Monday, January 18, 2010
The Imperial Dogs and an Interview With Don Waller (Part 1)
And to think that you could have been there too, for only a dollar...
(BD:) Don... Seriously... When is the last time you went streaking? Based off of the DVD, during the intro to Lizard Love it seems that your trousers are having a hard time staying at the waist level... Furthermore, you didn't seem to mind at all, even appeasing the crowd by bending over and giving them a shot of a full moon. Was that "shock factor" you were going for, or were you just too blitzed to notice, or did you just not care?
Truth is, I was sweating like a toad 'cause every got-damn light in the room had to be burning as brightly as possible so the primitive (pre-Betamax) video camera could record anything, which made the stage hotter than the proverbial seventh circle of Hell. Plus, leather trousers tend to s-t-r-e-t-c-h when you're jumping around like a baboon in heat. This combination results the the "wardrobe malfunction" that you see on the DVD, which was entirely accidental.
That's how we did it when we played Rodney's English Disco in Hollywood two weeks later, too. 'Cept there we didn't even have a "dressing room" ...
(BD:) While watching the DVD I noticed several influential aspects of your live show that seemed to be cutting edge in 1974, that evolved into what is now condidered mainstream live rock and roll, both musically and visually... For instance on the DVD after Loud Hard and Fast you seem to be spitting into the crowd. I have seen this several times through out the years at concerts perhaps most notably by Greg Steele of L.A.'s Sleeze Metal act Faster Pussycat... I know this is a lame example, but I can't imagine it was being done in 1974 by too many performing bands. I guess my question is this... What other influences would you attribute to The Imperial Dogs, and in 1974 and before, who was influencing The Imperial Dogs?
(DW:) Spitting into the crowd? No way. I never did that. Spitting onstage to clear the phlegm outta my throat, yeah. (Hey, we all were -- and still are -- smokers.) I used to chew up a bunch of blood and foaming capsules during the instrumental break in "This Ain't The Summer Of Love" and simulate a puking O.D. -- and I'm spitting the residue out of my mouth as I'm trying to sing the next verse, but again, I'm spitting onstage.
As for influences, have you got three or four hours? Or days? I started playing piano when I was five and the next year was forced to pick a band instrument (on the theory that if I got drafted I could carry a horn instead of a rifle), so I played trumpet all the way though high school, which is where I met then-fellow trumpet player Tim Hilger and then-alto saxophonist Paul Therrio, who was two years younger than Tim and was already a sort of child prodigy, playing in a local big band that performed at Elks Lodges, etc. After high school, we all went to various colleges (UCLA for me, El Camino JC for Tim, UC Irvine for Paul) to avoid Vietnam and fulfill our parents' dreams of us being doctors, lawyers, whatever.
None of us enjoyed our college experience. Paul dropped out almost immediately;
Tim and I stuck it out -- Tim had transferred to UCLA after two years. But we all kept in touch.
Now, to rewind several years ... Beyond the music that I was exposed to in band, I started hearing things on the radio (the Beach Boys, surf music, etc.), but it wasn't until the British Invasion that I got really interested in this other kind of music. Seeing the Rolling Stones and, especially, James Brown on "The T.A.M.I. Show" at a local movie theatre in 1964 was a life-changing experience. Same goes for seeing the Who on TV's "Shindig," playing live at the Richmond Jazz & Blues Festival in England and breaking up their equipment. It just made me want to be up there with them wrecking everything ...
The Stones -- as I quickly learned from reading the backs of their records in the bins at the local grocery store ('cause I couldn't afford to buy records) as well as this "Their Own Story" paperback biography -- were doing all these songs by "R&B" performers that I'd mostly never heard on the radio. And I found that the music on the radio that I really liked was done by self-contained bands who were mostly drawing from this R&B tradition (the Animals, Them, Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels, etc.). The blues boom of the late-'60s (everybody from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and the Blues Project to Cream, Jimi Hendrix, and the Jeff Beck Group to Albert and B.B. King) intensified this. Same for the soul music of the times (Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, the Temptations, James Brown -- again-- and a hundred other similar acts.) A lot of blues-oriented jazz, too.
