idea... but boy, was this thing corny! Embarrassingly so! Harry has a really grainy copy of it, which we may post here one of these days.

I got married in January as well, in the Methodist Church in the center of Uxbridge. That was quite the event. A lot of hippies and weirdos showed up, a few looking rather bizarre as far as the townspeople were concerned. Frannie Murphy, for example, with his big Afro hairdo, showed up in a caftan. And, at the other extreme, Alan arrived in a stretch limo. My mother-in-law told me that, the next week, one of her friends asked her if she had heard about "the hippie wedding that went on downtown on Saturday." Bev laughed and said "Yes, it was my daughter's!"

In a couple of weeks we were on the road - never having played a paying gig together before. One of my former roommates, Jeffrey Herdman, was our first road manager. We played a week in Detroit at a little place called the Chessmate; this and a couple more similar gigs were meant to let us polish our act prior to our "official debut." Hardly anybody came, but that wasn't surprising. Somehow we got involved with Detroit's hippie community, folks like John Sinclair (who founded the White Panthers), and the MC5. This was about six months after the 1967 Detroit Rebellion - there still were bullet holes in some of the walls of our motel rooms.

Orpheus, first promo picture
First Promo Picture
L-R: Harry Bruce, Snake, Jack

From Detroit, we went to Philadelphia to play in another hole-in-the-wall psychedelic club. I don't even remember it's name. What I do remember is that Big Brother and the Holding Company were playing down the street. They were totally bummed because their label, Mainstream Records, had shut them off financially. Mainstream had been one of the labels that had tried to sign us, so we felt that we had dodged a bullet.

But the interesting thing was that Big Brother's lead singer, a girl named Janis Joplin, kinda had a thing for Jack and started hitting on him. He thought she was a disgusting drunk and turned her down. That remains Jack's "claim to fame" to this day.

From Philly we went to Chicago to play at a club in Old Town called, I think, The Cheetah. First time I ever played under an intense strobe light - it threw me for a few minutes. And we saw the infamous Plaster Casters, although we were too small potatoes to interest them.

MGM's "Bosstown Sound" campaign was getting underway by this time. A new British group called Cream was making its American debut at Brandeis University, and several Boston bands, including us, were hired to be opening acts. Not long ago I met a woman at the Catbird who was there. Small world.

Cream at Brandeis (1)

A live recording of Congress Alley from this performance has surfaced; check it out by clicking on the blue link above.
Cream at Brandeis (2)
From there, it was on to the Bitter End in Greenwich Village for our official debut. I think we played there for five nights, opening for Kenny Rankin.

While we were there, we were videotaped lip synching to Can't Find The Time and I've Never Seen Love Like This for a TV show called (I think) Live, from the Bitter End. These were released on a video called Live From Greenwich Village, Volume Six in 1996, and reissued on the DVD Folk in New York City, Vol. 5 - 7.

A few snobbish people who have seen this video have tried to diss Harry as "not knowing how to hold his sticks." That's unjust. Harry was self-taught with no formal training, but he made it work. To diss him for holding his sticks in an unorthodox manner is like dissing Bruce and Jack because they played finger-style guitar rather than using flat picks as most rock guitarists did (and still do). Bruce, in particular, did some extraordinary finger-style single-string work; those who don't play finger-style can't appreciate how difficult single-string work is, because it can be done far more easily with a flat pick. However, with finger-style one can do many things that are extremely difficult, if not impossible, with a flat pick (unless you're Les Paul).

Orpheus, at the Bitter End
At the Bitter End
Clockwide from upper left: Snake, Bruce, Harry, Jack
The cover photo from Peter, Paul & Mary's first album
was shot in front of this wall.

For some reason, many amateur and even semi-pro guitarists seem to belong to one camp or the other, either finger-style or flat pickers, and neither appreciates the other. But both styles have their place. Stephen and I are each proficient in both styles. I use flat pick exclusively on my 8-string bass but, depending on the sound I'm after for a particular song, I'll use either style on my 4-string and 5-string basses. I use finger-style on a majority of the things I play on the six-string guitar but, if I'm going to do single-string stuff or if the song is a jazzy, swing-style, I'll use a flat pick.

