A Serialized Feature in Ten Parts:
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10
This is the first part of my serialized feature covering the post-Raiders careers of that band’s most celebrated power trio. This story originally appeared in the September 2011 issue of
Ugly Things Magazine — bk
April 30, 1967 On this Sunday evening, the popular group Paul Revere and the Raiders were scheduled to appear for the first time on the hit television program The Ed Sullivan Show. At the peak of their popularity, the Raiders were slated to perform their hit “Good Thing” from The Spirit of ’67. It was planned to be one of the final performances by the most celebrated lineup of the band: the power trio of guitarist Drake “the Kid” Levin, bassist Phil “Fang” Volk and drummer Mike “Smitty’ Smith had all given their notice to Revere, having made plans to form their own group. What could have been a high point of their time as members of the hit-making Raiders instead marked the abrupt end of a chapter. Shortly after the performance, Drake, Smitty and Phil were off to pursue their musical vision, one quite different from the band they had just left.
Drake, Phil and Smitty founded a group that would record three albums, perform a handful of concerts, and remain together barely two years. But while the music was heard by few at the time or since, during their brief time together, their band, Brotherhood, existed at the center of an exciting musical scene and created enduring music that deserved more success than it found.
Early Fame Phil Volk and Drake Levin had met more than seven years before in early 1960, when both were in ninth grade in Nampa, Idaho. New in town, Drake became friendly with Phil, rescuing him from an unpleasant encounter with some schoolyard toughs. “From that point forward,” Phil says, “we were best friends for life.”
Phil was already playing guitar. “Drake would come out and stay with me at our farm, and I would show him guitar chords. He didn’t even have his own guitar yet.” There the pair wrote a moon-june ditty “Six Stars,” their first song together. It was the birth of a collaboration that would span many years.
Soon thereafter, Drake moved with his family to Boise, thirty-five miles away. Providentially, Phil’s family relocated to Boise six months later, and the pair quickly reconnected. By 1963 they were playing together in a band called Sir Winston’s Trio, and Drake had earned a reputation as an ace guitarist.
Local bandleader/club owner Paul Revere made it his business to keep track of rising talent, and meeting them in the audience at his club Le Crazy Horse, he told them, “I saw you on TV yesterday! You guys were good.” He offered to book them at his club if they would add a drummer. They agreed, but asked if they could “borrow” Paul’s drummer in the meantime. Revere consented, and so in summer 1963 Drake Levin, Phil Volk and Mike “Smitty” Smith played together for the first time, billing themselves (with a fourth member on keyboards) as The Surfers. “But we didn’t play any surf songs,” Phil laughs. They quickly became Revere’s house band.
Soon, Revere would call Drake up to the big leagues. One night after a gig, Drake stayed behind and “auditioned all night for Paul,” as Phil remembers. A day or two later Revere appeared at the Levin home, and asked permission for the then-sixteen-year-old to join the Raiders. Revere followed Mrs. Levin into Drake’s bedroom, where they found Drake in bed asleep. “Hey kid,” Revere told him as he shook him awake, “Wake up. Come on. You’re going on the road.” Combining his guitar skills with his dancing ability — the latter developed with Phil at school dances — Drake quickly established himself as a critical component of the Raiders, both aurally and visually. Meanwhile, Phil finished high school and left for the University of Colorado.
A year and a half later – February 1965 — Phil was at college when he got a call from Drake: “Have you been playing any bass guitar?” Phil said no. “Well, start practicing bass,” Drake laughed. “I talked Paul Revere into hiring you.” Phil joined just in time for the group to explode onto the national scene, thanks to their featured status on the Dick Clark-produced daily TV show Where the Action Is. Suddenly a whole generation of youngsters got hip to the Raiders sound.
While the group had previously drawn on outside songwriters, the group’s lead singer Mark Lindsay started writing songs, including the smash hit (and garage-punk classic) “Steppin’ Out.” Drake, Phil and drummer Smitty got lead vocal spots on the January 1966 Just Like Us! LP, but their original compositions were not wanted.
That changed a bit on Midnight Ride, released three months later. Smitty’s “There’s Always Tomorrow” (co-written with Drake), Drake’s spotlight “Ballad of a Useless Man” and Phil’s solo turn “Get it On” (also a cowrite with Drake) hold their own alongside the LP’s more well-known tracks, “Kicks” and the pre-Monkees “(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone.” But more than half of the album’s cuts were Mark Lindsay songs. Both Drake and Phil were frustrated with the band’s commercial direction. “We didn’t want to do things that were teeny-bop or bubblegum anymore,” says Phil. What’s more, the musicians bristled at the suggestion – mostly from producer Terry Melcher and Lindsay – that studio musicians be enlisted on some recordings.
Leaving the Raiders Drake was drafted in 1966, and while he would still be available for recording sessions (he was in the National Guard) he was temporarily replaced on TV and onstage by Jim Valley. In an interview with Flip Magazine late in 1966, Drake said, “I’m out of the Army, not re-joining the Raiders, and will have something [new] soon.” That something new was a single on Parrot (credited to dRAKE), “On the Road to Mexico” b/w “Glory Train.” These tracks featured the deft keyboard work of Ron Collins; Drake would soon call on Ron to join him in another musical project. Clearly, according to Lynnette Stevens (his wife during the late sixties), Drake “was very talented…and couldn’t express that within the ‘box’ of the Raiders.”
