Feature: Paul Revere & the Raiders (part 5)

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 the conclusion of this five-part Raiders feature. — bk

The Great Lost Raiders Album?
Asked about the existence of any “lost” Raiders recordings, the various members do recall a few unheard gems. Jim Valley raves about the 1967 sessions for an unreleased Barry MannCynthia Weil cut called “Long Way to Go.” Featuring electric violin and oud, the song would have “taken the Raiders to a different realm,” Valley believes. “It wasn’t a teenybopper song.” He says that Mark Lindsay‘s inability to hit some of the notes doomed the song, which was never completed.

Valley also recalls the band going into Armand Steiner Studios between touring dates. There they would record cover songs (“Stand by Me,” “Bad Boy,” etc.) for airing on Where the Action Is. The band would be shown lip-synching to the tunes, but the songs themselves were essentially recorded live in the studio. Those tracks were just the band — absolutely no studio musicians — and featured Paul Revere in a more prominent musical role than he enjoyed on the group’s officially recorded output.

Lindsay says that in the earliest (1958-1961) version of the group back in Idaho, “one of the guitar players had a Wollensak recorder. And there are some live tapes of that group. Mostly covers, and a lot of Ventures, since we had two guitarists in the band.”

“Somewhere in this world,” Lindsay adds, “there’s an eight-track recording of a live show we did in Hawaii. This would have been about 1968 or 1969. I don’t know where the tapes are.” Neither Lindsay nor anyone else associated with the group knows of any live recordings of the ’66-67 era group.

In his personal collection, Roger Hart has an unreleased recording or two. “I have a complete set from the Division Street Corral in Portland, from May 1965. One of our early fans recorded us that night. It’s a muddy recording of everything from me introducing the group right through to ‘Oo Poo Pa Doo.’ I’ve never listened to it all the way through,” he admits. “I never felt the need, mostly because I’ve heard it all before.”

The Raiders Legacy
Looking back, the heavy exposure that Paul Revere and the Raiders enjoyed — especially at the height of their popularity in 1965-1967 – was a double-edged sword. While it’s true that the group holds the record for most television performances of any group in the 1960s – more than 750, by Phil Volk’s count – that exposure, coupled with their costumes and zany onscreen image, may have worked against the band’s long-term credibility. But beginning with the 1998 expanded release of the various-artists Nuggets box set, modern listeners have rediscovered the Raiders’ music alongside fellow rockers such as the Sonics and Wailers, and are drawing musical connections with those harder-edged strains of music. “When you take away the pictures,” notes Hart, “what you’re left with is a tough, Northwest-style rock band that managed to make it, to get out of the north woods and take over the country.”

This is a contrast to the context of mid-60s AM radio, when a Raiders cut might be sandwiched between singles from, say, the Lemon Pipers and the 1910 Fruitgum Company. The group has won modern-day praise from David Letterman’s bandleader, Paul Shaffer, who often refers to the group as “the best show group ever.” Greg Prevost – leader of garage rockers the Chesterfield Kings – insists that “the Raiders are one of the most important groups to emerge in the U.S. Their albums and singles — both in content and production — are in the same league with the ‘Top 5’ (Stones, Beatles, Who, Kinks, Byrds).” And the new 3CD set collecting all the group’s Columbia singles – most in punchy monaural mixes – is a fitting “Exhibit A” to support Prevost’s assertion.

Dick Clark Productions – creator and owner of Where the Action Is and many other programs – has never put together a Raiders video retrospective, and none of the WTAI or Happening episodes has ever been released on video. In fact most of the episodes (with the exception of a high-quality dub of the unaired pilot) exist only as grainy kinescopes, so future release remains unlikely.

In the end, that fact might aid in critical re-evaluation of Paul Revere and the Raiders. Absent the visual shtick, modern-day listeners are instead left with the music. And while the onscreen image of the group was almost always about comedy, the music rarely was. Hard-rocking hit singles like “Steppin’ Out,” “Kicks,” “Hungry,” “Good Thing” and many others demonstrate a no-nonsense rocking combo that produced an era’s worth of finely wrought, hook-filled pop singles. Paul Revere and the Raiders combined the exuberance and fun of youth with a bit of the abandon and attitude of wild rock and roll.

Reflecting on the group’s legacy, Mark Lindsay says, “I’d rather people remember us as a kick-ass rock and roll band than as humorous, because there wasn’t a lot of slapstick onstage. That came with TV.” Keith Allison agrees, adding that the Raiders “don’t always get credit for the quality of the records.” Jim Valley expresses the pleasure he gets from fans approaching him, saying things like, “You made us feel good. You were the reason we came home after school to watch Where the Action Is.” Phil Volk sums it up. “First and foremost we were musicians. That’s very apparent if you listen to some of the b-sides. Those are us playing spontaneously from our gut, from our soul. We played with taste, with soul, with chops. We were the real deal.”

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