Frank Gutch Jr: Terry Manning, A Look Back (with Pseu Braun, Bill Phillips and Max Wisley)… Plus Notes
I’m not going to blow smoke up your skirts about what a legend is Terry Manning. Manning is just a man like other men but one who has been at the right places at the right times often enough to have had legend grow around him. He is a musician, recording engineer, music producer and label owner all-in-one, and now adds photographer to the list, though that might have been there and I just missed it. He has worked with unknowns and superstars and businessmen of various character. What he has had and done is a simple matter of longevity. That’s not to say he isn’t a genius, of sorts (after all, he produced and played on one of my all-time favorite albums, Cargoe), but that he has lived long enough to make his past history in a real historical sense.
His latest project has been a photo exhibit of pictures he has taken, I assume, in and out of various recording studios featuring a plethora of big names in music and beyond. The Stax Museum hosted just last night (Saturday, March 12th) the exhibit and Manning says that he is thinking of taking it on the road. Add to that a new album and a schedule as busy as he has seen since his days with the famed Ardent Studios and you can bet we will be hearing lots more from him. Click here to see just a few of Manning’s upcoming events.
I talked with him back in 1975 when I recorded an interview with John Fry, then owner of Ardent and colleague of Manning and others. He was most forthcoming with information regarding both Ardent and Privilege, his own fledgling label of that time. Occasionally, he stops by for a comment or two on Facebook. And then there was this, an interview conducted by WFMU‘s Pseu Braun regarding the impending release of a live Cargoe album, Live In Memphis, then scheduled for release on Manning’s own Lucky Seven Records which included Cargoe’s Bill Phillips and Max Wisley.
So set your Wayback Machines for 2003, kids, because we are hitting the time tunnel to revisit a special moment in time, important to not only Braun and Manning, but to so many others who regarded Ardent Studios and Records a lost pinnacle in the history of rock music.
WFMU’s PSEU BRAUN Talks with Ardent and Lucky Seven’s Terry Manning and Cargoe’s Max Wisley & Bill Phillips
On October 10, 2003, WFMU’s Pseu Braun undertook a project which included rare interviews with three people involved in the history of one of pop music’s venerated small record labels: Ardent Records. Here is a transcription of that interview, rough because it was not in my domain to edit what was said, but important in what was said. As Terry Manning said in the interview, he is not one to give interviews nor has he over the many years he has worked in the music business. As regards Max Wisley and Bill Phillips, interview opportunities come all too rarely. The timing was such that it preceded the releases of CDs on the Lucky Seven label, Manning’s personal conduit from his studio to the streets. If you want to know more, check out the links at the bottom of this page. Thanks to WFMU’s Pseu Braun for permission to place this on the Net.
Pseu: We’re here, basically, to talk about a couple of things. And really, it was so tough to narrow down what we were going to talk about. Terry (Manning) is a producer and engineer whose career is just so huge a span, so many different genres of rock and pop. He’s had his hands on everything and I’ve had to sort of censor myself from getting into territory that wasn’t really related to the very exciting stuff that’s going on with Lucky Seven Records, Terry’s label, and also some up and coming stuff that has to do with Max (Wisley) and Bill (Phillips) and their group, Cargoe. I think that what we’re going to be doing here is introducing the listeners to Cargoe and some of the other seminal characters that were making the scene around Ardent Studios in Memphis in the very early ’70s. Most are familiar with Big Star, but they didn’t come out of nowhere. I think that once we talk to these guys, you’re going to find out a lot more about a real cohesive group of musicians, engineers and a studio called Ardent, where all this went down. So let’s just get started. Bill and Max, you guys were originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma. How did you end up in Memphis, Tennessee?
Bill: A DJ friend of ours in Tulsa, Robert W. Walker, worked at a radio station. The same radio station that broke Elvis. What was the name of that?
Bill: Yeah, well, WHBQ was right next door to a studio called Beautiful Sounds which was owned by Dan Penn. Walker being the friend that he was, we cut a little demo here in Tulsa and sent it to him in Memphis and he walked next door and played it for the guys in the studio, Dan Penn and his friends, and they asked us to come down and record. We recorded a whole album there.
Max: That’s really what got us there, absolutely. We really couldn’t have done it without Rob Walker and Jim Peters. They helped bring us to Memphis.
Pseu: So you originally cut an entire album with Dan Penn? And is the story that you re-recorded the whole thing at Ardent?
Max: Yeah, basically I think it was. I think it was basically some updated pieces and it was a different take on some of the songs. There were a few different instruments and things and of course we had Terry to pull this whole thing together for us.
Bill: I have to interject that I love Dan all to pieces and all of that, but his studio wasn’t state-of-the-art and when we got over to Ardent, which was the original Ardent on National Street, the fidelity factor increased by 200%. Working with Terry was really different. It was such a wonderful pleasure.
Pseu: Terry, how did you start out at Ardent and what was your attraction to Cargoe?
Terry: Well, first of all, Pseu, I cannot hear what Bill and Max are saying, so I can’t correct them when they’re lying, and I’m sure they are.
Pseu: Can you hear them at all?
Bill: We can’t hear him, either.
Pseu: Great. Well, this is going to be a lot of fun. We’ll figure it out in a second.
Terry: I can answer what you asked me. I was working at Ardent Studios in Memphis and had been for several years. I was already producing local groups and was engineering a lot of the product that was on Stax Records, such as the great Staple Singers’ song that you played recently, “Respect Yourself”…
Pseu: Right. A Terry Manning product.
