My favorite ‘60s band is The Doors. They’re closely followed by The Beatles. Yet one thing I’ve found when I became a movie critic 25 years ago was…there’s nothing interesting about asking somebody their favorite movie or favorite band. You always hear the same answers. I like to ask people the movie they love that everyone hates. When it comes to music, I like to ask them to name the most underrated band that fills their CD collection.
I often talk about ‘60s bands I liked that aren’t household names today, but had many great songs and records. That list includes Music Machine, Love, The Seeds, Moby Grape, and Steppenwolf. Although I usually drop Steppenwolf from the conversation because everyone knows their big hits, but they have so many other great songs nobody knows. Another band on that list is the band that I think is the epitome of garage rock. Some would even say they laid the ground work for what would later become punk (that’s because they were sounding gritty and raw in the ‘60s, years before The Stooges and Ramones). That band is The Standells. Everybody knows and loves their big hit – “Dirty Water.” You can’t watch a Boston team play without that song being blasted.
I once wrote a movie review about a crappy film. I stated that the only good thing about it was hearing The Standells great song. That got me a nice message from Larry Tamblyn. He’s the singer/keyboardist that formed the band in 1962. That led to a few email exchanges and us being friends on Facebook.
When he went on a rant about autograph dealers, I asked if I could interview him and discuss autographs, among other things. The fact that he has a brother that’s an actor (Russ Tamblyn, who was Riff in West Side Story) and a niece on Two and a Half Men (Amber Tamblyn), he’s the perfect person to give his take on folks being asked to sign things. When I asked for an interview, he kindly obliged.
For those that aren’t familiar with The Standells and Tamblyn’s history in music, he had been making solo records in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. The band got their name because they were always “standing” around booking agents’ offices trying to get work. They jumped from Linda Records to their freedom with Liberty Records. When drummer Gary Leeds left the band, he was replaced by singer and drummer Dick Dodd, a former Mouseketeer. He had been the drummer for The Bel-Airs (Mr. Moto).
The Standells signed with Vee Jay in the mid-60s and released a few singles. Soon after, it was off to MGM for a single.
They appeared in a handful of low-budget films, including Riot on the Sunset Strip and Get Yourself a College Girl (Chad Everett, Nancy Sinatra). They even played in the Bing Crosby Show as a rock band called The Love Bugs.
When Dick Dodd left the band, he was replaced by Dewey Martin, who became a member of Buffalo Springfield (one of the all-time great bands), and soon returned back to The Standells.
In 1967, bassist John Fleck (of Love) joined the band. Another band member many might know is Lowell George, who went on to gain fame with Little Feat.
“Dirty Water” would make it on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll,” and rightly so.
The first thing I asked Larry Tamblyn, was what ‘60s band he thought should’ve been huge but wasn’t.
Larry Tamblyn: There were several, but I always thought that Love should have been bigger than they were. Of course, John Fleckenstein (Fleck) was an early member who joined the Standells in 1967.
Josh Board: Since I love The Doors, and I know you played with them, I wonder if you could give me a story about Jim Morrison.
Larry Tambly: Yeah, it was in 1967. We were with them and The Coasters. I remember it was a high school gymnasium, but they did have kind of a green room. It was a back part of it. Everybody was talking back there and all of a sudden it got dead quiet. Everybody turned around and Jim Morrison had walked into the room. But it wasn’t due to his aura. It was due to the odor from his clothes. He wore this leather suit which he never got out of. Everybody could tell right away.
Josh Board: When you were on The Munsters, did you have any choice of what song you were going to perform, and after you did perform the song “Come on Ringo” did you ever talk to him or meet any of The Beatles?
Larry Tambly: No, we never met the Beatles. Actually, we were told to do “Ringo” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” by the producer of the Munsters.
Josh Board: I worked in radio with two guys that loved Little Feat. What was it like working with Lowell George?
Larry Tambly: To be truthful, I thought Lowell was a genius, but pretty screwed up. He was in the Standells for a short period, and tried to take over the group. The final straw was when he wanted us to change our look, grease our hair back like Sha-Na-Na. After coming from the Mothers of Invention (Frank Zappa), I really don’t think he was into the garage sound of the Standells. That’s when we parted company.
Josh Board: When I hear some of the songs played on the radio today, and the lyrics…I’m baffled that songs like “Louie, Louie” (The Kingsmen) were banned, and the Standells “Try It.” What can you tell me about all that, and your thoughts on it?
