Tuesday

HERMAN'S HERMITS/KARL GREEN INTERVIEW



THE LONG ROAD  BACK: Throughout the late 1970s, Herman's Hermits were the subject of no small amount of accolades in Blitz Magazine. Arguably one of the greatest live bands in the world, Herman's Hermits' 1978 Heart Get Ready For Love single for Roulette Records was honored by Blitz as the Best Single of the 1970s. Yet despite the accolades, band front man, bassist and resident visionary Karl Green walked away from it all in March 1980, in a move that stunned family and friends alike. In the most candid interview of his career, Green discusses with Blitz Magazine Editor/Publisher Michael McDowell the arduous journey that his life has taken since making that monumental decision, as well his triumphant comeback with his most recent Global Recording Artists album, The Long Road Back (Click on above image to enlarge).

THE LONG ROAD BACK:
THE TRIUMPHANT RETURN OF
HERMAN'S HERMITS
BASSIST AND CO-FOUNDER
KARL GREEN
By Michael McDowell

What Makes A Man Wander?


The late, great country rock pioneer James Hugh "Sonny James" Loden and his quartet of vocal virtuosos, the Southern Gentlemen asked that question in their 1965 Behind The Tear album for Capitol, and again in a most dramatic fashion in the 1966 motion picture, Las Vegas Hillbillys. Therein, James and his group alluded to the perennial lure of action and adventure (using the railroad as a metaphor) as a temptation to stray from the stability of family life.

But in the case of composer, bassist, vocalist and Salford, Manchester native Karl Anthony Green, the scenario articulated in James' aforementioned masterpiece played itself out in reverse. As co-founder of the legendary British Invasion quartet Herman's Hermits, Green enjoyed a level of acclaim and support with few parallels. Yet despite the accolades, he eventually walked away from it all for the sake of his family.

Such an unlikely move was not a hasty decision, either. Green had originally served as the band's lead guitarist upon its inception in 1963. Then known as the Heartbeats, the group eventually joined forces with key members of another area band that also took its name from an established American group, the Wailers. With the Wailers' extraordinarily gifted lead guitarist (and one time civil engineering student) Derek "Lek" Leckenby moving into the lead guitarist position, Green then assumed the role of bassist, replacing outgoing Heartbeats bassist Alan Wrigley.

By the time Herman's Hermits released their debut MGM label single in 1964 (a sublime and masterful cover of Cookies alumnus Earl-Jean McCrea's Colpix label monster classic, I'm Into Something Good), the formidable instrumental skills of Green, Leckenby, Hopwood and drummer Jan Barry Whitwam (also a veteran of the Wailers, who succeeded Heartbeats drummer Steve Titterington in that role) were becoming increasingly apparent. The band likewise proved themselves to be most capable as composers, with such landmark tracks as Don't Try To Hurt Me, Tell Me Baby, I Know Why, For LoveBusy Line, Moonshine Man, I Call Out Her Name and the no nonsense rocker My Reservation's Been Confirmed providing career highlights throughout their tenure with MGM.

In turn, their richly diverse capabilities in a variety of disciplines were further highlighted via starring roles in such acclaimed motion pictures as When The Boys Meet The Girls, Hold On and Mrs. Brown You've Got A Lovely Daughter. Band members concurrently added to their individual and collective curriculum vitae handsomely via session work for such esteemed colleagues as folk rock visionary Donovan Leitch (who returned the favor by composing their 1967 Museum single) and renowned vocalist Marie McDonald McLaughlin "Lulu" Lawrie, with Green providing backing vocals on Lulu's I'm A Tiger single. They also tried their hand most admirably at choreography in a Broadway production number during a Command Performance for the Queen Mother in 1970.