Terry: Well, I was involved. It wasn’t exactly my product. John Fry, who was the owner of Ardent Studios, had been trying to put out… get some of the product that we’d been recording to the major labels. We would make trips to New York and make trips to Los Angeles and go to see the heads of the labels and the A&R people and take them the tapes we had done. We weren’t getting anywhere. It’s a lot like today. We just weren’t getting things accepted and released and we finally said, you know what, we’re going to have to do this ourselves. So we decided to start a new Ardent Records label. John had had a few things out— some early rockabilly things— a few years before. So we decided to have a rock-pop label called Ardent and we would just put our own groups on our own label that way. Then we knew we could get it released. And since we had a great relationship with Stax Records which was doing quite well with their R&B music, we went to them and they said, sure, we’ll take the product and we’ll distribute it. So we thought we had it all really set up well. I happened to hear— of course, we had the guys who were always hanging around our studios, such as Chris Bell, Andy Hummel, Tom Eubanks, and just a little after that, Alex Chilton. We had some great things going on there. And of course, Jody Stephens on drums. But we were looking for more than that, too. We needed more than just one or two groups we could put together from these guys. I happened to hear a local record of “Feel All Right” by Cargoe. I checked it out, found out they’d come to Memphis from Tulsa. To be honest, I thought the song was awesome, the group was awesome, the singing was great, but I didn’t think the record— perhaps every producer thinks this— but I thought that the record could be produced so much better. So we checked it out and found out that they were free to sign with Ardent, so we signed them and recorded an entire album on Cargoe, which actually became the first album released on the Ardent label.
Pseu: I was wondering. I knew that Ardent had been around earlier. At least, I’d read about ’67 and I got a little confused over those releases versus what we’re calling power pop— the pop releases. So that was explained away very nicely.
Terry: It was a slightly earlier era where John Fry was recording groups such as The Old Miss Downbeats, The Shades— a couple of very cool groups around that era, but pre-pop —or power pop is what you call it.
Pseu: At this point, Terry, I have you sort of mapped out on all kinds of different projects. What were some of the groups you were involved with engineering? How are you getting from, like, Memphis to relationships with British rock and stuff? Were you in England before at all? Before you started engineering?
Terry: Well, yes. Well… not exactly. I went to England in 1969 and just loved it… thought it was great and went back. I’ve lived there several times for certain periods. So, pre-recording of Big Star, Cargoe, Rock City, things like that, I’d been in England, yes. The other guys you mentioned… I don’t know if you mean just things around that time? I’ve done this for way too many years. A lot of the things I was doing at the time… I was engineering a lot of the stuff at Stax Records, such as the Staple Singers. I was also the co-producer along with a great friend, Al Bell, on the Staple Singer records. Such things as mixing “Dock of the Bay” with Steve Cropper when we did the Otis Redding release immediately after his death. I did a lot of engineering and mixing and played some of the parts on Booker T & the MG’s. A lot of the great things that were around Stax. Also, Al Green. I engineered, or actually mixed, a lot of his things, like “Tired of Being Alone” and “Let’s Stay Together.” All that era of things, with Willie Mitchell. And then, later, did a lot of other things. Got into pop and a lot of rock things, such as Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, Joe Cocker— year after year and down the road, until fairly recent times— Lenny Kravitz with the Five album which had “Fly Away”— and Shakira, who just had great worldwide success with her album, Laundry Service. A lot of goods in between, like Jason & the Scorchers, Joe Walsh, George Thorogood & the Destroyers— most of his product. I don’t know where to start or stop.
Pseu: That’s okay. Hey, Max and Bill, can you hear what Terry’s saying?
Max & Bill: No.
Pseu: Hey, you know what? This is a not-for-profit radio station and we’re doing the best we can. You’re gonna be so pleased when you hear this on the archives. You’re gonna be, like, wow, I didn’t know that.
Max: I’ve been listening to a little bit on the side. I’ve got you streaming in on MP3, so I can hear a little bit. It’s delayed and stuff. Terry has a rich background. Most definitely. We were so lucky to get hooked up with him. It’s really incredible. It’s kind of funny to talk about how we got to Memphis as Cargoe and to think about it. It just kind of happened, you know. We say we made a demo and sent it and Dan Penn heard it and we kind of got started and stuff, but before that, Bill and I had been in a group together since we were 15.
Pseu: So before that, you guys had known each other awhile.
Max: We were playing covers, but we started writing our own stuff. We were a real top band in Tulsa. We started writing some of our own stuff when we were 16 or 17. We wrote “Time” which was on the first Cargoe record, probably when we were 17, in Bill’s garage which his family had turned into a music room for us to work out of. We’d played quite a bit. We’d traveled around here in the Midwest and we’d done a lot of stuff, wrote some of our own stuff, so we were kind of at the edge of trying to do some of that. We were listening to the Beach Boys, the Beatles. We were way into Pet Sounds. In fact, Bill put lyrics to the instrumental song “Let’s Go Away For Awhile” that’s on Pet Sounds and we used to do that live at a teen club that we were the house band for here. So there’s a whole history on the Cargoe thing here in Tulsa before we even got to Memphis.
Pseu: I’ve heard the name, Rubbery Cargoe.
Bill: How did you find out about that?
Pseu: You know. You got to be on the Internet, guys.
Bill: Connections, huh?
Pseu: Yeah. People remember that. It’s amazing. Any great band. Before, I played Dwight Twilley and Phil Seymour and I was so pleased. I had forgotten, I guess. I’m a big fan of Dwight Twilley and Phil Seymour… and I’m like, omigod, they’re from Tulsa! You know, because there’s not a ton of musicians from Tulsa, but the ones that are are revered. And the fact that they are, again, in this pop vein… that’s always interesting to me. I kind of wanted to talk about Cargoe with the players in Memphis around that time and maybe get comments. Unfortunately, since you can’t hear me together, hopefully it won’t turn into three people talking on top of one another. But I guess, Terry, I’ll throw this one to you. Going through a copy of Rock In Memphis, which is, by the way, another new release on the Lucky Seven label… I can highly recommend this. This is a cohesive document of the Memphis scene and the Ardent players and all those people at a particular time in history, and the more I listen to it the more I can see all these influences coming in. Terry, you were saying something to the effect that everybody just wanted to be the Beatles in that scene.