I started going to concerts in 1969 -- I didn't have a car or even friends with access to a car -- before then -- and I saw Jimi Hendrix, the Doors with Jerry Lee Lewis and Sweetwater opening, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers (with Mick Taylor in the band), and the Stones with Ike & Tina Turner, B.B. King, and Terry Reid opening that year. (Before that, all I saw were bands on TV or local acts playing custom car shows or high school dances, etc.) But after that, I started going to as many concerts/club shows that I could afford -- and was really interested in seeing.
One night, I went to see what was then still called the Small Faces (Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood had just joined the band) on what was their first U.S. tour. After that, I never went back to my Spanish class again.
Since Tim and Paul and I all liked the same sort of stuff -- and Paul had started playing guitar -- we decided to form a rock 'n' roll band. Tim somehow got hornswoggled into playing bass and I volunteered to jump around and do the shouty bits. Paul's surf buddy, Ron Vaselenko (he went to high school with us, too) was playing a little guitar, so he came in on rhythm. Our original drummer was another ex-trumpet player from our high school, but he wanted to play more Grand Funk Railroad-type material, so we put up ads at local music stores. Bill Willett, who was a year younger than Paul and came from neighboring Carson -- we were all from north Torrance -- answered. He came over to Vaselenko's garage, where we practiced, and we started playing the Faces' "Had Me A Real Good Time" -- which is a shuffle -- and he just played it perfectly! We couldn't believe it. None of the other drummers that we auditioned had a clue as to how to play that groove. We asked him if he wanted to join on the spot. Thankfully, he did.
This was 1972. We called ourselves Sugar Boy, after the redneck chauffeur character in Robert Penn Warren's "All The King's Men" novel. Good blues name. And we played -- besides the songs that Paul and I wrote ourselves (and we always did original material from Day One) -- a lot of blues-oriented material: Muddy Waters's "Don't Go No Further," Chuck Berry's "Down The Road Apiece," Earl King's "Come On," Free's "I'll Be Creepin'," Z.Z. Top's "Bedroom Thang," Fleetwood Mac's "Black Magic Woman," Savoy Brown's "Tell Mama" and "Flood In Houston," the Climax Blues Band's "Reap What I've Sowed," Black Pearl's cover of the Sandpebbles' "Forget It," the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter," and the Faces' "Had Me A Real Good Time." Paul could play harp and slide, so we took advantage of that.
But we also played Eddie Cochran's "C'mon Everybody," the Move's "Hello Suzie," the Blue Oyster Cult's "Cities On Flame With Rock And Roll," the Who's "Baba O' Riley," the Yardbirds' "For Your Love," Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now Baby Blue" and "As I Went Out One Morning," Them's "Mystic Eyes," Randy Newman's "Gone Dead Train," and the Small Faces' "Afterglow."
We wore a lot of velvet and scarves, dressed "flash," and did stuff with bullwhips and a nasty straw hat 'n' cane routine on "Hello Suzie" ...
At the beginning of 1973, we got tired of the "Stones clones" comparisons and jettisoned the rhythm guitarist as well as most of the blues-oriented material. We started doing things like the MC5's "Sister Anne," Detroit's version of the Velvet Underground's "Rock And Roll," David Bowie's "Suffragette City," Fleetwood Mac's "Station Man" and "This Is The Rock," and the Velvet Underground's "White Light/White Heat." (The Move, BOC, and Who tunes stayed in the setlist).
Part of this was just playing music that we liked. Part of this was just figuring out what we were good at. Hey, I WISH I could sing like Stevie Marriott ...