So don't diss Harry for being unorthodox! There is no "right" or "wrong" way to play any instrument. You should play the way that's most comfortable for you!

Anyway, back to the story.

One morning we were awakened by a panicked phone call. Seems that, during the night, somebody had broken into all of the clubs on Bleecker Street, dousing everything with stinkbomb solution. We rushed down to check it out, and believe me it was enough to gag a maggot. Our amps absolutely stunk! We washed everything down with Lysol, and hoped for the best. However, when we played that night there was enough of the solution left so that it transferred to our clothes. We really had only one stage outfit each, so we were in trouble. The next morning we had to fly to Baltimore to do a TV show, wearing those clothes, and WE stunk. We spent much of the trip down and back, as well as at the TV studio, apologizing and explaining that, despite our longish hair, we did take showers.

That stuff was unbelievably bad and so persistent that, when I used my amps on a hot night as recently as the mid-90s, I'd still get a whiff from time to time. Brought back memories, yeah, but that one I'd have just as soon forgotten.

We started on the road in earnest around March, and hired Burton Swan as a second roadie because, clearly, Jeffrey couldn't do it all himself. Burton was a cool dude, a great roadie, a good friend and an accomplished musician in his own right.

We have a lot of "war stories" about these times, too many for us to lay out here, but I will tell a few that are funny, bizarre or outrageous as we go on, sprinkled in amongst the more mainstream stuff.

I'm pretty sure this one took place in Charlotte, NC. We played a college booking convention, which was a zoo. All kinds of artists showed up at this thing, each one playing a few songs as entertainment chairpersons from various colleges drifted around from one booth to another. This was very much like a trade show. The show floor was divided up into, essentially, booths about eight feet wide, and artists would set up inside. After your set, you'd quickly tear down and another act would move in. Tommy James and the Shondells followed us in our "booth." Noteworthy acts present included Bobby Vinton and Sam and Dave. Don't remember who else was there.

We stayed in a hotel that basically had four sections, surrounding a central courtyard. We had an inside suite, on the 8th floor or so, overlooking the courtyard. We were just chilling out, looking out the window, when somebody noticed that, two or three floors below us in the adjacent section to our left, some guy was lying on his bed with the shades up and the light on, stark naked, "pleasuring" himself. Well, we couldn't let that go!

We counted windows and figured out where the room had to be, and Harry went down and got his actual room number. We were all watching out the window as Bruce dialed this guy's room and, when he answered, growled "Stop beating off!" You want to talk about somebody showing total panic! That shade came down so fast it was unbelievable!

For the first couple of months, we'd been shipping our equipment by air as baggage, and renting a van when we reached our destination. We had had flight cases made for the amps, and figured we'd be OK. One day, though, we were walking through an airport (think it was Washington, DC) and watched the baggage crew just push the amps out of the hold door - no conveyor, no nothing - and letting them fall the ten feet or so to the ground. Then we watched them stack the amps on top of my bass case, and very casually drive a forklift into the pile, gouging major holes in my bass case. Fortunately the amps and the bass were OK, but we stopped putting our equipment in the baggage hold and leased our own truck.

My bass style was really starting to evolve at this point. In the past, with the Blue Echoes, I'd played a "lead" bass with a flat pick. But, because the music of Orpheus was for the most part more sophisticated and less driving, I thought I should play finger-style. I'd put aside my home-built bass for a 1967 Ampeg AEB-1 scroll bass. These were amazing looking solid-body instruments with through f-holes and a head like an upright - the one on the left in this photo is just like mine, except that my fretboard is much darker. Incidentally, if you're interested in learning more about these instruments, check out Bruce Johnson's web site http://www.xstrange.com.

Unfortunately Ampeg's "mystery pickup," which had been designed to work with gut strings, had some shortcomings. You had to roll off all of the highs or it would feed back and howl. The company said it had a "big sound" but, in fact, it was very boomy and muddy. Playing finger style actually made that worse.