Such persistence ultimately began to bear fruit exponentially by the mid-1970s, when bassist Green at last moved into the inevitable role of front man/lead vocalist for the band. Herman's Hermits had undergone a series of key personnel changes in the early part of that decade, with original rhythm guitarist Keith Hopwood leaving in 1972 to pursue a highly successful career in studio work. Lead vocalist Peter Cowap had also succeeded Peter Blair Denis Bernard Noone in that capacity when Noone departed for a solo career in 1971. Cowap was an integral part of the band's groundbreaking country rock album, Whale Of A Tale, and contributed significantly to its creation. However, Cowap also left the band in 1972, with future Gospel rocker John Gaughan filling the front man role until 1975. The John Gaughan version of Herman's Hermits managed to cut one single, You Gotta Love Me Baby / Motorway City, released on CBS in September 1973.

But by 1975, the line up of Herman's Hermits had at last stabilized to the point where their considerable acumen as musicians was about to reach fruition. In addition to Green's monumental contributions in the front man role, guitarist Leckenby and drummer Whitwam likewise proved themselves to be second to none in their respective capacities. And with Gaughan out of the picture, Herman's Hermits solidified their formidable line up by bringing on board the great Frank Renshaw as rhythm guitarist and most capable co-lead vocalist.

As co-founder of the much admired and influential Toggery Five (whose larger than life 1965 Andrew Loog Oldham and Keith Richards-penned I'd Much Rather Be With The Boys single for Parlophone remains one of the most perfect 45s ever made), Renshaw was an ideal fit for the role vacated by Hopwood. For a season, he had also served as a member of the great Glyn Geoffrey "Wayne Fontana" Ellis' Mindbenders, who toured alongside Herman's Hermits, the Searchers and Gerry and the Pacemakers in 1973.

Not surprisingly, the ongoing acclaim for both their earliest MGM recordings and their early 1970s work for RCA Victor was enough to sustain the momentum for the Green, Leckenby, Renshaw and Whitwam version of Herman's Hermits. The band signed with the late Larry Uttal's Private Stock label in 1975, and released the highly promising Ginny Go Softly single for the label that year.

The band showcased Ginny Go Softly via television appearances, and seemed poised for a great run with the label. Private Stock at the time also provided a recording home for such veteran giants as Brian Hyland, Tom Paxton, Frankie Valli, Brownsville Station, Cheryl "Samantha Sang" Gray and Rupert Holmes, as well as such up and coming notables as Blondie, Starbuck, Earle "The Mighty Pope" Heedram and Cyndi Greco.

However, Private Stock's momentum proved to be short lived. The label ceased operations in 1978 when Uttal (who had previously headed the Amy, Mala and Bell family of labels) relocated to Europe.

The more astute artists on the Private Stock roster saw the proverbial writing on the wall, and sought refuge elsewhere, including Herman's Hermits. By 1976, the band had signed with Buddah Records, and that year released one of the finest outings of their career with the utterly stupendous (I'm In A) Lonely Situation / Blonde Haired Blue Eyed Boy single. With masterful lead vocals on both hard rocking sides from Green, that single eventually earned a spot in the top ten among Blitz Magazine's pick for Best Singles Of The 1970s. The group more than returned to form for the label in 1977 with a sublime cover of Leo Sayer's Train, coupled with a spirited remake of the original Ride On The Water (previously a part of their Whale Of A Tale album). During that peak creative period, Green, Leckenby, Renshaw and Whitwam also managed to re-record twenty of the band's best loved MGM era tracks with Green as lead vocalist, including Something's Happening, Can't You Hear My Heartbeat, No Milk Today and Don't Go Out Into The Rain.

Around that same time, Blitz Magazine was immeasurably blessed to have established a relationship with Herman's Hermits that has continued unabated to the present day. Blitz first witnessed the Green, Leckenby, Renshaw and Whitwam version of the band in concert in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1976, playing to a capacity crowd and captivating those in attendance with their considerable technical acumen and highly charismatic stage presence. By early 1978, Blitz published in issue number twenty-five the first of many interviews with the band, and featured them regularly in almost every succeeding issue.

