Alex Shackelford Interview
Alex Shackelford fronting The Deepest Blue
|In this exclusive interview for Pulsating Dream Alex (Earl) Shackelford talks about how he fell in with Chris Darrow and came to write "I Found Out" & other songs for the album "A Beacon from Mars."
Alex's immortality in the annals of 60's Garage Band Music is assured by the single "Pretty Little Thing" b/w "Somebody's Girl" his band The Deepest Blue recorded in 1966. Much anthologized, the single has just been reissued in a picture sleeve by Dionysus Records.
PD: When did your involvement with Kaleidoscope begin?
I'd known Chris Darrow for a couple of years, having met him at The Forum Club in Montclair CA. He had his band The Floggs, and I had my band The Deepest Blue. We were playing in the same venue one night when we got acquainted. That was sometime in 1965.
(ed. - Chris also recalls meeting Alex at The Forum Club, but remembers seeing Alex before that: "I first saw Earl on the first day of the Watts Riots at Hilltop, a golf course in Pomona overlooking the Freeway, during a Battle of the Bands deal. That's where I remember seeing him for the first time.")
The Forum Club was a large square building that had been a restaurant prior to being transformed (using fake Roman columns on the facade) into a nightclub. It was one of many places in the area that catered to the local band scene. It was dark and "Vegas lounge" in atmosphere and I'm sure they sold liquor there as did The Sugar Shack in Pomona and other bars and clubs operating illegally (underage entertainment) in the Pomona Valley( owned and operated by some Italian guys probably). I don't recall much about The Floggs other than the night we gigged with them. They were different than most bands I'd heard up until then. A few years older than us and more experienced, doing a wide variety of cover songs and original material. I think the night we played with them it was a " Battle Of The Bands." The local club promoters liked to use this platform because it allowed them to book a lot of bands (sometimes running several days) then paying the winner some small prize money.
We were covering The Rolling Stones, Animals, Them, and a lot of obscure album cuts from a number of mostly English bands, although we did some electric folk as it started to reclaim some of the American airwaves back from the Brits i.e. Byrds, Turtles, who were doing Bob Dylan songs. Not unlike a lot of groups in the suburbs those days we played what we liked and what our fans wanted to dance to, and oh...whatever attracted "the girls."
PD: The Deepest Blue left behind one recorded legacy, the single "Pretty Little Thing," which Greg Shaw singled out for praise when it appeared on the compilation "Ya Gotta Have...Moxie, Volume 1." Who discovered you, and under what circumstances was the single recorded?
We were rehearsing a lot in the drummer's garage because his folks were our greatest supporters. They had some LA connections and that led to an introduction to one of their friends Vic Gargano and his partner, who were looking for a group to record. I believe they were Hollywood "bit part" actors looking to break into the record business.
Up to that point we hadn't attempted any original material. We were having a lot of fun doing what we were doing, covering what was hugely popular. As soon as a Stones album was released we would set to work learning every cut. So, when it was proposed to us to do our own record, great excitement and confusion made its way into our daily lives. What would we record? Whose song? Was the name of our band right? Actually that was the point we changed our identity to The Deepest Blue. Up until then we were known as The Doves. This also confused a lot of our fans for a while. But you gotta do what you gotta do when you're headed for the "big time" right? I mean, we were going to be famous now so we needed a famous-sounding name. A lot of heated debate took place. Being a Dove might have been right had we stayed together through the rest of the 60's and changed our inclinations towards political rock, but that was not to be.
So what songs would we record? The guitar player (Russ Johnson)and myself set about writing two songs. "Pretty Little Thing" b/w "Somebody's Girl." It was our first attempt ever. 45 minutes later we were ready for the recording studio.
9th Street studio downtown LA is where we recorded the two tracks in August of 1966. Richard Delvy, the drummer for the surf band The Challengers engineered the sessions as a favor to Vic Gargano. At the end of the sessions it was decided by the "big boys" both tracks needed something stronger instrumentally to glue them together and although the organ player (Ken Zabel) had nailed his part, the guitar was weak, so a session player was brought in ripping a great solo, and filling in the gaps. This was done without our knowledge and when we heard the record it caused a lot of hysteria. We never knew the session player's name but I've got a feeling he was, and maybe still is of substantial status. It's pretty wild. And that's the deep, dark, secret of The Deepest Blue. Last year a copy of the single sold on E-Bay for over four hundred dollars.
PD: Did you get any local airplay for the single? Having a single out must have given you some bragging rights on the local scene.
I'm not certain how the record company promoted the single. It may have been played a few times on the big stations in LA, which were KFWB and KRLA AM at that time, but the band promoted itself at our hometown station KASK located in Upland CA. The DJ's were pretty excited to play any local bands so they put it on their playlist for quite a number of weeks. Other than that we had it placed on the jukebox at the Discoteen Club in Covina CA where we were regulars. We were waiting to see if the momentum would pick up but it never did. I, again thought the mix wasn't up to the level it should have been to be a commercial success.