Our Magnatone amps compounded the problem. Magnatone's marketing buzz was "Brute Power," which they achieved by sacrificing frequency response for volume, and the amps had a decidedly "cardboard" sound. We had them tweaked to get more highs and lows, and added in-line tone boosters as well. They looked good, though, almost more like pieces of furniture than guitar amps.

On March 29, 1968, we did our first of several concert gigs with The Who at Drew University in New Jersey. As you can see from the photo below, we were billed as "The Orpheus;" some people just didn't get the name Orpheus. Don't ask me why, but as a matter of fact this was not an uncommon mistake. We've recently unearthed several Billboard articles in which the editorial staff made the same mistake.

Ampeg Scroll Basses
Ampeg Scroll Basses
Photo: http://www.xstrange.com
Johnson's Extremely Strange
Musical Instrument Company

While poking about on the Web recently I stumbled on a posting from a fellow named Greg Granquist that's very relevant to this gig:

"If you're interested in any more facts about this show, I recall it well. I was Drew University's newly
elected Social Chairman, and the Who concert was the first rock concert of many I organized over
the next two years. I booked the show through Premier Talent Agency in NYC. The agent's name was
Sean LaRoche. The Who was paid $4000 for a 45 minute show. An opening act, Orpheus, received $500
(Orpheus was a Boston group with a psychedelic sound characteristic of a number of groups from that city).
With other costs, the concert's budget ran to $5500. This was a lot from Drew's perspective, considering that
the University's entire yearly allotment for weekly dances, films, and four or so pop concerts, was $15,000.'

"Believe it or not, the show lost money, about $1500. The Who were relatively unknown, even in
Northern N.J., despite the radio play of "Happy Jack" the prior year. This was the pre-Tommy era,
and "the Who?" was no joke to a fledgling promoter. The picture of a can of baked beans on the
group's newest album wasn't particularly inspiring promotional material either. The venue, the
Baldwin Gym, had a capacity of 1500 seats, but only about 900 tickets were sold,at $4.50 per
seat. The price was considered moderately high at the time,when most concert tickets
cost about $3.50."

Drew University Concert Poster
courtesy Harry Sandler

Excerpted from "The Who Concert File"
Joe McMichael & Jack Lyons
Omnibus Press, 1999

The Who were great - they had a tremendously rhythmic sound, which I initially attributed to Keith Moon's drumming. Some of you older folks may remember that, at the end of their show or set, they used to bust up their equipment. (Actually, I hate to disillusion you, but they actually just wrecked dummy stuff. They had speaker cabs without speakers, just grill cloth through which they'd ram the heads of their instruments, for example. When Keith picked up his floor tom and threw it backwards over his head, the head roadie was lying on the floor and caught it. And when Pete Townshend smashed his guitar, it was actually a breakaway instrument, strategically weakened so it would appear to fall apart when whacked on the floor but it's essential elements weren't weakened so Pete could play it for the last song without running the risk of having it break halfway through. After the show the roadies would pick up its pieces and glue it back together while riding on the bus.)

Anyhow, I was watching as they went through this ritual and noticed that, despite everything being in a shambles, drum kit in pieces all over the stage, etc., this incredible rhythm was still pumping out. I realized that it was John Entwistle's bass. He played his bass with a flat pick and had it and his amps set to emphasize highs, accentuating pick noise and attack. That's what was creating the rhythm! I said to myself "Wow! I have to try that!" I was, and still am, a very melodic bassist, and figured that if I could combine my melodies with this rhythmic technique, I'd have a really different sound.

John later told me that using the right strings was also important. He used RotoSound, which he told me he had developed. I'd been using flatwound Fenders. However, Rotosound strings were too short for the Ampeg; its extended tailpiece make it necessary to use the longest strings known to man. Back in the day, I ended up using Fender heavy gauge roundwounds. Today these are too short, and the only source in the world for strings is Bruce Johnson's web site.