The timing for such a joining of forces between musician and sympathetic journalist could not have been more perfect. For much of the late 1970s, Herman's Hermits had been working with a New York-based manager, the late Raymond Vincent "Ray" Reneri. In 1978, they signed a one-off singles deal with the late Morris Levy's legendary Roulette Records. Fully aware of the tremendous impact that Herman's Hermits had on the visionaries of the burgeoning, so-called punk and new wave movement, the band pulled out all of the stops and poured their collective heart and soul into their lone Roulette release, which arguably became the pinnacle of their recorded legacy: Heart Get Ready For Love.

With a sublime lead vocal from Green and a masterful, soaring lead guitar solo from Leckenby, Heart Get Ready For Love was a love at first listen track for virtually all who had the pleasure and privilege to hear it. To that effect, that Roulette 45 became Blitz Magazine's pick for Best Single of 1978. And in 1980, Heart Get Ready For Love was once again lauded by Blitz Magazine as the Best Single of the 1970s. The flip side also featured the hard rocking group composition, Truck Stop Momma, with superb vocal gymnastics from Renshaw in that most engaging autobiographical account of the band's life on the road.

As the 1970s drew to a close, Herman's Hermits continued to tour to ever increasing accolades and unwavering support from Blitz Magazine. However, although his considerable charisma, quick wit, inventive bass work and world class lead vocals made him a solid contender for the best front man in rock and roll (with the group most assuredly following suit as the best live band on the planet), Green found himself increasingly distracted by personal concerns that began to take their toll. Sadly, it all came to a head in March 1980, as Green stunned friends and followers alike when he announced his retirement from the band.

Despite the enormity of the loss within their ranks, Herman's Hermits soldiered on bravely. Recruiting Dave Barrow as bassist, and with Frank Renshaw taking over the front man role, the group continued to pursue their relentless touring schedule. In 1981, they returned to the studio to cut a cover of the Cascades' signature single, Rhythm Of The Rain, and worked diligently on the promising, percussion-driven Friday Night's For Dancing.

That year, they also headlined at Knott's Berry Farm in Orange County, California, sharing the bill with beloved and legendary pioneering rocker Rick Nelson. Blitz Magazine was blessed to have spent that entire weekend with the band, and joined Derek Leckenby in taking in one of Nelson's live sets inbetween Herman's Hermits' own performances. Blitz Magazine also oversaw the recording of Herman's Hermits' live performances that weekend, which yielded the band's highly acclaimed (and definitive) rendition of Merle Haggard's Honky Tonk Night Time Man.

Despite the band's ongoing forward momentum, the personnel changes continued. Even though he had made a considerable mark on Herman's Hermits' legacy, Renshaw nonetheless also left the band in 1982. Leckenby and Whitwam persevered with a frequently changing lineup throughout the remainder of the 1980s, and toured extensively with the Monkees toward decade's end.

However, tragedy struck on 04 June 1994, when lead guitarist Leckenby lost his long battle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Despite his illness, Leckenby had bravely continued on with the band's relentless touring schedule, playing his final show seated in a chair (and assisted as needed by long time colleague and dear friend Wayne Fontana, among others), just days before his passing.

With his death at age fifty-one, the world of music lost one of its greatest and most beloved heroes. A virtuoso guitarist with few peers, Leckenby was also a pillar of integrity in an industry where such virtues are often in short supply. The consummate rock and roll journeyman and a world class gentleman, Leckenby was ultimately saluted as Person Of The Century by Blitz Magazine in the Blitz Awards for the 20th Century, which was published in 2001. In turn, Leckenby's daughter Kara subsequently made her mark in the 1990s as co-founder of the ambitious and acclaimed band, Red Vinyl Fur. A dear friend to all who knew him, Leckenby is greatly, greatly missed. Drummer Whitwam continues to tour regularly as Herman's Hermits with an all new line up.

Meanwhile, Green used his new found retirement to address some of his ongoing family concerns. He also started his own home improvement business, and eventually began to try his hand at music again as a member of the promising band, Dave's Not Here, as well as serving as an engineer for various live and studio projects.