Jim Valley had been in the relatively successful group Don & the Goodtimes prior to filling in for Drake. “I was promised a song,” he says. “Terry Melcher listened to my stuff and said, ‘Okay, one of those two we’ll do.’” That was not to be: while Smitty’s “Our Candidate” and a pair of Phil’s tunes (notably the top-notch “In My Community” featuring a Van Dyke Parks organ lick) were included on the November 1966 album The Spirit of ’67, Jim got no spotlight numbers. His frustration boiled over. Jim quit, and although Valley notes that “there were some personality situations between Drake and Paul,” Drake returned to the group. “I said I would [return] for awhile,” Drake told a teen magazine in ’67, “mainly as a favor to Phil.”
Yet Drake and Phil had a sense – correct, as it turned out — that musical tastes were changing, that the Raiders’ pop style would fall out of favor as heavier, more “meaningful” fare took its place. As Phil told one of the teen magazines in a ’67 interview, “We were enjoying great success and loved what we were doing…[but] a little of our old spirit was missing.” Elsewhere, Drake recalled how the decision to leave came about. “[Phil] came to me…and said, ‘I’m definitely going to do it, and you and Smitty do what you feel is right.’” Raiders manager Roger Hart recalls “that evening in Baltimore when Phil and Smitty decided to leave. It was an emotional evening, so upsetting to Paul Revere because they were [like] family.” Roger understood their reasons for leaving, but notes that doing so was “probably not the best tactical move in the world.”
In another interview (16 Magazine, September 1967), Drake recalled that “We went to Paul and explained to him how we felt and what we wanted.” With Smitty, they decided early in 1967 to leave the Raiders. Unhappy with what he saw as a mutiny, at the last moment before the Sullivan performance, Revere replaced Drake with new guitarist Freddy Weller. The veteran guitarist was left to watch the performance from the wings. The Ed Sullivan Show – an appearance that would, for most acts, serve as a high-water mark for their careers – instead signaled the end of the most popular lineup of the Raiders. In fall 1967 Where the Action Is would be cancelled.
A Slow Start and Lawsuits Songwriters Phil and Drake hoped that their new group – originally to be called “Phil, Drake and Smitty” — would allow them to create music that reflected their concerns. But the band would face some serious challenges getting off the ground. First, there was their past: most of the fans who would recognize the names Drake Levin or Phil Volk would be the sorts of youngster more likely to know them as “the Kid” or “Fang” from their days on Where the Action Is. Despite the group’s ambitious, mature-minded goals, it was the teen magazines that gave the nascent Brotherhood most of its (scant) early press. Though the Raiders had been ubiquitous within the pages of the fan magazines, when it came to the new group, “Gloria Stavers [editor in chief of 16 Magazine] gave us some token space at the back of the magazine,” Phil shrugs. “Nothing really major.” In a short interview with 16 in summer 1967, Phil explained Brotherhood’s ambitions: “Smitty, Drake and I are interested in more complicated music…we are interested in lyrics of real poetry and, perhaps, with a deeper message for today’s youth.”
Behind the scenes, things were getting complicated. Paul Revere sued his former players for breach of contract, and dealing with lawsuits from him and Columbia/CBS took their focus away from making music. Interviewed by a reporter from Teen Beat at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967, Phil hinted at the problems. “Future plans? Everything’s kind of like smoke right now…up in the air. We have things like contracts and other things going with the record label. But we should be on our way as soon as we can get in the studio. We’ll be all right.”
The truth was grimmer than Phil was letting on. “We were frozen in time because of the lawsuits,” he recalls today. “Once we left the Raiders, the shit hit the fan. We had an injunction filed against us. Our money from the last [Raiders] tour was frozen, and we didn’t have anything to live on.” The ex-Raiders were even sued by the notorious Allen Klein. “We – me, Drake and Smitty – went to Klein during that last tour to talk about us leaving the band. And instead of honoring a fiduciary relationship, he went to 16’s Gloria Stavers and told her, ‘Three guys from The Raiders — your golden boys – just came to my office; they’re getting ready to leave the group.’” Then Klein sued the trio for fees supposedly not paid.
The new group couldn’t even pursue a record deal. “Columbia Records had [each of] us under contract. And they wouldn’t release us and allow us to sign somewhere else until we were old news.” Phil suggests this was a deliberate move, done to punish the trio for leaving Revere’s group. It took over a year to sort out the legal mess. “We hired our own lawyer, a Marvin Kahn. His secretary was Lynnette, Drake’s wife at that time,” Phil says. Still, in the end, he sighs that, “to settle things, we had to give up a lot of rights.”
“I called Dick Clark because we needed help,” he says. “We were so stupid, so green, that we didn’t know what we were doing. We didn’t do things in the right sequence.” They called Clark, asking to appear on American Bandstand, but they hadn’t released an album or single yet. Clark would eventually agree to have them on, but only once a record was on the shelves. Their 1968 mimed performance of “Jump out the Window” is impossibly rare; it’s not available officially or on YouTube, and Phil has never seen a copy. He’s not even sure the clip ever actually aired.
The band ran into another former associate, Raiders manager Roger Hart. He had driven past the group when their car was broken down and offered them a lift. During their time in the car, Phil and Roger talked nonstop; Hart apologized for all the legal wrangling, insisting that he had “no control over what Paul’s lawyers [were] doing.” To this day Roger and his wife Beverly remain close friends with Phil and his wife, the former Tina Mason (singer and Raiders co-star on Where the Action Is).