We went back into the studio to record more songs. Under the influence of the changing times, and my relationship with Chris Darrow and The Kaleidoscope who were emerging at that time I began to realize there was more to music and art than being a cover band so my attention shifted to songwriting as I dug deep to come up with something more meaningful, and take my band into new territory. We recorded most of an album which I remember very little of and was never able to gain ownership of any copies of the tapes. One acetate was made and fell into the hands of the drummer's family who had financed some of the project.
What became of The Deepest Blue?
PD: Could you relate a few memories about the Darrow circle?
Well, meeting Chris really brought a new perspective to me. His family were artists where mine were blue collar. There was always something cooking around the Darrow compound, whether it was pottery, paintings, photography, or music being churned out it was something 24/7. There were lots of people coming and going and many projects in the works.
PD: Do you recall when you first became aware of Chris' involvement with this new thing, Kaleidoscope? Did you go to any of their early shows?
It was a very short period of time that passed between our first meeting and his transition from The Floggs to Kaleidoscope. All the while my band was breaking up Chris was starting to record Side Trips, their first LP. I was hanging out at his place in Claremont, actually his family's home where a lot of the activities were centered. I used their grand piano to bang out some tunes that would be recorded for A Beacon From Mars. I saw them play one gig in Claremont at an outdoor festival right after the first LP was released I believe, but really putting times and dates into exact chronological order is a difficult job. To me they were a very exciting group. I was blown away by Solomon's vocal capabilities especially. Their array of instrumentation lit a fire in me at the time and would lead to my own experimenting in the future. Definitely a band of influence.
PD: One of the songs you banged out that appeared on Beacon from Mars was "I Found Out." As the author, were you pleased with the result?
When Chris offered me the opportunity to write some songs for Kaleidoscope I was of course thrilled. I was still involved with The Deepest Blue, and we were in the studio recording songs for our album. "I Found Out" was a result of my self-realization as a songwriter. It was coming together for me but I wasn't altogether pleased with what I was doing at the time. It seemed that I was playing "catch up" as a writer and didn't really know what direction I was going. When I delivered the songs I had no idea what would happen but in the end I was definitely pleased with the energy the band lended to them. I was never sure though that Solomon was comfortable singing my material. Chris however, championed the cause and "I Found Out" made it onto their second LP.
PD: Another two of your songs appeared on the Epic CD compilation Egyptian Candy. In fact the title of the collection is the title of one of them. Yet they appear credited to "Kaleidoscope." What's the story about that?
Actually there were three songs I wrote. "I Found Out" "Love Games", and "Egyptian Candy". The two latter songs were warehoused for twenty something years until a compilation LP was done in 1991 on a Sony International release "Egyptian Candy". Apparently no one knew who's songs they were so they credited them to the band.
PD: What kinds of musical things did you get involved with after that?
After "The Deepest Blue" disbanded I floated around Claremont and Los Angeles for a year or so. Soupy and Rick were killed in (two separate) auto accidents. I became involved with a group that was an experimental jazz/rock thing being produced by Paul Rothschild and Barry Friedman. Later I played in a group with Mayor Sam Yorty's "son". Jeez, I forget his name.That didn't last more than a day or two. I did a lot of traveling around the US and Europe, and virtually disappeared. I started playing again around 1972. That's when I wrote "Stateline", a country rock song that's been recorded three times since. The first time by Chris Darrow on his LP A Southern California Drive and again by the group Mojave, one of Darrow's projects that produced a great record. Most recently by the group Squeakin' Wheels. I teamed up with Walter Egan in 1975 and we formed a band playing in and around "The Inland Empire" When Walter signed a solo record deal, that band was no more, but I continued working with him on his various LP's over the next few years.
It was during this period in the late 70's I met James Williamson, former lead guitarist for Iggy Pop and The Stooges. James introduced himself to me at a gig I was doing with a band called The Strutters. We were playing in a club in Claremont. He was there because he was attending school at Cal Poly and living close by. The band was an eight piece including myself singing lead vocals and twin sisters Mary and Anna Alfono singing backup harmony and lead vocals on the "chick" songs. We were doing "Motown" and a lot of the sixties greatest hits stuff. James was impressed with the vocal harmonies and asked me to listen to the tracks that had already been layed down for Iggys' work in progress New Values, (James was producing) his first US release after returning from his self-exile in Berlin, Germany. Of course I was interested in making money at the time so I took the job. I spent several weeks with a copy of the tracks, most of Iggys' vocals already finished, and arranged harmony parts for practically all the tracks. In the end they used about five or six of them including the ones with Mary and Anna which are quite beautiful. The song "Angel" stands out. as well as "Endless Sea", and "Don't Look Down" which are three of my favorites. The title song Iggy sings solo on.
I didn't realize at the time of this project who in fact I was working with. Oh, I had heard of "Iggy Pop and The Stooges" but I wasn't aware of the bigger picture. It turned out to be a prestigious boost for my struggling career.
After that I left the Los Angeles area, returning occasionally for session work. I've been involved doing demos and songwriting over the years in various capacities and will continue working on a solo project. There is a reissue of The Deepest Blue single with a picture jacket and bio due out in August 2002 on Dionysus Records.
copyright 2002 Pulsating Dream