Snake's Ampeg
My Ampeg scroll bass
Photo: Kathi Taylor

The next time I went home I cannibalized my home-built bass, lifting a single-coil Burns magnetic pickup from it. I did a lot of experimenting to determine the best location to get the sound I wanted from the Ampeg, mounted it and rewired the instrument to allow selection of either the Burns or the original "mystery" pickup. I did a bit more surgery as well; walking around New York one day I'd passed a novelty shop that had sheets of diffraction-grating plastic in the window. This stuff has interesting and shifting color patterns which change as it's moved. I bought a sheet and cut it to fit over the original Ampeg pickguard. The result was an instrument that not only sounds great, but is spectacular to see. There are several other shots on this site showing me playing this bass, and in each one the color patterns are different.

Anyhow, the next night (March 30) we were paired with The Who again, this time at the Westbury Music Fair on Long Island. Once again, they blew me away. We were good, too, but I was really starting to salivate over that bass guitar sound. Couldn't wait to get home and do those modifications to my axe.

The next night, March 31, we had a really big gig at Constitution Hall in DC. It was headlined by The Who; the Troggs and Beacon Street Union were also on the bill.

I rode down from New York to DC in the truck with Burton and Jeffrey just because I thought it'd be fun. We got to the venue and found the entrance we'd have to use to bring in our stuff - I remember it had an overhanging marquee edged with wrought iron and glass filigree that hung down several inches. Well, that several inches meant that Burton hit it with the truck and knocked part of it off. We unloaded our stuff quick-quick and beat it out of there.

It was a great show. Pete Townshend not only smashed his breakaway guitar but, at the last, picked up the Strat that he'd used for most of the show and threw it - intact - out into the audience. Either somebody made off with a great souvenir or somebody got brained.

I remember that I was standing near the back of the hall watching whoever was on stage at the time, when one of the promotors ran out, grabbed the mike and stopped the show. He announced that then-President Lyndon Johnson had just finished up what may have been his most famous speech, in which he said that he would not run for re-election. The whole place went insane with cheering.

Westbury Music Fair
At the Westbury Music Fair
L-R: Jack, Bruce, me, Harry
Photo: courtesy Alan Lorber

I'm reminded of a kinda cool little story. Before the show started, I was downstairs in the bowels underneath the Hall, talking to a couple of young female fans. Keith Moon was sort of lurking in the shadows (he tended to lurk about like that for some reason). Anyhow, suddenly he ran out, leaped up onto my back, gave me a big, slobbering kiss on the cheek, dropped down and went scuttling back into the shadows. These girls were totally freaked out. I still have the picture in my mind of them standing there with their mouths literally hanging open, gasping "Th-that was Keith Moon!" I said "Yeh, he's a little weird."

We rode back to New York that night on The Who's bus, a Greyhound that had been modified with bunks in the back. That was a lot of fun, even though we were all pretty tired. I'd like to think that they offered us the lift just because we were good guys, but somehow I suspect that the fact that Harry had been able to score some weed had something to do with it. One thing I was never able to figure out, though. For some reason Pete didn't ride on the bus. He followed after, driving a rented car. The rest of the guys said he did that a lot. I suppose that the bus could get old after a while, but for us, at least, it was a kick.

You know, it's funny how time gets distorted when you look back at things that happened many years ago. Until I did some research to nail down these few dates, I would have sworn that these three gigs happened months apart. They say that "time flies when you're having fun." That's true for sure. But time can stretch out as well when you really fill it.

This is a little out of the chronological order, but I remember that a few months after working with The Who, both groups happened to be in New York at the same time. We were staying at the Park Sheraton, as I mentioned before, and they were down a side street less than a block away at the Gorham Hotel. Anyhow, they invited us over for a small party in their suite one evening and, of course, we went over. The thing I remember most about that (remember this was the late sixties - they say that if you remember the late sixties you probably weren't there) was when Keith Moon grabbed me and said something to the effect of "Psst! C'mere, Snake!" I followed him down the hall to his room, and he pulled a steamer trunk out from under his bed. He opened it and it was absolutely filled with porno (porno wasn't nearly as ubiquitous in those days as it is today). "Me wife likes this stuff," he said. Yah, right, Keith!

