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An Interview with Merrell Fankhauser
By Mike Dugo, 60sGarageBands
(more articles from this author)
2000-12-13
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Merrell and The Exiles -1964

(Left to Right) Dan Martin - Drums / Merrell Fankhauser - Vocal and Guitar / Jim Furguson - Vocal and Bass / John Day - Vocal and Piano / Jeff Cotton - Vocal and Guitar

The post-Beatles '60's rock and roll era ran the gamut from British Invasion mersey and beat sounds, through the punk sounds of the garage band era, to sunshine pop and psychedelia. Merrell Fankhauser has had an active role in creating lasting contributions to each particular style. As a member of his early surf band, the Impacts, through his role as founder and primary songwriter for Merrell & The Exiles, Fapardokly, and HMS Bounty, Merrell has created some truly timeless music. While the bulk of Merrell's '60's work has been preserved on the digital medium for present day posterity, his contributions from the '70's, especially with Mu, through 2000 are also readily available. I'd like to thank Merrell for sharing some of his recollections of his '60's bands for The Lance Monthly, and for providing an update on his current projects. To purchase Merrell's music, both old and new, please visit his website at http://www.merrellfankhauser.com

[Q] You've been in many great and well-known bands throughout your career. I'm aware that you recorded a surf album with the Impacts in 1963. Was it your first band?

[A] The Impacts was not my first band. I started off as a solo playing for teeny boppers at the Saturday Matinee at a local movie theater. I later started a band with a 16-year-old, Bill Dodd (later in H.M.S. Bounty) called The Rockin Titan. I got asked to join The Impacts in 1962 (and) our "Wipe Out" LP came out in November of '62. Bill joined another surf & R&B group called The Biscaynes that had a few songs on rare surf compilations.

[Q] Were the Ventures the primary influence on the group?

[A] Everybody was heavily influenced by The Ventures. I met them in '63 when they played opposite us at the Rose Garden Ballroom in Pismo Beach, Cal.

[Q] After the Impacts, you formed Merrell and the Exiles. Was this a direct result of the "impact" that the British Invasion had on you, or was it more of an attempt to change with the times?

[A] The Exiles were doing their own version of beat music, surf & rhythm & blues before The Beatles hit. It was a result of my moving to the desert from the California coast that changed the direction of the music. Some say we were one of the first to do folk rock and country rock. We later were influenced by the British Invasion, but not on the early recordings. I would say there was more of a touch of Buddy Holly in the Exiles early material. Don't forget The Beatles were heavily influenced by Buddy and Chuck Berry and Little Richard. So, in a way, they were imitating the American sound with a more raw edge.

[Q] Legend Music has released a CD compilation of Merrell and the Exiles in which the band is described as "one of the first surfin' psychedelic bands." Would you say that's an accurate description of the Exiles' sound?

[A] To say The Exiles was one of the first surfin' psychedelic bands is probably some what true, but there were many California groups doing the same sort of thing.

[Q] Prior to his work with Captain Beefheart, and his stint in your '70s band, Mu, guitarist Jeff Cotton was in the Exiles. How did your association with Jeff begin?

[A] Jeff Cotton and I met when he was 14 years old through his father, who worked at the same airport that I did. I was the gas and tiedown boy at Fox Field in Lancaster, California in the high desert. Jeff was just learning to play and was 14 yrs old. His dad invited me over, and Jeff and I hit it off and decided to form a band that night. We then started practicing every night after work and when he got out of school. He was and is very talented.

[Q] The Exiles experienced some regional success, and appeared on a handful of local TV shows. What do you recall about these appearances?

[A] The Exiles soon became the most popular band in the Antelope Valley that encompassed Lancaster, Palmdale, Rosmond, & Mojave. The only band prior to us was Zappa's first band, The Omens. Beefheart formed a few years later. The Exiles started playing in L.A. and soon landed several gigs and got on local TV shows, and had some moderate radio play in the "Big City." Once we did a TV show sort of Like "American Bandstand" in San De Ago with The Coasters. We finished the show and had to drive non stop 100 miles to a concert, and we just made it. We felt like we were really "in the big time" with a fast paced schedule. We had some memorable gigs in Palm Springs--straight out of a teen cult movie of that period--like "Hot Rods to Hell." Great Fun!

