Feature: Paul Revere & the Raiders (part 2)

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 PART TWO of this five-part Raiders feature. — bk

The Raiders Take Los Angeles
As one of Columbia Records’ earliest forays into rock music, the Paul Revere and the Raiders weren’t initially shown much attention or respect by label head Mitch Miller. Manager Roger Hart notes that Miller “was on the Andy WilliamsBarbra Streisand side of things; that’s where his focus was.” Yet in a move somewhat unusual for the era, one side of the Raiders’ major-label debut, Here They Come, featured the group in live performance. Produced by Bruce Johnston, Here They Come managed to capture the excitement of the Raiders’ onstage set. The second side included studio cuts that maintained that energy level, and those tracks featured new bassist Phil “Fang” Volk. By 1965 the most celebrated Raiders lineup was in place.

Volk’s entrance into the band had as much to do with his dancing prowess as his musical ability. Friends since childhood in Idaho, Volk and guitarist Drake Levin used to “tear up the dance floor,” Volk says. “So we incorporated that, to excel in the band’s showmanship. We added a lot of sophisticated choreography, while playing in the pocket.” And rather than hiring an outside choreographer, the band relied on Volk and Levin to develop all of their patented moves.

The group migrated to Los Angeles and began a long and successful association with impresario Dick Clark. Clark launched a new daily TV program called Where the Action Is, and the Raiders were the “house band” for the show. For nearly two years the group would appear on television every weekday, lip-synching and clowning around in the manner of the Beatles’ 1964 film A Hard Day’s Night. “Hollywood put the group farther than anyone intended,” notes Hart. To fans of a certain age, Paul Revere and the Raiders would provide the template of what a rock and roll band should look like, act like, and sound like.

The Raiders were considered for another TV project, but when that idea was fully developed it became The Monkees. “There was a feature that I had written and had given to ABC-TV,” Hart recalls. “It found its way to the folks that put the Monkees together. ABC wasn’t able to use my treatment – about five crazy guys – but the next thing you know, this little treatise called Madness became an ad in the Hollywood papers under the title ‘Madness – looking for actor-musicians.’” Raiders vocalist Mark Lindsay notes that “the Monkees and the Raiders and the Beatles all drew from the same well, hearkening back to Marx Brothers-style slapstick comedy.”

With Lindsay and producer Terry Melcher helming the studio, the group’s sound was pushed in what was then a more pop-rock direction. Lindsay notes that “on the Complete Columbia Singles set, you can really hear the R&B influence on the early cuts. Then you can hear Terry kind of bending us into commercialism” with tracks like the hit “Just Like Me.” Lindsay observes that “right about that period, we were rocking pretty hard,” and he notes that the song has been cited as an example of protopunk. Hart says, “We had to make major adjustments from being a really tough band – more like a Rolling Stones – to really reach out to an entire nation. And with television, obviously our focus would be the teen fans. We had no great messages other than entertaining.”

Speaking of the Rolling Stones, the Raiders shared a bill with them a number of times. In markets where the Raiders were more popular – Seattle, Vancouver, San Francisco and other cities – the Raiders were top-billed. “And this was around the time of ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,’” Volk emphasizes. “The Stones were pretty hot then, too.”

If there was a formula to the singles – many written by Lindsay and Melcher, several by outside composers – it involved a driving arrangement that often used Volk’s bass lines as what he calls “the hook of a lead instrument.” Placed forward in the mix, the bass parts often provided a strong melodic (or sometimes countermelodic) element. That musical prominence, coupled with Volk’s crowd-pleasing demeanor, made the bassist a focal point of the band. Hart recalls that by 1966, “Fang” was getting as much fan mail at 16 Magazine as fellow heart-throb Mark Lindsay.

Part Three will focus on the commercial apex of group’s career, and the subsequent splintering of the classic lineup.

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