About this time we shot an ABC-TV special called The Great Mating Game, sponsored by Clairol. The premise of the show was to show that singles, even those in so-called "glamor" occupations, might find it difficult to "hook up" and form a relationship, often because of the constraints and stresses placed on them by their occupation (such as being a "rock and roll star"). Jack was picked to be the "tragic figure" in our little segment. We lip-synched Can't Find The Time and I'll Stay With You in front of an audience of "extras," and then they cut to Jack sitting forlornly on the stage, all alone, after the show was over. Jack was a natural for this part, and did quite well.

I had a "bit" part as well. While Jack was sitting on the stage feeling sorry for himself, I was supposed to go up onto the stage to check my amp and, on the way, give Jack a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. I did the pat fine and climbed up onto the stage. But then I tripped on one of the cables and almost took a header. The producer said "Nice trip, Snake!" In the end they edited it out. I did seem to take a weird little hop in the edited version, though.

Anyhow, the producers had hired a bunch of girls to play the part of the audience. Most were probably in high school, just average teen-age girls. But they did have a couple that were just a bit older and real lookers, probably to provide "eye candy" in the closeups. One of them was a tall blonde, a real smasher. For some reason she started chatting me up between takes, and I talked to her (nice guy that I am), not hitting on her or anything. At the end of the second song she shouted "Get the bass player!" and I was literally mobbed and dragged off the stage. As far as I was concerned, this was just part of the show. But when we were all done, she came up to me, looked me dead in the eye, stamped her foot and said "You didn't tell me you were married!" I was sort of taken aback - all I said was "Hey! You didn't ask!" as she flounced away.

In the end I guess there were no hard feelings. She showed up at a gig in the East Village a few months later, with her boyfriend, and was perfectly friendly.

Neither we nor Alan have been able to come up with a videotape of this show, although one must exist somewhere. We'd love to get a copy, if anyone knows where one might be.

Some time in the late Spring of 1968 we had a gig at Geneseo College in (logically) Geneseo, N.Y. When we arrived, we found our equipment truck without a windshield. Seems that, as Burton and Jeffrey were bombing along on the New York Thruway the night before, without warning a pheasant had hit the windshield, shattering it. Jeffrey told me that, when it hit, he had been napping. Suddenly there was a loud crash, which scared the crap out of him (can't understand why) and there was glass everywhere. Burton calmly shook his head to get the glass out of his face and kept on driving. Jeffrey, of course, asked him what had happened and Burton, just as cool as a cucumber, replied "I think we just got hit by a large bird."

We flew into Rochester to do this gig. The plane was nearly empty, but among the people that were on board were Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker who, of course, comprised Cream. Now at this time Can't Find The Time was getting a fair amount of airplay, and it looked like we might have a hit on our hands. When we arrived in Rochester and all de-planed, a bunch of college-age girls came out onto the tarmac. Ginger Baker, who was ahead of us, threw out his chest and said "Hi, girls! I'm Ginger Baker!" They said "Who?" Ginger said "Ginger Baker! You know, from Cream!" The girls said "Oh. Well, we're here to meet Orpheus!" and left him standing there feeling, I would imagine, a bit foolish.

Shortly thereafter we went through a bit of an upheaval. Jeffrey's father had passed away, and he decided that he'd have to quit his job as roadie and go home to look after his mother. As his replacement we hired Burton's brother Bob Swan. The two made an amazing team that we called The Brothers Swan.

Burton Swan
Burton Swan
Photo: Harry Sandler
Bob Swan
Bob Swan
Photo: Janet Kaye

Congress Alley began to fragment in the Spring of 1968. My wife and I had moved out of our basement apartment in favor of a town house apartment in Northborough, and Bruce and his family moved into a large old house in Barre that had a barn. Burton moved in upstairs. We sometimes practiced in the barn, but most of the time used Bruce's living room. In any case, though, the barn gave us a much-needed place to park our truck and store our equipment.

Where Stephen had written about Congress Alley in his song of the same name, which we had recorded on our first album, Bruce and I wrote one about the dissolution called Love Over Here. This would appear on our second album, Ascending.