But as the following exchange with Blitz Magazine underscores, Green's protracted sabbatical from the spotlight was not one without its share of challenges. While some of his more pressing concerns were addressed and resolved, other concerns began to manifest that took their toll in a most dramatic way. In the early stages of Green's retirement, Blitz Magazine made plans to meet with him in the UK to discuss any possible future musical projects. However, three days prior to the scheduled journey, Laker Airways declared bankruptcy, which resulted in the immediate cancellation of all of their flights in the process.

Despite a one-off reunion of the surviving members of the MGM era line up in the 1990s, it was beginning to look like the ongoing role of Karl Green would be a behind the scenes one. To that effect, he persevered as a much in demand sound engineer into the early years of the twenty-first century.

However, after more than three decades, the prayers of the faithful were answered at last.

In 2013, the Illinois-based promoter, Conor Mahoney (who also works with first generation garage rock legends, the Shadows Of Knight) contacted Green via Facebook to inquire of the possibility of another reunion of Herman's Hermits surviving MGM-era line up. Although that project regrettably has not yet come to pass, Mahoney nonetheless endeavored to sustain the momentum by inviting Green to return to the United States in July 2014 for a series of acclaimed solo live performances. He introduced Green to guitarist Mike Bruccoleri (who ironically had previously worked with Peter Noone), as well as drummer Gina Knight.

In due course, Green, Bruccoleri and Knight formed the Karl Green Band, who are somewhat wryly also referred to as KGB. Karl Anderson's California-based Global Recording Artists label (which owns the catalog of the legendary Accent label and in recent years has released brand new albums by such immensely respected veterans as the Strawberry Alarm Clock, Buffy Ford Stewart, the Standells, We Five, Bill Mumy and many others) expressed an interest, and in 2016 Green returned triumphantly to the spotlight with the release of the Karl Green Band's The Long Road Back.

With lead vocals shared by Green, Bruccoleri and Knight, The Long Road Back features a wealth of new and richly diverse original material, highlighted by It's Not Love, the tongue-in-cheek Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is and the straight ahead rocker, Gimme Some Love.

In the process of preparing for the recording of The Long Road Back, a minor miracle occurred. While searching through his personal archives, Green found a cassette tape of an informal recording made in a hotel room in 1976 of a new Herman's Hermits original. With Green on lead vocals, rhythm guitar and bass, as well as Derek Leckenby on lead guitar and both of them improvising percussion on the hotel room's furniture, the ambitious duo recorded a tribute to their bandmate, Frank Renshaw. Honoring him for his unique on stage choreography, Green and Leckenby titled the tribute, The Renshaw Shuffle.

"I don't remember Lek or Karl recording this", Renshaw said recently.

"I didn't know about it until Karl's CD came out. Unlike other members of the band, I did tend to sway a little. Also, I did wear moccasins a lot (as suggested in the lyrics). Maybe that's the Shuffle! Quite flattering for them to do it, though".

Indeed, The Long Road Back brings full circle the long dormant genius of one of rock and roll's most iconic visionaries. In the following interview with Blitz Magazine (conducted in early March 2017), Karl Green discusses the challenging circumstances that led to his unique variation on Sonny James' What Makes A Man Wander theme, as well as his triumphant and most welcome return to form.

BLITZ: The Karl Green, Derek Leckenby, Frank Renshaw and Barry Whitwam version of Herman's Hermits was arguably the finest live band on the planet, bar none. The band was covered regularly in Blitz Magazine, which also named the 1978 Heart Get Ready For Love single on Roulette as Best Single Of The 1970s. (I'm In A) Lonely Situation on Buddah Records also finished in the Top Ten in Blitz's decade-long awards, as well. Given all of the accolades, the impact of having begun a sabbatical from it all in the Spring of 1980 must have taken its toll emotionally, if not physically. Your thoughts?

