Interview With Joel Larson - July 4th 2008
Webmaster: Thanks for taking the time to give us recollections of your life and times. To start our interview I would like to give you a name, recording or happening from your career and you can simply tell us what comes to your mind.
Joel: OK, I am also going to tell you about a home concert I went to starring Barry McGuire. It was great. He had a guy with him named John York that played with The Byrds for awhile. The whole front room was full. It was a large house. It had a kind of split level staircase and upstairs. The place was packed to the walls and everyone brought something, it was like a pot luck deal. I walked in I had gotten a heads up on the thing from fellow teamster friend of mine, another driver who drives Robert Downey Jr. So, I walked into the place and I had brought some brewsky and there was a bedroom where Barry was getting ready for the show. It was about ten minutes before the show and I walked in and said “Barry, do you remember doing the Ed Sullivan Show in New York?” and he said “Oh ya”. Then I said “Ya, that was in the middle of winter and was fun, you went out and played at a night club for about a week while you rehearsed for the Sullivan show, it was called The Phone Booth.” and he said “Oh ya…ya, weren’t The Young Rascals the club band there?” I said “Ya, it was Dino and the rest of the guys. Do you remember some of the guys in The Grass Roots that backed you up on the show?” and he said “Oh ya, there was this drummer named Joel…” I said “Hi, Barry!” and then he squeezed me and my eyes almost popped. He was just like a little kid. We started talking and the people who were putting on the show started to get nervous because we were so into it. So I said “on with the show”. I went into the audience to one side and he kept looking over at me. During the show in his dialog between songs he mentioned me. He said “You ought to talk to Joel because we did the Sullivan show and met Andy Warhol and Lord Buckley”. After the show we hung out together and we have been in touch over the internet since. I have some performances of his that he did not have on disc so I sent them over to him. So there’s my Barry McGuire story. I thought it might make some interesting reading. So now I am ready to start.
Webmaster: Jamming with Jimi Hendrix…
Joel: Jamming with Hendrix….I was with Lee Michaels, we were on Sunset Blvd and Lee had a band before he went solo with John Barbata who played drums. They played at a club called The Action. John Barbata took over my spot in The Turtles. The first record that The Turtles cut with Bones Howe as engineer was Happy Together. Damn, I had just left before that record hit and John played with them for many years in my spot. Anyway, Lee and I were cruising around in a van and had left The Whisky A Go Go and ran into Buddy Miles or somebody. We heard that Jimi Hendrix was on his way over to a club called The Experience. Jimi had a song called Are You Experienced but this was a club. So we went in and Noel Redding was there, Paul Butterfield, Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper. It was after hours at the club and the owner kept it open for friends and musicians. We went around back and came in. The keyboards were open for Lee. Noel Redding was playing bass, Hendrix was playing and Buddy Miles was playing drums. Buddy was obviously drunk and overplaying the drums. I can’t remember the songs they were jamming on but they were probably the typical songs of the day. About the second or third song in, people were commenting about Buddy being drunk. He passed out on the drum stool and without a heart beat’s notice I pushed my way through and stepped in. We jammed for 4 or 5 songs. It sounds now like a legendary spiritual gathering of musicians but it was just a bunch of guys jammin’. Ray Manzarek was there. At the time I had lived with Jim Morrison at the Hollywood Center Motel. Members of The Association lived there as well. It was close to where The Experience was so it wasn’t uncommon to run into Stephen Stills or Mark Volman or Chris Hillman. We were all kind of at the strip at the same time. I really enjoyed playing with Jimi that night. It was a big deal for me because he had just come back from England. Anyone who was making it had to go to England first if they couldn’t make it here and when they came back they were big stars. The English copied our R&B and soul and turned it into a gold mine for themselves. Then they turned around and invaded America with our own blues music. It was a funny deal. A few of us like Paul Butterfield who did not see that trend stayed here and played the blues but it was considered more like southern rock. Playing with Hendrix was great. He was real easy to play with. At one point Buddy Miles woke up but was still having trouble with his equilibrium. He had timed his drugs incorrectly….OK, on to the next topic.
Webmaster: Overseas concerts….
Joel: Overseas…………at one point I took The Doors and Jefferson Airplane as a tour manager to London. It was supposed to be a 6 or 7 week tour. We stayed at a hotel right next to the Marble Arch. The first night we played at a train roundhouse over in Camden town. It used to be where they turned the trains around. The turntable that they used for trains had been removed and they turned it into a concert venue. It was a neat place, both covered and breezy. If you talk to Robby Krieger he can tell you how I discovered Afghani hash. It was real prevalent in England. It came in a little burlap bag with a gold stamp on the side. You rolled it with tobacco and they called it a spliff. We got….Robby still thinks I owe him 50 bucks but I think he smoked it and forgot. Our standing joke is “Hey! Where’s my 50 bucks...” I always say “I don’t know buddy!” It was a good show in London but it is hard to remember….I was supposed to go on and do Berlin with about another 9 cities to go. There was an English guy named Leo who was a professional tour manager over there. I did not know how to contact and arrange transportation like Euro rail trains and stuff like that. I was a drummer trying to be a tour manager. I did OK for about a week and a half but we had to move to the next major city and I was out of my realm. With The Grass Roots we went to England once and did those shows like Ready Steady Go and BBC2. We also did a couple concerts and that was about it for our overseas stuff…..