About this time three younng ladies from New York, Janet Kaye, Joanne Kahan and JoAnn Gagliano, co-founded a real-live Orpheus fan club. I don't know how many members they ended up getting, but it was flattering anyway. Janet recently contacted us through the Orpheus Reborn web site, and was kind enough to send us a whole bunch of pictures from "back in the day." We've posted those that are relevant to Stephen & the Snake on our Pics page. There are many more on the Orpheus Reborn site.

Sadly, Janet recently told us that JoAnn (Gagliano) McFarland passed away on April 16, 2013, after a long illness. Rest in peace, JoAnn.

Although Can't Find The Time had sold reasonably well in the Northeast, it hadn't made much of an impact in the rest of the country except for some action on the West Coast. Now, granted, it was the only single from the much-maligned Boston Sound that had made the charts at all, but it didn't set the world on fire. It behaved strangely. It went way up on the charts in certain markets, Boston / Worcester, for example, but took its sweet time hitting the charts in Providence, Springfield and Hartford. By the time it did hit the charts in those cities it had already peaked and was declining in the first markets. It repeated that behavior pretty consistently down the East Coast through Washington, DC. Sales of the album also cut significantly into the sales of the single. The upshot was that the record only made it to number 116 on the Billboard Bubbling Under the Hot 100 chart. MGM was also partially to blame; they were hedging their bets and didn't get the pipeline filled with product in a timely manner.

MGM's slow response to demand is somewhat understandable; the so-called Boston Sound had been a relative disaster in the marketplace. Albums were selling, but the media dismissed the entire campaign as being just so much hype by the record companies - so much so that, in some circles, it was considered "uncool" to like any of the music that came out of Boston. Now the record industry, in order to get product into stores, had a policy of "100% return." That is, if a record shop stocked a record and it didn't sell, they could return all of the unsold product to the record company without having to pay for it. So, while a big hit record could make a lot of money, a more moderate hit such as CFTT could actually end up losing money. Therefore, record companies (and MGM was no exception) were reluctant to flood the market with product, because they would run the risk of having to take itr all back if the record stiffed.

Had all of the sales of Can't Find The Time taken place over a period of, say, six weeks instead of several months, and had people bought the single rather than the album, we probably would have been a lot higher on the charts. Bear in mind, though, that at this time in the late 60s, there were approximately 800 sigles released every week. Obviously the odds against having a hit bordered on the astronomical.

You can see the chart history here. We'd be very interested in obtaining copies, even photos, of local charts that included Orpheus material if you happen to run across any!

We couldn't just sit around and cry about it, though, so, in the late spring of 1968, we went back into the studio to record our second album, Ascending. Alan had a different "concept" this time - he wanted to capture more of our live sound. Good idea. However, he didn't understand the bass guitar sound that I had finally crafted. He still felt that the bass should just be a supporting instrument, without much melody, little sustain, etc., so he had me stuff a rag under my strings to deaden the sustain. To compensate, I added a lot more notes than I might have otherwise, and today I feel that I overplayed on this album.

But, let's face it - you're never happy about everything, and we were our own harshest critics. We were a bit rushed to record this album and, frankly, we didn't figure out how to play a couple of the songs until we had finished. Today we feel that both Just Got Back and Love Over Here were much too fast; we have some suspicions that the recordings may have been sped up during final mixing and mastering for "commercial" reasons. We hadn't noticed that these songs (and a couple of others) were too fast when when we recorded them, but certainly did when we got our copies of the album. We slowed them down for the Trak12 reissue CD, and Alan slowed them down a bit as well for the "new" version of Ascending that he released in 2009.