[Q] After Cotton (and drummer John French) left the Exiles, you changed the name of the band to Fapardokly, and released an LP. How did the album come about?

[A] After Cotton and French left The Exiles, I had several replacements (that) lasted till about '67 and then I got tired of the desert and moved back to the coast. There I teamed back up with Bill Dodd and John Oliver, who was the bass player with The Impacts, and drummer Dick Lee. We got a regular weekend gig at a club in Pismo called The Cove. There we started working on new material, and came up with the name Fapardokly taken from the first letters of our last names. Glenn Records in Palmdale had a lot of unreleased material on me that I did with different line-ups of The Exiles. We went to L.A. and Glenn's and recorded more tunes, and Glenn just picked 12 songs and put out the Fapardokly LP. Little did we know it was destined to be one of the most sought after collectible LPs from the '60s!

[Q] There are some great original songs on the album with one of my favorite tracks being the obvious Buddy Holly influenced "Too Many Heartbreaks."

[A] "Too Many Heartbreaks" was actually influenced by Ricky Nelson. I was more of a fan of his guitarist James Burton, who I later met and recorded in Glenn Records studio. "Sorry for Your Self" was a Buddy-influenced song. And a few others . . .

[Q] The overwhelming majority of songs recorded by the Exiles were Merrell Fankhauser originals, and you either wrote or co-wrote each and every song on the Fapardokly LP. Where did you get the inspiration to be such a prolific writer?!?

[A] I started writing songs at age 12, when my dad bought me a ukelele and showed me some chords. Lyrics and melodies come easy for me; it happens very spontaneously; sometimes so fast I can't get them recorded before I forget them. I am lucky. It's a gift. It's slowed down a little, only because (when I'm) traveling, I don't have the time.

[Q] As you've noted, the Fapardokly album has become somewhat legendary in collectors' circles. What are your impressions of the album when listening to it today?

[A] I am still amazed that I was just barely 21 when most of the Fapardokly LP was recorded, and most of the other guys were teenagers. It's pretty good and different for the time period. It's almost like someone else did it! When Glenn Records unearthed another dozen or so songs in the early '90s that had never been released, I was amazed. I didn't even remember writing or recording some of the songs. I am glad they made it. The new "Wild in The Desert" on Lance (Records) has some real forgotten rough gems on it!

[Q] After Fapardokly, you formed HMS Bounty. Why was Fapardokly dissolved? How did you go about assembling HMS Bounty?

[A] Bill Dodd and I wanted to move to L.A. and jump into the music scene. The bass player and drummer didn't want to make the move. So we got a new bass and drummer, moved to L.A., got a record deal, and our producers thought H.M.S. Bounty was a good name as there was a popular restaurant in Hollywood at the time with that name. So we set sail with it.

[Q] This is a question that I've always wanted to ask you: "Things (Goin' Round in My Mind)," by HMS Bounty, has got to be one of the catchiest, hook-filled classics of the 1960's. It's one of those songs that is instantly unforgettable, and that stays in the mind long after one first hears it. It reached the Top 10 on some local charts, but why do you think it wasn't a bigger hit?

[A] The reason "Things" and the follow-up, "Girl I am waitin' For You" were not big hits is because the label signed Neil Diamond at the same time our LP came out. Neil already had a few hits on their little label, and all the promotion went to him. We watched in horror as our songs fell off the national charts. It actually caused the band to get depressed and break up. Bill Dodd and bass player Jack Jordan moved back to the Central Coast, and that was the end of the H.M.S. Bounty. The ship sank . . .

[Q] According to the liners that you wrote for the CD release, the HMS Bounty album was promoted as "a mixture of Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and Spirit with a dash of Cream." Again, would you say that's an accurate description of the band's sound? Were these bands all influences?