Webmaster: Move Along...
Joel: That was done in the ABC Dunhill formula. We were constantly on the road and the base tracks were laid down while we were touring. We would then go to the studio and Rob, Warren, Reed and I would add our vocals and sweeten the instrumentals. We would add The Grass Roots flavorings as overdubs. That was part of our unhappiness with Dunhill but that is what the producers wanted. We were busy on the road and Steve Barri did not ask for much input from the band. He knew how to produce the successful recordings. Glory Bound was on that album and is one of my favorites. Our main mode for making money was touring. We usually did about 160 one nighters. We would play Friday, Saturday and Sunday almost every week. Many times during the week we would play college town nightclubs in the South. Rob and Warren really burned out on that big time, being on the road all the time. It didn’t bother me but Rob and Warren had wives, houses and things and wanted to head back home.
Webmaster: Alotta’ Mileage….
Joel: We were able to add our input more on that one. If you look at the cover, I have pairs of shoes there. There’s an old pair of boots that I had in the back of the photo. They are patchwork and I got them in England. I had them made at a boot shop across the street from the venue. Joe Cocker and Eric Clapton had theirs made there and I paid $250 for them which is a lot of money back then. The platform shoes with the red rhinestones are mine. The ones in the front are Rob’s old shoes. We had more input on Alotta’ Mileage because we were off the road. Warren wanted to get more involved with the studio. A related story is with one of the later members of The Grass Roots named Scott Hoyt. He cut a whole album with Warren. Scott was a great player. I still talk to him regularly via the internet. He is one of the best players I ever toured with. When he and Warren were just getting ready to cut Scott’s album, ABC Dunhill got sold off to MCA and that whole deal went down the tubes. It broke Scott’s heart and Warren’s as well. But…on the Alotta’ Mileage I was able to play on the tracks and I remember Reed putting down many of the chunky guitar parts.
Webmaster: Your favorite musical groups back in the days….
Joel: …..the San Francisco stuff. I liked Jesse Colin Young of The Youngbloods. I liked the way he played and I liked his band. I have always been a big R&B fan. I used to go to the Fillmore to see Aretha Franklin, the old Motown guys, The Supremes and I have always been a James Brown fan. When I first came to LA and I was in the Merry-Go-Round we played with James Brown and The Shirelles. What a combination. We looked right down on a lot of black faces right in front of us. They were looking like “What is this?” when we were playing but I could dance pretty good so I was off to the side of the stage when James Brown was playing doing the boogaloo. Back in the early days Santana was pretty good. I have a poster of the first Grass Roots concert called the King Kong Dance put on by Chet Helms. The Great Society turned into Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother was made famous by Janice Joplin and Quicksilver was a San Francisco standard and I liked them all. I have never been a Dead head fan and could not stand Joplin because she was just falling down drunk most of the time. I liked a San Francisco regular named Bobby Freeman who had a song called The Swim. I liked Barry McGuire when I saw him at the Hungry Eye and Purple Onion in SF. He covered Lord Buckley poems. Buckley was a hip semantic poet. He had poetry that was up, hip and jive and talking about the naz and Jonah and the whale. Do an internet search and check him out. He is kind of like this: “There’s a big fish watching me, I was going side to side…I couldn’t go out the front….and I was afraid to go out back.” I first saw him in New York when we were doing the Sullivan show. He was at a little club in the village and it was packed. People like the Mamas and the Papas, Nico and the Velvet Underground would go to see him in New York and he was great. Anyway, other bands of the time……I really like Moby Grape. I loved the song Omaha and there you have it….
Webmaster: Your most enjoyable concert ever…
Joel: Most enjoyable……………………..it’s got to be Spirit Lake Iowa. They had this old pavilion. Back in the day they had these old poker palaces in Iowa, Nebraska and Michigan. They were big enough to hold 4 or 5 thousand people. They were gorgeous old style buildings and they were built in the middle of nowhere. We would get into a major airport and drive over an hour to get there. We would be driving through endless cornfields and then all of a sudden the road would widen and there would be this big thing built on a lake. It was a summer resort for the state. Spirit Lake Iowa had the Roof Gardens. The people just could not wait for us to get there. We played it each year and I think that Warren had friends there. We would go to these backyard barbeques and they would have these boats made out of mahogany. We would cruise the lake going from house to house. Warren and I got arrested for water skiing nude. I am not sure if the trunks were loose or I wasn’t provided with trunks. I’m not sure. Spirit Lake was great and we looked forward to it. You might think that I would say Washington D.C. or the Golden Gate Park but those involved just flying in and flying out. The ones that were the most enjoyable were the county fairs and we couldn’t wait to go back every year.