Alan did a bit of experimenting in this album. There are a few little musical interludes beyween songs, for example. Harry and Jack did a brief guitar-banjo thing in one place. Bruce and I did a couple of others. Jack also played ukulele on Borneo, and I actually played ashtray on Borneo as well. There was an old pedestal ashtray in the control room - you may not remember these, but they were fairly common in the 50s and 60s. It had a large bowl-shaped base with a hollow shaft coming up about two feet. The ashtray itself was a small bowl on top of the shaft, with kind of a handle. There was a plunger on the handle. When you wanted to empty the ashtray itself you pushed down on the plunger, which opened a little door to let ashes and butts fall into the shaft to fall down and be collected in the base. There were a couple of blades which spun as you pressed down on the plunger to sweep the debris into the hole. I happened to be in the control room while Alan and Eddie were mixing the song, and I started keeping time by pushing down on the plunger. If you pushed it down and released it, it would make a percussive sound sort of like "ctshhh-t." If you pushed down the plunger and held it, the blades would make a whirring sound. Anyhow, I was sitting there with this thing going "ctshhh-t ctshhh-t ctshhh-t ct-whirr" (sort of) and Alan and Eddie got these strange looks on their faces and started looking around to see what was making this odd sound. When they spotted me at the ashtray one of them said "Oh! That's what that is!" I said something to the effect of "Sorry - I didn't mean to distract you," but Alan said "Get that thing into the studio!" So we moved it in and miked it, and it's in the mix. Not prominent, but it's there.

I have a suspicion about something. Alan always was - and still is - a highly competitive individual. We were recording Ascending when the first Fifth Dimension album, Up, Up And Away, orchestrated by Jimmy Webb, was released. If you're familiar with that album, you may remember that there were also little musical interludes between several of the tracks. I'd mentioned that I really liked that album and, as I recall, Bruce did also. Well, Alan was not one to be outdone, and I suspect that this was the reason these little interludes went into our album. Kind of doubt that Alan would admit it, though.

Right about this time we started to find out that the "gigging" thing wasn't all the it was cracked up to be. We had a week-long gig booked at some club in Florida right in the middle of recording, and sent the truck with our amps on ahead. We were literally on our way to the airport when a call came in on the limo's very expensive car phone that we shouldn't come - Burton and Bob had arrived to find that the place had closed. So, not only were we out any money that we would have made through performing, we were also out the expense money of sending the truck down south.

We also started to get booked at debutante coming-out parties. Many of these were held at the El Patio Beach Club in Lido Beach, Long Island. The place is still there, but I understand it's now called The Sands. Anyhow, it seemd like every time we played there we'd get stiffed. The people who had hired us would stop payment on their check, claiming a violation of the contract. We were meticulous about honoring the contracts, but sometimes the people that had hired us would have us start late, for example, which would necessitate cutting our set short because the place was closing down. The AFofM (musician's union) was no help, either. It got to the point where I'd bring a rider with me which we could attach to the contract to change the conditions. If there were any changes, we wouldn't go on until the rider was signed. This helped ... some. Of course the clients didn't like it, because they said that we were insinuating that they might stiff us. Well, doh!

Now, not all of these "deb parties" were bummers. We did several in Darien, Connecticut, which were amazingly extravagant and elegant, and they treated us like royalty. Somehow I suspect that those folks really were wealthy, and that some of those on Long Island were perhaps less so but felt that they had to keep up with appearances.

That summer we did a TV special for WABC's Bruce Morrow - "Cousin Brucie." He was a radio powerhouse in those days; he really owned the 7 to 9 PM time slot in New York. If he wanted you to be on one of his specials, best you did so.

The show was videotaped at the Nevele Hotel, a resort in Ellenville, New York (part of what we used to call the "rubber chicken" circuit, famous for booking acts like Henny Youngman). We had a gig somewhere near Worcester that night, so the only way that we could both do the show and the gig was to rent a plane out of Worcester. We flew into a small airport in the area in a Piper Navajo. This was a really small airfield, used mostly by glider enthusiasts.

We got a ride over to the hotel and, as is often the case for things like this, we spent hours hanging around waiting for our turn before the cameras. I remember spending a fair amount of time chatting with an up-and-coming and delightful young lady named Melanie Safka (Brand New Key; Look What They've Done To My Song, Ma; Lay Down (Candles In The Rain). There were a lot of acts hanging around waiting, and when it was your turn they'd call you over the PA. One of these acts was the Buckinghams (Kind Of A Drag, Don't You Care, Susan, etc.). The hotel's PA announcer was obviously clueless, as she called for "Mr. and Mrs. Buckingham" to report to the staging area for shooting.

