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An Interview with Denny Carleton of The Lost Souls
By Mike Dugo, 60sGarageBands
(more articles from this author)
2001-04-25
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The name Denny Carleton should be very familiar to readers of The Lance Monthly due to his stint with the Choir. Since Jeff Jarema did such a thorough job detailing the Choir's story in the liner notes of the Sundazed Choir CD release, we've tried to dig deeper into Denny's pre-Choir outfit, the Lost Souls. Amazingly, with a recorded legacy that includes "My Love I Won't Admit," "Walkin' Out on Me," and an earlier version of the Choir's "If These Are Men," the Lost Souls' recordings are every bit as good as, or possibly even better, than Denny's better known group. Thanks to Denny for sharing his story with The Lance Monthly:

[LM] What was your musical experience prior to joining the Lost Souls?

[Denny] When Larry Tomczack and I (the drummer for the Lost Souls) saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, we decided to start a band. We asked our friends too if they wanted to join and we all took lessons up at Sodja's Music, a local store. Nine months later, after two of the friends had dropped out, we started the Lost Souls. I have been doing music ever since.

[LM] Beside Larry and yourself, who else was in the Lost Souls?

[Denny] The original lineup was Larry Tomczack on drums; Chuck McKinley on bass; Rich Schoenaur on sax and flute; Denny Carleton on rhythm guitar; and Ed Gazoski on lead guitar. Ed played lead for about three months and then Denny Marek joined us as lead guitar. Denny had been playing since he was about eight years old and helped the band grow very quickly. We all attended the same high school (St. Joseph High School) in the same grade. Denny knew us and could see that we were going to be good so [he] wanted to be in the band. Ed played for about another year and then left the band, leaving Denny as the only lead player.

[LM] It's well documented in Cleveland music history that early, pre-British Invasion bands were comprised of either "Greasers" or "Mods." Could you elaborate on this?

[Denny] It has become apparent to me that when I try to describe greasers to some of my younger friends that this species of human beings does not exist anymore. They always ask me when they read about greasers what they are like and I try to tell them they don't get it. I have realized that greasers are extinct. Greasers were not like Fonzie on "Happy Days," although they did dress like that. They put grease in their hair and pushed it back like James Dean. They usually were prejudiced but liked soul music a lot. They enjoyed fighting, and shining their shoes with shoe polish. At St. Joe's they played some kind of game called rocks, scissors, and papers. Rock covers paper; scissors is smashed by rock . . . I never did get it. One on one, most of these guys were OK, but get them in a group and these dudes were scary. Mods, on the other hand, had long hair, peace, love, etc. When longhair first came out it seemed to mean something like you were into peace. So there was a big cultural and sociological change happening--'60s long hair etc.--and the greasers were out to stop it. There was a total division. Mods and long hair people and the world and things we take for granted now did not exist before the '60s. I think the greasers and the older view of the world saw the long hair counterculture as a dangerous and bad thing. What was unique about the Lost Souls is we were able to cross over a little. I was a mod all the way. Mod was stamped on my forehead when I was born. If you wanted a textbook study I was it. I like the music, the clothes, the attitude . . . everything. The other guys in the band (Rich, Chuck, and Larry) were nice guys and had long hair but were able to relate to all the styles of people. Denny Marek was a unique person and a good musician. So basically I didn't get beat up as much by the greasers because of the other guys' contacts and friends. The attitude towards me was "hey, you may be a blankety blank blank no good long hair, but you're friends with Chuck and Rich and Larry, and if any one tries to beat on you, we will protect you." Most of the time that was the attitude, although one time I was sucker punched by a guy. I found out recently that [the] fellow is now in prison.

[LM] The Lost Souls was not a typical "British Invasion" garage band, in that a saxophone, a flute, and a mandolin were used. Whose decision was it to add these non-typical instruments?

[Denny] The band always had a sax and flute, but played them sparingly on Paul Revere and the Raiders covers, and Motown songs. After being together for a while, we tried to do our own music. I know that I wanted to. You have to remember this was the '60s, and very heady times. Frank Zappa was new as well as 'Seargeant Pepper', etc. There was [a] lot of experimentation going on in all forms of music and life. We were part of that scene. We were part of that period and we experimented with different instruments, etc. We were also going to college and Vietnam was going on. As I said . . . very heady times. The band changed direction after two and a half years and started doing originals.

[LM] Did the band share equally in the writing of originals, or was there a primary songwriter within the group?

[Denny] I believe I was the primary songwriter. Denny and Chuck also wrote, and they wrote the more unusual Lost Souls songs. I was influenced by everything British and melodic, while Denny and Chuck... I'm not sure. Denny Marek loved the Ventures, and Chuck loved big vocalists, but I don't know if you can hear those influences (in their songs). Their music sounds Asian to me, and I have no idea where that comes from.

[LM] Did the Lost Souls ever develop a signature song, such as the Choir's "It's Cold Outside," or the Outsiders' "Time Won't Let Me"? Obviously, none of the Lost Souls' songs had the national impact as the two listed above, but were any of the band's songs identified locally with the band?

[Denny] I think my first song, "I Want You," was known as a Lost Soul song, probably more than other song[s]. "My Love I Won't Admit" could be known as a Souls' song, but not on the level as if it had been on a 45 release.

[LM] Were there any circumstances at the time that prevented the band from releasing a single?

[Denny] Our manager, I think, just didn't know how to get the band on the next level. Our families were all blue collar in a blue collar town with a blue collar manager that didn't know how to do it. We didn't believe in ourselves quite enough. The Lost Souls somehow lacked a little confidence. Looking back, it was regrettable, but I think somehow we lacked a savvy.

[LM] Who was your Manager? Do you have any regrets that you weren't managed more properly?