Terry: That’s exactly right. The scene around Memphis at that time… Of course, everyone knows or should know about Sun Records or Stax Records and to another extent, Hi Records which was very similar to Stax in the R&B field. But the thing is, around Memphis… I don’t know if it’s really like that anymore because I haven’t lived there for a lot of years, but at the time and just previous to that, it was a truly musical place. There were a lot of great players, actually, starting with the Delta Blues and the jug band music and a sort of ethnic folk style of music even before Sun Records. Early on, down on Beale Street and other parts of Memphis, it got to be a musical place. So, by the ’60s and ’70s… of course, there was Elvis, some guy you may have heard of also, just before that… there was just a lot of great music happening.
By the ’60s and ’70s, it was such a player’s place. Not just as in Nashville, where it was known as the Nashville Cats, nor in Austin, Texas, where there were great guitar players. In Memphis, there were great every kind of players. Great keyboard players, tremendous bass players, different kinds of guitarists— not really the lead style as much as very cool chunky rhythm players. Obviously, the horn players were amazing, such as the Memphis Horns. Just such a group of people. So if you were in a band in Memphis at that time, you needed to be able to play. Maybe you weren’t the greatest musician in the world, but you knew music. You felt it. You knew how to form the notes and how to get the rhythms right. Most of the groups at that time were really good playing groups.
We had a group of people mostly hanging around Ardent. We not only were players or wanted to be players or knew music well, we were rebelling a bit against the previous Memphis sound in deciding that the new English Invasion— The Beatles, The Yardbirds, The Animals, things like that— were just so cool and we really wanted to be like that. We didn’t want to be playing “In the Midnight Hour” at a club down the street because everybody was doing that. We wanted to play “I’m a Man” by the Yardbirds, which was of course an old blues song, but we didn’t think of it that way. We wanted to play Beatles’ songs and things like that, so we all sort of, without even knowing it or thinking it, banded together and, being very musical or being in a very musical place… this sort of thing got fused together into this power pop thing. I can look back on it now, after all these years, and see that Big Star… if you look up power pop in the dictionary, their name has to be there as the definition of it. We didn’t think of it at the time. Ooooooh, we’re creating a genre or we’re doing a cool thing. We were just doing what we wanted to do. We played the kind of music that we wanted to play and, as you just said, we were all trying to be the Beatles. That’s what we were trying to do with Big Star and, in a very similar way, that’s what we were trying to do with Cargoe. There was someone who sort of sang like Lennon or someone who sort of sang like McCartney— we thought. But, really, the answer is yes.
Pseu: Max and Bill, do you want to add anything to that? I don’t know what you heard, but…
Bill: (Not having heard a word) I totally agree.
Pseu: That’s a great answer. You’re all going to hear me on this. Interestingly enough, back to the Rock in Memphis compilation, which is getting a lot of airplay on FMU and I hope that people are going to check it out. By the way, you can go to luckysevenrecords.com and pick up your own copy. Anyway, back to that cohesiveness and that like-minded musicianship. It’s a real piece of Americana in that, as Terry was saying, there was the British influence there, but oddly enough, after listening to the compilation a few times, you come back and think, you know, this whole thing and all these bands that are on this collection have made this distinctly American. Because, specifically, of the Memphis influence. And the roots of American rock, blues, stuff like that— it’s all there. And as much as you guys may be trying to be the Beatles or the Beach— well, not the Beach Boys— but the Beatles or the Yardbirds, ultimately it always returns to become this completely American sound. And I think it’s really key. When you remove Big Star a little bit and have a group like Cargoe come in, it’s very interesting because they are distinctly American. I am going to play a track right now, from the Cargoe CD. By the way, this is the Japanese CD release of Cargoe. Terry’s got something on the backburner. A live Cargoe release? When can we expect to see that, Terry?
Terry: I think we will probably release the Cargoe Live In Memphis CD, which was done in 1972… a tremendous live performance. These guys were so good as a live band. We’ll release it probably right after the first of the year. It’s really not a good thing to release much product too close to Christmas, so I think we’ll be in the best position to release it right after the first of the year.
(Pseu plays a track from Cargoe’s studio album or Rock In Memphis)
Pseu: Guys? I’m gonna try this again. Hold on a second. Slowly fading you up. Guys, you there?
Max: I’m here.
Bill: Max is here.
Pseu: Can we all hear each other? That’s great. Thank God. We’ve got our engineer here, Scott Williams. He’s just… well, he’s just brilliant.
Bill: Thank you, Scottie!
Pseu: He’s brilliant, but you know what? He’s no Terry Manning. I’m just kidding.
Terry: There really isn’t a Terry Manning.
Bill: Yeah, there really is.
Terry: He’s just a figment.
Pseu: Anyway, there may be a little feedback. I’ll try to control that, but we got you all. This is professional radio here, people.
Bill: My gosh. Sitting down here in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I was thinking that’s a pretty doggone good mix when I can sit here on the telephone and hear every single thing that was in it, because I know all the instruments, so…
Pseu: It’s pretty darn nice.
Bill: My hat is off to Terry and the work he did on that.
Pseu: Absolutely. Absolutely. And you know, it’s funny, and I say this to you, we… the secret’s out that we all talked before, but I had commented to Terry that I wasn’t sure if my ears were deceiving me or if that wasn’t a totally incredible remastering of Big Star’s “September Gurls.” I want to point out for somebody who is looking into discovering the Memphis scene that they pick up a copy of Rock In Memphis that the version of “September Gurls,” and Terry, kick me if I’m wrong here, remastered in 20 bit digital… something?
Terry: Well, yes, it’s the same recording, of course, but I remastered it in a slightly higher bit rate than was possible when it was first mastered for CD. In my opinion, and I’ve heard several other people say it does sound better.