[A] I would say the description of the Bounty reissue liner notes was accurate as to the content of what a lot of people thought the band sounded like, although we didn't set out to sound like anybody else. I didn't write those liner notes. We may have been subconsciously influenced by some of the other bands. We were all playing gigs together or different concerts together, so some of it had to rub off in all directions.

[Q] How popular did HMS Bounty become? Would you say they were the most successful of all your 60's bands? What national acts did the band play with?

[A] I would say The Bounty was my most successful '60s band. We were very popular in California, especially L.A. We played a lot of college concerts, had a big following, and opened up for Canned Heat a few times to a very excited audience. The Bounty was a great band. We also opened up for C.T.A. (later to be called Chicago), The Doors, Electric Flag and many others . . .

[Q] After HMS Bounty you recorded (with studio musicians, including Carole King) a version of Fred Neil's soon-to-be-massive 'Everybody's Talkin'.'' What do you recall about these sessions?

[A] Yes, I recorded with bassist Carole King (played on Mamas & Papas songs, and a slew of other giant hits). Al Casey was on rhythm guitar, Duane Eddy (was) rhythm guitarist, Jim Gordon (was) on drums [later with Clapton, (who) co-wrote "Layla"], and Larry Knectel (later of Bread) was on keyboard. Great fun sessions in a historical studio in Hollywood, Gold Star. The studio recorded hits by Buffalo Springfield, Iron Butterfly, Sonny & Cher and on and on--a real highlight of my career. And meeting Harry Nilsson at his beginning! Great guy (and) fantastic writer & singer!

[Q] Most of your recorded history has been released to the digital medium. Why do you think there is still such great interest in songs that you wrote and recorded 30 to 40 years ago?

[A] I think like so many others, I was inspired by the changes that were happening to everyone in the '60s. All of the music from that time is special--no matter how big or small--it was all very special. It was a blueprint for things to come and has a place in history. I think people realize that music as a real treasure. I am so grateful to all my fans and the collectors who keep me going, and still find my new music interesting.

[Q] If you could be remembered for one and only one of your '60's bands, which one would it be?

[A] I would probably like to be remembered from my band MU that actually formed near the end of '69, but didn't get released until '71. Before that, would be The Bounty.

[Q] You're still recording music, and releasing new CDs. Please detail some of your most recent projects. What currently keeps you busy?

[A] I just finished a tour of Hawaii and played a concert on Maui with Willie Nelson that was awesome. Willie is one of the nicest, most humble beings you will ever meet. We did a version of "Wipe Out" together, and Willie took a solo that sounded like it was right off of an old Beach Boys record! I recorded with my old Maui band--now called Planetary Pulse--(and) we have some spacey jungle music we hope to finish next year. Also, I am working on a solo project in California, and have several songs in the works with ex-Spirit drummer, Ed Cassidy. I (will) return to Hawaii in mid-November for another 2-month tour. I am doing a video session on Kauai in December with Dean Torrence (Jan & Dean). He's singing on one of my new songs, "Polynesian Dream." There is also some reissue material from '83 to '91 with John Cipollina & Nicky Hopkins coming out as 'Merrell Fankhauser & Friends.' (It) should be out by Christmas.

In addition to this interview, I'd like to thank Merrell for sending me a copy of his latest CD release, "Visitor From 2000AD," a collection of "live jungle jams." Though far removed from his '60s recordings, one song in particular, "Under a Maui Moon," does feature a tinge of '60s psychedelia. Ed Cassidy also contributed to this CD. To purchase "Visitor From 2000 AD," visit http://www.merrellfankhauser.com : Readers of this column will not be disappointed.

Related MusicDish e-Journal Articles:
» Merrell Fankhauser and the Haiku Band - Visitor From 2000 AD - American Sound (2000-11-06)
» Merrell Fankhauser - Back This Way Again - Discos Melocoton (2000-02-15)
» Merrell Fankhauser Video Review (2000-01-30)
» Merrell Fankhauser - The Interviews, Part 1 (1999-12-15)
» Merrell Fankhauser - The Interviews, Part 2 (1999-12-15)


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