Thee Wytches Project: Fact or Fiction?
An Interview with Project Coordinator, Stephen Molly
In the fall of 1966, four musicians disappeared from the Boston music scene after recording an album. Thirty years later their tapes were found. Ever since an Internet report announced the discovery of some old tapes and photos within a dilapidated old house somewhere outside Boston, much has been theorized about the "long forgotten" band that recorded the songs. Add to the discovery that the band's name was Thee Wytches, and that the tapes and photos were found in the Boston area, the comparisons to the "Blair Witch Project" were inevitable. A new web site has been created to document what is known about the supposed band, the music, and the discovery of the tapes. Stephen Molly--the man behind the web site--agreed to answer a few questions for The Lance Monthly, and to present his side of the Thee Wytches story.
[Lance Monthly] How did you first get involved in the Thee Wytches mystery?
[Stephen Molly] I was approached by a somewhat eccentric acquaintance named Roman. He and a mutual friend (Mark Robinson) are absolutely nuts about obscure records and groups. I mean, I like a good find--maybe some gem of a 45 in a stack at a yard sale--but these guys are obsessed. They live and breathe this stuff. Anyway, Roman was approached by either the guy fixing the house where the tapes were found, or Mark (I am not sure what came first), but because of his encyclopedic knowledge of local music history, he started digging around. I just know these guys got a hold of this thing and sucked me in with their fanaticism. In all honesty, they were not coming up with much real information. Roman found some guy who worked for a defunct local newspaper who claimed to have the inside scoop, but later found out he was some kind of contract staff writer. You know - he did some stories on consignment and things like that. He became suspect as to his ability to know anything of the scene 30 years ago. Hell . . . Roman was a MUCH better source on local music than this guy. My personal impression was that he was a "BS" artist who wrote a couple of bylines many years ago and really was not a reporter.
[Lance Monthly] Were you familiar with the band at all prior to becoming involved?
[Stephen Molly] Not at all. I knew of (Teddy & The) Panda's and had a copy of their only LP. But nothing of Thee Wytches.
[Lance Monthly] Initial reports via the Internet originally listed the band members' names as Eric Mars and Ray Bates on guitars, Jeff Coogan on bass, and Jason Howard on drums. In addition, the album is titled either "Hitsville" or "Brew" depending on where you look. This is very different than the information found on your web site. Why such a discrepancy?
[Stephen Molly] I believe this was [a] result of some faulty reporting. There are names scribbled down on boxes and envelopes where the tapes were found: Eric Mars . . . Ray Bates. Roman initially thought these were the names of the band members and started one of those Internet person search services trying to dig up names. But when I stumbled across John Lewis who knew "Frank C.," it became apparent that Eric Mars was some kind of stage name for Eric Stanley. Ray Bates was Ray Eastman, and so forth. I imagine that they may have used these names considering that they came from prestigious families and this type of activity was no doubt looked down upon. The album title problems stem from the fact that this whole package was a mess and it was hard to make out a lot of information. We're sorry for the confusion, but we are trying to be as accurate as possible.
[Lance Monthly] Have you received any leads on locating the band since you began the web site?
[Stephen Molly] Since the site went up, there have been a couple of people posting on the site. I emailed back, but they just remembered the name of the group and found it amazing that anyone was interested. They thought I was completely mad. One guy made a comment about the Internet giving people too much free time. I kind of left it a that.
[Lance Monthly] Do you stay in contact with "Frank C.," the source of your web site tales?
[Stephen Molly] Not really. We told him about the site, but he has not checked in as far as I know. I forgot if he even has a computer. I'll ask Roman. Personally I have not met the man, and Roman and Mark did these interviews on their own. Frank was another guy who was completely taken aback by our interest. He's an ex-cop who just retired and happens to be a real character. During the interviews he "got into it," and Roman suspected he enhanced those areas that may have faded due to memory. From what I know, the first meeting took place up at the Ward 2 Club in Salem where local cops hang out drinking scotch and playing Keno. Frank and Roman were talking about witchcraft, sex, drugs and rock and roll and every time Frank got on a roll some old pal from the precinct came over to talk shop. Must've been a pain in the ass, really. The rest of the interviews were done at Dunkin' Donuts at Washington Circle. I think there were only three meetings, and Roman put it together in narrative form as seen on the website. I proof-read the material a few times because some of the material was damn lewd and in other places the story simply stretched credibility. Frank got into this bizarre tale of some stuff that went on in that crazy hearse that was hysterical. But I am interested in talking to actual band members, so I thought we should leave some things out so no-one gets a lawyer on us. Anyway, Frank is alive and well, and still remembers those days fondly saying he can't believe what he got away with.