Pseu: It does. So, if nothing else, if people are not sure what all this other stuff is going on, and they’re coming from the viewpoint of, oh yeah, I’m a Big Star fan, you’re not going to get a better recording of that particular song, in my opinion.
Terry: You’re saying that they should buy this compilation because if nothing else they get that version.
Pseu: If nothing else. But there’s so much else. And that’s what we’re going to talk about. Exactly. You know, you gotta love, like, your focal point, Terry. I could do the marketing for this.
Bill: See, you’ve been playing the Cargoe album on vinyl, right?
Pseu: That’s right. I have it right here. And there’s a very odd kind of milk stain on one of the tracks and I play it anyway. I’ve been playing this Cargoe record for years on my show, Terry, just to let you know what’s been going on. It’s all scratchy and there’s some kind of weird funk on it, but I play it anyway.
Bill: So you’ve got the CD now and that’s so much more… and people can get that also, the Japanese version, on Amazon.com, I believe.
Pseu: Yes, definitely. It’s funny. I had a listener and he probably still listens to the show. This was before we had playlists. A few years ago we weren’t really doing any kind of reporting, public kind of reporting, necessarily, to anybody other than the people who were giving us record service. I had played Cargoe and a listener who was like a filmmaker was going nuts because, apparently, he had taped a show or something and maybe I forgot to announce that it was a Cargoe song. Well, he got it on MP3 but only about five seconds and I didn’t recognize it immediately (when he played it back). He was haunted by this Cargoe song. And it was only like two years later that it finally hit me that it was you guys and I’m like, oh. I couldn’t get back in touch with him, but I think he’s a small indie filmmaker and he sort of had a cinematic vision for one of your songs.
Max: You’re saying that because you forgot, we missed out on being the title track for Terminator 2?
Pseu: Yeah. His name was Jerry Bruckheimer. So we’ve got a lot of tracks on Cargoe from Rock In Memphis. I’m definitely going to get to all of this stuff, guys, in the course of the program. Maybe not necessarily during the interview. I know it’s time-consuming, considering everything, but we will definitely be playing more Cargoe in the course of this entire program, during or after the interview, so don’t worry about that, because I’ve always been a big fan. I think Cargoe is great. In fact, I think that you guys were called “Big Star Jr.”, like after the fact. I mean, that had to have felt pretty weird.
Bill: We were?
Pseu: Yes, you were.
Bill: Who called us that?
Pseu: I don’t know. I think it was just sort of…
Max: Alex did.
Pseu: Did he? What a punk.
Bill: Alex, don’t make me come down there.
Pseu: You know, what I want to ask you guys seriously… As Southerners, and me being sort of a bi-coastal person and sort of a non-religious person, maybe you can enlighten me a little bit. Listening to the Cargoe album and the track on Rock in Memphis and listening to Chris Bell’s music, even, there are spiritual references in the lyrics, to Jesus and The Lord and God. Maybe it’s something that you guys take for granted if you’re writing a song or something, since it’s in there it may be a part of something, but I was just wondering if there’s any acknowledgment of religion in what you guys were doing.
(A short pause)
Bill: You’re going to leave this up to me, huh?
Max: That’s really a very interesting question.
Bill: I know exactly what you’re talking about. A lot of the references in the songs that I wrote did mention the word “Jesus”. Also, outside of trying to be the Beatles or The Monkees or the Buffalo Springfield or whoever we thought was great in those days— mostly, the Beatles— one of the things we were trying to attain in our songwriting was kind of a search for enlightenment, Nirvana, uh, I don’t know… Trying to find the ultimate way or something like that. I know it sounds corny.
Pseu: No, not at all.
Bill: In fact, in the ’50s, you know… back in the old hippie days, it was just a big search for enlightenment. What’s the answer to this, you know? What makes it all work? Why is this good and why is this not good? These days, I would probably not use the words “Jesus” or “Lord” or “God” or anything like that. It would hopefully be a little more complicated than that. But I was 17 when I wrote those songs and that was close enough to what I was trying to say to get the meaning across.
Pseu: Anyone else want to comment on that spiritual side of things?
Max: I think Bill was right on. That was exactly what was going on. Like in the ’60s, the late ’60s, it happened. In 1968 we’d been turned on to sitar music and other things and we were probably smoking a little bit. We were out there trying to reach some meaning with things and touch base and say things. I think it was a big part of it.
Pseu: I was just always interested. I didn’t notice it right away, and then just tracking through the Cargoe record, and then I’m like, a couple of references here to people, naming Jesus, calling him out and I was like… well, you know. Maybe that’s a language that Easterners don’t necessarily immediately speak, maybe even at that time, in their music. You know what I mean? At least, not as evident…
Max: I think, too, it was kind of subconscious that it came in there. I mean, those were just things that just kind of came and there really wasn’t a conscious effort, to a certain degree, to put it in there. I would be interested to hear Terry’s take on some of that with the other guys because we’ve talked about this cohesiveness and I think a lot of it was because we’d listened to the same things, that we were kind of emulating the same sounds and going through a lot of the same things.
Terry: As you know, I have a take on everything. I would definitely say there was… now of course, not speaking of Cargoe’s songs, because they’ve spoken about their writing and where they came from. I would be talking more about anything that I wrote, or I will be extremely presumptuous and speak a bit on behalf of Chris Bell, who cannot speak for himself, sadly.