I guess you had to be there.

Well, we finally got to lip-synch Can't Find The Time at about three in the afternoon, outdoors with the cords from our instruments apparently plugged into a tree. Time was getting short, so we had to beat it out of there. Plus, there were thunderheads rolling in. So we scouted about and found our pilot, who had spent the last several hours at the hotel bar getting snockered. We half-carried him to the cab and beat it to the airport. We then poured him into the cockpit and boarded ourselves, just as the heavens opened and the wind began to howl. As we taxied down the runway we asked him if he thought we'd be able to get out and he slurred "Don' worry 'bout a t'ing!" VROOM! And we were off.

Obviously we made it, and got to our gig. Good thing that guy could fly, because at that time he sure couldn't walk!

People often ask if we played at Woostock. Briefly, no. Actually we had a gig that Saturday in Greenwood Lake, NY, not far from the Woodstock site in Bethel. Bruce, Harry and I drove out together; Bruce had heard a little bit about this Woodstock thing and was kind of bummed that he wasn't able to go, but we didn't know much else about it.

I remember that the traffic was God-awful, but we made it. Now, Greenwood Lake is a resort town, part of the so-called "borscht belt." We rode into town and the first thing we saw was a club with a sixty-foot-high sign trumpeting "TONIGHT! THE MUSIC EXPLOSION! TOPLESS A GO-GO!" We got a real chuckle out of that. We'd done a TV show or something with the Music Explosion and were acquainted with the guys in the band, and we were laughing about those "poor bastards" that had to play in a topless a go-go joint.

Then we drove around a bend to our venue, and there it was - sixty feet high - "TONIGHT! ORPHEUS! TOPLESS A GO-GO!" Talk about instant karma. I think that a grand total of twenty-seven people showed up, and that might have included the staff. After we did our first set the owner came up to us and said that he was losing his shirt, would we mind if we kept the 50% deposit he'd already sent in to Premier Talent and called it a night? He said he'd throw in a bottle of Scotch to sweeten the deal. I think Jack took that. So, we packed it in and went home.

Interestingly, this night became pretty weird in Greenwood Lake. Seems that the local gendarmerie made a practice of busting all the kids that would show up for concerts, fining them for pot possession (or whatever). Quite a source of income! But that weekend hardly anyone showed up - they were all at Woodstock - so the cops went around from club to club busting the bands. The Music Explosion got busted, as did several others. They went through our truck and rented car but, fortunately, we were clean. We hadn't thought it was that fortunate on the drive out, but at the end of the day it was a good thing.

(Stephen): Well, I went to Woodstock, but never made it to Woodstock. I was friends with Tim Hardin, who was supposed to play on Friday. I went to his house, we got messed up on meth, and passed out on his roof. The folks from the festival came looking for him, but they never found us. They even sent a helicopter, but the pilot never thought to look on Tim's roof. He had to do his set the next day, but I went home. So, I went to Woodstock but never made it to Woodstock.

(Snake): Come to find out, our original Roadie, Jeffrey Herdman, did get to Woodstock. When we got together in 2005 at the Scituate Heritage Days Festival for the first time in 35 years or so, he told me an interesting story. Seems that he'd been up in Canada and, while driving home on the New York Thruway, he picked up a hitchhiker. This would have been Tuesday or Wednesday, before the Festival. Anyhow, this fellow told him that he was going to a big music festival in Woodstock. It wasn't far out of Jeffrey's way, so he drove him to the festival grounds. While there, he got out of his car to find a bathroom and somebody grabbed him and said "Hey! Can you swing a hammer?" Jeffrey, of course, said yes, and he was offered a temporary job building the stage. "Can't pay you, but we'll feed you and give you a place to crash, all the drugs you can eat, and you can watch the show." Well, Jeffrey did it, so he not only got to Woodstock, he was a real part of it. We all envy him!