Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Modern Folk Quartet

During the Monkees Convention, we got to hear about one of those seminal moments that help you become what you are.  It was a casual question that got me intrigued.

Henry Diltz (amazing Rock Photographer) was asked how he got into the business.  He said he was touring with a band, waiting for their Phil Spector hit to be released.  Somewhere in Michigan, they had stopped by a thrift store and there was a table with a few old cameras.  He picked it up and started taking shots of the band clowning around.   When they had the film developed, it turned out it was "slide film", and so came back not as photographs, but as slides for a projector.  Suddenly, as these casual moments were projected on the wall, larger than life size, he saw a new kind of vision.

He was on tour with the Modern Folk Quartet, waiting for Phil Spector to release the song that was gonna make them all famous. He was the hotshot producer famous (then) for the Wall of Sound. It wasn't actually released until 1991! Called "This Could Be The Night", written by Spector and Harry Nilsson it was the hit that never was.  The clip shows it as the theme song for the film, "The Big TNT Show", which was a sequel to "The T.A.M.I. Show" (1964) both were concert footage films.  In the days before Youtube, a song needed to be released as a "Single" for it to count on the charts.

MFQ had originally gotten together in Honolulu around 1962, and worked with an amazing number of future legends before their breakup in 1966 (although they still get together periodically).  They worked with the Herb Cohen, the agent for Frank Zappa and Tim Buckley.  And Jim Dickson, the guy who would later produce the Byrds.  They did an (uncredited) song in the movie, "Palm Springs Weekend" (1963) with Connie Stevens & Troy Donahue.  It captures the "Traditional Folk" scene, as it grew out of the coffeehouses.  They're in a casino, doing the "Ox Driver's Song"  (WARNING!!  The sync is terrible, almost comical, I offer it for historical purposes.  If someone finds something better, let me know!)  Diltz is singing lead and playing banjo.  They are all in suits, because that's what nice young performers wore in those days.  And how the Beatles first appeared.

That guy in the glasses would go on to shoot Woodstock, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, CSNY and most of Rock for the rest of his life.  Most of the extensive list can be found at his gallery, Morrison Hotel.

Chip Douglas had an interesting path, starting in a group called the Wilcox Three, which was modeled after the Kingston Trio.  After MFQ he joined the short lived Gene Clark Group, which featured the titular ex-Byrd, and a former member of the Grass Roots, Joel Larson.  The final member rounds out the earthy 60's band names, Bill Rinehart, formerly of The Leaves.

Douglas was essentially stolen from the Turtles (yes, the "Happy Together" Turtles) by Mike Nesmith who heard him at Hollywood's Whiskey A Go-Go.  He became the Monkees producer, a major shift in style from Don Kirshner.

Jerry Yester would join the Lovin' Spoonful and then go on to produce The Association, Tim Buckley and Tom Waits.  He married Judy Henske, who is a singer in her own right, and also rumored to be the prototype of Annie Hall (1977 film).

Cyrus Faryar was another interesting member, who was a friend of Dave Guard (of the Kingston Trio) and was asked to replace him after he left the group.  The guy who eventually ended up replacing him was John Stewart, the guy who wrote "Daydream Believer".  He also did not join the group which became the Byrds, although he was asked by Roger McGuinn.

There was a lot of influence on the Monkee music catalogue.  "Riu Chiu" was recorded on their 1964 album called "Changes" (does that sound familiar to anyone?  Isn't what the Monkees used for an album name after Peter left?)  If you listen to the arrangement, it sounds hauntingly familiar.  One of my favorite songs recorded by Peter Tork is "Come On In" (only available on a later Monkee Missing Links Album)  written by Jo Mapes.  MFQ did it in a much more uptempo version on Shindig (1965).  Additionally, MFQ also recorded a version of Edgar Allen Poe's "The Bells", set to music by Phil Ochs.

MFQ still performs together on occasion, and Diltz still performs "This Could Be the Night", as he did (fabulously) at the Monkees convention, backed by the fun cover band, The Characters.

It just goes to show you, that if this is NOT the night or the hit you've been waiting for, there may be many more excellent surprises for you along the way.

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