Pseu: Just to give the folks background, you were friends with Chris Bell. He was an engineer at Ardent with you. Barring that, do you have any other…
Terry: Well, Chris was actually my best friend for over ten years, or close to ten years, I guess. We were very, very close. I brought him into the studio the first time to play on one of my songs. In fact, he’s on this compilation you’re speaking of… his very first performance in the studio. After that, he played on a solo album that I was doing for the Enterprise label, which was part of Stax. So, when he came into the studio, we were already friends. We were playing a little bit out of his— he had a back house behind his parent’s house. There was an old house in the back that we used as sort of a band house and darkroom. Whatever we wanted to mess with back there, we did. We were playing band gigs around under various names. But as far as the spiritual part of it, at that time, none of us I can recall went to church necessarily. My father is a minister and was then a minister, so I had a background of growing up in a church. We didn’t talk to one another about very religious things, necessarily, but there was a definite undercurrent at that time, of wanting to know what else was there. I guess every human feels this. It was not exclusive to us. We were not special because of it, but we certainly had the need and we wrote all about it in songs of a spiritual aspect. Now Chris, of course, became— I guess you could say it, I don’t mean it in an unkind term— he became a born-again Christian. He converted to being a very devout Christian. And many people who are familiar with his I Am the Cosmos album know that a lot of the songs are directly sung about Jesus or about God or about spiritual things as much as they are about girls or cars or whatever else he might be singing about. But there is a definite undercurrent, a definite spiritual feel. I know, I wrote a song called “Heaven” that the Staple Singers did, and later Joe Cocker did, and it wasn’t a religious song as much as it was just saying things about what I thought God would say or would do or would want us to be like.
Pseu: That’s a nice explanation. Let’s talk a little bit about what happened with the Cargoe record. I mean, what was the track that it took after you guys recorded it? You know. Who’s hand got on it and… because it did chart, but it didn’t catapult.
Terry: Well, I can speak a little about that, and the guys may want to put in their two cents too, but from… being’s that I was their producer and engineer, of course… but also on the record company side, and I have a little bit of knowledge about how everything went down. We were not a big company. We’re talking about Ardent Records, which was just a few people with a very small staff in a small town in the South distributed by, yes, a bigger record company, but… the record company which distributed us, Stax, was a black music company. Basically, they had Otis Redding and Sam & Dave and Isaac Hayes and people like that… some of the greatest soul music of all-time… some of the greatest music of all-time. But. No one involved had a lot of business acumen relating to the pop music business, the rock music business. We were trying to go up against Columbia, Warner Brothers, RCA… big names with big money and big staff, with lots of resources behind them. Yes, it can be done, and sometimes… occasionally… small labels have turned into big labels. This, sadly, was not one of those cases. We pushed it very hard. We took the band to Los Angeles. They went on KHJ-TV, Channel 13 (I think it was 13) in Los Angeles, one of the biggest stations there was, before millions of people. We played the music video we had made on them on that station. They played at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go, they played at Tower Records for one of their openings. We did everything that we could do. We got it on radio stations all over the country, and yes, it did go on the charts. It actually, I believe, is the only Ardent record (Note: the record referred to was “Feel Alright”) that actually charted during the time we released it. We were so, so close to getting enough stations to get a breakthrough on to a higher level of Billboard and at that time a magazine calledCash Box, which was similar to Billboard. We were just inches away from getting enough airplay to break it open, but we couldn’t quite get there. We just didn’t have the resources. We couldn’t tour the band all over the country. That cost a lot of money. You didn’t make money on the first tour with a record. You had to be subsidized by somebody. So we just weren’t able to do quite enough. Now, I asked the question on the liner notes for the live album, was the music good enough to have made it if it had been on a major label. I surmise, probably so, with resources behind it. I can’t really say for sure. Everyone would have to decide that now, but the music has not gone away. Here we are, thirty years later, talking about it, playing it for a potential audience of millions of people, so there was something to it that we just weren’t able to pull of at that time. It took history and a lot of years and the wonderful help of Big Star being so popular and helping some of the other Ardent groups to their oncoming popularity now. It took all of those things and all those years for people to say, wow, that is pretty good.
Pseu: You know, I think people tend to… we were talking earlier this week about the sort of romance of failure, I guess, as it applies to Big Star. Particularly Chris Bell and Alex Chilton and how everything played out for them. But, really, Cargoe… it was kind of in the cards for maybe things not to happen for Big Star if Cargoe wasn’t quite able to get up off the ground, preceding that.
Terry: We did have the same problem, sadly, with Big Star. Now, they did some touring when they could. They went to Boston, they went to New York. They played everywhere they could, but there just weren’t enough resources to bring it out. In fact, “When My Baby’s Beside Me,” which was the first single, charted in many places with local radio stations, it just wasn’t quite enough. Even at that time, it inspired many people. That’s the reason R.E.M. are such Big Star fans. It’s because some people associated with them (R.E.M.) actually heard Big Star in the year in which they were released on their local station. I believe, in the Carolinas…. North Carolina, maybe… and it was so big locally that they just assumed that this was one of the biggest things there was, that they (Big Star) were like the Beatles or the Beach Boys or the Rolling Stones or something. And they actually made trips down to Memphis to find out who these guys were, what was going on, and only found out later that it wasn’t a big hit everywhere. Only in certain spots.
Pseu: That’s so interesting. You know, earlier in the show I played a couple of things that were just on the charts at the time, and I’m old enough to remember what was going on in 1972 on the charts, and it was, like, the charts were full of a lot of pap, a lot of really bad music, but conversely, there were great groups that made the charts. Some of my favorite groups. Raspberries and Badfinger and the Hollies, stuff like that… Bee Gees… I mean, it just seemed like this group should be… you know, it certainly has the same kind of appeal, I think, as some of those British groups. But I don’t know, it’s funny how these things work out. Anyway, we’re gonna hear “Feel Alright,” the live version that is available on Rock In Memphis on the Lucky Seven label. I think this one song really captures the spirit of the band. And what’s interesting, too, is when I played “Time,” it sounded very fresh. Even today, I could put this on and somebody could think, oh, this is new. It sounds great, it sounds very clean and it doesn’t sound at all dated. So, I find that interesting. But right now, we’re going to put on this Cargoe track, available on the Rock In Memphis CD, and soon, part of a larger release of live Cargoe music.