[Denny] Our manager's name was Ken Whogemuth. He was Larry's little league baseball coach. He did very well in promoting us on a local level. We were very popular without a hit record. He just didn't have the skills or the vision to get us higher. [There was] nothing devious, as is often the case with rock and roll management histories. When I joined the Choir, I began to understand what the music business was all about. I regret not being managed properly then and, to be honest, I regret it now. I would love to be represented by an agent who would see my talent and shop my body of work and music to publishers. It's not that easy now, and it wasn't then . . . at least for me. Unfortunately, talented musicians fall through the cracks in the system all the time. How many times do we get to hear about Madonnna's wedding on the news--when you know some worthwhile musician is struggling in some unknown place. The unknown guy could really use the publicity. We all know that the music system is set up horribly and it's an unfair thing. That's just how it is. With the Internet and web sites, it has leveled the playing fields somewhat, and that is a very good thing. Sure, I regret some of the lack of management in the past. Then again . . . the story is not finished yet.

[LM] Well . . . the band might not have released a single, but The Choir performed one of your original compositions, entitled "Whatcha Gonna Do." How did this come about?

[Denny] I went to Cuyahoga Community College with Dann Klawon and Jim Bonfanti from the Choir, and every one in Cleveland seemed to like the Small Faces. My song, "Whatcha Gonna Do," was influenced by the Faces. I shared the song with Dann--which has become a time honored ritual--and he liked it. He asked if the Choir could do it, and I said "yes."

[LM] Even without a single, The Lost Souls became one of Cleveland's best known bands, and played a gig at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. How did a band without any single releases get added to such a major concert event?

[Denny] The band was unique because we were able to be popular in some places where other bands couldn't go. The Lost Souls could play for and average high school dance for a mod thing, but also at greaser types of functions. We had a horn so we could also do Motown. I do not remember how we got the stadium gig in 1967, but I know we played three times a week for about three years and held attendance records at many clubs. We finished fourth out of all the bands that competed in the teen fair voting in 1967. Deanna Adams told me--as she was writing her book about the history of the Cleveland music scene--that many people that she interviewed told her that she had to have a special section on the Lost Souls as one of the major Cleveland bands of the '60s. I think that's true.

[LM] It's apparent that the Lost Souls were very popular locally. Did the band's popularity translate to any TV appearances, whether local or national?

[Denny] The Lost Souls, I believe, were on TV once but it wasn't on "Upbeat." I don't remember the name of the show.

[LM] The Lost Souls also participated in a Cleveland-area Battle of the Bands in 1967, and finished fourth. Do you recall which bands finished ahead of you?

[Denny] The band that beat us out was called the Penny Arcade. They had their amplifiers made to look like "Sergeant Peppers" and did all Beatles' songs. I don't remember who else competed. There were hundreds of bands that competed. The next year we entered again thinking we might win, and we changed our name to Miniver Cheevy for only that gig. We were disqualified because we entered twice. I'm not sure how all that happened and I was bummmed out.

[LM] Cleveland's garage band scene in the '60's was almost unrivaled in terms of the number of great bands. Aside from the Lost Souls, which bands were your favorite, or which bands did you consider the best of the best? Which bands were your "rival" bands?

[Denny] When I was a teenager and all during the '60s, there were many rival bands, but most of it was friendly and brought out the best in all of us. The Mods that became the Choir were a great band. Ironically, I have a radio program about Cleveland Music (www.welw.com - 6:30 EST Friday nights) and some of those greaser bands that I have reissued CDs of were great . . . especially Bocky and the Visions. I always liked Wally Bryson and his Double Neck guitar doing the Byrds. He was great. This was a very good time in Cleveland musical history. There was a young Joe Walsh playing with the James Gang . . . Eric Carmen with the Cyrus Erie . . . The Damnation of Adam Blessing. I may be biased but bands were just better. I have thought a lot about this, and I think one of the keys to creating that environment, with bands and musicians like Phil Keaggy, Eli Radish, etc., was that almost every band did originals and covers. The covers made you mainstream, and the originals kept it real and important. Now bands seem to be either a cover band or an all original band.

[LM] Though the Lost Souls never released any singles, at least ten songs have survived. When and where were these recorded?

[Denny] The songs were recorded mostly in 1966 and 1967. "My Love I Won't Admit," "Look At Me" and "Walkin' Out On Me" were recorded at Audio Recording. "Things That Are Important" and "Josephine" were recorded on a Teac 2-track recorder.

[LM] Do any live recordings exist of the band?

[Denny] Yes. Denny Marek recorded many. They are very unique, and I may include them on future releases.

[LM] The band started out as a fairly typical cover band, but switched to this more unique sound and incorporated your original songs. What was the reaction to the band's new sound?

[Denny] By the time we started sounding different, we were out of high school and were playing farther and farther from our home base. So basically most people didn't care for the new sound. They couldn't dance to it, and it was not familiar enough.

[LM] After the Lost Souls, you were approached to join the Choir. Were the Lost Souls still an active band at the time you left? Did the band continue on without you? What spelled "the end" for the Lost Souls?

[Denny] The Lost Souls--getting ready to go into their second year of college--did not seem to be interested in practicing or playing as much as they used to. I am a serious person, for better or for worst, and I often stayed home and practiced while the other guys went out for fun. The band basically broke up because every one went on with their life. The Lost Souls could have been a lot more, but we didn't know that and no one was really serious about keeping it together. When I was asked to join the Choir, it was basically at the same time the Lost Souls ended. I joined the Choir right after the Lost Souls dissolved. To purchase casettes of Lost Souls or Choir recordings, visit: www.dennycarleton.com - Also available are two excellent CD retospectives from various periods throughout Denny's illustrious musical career.


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