[Lance Monthly] Your "Essay On The 'Lost' Album" offers a very interesting perspective on garage rock. Are you a collector and/or fan of 1960's garage rock music?
[Stephen Molly] Absolutely. I love the Sonics and the Remains. When I was kid growing up in the seventies, my brother Tim and I were fanatics of the Yardbirds, Raiders and DC5, and we hated the crap coming from AM radio. I mean, Three Dog Night compared to "Five Live Yardbirds"? Come on. We would scrounge the cut out bins at Woolworth's and Zayres for any out of vogue records and double our meager buying power. I remember stumbling across three Animals albums for a buck. A BUCK! Good listening on a caddy's pay! One of them was "Animalization." Eric Burdon vs. Elton John . . . yeah right. Anyway, during one scrounge session I came across the Nuggets album. It wasn't in the cut out bins but it was pretty cheap for a double album and it had a great cover. After one listen we were both hooked and began our quest for the Shadows of Knight, Remains, Premiers, Nazz. A couple of months later I came across the Shadows of Knight's first album in the cutout bins and wrote to the fan club address on the back of the album. This was about '72 and there came forth . . . no response. Since then three chords was all I needed. There are some labels and garage compilations that I think are really shaky, but the "Teenage ShutDown" series has set a new standard. Brilliant. I guess you can say I am a fan of three chords (I call it "garage," NOT "punk") from "Louie, Louie" to the Sonics to the Stooges to the Ramones to the Lyres.
[Lance Monthly] How actively are you seeking a CD release of the album and/or live material that exists?
[Stephen Molly] It's not something I am falling over backwards for. This isn't a business for me but more or less a labor of love. I am not sure of the legal issues in releasing the stuff and personally find it all a bit much. We have talked with a couple of labels and have a local guy interested in releasing the material, but if one of the songwriters comes forth and asks us to cease and desist we're pulling the plug. We have decided that we don't need any lawsuits or copyright hassles. We are digitally restoring what we can of the analog at a studio in Somerville. Frankly, some stuff is beyond repair. Another reason we're looking for band members is to see if they have better copies. This restoration is out of pocket for us, so it's taking longer than we had hoped. Still, if we can recoup our costs we'll consider this a success. If not, it's a blast working on these shitty tapes and making this lost music sound vital. We have a live track that is brutal, but it's taken from a section of spool that is in pretty bad shape. These guys must have been devastating on stage. Killer . . . just killer.
[Lance Monthly] How do you respond to claims that the Thee Wytches story is a "rip off" of the "Blair Witch Project" film?
[Stephen Molly] I have no idea. I mean, the "Blair Witch Project" is about a bunch of kids in the woods with a video camera getting chased by some evil force. I never saw the movie, but Thee Wytches story is about rich kids who used drugs, rock and roll and witchcraft as a way to rebel against family traditions. They left some great music, considering the talent and the time, and probably went on to lives of comfortable respectability. Wiccan witches and all that stuff is part of the local culture. I have a couple of good friends who are Wiccan, with one an established Warlock, and the thought of them chasing kids through the woods is pretty ridiculous. It would be nice if people just listened to the band and made their own judgments; not everything's a conspiracy. POSTSCRIPT: Since this interview was conducted, a somewhat spirited discussion on the Bomp List had virtually proven beyond a doubt that the Thee Wytches story is a hoax. Noted garage rock authorities and/or collectors Greg Shaw, Moptop Mike Markesich, David Coyle, Maureen McCarthy, and Tony Sanchez have all unanimously agreed that the tale is a phony one. With some solid contradictory evidence in possession, culled from an email that Bob Wallis (from the Teddy & The Pandas web site - check out NEWS & NUGGETS for more information) compiled on the Bomp list, I emailed Stephen Molly for his comments, and was surprised to receive this response back from Mark Robinson: "Congratulations on putting the pieces together. I have been on and off the Bomp list since it's inception and have been watching the thread. Anyway, thanks for being a good sport and not taking this too damn seriously. I'll post a follow up on the Wytches site. Now for the next project. We learned a lot on this one." No word yet on just what that project may be, but to check out what started all the controversy, visit: http://wytches.cjb.net
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