(After the track)
Max: Pseu? I just wanted to say something about the way that thing was captured. That live recording was done at one of the very earliest FM simultaneous broadcasts— simulcasts— in stereo. You know, FM was still in its infancy then and, again, we were so fortunate and so lucky to have Terry and Ardent with us to be able to think forward on this thing and put something together. And Terry just captured the mix at the same time. Because we were a great live band. I think this is one of the only, if not the only, live recordings that we did.
Pseu: Well, it really sounds great. And there is definitely a Terry Manning touch to things, as I am perusing through some of the things he’s had his hands on. You know, to have the best in the business there, it’s really something. Unbelievable. And I think it kind of really… that polish that is on this record and the tracks on Rock In Memphis, the playing on Rock City… you know, everything he’s involved with in some form or another, whether being a musician, engineering, producing, whatever it is, it has a certain really great sound to it. And, again, it’s really very distinctly American. I think it’s great, if people are listening to this who are into music, into pop. Terry, I have to tell you, I’m kind of… I don’t know… without using the rude word… I’m kind of a production hound. I’ve just always had a thing for producers. Sometimes, I would buy a record strictly if it was a favorite producer because I always knew it would be a quality product. So, I’m actually just tuning into stuff that you had your hands on and I’m. like, all right… here’s another guy that I can tell is gonna be, like, somebody I have to scope out. Like, if something is really mixed well, has a great sound… even Shakira and WFMU. Let’s talk about two separate sides of the spectrum. Not what the listeners might expect to hear, but I heard that tango number she does…
Terry: Yes. “Tango.”
Pseu: With a Fender in it? With a Fender guitar in it. And I’m just like, that sounds really cool. And I had no idea that you were… this was months before I even hooked up with you guys. And I was thinking to myself, somebody who knows something about music, really, in the realm of what I’m into would only know to put that kind of sound on that record. And here I am, talking to someone who was actually pushing buttons on that.
Terry: That’s very kind. Thank you. And I will say that I know this program is not about Shakira. We have lots of other things to talk about, but she purposely sought out that kind of thing and came to me specifically for that reason, knowing some of the things I had done. She wanted to make sure that she wasn’t seen as a Britney Spears or someone like that. And I’m not putting down Britney Spears, but what I mean is Shakira didn’t want just to be seen as a pretty pop idol or something. She wanted to make as real a music as she could and as close to rock and roll music as she could. Because her idols are like AC/DC and stuff like that.
Pseu: Well, she’s actually a musician, which separates her from just a pop singer, so that’s a difference right there. But again, it’s another good product. Now, I just want to talk a little bit about some of the… well, let’s talk about Rock City and what this record is. And how all of these projects kind of fit together. Terry, you were a member of the group, Rock City, with Chris Bell. This was pre-Big Star music. This is kind of like the missing piece of the puzzle for people who are Big Star fanatics, I guess. And they want to know, gee, how did this all happen. And here we have the Rock City record. Again, another release on the Lucky Seven label. How did you end up not staying with the band, with Chris Bell? And what happened to Thomas Dean Eubanks, who seems like such a great talent on this record?
Terry: Tom Eubanks is a great talent. And he wanted to be sure that if anyone ever asked me, that they knew he had been in rehab recently because he is hooked on phonics.
Pseu: Would you slap him for me for that? That’s terrible.
Terry: He’s not, really. But he is a great talent. We did a couple of solo things on him later that I thought were very cool records that suffered some of the same fate as did the Cargoe record. But Chris and I would record all these things… a lot of people were involved… of course, Andy Hummel, Jody Stephens, Richard Rosebrough, who is a great drummer and a great friend of ours. I know I’m probably leaving people out, but there were a lot of great friends and guys around doing these things. So we decided that we had to make an album and we wanted to call the band Rock City and Chris had decided that the name of the album would be See Seven States, which is a takeoff on the amusement— well, it’s not an amusement park. It’s an attraction you can go to in Chattanooga, Tennessee called Rock City, and you can get up on this mountain and if you look in one particular direction on a clear day, they claim you can see seven states. It was a pretty well known thing across the South. It was painted all over barns and there were signs everywhere. So Chris was a marketer. I was a marketer. We were all trying to think of marketing ideas. So, in addition to the music, that was going to be the marketing ploy, which was See Seven States by Rock City. We went in and recorded this album. We took it to labels. We took it all over the place. Could not get anybody to sign it. Nobody wanted to hear it.
Pseu: Ach. Unbelievable.
Terry: Except A&M Records gave a call back. They were a little interested, but not enough to sign us. That’s when we said, well, we’ll have to make our own label. Just put out our own things, because we think they’re good. But by that time, Chris had gotten together with Alex and some more recording was going on, which became the Big Star recordings. Chris took two or three of the Rock City songs and they did a couple of guitar tracks and vocal tracks and actually put them on the Big Star album as Big Star tracks. And those— well, we’ll get into this songwriting. Anyway, they became part of Big Star and part of the Big Star lore. I went on to producing other things. I’d had my solo album out, didn’t want to go touring and doing much of that. I liked the studio side of it. So I would play a thing on other people’s records, but mainly stayed in the studio with groups such as Cargoe, another Ardent group called the Hot Dogs, and Brian Alexander Robertson— several things, but did lots of things for other labels, as well. But the Rock City recordings, which we had completed— they were totally recorded, mixed, in a box, ready for mastering, ready to be released— just as you hear them on the new CD release. We just put those in a box. And I accidentally put that in the wrong box one day. I put it in a box which said Tom & the Turtles on it, which was another Thomas Dean Eubanks name that we had messed around with as a joke. I put it in that box by mistake and that box got put in another big cardboard box— a lot of tapes got put in there. I had dragged those boxes around wherever I went for 30 years. Not even opening the box. Then a few months ago, I got a call— and I’ve never done interviews— which is why I probably don’t sound like I’m too comfortable with this radio thing. But I’ve never done magazine interviews, radio interviews, book things, any of that sort of stuff— didn’t even like pictures of me taken. But I got a call from a guy named Rob Jovanovich in England, who is writing a book about Big Star. It’s for a big publisher, Harper Collins, Fourth Estate. It will be out in 2004 sometime and it’s going to be quite a story. It’s got the full story in it. So Rob was interviewing everyone involved. He gave me a call and I finally said, okay, I’ll talk to you. We ended up talking for three hours. He was a great guy, really sensitive to everything, not into sensationalizing things, understood what was going on. And he said, surely you’ve got other recordings somewhere and I said I don’t know. But it got me thinking and I went and started looking through boxes, found this Tom & the Turtles box, pulled it out, put it on the tape machine and out came Rock City. It just was a shock. I mean, when I heard the very first song with Chris playing the guitar, I mean I really went into shock. I had forgotten this! Well, not forgotten. But if you had asked me, did you record it, yes. But forgotten— you know, if you don’t hear something for 30 years, you don’t live with it every day. I didn’t go around for all of these years working on other projects thinking about Rock City or Cargoe or Big Star or anything. You think about ZZ Top if you’re working on that or Joe Cocker if you’re working on that or Shakira. Whatever you’re working on is what you concentrate on. But all of a sudden, these old things… older things… came flooding back to me and I heard this for the first time in many years and just said, wow, this has got to come out. Chris wanted it out. I wanted it out. And now, it can come out. So I put it together with a couple of Thomas Dean Eubanks solo tracks and it comes out as Rock City, for the first time.
