Feature: Paul Revere & the Raiders (part 1)

In connection with the 2010 Collectors’ Choice Music release of the 3CD compilation The Complete Columbia Singles [review here], I arranged a series of extensive, in-depth interviews with former members of 60s hitmakers Paul Revere and the Raiders. I was fortunate to gain insights from vocalist Mark Lindsay; bassist Phil “Fang” Volk; guitarists Jim “Harpo” Valley and Keith Allison; and Raiders manager Roger Hart. In a modest tribute to Raiders guitarist Drake Levin – he passed away on July 4, 2009 – I’d like to present this five-part Raiders feature. — bk

“In a little town in Idaho, way back in ’61…” So began the lyrics to the wryly autobiographical 1967 b-side “The Legend of Paul Revere.” The song tells the story of how keyboardist-leader Paul Revere (his birth certificate reads Paul Revere Dick) found vocalist/sax player Mark Lindsay and recruited him into his group. Revere’s group got its start a few years earlier, and Mark Lindsay actually joined in 1960. But unlike “sixty-one,” that year doesn’t rhyme with “fun.” And ultimately, fun was the raison d’être for this group from the Pacific Northwest. Fun, delivered with kick-ass energy, and a bit of danger. As Revere told Ed Osborne (producer of the 2010 Raiders compilation The Complete Columbia Singles), “My band was bad. We had long-ass greasy hair and I wanted parents to say, ‘My daughter’s not going out with that guy.’”

An early single, “Like, Long Hair,” charted, but whatever momentum that instrumental cut might have afforded the band stalled when Revere was drafted for military service. Revere claimed conscientious objector status and was instead assigned to a job as a cook in a mental institution.

Northwest Nights
When Revere’s service was up, he rejoined the band, now based in Oregon. Word of the group’s lively stage show caught the attention of Portland KISN-AM disc jockey Roger Hart. Hart recalls, “I was pretty much the Pied Piper of the town, doing the teen dances at the armories, skating rinks, anywhere we could find a floor to dance on. We started having live groups; we were inspired by the Wailers, out of Tacoma, Washington. My bank teller told me about Paul Revere and the Raiders, and I hired them to do a teen dance.” Hart observes that though they were young, the group was already “mature; they had a little experience.” He soon became the group’s manager, and the “first order of business was to go into the studio and record a song that was driving the kids to the dance floor.”

The group released a version of that song — Richard Berry’s “Louie, Louie” – recorded within days of, and at the same studio as, the version by another regional group, the Kingsmen. The latter group, with access to better distribution than the self-released Raiders version, got the hit. By 1963 the Raiders’ lineup included Mike “Smitty” Smith on drums, and Drake Levin on guitar. During this period the group’s raw and largely R&B-flavored set list consisted mostly of covers. The Raiders’ reputation grew on the strength of their raucous, high-energy live performances.

Mark Lindsay says that onstage, the Raiders had been “wearing collarless blazers, like any number of groups, quite frankly. Paul Revere and I were walking in downtown Portland one day, to pick up our dry cleaning. We happened to pass a costume shop, and in the window was a mannequin dressed in a three-cornered hat, Revolutionary coat and tights. I turned to Paul and said, ‘You know, that’s the way Paul Revere and the Raiders should dress!’” They rented the costumes and wore them for the second act of that evening’s show at the Lake Oswego Armory. It was a one-night rental, “just for a gag,” Lindsay says. But once onstage, “the whole tenor of the band changed. We were always crazy, but we became…insane.” The next time they played in Lake Oswego, sans costume, “the kids crowded around us and asked, ‘where are the outfits?’” From that point until the late sixties, the band always performed in costume.

Jim Valley – then of the Viceroys — recalls first hearing of the group. “In ’64 we played in a place in seaside Oregon. We were supposed to have eight hundred kids, and instead we had eighty. And we wondered what had happened, because our record ‘Granny’s Pad’ was a big hit down there. Someone told us, ‘there’s this group out of Portland; they’re called Paul Revere and the Raiders. They wear three-cornered hats, they’re wild and crazy, and the kids love ’em.’ They had a thousand kids at the club up the street.”

Asked if the band ever worried that Revolutionary garb would keep them from being taken seriously, Lindsay says that in those pre-hit days, “our main stock in trade was our live shows. Whatever worked in a live show is what we wanted to do.” He does note that “I don’t think the Raiders will ever be voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, because people don’t take the music seriously. They forget that we had some pretty good rock and roll records.”

In Part Two we’ll take a look at the group’s move to Los Angeles for their big break on television and record.

Follow “the_musoscribe” on Twitter and get notified
when new features, reviews and essays are published.