GREEN: Leaving the band in 1980 was a momentous decision that took me a long time to come to. I had been wanting to start a family for a long time, seeing the other guys become fathers, and enjoying watching their children grow up was an enormous pleasure for me.

I had been married since 1974, and my wife had had six miscarriages in as many years. So I made the decision to leave the band, and stay at home to help her through the emotional times ahead. It had been found that the reason for the miscarriages had been due to the fact that our white blood cell count was identical, and made her body think the embryos were a foreign body, and rejected them.

The treatment for this was that she would have regular white cell infusions to enable her to get pregnant and go full term. I thought that being at home and able to help would make a difference, and it did. On the first of September 1984, my first daughter Clair was born.

As you can imagine, with all this going on, I had little time to miss being on the road. I had also set up a tiling and plumbing business to pay the bills. So I was incredibly busy 24/7. I did miss the boys, and went to see them whenever they would play within striking distance of my home in England.

BLITZ: The tragic passing of Derek Leckenby in 1994 was an immeasurable loss to those of us who knew him and/or worked with him. How well were you able to keep in touch with him during those later years?

GREEN: Lek's passing was a terrible loss. I had kept in constant touch with him, and he with me, on a regular basis since my exit from the band. He would keep me updated on anything the band were doing, and kept me aware of any deals he'd done on the band's behalf that involved me. Unlike Barry, who I never hear from at all. 

I knew about his illness, but he always played down the gravity of his condition. I went to see him when I first gave up the booze in 1990, to complete one of the twelve steps, and confront anyone who I considered I had hurt during my addiction.

It was then that I was made aware of how serious his illness was. Lek had been the brunt of a lot of my anger when I'd drink too much, and go on one of my rampages. The truth was that we were really good friends, but totally different kinds of people. He, the serious head for finances, and me the front man with the patter and eye for detail in the performance side of things. As long as we stayed out of each others domain, things worked.

I loved him dearly, but didn't realise how much until I realised I was going to lose him. The last meeting we had, as I completed one of my twelve steps, was very emotional and tearful. But I am so pleased that I made the trip up to see him that last time.

BLITZ: You also did some work in those intervening years with Dave's Not Here, as well as a bit of engineering and production for other artists. Did you feel that either venture was able to sustain your ongoing goals of creative autonomy?

GREEN: With all the commitments to work and children -- my other two daughters, Luci and Daisy were born in 1986 and 1988 respectfully -- I wasn't left with much time for anything. But I had a lot of sound equipment from the band days.

When I tried to sell it all, I was persuaded to update it and do sound rental and sound engineering for various rock bands here in London. I also got a regular gig mixing sound for most of the world music acts who played The Royal Festival Hall and Queen Elizabeth Hall, on the South Bank in London. I found this very satisfying work, as I had always been the "techie" in the band, tinkering with equipment, and overseeing sound checks to get the sound as good as possible.

I'm a firm believer that it don't matter how good a band is musically, they fail if the sound is not right. I like to build from the bottom up, get the kick drum and bass guitar sounding right and punching through, then everything else sits just right, as the sweeteners on the top. There is no rock without kick and bass, period.

Playing with Dave's Not Here was also very satisfying, and gave vent to my creative juices. But not as satisfying as the work I'm now doing; writing and producing my new album, which will hopefully be available later this year.

BLITZ: Most recently, you established a working partnership with promoter Conor Mahoney, and relocated for a season to the Midwestern United States. Do you still regard the States as a more ideal setting for your artistic vision?

GREEN: I visited the States in the summer of 2014, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of our first record,  I'm Into Something Good being released in the UK and the USA. I had been invited by Conor Mahoney to come over and play with Mike Brucolleri. A very gifted vocalist and musician, who had previously been a member of Peter Noone's Herman's Hermits. I agreed to the visit, as I wanted to say thank you to as many fans as I could for the past fifty years of an incredible life, due mostly to their buying of our records and generally supporting the band.