Pseu: It’s just an unbelievable find. And that’s a great story, and it’s even greater because it’s probably true. No, I know it’s absolutely true.
Terry: Oh, it’s absolutely true.
Pseu: This is like a rock and roll thing, totally. Even more. This kind of adds, again, to that romantic ideal that people have set up for Big Star… not only because you found it 30 years later, but because it brings in these other people… Thomas, Dean Eubanks, Terry Manning… It wasn’t all about, necessarily, Chris and Alex and Jody and Andy. It brings a sense of, like, a genesis to the whole thing. And that’s where Cargoe and the Hot Dogs and these other groups come in. So the fact that these were all released fairly simultaneously really paints a great picture of the scene and precursor to…
Terry: I should say one thing here, if I might, and stop me if I say too much, but Big Star has always been known as the four guys. And I know a lot of people will say, now wait a minute, Chris took some things from Rock City and put them in there that wasn’t necessarily all the four guys playing on them. No, it wasn’t. We made a conscious decision with the Big Star group, even though there were other people who played things, we made a decision that… the Beatles had said there were four guys playing even though we knew at the time that Eric Clapton played on some things. There were session drummers on some of the first recordings… orchestra people played. But you never saw their names. It was just John, Paul, George and Ringo, the four Beatles. So we decided, if they can do it, we can do it, so we’re going to do that. So the four main guys who did play on most of the things were credited as Big Star and were then, Big Star. Two of them, of course, still are Big Star today. Chris, sadly, died, and Andy has left music mostly and is working a great career he has in another field. Anyway, we made that decision that those four guys would be called Big Star, would be shown as the name, shown as the pictures even though, yes, I played a bunch of the keyboard stuff and, yes, Tom Eubanks did play some bass. And I think on the second album, Radio City, Richard Rosebrough played drums and different things. Anyway, I did want to make that point. It was a conscious decision at the time.
Max: Terry, I think it was kind of cool that you reminded us that Bill even played keyboards on one of those Big Star songs.
Terry: That’s right. There’s a B-side version of “In the Street” which is a very rocking, awesome, rare version of it that was B-side to one of the singles, I forget which, that had two drummers. Jody, of course, and Richard Rosebrough both playing drums. Andy and Chris and Alex were on it, but also Bill Phillips of Cargoe played the piano on a very rocking almost Chuck Berry sort of keyboard thing— A Jerry Lee swoops around sort of thing.
Pseu: That’s very cool. Now, Bill and Max, what are you guys up to? Are you playing music? What do you like to do?
Max: You know, Bill and I have been apart for quite awhile. I came back to Tulsa and things happened. Bill went on to play with the Hot Dogs for a long time. We just recently got back together here in the last, say, three years. We’ve been playing some things locally. We get together and sing some stuff. I think one of the cool things that Bill and I have done here recently is, we had some songs that we had written that were the next… what we thought might have been the next or at least part of the next Cargoe record at the time. So we have more than a handful of songs that we wrote back in the early ’70s with that same kind of feel to them. We’ve been kicking around some ideas with that and we put some demos together and we’re fleshing those out to see what might happen. I think we’re both really just having a great, great time enjoying the journey of seeing this Cargoe, especially the live Cargoe, being able to be released.
Pseu: Fantastic. And I do look forward to hearing that, because just the Cargoe record, in and of itself, is just this anomaly, I guess. You know?
Max: It’s really different. It really wasn’t like a studio album. We really were kind of like a live band. What we had done at Beautiful, we brought back over to Ardent and polished again, so it was like we sat and recorded them and then went back and cleaned them up, like people do, but it wasn’t like a quote unquote studio album. And we always wanted to do that, and that is what I think Bill and I are doing now. We have these songs and we’re thinking what would it be like if we pulled the Hofner back out and used those bass lines and put the sounds down that we always wanted to do in a studio environment. We were a great live band and that’s why… we played the original Cargoe album just like the record. That’s why I think it’s so great to have it captured on Live In Memphis.
Pseu: Are we expecting the Terry Manning solo LP, Home Sweet Home… has it been released on CD yet?
Terry: It has been released in Japan. It’s been released in France, in several countries in Europe, actually, on CD. About three times since then. And I believe they are just about to re-release it… JVC-Victor in Japan is about to re-release it again. I would like to release it in the US on Lucky Seven, but I don’t own it so I’ll have to talk to some people about that. Pseu, there is one thing I’d like to mention very quickly. I know you’re pressed for time.