During this time (1969-73), I can remember seeing Z.Z. Top, the J. Geils Band, Mott The Hoople, the Blue Oyster Cult, Alice Cooper, Slade, Black Oak Arkansas, Free, Howlin' Wolf, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Lou Reed, the Who, the Jeff Beck Group (the second version), Sparks (with the Mankey brothers), Frank Zappa, the Grateful Dead, Ry Cooder, Elton John, Van Morrison, Derek & The Dominos, the Kinks, Aerosmith, and the New York Dolls.
But the act that really turned our heads around was seeing the "Raw Power" incarnation of Iggy Pop & The Stooges. I personally saw them play the Whisky a Go Go nine times!
After that, we got more stripped-down and darker and came on more like a street gang, although when we played Gazarri's were still doin' stuff like the Doors' "Roadhouse Blues" and the Angels' "My Boyfriend's Back" as well as the Kinks' "Till The End Of The Day."
I realize I've kinda digressed myself into the ozone here ... The short version of who/what were the Imperial Dogs' influences is this: mid-'60s British bands -- the Rolling Stones, the Animals, Them, the Who, the Yardbirds, the Pretty Things, and, especially, the Kinks ('cause Paul's a huge Kinks fan) -- and all the things that influenced them (blues, R&B, soul, '50s rock) ... All the "garage-rock" bands that're on Lenny Kaye's original "Nuggets" compilation ... All the Detroit rock bands (the Stooges, the MC5, Bob Seger, Mitch Ryder, Alice Cooper, etc.) ... the Blue Oyster Cult (for their thinking-man's approach to metal) ... the Doors and the Velvet Underground (the darkness) ... the New York Dolls ... girl groups ... the British "glam-rock" (T. Rex, Slade, Mott The Hoople, all the Chinn & Chapman stuff).
To me, our influences seem kinda obvious. We were way into the pure sound vs. notes of the Yardbirds, the sophisticated metal of the BOC, the Kinks and "Shazam" -"Looking On"-"Split Ends" era-Move, the darkness of the Velvets & the Doors, the pure energy of the MC5, the song structure of the New York Dolls, etc. and a whole lot more "R&B" -- in terms of groove as well as the sock-it-to-ya showmanship that, say, James Brown or Tina Turner had goin' on. Very physical, muscle and sweat SHOWS. We saw ourselves as part of one long chain that stretched back to the '50s. We were just trying to take it further. And, of course, we believed in SONGS.
Well, we were also into being outrageous, giving people something to talk about. Showing people we were different as well as sounding different. Hence the chains, riding crops, and the blood/foaming capsules. Showmanship. We also got more aggressive to combat the combination of apathy and antipathy that we faced from clueless audiences ... We didn't try to create a "good time" vibe. We wanted to smack people upside the head and shock them into reconsidering their musical and social values.
Towards the end, we realized we'd painted ourselves into a bit a of a corner musically, and we started trying to figure out a way to get back to our roots by playing things like Earl Vince & The Valiants' "Somebody's Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonite," Eddie Cochran's "Nervous Breakdown," and the Leaves' version of "Hey Joe." 'Tis a shame we couldn't have held it together ...
As you can see, Don Waller has a lot to say, and isn't afraid to take the long route to make his point. I tried to stay away from typical questions, but my fascination with this band is so much that I found myself having a hard time not coming across as a typical fan at times. Thus, my question about influences, which actually based on his answers, seems pretty obvious to me for the most part. Still I'm glad I asked it, because there is so much more in his answer than what was obvious... Which is the beauty of talking to Don who has such a vast knowledge of the subject-at-hand based off of his own experiences.
There are more questions and more answers, and I will post them soon, hopefully within a few days. There was so much material to read through to piece it together as one glorious piece, but I don't want to over-do it and lose the potency of some of Don's answers...
So stay tuned to the Bigfoot Diaries for Part Two. Meanwhile go to The Imperial Dogs' site and buy this DVD... I assure you that it will be one of your favorite purchases of 2010.
(Unless of course you are that pseudo-hippie I spoke about above... 'Cause this ain't the summer of love.)