I was amazed to see that the band, Herman's Hermits was still so popular, and even more amazed that a lot of our records were being played on the radio regularly. I was also taken aback by the response when I guested with Mike in his band. I sang some of the old hits. Everyone knew the words and sang along with us.

I had always loved the States as a Country. I loved working there in the sixties and seventies. Now that my three daughters are grown and flown the nest, it is my intention to spend a lot more time in the States if I can. I would dearly love to make the USA my home in the future, if at all possible.

BLITZ: In 2016, you released an all new album on the Global Recording Artists label (GRA), The Long Road Back. The label has a long track record of presenting inspiring new releases by highly respected veteran artists, such as Buffy Ford Stewart, the Strawberry Alarm Clock, the Standells, We Five and Bill Mumy.

The Long Road Back is no exception. Interestingly enough, you refer to the Karl Green Band -- Karl, Gina, Brock -- as the KGB at times. Acronyms notwithstanding, could KGB also be a slight tongue in cheek reference to assuring your resolve to maintain creative autonomy in a recorded setting?

GREEN: With the Karl Green Band, I wanted to do things my way, and live or die by the results. I wrote or co-wrote all the tracks, I arranged the songs, produced and mixed the album. But the KGB part has no underlying meanings, other than it is also the name of the Russian military intelligence. A pun, nothing else.

BLITZ: Interestingly enough, the results therein almost contradict such a notion, in that you allow each member of the band the spotlight at various times throughout the project. Such altruism is particularly effective on It's Not Love. Does the democratic process in a band setting work best for you at the moment?

GREEN: Throughout my entire career, I have always performed with a band or guested in a band. I always find comfort in being in a band, with my friends all around me. Yes, when in a band, one has to be democratic to a greater degree. But, and there's always a but, someone has to take the helm and make certain decisions when the others cannot. 

I'm a firm believer in the best person for the job getting it. Even though Gina had not sung a great deal, I was convinced that the song would sound better with her singing it. She proved me right with a wonderfully sultry performance.

The tracks that Mike sang on were perfect for him, also. He was the right man for the job. 

Having said all that, I am now working on a one man show in which I play a number of Herman's Hermits songs, mixed up with songs by people I've had the pleasure of touring with, and recounting amusing and interesting stories about or antics on the road, or in the studio. Performing live on my own, with backing tracks made by me specifically for the show, is however a daunting prospect, which I am looking forward to with relish.

BLITZ: Gimme Some Love hints at the paradox of the joys of life on the road being countered by a possibly latent longing for a more stable setting. Do you still believe those two seemingly incongruous settings are feasible at this stage?

GREEN: I don't think that I could go on the road like we used to back in the day. I think it would take its toll on my health and personal life.

But I think that if I get to settle in the States and keep writing and producing albums, I could go out and promote those albums in small intimate venues now and again, and enjoy the experience. As long as I could have a happy home life with family and friends, I would be very happy.

I see so many of my old friends touring, and get the impression that they feel like they're on a treadmill, and that their home life is not what it should be. I want to work and enjoy the experience. I've always felt that way. I think music should be a passion, not a means to a financial end.

BLITZ: Despite the unlikely setting of being recorded in a hotel room, Renshaw Shuffle is a brilliant example of the sheer joy and exuberance that characterized Herman's Hermits' work in the late 1970s, as well as a nice salute to your one time colleague. Are there any other such heretofore unreleased examples of improvisation in your archives?

GREEN: Unfortunately, I don't have any more gems like The Renshaw Shuffle. It was difficult enough to retrieve that track from the damaged tape it was stored on. I think Keith may have some material. He took over as custodian and curator of the Herman's Hermits archives when Lek passed.

I stay in touch with Keith. He's a wonderful man and a great musician. In fact, The Long Road Back was mixed at his studio. His son, Daniel mastered the album there.

My next album is written and almost finished, recorded by myself and my co-writer and friend of nearly forty-five years, Tony Kemp. It will be available later this year. I hope to be back stateside in April - May for a few weeks!