Pseu: I’m not. Not at all.
Terry: There is a great artist who we have not talked about who is also on the Rock In Memphis compilation named Van Duren. Van was a very good friend of Jody Stephens and of Chris Bell’s… in fact, played in Chris’s next band after Big Star, which was called Baker Street Regulars. Van is one of the most amazing talents in pop music, I think… ever.
Pseu: Wow, coming from you, that’s saying something.
Terry: I really wouldn’t say it lightly. But we are releasing on Lucky Seven his second album, which has never, ever been released in the US at any time. Even back then. It’s called Idiot’s Optimism and is a tremendous album. It includes Chris Bell’s song “Make a Scene” and I think Van’s version is the definitive version of that and I think Chris would agree with that as well. Chris taught it to Van. They played it live together, so he knows it intimately. Van’s album is coming out on October 21st, 2003, and his first album I’m going to put out on Lucky Seven early next year, in 2004. It is called Are You Serious. Those two albums together… either one of them is a masterpiece. The two together, I think, are two of the best pop albums ever made by anybody, anywhere. And I didn’t have anything to do with the making of them. I’m not bragging in any way. I’m bragging on Van Duren, who is an amazing songwriter and an amazing singer. I just hope that he finally gets some of the credit he deserves.
Pseu: That’s great. I recall just so long ago hearing the name Van Duren and associating it with a pop thing, but just never was able to get my hands on anything. The only thing I have heard is what was released on the Rock In Memphis collection. Yeah, all that is there, that sound, those incredible hooks, and I’m like, this guy is really cool. And hearing you talk about him like this, I’m very interested in hearing more material from him. So we look forward to that on October 21st, Van Duren’s Idiot’s Optimism.
Terry: And on the same day, we’re releasing a group called Jim Suhler and Monkey Beat from Dallas. They are not a ’70s group, but that’s not to their detriment. They are a modern group, today, and they play a blues-based rock. Their new album is a best of with six new tracks. I think it is their best album yet. This will be their fourth. It’s a little different from what you normally play on your show, but I think you’d like it.
Sidenote: Thus concludes the viable portion of Pseu Braun’s interview… the rest degenerates into the standard thank yous and hoo-haws prevalent in most broadcast interviews, thus making it easy to fade out here. Many thanks to Pseu Braun and WFMU for conducting talks with Terry Manning and two members of Cargoe— to my mind, one of the more interesting stories in rock.
Hell of a story, huh? And this covers only a small portion of it. I heartily recommend that anyone interested in the history or Ardent and Lucky Seven Records and their artists scope out the Big Star documentary Nothing Can Hurt Me, check out Lucky Seven Records, and especially the Van Duren videos. L7 does have Duren’s Idiot’s Optimism in their catalogue which I consider a lost classic.
There are other things to do now, like step into the present for some…..
Notes….. It happens almost every week. Right after I submit my column, a video or news comes along I wish I could have included. This past week it was the death of Ross Hannaford, guitarist with Australia band Daddy Cool. This one strikes home for me. I was a huge Daddy Cool fan from the beginning, grabbing hold of their self-titled album and Teenage Heaven upon release. I talked them up to friends, played the hell out of the only two 45s I could find (Hi Honey Ho and Eagle Rock) and held them up as prime examples of Australian rock. God, I’m beginning to take these deaths personal. Please stop. Mr, Hannaford, I hope you know how much we loved you guys. Here is a video I never saw before tonight.
Here is a new vid from The Lonely Wild. I like the song but they are so much more than this. You should take some time and check out their work.
Another excellent track from The Minnows. Shades of Parrish & Gurvitz.
Ayfer Simms over at Monolith Cocktail pleads the case for one Benedict Benjamin, whose album Night Songs was recently released. He claims it points back sixty years. I would say forty. For instance, My Feet Have No Use For the Ground would fit in with the solo artists of the mid-70s more than with the slicked back hair of the early rockers of the fifties and sixties. Simms gets an A for his taste, a C for math. I’m kidding, Ayler. I like it. Well enough to include the video here.
I just discovered this video which fellow DBAWIS writer Pat Blythe had included in a column from last August. I am an ornery cuss when it comes to music and while I try not to blast certain artists or genres, I am not averse to ignoring them. Still, a few sneak by without comment which really make an impression. Frank Sinatra‘s It Was a Very Good Year, for instance. The Carpenter‘s cover of Klaatu‘s Calling Occupants) of Interplanetary Craft. Tony Bennett‘s Rags to Riches. I mean, sometimes it’s the song and the presentation. As it is with Ambers Dragon‘s versions of This Time. I really should pay closer attention or more of these will get by me.
I completely missed Burns & Kristy until good pal Tom Mank turned me onto them a couple of years ago. I have always been a sucker for melody and harmony and emotional phrasing. A new album is on the way, so until then I will be listening to some older tunes, which is fine by me.
Good friend Dave Pyles posted this video on the social media recently in response to Donald Trump’s obsession with “the wall.” I have heard Anais Mitchell before but this song is making me dig deeper. Male voice is Greg Brown.
Finally! A musician who really gets Ted Cruz! The fact that that poor excuse of a human being is even allowed to run for any elected office says a lot about the state of politics in the good ol’ US of A. This pretty much describes my attitude toward Cruz. Ladies and Gentlemen, Bob Hillman!
An interesting mix of genres featuring Jessy Greene, the words of philosopher Alan Watts, and Claire Courchene.
My buddy Ben Daniel found these guys playing in a dive bar in Charleston SC. Capsula, from Spain via Argentina.
Those who read my column of a few weeks ago about books and music, the section on Ray Brandes‘ Getting Nowhere Fast contained information about The Unknowns. In case you are interested, here they are:
The Westies‘ Six On the Out album could be a soundtrack to a modern Western— dust blowing across a desert town, despair, a world changing. Bowler hats replacing the cowboy hat. Automobiles digging ruts.
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