Larry Tambly: ‘Try It’ was about our fourth recording. It was right after we did ‘Riot on the Sunset Strip’ and Billboard Magazine had picked it to be our next big hit. We thought for sure it was going to climb the charts, but right about that time this man from Texas, by the name of Gordon McClendon, who was the owner of radio station KLIF and a big company that programmed for a number of radio stations, decided to form this committee to judge record lyrics and for some reason he picked our song ‘Try It’ for being obscene and encouraging young girls to have sex. It was different than some radio stations banning ‘Louie Louie,’ which went to #1 on the charts. McClendon was successful in destroying ‘Try It.’ He was a very conservative, born-again Christian, and he went on a national campaign about our record, telling various news media that his radio stations weren’t going to play it, and advised other stations to do likewise [they even debated this on Art Linkletter’s show]. That stopped the record dead cold. It was number one in a lot of markets and all of the sudden they refused to play it anymore. In Los Angeles for instance, it was number one on KLRA and KHJ refused to play it – so it stopped our song dead in its tracks. I mean, it was probably no more encouraging to a girl to have sex than ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand.’ Of course, compared to some of today’s songs, ‘Try It’ was very tame.
Larry Tambly: There are so many of them that I wished I had written. Perhaps ‘Strawberry Fields Forever.’ It was a landmark song from an album that really transcended what had previously been done. The Beatles always seemed to be one step ahead of everyone else.
Josh Board: What happened with the lawsuit with Anheuser Busch over their using ‘Dirty Water’ and why would a big company even do that and not realize it was wrong?
Larry Tamblyn: Well, it’s difficult to talk about this lawsuit, because it was settled out of court. But the basis of the suit was that all of the Standells were members of SAG & AFTRA at the time we made ‘Dirty Water,’ so in addition to a licensing fee, they had to pay a secondary fund to use it in a TV spot, which they didn’t. I just don’t think they did their homework.
Josh Board: As a movie critic, I have to ask…is there ever a movie you watched and you thought, ‘Hey, they could use one of our songs right there. ‘Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White’ would be perfect in this scene.’
Larry Tamblyn: My favorite is Star Wars V, The Empire Strikes Back. Luke Skywalker wears black and the Storm Troopers wear white.
Larry Tamblyn: While on tour last May, we pulled into an alley to unload our equipment into the venue. There was a suspicious looking man who seemed to be lurking there. When we got out of our van, he approached us and asked me for my autograph. Wow, talk about judging people by their appearance. He turned out to be a ‘good guy’ who was really a big Standells fan.
Josh Board: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve been asked to autograph?
Larry Tamblyn: Back in the ‘60s, I was asked to autograph a young woman’s breast. Of course, I complied.
Josh Board: I like your take on autograph dealers. You mentioned signing autographs after shows and seeing some pictures turn up on eBay. Tell me your take on all that.
Larry Tamblyn: As I mentioned on Facebook, signing autographs for fans at concerts has always been a pleasure, in which I have never charged any money, even after concerts where I was completely exhausted. During one such venue, a man approached with a stack of glossy photos, most of which he took directly off of the Standells Facebook page. This included one particular personal photo, which I personally posted. I asked him if these photos were going to end up on eBay, and he assured me they weren’t, and that they were only for personal use. Well, as I mentioned, all of the photos ended up on eBay, and this person was demanding a hefty price for them. I wrote to this person through eBay and told him that he should ‘be ashamed of himself’. This was a betrayal of not only me, but to the many fans that have legitimately asked for autographs. From now on, I will only personalize autographs, which will make such eBayers less tempted to sell them.
Josh Board: Is there anybody you ever asked for an autograph from?
Larry Tamblyn: In 1960 I had the good fortune to do a concert with the number one selling recording artist Connie Francis, who had such hits as ‘Who’s Sorry Now’ and ‘Lipstick on Your Collar.’ The concert was in San Francisco, and I remember it well. Beforehand, we were at the airport and Connie asked me to go with her to get a soda, leaving her entourage behind. We walked around the corner for a short distance, and suddenly the exhausted singer, my idol, fainted. Like in a romantic movie, I caught her in my arms. Fortunately, Connie was a very petite 5’1”. What young hormonally charged teenager wouldn’t have dreamed of this scenario – this dream girl in his arms? I was able to quickly revive Connie and get her to a sofa. Then I went back for help. She later graciously thanked me, and autographed a photo: “To Larry my hero – Follow your star.”
Josh Board: Since your brother was an actor (Tom Thumb, among many other things), what’s his take on autograph collectors?
Larry Tamblyn: Russ steadily signs autographs, but is suspicious of anyone who shows up with a stack of things to sign…like me now!