Webmaster: Rob Grill…
Joel: My brother. I hope that he is doing well. I wish he would communicate with us more and I love him. I lived with him in Hollywood Hills for 14 years. We had a palace and more fun…..he’s my brother. A brother from another mother. Great voice. A funny guy. If we got into a town and there was one pretty girl….between Rob and Warren you had better be quick. Smooth moves, had the hair working. If you saw us walking through an airport……we would often go to a big hub like Atlanta….here comes five guys in the tallest platform shoes, the hair is happening…we were glammed out and we were brothers. Rob was the guy I was closest to and I miss going out on the road as a band of brothers. My Brother.
Webmaster: Warren Entner….
Joel: He is another one. I was a little closer to Rob because I lived with him but I guess this is not the typical story of a rock band that wanted to kill each other. I couldn’t wait to go back on the road. I had my bags packed the night before and was ready to head out. Warren’s a sweetheart. A real sincere warm guy, sincere, intelligent and he likes to think things through. He really was looking for that perfection. He wasn’t a great musician but he could tell you how he wanted things to sound. He would tap his foot and sing and you got the idea where he wanted to go. We did a concert with the Nashville Philharmonic Orchestra. We rehearsed some of his songs for weeks. The sound got tighter and tighter. I never got to the point of “man…your trippin’ out” the song just got better. If you listen to the recording that is still unreleased it is amazing. I listened to the whole thing the other night and I can’t find any mistakes from The Grass Roots, just a couple from the orchestra. We were tight. I play that for people. I tell them that “This is what we were like live!” Move Along is on there and it has a couple of songs that Warren wrote. I love and respect Warren.
Webmaster: Your musical activities now….
Joel: I went down last Saturday to Lee Michael’s restaurant called Killer Shrimp. He lost his lease and has bigger shrimp to fry. He sold the name to a big fishing company that was his supplier. They are coming out with a whole new batch of Killer Shrimp products and opening a big full service restaurant. His former restaurant was a little niche operation with a limited menu. Lee is involved and there will be Killer Shrimp in the super markets. They liked the name and he was able to work out a deal. I went to the closing and thanked him for all the meals I ate there for free over the years. In the beginning he told me “As long as I got it, you go there and eat free”. I didn’t abuse it but every couple of months I would go over there and have my bowl of Killer Shrimp. After awhile all the people at the restaurant knew who I was and I was tipping good since the meal was free. They couldn’t wait for me to come in. Every time they would see me they would have my iced tea ready and call me by name. It was a good deal and a fun thing for everybody. I was sitting there and Lee told me he is writing some new songs. He has all the best electronic gear and a sound booth. It sounds really good. He asked me to rehearse with him. In the past he has always had parts of songs but this time he has 6 complete songs. So we are going to play together in a larger rehearsal location in Venice. I have some electronic gear and some big JBL monitors. I’m ready. We are getting together in about a week and it will probably take several days just to hook up all of our equipment.
Currently I have a little band that plays private parties. We are called Rockers With Walkers. We are going to play a thing for the Rotary club in the fall. It is a two day event at an open park called Newberry Park just north of LA. I’ll let you know the details of this or any open club gigs that you can post if people want to come and see us. I want to thank you for your excellent work on my site. I appreciate it very much.
Webmaster: Joel, many thanks for keeping in touch with your people on the internet. It is an honor and privilege to speak directly to a rock icon. I and the other developers and contributors never find our efforts for you to be like work. It is a pleasure to be at your service on the internet.
The following are other submitted questions from visitors to Joel’s site. Joel took the time to answer them via email:
Question: Whose shoes are whose on the cover of the "Alotta’ Mileage" LP?
Joel: The boots on the left are mine also there is one boot all the way in the back, it's mine, the platforms on the right are Virgil’s, Rob’s shoes in front and Reed’s tennis shoes just behind
Question: What ever happened to your clothing design business? I believe the name was "Tallulah?"
Joel: Tallulah lives somewhere in the San Fernando Valley (LA) she is doing OK.
Question: What are your favorite Grass Root songs - you know the ones that send shivers up and down your spine when you sing or play on it?
Joel: Let’s Live for Today, Temptation Eyes and Wait A Million Years.
Question: What became of your Ford Cobra?
Joel: The 1964 1/2 Shelby 350 GT, I was having some engine and chassis mods done, The guy was having family problems and sold the engine and transmission and most of the Shelby stuff. When I got it back it was gutted. It would be worth half a million now.
Question: Why did you depart from the group?
Joel: I think the group departed me, I was the only original member on the road for years, and now Rob isn't going to do all that traveling because of his health......no originals?
Question: Do you have any tattoos?
Joel: USDA-CHOICE, on my ass.........only kidding. None.
Question: Which Grass Roots are you closest to?
Joel: I lived with Rob in the Hollywood Hills for 14 years and Warren & Reed. We were all like brothers.
Question: Do most of the guys and gals you ride bikes with know that you are an icon?
Joel: The young ones don't know The Grass Roots, and others do.
Question: Any chance you'll slow down anytime soon?
Joel: Slow down NO, You can rest when you’re DEAD, I’m adding a supercharger to my VIPER.
Question: If you didn't work in the entertainment field, what would you be doing now?
Joel: Riding motorcycles.